The year is half over and Oscar voters need to catch up on their homework. There have been many worthwhile films in the first six months of 2017, including “Get Out” from writer-director Jordan Peele (Universal, Blumhouse); “Logan,” the dark, tender neo-Western from director James Mangold (Fox); and the sumptuous mega-hit “Beauty and the Beast” (director Bill Condon, Disney).
A few years ago, these would have been extreme longshots, at best. But there have been changes in Academy voters and their tastes. Recent winners including “Moonlight,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Ex Machina” prove that voters are redefining what is considered “Oscar bait.” The blurred definition is a challenge to awards strategists, but good news for hopefuls.
The January-June period has seen many other films with Oscar potential in various categories; see the accompanying reminders by Variety colleagues Kris Tapley and Jenelle Riley. And, needless to say, other contenders will be covered a lot before the March 4, 2018, Oscar ceremony.
Diversity has been a key theme. This year, several films directed by women could be in the mix, including Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled” (Focus Features), Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” (Warner Bros.), and Aisling Walsh’s “Maudie” (Sony Pictures Classics). Still to come are works from Kathryn Bigelow (Annapurna’s much-buzzed “Detroit”), Dee Rees (Netflix’s “Mudbound”); Margaret Betts (Sony Classics’ “Novitiate”) and Angelina Jolie (Netflix’s “First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers”).
There are also upcoming works from international filmmakers like Sebastian Lelio, Alfonso Gomez-Rijon, Michael Gracey, Yorgos Lanthimos and Taika Waititi. They will join veterans including Guillermo del Toro, Alexander Payne, Stephen Frears, Richard Linklater, Steven Spielberg, George Clooney, Darren Aronofsky and Paul Thomas Anderson.
Here are month-by-month opening dates, followed by a list of films that made a splash at the year’s film festivals so far. And the upcoming festivals will also add a few twists to the Oscar race.
The director and stars are listed for purpose of jogging readers’ memories; it’s not a matter of handicapping, since it’s pointless to make predictions about films that have not been widely seen.
July: “War for the Planet of the Apes” (directed by Matt Reeves; starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson; Fox)
August: “Detroit” (Kathryn Bigelow; John Boyega; Annapurna); “Logan Lucky” (Steven Soderbergh; Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig; Bleecker Street); “Patty Cake$” (Geremy Jasper; Danielle Macdonald; Searchlight); “Wind River” (Taylor Sheridan; Elizabeth Olsen; The Weinstein Co.).
September: “American Made” (Doug Liman; Tom Cruise; Universal); “Battle of the Sexes” (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris; Emma Stone, Steve Carell; Fox Searchlight); “First They Killed My Father” (Angelina Jolie; Netflix); “Victoria and Abdul” (Stephen Frears; Judi Dench; Focus).
October: “Blade Runner 2049” (Denis Villeneuve; Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford; WB); “Breathe” (Andy Serkis; Andrew Garfield; Bleecker Street, Participant); “Goodbye Christopher Robin” (Simon Curtis; Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie; Searchlight); “Marshall” (Reginald Hudlin; with Chadwick Boseman as Thurgood Marshall; Open Road); “Mother!” (Darren Aronofsky; Jennifer Lawrence; Paramount); “The Mountain Between Us” (Hany Abu-Assad; Idris Elba, Kate Winslet; Fox); “Thank You for Your Service” (Jason Hall; Miles Teller; Universal)
November: “Darkest Hour” (Joe Wright; Gary Oldman; Focus); “Last Flag Flying” (Richard Linklater; Bryan Cranston; Amazon); “The Man Who Invented Christmas” (Bharat Nalluri; Dan Stevens; Bleecker Street); “Mary Magdalene” (Garth Davis; Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix; TWC); “Murder on the Orient Express” (Kenneth Branagh; Johnny Depp; Fox); “Suburbicon” (George Clooney; Matt Damon; Paramount); “Thor: Ragnarok” (Taika Waititi; Chris Hemsworth; Disney, Marvel Studios); “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Martin McDonagh; Frances McDormand; Searchlight).
December: “The Greatest Showman” (Michael Gracey; Hugh Jackman; Fox); “The Current War” (Alfonso Gomez-Rijon; Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon; TWC); “Downsizing” (Alexander Payne; Matt Damon, Laura Dern; Paramount); “The Papers” (Steven Spielberg; Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep; Fox, Amblin); “The Shape of Water” (Guillermo del Toro; Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer; Searchlight); “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (Rian Johnson; Disney, Lucasfilm); “Phantom Thread” (Paul Thomas Anderson; Daniel Day-Lewis; Focus); “Wonder Wheel” (Woody Allen; James Belushi, Kate Winslet; Amazon).
And some of the festival hits so far this year:
Sundance: “The Big Sick” (Michael Showalter; Kumail Nanjiani, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter; Amazon, Lionsgate); “Call Me By Your Name” (Luca Guadagnino; Armie Hammer; Sony Pictures Classics); “The Hero” (Brett Haley; Sam Elliott; The Orchard); Also: “Mudbound” and “Wind River.”
Berlin: “The Lost City of Z” (James Gray; Charlie Hunnam; Amazon, Bleecker Street); “Final Portrait” (Stanley Tucci; Geoffrey Rush; Sony Classics); “Maudie” (Aisling Walsh; Sally Hawkins; Sony Classics).
South by Southwest: “The Disaster Artist” (James Franco; A24).
Cannes: “Good Time” (Safdie brothers; Robert Pattinson; A24); “You Were Never Really Here” (Lynne Ramsay; Joaquin Phoenix; Amazon); “Okja” (Bong Joon Ho; Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal; Netflix); “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” (Noah Baumbach; Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller; Netflix); “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (Yorgos Lanthimos; Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell; A24); “The Florida Project” (Sean Baker; Willem Dafoe; A24); “Happy End” (Michael Haneke; Isabelle Huppert; Sony Classics); “Wonderstruck” (Todd Haynes; Julianne Moore; Amazon, Roadside Attractions).
There are also plenty of great documentaries, animated movies and foreign-language films, but those are for later columns.