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How 'Widows,' 'Roma' and more holiday releases look to shake up the Oscars' best picture race

How 'Widows,' 'Roma' and more holiday releases look to shake up the Oscars' best picture race
Viggo Mortensen, left, and Mahershala Ali in "Green Book." (Universal Pictures)

"A Star Is Born" is in. "First Man" could be in. "BlacKkKlansman" and "Black Panther" should be in.

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It's early November and, in the next few weeks, the final group of aspiring Oscar contenders will arrive in theaters. Judging by recent history, that's prime contention time. Last year, seven of the nine best picture nominees launched their domestic theatrical runs in November or December.

Some of the following pictures have already earned plaudits and prizes at fall film festivals. Others haven't been widely seen at all.

Who's up? Who's down? Here's the rundown of what's still to come, with the movies ranked based on their likelihood of securing a best picture nomination.


“Green Book’ (Nov. 16)

Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in "Green Book."
Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in "Green Book." (Patti Perret / Universal Pictures)

The story: Gregarious, resourceful hustler (Viggo Mortensen) is hired to drive a black classical pianist (Mahershala Ali) for a concert tour of the Deep South in 1962. An unlikely friendship develops.

Working for it: "Green Book" unexpectedly eclipsed higher-profile movies to win the Toronto Film Festival's People's Choice Award, and early motion picture academy screenings have generated similar enthusiasm. It has all the makings of a commercial powerhouse when it arrives in theaters for Thanksgiving. No amount of tryptophan will keep your in-laws from crying when the credits roll.

Working against it: Some critics — and there will be outspoken ones — will find the film's treatment of race simplistic. Being compared to "Driving Miss Daisy" isn't as bad as likening your movie to "Crash" … but it's close.

‘The Favourite’ (Nov. 23)

Emma Stone plots some palace intrigue in "The Favourite."
Emma Stone plots some palace intrigue in "The Favourite." (Yorgos Lanthimos / 20th Century Fox)

The story: A lady (Rachel Weisz) and a servant (Emma Stone) jockey for the favor of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) in early 18th century England.

Working for it: Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos ("The Lobster," "The Killing of a Sacred Deer," "Dogtooth"), "The Favourite" subverts the historical costume drama at every step, brandishing a stinging wit and joyful decadence. Backstabbing has never been more fun to watch.

Working against it: It's Lanthimos' most accessible film, but that doesn't mean everyone will be into his idiosyncratic flourishes. Anyone who found "Downton Abbey" to be occasionally a bit on the naughty side will be poleaxed by this.

‘Roma’ (Nov. 21)

Yalitza Aparicio, left, Marco Graf and Daniela Demesa in "Roma."
Yalitza Aparicio, left, Marco Graf and Daniela Demesa in "Roma." (Alfonso Cuarón / Netflix)

The story: A quiet young woman (Yalitza Aparicio) becomes pregnant while caring for a wealthy family in a changing Mexico City during the early 1970s.

Working for it: Alfonso Cuarón's ("Gravity," "Children of Men") achingly beautiful tribute to the women who cared for him in his youth floored festival audiences in Venice, Telluride, Toronto and London. Once they begin handing out prizes, look for critics groups to coalesce around Cuarón's movie. They might even create new awards just to find more ways to celebrate it.

Nancy Garcia, Marina de Tavira and Yalitza Aparicio discuss working with Alfonso Cuarón on Netflix's "Roma," which won the top prize at the 2018 Venice Film Festival and is generating major awards season buzz.

Working against it: It's a foreign language (Spanish and Mixtec) movie shot (by Cuarón) in (shimmering!) black and white and released by Netflix. And because it's Netflix, we have no idea how many people will be watching it in a theater (absolutely essential for this film) as opposed to viewing "Roma's" opening four-minute shot of soapy mop water undulating across a stone driveway on their laptops and then switching over to "Queer Eye."

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‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ (Nov. 30 in New York, Dec. 7 in L.A.)

KiKi Layne and Stephan James in "If Beale Street Could Talk."
KiKi Layne and Stephan James in "If Beale Street Could Talk." (Tatum Mangus / Annapurna Pictures)

The story: Childhood friends Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) become lovers, but their bond is tested when Fonny is falsely accused of rape.

Working for it: Barry Jenkins' follow-up to the Oscar-winning best picture "Moonlight" earned raves at its Toronto premiere for its sensitive and potent adaptation of James Baldwin's novel (and was the runner-up, along with "Roma," to "Green Book" for Toronto's People's Choice prize). In its depiction of black love — between a man and a woman, between friends, between family, between community members — "Beale Street" feels as necessary as its predecessor.

"If Beale Street Could Talk" director Barry Jenkins and stars Stephan James and Kiki Layne stopped by the Los Angeles Times' Toronto International Film Festival studio to discuss their adaptation of James Baldwin's novel.

Working against it: Following "Moonlight," expectations could burden this movie, which gorgeously unfolds in a nonlinear approach that could prove off-putting to older academy members averse to flashbacks of the nonacid variety.

‘Widows’ (Nov. 16)

Michelle Rodriguez, left, Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki star in "Widows."
Michelle Rodriguez, left, Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki star in "Widows." (20th Century Fox)

The story: A group of women, led by Viola Davis, carry out a robbery that their husbands planned but never completed. (The film's title betrays the reason why.)

Working for it: Steve McQueen's first film since "12 Years a Slave" is easily his most commercial effort. But it's no mere heist movie. "Widows" takes on toxic men, a broken political system, the widening chasm between the privileged and the poor and a world in which anything — and anyone — can be bought and sold. All these elements are baked into a crowd-pleasing thriller that has been producing gasps and cheers at academy and guild screenings in recent weeks.

"Widows" stars Michelle Rodriguez, Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo discuss how the Steve McQueen-directed heist thriller allowed them to defy Hollywood's expectations of female actors: "Sometimes you get a role that helps you to slay certain dragons in your own life."

Working against it: Could disappoint those itching for a pure heist movie. And its genre trappings could dissuade some from voting for it.

‘Vice’ (Dec. 25)

Christian Bale plays Dick Cheney in "Vice."
Christian Bale plays Dick Cheney in "Vice." (Annapurna Pictures)

The story: Dick Cheney becomes the most powerful vice president in U.S. history, promising to handle the "more mundane jobs" of George W. Bush's presidency — i.e., "overseeing bureaucracy, military, energy and foreign policy."

Working for it: Writer-director Adam McKay won an Oscar two years ago for "The Big Short," his scathing, freewheeling indictment of Wall Street and regulatory irresponsibility. The idea of McKay training his moral outrage toward Cheney and Bush will have many in Hollywood sharpening their pitchforks with glee.

Working against it: For some, a tax audit notice would be preferable to a movie centered on politics, much less Cheney. Also: Its late arrival — the movie won't begin screening until mid-November — will have it scrambling for traction with voters. In other words, it'd better deliver.

‘Mary Queen of Scots’ (Dec. 7)

Saoirse Ronan headlines "Mary Queen of Scots."
Saoirse Ronan headlines "Mary Queen of Scots." (Liam Daniel / Focus Features)

The story: Mary Stuart, queen of Scotland, and her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, vie for the English throne.

Working for it: Two Oscar-nominated actresses — Saoirse Ronan in the title role and Margot Robbie playing Elizabeth — plus a nuanced exploration of what it means to be a woman in power.

Working against it: It's more conventional than "The Favourite" and may suffer by comparison when critics' groups gravitate toward Lanthimos' film.

‘On the Basis of Sex’ (Dec. 25)

Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in "On the Basis of Sex."
Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in "On the Basis of Sex." (Jonathan Wenk / Focus Features)

The story: Biopic of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (played by Felicity Jones) centers on a landmark case focused on gender discrimination.

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Working for it: The commercial success of the extraordinary Ginsburg documentary "RBG" shows there's an appetite for this kind of film.

Working against it: "RBG" might have satisfied that appetite, making this movie redundant.

‘The Mule’ (Dec. 14)

The story: True tale of an elderly man (Clint Eastwood) who becomes a prolific drug courier for a Mexican cartel.

Working for it: The needles-and-pins trailer for this Eastwood-directed thriller, co-starring Bradley Cooper, looks fantastic. (The film hasn't screened for press yet.) The last time Eastwood and Cooper teamed was "American Sniper," and that turned out pretty well for all involved.

Working against it: Warner Bros. reps continue to soft-pedal the movie's Oscar chances, saying simply: "It's a good Clint movie." Translation: It's "Gran Torino," not "Million Dollar Baby."

Related:

Twitter: @glennwhipp

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