2017 Oscar Movie Season Preview

The first weekend of September 2016 has brought us two major disappointments (The Disappointments Room and When the Bough Breaks) and one movie with some early Oscar buzz. Clint Eastwood’s biopic Sully is earning attention, particularly for Tom Hanks’ usual strong performance. With Summer behind us and the mediocre lot of September ahead, I feel the need to look a few months down the line at some movies that promise to be some of the best of the year.

Oscar-nominated movies can come around at any time during the calendar year. We will more than likely see some Spring and Summer movies sneaking into the roster of 2017 hopefuls. However, the “Oscar movie season” is the time at the end of the year (generally November and December, with some films not getting full nationwide releases until January) where studios dump their top Oscar contenders.

This year, of course, is no different. We have dark horses like Sully coming out in September, and films like The Magnificent Seven and Snowden will follow suit in the coming weeks. These September releases will try for Oscar gold, but will likely lose media traction as we head into November.

Let’s take a look at some of these late-year movies that are in the hunt for Best Picture (ordered by release date). Note: I have not yet seen any of these films, so the conversation about them is purely speculative.


The Birth of a Nation – Oct. 7


Nate Parker’s directorial debut, The Birth of a Nation, made the most noise coming out of Sundance, and the film has been bouncing around the Oscar discussion ever since. However, talk changed when controversy over a sexual assault allegation against Parker became media fodder. The 1999 incident resulted in Parker’s acquittal, but information of the victim’s suicide caused the media scrutiny. This controversy has put the potential success of Parker’s film in question, but a recent standing ovation that the film received during the Toronto International Film Festival shows that it is still a viable candidate for award season attention.


Moonlight – Oct. 21


If the Oscars wants to recover from the “#OscarsSoWhite” controversy that plagued its last two ceremonies, than it has a lot of films to look at this year. Moonlight is just one of them. Director Barry Jenkins’ sophomore outing, the film tells the story of an African American man growing up within Miami’s inner city. The trailer for the film paints it as an intense emotional drama. Based on this trailer alone, Trevante Rhodes and Mahershala Ali both appear to be giving award-worthy performances. And musician Janelle Monae appearing in two high-profile award season films (this and Hidden Figures) may tip some scales in her favor, as well.


American Pastoral – Oct. 28


Actors moving behind the camera has reshaped entire careers in the past (most recently with Ben Affleck’s directorial works). With American Pastoral, Scottish actor Ewan McGregor takes a crack at being the head honcho. Pastoral, which is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Philip Roth novel, is a 1960s period peace drama about family and political ideology. McGregor also stars, but it is Dakota Fanning that is getting the most attention for her turn. Early reviews of the film are tepid at best, most citing the impossibility of making Roth cinematically viable, but the film has dark horse potential ( gives Fanning 33/1 odds of earning a nomination).


Loving – Nov. 4


Jeff Nichols Loving, a tale of illegal interracial marriage, was nominated for the Palm d’Or at Cannes earlier this year. Both leads, Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton, are getting significant buzz as the married couple sentenced to prison in 1950s Virginia. According to GoldDerby, the film is a top five Best Picture contender. With strong odds for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay would also be strong bets. Nichols, whose prior works Midnight Special, Mud, and Take Shelter came with critical praise, will likely get deserving recognition with Loving following this strong body of work.


Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – Nov. 11


Ang Lee is an Oscars favorite. The first director of Asian descent to win Best Director (Brokeback Mountain), Lee returns in 2016 with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Despite its mouthful of a name, Halftime Walk looks as emotionally gripping and powerful as one would expect from Lee. His name alone brings award talk to the film, but Kristen Stewart and Steve Martin have also been part of the Oscar conversation. Heck, Vin Diesal’s name might start floating around the conversation as well (I mean, probably not, but anything could happen). Halftime Walk will easily pick up a handful of nominations, unless this somehow becomes a Hulk.


Arrival – Nov. 11


Director Denis Villeneuve is a personal favorite of mine, but I will try not to let my bias show. His film from last year, Sicario, was well-received and earned three Oscar nominations. The science fiction thriller Arrival may be a completely different movie narrative, but the film is already being heralded by critics as a new, welcome addition to the sci-fi canon. From Amy Adams’ performance, to Bradford Young’s camera work, to Johann Johannsson’s score, to Villeneuve’s directing, there are plenty of areas from which Oscar noms can be pulled. Expect Arrival to be talked about throughout awards season.


Manchester by the Sea – Nov. 18


If any movie has the word “Oscar” attached to it this year, it is Manchester by the Sea. GoldDerby has it at number one pretty much across the board, and early reviews are giving it much acclaim. Nominations for Best Picture, Best Director (Kenneth Lonergan), Best Actor (Casey Affleck), and Best Actress (Michelle Williams) (or Best Supporting Actress, given how they determine her role) all feel like certainties at this point. Best Supporting Actor (Lucas Hedges) and Best Original Screenplay (Kenneth Lonergan) also seem more than plausible. Manchester by the Sea may prove to be the film to beat in 2016.


Lion – Nov. 25


Lion is a story about a man searching for his birth parents using Google Maps. Dev Patel’s leading role as the Australian-raised, Indian-born man could raise the attention of Academy voters, although the Best Actor category will have a stacked shortlist. Nicole Kidman, too, could slide into a supporting category nomination. The success of this film in award season may come down to how the film resonates with consumers, as Lion does not have the best word of mouth behind it as of now. If nothing else, the true story could get a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination given an award season that is perhaps shaping up to have more original stories than adapted ones.


La La Land – Dec. 2


Damien Chazelle burst onto the scene with 2014’s Whiplash, which earned widespread acclaim and some Oscar attention (including a much-deserved win for J.K. Simmons). His next feature, La La Land, brings Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone together in a musical romance. This formula will certainly translate to something less intense than Whiplash, but it is also a formula that is perfect at cracking the strange code of the Golden Globes’ Musical/Comedy categories. A shoo-in for wins in these categories, that momentum may lead to Oscar attention as well.


 Fences – Dec. 25


The Tony award-winning play Fences gets a big-screen face-lift from Denzel Washington, who directs and stars in the film. The screenplay adaptation is also written by August Wilson, the playwright. This combination screams Oscars. Washington, a two-time Oscar winner, has a good chance of getting consideration in acting and directing, and Wilson will certainly get a nomination as well. Viola Davis, too, is a front-runner for Best Actress.


The Post-Script

This is only a smattering of films that will be vying for Oscar gold. Trying to cover all of them would take far too long. I didn’t even mention the new Scorsese film, Silence, as it does not yet have a solidified release date. The award season landscape will almost certainly shift perspectives between now and 2017. Movies like American Pastoral and Lion may fall off the face of the conversation altogether. Movies not mentioned here like Rules Don’t Apply and Hidden Figures may prove more successful. I just cherry picked from the massive list of late-year movies. Completionists should be sure to look into further films.


As always, thanks for reading!

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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)


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