If Democratic presidential candidates are criss-crossing New Hampshire and buying vintage sequined jackets in South Carolina to boost their bona fides for the 2020 election, then it can’t be too early to talk about next year’s Oscars, right?
That’s a rhetorical question. Of course, it’s too soon. But that’s not going to stop me from projecting a few contenders for a ceremony that, thanks to an earlier date next year, is only 350 days away.
I’ll list eight, in keeping with the number of nominated movies this year. And, as always, a disclaimer: This is an inexact science. I cannot account for weird lapses in voter taste (ahem, “Bohemian Rhapsody”), so you won’t be seeing, say, “Pokemon Detective Pikachu” listed here. Though, based on the results of this year’s Oscars, it could damn well win best picture for all I know.
“The Farewell” (July 12)
Director: Lulu Wang
Cast: Awkwafina, Zhou Shuzhen, Diana Lin and Tzi Ma
Impeccable indie studio A24 acquired Wang’s bittersweet film at Sundance and plugged it into a prime summer release date. It’s easy to see both the commercial and awards potential for this story of a Chinese family reuniting after learning the grandmother (Shuzhen) has terminal lung cancer — and deciding to keep the news from her. Early reviews lauded Awkwafina in the lead role, with The Times’ Justin Chang calling the film a “funny, moving, sensitively wrought dramedy.”
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (July 26)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie
Tarantino says he spent five years writing as well as a lifetime thinking about the Charles Manson murders, which provide the backdrop for this End of the ’60s story centered on a fading TV star (DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double (Pitt) trying to negotiate the changing times and the passing of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Oscar voters have long loved Tarantino as well as movies about themselves, giving “Hollywood” a one-two punch that could take it far into the season.
“The Goldfinch” (Oct. 11)
Director: John Crowley
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Aneurin Barnard, Jeffrey Wright, Sarah Paulson, Nicole Kidman
Crowley follows his lovely, understated romance “Brooklyn” with an adaptation of Donna Tartt’s sprawling, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a young man who becomes enmeshed in crime after his beloved mother is killed in a terrorist attack. Last seen in “Baby Driver,” Elgort has long been a star on the rise (he should have been cast as the young Han Solo) and, with this, it looks like he finally has the material to fully demonstrate his talent.
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (Nov. 22)
Director: Marielle Heller
Cast: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper
Do I need to say more than Tom Hanks is playing Mr. (Fred) Rogers? How about that it’s directed by Heller, who delivered the superb “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” last year, her follow-up to her equally excellent debut feature, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”? Heller’s presence provides assurance that what could be a mawkish story — journalist (Rhys) grudgingly accepts interview assignment with beloved icon and finds his life forever changed — into something that could be profoundly moving.
“Queen & Slim” (Nov. 27)
Director: Melina Matsoukas
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine
After years making a name for herself directing such TV series as “Insecure” and “Master of None,” and music videos with the likes of Beyoncé and Rihanna, Matsoukas finally makes her first feature film and it sounds essential. Written by Lena Waithe, “Queen & Slim” tells the story of a black couple who attempt to flee to Cuba after killing a police officer on their first date. Universal has staked out a prime spot on the awards season calendar for a film that’s a lock to prompt a lot of discussion in entertainment and op-ed pages.
“Little Women” (Dec. 25)
Director: Greta Gerwig
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern
Yes, there was a film version of “Little Women” out just last year, but it wasn’t written and directed by Greta Gerwig. Meanwhile, there have been three “Spider-Man” franchise reboots, a dozen Madea movies, 13 “X-Men” entries and a constant cultural churning of Batmen and Supermen and 007s. So don’t you dare ask if we need another “Little Women.” The cast is perfect in this follow-up to Gerwig’s “Lady Bird,” right down to the choice of Streep in the small but key role of acerbic Aunt March.
“The Irishman” (TBD)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino
Scorsese returns to the mob world with “Goodfellas” alums DeNiro and Pesci and a blank check from Netflix. The long-gestating project follows a hitman (De Niro) possibly (yeah, right) involved in the disappearance of union leader Jimmy Hoffa. The film’s hopscotching eras are realized through visual effects that “de-age” the actors, a costly process that ballooned the film’s budget. Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s longtime editor, cautions that we shouldn’t expect another “Goodfellas,” saying “it’s completely different.” Expect another full-court Oscar press from Netflix, complete with a significant theatrical run before it lands on the streaming site.
“Uncut Gems” (TBD)
Directors: Josh and Benny Safdie
Cast: Adam Sandler, Lakeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel
While everyone else awaits “The Irishman,” the crime drama I’m craving is the Safdie brothers’ follow-up to “Good Time” featuring Sandler as a jewelry store owner desperate to make good on his debts. Angry, unpredictable Sandler is the best Sandler, and I’m hearing this might be a career-best turn on the level of his work in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch-Drunk Love.”