Oscars 2019: From Black Panther to Hereditary, here are some top contenders...

Oscars 2019: From Black Panther to Hereditary, here are some top contenders so far

If the Oscars were held tomorrow, which films would be nominated? 

Though we’re still three months out from the fall festivals positioning the major pieces of the upcoming awards puzzle, 2018 has already placed a fine assortment of goodies into the Oscar oven. From tremendous performances in prestige pictures — like Toni Collette (Hereditary) and Joaquin Phoenix (You Were Never Really Here) — to Ryan Coogler’s monolithic achievement in the blockbuster arena (Black Panther), here are early contenders on the Oscars radar that have already hit theaters and/or screened at international film festivals in recent months.

A24

With four Oscar nods already under his belt — two for acting and a pair for co-writing two films in Richard Linklater’s Before series — Ethan Hawke is already an Academy-verified staple of prestige cinema. He’s looking to continue that stretch with First Reformed, Paul Schrader’s searing drama about a priest whose personal convictions are tested after a harrowing encounter with an environmental activist. Though he had a dry spell with the Academy between 2005 and 2014, Hawke has built up considerable good will with his peers in recent years, namely for his performances in Boyhood and as jazz legend Chet Baker in Born to Be Blue. Schrader’s latest has unconventional, buzzy appeal, sturdy critical reviews, and an offbeat narrative hook to catch the Academy’s eye, as well as the perfect distributor, A24, to pull off a successful campaign as the film continues to expand to theaters around the country. — Joey Nolfi

David Lee/Focus Features

If the story of a black police officer infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan isn’t surreal enough, the fact that Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman is based on a true story is what enables it to pack a punch as a timely reminder of fractured race relations in America back in the 1970s and now. Grounded by strong performances from an ensemble cast led by John David Washington (son of Oscar-winning Denzel Washington) as police officer Ron Stallworth, BlacKkKlansman earned rave reviews at its Cannes debut this year, winning the coveted Grand Prix and cementing it as an early awards contender. — Piya Sinha-Roy

Behind a great man is a greater woman with a baffling Oscar losing streak to her name. At least that’s the case with director Björn Runge’s The Wife starring Glenn Close, the queen of unfinished Academy Awards business. Having amassed an astonishing six nominations over the last 35 years, Close has yet to win a single trophy, but that could change as she starts into the crowded race ahead. She plays a woman whose repressed talents manifest in mysterious ways as her husband collects the Nobel Prize for literature in Stockholm. This literary adaptation enjoyed an enthusiastic reception at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival last September, and Sony Pictures Classics — which launched Call Me by Your Name and A Fantastic Woman into the awards fray last year — picked up the distribution rights. Given that the Academy’s typically all aboard an “overdue” narrative (Julianne Moore and Kate Winslet reaped similar benefits in recent years) and the fact that Close is enjoying some of the best reviews of her career, there may be a lot at play here. — Joey Nolfi©Marvel Studios 2018

Filmmaker Ryan Coogler not only delivered Marvel’s first black superhero standalone film to critical praise and stellar box office success, but demonstrated how to ground a fantastical world with timely social messages. Amid the lavish world of Wakanda and a spotlight on black excellence, Ryan Coogler explores what it means to be black today through Chadwick Boseman’s King T’Challa and Michael B. Jordan’s powerful performance as empathetic villain Erik Killmonger. Given Black Panther‘s groundbreaking role in cinematic history, it’s likely to earn a place in the best picture race. — Piya Sinha-RoyA24

If the Oscars handed out accolades for scaring the living hell out of people, the cast and crew behind one of the best films of the year would easily triumph in one fell, bone-chilling swoop. As terrifying as Hereditary is, thanks to first-time director Ari Aster’s assured direction, Toni Collette gives the film its heart and soul thanks to a brilliantly committed performance as a grieving mother battling a supernatural force threatening her family. The film kicked off 2018 with overwhelmingly positive critical reaction from Sundance, and Collette has since steamrolled a mountain of praise through the project’s summer release. Digital buzz among the film set has swarmed in her favor, too, meaning Collette could be the critical darling who winds up garnering Oscar gold at the end of the season. — Joey Nolfi

Ariel Nava/Lionsgate

Hamilton alum Daveed Diggs takes center stage alongside co-star and co-writer Rafael Casal in a tale of two friends navigating their friendship against the backdrop of a fast-gentrifying Oakland. While Blindspotting is a poetic ode to their native Bay Area hometown, it is Diggs’ portrayal as Collin — a man concluding probation who happens to witness a white police officer shoot an unarmed black man — that could garner him recognition. — Piya Sinha-Roy

Disney/Pixar

Yes, the film box office hasn’t been exactly lacking in superheroes, but it has been missing Pixar’s first superhero family for the past 14 years. The return of the super-powered Parr family — Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and their three children Violet, Dash and scene-stealing Jack-Jack — has been welcomed warmly by critics and audiences, with Incredibles 2 smashing opening weekend box office records and serving up a reminder of the importance of inclusion in society. Given the love usually bestowed on Pixar films, this is the title to beat in the animated race. — Piya Sinha-Roy

Paramount Pictures

Natalie Portman’s breathtakingly gorgeous voyage into the otherworldy horrors of the Shimmer didn’t strike a chord with audiences at the box office, pulling in a so-so $32.7 million earlier this year. Critics, on the other hand, lapped up Alex Garland’s directorial follow-up to the 2015 sci-fi hit Ex Machina, which  scored a surprise Oscar for Best Visual Effects the following year. Expect critical bodies to throw Portman’s lead performance some well-deserved love at their year-end awards, but it’s the filmmaker’s returning visual effects team members Andrew Whitehurst and Sara Bennett who will likely reap the most Academy affection at the top of 2019. — Joey NolfiFOX Searchlight

The whimsical world of Wes Anderson often strikes a chord with awards voters — for instance, The Grand Budapest Hotel won four of its eight Oscar nominations in 2014. Isle of Dogs sees the idiosyncratic filmmaker return to the world of stop-motion animation to tell a tale of an alternate reality near-future Japan where dogs are banished to an island. The film faces challenges after some critics panned the film for not hiring a more diverse voice cast and kicking off a larger conversation around cultural appropriation. Billed as an homage to his Japanese cinematic heroes, Anderson and his scrappy pups may be the underdogs in the animated feature race. — Piya Sinha-RoyMagnolia Pictures

The $10 million domestic box office success of documentary RBG, about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, may reflect audiences’ desire to see real-life superheroes. Or it may just reflect the power that Ginsburg holds as a beacon of justice in a fractured political sphere. Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West trace the life and legacy of Ginsburg in their documentary, and offer a snapshot into the fiercely sharp mind of a trailblazing legal warrior. In the Time’s Up era in Hollywood, RBG has garnered praise from critics for spotlighting how one woman broke the rules and helped pave the way for a new generation of female empowerment. — Piya Sinha-RoyRichard Foreman, Jr. SMPSP/Sony Pictures

The second chapter of writer Taylor Sheridan’s Sicario world features Benicio Del Toro reprising his role as the deadly hitman Alejandro in a film that takes him on a violent journey when he’s contracted to kidnap a drug kingpin’s daughter. While Sicario: Day of the Soldado plays into timely themes of immigration and drug cartels, it is Alejandro’s unexpected arc and tragic backstory that could also earn Del Toro — who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2001 for Traffic — some long-overdue awards love. — Piya Sinha-Roy

 

Kimberly French/Focus Features

Charlize Theron, Jason Reitman, and Diablo Cody re-teamed for another round of dramedy magic on the 2018 Sundance breakout Tully, a powerful examination of the woes of motherhood, another winning entry in the trio’s powerful working relationship. With a pair of Oscars and another five nominations between the actress, director, and screenwriter, Tully‘s got the pedigree (and universal critical praise) behind it to make it one to watch out for in the acting and screenwriting categories. — Joey Nolfi

 

The Fred Rogers Company

Amid the recent wave of unsettling news from politics to Hollywood, Morgan Neville’s earnest, refreshing biographical documentary about the good-natured TV legend Fred Rogers is a meaningful reminder of the simple ties of kindness that bind humanity. Sweet but never twee, Neville’s essential meditation on the Pittsburgh-based host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (and the generations he influenced) taps into a nostalgic emotional vein. At the same time, he finds new context for Rogers’ enduring message of compassion and understanding to flourish in the age of contemporary chaos.  — Joey NolfiParamount Pictures

The long-anticipated on-screen pairing of Hollywood darlings Emily Blunt and John Krasinski did not fail to deliver at the box office and otherwise in this tense thriller about a family living in silence as they hide from monsters that are summoned by noise. Blunt’s powerful performance as a pregnant matriarch and co-lead Krasinski’s skillful directing and innovative take on the horror genre may put the couple together into the awards race. — Piya Sinha-Roy

Alison Cohen Rosa/Amazon Studios

Though it’s been more than a year since Lynne Ramsay debuted her brutal psychological drama at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival (to much acclaim plus awards for best screenplay and best actor), critical enthusiasm for Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as a PTSD-ravaged mercenary tasked with rescuing sex-trafficked girls hasn’t subsided. The esteemed actor has yet to notch an Oscar nomination since leading 2012’s The Master, which upped his overall count of nods to three. In other words, he may be due for more Academy recognition, and he just might get it for playing a role in which he’s more present than ever. Since 2008, four of 10 of Cannes’ best actor winners have gone on to win or be nominated for the corresponding Oscar, so there’s a slight precedent bolstering his bid, too. — Joey Nolfi