The year reaches the halfway mark on June 30, and traditionally films from the first six months have an uphill battle in the Oscar race. However, this year’s January-June crop might get a boost from the accelerated schedule: Nominations voting is a tight Jan. 2-Jan. 7, 2020. So if voters start their homework now, early films will have a leg-up over hopefuls that might get lost in the fourth-quarter glut.
So far, the festivals have offered strong possibilities, including Sundance’s “The Report”; and several from Cannes, including “Pain and Glory” from Pedro Almodovar; “Parasite,” from Bong Joon-ho; and “Rocketman.”
Films in 2019 general release have offered plenty of terrific work, including “Booksmart,” “Late Night,” Danny Boyle’s “Yesterday,” and Jordan Peele’s “Us,” plus the knockout “Shadow,” from master director Zhang Yimou (released domestically by Well Go USA Entertainment). Best picture possibilities? Hmm, maybe. If voting were held today, Disney-Pixar’s “Toy Story 4” would be a best-pic nominee for sure. (No. 3 was one of the few animated features to earn a nom in that category, and the goodwill toward that series hasn’t wavered.)
All these films will be getting heavyweight competition in the next six months. The upcoming list includes Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” for Netflix; Jay Roach’s star-filled untitled project about Fox News; James Mangold’s racing pic “Ford v Ferrari”; Kasi Lemmons’ “Harriet,” about Harriet Tubman; Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers in Tristar’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” from Marielle Heller; Tom Hooper’s musical “Cats”; and Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women.”
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Of those seven films, five are fact-based — which is a reminder of the studios’ ongoing love affair with biopics.
That upcoming roster also includes Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland in “Judy”; Eddie Murphy as comic Rudy Ray Moore in “Dolemite Is My Name”; Eddie Redmayne as 19th century scientist James Glaisher in “The Aeronauts”; participants in the Panama Papers scandal in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Laundromat,” starring Meryl Streep; and pontiffs Benedict and Francis in Fernando Meirelles’ “The Pope,” scripted by Anthony McCarten.
There are also a slew of films from woman directors, which also includes Amazon’s “Late Night” (Nisha Ganatra) and “Honey Boy” (Alma Har’el), A24’s “The Farewell” (Lulu Wang), IFC’s “The Nightingale” (Jennifer Kent), Universal’s “Queen & Slim” (Melina Matsoukas), Netflix’s “Atlantique” (Mati Diop), and Bleecker Street’s untitled Sally Potter drama with Elle Fanning.
And yes, Annapurna/UA’s “Booksmart” is definitely a contender. Ignore the bloggers’ handwringing about box-office because awards voters don’t factor in B.O. and, more importantly, they like Olivia Wilde and the film.
Aside from best picture, there are plenty of Oscar categories to consider, plus such other honors as Golden Globes, Indie Spirit Awards and the guilds. And 2019 has showcased great below-the-line work (“Aladdin,” “The Avengers: Endgame,” “John Wick 3: Parabellum,” and “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” to name a few). There have been some terrific performances that we are pulling for: Mary Kay Place, “Diane”; Matthias Schoenaerts, “The Mustang”; and Keanu Reeves for everything: lead actor, supporting and lifetime achievement. He’s always good, but this seems to be a big Keanu year so maybe he can finally get some overdue awards recognition.
Here’s a list of other July-December films, with disclaimers. First, there are always late additions and second, many of these will fade before year-end awards. Third, these are all narratives, with no docs, foreign-language or animated features. Those will be handled in future columns; hey, we still have eight months to go and there’s plenty to say.
Another note: The names below are director, actor(s), then distributor; they’re listed for ease in ID’ing a film if the title doesn’t ring a bell, not as a prediction. It’s a fool’s errand to handicap awards without having seen the film, though some people seem to enjoy doing it.
“Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood” (Quentin Tarantino; Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt; Sony)
“The Lion King” (Jon Favreau; Beyonce, Donald Glover; Disney)
“After the Wedding” (Bart Freundlich; Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams: Sony Pictures Classics)
“Brian Banks” (Tom Shadyac; Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear; Bleecker Street)
“Official Secrets” (Gavin Hood; Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode; IFC Films)
“The Goldfinch” (John Crowley; Nicole Kidman, Sarah Paulson, Ansel Elgort; Warner Bros.)
“Downton Abbey” (Michael Engler; writer Julian Fellowes; Focus)
“Ad Astra” (James Gray; Brad Pitt; Fox)
“Jojo Rabbit” (Taika Waititi; Scarlett Johansson, Roman Griffin Davis; Fox Searchlight)
“Woman in the Window” (Joe Wright; Amy Adams; Fox)
“Gemini Man” (Ang Lee; Will Smith; Paramount)
“Joker” (Todd Phillips; Joaquin Phoenix; Warner Bros.)
“Motherless Brooklyn” (Edward Norton; Bruce Willis; Warner Bros.)
“The Good Liar” (Bill Condon; Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen; Warner Bros.)
“Burden” (Andrew Heckler; Garrett Hedlund, Forest Whitaker; 101 Studios)
“Knives Out” (writer-director Rian Johnson; Daniel Craig; Lionsgate)
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” (J.J. Abrams; Disney/Lucasfilm)
“1917” (Sam Mendes; Richard Madden, George MacKay; Amblin, Universal)
“A Hidden Life” (Terrence Malick; Fox Searchlight)
Release date TBA
“Against All Enemies” (Benedict Andrews; Kristen Stewart as Jean Seberg; Amazon)
“Frankie” (Ira Sachs; Isabelle Huppert, Marisa Tomei; SPC)
“The King” (David Michod; Timothee Chalamet, Joel Edgerton; Netflix)
“The Last Thing He Wanted” (Dee Rees; Anne Hathaway; Netflix)
“Les Miserables” (Ladj Ly; Amazon)
“The Lighthouse” (Robert Eggers; Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson; A24)
“Lucy in the Sky” (Noah Hawley; Natalie Portman; Fox Searchlight)
“Ordinary Love” (directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa, Glenn Leyburn; stars Liam Neeson, Lesley Manville; Bleecker Street)
“Troop Zero” (Bert & Bertie; Mckenna Grace, Viola Davis; Amazon)
“Uncut Gems” Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie; starring Adam Sandler; A24)
Untitled Noah Baumbach project (Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern; Netflix)
Untitled Todd Haynes (with Anne Hathaway, Mark Ruffalo; Focus).