Serious films lined up for release with Oscar season in full swing

Oscar season gets into full swing with serious films lining up to hit the big screen, including many with strong female leads

This year has already seen the release of a few sure-fire Oscar and Golden Globe contenders, such as the war epic Dunkirk and the horror-comedy Get Out.

Mother!, the religious allegory from writer-director Darren Aronofsky, is still showing, as is the period drama The Beguiled, from director Sofia Coppola. Both are likely to be contenders for the Best Director prize.

But this is only the beginning. Voting season for the Globes and the Academy Awards will start soon, so studios will bring hits from festivals in Toronto, Venice, Sundance and Cannes into the cineplexes.

There is no standout this season, unlike last year, when La La Land looked to be an unstoppable force.

But what is remarkable is the number of films that feature strong roles for actresses. From Battle Of The Sexes (Emma Stone) to Victoria & Abdul (Judi Dench) to The Shape Of Water (Sally Hawkins) to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Frances McDormand) to Mother! (Jennifer Lawrence), the race for the Best Actress award at the Globes and Oscars looks to be the one to watch.

Here are other Oscar-pedigree titles coming your way.


Of Oscar pedigree

Wonderstruck


Millicent Simmonds. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION 

Opens: Oct 26

Who: Directed by Todd Haynes; stars Julianne Moore, Millicent Simmonds, Oakes Fegley

What: Based on the 2011 novel of the same title, it follows two children, in two time periods, who run away from home.

Likely Oscar categories: Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction

Haynes' last movie, the period drama Carol (2015), was nominated for six Oscars. Here, he moves away from the women-centric films that have been his speciality to take the point of view of children.

This ambitious time-juggling tale about runaway kids was nominated for this year's Palme d'Or, the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Wind River

Opens: In November

Who: Directed by Taylor Sheridan; stars Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen

What: In this thriller, two white law enforcement officers are sent to a native American reservation to investigate a murder.

Likely Oscar categories: Picture, Director

Sheridan is known for thrillers with an arthouse twist - he wrote the drug cartel movie Sicario (2015) and the neo-western Hell Or High Water (2016), nominated for four Oscars, including Best Screenplay for Sheridan.

He directs his own screenplay here, an effort which has picked up the Un Certain Regard prize for Best Director at Cannes this year.

Victoria & Abdul


Judi Dench and Ali Fazal star in Victoria & Abdul, a film about the unique relationship between Queen Victoria and her Indian servant, Abdul Karim. PHOTO: UIP 

Opens: Nov 9

Who: Directed by Stephen Frears; stars Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard

What: This sequel to Mrs Brown (1997) is based on the book of the same title about the unique relationship between Queen Victoria and her Indian servant, Abdul Karim.

Likely Oscar categories: Picture, Director, Actress (for Dench), Costume Design

Two-time Oscar nominee Frears is right in his comfort zone in this lush royal portrait. One of his Oscar nods was for The Queen (2006), a role for which Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth won a Best Actress Oscar.

Suburbicon


Matt Damon and Julianne Moore (both above). PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION 

Opens: Nov 9

Who: Directed by George Clooney; stars Matt Damon, Julianne Moore

What: In this bleak comedy, intruders break into a nice suburban home, setting off a violent chain of events.

Likely Oscar category: Original Screenplay

Clooney's success as director has had its ups (Good Night, And Good Luck, 2005; The Ides Of March, 2011) and downs (Leatherheads, 2008; The Monuments Men, 2014). This time, he is working with a screenplay from festival circuit favourites Ethan and Joel Coen, so he has that going for him, at least.

A Ghost Story


Rooney Mara. PHOTO: UIP 

Opens: Nov 9

Who: Directed by David Lowery; stars Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara

What: When a musician dies, his spirit returns to the home he shared with his wife.

Likely Oscar categories: Picture, Director, Original Screenplay

Writer-director Lowery is a festival darling and helmer of melancholic dramas such as Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013), which also stars Mara and Affleck.

A Ghost Story, a work about the supernatural world influenced by the animation work of Japan's Studio Ghibli, was nominated for an audience award at the Sundance Film Festival.

Battle Of The Sexes


Emma Stone and Steve Carell (both above). PHOTO: 20TH CENTURY FOX

Opens: Nov 23

Who: Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris; stars Emma Stone, Steve Carell

What: Based on the true story of the 1973 tennis match between female champion Billie Jean King and a former male champion, Bobby Riggs.

Likely Oscar categories: Picture, Actress (for Stone), Original Screenplay

Writer Simon Beaufoy has one Oscar win, for Slumdog Millionaire (2008), so he has both pedigree and a way with feel-good message movies.

This one also features a de-glamorised Stone playing tennis champion King, and Oscar voters love an actress willing to dress down.

Darkest Hour

Opens: Jan 4

Who: Directed by Joe Wright; stars Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas

What: The just-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill must choose between war with Germany and keeping his nation out of the conflict ravaging the continent.

Likely Oscar categories: Picture, Actor (for Oldman), Art Direction

Perhaps because of Brexit, the hit Netflix television series The Crown or the release of the movie Dunkirk, there have been two Churchill biopics this year.

The one titled Churchill, starring Brian Cox as the Prime Minister, was released earlier. But this one starring Oldman as the wartime leader has the Golden Globe-nominated Wright (Atonement, 2007) at the helm, so its chances of being nominated in the usual prestige period categories look good.

The Shape Of Water


Sally Hawkins (left) and Octavia Spencer (right). PHOTO: 20TH CENTURY FOX 

Opens: In January

Who: Directed by Guillermo del Toro; stars Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer Michael Shannon

What: At the height of the Cold War, a woman working in a laboratory discovers the secret hidden within the facility’s secret chamber.

Likely Oscar categories: Picture, Director, Actress (for Hawkins)

Again, this is a case of a director returning to the zone that Oscar voters want to see him in.

This romantic fantasy has del Toro revisiting the horror-tinged fairy tale of the sort he pioneered in the award-winning The Devil’s Backbone (2001) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006).

This work picked up four prizes at the Venice Film Festival, including the top prize of the Golden Lion. British actress Hawkins has also received raves.

Downsizing


Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig (both centre) in Downsizing. PHOTO: UIP 

Opens: Jan 11

Who: Directed by Alexander Payne; stars Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig, Hong Chau

What: A man and his wife shrink themselves to under 15cm in height to help the planet and to enjoy more of everything.

Likely Oscar categories: Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Visual Effects

Payne has two Oscars, both for writing, for The Descendants (2011) and Sideways (2004), and Best Director Oscar nominations for Nebraska (2013), Sideways and The Descendants. He could direct a mobile phone commercial and get raves. This satire about consumerism was nominated for the Golden Lion at Venice and the outlook is strong for more Globes and Oscar nominations in the major creative categories.

The Current War


Benedict Cumberbatch. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

Opens: Jan 11

Who: Directed by Alfonso Gomez- Rejon; stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Katherine Waterston

What: This is based on the real-life business and technology battle between industry giants Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse.

Likely Oscar categories: Art Direction, Costume Design

Gomez-Rejon directed the woefully under-appreciated Me And Earl And The Dying Girl (2015), and this movie, while boasting A-listers such as Cumberbatch and Shannon in lead roles, has so far failed to excite festival judges. But it might still get love from Oscar voters in the technical categories, for design, music and sound.

All The Money In The World


Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg in All The Money In The World. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE 

Opens: Jan 25

Who: Directed by Ridley Scott; stars Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Spacey

What: This is based on the true story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, son of the world's richest man, in 1973.

Likely Oscar categories: Picture, Director, Art Direction

This film has prestige tacked all over it: Scott is a three- time nominee in the Director category at the Oscars, but has never won. His films, though, collect many accolades - The Martian (2015) had seven Oscar nominations, while Gladiator (2000) won five Academy Awards. It is certain that this crime thriller will pick up several Globes and Oscar nominations.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


Frances McDormand. PHOTO: 20TH CENTURY FOX 

Opens: Jan 25

Who: Directed by Martin McDonagh; stars Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell

What: A woman, angered by the failure to find her daughter's killer, buys billboards criticising her local police department.

Likely Oscar categories: Picture, Director, Actress (for McDormand)

Anything from Oscar-winning writer-director McDonagh gets attention - he is known for dialogue-driven comedies with a conceptual twist (In Bruges, 2008; Seven Psychopaths, 2012).

This work was nominated for the Golden Lion at Venice, while McDormand's turn as the outraged mother has won attention.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2017, with the headline 'Get serious at the movies'. Print Edition | Subscribe