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Paul Walter Hauser, centre, stars as Richard Jewell in the Clint Eastwood directed film, Richard Jewell.
Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant in the sumptuous French-language film, Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
It’s the quintessential self-fulfilling prophecy; films released at the end of the year stand a better chance of winning an Oscar. Once upon a time in Hollywood, distributors decided that “prestige” pictures would benefit from being fresh in the minds of Academy voters, and the idea took root.
Last year’s eventual best-picture winner, Green Book, opened on Nov. 21, while five of the other seven nominees came out between October and December. Only Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman and the Marvel movie Black Panther bucked the trend. Lee released his movie in August, on the anniversary of the Charlottesville riots; and Black Panther, which opened in February, wasn’t trying to position itself as an Oscar contender. Besides, Marvel had two more films to squeeze in that year.
You need to look back a decade to find a best picture Oscar winner that was released earlier than October. The Hurt Locker, which premiered at the Venice and Toronto festivals in 2008, then opened in limited release the following July, went on to win best picture of 2009.
And so although the year is almost out, there are still plenty of buzz-worthy Oscar hopefuls still to come. Here’s what to watch for. (Dates subject to change, although not likely.)
Richard Jewell (Dec. 13)
Director Clint Eastwood is, fittingly, the fastest gun in Hollywood. His last film, The Mule, opened last December; before that was The 15:17 to Paris, which came out just 10 months earlier. His newest tells the story of a security guard who discovered explosives during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, helped clear the area and, for his troubles, was suspected of having planted the devices.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Dec. 19)
The original Star Wars in 1977 won six Oscars and was also nominated for best picture and best supporting actor (Alec “Ben ‘Obi-Wan’ Kenobi” Guinness), but none of the prequels or sequels has ever garnered a best-picture or acting nomination. Episode IX offers a new (and final) hope.
Cats (Dec. 20)
It may be the least likely best-picture hopeful in history — have you seen those trailers? But director Tom Hooper and his all-star cats (I mean cast) — including Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, Ian McKellan, Jennifer Hudson, James Corden and Rebel Wilson — have scratched out a traditional best-picture opening date. And how’s this for a confident tagline? “Many will compete; only one can win.”
Bombshell (Dec. 20)
Powerhouse performances by Margot Robbie, Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman anchor this true story of Fox News executive Roger Ailes’ fall from power at the end of a long and sordid career.
Little Women (Dec. 25)
Greta Gerwig (2017’s best-picture nominee Lady Bird) brings the classic Louisa May Alcott novel to the big screen for the first time in a generation; the last big production was in 1994, with Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder and Kirsten Dunst.
1917 (Dec. 25)
Director Sam Mendes and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins worked closely on this tale of two soldiers on a mission to prevent a doomed attack; it appears to unfold in a single uncut shot.
The Song of Names (Dec. 25)
To be fair, there hasn’t been a lot of Oscar buzz around this Canadian production, but the emotional story, which touches on the Holocaust and the power of music, would seem to be pushing all the awards-season buttons. Clive Owen and Tim Roth star.
Uncut Gems (Dec. 25)
The Safdie brothers, Benny and Josh, direct Adam Sandler in what might be a career-high performance, and probably the most noteworthy thing he’s done since Punch-Drunk Love in 2002. He plays a New York City jeweller in this dark comedy, which was recently reclassified from “comedy” to “drama” for the Golden Globes, though it was still shut out of nominations.
Just Mercy (Jan. 10)
How can a film that doesn’t open until 2020 win an Oscar for 2019? Academy rules say if you play in New York or Los Angeles before year-end you qualify, and that’s what this drama is doing before its Canadian release in the New Year. It’s the true story of lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordon) trying to clear his client (Jamie Foxx), wrongfully imprisoned for murder.
Weathering With You (Jan. 17)
Never heard of this animated film about a high-school runaway who befriends a girl who can control the weather? Don’t worry; in many years, the best animated feature Oscar nominees include a Japanese entry that didn’t get much press in North America – see last year’s Mirai, or 2015’s When Marnie Was There. Makoto Shinkai’s newest might be this year’s dark horse.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Feb. 14)
This French-language romance won the best screenplay prize at Cannes, and has been named best foreign-language film by the New York Film Critics Online group. Overshadowed by the Korean movie Parasite in most awards, it remains one of the most sumptuous offerings of the Oscar season.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019