The Academy Awards won’t be handed out for another 3 1/2 months, but the final quarter of the year is when many producers and production companies hold the best contenders for the prestigious awards. If you don’t want to miss a thing in the film-lover’s horse race, we’ve got your guide to most of the possible contenders coming up in the final chunk of the year.
We may not hit every film that earns a nomination in every category — who could have predicted nominations for “Norbit,” “Junior,” “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” or “Beethoven’s 2nd,” all real nominees — but here are some of films that could possibly be heavy hitters.
‘Murder on the Orient Express’
Release date: Nov. 10
His mustache in the film might be a little outrageous, but there’s no denying that Kenneth Branagh is an actor’s director through and through — Marvel Studios is still coasting off the energy of the performance he got out of Tom Hiddleston in “Thor” — and with a cast that includes six Academy Award winners and nominees, including Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer and Willem Dafoe, “Murder on the Orient Express” is designed at its core to give audiences some memorable performances.
This film about a mother who protests the lack of police response to the rape and murder of her daughter by renting out billboards in her hometown calling them out has been critically praised and has already won several pre-season awards, including the top prize at the Toronto International Film Festival. Frances McDormand, who stars in the film, is one of the few actresses to have won an Emmy, Tony and Oscar, for “Olive Kitteridge,” “Good People” and “Fargo.”
Release date: Nov. 22
Pixar’s domination of the Best Animated Picture category may not be as strong as it once was — between 2003 and 2012, every film they made outside of the “Cars” franchise won the award — they are still the name to beat in CG animation. Disney/Pixar is continuing the practice as in the film “Moana” of hiring cultural consultants to ensure the films respectfulness and accuracy in its depiction of Dia de Muertos.
Release date: Nov. 22
Joe Wright is hoping for “Atonement” after the disastrous critical and commercial flop “Pan.” He’s returning to the world of period pieces for this biopic covering a single month in the life of Winston Churchill. Gary Oldman disappears — as he often does — into the role, and there’s little the Academy loves more than World War II and biopics of important men.
‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’
Release date: Nov. 22
Creators are probably hoping this film, which details the inspiration behind Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” will strike the same Oscar magic as “Finding Neverland” which pulled from a similar premise about a very different writer. Dan Stevens, best known for his work on “Downton Abbey” and “The Guest” takes on the role of Dickens while Christopher Plummer plays the Ebeneezer Scrooge of Dickens’ imagination.
‘Call Me By Your Name’
Release date: Nov. 24
An early frontrunner in many experts’ Oscar predictions, “Call Me by Your Name” follows a relationship between a young man, Timothee Chalamet, who falls in love with an older student played by Armie Hammer who has moved into his parent’s home. The film tackles issues of culture, sexuality and religion all while remaining intense and wistful. The film has already won awards at the Sydney Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival and Hollywood Film Awards.
Nobody bounces between heartfelt Oscar fare and mega-budget action and horror fare without ever losing his personality better than director Guillermo del Toro. Since “Pan’s Labyrinth” swept the Oscars with three wins and three further nominations, del Toro has found himself in the more poppy, pulpy side of his output with films like “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army” and “Pacific Rim.” This movie, a cold war romance between a woman without the ability to speak and a merman being held captive by the U.S. government, has earned del Toro some of the best reviews of his career and won the Golden Lion for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival.
Release date: Dec. 8
A higher-energy biopic than some of the more staid entries on this list, “I, Tonya” covers the life story of Tonya Harding, following her rise to the Olympics, attack on Nancy Kerrigan and the media circus that exploded soon after. The film stars Margot Robbie, who is apparently young enough that she didn’t realize at first the script was based on a true story, stars as Harding.
‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’
Release date: Dec. 15
Four decades, six sequels and countless spinoffs later, it can be hard to remember that the original “Star Wars” was a major Oscar contender when released. It’s a long shot, but if anyone can turn big-budget Disney family fare into a Best Picture nominee, it’s talented director Rian Johnson telling an internal story of struggle. Mark Hamill has also grown immensely as an actor since the original series, and the shock of seeing him today just may be enough to earn him a nomination on his own.
‘The Greatest Showman’
Release date: Dec. 20
The hokeyness of the story and a first-time director may be working against this musical biopic about P.T. Barnum, but if the Academy loves stories about Hollywood history, it’s possible they might have an affection for a scrubbed down history of show business as a whole. At the very least, a Best Song nomination is likely.
Release date: Dec. 22
They should already clear some space for this film on the ballot, as it hits all of the checkmarks for a modern Oscar nominee. A period piece drama about journalists from The Washington Post and New York Times working to report on the Pentagon Papers, while also covering Kay Graham’s work as the first female publisher of The Post, the premise alone is tailored for Oscar glory. Add to that the direction of modern master Steven Spielberg, and you’ve got a flick not to miss.
There are only a few screenwriters who rise to fame enough to become as much of a draw as the directors and stars of their films, but Aaron Sorkin is definitely one of the most notable. “Molly’s Game” is his directorial debut and stars Jessica Chastain as the real-life Molly Bloom, a former Olympic skier who became investigated by the FBI for her poker dealings.
Possibly Daniel Day Lewis’ final film, “Phantom Thread” is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, whose films have earned a total of 14 Academy Award nominations. The film follows dressmaker Reynold Woodcock through the world of high fashion of 1950s London.