When the leaves start to drop, so do the year’s best movies. Indeed, the 2017 awards season is shaping up to be an absolute knockout. From musicals and science fiction, historical dramas and biopics, animated movies and war epics, the next few months will feature a slew of films designed to restore your faith in the cinematic experience.
The best directors are back in the game. To name a few, Ang Lee, Martin Scorsese, Mel Gibson and Denis Villeneuve are all premiering some of their most exciting work to date. As for the actors, everyone from Amy Adams to Andrew Garfield, and Matthew McConaughey to Viola Davis are sure to turn in powerhouse performances. They call it a crowded marketplace for a reason. With so much competition from Thanksgiving to Christmas, movie lovers will be like kids in an ice cream shop at the box office. There's a flavor for everyone.
Here are 15 Movies You Need To Watch This Oscar Season.
16 Manchester By The Sea
With a script by esteemed playwright Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea adheres to a familiar story. The down-and-out Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) returns to his small hometown to take care of his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), after the unexpected death of his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler). One of the breakout movies from the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Manchester By The Sea took audiences by surprise with its disarmingly realistic script. Dialogue has always been Lonergan’s forte, and critics have marveled at his ability to capture the colorful conversation embedded in New England culture. Though the movie may not break new thematic ground, Amazon Studios still nabbed the flick for a whopping $10 million out of Sundance, a price-tag rarely seen on such independent films.
Matt Damon and John Krasinski produced the film, but it was Damon who shepherded the project and originally planned to portray Lee Chandler. “I never made it through this script without crying,” Damon said. “I’ve never made it through any iteration or any cut of this movie without crying.” It appears the final casting was note perfect, however, as Casey Affleck is widely expected to pick up a nomination for Best Actor come Oscar season.
Steven Knight may not be a household name, but he's been the brains and brawn behind some very fine films. Having penned the scripts for Eastern Promises and Locke, Knight also brought the Birmingham-set drama Peaky Blinders to international acclaim. Now teaming with Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Cast Away), Knight drew on a story he was told as a young man and converted that yarn into the upcoming World War II thriller, Allied.
The movie seems to have a Casablanca-like tone, with American officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) striking up a relationship with a fighter in the French Resistance, Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard). In order to assassinate a leading German official, the pair fake their romantic involvement to achieve political ends. The more they inhabit their roles, however, the more their affection grows. Unfortunately, it seems their wartime fling may have been founded on lies. Given Zemeckis’ track record, Brad Pitt’s string of successes in the WWII genre, and the classic tone of the story, expect Allied to be a global hit when it lands in theaters next month.
14 Hacksaw Ridge
Call it the year of Andrew Garfield. While his exit from the Spider-Man franchise may have been unexpected, the British thespian has returned to his dramatic roots in Mel Gibson’s widely feted epic, Hacksaw Ridge. Though the bombastic director specializes in capturing the Sturm und Drang of war (see: Braveheart and Apocalypto), his upcoming WWII film requires a different touch. The story’s central protagonist, Desmond Doss (Garfield), is a conscientious objector in the Pacific theater of war. His Christian faith compels him to serve peacefully and not take arms against the Japanese.
For Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge presents a different dynamic than William Wallace, the highlander hero who hurtled himself headlong into battle. Still, Doss proved an irreplaceable man who saved over 70 American soldiers while in the line of fire during the Battle of Okinawa. As for the audience reaction to Hacksaw Ridge, those in attendance at the film’s premiere during the Venice Film Festival graced the movie with a 10-minute standing ovation. Though nothing will top the Medal of Honor Doss was awarded from President Harry Truman, Gibson and Garfield may very well find themselves holding Oscar statuettes come February.
13 La La Land
Film adaptations of musicals are hit and miss. Musicals with unknown songs? Forget about it. Against all odds, Whiplash director Damien Chazelle achieved the impossible with the upcoming La La Land. It’s a musical movie with fully original songs headlined by Hollywood darlings Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. In this dreamy, musical mood piece, the Crazy, Stupid, Love co-stars reunite for what has been loudly hailed as a breath of fresh air in the era of blockbusters, sequels and superhero showdowns. La La Land tells the tale of Mia (Stone), a hustling actress stuck between reality and her imagined life.
The struggling thespian meets Sebastian (Gosling), a Jazz pianist with ambitions of opening his own club. Set amid the sprawling and sexy wasteland of Los Angeles, the pair fall in and out of love between songs, dances, auditions and more. La La Land made waves at the Venice Film Festival, where Emma Stone won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress, and at the Toronto International Film Festival, where Damien Chazelle took home the People’s Choice Award. Amid all of the dramas, war epics and typically masochistic material of awards season, expect La La Land to be the counter-programming hero of the 2017 Oscars.
Though the movie has been on the proverbial fences for many years, August Wilson’s famed play will finally land on the big screen come Christmas Day. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis will reunite for the film adaptation, after both actors won Tony Awards for their performances in the 2010 Broadway run. Per the author’s wishes of having an African American direct the film, Washington will man the ship in his third outing behind the camera (after The Great Debaters and Antoine Fisher).
Fences is the sixth play in Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Cycle,” a ten-part study of race relations that spans a full century in American history. The upcoming film marks the halfway point in the series -- and a watershed period in American culture.
In Fences, Troy Maxson (Washington) pieces together his life after a failed professional baseball career, working to provide for his family under oppressive circumstances and stagnating opportunity. Produced by Scott Rudin (The Social Network), Fences is sure to deliver ferocious performances from its central cast and perhaps lead to future adaptations of August Wilson’s work.
Sitting at a pretty 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, Arrival appears primed to become celebrated director Denis Villeneuve’s most commercially successful film yet. Having helmed the nail-biter Prisoners, and the utterly engrossing Sicario, this Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner-led sci-fi film has been met with very high praise.
While we have grown accustomed to space epics like Gravity, The Martian and Interstellar, Villeneuve’s alien contact film promises to peel away layers of human emotion while exploring the mysterious “arrival.”
Those familiar with Prisoners and Sicario know to approach a Villeneuve film with great trepidation. The auteur pulls no punches, and his characters seldom shy away from choosing the nuclear option. In addition to the lauded central performances of Adams and Renner, Villeneuve has been praised for the film’s immaculate visuals and the emotional impact of the story. Viewers be warned: the less you know about this film and its third act pivot, the better.
After shedding weight for his Oscar-winning role in Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey tipped the scales in a new direction with the upcoming Gold. A down-and-out businessman, Kenny Wells (McConaughey) has a fever dream that sends him on a literal gold rush. Finding a prospecting partner in geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), the pair sets off into the labyrinthine jungles of Borneo to make their fortune.
One part The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and another part Casino, Gold hails from director Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) and sees McConaughey packing on forty extra pounds of weight to match his fantastic new haircut. The trailers indicate the Interstellar star has an absolute blast in the role, working alongside Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll and Toby Kebbell. Given the big bank and legal vibes that seem to dominate the second half of the film, Gold almost seems like the follow-up story to McConaughey’s memorable turn in The Wolf of Wall Street.
After the monster box-office success of Zootopia, Disney Animation Studios returns to theaters to deliver their coup de grace of 2016. Moana promises to be a thrilling ocean adventure built to ride the Thanksgiving box office wave all the way into 2017. Directors Ron Clements and John Musker, who previously collaborated on The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, return to the Disney fold for a story about a preternaturally gifted princess in pursuit of a legendary and mystical island.
Newcomer Auli’I Cravalho takes on the title role of Moana as Dwayne Johnson plays the South Pacific demigod, Maui. Together, the duo wards off evil foes as they set sail on the high seas. With original music from Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, Moana is shaping up to be a wildly successful animated adventure. Though set in far warmer climes, Disney’s latest has the potential to capture the cultural zeitgeist as Frozen did in 2013.
8 Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
A satire on the commercialization of war, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is director Ang Lee’s follow-up to the visionary Life of Pi. After making a CGI-heavy film set in the middle of the Pacific ocean, Lee’s new setting couldn’t be more different. Based on the book of the same name by Ben Fountain, the movie follows American soldier Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) on a publicity tour after a heroic firefight in Iraq. Told primarily through flashbacks, the story culminates in Billy and Bravo Squad’s appearance at the halftime show for the Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day football game. Despite the fireworks and the cheerleaders, things aren't as they seem.
Like the men who hoisted the flag on Iwo Jima, Billy Lynn and his company are forced to confront the jarring realities between the glorification of war and the horror of what they actually experienced. Hollywood newcomer Joe Alwyn is joined by veteran actors Steve Martin, Garrett Hedlund, Kristin Stewart, Chris Tucker and Vin Diesel, who plays Billy Lynn’s commanding officer in the story. Given the perennial interest in war films, and the beloved source material for the movie, expect Billy Lynn to take the long walk from the red carpet to the Academy Award stage next February.
7 Live By Night
Writer, director, actor, Batman. That’s Ben Affleck, who in a span of several years has gone from cover boy to bona fide filmmaker. His previous directorial efforts -- Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo -- all made waves during awards season, and with his latest feature, Live By Night, Affleck is stepping back up to the plate. His films not only blend tension and heart in a uniquely compelling way, but they all have the firm foundation of a solid story. Gone Baby Gone was based off the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name, and with Live By Night, Affleck adapts the acclaimed author's story on prohibition in 1920s America.
The pedigree for this movie is outstanding. Buoyed by the support of producer Leonardo DiCaprio, Affleck stars as Joe Coughlin alongside a cast of Sienna Miller, Chris Cooper, Brendan Gleeson, Zoe Saldana and more. Lehane’s engrossing story will provide ample drama, and if the trailer is any indication, Affleck’s vision for the film will be told with a beautiful aesthetic. If you weren’t already convinced of its Oscar potential, Live By Night just received a limited Christmas release date, thus qualifying for awards consideration in the new year.
6 Nocturnal Animals
The former creative director for Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, Tom Ford has segued from his former life in fashion to a rebirth in film. His first movie, A Single Man, nearly netted Colin Firth an Oscar, and it put the director on the map with his visionary aesthetics and heart-wrenching storytelling abilities. His sophomore follow-up, Nocturnal Animals, has been met with wide acclaim from critics and appears to be a fixture of the upcoming awards season race.
Led by Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, Nocturnal Animals details the fallout of a broken marriage. Having long marveled at his wife's insomnia, a now divorced Edward (Gyllenhaal) gives Susan (Adams) a novel with disturbing implications and likeness to their failed relationship. This mind-bending revenge tale has the most stacked cast of the fall season, with Laura Linney, Armie Hammer, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Sheen, (the criminally underused) Andrea Riseborough and the perpetually fascinating Michael Shannon. Nocturnal Animals may well be the most alluring thriller of the 2017 awards season.
5 Bleed For This
While Miles Teller was initially attached to La La Land, he ultimately landed the Martin Scorsese-produced boxing flick, Bleed for This. The true-life tale of middleweight pugilist Vinny Pazienza defines underdog success. Having boxed at the top of his game, the fiery Pazienza broke his neck in a head-on car crash that threatened to end his athletic career. Despite having a halo brace strapped to his shoulders and bolts screwed into his head, Vinny's boundless determination drove him to start lifting weights within five days of the accident. The story of his journey to recuperation and victory is the material most filmmakers crave to adapt.
Boiler Room director Ben Younger helmed the boxing pic with a top-notch cast in unconventional roles. Aaron Eckhart plays Kevin Rooney, an overweight and balding trainer, while Ciaran Hinds shuns his Irish roots for a fully committed portrayal of Vinny's father, Angelo. Early reviews for the movie are strong and indicate that Bleed for This tips its cap to Raging Bull while drawing on the domestic pandemonium of David O. Russell's Oscar darling, The Fighter.
In just five short years, Jeff Nichols cemented himself as a supreme director of independent cinema. With the apocalyptic thriller, Take Shelter, Nichols stunned audiences with his taut story and the raw performances of Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. While aiding in the McConaissance, Mud affirmed Nichols’ understanding of rural movie-making, and Midnight Special emphasized his science-fiction flare. With the upcoming Loving, Nichols distances himself from his own highfalutin concepts and confronts the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled interracial marriage laws unconstitutional. Nichols has been praised for the deft direction of his lead actors, Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, and the eminently realistic feel to the film.
While the case of Loving v. Virginia ultimately became a legal battle, Nichols focus on the abiding love shared between Richard and his wife, Mildred. Flanked by Nichols regular Michael Shannon, Nick Kroll in a rare dramatic turn, and Martin Csokas as the intolerant sheriff, Loving is a tender reflection on a hard-fought romance and the battle for equality.
3 The Birth of a Nation
The untold story of Nat Turner received a groundswell of support at the Sundance Film Festival. Purchased for a record-breaking $17.5 million by Fox Searchlight Pictures, The Birth of a Nation follows the bloody rebellion of Nat Turner and a group of slaves. Using nothing but farm tools and makeshift weapons, the marauders raided multiple plantations and killed over sixty white men, women and children. So effective was Nat Turner’s uprising that the furious white militias responded in kind and indiscriminately slaughtered several hundred slaves, along with freed men and women.
Director and writer Nate Parker mounted this grim chapter in American history and has been widely praised for his efforts. The Birth of a Nation stars Parker in the role of Nat Turner, along with Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Aunjanue Ellis and Jackie Earle Haley. While films like The Birth of a Nation are much more an indictment of the past than a piece of mere entertainment, it will likely be a strong contender in the 2017 awards season.
Martin Scorsese has wanted to make Silence for decades. In his own words, “It’s been an obsession…it has to be done.” Finally, after proving his creative worth time and time again, the pieces fell into place for him to adapt Shusaku Endo’s moving story of redemption and faith. Though the tale of Jesuit priests facing persecution in Japan was nearly mounted in 2009 (with Daniel Day-Lewis and Gael Garcia Bernal set to star), it finally got the greenlight in 2014 with a cast led by Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson, Adam Driver, Ciaran Hinds and Tadanobu Asano.
Should it adhere to the 1966 novel, Silence will be a moving and powerful study of religious conviction. In 17th Century Japan, the discrimination of Christianity was so severe that followers were tortured and killed in gruesome ways. Garfield plays the role of the Portuguese priest, Sebastiao Rodrigues, whose experience is so harrowing that it begins to erode his confidence in the mission. Recently slated for a December 23rd release, Silence may very well be Scorsese’s magnum opus and an awards-ready film not to be overlooked.
1 Honorable Mentions:
- Passengers: Uniting mega-stars Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence should make for explosive onscreen chemistry. There's a lot riding on Passengers, which carries one of the year's biggest budgets. With a script from Jon Spaihts (Doctor Strange, Prometheus) and Morten Tyldum at the helm (The Imitation Game), this sci-fi romance should easily deliver on its promises.
- Patriots Day: Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg have become a dynamic pair. First with Lone Survivor and then last month's critical-darling Deepwater Horizon, the duo have reunited for yet another true life story. Following the events and aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, Patriots Day opens December 21st and is sure to be an emotional telling of the attack, the manhunt that ensued, and the city-wide healing that followed.
- Moonlight: In one of the year's best reviewed films, Moonlight looks to be director Barry Jenkins's crowning achievement. Following three major chapters in a man's life, Moonlight chronicles Chiron's struggles with his identity, sexuality and place in society. Three actors play Chiron at different stages of the character's life, including Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders and Alex Hibbert. Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage) and Naomie Harris (Skyfall) also star.
- Rules Don't Apply: William Beatty's long-gestating Howard Hughes project will finally surface in November. Rather than delving into the man's life of madness and excellence, as Scorsese's The Aviator admirably achieved, Rules Don't Apply sizes up the famed entrepreneur through the lens of a beauty queen and her besotted businessman (Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich, respectively). Though expectations are high for the film, many expect Beatty to deliver and factor into the awards conversation.
- A Monster Calls: "[Here's the story of a boy] too old to be a kid, too young to be a man." So bellows Liam Neeson's monster in J.A. Bayona's tear-jerking film, A Monster Calls. If the trailer evokes feelings of Pan's Labyrinth or The Orphanage, it should. Bayona directed the latter film under exec-producer Guillermo Del Toro (who helmed the former flick), and his haunting handling of such macabre and emotional material resonates in his latest feature. Based on the fantasy novel by Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls tells the story of a boy (Lewis MacDougall) who turns to the help of a tree monster to help him navigate the impending death of his ill mother (Felicity Jones). If its heavy tone can find the right audience, A Monster Calls will surely be in the mix come February.
What movies are you most excited for this awards season? Let us know in the comments!