2016 Oscar Predictions: Early Look at 43 Movies Vying for Best Picture

AS ALWAYS, March is too early to get any kind of firm grasp on what will or won’t be an Oscar contender come the end of the year, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to speculate. Last year, only two of the nine films I predicted out of the gates actually ended up receiving Best Picture nominations at the 2015 Oscars — Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel — which goes to show just how much we know in advance. In fact, looking at the films I had on the outside looking in, only Best Picture winner Birdman was listed. But hey, at least I had three of the top contenders in the early year conversation, that’s something… right?

When it comes to this year, I feel even less certain than I did last year. I’m not sure that’s saying a whole lot since only two of the 43 films on my list of early contenders have even been seen. Granted, that will all change in the next few months, particularly with Cannes around the corner where rumors have films such as Beasts of No NationMidnight SpecialCarolBlack MassThe WalkIconA Bigger Splash and, yes, Tomorrowland as possible candidates for this year’s fest. That would certainly be something to get the conversation moving along, not to mention the unexpected hits that come out of the greatest film festival on the planet.

So where to start? Well, I think this year it’s important to start with Sundance, a fest that delivered two Best Picture nominees this past year with Boyhood and Whiplash. This year the most likely candidates for a Best Picture nomination are the Fox Searchlight acquisitions Brooklyn and Me & Earl & the Dying Girl. Between the two, however, the recently set November release date for Brooklyn paints it as the more likely end of year contender while Me & Earl is set to arrive in July.

While we’re talking Fox Searchlight, the studio also has the next film from Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers ClubWild) in Demolition, a drama starring the on fire Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts based on the 2007 Black List script by Bryan Sipe. The studio also has Thomas Vinterberg‘s Far from the Madding Crowd, but that May 1 release tells me it has already been lost in the conversation.

Returning to the fold this year are several Best Director nominees and winners such as David O. Russell with his muse Jennifer Lawrence starring in JoySteven Spielberg teaming again with Tom Hanks for Bridge of SpiesTom Hooper (The King’s Speech) with Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne in The Danish GirlRobert Zemeckis with The WalkQuentin Tarantino with The Hateful EightOliver Stone with SnowdenRon Howard with In the Heart of the SeaStephen Frears with IconWoody Allen and his Irrational ManGus Van Sant‘s The Sea of TreesJonathan Demme with Meryl Streep for Ricky and the Flash and Richard Linklater is back with That’s What I’m Talking About.

One of the bigger past winners that stands out to me is Danny Boyle‘s Steve Jobs with a screenplay from Aaron Sorkin. Can Boyle return to the winner’s circle and also give the latest Sorkin script a win? From the sounds of it the film will have something of a stage approach to its telling, which could very well win over the actor’s branch and would this make up for the loss Sorkin’s The Social Network saw when it faced The King’s Speech a couple years back?

The Jobs pic has obviously had a tumultuous route to the big screen after David Fincher was on then off and as the hacking of Sony Pictures saw a lot of behind-the-scenes details spill into the media, but isn’t that just the kind of attention a film needs to remain in the spotlight for this long and keep the conversation moving? Of course, Boyle and his cast, led by Michael Fassbender in the lead role, need to put together a great film, but this ticks off a lot of boxes typically needed to move the Academy into your corner.

I also can’t forget this year’s Oscar winning director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose The Revenant starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy has all the makings of an Oscar juggernaut. However, I just don’t see back-to-back wins for Inarritu or a film he directs, though this might be the chance for one of his actors to take the little gold statue where Michael Keaton fell short this year. How hard is it really to see DiCaprio hoisting his first Oscar for this one?

There are a few I’m quite curious about as well, such as James Vanderbilt‘s directorial debut with Truth with Robert Redford as Dan Rather and Cate Blanchett as Mary Mapes; Peter Landesman‘s Concussion starring Will Smith; and Jay Roach‘s Trumbo. You put higher profile names in the director’s chair on these and you’d probably see them higher on most early contender lists. Landesman’s Parkland was a bit of a mess and Roach is largely a comedic director, though Recount and Game Change show Roach has some dramatic chops. Then there’s Vanderbilt, who did give us the script for David Fincher‘s Zodiac, but lately he’s only offered screenplays for films such as The Amazing Spider-Man, its sequel and White House Down.

One strong possibility is David Gordon Green‘s Our Brand is Crisis focusing on the use of American political campaign strategies in South America. The film stars Sandra BullockZoe KazanBilly Bob ThorntonAnthony MackieScoot McNairyAnn Dowd and Joaquim de Almeida and seems like a strong contender for a late year festival premiere.

Speaking of premieres, the last three Best Picture Oscar winners opened in October, will the same happen again this year? It paid no role in making it my early year pick to win it all, but yes Steve Jobs does open in October on the 9th, as does The Walk and Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. I don’t know about you, but those are three films directed by three Best Director Oscar winners… if there are some good odds in Vegas, that might be a bet you’d want to make.

This year we also have Pixar returning to the fold with Inside Out. The last time director Pete Docter made a film it was Up and it not only won Best Animated Feature, but it was also nominated for Best Picture.

I wanted to put John Hillcoat‘s Triple 9 a little higher on this early list, but Hillcoat has been hit and miss and has never been a hit with the Academy. Also, I am having a hard time putting Cary Fukunaga‘s Beasts of No Nation very high as I imagine the Academy isn’t quite ready to nominate a day-and-date streaming title, especially if theaters aren’t willing to show it.

I’m also very curious to see what Jodie Foster is going to deliver with Money Monster, a film starring George Clooney as Lee Gates, a bombastic financial TV personality who offers up stock advice on his hit show “Money Monster.” As far as I can tell, this seems to be a send up of CNBC’s Jim Cramer and his show “Mad Money” mixed with a little Network. Along with Clooney the film co-stars Jack O’Connell (UnbrokenStarred Up) and Julia Roberts, which is to say… yeah, this one stands a chance.

Finally, there’s Genius, which I knew nothing about until a few days ago. It comes from award-winning theatre director Michael Grandage, making his feature film debut, with a screenplay by John Logan (GladiatorSpectre), adapting A. Scott Berg‘s “Max Perkins: Editor of Genius”. The pic tells of Max Perkins’s (Colin Firth) time as the book editor at Scribner, where he oversaw works by Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law), Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West), F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) and others. Nicole KidmanLaura LinneyVanessa Kirby and Elaine Caulfield co-star. Genius does not yet have a domestic distributor, though filming is complete after a Fall 2014 shoot, so it could very easily find its way into this year’s race.


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