Summer is over, and you know what that means in Hollywood – time to dust off those statuettes and start lobbying. Film festival season is about to kick off in earnest, with Venice, Toronto and New York all taking place back-to-back over the next month, which means that we’ll soon have a clear(ish) picture of the 2016 Oscar race. Specifically, we’ll have a sense of which would-be frontrunners are shaping up to be this year’s Birdman and Whiplash, and which look more like this year’s Unbroken and Big Eyes. Let us take a look at all the contenders of 2016’s best film.
Premiering at Cannes this year to rapturous praise and multiple standing ovations, Todd Haynes’s period romance is already one of the year’s most acclaimed releases. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s long-banned novel of the same name, Carol stars Cate Blanchett as a mysterious married woman who enchants Rooney Mara’s lonely young shop assistant.
Two years on from the best-forgotten Ashton Kutcher biopic, the life of Steve Jobs has been adapted once again in a much more promising form. Danny Boyle directs Michael Fassbender in the role of Jobs, from a script written by Aaron Sorkin which – much like Sorkin’s Oscar-winning script for The Social Network – weaves together multiple timelines in its portrait of Jobs backstage at three iconic product launches.
The Danish Girl
Eddie Redmayne may have won Best Actor for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking last year, but he’s making a strong run at round two with the role of transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, one of the first known recipients of gender reassignment surgery. Directed by Tom Hooper – no stranger to the Academy after The King’s Speech and Les Mis – the film also stars Alicia Vikander as Elbe’s wife, who plays a central role in her husband’s gradual self-discovery.
If you felt like there was something missing at last year’s Oscars, it was probably because Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t nominated for a David O Russell movie, following her two-year hot streak with Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. But she and O Russell are back in contention for 2016 with Joy, a biopic starring Lawrence as a struggling single mother who went on to invent the Miracle Mop. No, really.
He may have been memorably, inexcusably snubbed for Shame a few years back, but Michael Fassbender’s formidable slate this year could put him in line for a double Best Actor nomination. Justin Kurzel’s visceral adaptation of Shakespeare’s Scottish Play stars Fassbender as the conflicted, ambitious anti-hero, and Marion Cotillard as the scheming wife steering him in his fateful plot to kill the King and take his throne.
Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep lead the cast of this impressive period piece, which tracks the early years of the British women’s suffragette movement. Written by Abi Morgan, who has enjoyed prior Oscar success with The Iron Lady and Shame, this is a long overdue historical portrait that’s sure to be recognized.
Coming off Birdman’s unexpected sweep in the major categories last year, director Alejandro González Iñárritu hasn’t been resting on his laurels. His upcoming drama stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a rugged fur-trapper in the 1820s Rocky Mountains, who’s left for dead by his companions after a bear attack. Having survived the mauling, he sets out to wreak vengeance on the friends who abandoned him (Tom Hardy, Will Poulter and Domhnall Gleeson). Could this finally be the year Leo breaks his Oscar curse?
Bridge of Spies
Steven Spielberg’s latest historical picture follows an American lawyer (Tom Hanks) who is recruited by the CIA during the Cold War, to help them negotiate the release of a pilot imprisoned in the Soviet Union. Co-written by Joel and Ethan Coen, the film will premiere at this month’s New York Film Festival, but is already attracting a lot of early awards buzz.
The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino’s long-delayed Western follows a group of bounty hunters who are caught up in a treacherous plot, after being forced to take shelter together during a blizzard. There are several intriguing possibilities for comeback performances among the cast – the central plot sees Kurt Russell’s “The Hangman” escorting Jennifer Jason Leigh’s “The Prisoner” to face justice for a murder – and the leaked script drama has only heightened anticipation for the finished product.
Having deservedly won all of the Emmys for his career-redefining performance as Breaking Bad’s Walter White, Bryan Cranston could now be in line for an Oscar nomination. He plays 1940s screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, whose career came to an abrupt and painful end after he – along with other scribes – was blacklisted as a communist. Previous years have borne out the idea that the Academy loves a Hollywood insider story, and the story of Trumbo’s fight against government officials and studio bosses alike could well strike a particular chord.
Abrahamson gets extra points for the degree of difficulty involved in filming an intimate drama, half of which takes place in a 10-by-10 room, with just two performers, relative newcomer Larson and kid actor Jacob Tremblay.
Other films: Brooklyn, The Walk, Freeheld, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Black Mass, Genius, The Martian, Inside Out