Don’t let the fact that it’s still 2019 make you complacent. The 2020 Oscar race has already begun, and will only get hotter as the year comes to a close. Some strong Oscar contenders have already hit theaters — Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood — but others are still on the way.
To help you pregame for your inevitable Academy Awards betting pool, we’ve put together a list of the 19 biggest contenders at the Oscars next year. We’ve got Brad Pitt in Ad Astra, Tom “America’s Dad” Hanks as America’s Other Dad Fred Rogers, and all of the Little Women. Prepare your predictions now:
There’s not a single element of Lulu Wang’s The Farewell that rings false or out of place. It’s a remarkable feat, even more so when one considers that the story being told is one ripped directly from Wang’s own life. When her grandmother is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Billie (Awkwafina) is shocked to discover that the entire rest of the family has decided to keep the diagnosis a secret, gathering in China under the pretense of a wedding rather than telling her that she’s fallen ill. Wang gracefully addresses the question of whether or not it’s the right decision, as well as the divides between being Asian, American, and Asian-American.
Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
As expected, the latest film from Quentin Tarantino has stirred up a fair amount of controversy, but no matter what side of the argument you land on — whether it’s the argument about Sharon Tate, Bruce Lee, or Tarantino’s work in general — it’s hard to deny that Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood is a major work. Starring arguably the last two movie stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, the film is a love letter to ’60s Hollywood, and surprisingly tender as far as Tarantino movies go. His love for the time — and for movies as a whole — is palpable throughout the tale of a washed-up actor trying to make a go of it in an industry that is passing him by.
Pixar’s Toy Story is the rare franchise to have elegantly aged with their audience. The existential angst in each movie has only increased, culminating in Toy Story 4’s rumination on why any of us are alive, and what our purpose is. The avatar of said angst is Forky (voiced by Tony Hale), a spork who, having been made out of disparate parts found in the garbage, doesn’t understand why he now has life and longs to return to the trash. Happening in parallel is Woody’s (Tom Hanks) existential crisis as he reckons with his lessening popularity with Bonnie, and the possibility of life outside of being a plaything.
Directed by James Gray, opening Sept. 20
Over and over, James Gray has proven himself to be perhaps the most sensitive filmmaker of our time (see: Little Odessa, The Immigrant). His last film, the tremendous The Lost City of Z, was his first to take place outside of New York, and his latest, Ad Astra, travels even further afield, taking Brad Pitt up into outer space.
Directed by Rupert Goold, opening Sept. 27
Set three decades after The Wizard of Oz, Renee Zellweger’s Judy Garland biopic focuses on the final years of the legendary performer’s life. As she reminisces with friends — as well as beginning a romance with musician Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock) — the film takes on Garland’s ups and downs, with Zellweger cutting an uncannily close figure in all of the footage that’s been seen so far.
Directed by Todd Phillips, opening Oct. 4
Against my better judgment, I am all-in on the Todd Phillips/Joaquin Phoenix Joker movie. Though each new report on what the film is actually about (Thomas Wayne is supposedly “in the mold of a 1980s Donald Trump”) seems to indicate that this movie will be trying to tap into the zeitgeist in a way that seems less productive than promising, the King of Comedy vibe that emanates from every other detail — plus that delightful “Laughing” teaser — gives me hope.
Directed by Noah Hawley, opening Oct. 4
Hot off the heels of Legion is Noah Hawley’s feature directorial debut, Lucy in the Sky. Despite the title, it’s not a movie about the Beatles; rather, it’s a loose adaptation of the story of astronaut Lisa Nowak, who drove 900 miles straight after discovering that her lover had begun another affair. Natalie Portman stars as Lucy Cola, whose trouble readjusting to life on Earth is compounded by her affair with a fellow astronaut (Jon Hamm). Dan Stevens also makes the jump over from Legion as Lucy’s husband.
Pain and Glory
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar, opening Oct. 4
Pedro Almodóvar’s film about an aging filmmaker, which draws on his own experiences, earned its lead, Antonio Banderas, the award for Best Actor at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and seems set to propel Banderas to the Oscars, too. Banderas plays director Salvador Mallo, who, throughout the film, recounts events from his entire life, as well as musing about the creation of art, and how (if at all) to separate it from one’s own life.
Directed by Bong Joon-ho, opening Oct. 11
There’s no question that Bong Joon-ho’s thrilling Parasite is one of the best movies of the year. Like a vertically-oriented Snowpiercer, Parasite is concerned with class. Two families, one rich (and living in a beautiful house on a hill) and one poor (and relegated to a sub-basement apartment in a flood-prone zone), become entwined in each others’ lives through matters of work and money. Gradually, however, their entanglement becomes more complicated, and the caper-esque qualities of the early part of the film twist into tragedy. Parasite builds like a symphony, and the great pleasure of it is not only that you’ll never see what’s coming, but that it’s so deftly made that you’ll want to revisit it again and again.
Directed by Kasi Lemmons, opening Nov. 1
Cynthia Erivo stars as Harriet Tubman in Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet, based on the life of the famed abolitionist who escaped slavery and was a pivotal figure for the Underground Railroad, leading other slaves to freedom. Leslie Odom Jr. co-stars as William Still, a fellow abolitionist, with Janelle Monáe, Jennifer Nettles, and Joe Alwyn in other supporting roles.
Directed by Martin Scorsese, opening Nov. 1
Even though Scorsese’s Silence didn’t get nearly the kind of attention it deserved, the acclaimed director is still blessing us with another film, this time by way of Netflix. The Irishman is a passion project for Scorsese, and has the billing to match: Robert De Niro and Al Pacino reunite for the fourth time (after The Godfather Part II, Heat, and Righteous Kill) in a take on alleged hitman Frank Sheeran, Jimmy Hoffa, and the Bufalino crime family. It’s gonna rule! Joe Pesci came out of unofficial retirement for this!
Directed by Scott Z. Burns, opening Nov. 15
It’s a big year for Adam Driver, what with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker wrapping up the Star Wars sequel trilogy. The Report promises to be a tougher sit, as Driver plays a man charged with investigating the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program and accusations of torture in the wake of 9/11. It’s a bold performance from Driver, as well as a sensitively handled look at a grim part of American history.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Directed by Marielle Heller, opening Nov. 22
Even the title of this film makes me cry. The fact that America’s sweetheart Tom Hanks is playing Fred Rogers is enough to crank up the dial to “wrenching sobs.” Matthew Rhys co-stars as Lloyd Vogel, a journalist sent to profile Rogers who, naturally, finds his own view of the world changing as he spends time in Rogers’ neighborhood.
Directed by Noah Baumbach, opening Nov. 6
Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver headline the latest film from Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story. The movie is Baumbach doing what Baumbach does best, capturing the seemingly mundane lives of everyday people and exploring the idiosyncrasies that make them interesting — and, in some cases, threaten to pull them apart. Marriage Story sees Nicole (Johansson) and Charlie (Driver) struggling through a divorce, with their careers — Nicole is an actress, Charlie is a stage director — and their personal lives threatening to buckle under the pressure.
Directed by Todd Haynes, opening Nov. 22
Todd Haynes (of Velvet Goldmine, Far from Heaven, and Carol) returns with Dark Waters, a drama based on the true story of environmental defense attorney Robert Bilott (played by Mark Ruffalo) and his case against the company and chemical polluter DuPont. The film centers on his quest to expose the truth and the toll it takes on his life and his family, with Anne Hathaway as Bilott’s wife and The Good Place’s William Jackson Harper co-starring.
Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie, opening Dec. 13
If any film will truly cement the Adam Sandler-ssance, it is Uncut Gems, which pairs Sandler with Good Time directors Josh and Benny Safdie. Sandler plays a jewelry store owner struggling with a gambling addiction and the attendant problems, who finds himself in hot water when his merchandise is stolen. The set photos have shown Sandler in various states of rage, bloodiness, and public-fountain-jumping-ness, all of which seem to herald a — pardon the pun — very good time.
Directed by Jay Roach, opening Dec. 20
In 2016, former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the company’s chairman and CEO, Roger Ailes. Soon afterward, more women came forward with similar stories, including anchor Megyn Kelly. Bombshell, directed by Trumbo’s Jay Roach, takes on the true story, starring Nicole Kidman as Carlson and Charlize Theron as Kelly — both unrecognizable under heavy prosthetics — and Margot Robbie as Kayla Pospisil, a fictional associate producer. John Lithgow co-stars as Ailes.
Directed by Sam Mendes, opening Dec. 25
Sam Mendes’ follow-up to the Bond films Skyfall and Spectre is 1917, affectionately referred to by some in this office as “World War One-kirk” (as the trailer bares a striking resemblance to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk). The film stars George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman as two young men given a seemingly impossible mission to prevent an ambush from occurring and destroying an entire battalion of men, including the brother of Chapman’s character. The plot is loosely based on a story told to Mendes by his paternal grandfather, and also features Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Richard Madden, and Andrew Scott as others caught in the war. Rumor has it the whole movie might be a one-er.
Directed by Greta Gerwig, opening Dec. 25
The eighth feature film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel comes courtesy of Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig, and stars a murderers’ row of actresses including Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Emma Watson, Laura Dern, and Meryl Streep. As with all adaptations of the beloved book, this film promises to inspire impassioned opinions, though Gerwig is arguably the perfect choice to handle the material.