It’s September, so summer is officially over. Boo hoo. However, as the sunny days and big-budget blockbusters are put behind us, we move towards the most exciting part of the movie year: awards season. In the legendarily long build-up to the Oscars at the end of next February, countless films vying for awards glory will hit cinemas (and streaming sites). So, to find the hidden gems in the enormous haystack, I’ve picked out 10 films to watch out for this awards season.
Yes, you can’t even escape comic book movies in awards season nowadays. However, every year has a standout blockbuster, and it looks almost certain that Joker – starring Joaquin Phoenix – will be the one to take awards season by storm.
The film, which is styling itself more as a psychological study of a disturbed man than a pure superhero movie, was met with huge acclaim at its premiere at the Venice Film Festival just this weekend, and with its full release only just over a month away, Joker is gearing up to be a spectacular opening to awards season.
It’ll definitely be worth the watch for all, but when it comes to its chances at big Oscar glory, it may fall rather short. Its early critical acclaim notwithstanding, an early October release is more often than not a death sentence for films vying for Best Picture or other top prizes (just look at Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born last year – a runaway leader early in the season, only to finish up in the midfield).
Chances of Best Picture nomination: 75%
UK Release Date: 4 October
9. Parasite (기생충)
Awards season isn’t just about Hollywood, and although most of the world’s attention is focused on American movies, there are always a handful of international films that find their way into the running.
This year, it looks most likely that director Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite will be the one to give the English-language movies a run for their money. Winner of the prestigious Palme D’Or at Cannes earlier this year, and having had a hugely successful run in its home country of South Korea, Parasite has all the ingredients to launch a campaign for awards glory in the last quarter of this year.
You may already know of Bong Joon-ho from past hits like The Host and Snowpiercer, and that international fame will be hugely helpful in getting Parasite, a dark comedy thriller about an unemployed family, to the top of the playbill in cinemas across the world. A win for best International Feature Film (as it’s now called) is almost certain at the Oscars, but with a good reception around the world, Parasite could make the push for a Best Picture nod too.
Chances of Best Picture Nomination: 45%
UK Release Date: TBC
8. Little Women
From director Greta Gerwig, who first received major awards attention for her coming-of-age comedy-drama Lady Bird two years ago, comes the hotly-anticipated big screen adaptation of Little Women.
With an all-star cast that features Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, Florence Pugh, Timothée Chalamet and more, there’s no doubt that Little Women will pull in crowds at the box office as well as attention from awards bodies, and with a director in Greta Gerwig who has already proved herself on the big stage, this film will be a heavyweight towards the end of awards season.
Its chances of success are multiplied by a late December release, opening up the opportunity to upset the balance of the race in progress, while its subject matter of female emancipation (and its period drama setting) are a huge draw for awards attention. Its release might still be a while away, but Little Women stands a very good chance of some big awards.
Chances of Best Picture nomination: 65%
UK Release Date: 26 December
7. The Farewell
From awards machine A24, The Farewell has already been met with consistent and high acclaim from festivals across the world, as well as on general release in the United States, so as we come towards the beginning of awards season proper, it’s a film at the front of everybody’s minds.
The story of a young woman and her family who travel to China to spend time with their grandmother but decide to keep her in the dark about her diagnosis with a terminal illness, The Farewell is certain to be packed with heartbreaking, bittersweet emotion from beginning to end, and will surely be one of the tearjerkers of the season.
While the Oscars pat themselves on the back with big studio dramas, more independent, intimate films like The Farewell always find an audience, and as the film combines its heavy emotional drama with a brand of comedy, as well as featuring Crazy Rich Asians star Awkwafina in the lead role, it’s not a movie that will be forgotten easily, even with its early release in the season.
Chances of Best Picture nomination: 40%
UK Release Date: 20 September
A film doesn’t have to be chock full of A-listers or high, emotional drama to be a big awards contender, and Harriet is likely to be one of the dark horses of the season ahead.
Starring Cynthia Erivo – one of the breakout stars of 2018 for her roles in Bad Times At The El Royale and Widows – the film tells the true history of Harriet Tubman and her escape from slavery and rise to become one of the greatest heroes in the emancipation of slaves across the United States.
It may not be the film to draw audiences of all ages and fascinations to the cinema in their thousands, but the success of the likes of 12 Years A Slave proves that the subject matter isn’t just a big hitter at awards ceremonies, but also one that can receive plaudits from general audiences, and with the story’s combination with the odd bit of action alongside a worthy, fascinating history, Harriet is sure to be one of the standout releases of the next few months.
Chances of Best Picture nomination: 65%
UK Release Date: TBC
5. Jojo Rabbit
There’s always one film that’s very much the cat among the proverbial pigeons, and this year that’s likely to be Jojo Rabbit, a film that fits almost none of the traditional criteria for a top awards contender.
From director and Hollywood’s favourite Kiwi, Taika Watiti, this offbeat, dark and quirky comedy-drama tells the story of a young boy in the Hitler Youth who faces a moral struggle after discovering his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in his house, and forms a strange relationship with an imaginary version of the Fuhrer.
As I said, a quirky comedy featuring a young boy and his best friend Adolf Hitler isn’t the sort of thing that screams awards glory, but Jojo Rabbit actually takes a look at some very serious issues of fascism, cult of personality, hatred and more alongside the typically offbeat sense of humour we’re used to from Watiti. It’ll be a contender in the Screenplay categories, but won’t win Best Picture, and might ruffle a few feathers along the way. However, if you’re looking for something a little different later this year, then Jojo Rabbit is the one to watch.
Chance of Best Picture nomination: 20%
UK Release Date: 3 January
The First World War has never really got the attention it deserves on the big screen over the years, with no films focusing on the war winning Best Picture since Lawrence Of Arabia in 1962, while WWII films have taken the top prize four times in the same period.
However, if there’s one film to buck that trend, it might just be director Sam Mendes’ 1917, perhaps the biggest First World War film in a very long time. With an intensity and darkness that captures the same attention as Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, and a story that harks back to Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, 1917 is pretty much a shoo-in for awards success this season.
Couple that with a cast that features A-listers Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin Firth in supporting roles, and relative awards unknowns George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman in leading roles (similar to Fionn Whitehead in Dunkirk), 1917 has all the potential to be a magnet for awards all season long, and perhaps even a big, successful run at the box office, offering a look into a history that’s often unfairly overlooked on the big screen.
Chances of Best Picture nomination: 90%
UK Release Date: 10 January
3. Marriage Story
From director Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story aims to hark back to the years of classic Oscar winners like Kramer vs. Kramer, Ordinary People and more – a contained, down-to-earth and yet highly emotional drama that looks at the breakdown of a marriage and its impact on a family.
Starring Adam Driver alongside Scarlett Johansson in a role of awards-winning potential that we haven’t seen from her in a long time, Marriage Story promises to be the season’s most intimate and heartbreaking drama, tapping into both the fears and struggles as well as the joys and loves that almost everybody has experienced in life.
Having already received an enormous reception at its premiere in Venice this week, the film’s stock looks set to skyrocket over the next few months, with director Noah Baumbach – who has traditionally been seen as a little too offbeat for the big awards ceremonies – looking at his first chance of big awards success.
Chances of Best Picture nomination: 80%
UK Release Date: 6 December (Netflix)
2. A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood
Tom Hanks – two-time winner of Best Actor at the Oscars – is gold dust for any film that aims to take awards season by storm, and although some of his more recent outings haven’t been met with huge success (Saving Mr. Banks, Sully), A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood looks like it could be a real tour de force for the legendary actor.
The story of beloved American childrens’ show host Fred Rogers, the film is certain to set hearts soaring and minds reminiscing about the good old days, with director Marielle Heller of Can You Ever Forgive Me? injecting a welcome dosgae of pure positivity, kindness and tender, upbeat emotion into the often melodramatic movie world.
If you’re not from the US (like me), then you likely won’t have heard of Fred Rogers and his show. However, while the film will definitely win plaudits from American commentators for its nostalgic value, its delightful trailer proves that international viewers without the same nostalgia too have the opportunity to sympathise with its story and bask in its sheerly wonderful positivity.
Chances of Best Picture nomination: 50%
UK Release Date: 6 December
1. The Irishman
Here it is, perhaps the most unknown quandary of an awards season for quite some time. Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is his first film since his unique passion project, Silence, but with a cast that features Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino, and tells the notorious history of Jimmy Hoffa, it marks the director’s return to the type of movie he’s best known for.
Normally, a Martin Scorsese film with all those stars and that story would be an easy bet for a Best Picture nod and a good few awards along the way, things are a little different with The Irishman.
Firstly, it’s a Netflix film. Now, awards bodies no longer have the aversion to streaming services they did a few years ago – the success of Roma last year proves that – but a film from such an acclaimed, legendary director on a streaming service is something very new, and whether the likes of the Academy will be able to accept that is something that remains to be seen.
Secondly, its recently-announced running time stands at a mammoth 210 minutes. That’s three and a half whole hours – and only just shy of all-time epics like Lawrence Of Arabia and Gone With The Wind, and not the sort of thing that general audiences will be all too enamoured by.
And thirdly, perhaps the one thing that will really ruffle feathers of awards bodies and general audiences alike, is the use of CGI to ‘de-age’ actors – particularly Robert De Niro. The retouching has been used to great effect in films before – Samuel L. Jackson looked decades younger in Captain Marvel, and convincingly so, but for a drama in the running for awards to use CGI to such an extent is a real leap into the unknown, and if it’s not up to quality, or is too intrusive, it could be a nail in the coffin for The Irishman.
Of course, if you’re a fan of Scorsese, this film is the must-watch of the whole year, but it’s also the most interesting one with regards to how the awards season ahead plays out. So watch this space.
Chances of Best Picture nomination: 50%
UK Release Date: 8 November (in cinemas)/27 November (on Netflix)