As summer blockbusters recede from view and the conversation turns to Serious Movies, awards-season prognosticators pose the kinds of queries typical of their annual sport: Will Viola Davis campaign as leading or supporting actress? Will this finally be Annette Bening’s year? But perhaps the biggest question looming over February’s Academy Awards is whether its crop of nominees, to be announced in January, will warrant the revival of the #oscarssowhite hashtag used to describe the last several ceremonies.
This year, the Academy announced changes to its voting and membership rules and invited its most diverse new class in history. But despite these moves, change will only happen as quickly as opportunities to make movies by and about people of color—not to mention women and members of the LGBTQ community—become more plentiful.
This year is already looking limited when it comes to female directors and LGBTQ stories likely to register among voters, but the following movies offer hope that it may be an improvement upon last year’s homogenous honors.
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Moonlight (Oct. 21)
Writer-director Barry Jenkins’ coming-of-age story, based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” is one of this year’s most universally acclaimed movies. It’s also one of the few movies likely to make a splash this awards season that explores the inner life of a character whose burgeoning sexuality is a primary concern—and a rare film to be made about queer people of color. And that splash could be a big one: it’s likely to land nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see one or more members of its cast—Mahershala Ali, Trevante Rhodes, Naomie Harris—nab a nomination for acting in a supporting role.
Fences (Dec. 25)
Based on August Wilson’s 1983 play of the same name, this 1950s period drama will cast the spotlight on its director and lead actor, Denzel Washington, who already has two acting Oscars under his belt and will likely be a contender in the Best Director field this year. Much has been made of the decision to campaign Viola Davis—who won a Tony for leading actress for the same role—in the Supporting Actress field, thanks to a stacked Best Actress category this year. Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay noms look to be Fences’ for the taking, as well.
Hidden Figures (Dec. 25)
The little-known story of the female African-American mathematicians, programmers and engineers who helped get Americans into space may be one of just a handful of stories about women to land in the Best Picture category this year. Its performances also bode well for more than a little love on the acting front. Led by Taraji P. Henson, who plays the very un-Cookie-like Katherine Johnson, with strong supporting turns from Janelle Monáe and Octavia Spencer, it’s the kind of inspirational, previously untold tale Oscar voters are likely to get behind.
Loving (Nov. 4)
Writer-director Jeff Nichols’ period drama has been widely praised for its restrained, tender portrait of Mildred and Richard Loving, the couple whose Supreme Court case led to the abolition of anti-miscegenation laws, since it debuted at Cannes in May. Ruth Negga, the Ethiopian-Irish actress who plays Mildred Loving, has been a revelation to American audiences and is a solid bet for a Best Actress nomination. Though not a shoo-in, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Loving in the Best Picture race and Nichols in the running for a screenwriting award.
Florence Foster Jenkins (Aug. 12)
The Best Picture category has not, historically, been particularly hospitable to stories about women. The inclusion of three female-driven nominees last year—Brooklyn, Mad Max and Room—almost felt like cause for celebration (almost). This year’s field is unlikely to see any significant correction to the gender imbalance, but if we are to see any stories about ladies among the year’s most celebrated movies, this Meryl Streep starrer about an opera singer whose voices is about as beautiful as the ocean is dry (and whose circle of friends is too kind/cruel to tell her) has a very good shot at being among them.
Jackie (Dec. 2)
Each year, a handful of movies emerge from the festival circuit with awards-season accolades all but preordained. This year, Jackie was one of them. Natalie Portman’s portrayal of the former first lady in the days after her husband was assassinated in 1963 seems practically guaranteed to get the actress one step closer to a second Oscar. It may end up representing one of just a handful of stories about women in the Best Picture category, and Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín is a solid contender for a Best Director nod.
20th Century Women (Dec. 25)
20th Century Women is a movie written and directed by a man about a teenaged boy growing up in late-1970s Santa Barbara. But it’s really about the women in his life: his divorced, free-spirited but also paradoxically conservative mother (Annette Bening), her 20-something punky photographer tenant (Greta Gerwig) and the girl-next-door he’s not so secretly in love with (Elle Fanning). Mike Mills’ last movie, Beginners, led star Christopher Plummer to an Oscar. This one looks well-positioned to get Bening at the very least close (she’s been nominated four times) and to add some estrogen to the Best Picture category.
Birth of a Nation (Oct. 7)
After being declared the year’s first Oscar-worthy picture at Sundance in January, Nate Parker’s Nat Turner drama crumbled under the weight of controversy when news of Parker’s college rape trial resurfaced in August. A swift withdrawal of support sealed the movie’s fate at the box office and its chances for recognition during awards season—with at least one possible exception—Aja Naomi King, who delivers a haunting supporting performance as Turner’s wife Cherry.
Queen of Katwe (Sept. 23)
Mira Nair’s uplifting movie about a real-world teenage chess champion from Uganda isn’t the kind of late-autumn prestige film that generally does much business at the Oscars, but it boasts supporting turns from two heavy hitters: Lupita Nyong’o, who won Best Supporting Actress for 12 Years a Slave in 2014, and David Oyelowo, whose lack of Academy recognition for his turn as Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma was perceived by many as a snub. It’s an outside shot for both of them, but within the realm of possibility.
Toni Erdmann (Dec. 25)
One of the frontrunners in this year’s Best Foreign Film category comes from the German filmmaker Maren Ade, whose nearly three-hour father-daughter comedy could make her one of just a handful of female directors recognized at 2017’s Oscars. Toni Erdmann, an intimate story about a jokester dad who fears that his straitlaced corporate daughter is unhappy and tries, with a bad wig and false teeth, to shake her from her misery, will get a U.S. run beginning on Christmas Day.
The Documentary Film Category
The pool of contenders in the Best Documentary category represents probably the widest range of perspectives of any Oscar category. The movies vying for this year’s top doc spots include 13th, Ava DuVernay’s film about race and the American criminal justice system; Ezra Edelman’s eight-hour opus O.J.: Made in America; cinematographer Kirsten Johnson’s documentary memoir Cameraperson; Roger Ross Williams’ portrait of an autistic Disneyphile, Life, Animated; Barbara Kopple’s portrait of a powerhouse singer facing cancer in Miss Sharon Jones!; and Raoul Peck’s James Baldwin-inspired meditation on race, I Am Not Your Negro.