Thursday, December 7, 2023

Previewing The 2019 Oscar Contenders

By Daniel Howat 

The 91st Academy Awards are behind us now and “Green Book” claimed victory in a wildly contentious season. Oh, you thought that meant a break from awards season? Never! Awards season 2019 has only just begun! You’ve heard about some of the films which premiered earlier this year at Sundance and along with those, this is our official 2019 easy Oscar contenders preview!

​Let’s take a look at the films to keep an eye on this year that could make big plays at the 92nd Academy Awards.


Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

There is no film that will more obviously aim for gold this year than Quentin Tarantino’s newest film. “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” sounds tailor-made for Oscars: set in Los Angeles in 1969, a faded TV actor and his stunt-double search for success in the film industry, all while the Manson family rises in Hollywood. A massive cast is a shoo-in for a SAG Ensemble nod and more: Brad Pitt, Leonardo Dicaprio, Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate!), Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, James Marsden, Dakota Fanning, Damian Lewis, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and more! We know the Academy loves movies about movies, Old Hollywood, and Tarantino. With a film so perfectly aimed at the Academy, it’s always possible this doesn’t live up to expectations. It’s also his first film without Harvey Weinstein, so that’s a little awkward. Still, you should feel safe writing this one down in your early predictions.

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Potential Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, All Acting Categories, Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design & Best Production Design


Like it or not, I’ve gotta put “Cats” on this list. Director Tom Hooper’s last three films all won acting Oscars, and of course “The King’s Speech” won Best Picture. He seems to be a divisive director, at least according to Film Twitter, but he’s found great success with the Academy. Hooper will return to the musical world (after 2012’s “Les Miserables”) with an adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s massively successful musical Cats. It’s tough to imagine how this musical will translate to the screen, as the characters are, ya know, cats. Still, you can’t count this one out, especially not with this wild cast: Jennifer Hudson, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, James Corden, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, Rebel Wilson, and Jason Derulo. I suspect we’ll see at least one acting nomination. If nothing else, expect quite a few craft nominations.

Release Date: December 20, 2019
Potential Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Original Song & Best Visual Effects


Little Women

Greta Gerwig made a triumphant entry on the Oscar scene with her coming-of-age masterpiece “Lady Bird.” She’ll return with an even more traditional Oscar play with her adaptation of “Little Women.” The cast is phenomenal: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Meryl Streep, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern, and Florence Pugh. Personally, I’m worried that this might be a too-traditional choice for her next directorial feature. Will the Academy reward a story they’ve seen numerous times? Well, it somewhat worked out for Bradley Cooper and “A Star Is Born.”

Release Date: December 25, 2019
Potential Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, All Acting Categories & Best Costume Design


James Mangold’s action-drama follows the long-standing feud between car companies Ford and Ferrari. Ferrari had dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans car race for years, and Ford was determined to build a new car to defeat them. This film could be an exciting entry into the prestige Oscar race, aided by a stellar cast. Christian Bale and Matt Damon lead, with Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Noah Jupe, Remo Girone, and Tracy Letts joining them. This project has been around a long time, but it’s finally completed. They also just moved the release date from June to a much more awards-friendly November 15th. Mangold has films with mild success at the Oscars but received his first nomination for writing “Logan” in 2017. This film could be his first Best Picture nominee.

Release Date: November 15th, 2019
Potential Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Sound Mixing & Best Visual Effects


A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” may have shockingly missed out on a nomination this year, but Mister Rogers has another shot in 2019. Marielle Heller directs Tom Hanks in this Fred Rogers biopic that follows a journalist (Matthew Rhys) who begrudgingly accepts a job profiling the television icon in his later years. Heller’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” received three nominations this year, but many were disappointed that she (and all other female directors) were shut out of Best Director. I’m certain that won’t happen again this year. Heller stands a great chance at her film nomination for this film. Hanks seems like a shoo-in for a nomination, but he’s missed out on quite a few “shoe-in” nominations in recent years.

Release Date: November 22, 2019
Potential Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay & Best Makeup & Hairstyling


Not sure if this is a good thing or not, but there will be no shortage of Roger Ailes stories in 2019. While Russell Crowe and Naomi Watts will star in the TV series “The Loudest Voice in The Room,” with Crowe as Ailes, a film with be vying for Oscar contention. Jay Roach’s untitled project (possibly named “Fair and Balanced”) will star John Lithgow as Ailes, Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, along with Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, Connie Britton, and Allison Janney. This is a stacked cast. Roach’s HBO films have been huge hits at the Emmys, but his films have only produced one Oscar nomination (Bryan Cranston in “Trumbo”). With a cast and juicy story like this, he’s got a great shot at his own first nomination.

Release Date: TBA
Potential Categories: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay & Best Makeup & Hairstyling



Netflix came *this close* to winning Best Picture with “Roma,” so we can expect some angry over-campaigning from them this year in response. One of their most obvious contenders is Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.” This project has been in development for years, and it’s finally happening. He’s given us the dream-Scorsese cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino (as Jimmy Hoffa!), Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, and Ray Romano. The gangster film reportedly features a heavily de-aged cast using expensive visual effects work. This could be really cool, or a mess. I’m pretty hesitant, but this film is still a surefire contender.

Release Date: Fall 2019
Potential Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Bet Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup & Hairstyling & Best Visual Effects


A less-obvious contender from Netflix comes from their partnership with Noah Baumbach following their collaboration on “The Meyerowitz Stories.” Since his Original Screenplay nomination for “The Squid and the Whale” in 2006, Baumbach’s film haven’t caught on in the awards race (though almost all critically acclaimed). Perhaps his new untitled film could change that. With Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, and Laura Dern, this film “follows an unfolding divorce from New York to Los Angeles.” It’s likely this film will remain under-the-radar until it drops at festivals, but if it’s good it could finally bring Laura Dern some gold.

Release Date: TBA
Potential Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress & Best Original Screenplay


The Woman In The Window

Female-led crime thrillers are all the rage right now, and it seems like we get at least one new one each year. With Joe Wright (“Darkest Hour” & “Atonement”) at the helm, and Tracy Letts adapting the successful novel, “The Woman At The Window” hopes to be more “Gone Girl” and less “The Girl on the Train.” After her sixth unsuccessful nomination this year, Amy Adams also hopes that she can turn that record around (one more unsuccessful nomination will tie Glenn Close’s record for the living performer with the most losses at the Oscars without a win). Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, Brian Tyree Henry, and Anthony Mackie round out the cast, while Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are composing. They’re doing all they can to stack this cast and crew with as much Oscar potential as they can.

Release Date: October 4th, 2019
Potential Categories, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor & Best Adapted Screenplay


Though “The Last Jedi” haters are sure to throw a fit about this one, Rian Johnson’s next film in arriving this Thanksgiving. It’s unclear whether this will be an awards contender or more popcorn-fare, but either way, it’s one we need to keep an eye on. It’s been described as an Agatha Christie-style murder-mystery, which sounds utterly delightful. Also, is 2019 going to be the toughest competition for SAG Ensemble ever? It’s possible with yet another outstanding ensemble here: Chris Evans, Daniel Craig, Lakeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, and Ana de Armas. Oscar contender or not, this is sure to be a blast.

Release Date: November 27th, 2019
Potential Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, All Acting Categories, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score & Best Sound Editing



Chloe Zhao’s “The Rider” was a slow-burning critical darling that somehow managed to slip under the awards radar. Still, there’s now a large audience who can’t wait to see what she does next. She’s signed on to direct “The Eternals” for Marvel, but will first direct a small drama called “Nomadland.” The adaptation of the timely non-fiction book of the same name will star two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand as a woman who lost everything in the Great Recession and her journey across the American West as a “van-dwelling modern-day nomad.” That plot sounds right up the Academy’s alley, so we’ll keep our eyes peeled. IMDb currently has this slated for a 2020 release, but I’m betting it lands this fall, just in time for awards season.

Release Date: TBA
Potential Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay & Best Cinematography


After winning Best Director and Best Picture for his directorial debut “American Beauty,” Sam Mendes has been mostly absent from the awards race. “1917” could be his return. While we don’t know much about the plot, we know it’s a World War I film set in, well, 1917. A war film finally nabbed Christopher Nolan his Best Director nomination in 2017 for “Dunkirk,” so the Academy still has a soft spot for the genre. With Roger Deakins behind the camera, it’s sure to look good at the very least.

Release Date: Fall 2019
Potential Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing & Best Sound Mixing


The Goldfinch

Roger Deakins’ other 2019 film is “The Goldfinch,” directed by John Crowley. After the success of Crowley’s 2015 film “Brooklyn,” hopes are high for this project. An adaptation of the novel, it follows a 13-year-old boy who is taken in by a wealthy family after surviving a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who then descends into a world of crime. Starring Ansel Elgort, Ashleigh Cummings, Jeffrey Wright, Nicole Kidman, and Sarah Paulson, this plot sounds fascinating. Amazon Studios didn’t have much awards success in 2018, and this could help change that.

Release Date: October 11th, 2019
Potential Categories: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay & Best Cinematography


Did I mention that Netflix is going to be determined to win some more Oscars this year? Yet another surefire contender comes from Dee Rees, who was nominated for writing “Mudbound” in 2017. Adapted from the 1996 novel of the same name, “The Last Thing He Wanted” follows a reporter for the Washington Post (Anne Hathaway) who quits her job covering the 1984 presidential election to care for her dying father (Willem Dafoe). She then ends up inheriting his role as an arms dealer. The film also stars Ben Affleck, Toby Jones, and Rosie Perez. “Mudbound” showed that Rees will be a force to reckon with, and this project sounds fascinating. I’d expect some more love throw her way this year.

Release Date: TBA
Potential Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor & Best Adapted Screenplay


The Aeronauts

Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones last paired to much awards success in 2014’s “The Theory of Everything.” They’ll next play a pair of explorers in “The Aeronauts.” Per IMDb: “Pilot Amelia Wren and scientist James Glaisher find themselves in an epic fight for survival while attempting to make discoveries in a hot air balloon.” This sounds like a fun, thrilling picture that could either be just a popcorn film or a bonafide contender. Director Tom Harper has found some success in British television, directing episodes of Peaky Blinders and War & Peace, but has yet to have a successful feature. This is a big gamble but sounds exciting.

Release Date: November 1st, 2019
Potential Categories: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design & Best Visual Effects


It’s also been a while since Steven Soderbergh has been back at the Oscars, but his Panama Papers drama is his most Oscar-friendly project in a long time. “The Laundromat” stars Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Alex Pettyfer, Jeffrey Wright, and more. It’s wildly timely and should be a gripping story. Soderbergh’s style isn’t for everyone, and this is another Netflix release, but this material is made for awards. A strong festival run could secure its place in the race.

Release Date: TBA
Potential Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay & Best Cinematography


The Report

The first Sundance film on the list (and certainly not the last) sounds like the most traditional Oscar contender. “The Report” follows Senate staffer Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) who leads the investigation into the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques following 9/11. Annette Bening also stars as Senator Dianne Feinstein, in what could be her long-overdue Oscar. Scott Z. Burns wrote and directed the drama, which Sundance audiences ate up. Comparisons to Zero Dark Thirty were thrown about. Expect this to land in a big way.

Release Date: TBA
Potential Categories: Best Picture, Best Actor & Best Original Screenplay


After their breakout film “Good Time,” all eyes are on the Safdie brothers. Their next film, produced by A24 and Netflix, hasn’t released a plot description yet, but we know it’s a crime drama. It also stars Adam Sandler and Lakeith Stanfield. We’ve been talking about Sandler’s “inevitable” Oscar nomination for years now, but the projects always seem to disappoint. The set photos of Sandler character look appropriately bonkers, so who knows? Maybe this is finally Sandler’s moment.

Release Date: TBA
Potential Categories: Best Actor & Best Original Screenplay


Ad Astra

We’ve been predicting James Gray’s space epic to be a contender for a while now, and we’ll finally get to see it this May. Starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, and Ruth Negga, this film follows a man in search of his father twenty years after his failed mission to Neptune. Gray’s previous films have been largely acclaimed but have evaded real awards contention. With a sci-fi premise and a May release date, this may not change. Still, craft nominations are entirely possible, while above-the-line nominations might happen if the film proves to be undeniable.

Release Date: May 24th, 2019
Potential Categories: Best Picture, Bet Director, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing & Best Visual Effects


Us Movie

Can Jordan Peele strike again? After the groundbreaking Oscar run for “Get Out,” (and a Best Picture nomination for “BlacKkKlansman”), Peele returns in just a few weeks with “Us.” Starring Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and “Black Panther” breakout Winston Duke, this horror film promises to be even more frightening than “Get Out.” Will the Academy go for horror yet again? It’s certainly rare for them to do so. We’ll find out pretty soon if the film is a worthy follow up!

Release Date: March 22nd, 2019
Potential Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor & Best Original Screenplay

Other Contenders

  • GEMINI MAN: Ang Lee directing Will Smith in a sci-fi thriller.
  • HARRIET: Cynthia Erivo starring as abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
  • RADEGUND: Terrence Malick film about a WWII conscientious objector, if it’s completed in time for a 2019 release.
  • THE GOOD LIAR: Bill Condon directs a drama about an aging conman, starring Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren.
  • WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE?: Richard Linklater’s adaptation of the popular novel, starring Cate Blanchett.
  • ROCKETMAN: Elton John musical/biopic starring Taron Egerton.
  • LATE NIGHT: Sundance film written by Mindy Kaling about aging late-night host Emma Thompson
  • CLEMENCY: Alfre Woodard won raves at Sundance, but the Grand Jury-winning film doesn’t have distribution yet.
  • LUCE: Sundance drama that won over audiences with performances from Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Kelvin Harrison, Jr., and Tim Roth.
  • THEM THAT FOLLOW: Olivia Colman as a snake-handling Pentecostal Christian could be a good follow-up to her Oscar win.
  • YESTERDAY: Danny Boyle directs a fun Richard Curtis script that’s all about the music of The Beatles. Sure to be a box office hit, and could get an Original Screenplay nomination.

This year will surely be a bloodbath in SAG Ensemble, given all of the incredible casts listed here. Looking at this comprehensive list, it’s hard not to get excited about next year’s Oscars. And that’s without examining all f the animated films, documentary and foreign films which will all surely be making a play! What are your most anticipated awards titles of this year? What do you think could be our next Best Picture? Let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.

You can follow Daniel and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @howatdk

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Daniel Howat
Daniel Howat
Movie and awards season obsessed. Hollywood Critics Association Member.

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