This time last year, few people would have looked at "Spotlight," the movie that just won this year's Oscar for best picture and predicted, "That is a film the academy is just going to love!"
Meanwhile, "The Big Short," the Producers Guild picture winner, wasn't even on the 2015 schedule at this point last year. Adam McKay was still shooting it in New Orleans with the idea that it would hit theaters sometime in 2016.
The point being, even Nostradamus would have a hard time looking a year ahead and calling the Oscars. (And he predicted Trump!) Further complicating things is the academy's increasing willingness to reward genre movies like "Mad Max: Fury Road" and "The Martian," meaning we can't simply cobble together a list of biopics, historical epics and tasteful dramas.
So what movies might we be talking about for the 2017 Oscars? Going by the pedigree of the talent and the timeliness of the subject matter, here are 10 possibilities.
"The Birth of a Nation": Nate Parker's movie about the 1831 Nat Turner slave rebellion was the talk of the Sundance Film Festival, leading Fox Searchlight to pay a record $17.5 million for the worldwide rights. Arriving in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, the film will certainly generate debate, particularly since so little is known about Turner himself. Times film critic Kenneth Turan called it "deeply felt, emotional filmmaking, albeit with problematic elements." (Oct. 7)
"Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk": Ang Lee ("Life of Pi") directed this adaptation of Ben Fountain's prize-winning novel about a young serviceman becoming disenchanted about being hailed as a war hero upon his return from Iraq. Newcomer Joe Alwyn stars; the cast includes Chris Tucker, Kristen Stewart, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin and Garrett Hedlund. (Nov. 11)
"Silence": Martin Scorsese is at the point in his career where Oscar voters will endorse just about anything he directs, be it a family film ("Hugo") or a profane, manic tale of excess and greed ("The Wolf of Wall Street"). "Silence," which follows two Portuguese Catholic priests traveling to Japan to seek their mentor and spread the gospel, has been in development for a good 25 years. If all that contemplation adds up, it could result in yet another best picture nomination for the revered director. With Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson and Adam Driver. (Late 2016)
"Bleed for This": Miles Teller stars as champion boxer Vinny Pazienza who makes an improbable comeback after a near-fatal car crash breaks his neck. Ben Younger ("Boiler Room") wrote and directed this movie, which prompted a bidding war last year after a 12-minute promo reel was shown to distributors. (Fall)
"Moonlight": Barry Jenkins' exciting 2009 debut feature, "Medicine for Melancholy," didn't find the audience it deserved, but it looks like he won a few key fans as his follow-up is being financed and distributed by both A24 and Plan B Entertainment, companies with distinct eyes for talent.
"Moonlight" is a coming-of-age drama about a young man growing up in "war on drugs"-era Miami. Adapted from the play "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue," the film unfolds in three different settings as the protagonist deals with a deteriorating home life and his dawning sexuality. Naomie Harris, Andre Holland and Mahershala Ali star. (Fall)
"Manchester by the Sea": After seeing Kenneth Lonergan's drama at Sundance, my colleague, the aforementioned Mr. Turan, enthused, "This is a film that feels so lifelike, people literally are already talking about Oscar nominations even though the Oscars are more than a year away."
And this is the guy who called "Spotlight" for best picture, so who am I to disagree? Certainly Casey Affleck, who plays a man reluctantly returning to his hometown to care for his teenaged nephew, sounds like a front-runner for lead acting honors. (Fall)
"Lion": Here's the synopsis: "Adapted from the nonfiction book 'A Long Way Home' by Saroo Brierley, 'Lion' is about a five-year-old Indian boy who, after a wrong train takes him thousands of miles away from home and family, survives many challenges before being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty-five years later, armed with only the scantest of clues, he learns of a new technology called Google Earth, and sets out to find his lost family."
Sounds like it has some potential, right? What if I told you it comes from Garth Davis, who, with Jane Campion, co-directed that great Sundance Channel miniseries "Top of the Lake." Maybe? OK, what if I told you that it's the Weinstein Co.'s prime awards season release? That's a rhetorical question. You know it's going to be in the best picture mix. With Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman. (Nov. 25)
"Nocturnal Animals": Oscars powerhouse Focus Features paid $20 million at Cannes last year for this dark, romantic tale of revenge and regret. Tom Ford ("A Single Man") directs; Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Isla Fisher star. Look for Adams to get a deserved "it's her time" Oscar push, similar to Leonardo DiCaprio's campaign this year. And isn't it about time Gyllenhaal earned a nomination? Let the advocacy begin. (TBD)
"War Machine": Brad Pitt plays a fictionalized version of Gen. Stanley McChrystal in this adaptation of Michael Hastings' book "The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan." The movie, written and directed by Australian filmmaker David Michod ("Animal Kingdom"), leans heavy on biting satire. Netflix will release. (TBD)
"Julieta": Pedro Almodovar returns to drama and what he calls the "cinema of women" with Adriana Ugarte and Emma Suarez playing older and younger versions of the title protagonist, showing the events that drove her mad. Look for a Cannes premiere. Sony Pictures Classics will distribute later in the year. (TBD)