Oscar season is well underway, as Academy voters have already been handed their ballots and have until January 8th to make their votes. The full list of Oscar nominees will be revealed on January 14th, but as with any year, the one category that most moviegoers are really concerned about is Best Picture. Unlike most years, 2015 has been lacking in any clear front runners and at this point in time, the race is truly wide open to a diverse field of potential nominees. While we’re not sure which films will even receive a nomination (there are only a few in the bunch that can realistically be called a “lock”) and some titles are definitely a long-shot, don’t be surprised if any of these films walk away with the Best Picture Academy Award on February 28.
10. Bridge of Spies
With all of the Oscar buzz films like Spotlight and Room have been receiving recently — not to mention how Star Wars: The Force Awakens hijacked pretty much all movie news over the past few months — it’s easy to forget that Steven Spielberg released a new film this year — and a pretty good one at that! Bridge of Spies is definitely not one of Spielberg’s best, but even one of his lesser films is still superior to 90% of anything else Hollywood produces in a given year, so it would be foolish to count this Cold War drama out of the race completely. Plus, Spielberg has the advantage of being one of the Academy’s most beloved filmmakers, so anytime he releases something new, especially a historical drama starring Tom Hanks, he has a good chance of making the cut.
9. The Hateful Eight
Any year Quentin Tarantino releases a new film, there’s a pretty good chance that film will be in the running for Best Picture, as the director’s two most recent works — Inglorious Basterds (2009) and Django Unchained (2012) — were both nominated for the award in their respective years. Admittedly, things aren’t looking as good for The Hateful Eight, as Tarantino’s brutally violent western yarn hasn’t received as warm a critical reception as some of his other recent work. That being said, it’s still too early to rule out The Hateful Eight as a Best Picture candidate, as the film hasn’t even hit wide release yet, so there’s still plenty of time for it to build momentum between now and the end of February.
8. The Revenant
The film that could very well earn Leonardo DiCaprio his first Academy Award, The Revenant also has a pretty good chance of earning itself a Best Picture nomination in the process. The film not only has the benefit of having a highly-publicized troubled production story behind it (Hollywood loves that sort of thing) but it’s also directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, who as you may remember won both a Best Director and Best Picture Oscar (in addition to several others) for Birdman last year. While it’s rare to see a filmmaker earn back-to-back Best Picture wins (the only one that comes to mind is John Ford with The Grapes of Wrath in 1940 and How Green Is My Valley? in 1941), Iñárritu has a very good chance of doing so.
A film about romance, heartache, and the experience of emigrating to America is always the kind of film that gets Oscar voters excited and Brooklyn definitely fits that profile. Still, Brooklyn is much more than just another Oscar-bait flick. An adaption of Colm Tóibín’s novel of the same name, Brooklyn features impeccable directing from John Crowley and what might be Saoirse Ronan’s best performance to date in her young career for her turn as Irish immigrant Ellis Lacey. So yeah, Brooklyn has Oscar material written all over it, which gives it a good shot at snagging a Best Picture win.
6. The Big Short
The 2008 financial crisis is pretty much perfect fodder for a well-acted, critically-beloved drama, but a comedy? That sounds like a bit of a stretch. Somehow though, director Adam McKay and an all-star cast featuring Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Steve Carell, and Ryan Gosling make it work in The Big Short, which gets big laughs out of skewering the villains of the Great Recession. Much in the way news satire programs such as Last Week Tonight and The Daily Show deliver the closest thing to the truth you’ll probably see in American media, The Big Short derives much of its humor from the fact that so much of what it says is so frighteningly true. The Big Short has been gaining momentum in recent weeks too, so expect it to be a major contender for the top prize this Oscar season.
Anchored by phenomenal perforances from co-leads Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, Carol is an erotic, emotionally-charged examination of the love that builds between two women and has quickly become one of the most heavily-lauded films of the year. As expertly directed by Todd Haynes, this story of an unexpected love affair between a wealthy housewife and a young department store clerk has a ton of momentum going for it leading into awards season and is definitely one film to keep an eye on once February 28th rolls around. Blanchett in particular is pretty much a lock for a Best Actress nomination at this point, so even if Carol doesn’t take top honors, it will likely still walk away with a few noteworthy accolades on Oscar night.
A harrowing film about a mother who must raise her son while both are held prisoner for years, Room is bar-none one of the best films of the year and is pretty much guaranteed at this point to be a front runner for Best Picture, barring any unexpected upsets. Brie Larson is brilliant as a mom just trying to raise her son as best she can in a horrible situation, but the real surprise might be newcomer Jacob Tremblay, who turns in one of the best performances from a child actor in recent memory. The surprising thing about Room is not that it’s so good, but that it’s actually receiving the attention it deserves, as it’s a Canadian/Irish production, and you don’t see films from either country very often in the Oscar race.
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
Not since The Dark Knight in 2008 has a blockbuster film garnered as much critical praise as Mad Max: Fury Road. Director George Miller’s reboot/sequel of sorts is a tour de force in every sense of the term, brimming with stellar performances, visually-breathtaking action, and one of the best musical scores of the year. If Fury Road goes all the way and actually wins the big prize at this year’s Academy Awards, it would admittedly come as quite a shock given that this is NOT the kind of film Academy voters typically highlight. That being said, considering the seemingly unending buzz this film has generated and the slew of other awards it has won so far — including numerous Critics Association awards — there’s still a very good chance this high octane thrill ride could roar to a not so mediocre (sorry!) finish on February 28.
2. The Martian
2015 was not only a great year for science ficiton films but also for Ridley Scott, who made a fantastic comeback with The Martian after a slew of disappointments over the last several years. The Martian is simply a great film from start to finish, the kind of optimistic, adult space adventure that the sci fi genre needed. While The Martian still presents space travel as the unpredictable, highly dangerous activity that it is, it’s also a film that shows just how much humanity can accomplish when it works together, which is honestly one of the most important messages any film could have given us this year. The whole thing is anchored by a superb performance from Matt Damon (who really deserves an acting nomination at the very least for his work as stranded astronaut Mark Watney) but really, the entire ensemble cast deserves recognition for being uniformly excellent. The Martian has a very good shot at winning Best Picture and if it actually does, it’s hard to think that many would be disappointed given how universally-liked this film seems to be.
If we were to bet on one film winning Best Picture right now, it would have to be the investigative journalism drama Spotlight. A retelling of the Boston Globe’s unprecedented exposé on the Catholic Church’s cover-up of numerous child molestation charges, Spotlight is one of the year’s most riveting films, which is a pretty incredible accomplishment considering most of the film revolves around journalists just doing their jobs, mundane research and all. It’s helped along significantly by its cast, which may very well be the best ensemble of the year: Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, and Michael Keaton, among others, are all at the top of their game here, contributing to a film that often feels more like a documentary than a drama…and we mean that in the best way possible. Spotlight truly is the film to beat, but it has its work cut out for it considering all the other films that have a realistic chance of taking top honors this year.