Deadline held its fifth annual The Contenders event at the Directors Guild of America on Saturday. While the DGA Theater locale was the same as last year, the names of those contending films are, of course, different—even if some talent from them are back for another go ’round in the Oscar madness.
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, who won three Oscars for Birdman, is back with The Revanant starring Leonardo DiCaprio (who was prominent on the circuit just two years ago with The Wolf Of Wall Street). Will Gonzalez Iñárritu repeat so soon? Can four-time nominee DiCaprio finally break his Oscar curse? Last season’s Best Actor winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything) also returns to the awards drill with a stirring performance in The Danish Girl. Can he be the first back-to-back Oscar winner since Tom Hanks in 1993-94? Redmayne’s main competition last year, Michael Keaton, also is back for a second consecutive try, this time in the Supporting Actor category for the widely acclaimed Spotlight. But he might be facing off against his co-star Mark Ruffalo, who — you guessed it — was nominated last year for Foxcatcher. As was Steve Carell, who could be returning to the race this year with The Big Short. Relatively recent Best Actress winners Cate Blanchett (2013), Jennifer Lawrence (2012), and Sandra Bullock (2009) also are back in the hunt this year, but there are plenty of new names and Oscar-less veterans going for the gold. We’ll get to that in a second.
First, the big question: Can some of the year’s biggest blockbusters break into the race? After all, that was a key goal when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made the switch from five Best Picture nominees to a possibility of 10. So far results in that experiment have been spotty, with the Academy still favoring smaller, more personal films such as 12 Years A Slave, The Artist, The King’s Speech and The Hurt Locker.
Is there a chance that such films as Paramount’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (left), Warner Bros’ Mad Max: Fury Road and the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens actually land Best Picture noms? What about this summer’s animated box office winner from Pixar, Inside Out? Now there is a quartet of pics that really could boost ratings for the Oscarcast. Certainly the studios will be going for it, but will the voters? So many Academy members cite Mission: Impossible or Mad Max when I ask them what films they really like. But when it’s time to mark those ballots, these films often only get craft noms.
The competition is steep among the more likely awards-magnet pictures this year such as indies Spotlight, Brooklyn, The Danish Girl, Room, The Hateful Eight, Carol, Trumbo, Love & Mercy, Youth, 45 Years, Sicario and 99 Homes. The field is so crowded that it caused some films to drop out, such as Sony Classics’ Hank Williams biopic I Saw The Light, which was pushed to next year. And it’s not just the indies and specialty divisions working on all burners.
Outside of the blockbuster realm in which they regularly traffic, the major studios are competing more heavily than ever with a lineup that includes 20th Century Fox’s The Revenant, The Martian and David O. Russell’s Joy; Universal’s Steve Jobs and Straight Outta Compton; Black Mass from Warner Bros; Concussion and The Walk from Sony; Paramount’s The Big Short; and Bridge Of Spies from Disney/DreamWorks.
Here is an even more intriguing question: Can Netflix, which is trying to upset the apple cart in terms of distributing Oscar-quality films, get its biggie Beasts Of No Nation into the race despite its debut on the streaming service day-and-date with its limited theatrical release? The box office numbers were AWOL, but Netflix says the streaming turnout was significant. How will awards season treat the film? If it lands significant nominations, it could be a seminal moment for the industry — as well as for the way campaigns usually work.
The acting races seem impossibly crowded every year, especially in the Best Actor contest. This year the same might be true in the Best Actress race, as well as both supporting categories. In addition to DiCaprio, Redmayne and Carell, will there be room for Michael Caine (Youth), Tom Hanks (Bridge Of Spies), Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Ian McKellen (Mr. Holmes), Johnny Depp (Black Mass), Will Smith (Concussion), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Walk) or Matt Damon (The Martian)? How about non-pro Geza Rohrig in Hungary’s foreign-language film entry Son Of Saul?
The Best Actress race is more crowded than usual with familiar names including the aforementioned Lawrence (Joy) and Bullock (Our Brand Is Crisis) as well as Maggie Smith (The Lady In The Van), Carey Mulligan (Suffragette), Brie Larson (Room, right), Helen Mirren (Woman In Gold), Lily Tomlin (Grandma), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn), Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years), Emily Blunt (Sicario), Sarah Silverman (I Smile Back) and Blythe Danner (I’ll See You In My Dreams). Let’s not forget previous winner Blanchett, who has two performances competing for one slot (Truth and Carol). Throwing a wrench into things are two arguably leading roles — from Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl and Rooney Mara in Carol — being campaigned for Supporting Actress, confusing voters’ choices.
It feels like we just got over the last Oscar contest and now we have a stellar — and staggering — number of films to parse through this season. Brace yourselves. It’s going to be a long race.