contenders
Mighty contenders are already battling their way to Oscar nominations and wins. (Illustration by Andrew Moghab, School of Visual Arts)

9 Pre-‘Oscar Season’ Contenders To Watch for at the Academy Awards

Movies like ‘The Farewell’ and ‘Joker’ might have been released a little earlier than most films vying for Academy recognition, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t make a big splash.

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Movies like ‘The Farewell’ and ‘Joker’ might have been released a little earlier than most films vying for Academy recognition, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t make a big splash.

For those who care at all about awards season, October is a grueling month. The dust is still settling from the blockbuster releases of the summer, while there’s still a good month before many of the biggest contenders hit theaters.

But before the chaos of November and December hits, it’s important to look back on the year so far and make mental notes of the films released outside of the typical “awards season” that may still appear on the list of nominees.

Here are nine pre-season films that could end up making waves come February — some more likely than others, though all with a fighting chance.

1. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Release Date: July 26

Considered an early frontrunner for best director, best actor and even best picture, it’s hard to say whether Quentin Tarantino’s first film in nearly four years will be able to keep up the attention and momentum it garnered early on. Regardless, the star-studded cast (including Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie) is sure to rack up some acting nominations, while Tarantino is as much of a lock for a directing nomination as one could be in October.

Whether or not the film itself will get a spot in what is looking to be a crowded best picture lineup remains a mystery. While it contains many of the Old Hollywood tropes that the Academy seems to be moving away from, Tarantino’s graphic and hilarious rewriting of the Manson murders in the final act should be enough to appeal to modern voters.

2. “The Farewell”

Release Date: July 12

After its premiere at Sundance in January, Lulu Wang’s semi-autobiographical directorial debut made nearly every “Best Of” list you could imagine. The film tells the story of a young woman living in the United States who returns to China in order to participate in a faux wedding organized to say goodbye to her grandmother, who had unknowingly been diagnosed with life-threatening cancer.

Aside from its heartwarming story, “The Farewell” is the perfect vehicle for some outstanding performances. In the lead role of Billi, Awkwafina (who is quickly becoming one of the most recognizable names in comedy) more than proved her duality. Zhao Shuzhen made a huge impression as her Nai Nai in her first credited acting role and could surely score a supporting actress nomination.

3. “Joker”

Release Date: Oct. 4

The Academy Awards are no strangers to nominating (and in some cases, awarding) films steeped in controversy, and this year, “Joker” may fill that slot. Detested by some for its violent imagery and potential for copycat crimes, the most recent imagining of the beloved Batman character has still received praise amongst critics and fans alike.

More than anything, Joaquin Phoenix will look to become the second actor to win an Oscar for his portrayal of the character (the first being Heath Ledger, who previously won for his take on the Joker in “The Dark Knight”).

4. “Avengers: Endgame”

Release Date: April 26

Though it might not seem like a traditional “Oscar movie,” the inclusion of “Black Panther” in last years best picture lineup has caused much speculation over whether or not “Endgame” can rack up a few nominations at this year’s ceremony. While the technical achievements of the film remain up for debate, its commercial success is undeniable. It earned a total of $2.8 billion, making it the highest-grossing film of all time.

With virtually no idea whether the Marvel-inclusive Academy Awards will continue into this year or not, the heated debate surrounding “Endgame” is sure to last right up until nomination day.

5. “Booksmart”

Release Date: May 24

In a just world, Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut would be an unquestionable contender for the Academy Awards. And while the female-led coming-of-age comedy was well received by both critics and audiences, it’s looking like its best chances at honors this winter will be at the Golden Globes.

Still, the hilarious screenplay could surprise, as could either leading actress: Beanie Feldstein for her hysterical turn as Molly, or Kaitlyn Dever, who perfectly portrayed the complicated intricacies of being a LGBTQ+ youth.

6. “Rocketman”

Release Date: May 31

Another film that seemed to peak early on was the biographical musical that tells the story of Elton John’s rise to fame. It hoped to emulate the night “Bohemian Rhapsody” had last year, though this is looking less and less likely as February draws closer.

While it might not be racking up nominations, there’s still a chance for Taron Egerton’s highly praised performance as John, who has gushed over the portrayal on numerous occasions. Though a crowded field may block the up-and-coming actor, that hasn’t stopped him from campaigning, appearing at multiple events to perform songs featured in the film (sometimes accompanied by John himself).

7. “Judy”

Release Date: Sept. 27

Similar to Glenn Close’s turn in “The Wife” (which got the seasoned actress painstakingly close to her first victory), Renée Zellweger will more than likely be the only nomination for “Judy,” the biopic that focuses on the tumultuous last years of Judy Garland’s life.

It’s well deserved. Zellweger fully devotes herself to becoming the troubled star at such a tragic stage of her life. Deemed an early frontrunner for the win, it might be hard for Zellweger to keep up the pace as performances in bigger films take center stage.

8. “Hustlers”

Release Date: Sept. 13

Prior to its release, Lorene Scafaria’s adaption of a New Yorker article telling the story of a group of strippers who drugged their wealthy clients seemed like a nonfactor in the awards conversation. Once the film hit theaters though, Jennifer Lopez’s portrayal of ringleader/queen bee Ramona became an undeniable contender for best supporting actress.

Bursting with confidence and strength, the performance has been the most shocking standout of the year so far. Though the film itself may not receive many accolades, seeing Lopez’s name on the ballot seems likely at this point.

9. “Us”

Release Date: March 22

Following a meteoric breakout year including nominations for best picture, best director and best screenplay, Jordan Peele’s follow-up to “Get Out,” “Us,” leaned even further into the horror genre. Less psychologically thrilling than its predecessor, “Us” received widespread acclaim and has continued to be one of the most talked about films of the year, despite its early release date.

Though the film may not reach “Get Out” levels of Oscar success, previous Academy Award winner, Lupita Nyong’o, could very well be honored for her impressive dual performance as both Adelaide and Red.

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