Your Oscar Season Cheat Sheet

A Lightning-Round Primer On Every Movie You Should See From Now Through January

By Merle Ginsberg ·
DreamWorks Pictures

Okay, the good movies are finally rolling into theaters. The fancy ones. The prestige ones. The ones that will be competing for that precious statue of a man named Oscar. So subscribe to MoviePass immediately (seriously, it's $10 for one movie per day in the theaters, every day) and see every one of the following:


James Ivory’s original screenplay is both a coming-of-age story and a poignant gay love story. Best Director candidate Luca Guadagnino’s other film's set in a glorious Italian summer—I Am Love and A Bigger Splash—led up to this, the best-reviewed movie of the year, with sure thing Best Actor nominee/newcomer Timothée Chalametand Best Supporting nominees Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg duking it out with each other. It’s not only a definite Best Picture candidate, it could well be this year’s Moonlight—the little movie that could, and does.


A very weird, but gorgeous, story in which British actress Sally Hawkins plays a mute who falls in love in a 1960s science lab with a mutated fish-creature. This one will also clean up: Hawkins (mute the whole film) and director Guillermo del Toro are locks for nominations, with best supporting noms likely for killer character actors Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins.


Do we have to say anything other than this is Daniel Day-Lewis’s last movie? And auteur Paul Thomas Anderson’s (Magnolia, There Will Be Blood) take on love, the inability to love, and the high-fashion world of the 1950s? Prediction: Oscar noms for Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Costumes for Mark Bridges (The Grifter, The Artist, etc.), and maybe even Best Director.


The blackest of comedies—a twisted story about vengeance and white hot hate in the hottest genre this year (probably since the world’s become a black comedy). Playwright/director Martin McDonagh and star Frances McDormand will surely get nods. The fierce and feisty McDormand is the odds-on favorite for Best Actress, in her best role ever. And she’s had some good ones. Oft-underrated Sam Rockwell’s the guy to beat for Best Supporting Actor as a raging redneck cop, but he’ll compete with co-star Woody Harrelson.


You might expect writer/actress Greta Gerwig to write a great smart-teen-in-a-tepid-town black comedy (yes, another one), but you wouldn’t expect her to direct what will no doubt be a big awards contender her first time out. The top likely noms: best screenplay, director, actress Saoirse Ronan, supporting actress (Laurie Metcalf as meddling mom). This year’s quirky-little-comedy-makes big impact.


Okay, you don’t even have to leave the house to see Noah Baumbach’s dark dysfunctional family comedy/drama for Netflix. The dialogue by the triple threat writer/director/producer is stellar, but its best Oscar hope is Supporting Actor-worthy Adam Sandler, who decided to put in his patented one good acting performance per decade in this one.


Gary Oldman isn’t just a lock for a Best Actor nomination playing crusty, heavy-set, bloated Winston Churchill in his finest and toughest hour, he’s a lock to win. All the other actors can stay home (which says a lot in a year where DDL deigns to act). It's a very specific look at Churchill, all about his words (and Oldman’s interpretation of them: uncanny). Director Joe Wright (Atonement) and supporting actor Ben Mendelsohn’s stuttering George VI will enter Oscar nominee categories, too.


The most surprising movie of the year is indie Get Out, the risky, genre-bending horror movie (although the Golden Globes seem to think it's a comedy) about race. Highly relevant. We knew director Jordan Peele was funny (Key and Peele). We didn’t know he could write/produce and direct—at an auteur level—a movie that cost just $5 million, and made over $250 mil. He’ll get a Best Director nom and an Original Screenplay one, at the very least.


Director Dee Rees’s story about race in a post-WWII world could push Rees through the Oscar glass ceiling: she’s got a good chance of being the first black woman to ever get nominated for Best Director. Mary J. Blige is a definite breakout supporting actress candidate—a pop star singer turned great actress—a la Mariah Carey in Precious and Janelle Monae in Hidden Figures.


Christopher Nolan’s an established auteur: writer/director/producer; he’s incapable of doing anything uninteresting. His eerie, claustrophobic story of the evacuation of trapped British soldiers during WWII (which is also the one also taken up in The Darkest Hour, though from a very different angle) could get Nolan a Best Original Screenplay nod, and Oscar winner Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) another supporting nom.


This dark comedy (hello, old friend) stars a quirky six year old, but Willem Dafoe as the curmudgeon-with-a heart-of-gold (the Bill Murray role) is a frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor, neck and neck with Sam Rockwell.


Aaron Sorkin’s scripts are fast, furious and wordy. This story of a Hollywood poker moll was also directed by him, but its Oscar noms will probably go for his original screenplay, and star Jessica Chastain.


Yet another black comedy, this one written, directed and acted by James Franco, playing mega-weirdo-wacko auteur Tommy Wiseau in the story of the making of the worst movie of all time. Franco just picked up the Gotham Award, and if the Motion Picture Academy’s got a sense of humor, he’ll get a Best Actor nod there, too. At the very least, he’ll take home the Golden Globe in the Comedy/Musical category.


Comic Kumail Nanjiani busts out of Silicon Valley to become, yes, an auteur; he and wife Emily V. Gordon wrote this movie about their meeting. Not cute, but horribly ill. Holly Hunter will nab a big comeback with a best supporting bid, and Nanjiani might get recognition for original screenplay.


Yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, another black comedy. This one re: the 1994 scandal of Olympic ice skater Tonya Harding’s plot/attack on top competitor Nancy Kerrigan. Not a likely subject for comedy, which makes it all the cooler. Margot Robbie as blue collar? She’s brilliant. Definite best actress caliber. And Allison Janney is the best mom (and supporting actress) in the biz.


Okay, so the story let us down. Even so, the sweeping visual panorama of its 2049 post-apocalyptic dystopia will earn Cinematographer Roger Deakins and Production Designer Dennis Gassner Oscar noms, and very likely, wins.


In the year of fake news, Spielberg’s story of reporters busting a corrupt government (the Washington Post and the Pentagon papers) couldn’t be more relevant. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep (as Post editor Ben Bradlee and publisher Catherine Graham, respectively) are, as usual, sure-thing nominees for lead acting noms, and since when has Spielberg not been a town favorite?

Merle Ginsberg

Merle Ginsberg is an overeducated pop culture critic/writer who likes to think she’s an intellectual—except she lives in L.A. and watches way too much TV and reads too many fashion magazines.

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