Another year, another Academy Awards, another set of worthy winners and questionable snubs.
From day one films such as The Revenant, The Big Short and Bridge of Spies seemed tailor made for the Academy and were a shoe in for at least a few nominations.
But for every Bridge of Spies, there’s a Spotlight, the films that we don’t hear about until the overwhelmingly positive reviews flood in and the critics declare that we have one of the top films of the year on our hands, awards nominations soon follow and many go on to take home some of the big awards. Think The Hurt Locker shutting out Avatar from the main categories in 2010.
So what is there to look forward to in 2016? What can we expect to see on the Oscar shortlists come February 2017? Here’s a look at 10 films that we could potentially be hearing a lot about over the next 12 months…
10. Free State of Jones, dir. by Gary Ross.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keri Russell, Brendan Gleeson.
Release date: May 27th
The earliest release of the year comes in at number 10, Free State of Jones tells the story of Newton Knight (McConaughey), a poor farmer living in American Civil War era Mississippi, Knight leads a group of small farmers and local slaves into a rebellion against the Confederacy in Jones County.
The film sees the on-form and rejuvenated Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey team with Hunger Games director Gary Ross for what is described as an action-drama film, based on the true story of Newton Knight and his real life struggle against the Confederacy in the deep south, during a time of unrest and racial inequality.
This looks to be a role in which McConaughey can really shine and if his recent performances (and overall films) are anything to go by then this has all the pieces to make it a real contender come awards season. The addition of exciting new comer Gugu Mbathat-Raw and veteran Brendan Gleeson only serves to aid the film. Free State of Jones looks to be a movie with a real message and a very real and very remarkable story behind it.
9. The Magnificent Seven, dir. by Antoine Fuqua.
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Lee Byung-hun, Matt Bomer, Peter Sarsgaard, Vinnie Jones.
Release date: September 23rd
If that cast doesn’t sell you on the movie then I don’t know what will.
Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer, Southpaw) has assembled what may well be the most impressive ensemble cast of the year for his remake of the 1960 Western classic, itself a remake of the 1954 Japanese epic Seven Samurai. At this point you’re virtually guaranteed an excellent performance from Denzel Washington in whatever role he takes on, Chris Pratt is arguably the hottest star on the planet right now and veterans Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio will certainly contribute to what has the potential to be the next great Western movie after the recent Western revival of 2015.
8. The Light Between Oceans, dir. by Derek Cianfrance.
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz.
Release date: January 6th 2017
In what’s already being described as 2016’s biggest piece of Oscar bait, The Light Between Oceans tells the story of a married couple, Tom and Isabel (Fassbender and Vikander) who live on the coast of Western Australia and adopt a baby they rescue from an adrift rowboat. Complications arise as their daughter grows older and they meet a woman (Weisz) who lost her baby around the same time that Tom and Isabel found theirs.
The film seems to have all the vital ingredients for Academy gold; two in form and incredibly talented lead actors, a strong and tumultuous emotional core, a family experiencing unrest. The Academy will snap this one up.
Director Derek Cianfrance has plenty of experience in dealing with emotionally explosive films having previously directed The Place Beyond the Pines and Blue Valentine, so expect more of the same from The Light Between Oceans.
7. Snowden, dir. by Oliver Stone.
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Scott Eastwood, Melissa Leo, Timothy Olyphant, Zachary Quinto, Nicolas Cage, Tom Wilkinson.
Release date: September 16th
The name Oliver Stone is synonymous with the political movie, this is the man who has brought us JFK, Born on the Fourth of July and Nixon as well as classics such as Wall Street and Platoon.
Snowden marks a return of sorts to Stone’s roots, based on the famous 2013 leak of classified information by Edward Snowden (Gordon-Levitt) to The Guardian, the film seems poised to be a hit. With a remarkable ensemble to bring this movie to life, there’s seems to be little in Stone’s way as he returns to his former glory.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an actor who, on his good days, can really deliver a truly outstanding performance and looks set to put the Academy on notice with his portrayal of Edward Snowden, now a controversial world renowned figure, and possibly earn him his first nomination for Best Actor.
6. Assassin’s Creed, dir. by Justin Kurzel.
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Michael K. Williams, Ariane Labed, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson.
Release date: December 30th
The definite wildcard in this whole pack.
Whilst it is not the first video game movie adaptation to hit screens in 2016 – Ratchet & Clank and Warcraft will both open in cinemas several months earlier – Assassin’s Creed seems to have struck the right formula based on the crew they have assembled. Fassbender. Cotillard. Irons. Gleeson. Need I say more?
These are four of the best actors on the planet and they seem to be perfect fits for this film. Fassbender, in what looks set to be another incredible year for the Irishman, takes on the role of Callum Lynch, a present day man with heritage that is traced back to the Assassins of old, in particular Aguilar, an original character created specifically for the film.
Justin Kurzel takes the reigns behind the camera and if his critically adored big screen adaptation of Macbeth is anything to go by then Assassin’s Creed looks set to be a dark, gritty, brooding, violent epic of a movie. The Academy have shown love to several similar movies in the last couple of decades and its medieval and ancient historical elements should aid it further; Bravheart, Gladiator, Lord of the Rings, Master & Commander and The Revenant have proved the Academy’s love for historical, fantastical, violent epics.
5. Manchester by the Sea, dir. by Kenneth Lonergan.
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler.
Release date: TBC 2016
Starting off the top 5, we have one of Sundance 2016’s biggest hitters.
The annual Sundance Film Festival often provides us with several films that then go on to score several nominations at the Oscars. In recent years we’ve seen Precious, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Winter’s Bone, Whiplash and Little Miss Sunshine all resonate with audiences and critics at the Sundance Film Festival and then again at the Academy Awards later on in the year.
Manchester by the Sea looks set to be one of 2016’s big Sundance hits. The movie didn’t claim the revered Grand Jury Prize (more on the winner later) but has received incredible reviews since it’s premiere at the festival, scoring 91 on Metacritic and 94% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The film tells the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) who, after the death of his brother Joe (ironically played by Kyle Chandler), becomes the guardian for Joe’s son. The relatively simple premise already hints at strong emotional undertones (much like the aforementioned The Light Between Oceans) and looks to be the type of film which will strike a cord with audiences and, hopefully, critics.
If given the right release and marketing push, Manchester by the Sea could prove to be a strong contender come awards season.
4. La La Land, dir. by Damien Chazelle.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, JK Simmons.
Release date: July 15th
For Damien Chazelle, planning a follow up for Whiplash (2014’s best movie, screw the Academy!) must have been a daunting task to face. So what does the young filmmaker do?
He makes a musical. Yes, you heard me right – a musical, in 2016.
Starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, La La Land tells the story of jazz pianist Sebastian (Gosling) and how he falls for aspiring actress Mia (Stone) in modern day Los Angeles. The film looks set to be a throwback tribute to the musicals of the classic Hollywood era (Singin’ in the Rain, anyone?) and one of 2016’s most ambitious films. This decade alone the Academy have handed the Best Picture statue to a musical (Chicago) and have shown love for others (Les Miserables).
Even if the film doesn’t quite click (though that does seem like a long shot), look for it to likely be the front runner in the Best Original Song category as Chazelle likely has 2016’s biggest cinematic musical numbers primed and ready to be unleashed.
So long as JK Simmons isn’t throwing chairs at people or slapping them around then La La Land should, at least, be a damn good time but more importantly one of 2016’s finest films.
3. Passengers, dir. by Morten Tyldum.
Starring: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne.
Release date: December 23rd
Perhaps the most intriguing film of the entire year, Passengers has the potential to be something truly unique and special.
With arguably the most likable and bankable actor and actress in the world on board, the film looks to take the crown as 2016’s top Sci-fi movie, over Rogue One: A Star Wars Story nonetheless.
Jon Spaihts’ script has been circulating for a while now and has cropped up frequently in the discussions over the best screenplays yet to make it to the big screen. The film tells the story of a spacecraft travelling to a distant colony planet, transporting thousands of sleeping people on board, when one passenger (Pratt) is awoken by a malfunction. Faced with the prospect of growing old and dying alone, Pratt decides to wake up a second passenger (Lawrence).
The premise alone is intriguing enough as it looks to be different type of sci-fi film, bringing these two charismatic leads together is a masterstroke of casting and could provide us with two of 2016’s best and darn likeable performances.
With the Academy Award nominated Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) on board to direct, Passengers has all the right tools to become a truly special cinema experience and one of 2016’s finest films. Academy, take note.
2. Silence, dir. by Martin Scorsesee
Starring: Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver.
Release date: TBC 2016
2016 sees Martin Scorsesee return with Silence. The film tells the story of two Jesuit priests who travel to Japan to locate their mentor and spread Christianity, along their journey they face violence and persecution.
With a veteran like Liam Neeson on board returning to a dramatic role after years of Taken-esque B-level action movies, and the talented Andrew Garfield and soon-to-be-if-not-already mega star Adam Driver joining the cast, Silence looks set to be a powerful, moving and harrowing film which should strike gold with the Academy.
Did I mention that this film has also been a passion project of Scorsesee’s? The film has been in development since 1991 and has faced a tumultuous time in the process, featuring various different cast members and producers over the last 25 years. However the movie does face one big issue that could cause audience backlash in particular – white washing.
These priests are all Portuguese Catholic men and the lead three actors are all white males; Neeson plays Father Cristóvão Ferreira, Garfield plays Father Sebastião Rodrigues and Driver plays Father Francisco Garrpe. Those don’t really sound like roles meant for white actors.
This could cause some controversy but if anyone can make the film great, regardless of race or ethnicity, it’s Scorsesee.
1. The Birth of a Nation, dir. by Nate Parker
Starring: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley, Penelope Ann Miller, Gabrielle Union.
Release date: October 7th (USA)
The Sundance Film Festival 2016 winner of both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize, The Birth of a Nation may seem like the biggest piece of Oscar bait to be cast out into the 2016 sea of movies but it could well walk away with the biggest piece of gold come the Academy Awards next year.
Written, produced and directed by its leading man Nate Parker, The Birth of a Nation tells the true story of Nat Turner, a slave taught to read to become a preacher. However, whilst travelling across America, Nat sees the true depth and scope of slavery and chooses to become a different leader, spearheading a liberation movement in 1831 to free the African-American slaves in Virginia.
The initial reception out of Sundance has been overwhelmingly positive and the rights to the film were acquired by Fox Searchlight Pictures in a $17.5 million deal, the largest at the festival to date.
Given the enormous success of 12 Years a Slave just a few years ago, it may seem like The Birth of a Nation is simply riding the coattails of that film to try and guilt people into voting again for another slavery film, however the portrayal and story of slavery is most likely going to be told in a very different way this time around. Where 12 Years a Slave sought to tell us Solomon Northup’s story of his wrongful kidnapping and arduous 12 years of slavery, The Birth of a Nation tells the story of a black man rising up against the white man and leading his fellow slaves in a full scale revolt, it’s already been described as an ambitious, powerful and awe inspiring film which will likely have audiences gripped from the get go.
Expect The Birth of a Nation to be the film everyone is talking about come awards season, and be prepared to see it collect more than a few statues along the way.