It’s getting to that time of year where every studio and producer in Hollywood is unleashing their bid for Oscar gold on the world. The Academy can technically give out trophies to any film from throughout the year, but “awards season” (the couple of months before the nominations are announced) is typically when Oscar bait starts to flood multiplexes.
There are obvious choices for Academy Awards, like Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman or Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but there are also a couple of surprise contenders this year. So, here are the 10 Most Unlikely Oscar Contenders To Emerge In 2019.
Ever since Logan received a Best Adapted Screenplay nod and then Black Panther was up for Best Picture the following year, there seems to be a trend that the Academy will recognize one comic book film per awards show. However, no one was expecting this year’s comics-based Oscar contender to come from DC – especially the new movie about the Joker.
Villain movies rarely work at all (Venom, Suicide Squad, Brightburn, etc.), let alone to an award-worthy standard; we’d already enjoyed the definitive screen version of the Joker, courtesy of Heath Ledger; and it was being helmed by Todd Phillips, director of The Hangover trilogy. But then, to many people’s surprise, Joker emerged as a sure-fire Academy Awards contender.
This one certainly came as a surprise. If any moviegoer was told at the beginning of the year that a movie starring Jennifer Lopez as a stripper would have pundits seriously talking about her chances at taking home the Academy Award for Best Actress, there’s no way they would’ve believed it.
The movie’s take on a sort of “Goodfellas in a strip club” narrative and its use of humor to tell a dramatic story make it both entertaining and powerful, but it’s Lopez’s career-best performance in the lead role that makes it a real contender for this year’s Academy Awards.
Olivia Wilde made her directorial debut earlier this year with the unfortunately underrated Booksmart, starring Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, whose chemistry made the movie. The coming-of-age teen movie is one of the oldest, most exhausted subgenres of comedy, but Wilde and her immensely talented writers and cast found a fresh spin on it.
Instead of having a couple of dorks who want to get with their crush or prove they can party with the cool kids, Wilde simply told the story of two girls who have knuckled down, aced their schoolwork, and now want to unwind with a night of fun.
7 Knives Out
Two years after irreparably tearing the Star Wars fan base apart with The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson is back with a darkly comic murder mystery inspired by the writer-director's love of Agatha Christie’s classic novels.
In the grand tradition of Hollywood whodunits, Johnson has assembled a star-studded cast of A-listers headed by Daniel Craig as a Poirot-style detective and Chris Evans, fresh off his MCU tenure. Anyone who tries to write a murder mystery in the style of Christie usually fails miserably, because no one can write whodunits like her, but critics are saying that Johnson has crafted an intriguing one.
6 Dolemite is My Name
Eddie Murphy is making a comeback. Next year, he’ll embark on his first standup comedy tour in decades, and he might also take home an Academy Award or at least a nomination for one.
In Dolemite is My Name, he plays comedian, singer, and blaxploitation star Rudy Ray Moore, who has been a dream role of Murphy’s for years. Now that he’s finally gotten the chance to play him in a Netflix-mounted biopic, he’s relished every moment and turned out a performance that’s up there with his best work, with the added Oscar-friendly layer of it being a real person.
After one biopic of a gay music legend swept the Oscars last year, it didn’t seem likely that another one would come along and strike just as much of a chord with audiences. But then, lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened.
Helmed by Dexter Fletcher, who shot the best parts of Bohemian Rhapsody after original director Bryan Singer left, Rocketman is a flashy biopic of Elton John. Rocketman certainly has more razzle-dazzle than Bohemian Rhapsody. Where the latter was more of a straightforward period piece, depicting the events as they happened (albeit smoothed over for plot convenience), the former’s visual flair goes hand-in-hand with the music of Elton John to create a more captivating viewing experience.
4 Uncut Gems
Any movie starring Adam Sandler emerging in line for major awards is going to come as a surprise. The Safdie brothers’ new movie Uncut Gems is being praised by critics as even more enrapturing and beautifully made than their previous effort, the Robert Pattinson-starring crime drama Good Time.
Following its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, critics noted that Sandler’s performance in the film was one of the festival’s finest – noting that he’s never steered audiences wrong with a dramatic performance in his entire career – and also lauded Darius Khondji’s cinematography. This one can contend in a few categories.
3 Avengers: Endgame
It could be argued that Avengers: Endgame is only really an Oscar contender because Disney is aggressively pushing an awards campaign for it. Still, it became the highest-grossing movie of all time, and every past holder of that record (apart from Birth of a Nation, which was released before the Oscars existed, and Jurassic Park) has been nominated for Best Picture, and most of them have won.
Endgame might not have a stake for Best Picture, but there’s a chance that Robert Downey, Jr. could receive a nod for Best Actor. It might be a big-budget blockbuster focused on spectacle, but it also brought out some very real emotions in its audience.
This one might not be such a surprise since Jordan Peele won an Academy Award for writing his previous film, Get Out, but it’s always a surprise when a horror film emerges as an Oscar contender. Plus, it’s not Peele who is considered to be a contender here (although his writing and direction on the film were as sharp as ever); it’s Lupita Nyong’o.
Nyong’o is already a noted Academy favorite, after winning Best Supporting Actor for her turn in 12 Years a Slave, and in Us, she plays dual roles as panicked mother Adelaide and her doppelganger, revolutionary leader Red. Her mysterious performance hammered home the theme that the difference between the hero and the villain of a story is negligible.
1 Jojo Rabbit
A satire from the director of Thor: Ragnarok starring himself as a child’s imaginary friend who takes the form of Adolf Hitler must’ve seemed like a risk to all the producers it was brought to.
It’s risqué subject matter, albeit with a lot to say about our current hate-based political climate. However, Taika Waititi has pulled off odd premises before (a boy and his illegal guardian going on the run, a mockumentary about mild-mannered vampires, a Thor movie as a comedy, etc.), and in this case, he’s done it to an Oscar-worthy standard. It already won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.