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Following April’s somber Academy Awards, the stakes for the next ceremony in March are incredibly high. While last year’s films were primarily watched on small screens as COVID-19 shut down movie theaters and screening rooms across the globe, this summer saw audiences returning to the cineplex. The low ratings from the 2021 broadcast could improve since high-profile studio releases like Dune and West Side Story will likely be in the running this awards season.
After striving for a win for three seasons and thus far failing to nab the Oscar for best picture, Netflix may finally earn the top prize with one of its leading contenders from the likes of previous Oscar winners Adam McKay and Jane Campion. The streamer is also backing buzzy directorial debuts from Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Hall, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeymes Samuel.
Alongside the newcomers are highly anticipated films from such celebrated auteurs as Paul Thomas Anderson, Kenneth Branagh, Joel Coen, Guillermo del Toro and Ridley Scott. With a guaranteed 10 nominees for best picture in 2022, the field also could provide space for one or more foreign-language features from directors Pedro Almodóvar, Asghar Farhadi, Julia Ducournau and Paolo Sorrentino.
As we embark upon Hollywood’s favorite season, THR looks at the top 30 films in the race.
BEING THE RICARDOS
Amazon, Dec. 10
Writer-director Aaron Sorkin, fresh off an original screenplay nomination for last year’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, once again looks at larger-than-life figures that left an indelible mark on American history or culture: Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, played here by Oscar winners Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem. The fictionalized account of the TV duo takes place during a tumultuous week of shooting their CBS sitcom I Love Lucy.
Focus Features, Nov. 12
Newcomer Jude Hill leads an ensemble that includes Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Ciarán Hinds and Oscar winner Judi Dench in a portrait of a working class Northern Ireland family. Set in 1969 in the early days of the Troubles — the conflict between the Catholic nationalists who hoped for a united Ireland and the Protestants who wished to remain in the U.K. — the film is inspired by writer-director Kenneth Branagh’s childhood.
THE CARD COUNTER
Focus Features, Sept. 10
Taxi Driver scribe Paul Schrader, who earned his first Oscar nomination for writing 2019’s First Reformed, once again turns to the subject of a broken man struggling to fit into society. Oscar Isaac stars as the titular character, William Tell, a former military prison guard turned gambler who brings under his wing the grieving son of a former colleague. His efforts to flee the ghosts of his past are in vain, however, when his young apprentice embarks on a mission to avenge his father’s death.
A24, Nov. 19
Joaquin Phoenix plays a single and childless documentarian who is suddenly thrust into a parental role when he agrees to look after his young nephew (Woody Norman) as his sister (Gaby Hoffmann) navigates her ex-partner’s mental health crisis. Mike Mills’ black-and-white comedic drama is a meditation on the lessons adults and children can learn from each other.
Apple, Aug. 13
Ruby (Emilia Jones) is the only hearing member of her predominantly deaf family (she’s a Child of Deaf Adults), serving as the link between her parents (Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur)and brother and their community of Gloucester, Massachusetts. But when Ruby joins her high school choir and is recognized for her singing talent, she must decide whether to pursue her dreams or stay with her family as their trusted interpreter.
MGM/United Artists, Dec. 24
Director Joe Wright breathes fresh life into Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, with Peter Dinklage playing the flamboyant leading character who harbors a debilitating crush on his childhood friend, Roxanne (Haley Bennett), and coaches her handsome yet dim suitor Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) into wooing Roxanne with his words. Wright’s retelling, based on Erica Schmidt’s musical adaptation, features songs by The National.
DON’T LOOK UP
Netflix, Dec. 10
Oscar winner Adam McKay assembled an A-list dream team — among them Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ariana Grande, Cate Blanchett and Chris Evans — in this darkly comic satire about two astronomers (DiCaprio and Lawrence) who embark on a media tour to warn the public of a comet that is on track to collide with Earth and destroy the planet.
Warner Bros., Oct. 22
Denis Villeneuve’s long-anticipated adaptation of Frank Herbert’s beloved 1965 novel — delayed more than a year by the pandemic — stars Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides, the son of a nobleman who is mysteriously drawn to the desert planet of Arrakis as warring clans (and deadly sandworms) threaten his family’s rule. The sci-fi epic co-stars Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem and Zendaya — and its early box office success has already paved the way for a sequel to be released in 2023.
THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE
Searchlight, Sept. 17
Jessica Chastain stars as Tammy Faye Bakker, wife of televangelist Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield), who gained notoriety in the ’70s and ’80s for her garish makeup, her charismatic love of Christ and her husband’s public scandals involving his fraudulent business practices and extramarital exploits. Based on the cult documentary from Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, this campy biopic is directed by Michael Showalter and produced by Chastain.
Neon, Dec. 3
In Denmark’s official submission for international feature, a man, on the eve of marrying his husband, reveals his story of life as a refugee. The animated doc could make Oscar history by picking up noms for best documentary, best animated feature and best picture — and this Sundance hit directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen (and executive produced by Oscar nominee Riz Ahmed and Games of Thrones‘ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has plenty of buzz behind it.
THE FRENCH DISPATCH
Searchlight, Oct. 22
Wes Anderson throws all of his tricks into one bag with this ode to journalism (in particular, the heady days of The New Yorker) that features a cast of A-list players far too long to list here. An anthology film assembled like a magazine issue, The French Dispatch is a feast for the eyes as it tells three stories of art, politics and cuisine with Anderson’s trademark idiosyncratic style.
THE HAND OF GOD
Netflix, Dec. 3
Set in Naples during the mid-’80s, the film from Paolo Sorrentino (whose The Great Beauty won the 2014 Oscar for best international feature) tells a beguiling, autobiographical tale of a teenage boy (Filippo Scotti) whose life is irrevocably changed by a series of events in 1984, the year soccer great Diego Maradona joined the Napoli club.
THE HARDER THEY FALL
Netflix, Oct. 22
This debut feature from writer-director Jeymes Samuel (who as a music producer and singer-songwriter is known as The Bullitts) skewers the trappings of the Western genre and features a predominantly Black cast playing characters inspired by real-life figures in American history. Jonathan Majors leads the ensemble (which includes Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, LaKeith Stanfield and Oscar winner Regina King) as a cowboy who seeks to avenge his parents’ murder.
Amazon, Jan. 7
Released on a two-day leave from jail, Rahim (Amir Jadidi) attempts to repay his debt to his former brother-in-law by working toward reducing his prison sentence and rebuilding his life with his young son and fiancée. But when a seemingly good deed draws attention to the prisoner, ultimately spiraling into a news story soon picked apart on social media, Rahim realizes his plan is much more than he bargained for in the latest drama from Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi.
HOUSE OF GUCCI
United Artists, Nov. 24
A scandal that ripped through the fashion world is the subject of one of Ridley Scott’s two features in the Oscar race. This crime drama stars Lady Gaga as the infamous Patrizia Reggiani, who was convicted of hiring a hitman to murder her husband, Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). Oscar winners Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons and Al Pacino play other members of the Gucci family, with Oscar nominee Salma Hayek playing Reggiani’s psychic adviser.
Warner Bros., Nov. 19
Will Smith delivers a tour de force turn as Richard Williams, the near-legendary father of tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams. Following the Williams family as Venus embarks on her pro career, King Richard is the story of a man who put everything on the line for his family and would stop at nothing to elevate his daughters and turn them into athletes who would dominate their sport.
THE LAST DUEL
20th Century Studios, Oct. 15
Two decades after winning the best original screenplay Oscar for Good Will Hunting, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon reteamed to write this drama, based on true events, with help from previous Oscar nominee Nicole Holofcener. Damon stars as a knight whose wife (Jodie Comer) accuses another man of rape. Adam Driver and Affleck co-star in Ridley Scott’s medieval epic fit for the #MeToo era.
MGM/United Artists, Nov. 26
Cooper Hoffman (son of Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Alana Haim (one-third of the indie-pop trio Haim) star in this coming-of-age tale from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. The Boogie Nights director returns to the San Fernando Valley of the 1970s for his latest drama that also features Bradley Cooper, Sean Penn, Benny Safdie and Tom Waits in supporting roles.
THE LOST DAUGHTER
Netflix, Dec. 17
Maggie Gyllenhaal makes her directorial debut with this adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel, for which Gyllenhaal won the Golden Osella prize for best screenplay at the Venice Film Festival. Olivia Colman stars as a woman who, while vacationing in Greece, becomes entranced by another woman (Dakota Johnson) and is forced to re-examine her painful memories of motherhood.
Searchlight, Dec. 3
Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro adapts William Lindsay Gresham’s novel (previously the source material for the 1947 film noir of the same name), which stars Bradley Cooper as an ambitious hustler who enters the seedy underbelly of the traveling carnival circuit — complete with grifters, fortune tellers and femme fatales. Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins and Rooney Mara fill out the star-studded ensemble.
Sony Pictures Classics, Dec. 24
Just before giving birth, two women — one approaching middle age, the other a teenager — form a bond after meeting in a hospital room. Months later, the women find themselves once again connected by chance — and a shocking secret. The two confront motherhood in this stylish drama from Pedro Almodóvar, which stars his frequent player Penélope Cruz (who earned the Volpi Cup for best actress at the Venice Film Festival for her performance).
Netflix, Oct. 27
Rebecca Hall’s adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as Irene and Clare, two childhood friends who meet unexpectedly in New York City and reconnect despite their different social standing: Both are biracial, but Irene identifies as Black as Clare passes as white. A taut drama with elements of a psychological thriller ensues as the women’s dueling identities begin to dominate their relationship.
THE POWER OF THE DOG
Netflix, Nov. 17
Benedict Cumberbatch gives a commanding performance as the brusque and mean-spirited Phil Burbank, a cattle rancher in 1925 Montana who holds nothing but contempt for his brother and his brother’s new wife (real-life partners Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst). Jane Campion’s majestic drama slowly builds the tension that simmers under Phil’s surface, ready to explode at a moment’s notice, and challenges the masculine mythos of the American West.
A24, Dec. 3
The Florida Project and Tangerine director Sean Baker examines those living on society’s margins once again. The dark comedy follows Mikey Saber (an irresistible Simon Rex), a washed-up porn star who returns to live with his estranged wife and mother-in-law. Constantly scheming to leave small-town Texas and return to Los Angeles with a potential new performer under his wing (his barely legal girlfriend, Strawberry), the pathologically self-destructive Mikey finds his climb back to the top riddled with obstacles.
MGM/United Artists, Aug. 13
Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson takes on the monumental task of portraying Aretha Franklin in this musical biopic that charts her rise to fame as one of the most influential and accomplished recording artists of the 20th century. Co-starring Marlon Wayans and Forest Whitaker as Franklin’s domineering husband and father, respectively, the Franklin family-approved film sees her transform from a fledgling singer to the undisputed Queen of Soul.
Neon, Nov. 5
After examining Jacqueline Kennedy in the days after her husband’s assassination in Jackie (which earned star Natalie Portman an Oscar nom for portraying the first lady), director Pablo Larraín points his lens at another tragic figure of the late 20th century: Princess Diana of Wales, played here by Kristen Stewart during the course of three days as the late royal comes to terms with the impending dissolution of her marriage.
TICK, TICK … BOOM!
Netflix, Nov. 12
Lin-Manuel Miranda makes his feature directorial debut with this ambitious adaptation of Rent creator Jonathan Larson’s first show, which originated as a one-man “rock monologue.” Andrew Garfield plays the young composer, on the cusp of turning 30 as he frantically attempts to mount a workshop performance of his new original musical. A love letter to musical theater, the film is a tribute to Larson and the drive it takes to achieve greatness on the stage.
Neon, Oct. 1
Julia Ducournau’s audacious second feature — which follows a dancer (a spellbinding Agathe Rousselle) who becomes a serial killer after being impregnated by a car (just go with it) and later passes for the long-missing son of a firefighter — first shocked audiences at Cannes with its unsettling body horror. (Its Palme d’Or win may have been even more surprising.) Despite its brutal imagery (and sound), the film is a fascinating exploration of gender, violence, desire and unconditional love.
THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH
Apple/A24, Dec. 25
For his first project without brother and filmmaking partner Ethan, Joel Coen enlists two Oscar-winning heavyweights — his wife, Frances McDormand, and Denzel Washington — to play the scheming Lord and Lady Macbeth in this stark and haunting adaptation of The Scottish Play. Co-star Kathryn Hunter, one of the U.K.’s most acclaimed Shakespeare interpreters, delivers an astonishing performance as the three witches who entice Macbeth to follow his ambition to become King of Scotland.
WEST SIDE STORY
20th Century Studios, Dec. 25
Steven Spielberg brings the classic Broadway musical (itself a retelling of Romeo and Juliet) to a new generation with Ansel Elgort and newcomer Rachel Zegler as the star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria. Its previous film adaptation won 10 Oscars in 1962, including best picture. Rita Moreno, whose performance of Anita won her a trophy for best supporting actress, appears in the Tony Kushner-penned adaptation as a new character.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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