Who Are the Early Frontrunners For Best Picture at the Oscars?

early oscar frontrunners

Sundance hit Birth of a Nation and Cannes breakout Loving are Early Oscar Frontrunners

The Cannes Film Festival is just ending and for people not cool enough to attend, but are too geeky to not keep track of what the buzz coming out of there is (me) it also marks the real beginning of Oscar season. Out of Sundance we got titles like Birth of A Nation and Manchester by the Sea, but lately Cannes has really been a strong place to begin Oscar buzz. Just last year we got Mad Max: Fury Road, Carol, and Son of Saul from the festival, which all were nominated and for Max and Saul won Oscars. Just a few years ago in 2011 we had three movie out of Cannes nominated for Best Picture: Midnight in Paris, Best Picture winner The Artist, and Palme d’Ore winner The Tree of Life. This year, the biggest contender out of the festival has to be Jeff Nichols’ (Mud, Take Shelter) Loving, which tells the story of the couple whose Supreme Court case took down laws banning interracial marriage. First of all, it is an unfortunately timely story (unfortunately because we shouldn’t have to be talking about race in 2016), it could help the Oscars fix their image after the second straight year of #OscarsSoWhite, and it’s looking to be a major vehicle for both Joel Egerton and Ruth Ann Nega. Barring a huge controversy or poor reviews upon release, I really think that we’re looking at the very least a lock for nomination if not a contender for the win.

The only other movie I can see factoring into the Best Picture race is Steven Spielberg’s The BFG. Reviews haven’t been exactly glowing, however it has been lauded as a fantastic technical achievement. In addition, Mark Rylance is once again being lauded for his performance after his surprise (or not too surprising to some of us) win last year. I don’t think it’s going to factor into the Best Picture race as a contender to win, but I think it’s going to be the nominee that receives a large amount of nominations and wins (a la Fury Road), but lose in the bigger races. Rylance is in a great spot for another nomination, however it’ll depend a lot on how the rest of the year shapes up. While he’s receiving raves, motion capture is not well-received by the Academy at all (just ask Andy Serkis).

Outside the early festivals, there are a couple contenders that have already been released that could actually have a shot at a nomination. The first is Disney’s The Jungle Book. If The BFG is a box-office failure or reviews aren’t as glowing at its release, the company could turn their resources to a movie that was already tested earlier this year. With a huge box office that is set to cross the billion-dollar mark and consistent acclaim, it would have been an easier pick had it been later in the year. The Oscar fate of this film really lies in how hard Disney is going to push it. I have a feeling that they’re going to put their weight behind The BFG for the main awards, but if they’re smart they won’t forget to push jungle book for Visual Effects, Production Design, and possibly even an Adapted Screenplay or Director. It’s going to be one of those movies that’s going to be floating around my ninth, tenth, or eleventh slot, but I’d really keep an eye out for this one.

As for the films we have not yet seen, a really easy one is Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Why they didn’t shorten the title I do not know. However, it already has a lot going for it. First of all it has two-time Best Director winner Ang Lee behind it, and in typical fashion he’s tackling a genre and technology he has never used before. With different screen formats for different parts of the movie and even 3-D, it’ll be interesting to see how voters and critics react to the film. But based on the trailer I really think that this could finally be Lee’s movie that wins Best Picture (we’re not even going to mention the disaster that was the 2004 Oscars). Unlike his previous two pictures, it has the scale of Life of Pi, but the heart of Brokeback Mountain. While Pi of course did have heart and Brokeback had scale, it’s the balance of the two that I don’t think either had (among other things… *cough* straight people *cough*). What is going to hold him back is the controversy from Life of Pi’s campaign. Lee was heavily and publicly criticized by the Visual Effects industry for his comments relating to the value of their work and he has even been accused of having a hand in an entire company going bankrupt. Maybe enough time has passed that people have forgotten about it, but the fact that I’m talking about it now doesn’t bode well. Then again, I’m a geek that stores all this useless information in my head.

Other contenders that I haven’t mentioned yet are Scorsese’s Silence, which isn’t being released until December. The Founder, which is looking like it’s going to be more of a vehicle for Michael Keaton, could be a contender despite it being moved from the awards-friendly October to August.

One possibility that isn’t being talked about as much is Fences which is the David Mamet play that won the Tony for Best Revival of a Play as well as acting awards for Viola Davis and Denzel Washington. Both are returning to the roles with Washington directing. He hasn’t really been tested as a director. However, with strong source material and a potentially Oscar-worthy performance from Davis, it could be propelled into the Best Picture race. Its biggest hurdle is whether it will be ready in time.

Other titles include the Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt film Passengers, sci-fi drama Story of Your Life, and the Hudson River plane landing film Sully. Another contender could be Patriot’s Day, which tells the story of the manhunt following the Boston Bombing. While a 9/11 movie never made it to the Oscar stage, a movie about the manhunt behind it did: Zero Dark Thirty. That is the angle that I could see this movie taking. Though its director, Peter Berg, isn’t as tested as Kathryn Bigelow.

Then there is the question of whether The Birth of a Nation is the strong frontrunner. I am going to say a hard no. While it is not unheard of to have a frontrunner this early in the season, we just don’t know enough about the movie to declare it an easy pick. Reception out of Sundance was great, however there were detractors that said that the movie needed work. The studio knows they have a great chance at the top prize, so like it was done with 12 Years a Slave, they are going to carefully fine-tune it to its best form. When we see that version I’ll be more willing to pick it.

If I was going to make a gutsy pick, I’d give it to Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. I know we haven’t seen it, but Ang Lee has yet to make a bad movie in his career, and most importantly he is desperately overdue for a Best Picture win. We’ll just have to see what the awards season holds.