Director: Justin Kurzel
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine
In contention for... Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress—basically everything except Original Screenplay
Talk about ambitious: For his second film, following 2011’s gut-wrenching murder story Snowtown, Aussie director Justin Kurzel has rounded up a stunning cast and gone straight for the most notoriously tough play on Shakespeare’s résumé. If he manages to imbue it with the same ferocity that made his debut so unnerving, expect this to be one of the year’s finest films.
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen
In contention for... Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay
2015 is the Year of the Fassbender, as Iron Mike follows Macbeth's doomed Scottish prince with another controversial icon: the inventor and CEO who revolutionized computing. With The Social Network scribe Aaron Sorkin on screenwriting duties, expect a far more nuanced portrait than Ashton Kutcher’s 2013 effort.
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz
In contention for... Best Actor, Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay
Fassbender completes an Oscar-worthy hat trick with this melodrama from the director of Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines—an adaptation of the successful novel about a couple living in a remote Australian lighthouse who rescue a baby from the waves. Even that wistful, poetic title screams “Nominate me!”
Director: Sarah Gavron
Cast: Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter
In contention for... Best Actress and probably Best Costume Design
Its release was pushed back from last year, which isn’t usually a good sign—but never underestimate the Oscar-magnetic powers of Meryl Streep. This story of the women who fought for the vote in early 20th-century Britain, this sports a dazzlingly starry cast and will be manna to the King’s Speech crowd.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tom Hanks, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda
In contention for... Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay
As if casting two-time winner Tom Hanks as a Cold War-era lawyer recruited by the CIA to rescue an American pilot wasn’t enough to ensure an Oscar shot, Steven Spielberg went and hauled in the Coen brothers to polish up the screenplay. Oh, and just for good measure he’s shoved Jerusalem's Tony-winner Mark Rylance in there to shore up the Supporting Actor side of things.
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domnhall Gleeson
In contention for... Best Actor, Best Director
He may have snapped up this year’s Best Picture and Best Director awards for Birdman, but Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu still has to prove to a lot of people that he’s not a worthy windbag who loves the sound of his own voice. This tale of a fur trapper left for dead (Leonardo DiCaprio) following a bear attack could be just the ticket. Let’s hope it’s punchy, vicious and largely angst-free.
Director: Bill Pohlad
Cast: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks
In contention for... Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay
Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s life has been a rollercoaster of drugs, drink and depression, so it’s no surprise that a biopic would reach the screen eventually. Scripted by I’m Not There writer Oren Moverman, Love and Mercy focuses on two periods in the singer’s life—the mid-1960s and the late 1980s—and will see the icon played by two very different Hollywood stars, Paul Dano and John Cusack.
Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Harrison Ford, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley
In contention for... every visual effects and sound award available, Costume Design, Editing and just maybe Supporting Actor, Director and Picture
It’s an often-overlooked fact that Star Wars was nominated for both Best Picture and Best Director back in 1978—though it lost to Annie Hall in both categories, and had to console itself with seven technical awards. Will J.J. Abrams’s reboot make it past the expected effects and sound design wins and into the big leagues? Perhaps even a for-services-rendered Supporting Actor slot for Harrison Ford is possible.
Director: Oren Moverman
Cast: Richard Gere, Jena Malone, Danielle Brooks
In contention for... Best Actor, Best Director, Best Picture
Richard Gere has long harbored the ambition to make a movie about America’s homeless problem, and his decision to enlist the services of Rampart director Moverman as both writer and director proves he’s willing to take a creative chance. The film was shot guerilla-style on the streets of NYC—another risky move, but it pays off in an emotional wallop. This could be a serious dark-horse contender.
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Cast: Keira Knightley, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke
In contention for... Best Actress, Best Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Visual Effects
An adaptation of John Krakauer’s bestselling memoir Into Thin Air about a disastrous Himalayan expedition in 1996, this promises to be the mountain-climbing movie to beat ’em all. The cast is exceptionally strong—Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Josh Brolin and John Hawkes also appear—and surely losing your pals in a snow storm is a good excuse for some fiery Academy-friendly emoting.
Director: Scott Cooper
Cast: Johnny Depp, Dakota Johnson, Benedict Cumberbatch
In contention for... Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay
The Academy loves a comeback kid—could this be Johnny Depp’s chance to prove that he’s a real actor after a decade of silly accents and funny facial hair? The story of feared gangster Whitey Bulger and his recruitment as an FBI informant has all the hallmarks of an ace dramatic thriller, and Crazy Heart director Cooper has an old-school Oscar-friendly style. And if that’s not enough, Benedict Cumberbatch has got their backs.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Asano Tadanobu
In contention for... Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor… everything except the Actress categories, by the look of things
Think The Mission meets Shogun, as a pair of 17th-century Jesuit priests travel to Japan to convert the locals and instead become disillusioned with the double standards of Catholicism. With Scorsese in the chair and Neeson up front, expect monumental scope, intensity and gravitas.
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Samuel L. Jackson
In contention for... Best Picture, Best Actress, Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay
The Academy is fond of Quentin Tarantino, but his films have received a lot more nominations than wins. Another Southern-fried spaghetti western, The Hateful Eight sounds a lot like Django Unchained without all that awkward, controversial slavery business—which could see it embraced by a grateful voting body.
Director: Justin Chadwick
Cast: Christoph Waltz, Alicia Vikander, Jack O’Connell
In contention for... Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design
Producer Harvey Weinstein is a past master of the Oscar campaign, though his knack seems to have slipped a bit since The Artist. If this story of a love affair in 17th-century Amsterdam—scripted by Tom Stoppard from a best-selling novel—doesn’t score Harvey some more gold for his overburdened shelf, perhaps the Life of Pi-like Lion, starring Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel, will.
Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Zoe Kazan
In contention for... Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay
In 2005, the documentary Our Brand is Crisis followed a firm of American political strategists who were hired to assist in the election of a Bolivian presidential candidate by any means necessary. This big-budget adaptation retools the story as high farce, with Sandra Bullock as Jane Bodine, a consultant who heads south of the border to show the natives just how dirty politics can be.
Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Charlie Gillette
In contention for... Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay
Her star has been rising for over a decade now, so isn’t it time Greta Gerwig got some Academy love? The second of 2015’s collaborations with her real-life director boyfriend Noah Baumbach, Mistress America was one of the best films at the Sundance Film Festival, an old-school screwball comedy about a young woman who befriends her dad’s new girlfriend.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Kingsley
In contention for... Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Make-up Effects
His star may have fallen since the Oscar-courting glory days of Forrest Gump, but we wouldn’t count out Robert Zemeckis just yet. The tale of French acrobat Philippe Petit’s 1974 attempt to walk a tightrope between the Twin Towers already formed the basis of an Oscar-winning documentary, Man on Wire, so we assume Zemeckis has a strong shot with this fictionalized retelling featuring a heavily accented Gordon-Levitt.
Director: Todd Haynes
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson
In contention for... Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design
It’s been eight years since Todd Haynes released a movie in theaters (I’m Not There), so anticipation is high for this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1950s New York-set novel about a young shopgirl who falls for an older woman. We can’t imagine a better meeting of artist and material: Haynes’s eye for period and character detail is unparalleled, so expect this to be lush, sumptuous and emotional.
Director: Jodie Foster
Cast: Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Jack O’Connell
In contention for... Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress
The Wolf of Wall Street meets The King of Comedy as George Clooney plays a TV economics expert held to ransom by a desperate man who has squandered all his hard-earned cash on faulty stock tips. Jodie Foster’s directorial efforts have been uneven, but this has all the hallmarks of a winning and timely satire.
Director: Thomas McCarthy
Cast: Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo
In contention for... Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay
There have been numerous documentaries on the subject, but it was only a matter of time before Hollywood had something to say about the Catholic child-abuse scandal. With a superb cast—see above, plus Stanley Tucci, John Slattery and Billy Crudup—Spotlight focuses on the Boston Globe’s investigative efforts to expose the story.
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Cast: RJ Cyler, Thomas Mann, Chelsea Zhang
In contention for... Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture
With a cast of unknowns, an obscure second-time director and a story about two high-school kids who befriend a young woman with terminal leukemia, this microbudget indie is about as far from the obvious Oscar heavy-hitters as we can imagine. But after winning both the Audience and Grand Jury awards at Sundance (like Beasts of the Southern Wild before it), this little movie could turn out to be a surprise contender.
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Cast: Michael Caine, Paul Dano, Rachel Weisz
In contention for... Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor
Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s first English language film This Must Be the Place was a drifting disappointment, but when his follow-up, The Great Beauty, wowed the cinemagoing world (and won the Foreign-Language Oscar) his status as a master filmmaker was confirmed. Nostalgic drama The Early Years features a fine cast and some spectacular Alpine locations in a tale of friends reunited at a remote hotel.
Director: Mark Osborne
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Jeff Bridges, James Franco (voices)
In contention for... Best Animated Feature, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Score, possibly Best Picture
It’s been 24 years since Beauty and the Beast became the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture, and in that time only one other movie, Pixar’s Up, has repeated the trick. But we wouldn’t put it past this adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s poetic, metaphorically rich story of a boy’s search for friendship. Yes, the film comes from the team that brought you Kung-Fu Panda, but don’t hold that against it.
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Cast: Maggie Smith, Dominic Cooper, Jim Broadbent
In contention for... Best Actress, Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay
There’s nothing Oscar voters love more than a cozily inspiring British comedy-drama, and that’s exactly what they’ll get with this adaptation of Alan Bennett’s play The Lady in the Van, the true story of a homeless woman who lived in the writer's front garden for 15 years. With The Madness of King George director Nicholas Hytner at the helm and the likes of Maggie Smith and Jim Broadbent in the cast, this sounds like the movie equivalent of a pair of freshly warmed slippers.
Director: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Christopher Eccleston
In contention for... Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay
L.A. Confidential writer Brian Helgeland directs Tom Hardy and—yes—Tom Hardy in the story of notorious London twin thugs the Krays. If Hardy can deliver two totally different but equally powerful performances he’s surely got a shot at Oscar glory (maybe two!), but let’s hope the film doesn’t lean too heavily on creaky honor-among-thieves clichés.