The last-minute releases of a calendar year have traditionally been looked upon as possible “late-breaking” entries or “shake-ups” to an awards season. Best picture winners such as James Cameron’s “Titanic,” Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” and Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby,” which opened in theaters in mid- to late December, are perennially cited as prime examples.
More recently, many others have attempted to mount such a feat only to come up empty-handed. In 2017, “The Shape of Water” from Guillermo del Toro was the first December release to win in 13 years. Even so, the fantasy drama started its journey at the Venice and Telluride film festivals in September.
This year, the Oscars don’t have a conventional “December” in play, since the eligibility period is extended through February for the April 2021 ceremony. Here’s a look at movies scheduled to open in January and February to see if a best picture winner is waiting in the wings of the later winter months.
Palmer (Apple TV Plus)
Fisher Stevens has traveled through all parts of the filmmaking realm, from shorts to features, even winning an Academy Award for documentary feature for 2009’s “The Cove.” With his new movie, “Palmer,” he’s showing the cinematic world the softer side of Justin Timberlake, here playing a man who becomes a father figure to a young boy in his hometown.
The Little Things (HBO Max/Warner Bros.)
John Lee Hancock is a filmmaker who has walked the line of straightforward biopics like “The Blind Side” and “Saving Mr. Banks,” but he seems to be taking a different turn with Denzel Washington and Jared Leto as the leads in this thriller. Could this be his big Academy play?
Land (Focus Features)
Robin Wright adds to the robust list of female-directed films this year with her feature debut, which premieres at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Amid an impeccable career with strong performances in “Forrest Gump” and “She’s So Lovely,” Wright hopes she can direct herself to her first Oscar nomination.
Cherry (Apple TV Plus)
After helming the global highest-grossing film of all time, “Avengers: Endgame,” the Russo brothers are going into the world of the opioid epidemic with Tom Holland as the lead. In Holland’s most mature outing yet, alongside a breakout turn from Ciara Bravo, the two create raw characters that may feel more real than audiences would like to admit.
Tom & Jerry (HBO Max/Warner Bros.)
Animated/live-action hybrids have been very popular before, as with classics such as 1988’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” which walked away with three Oscars. Tim Story has shown his affinity for popcorn entertainment (2002’s “Barbershop”) — maybe he can bring the Hanna-Barbera characters into the modern moment.
The United States vs. Billie Holiday (Hulu)
Lee Daniels was Oscar nominated for 2008’s “Precious” and has demonstrated his ability to garner outstanding performances from his actors. With Andra Day in the role of the iconic singer and a move to Hulu for release, perhaps this film will enable the streamer to be the first to achieve Oscar glory, as it did at the Emmys with “The Handmaid’s Tale.”