A-List: Top Five Contenders for Oscars 2017

By J. Don Birnam

March 8, 2016

Red Swan.

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You are either suffering from Oscars withdrawal or sick of hearing of them, so we have the perfect medicine: a look forward at what movies may be obsessing the Oscar community in about a year’s time. This tends to be a futile endeavor, mostly because you never know what will become a festival hit or a surprise contender. Movies slip and move all the time.

Last year, however, I did not do so poorly. I listed Woody Allen’s movie as the fifth most likely to get in there, and we know that was a complete dud. But I also had Carol, which had six nominations and arguably narrowly missed out on the final list; Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight - which also had a fighting chance but perhaps suffered from Tarantino fatigue; as well as Bridge of Spies and The Revenant in the top two spots. Both, of course, were eventual winners, and The Revenant nearly pulled it off. Still, as I wrote somewhat amazingly a year before the ceremony, it would be hard to imagine a movie by the same director winning two years in a row, and that is essentially, arguably, what happened.

Looking back, I also mentioned Brooklyn, Suffragette, and Joy as potential movies to watch. One made it in and the other two fizzled. So, hopefully, some of the movies on today’s list will be in the conversation.


We have somewhat of a cheating head start these days because Sundance occurs even before the last year’s Oscars are given out, and it has become almost a staple that at least one movie from the festival makes it in. Brooklyn was that movie last year, and Whiplash the year before. There is one movie from Sundance that I’ll discuss later that may in fact win it all, but another one worth mentioning is Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By the Sea. The movie stars Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams, both surefire acting contenders, and focuses on a man who is made the legal guardian of his dead brother’s son. I have not seen the movie, but have heard that it is perhaps too bleak to be in the conversation. Indeed, Lonergan’s other recent movie, Margaret, was somewhat artsy and quirky and was nothing more than an indie favorite. We shall see if his latest attempt at directing (he also wrote Gangs of New York) will fare any different.

I’m also tempted to include Jackie, the movie starring Natalie Portman that focuses on the former First Lady in the days after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. However, I have learned my lesson and know better than to predict female-centric movies to do well at the Oscars. The occasional Brooklyn gets in, but it has been since Chicago that a movie focused on women leads wins Best Picture. It just rarely happens. The movie is directed by Pablo Larrain, the acclaimed Chilean director behind the Oscar-nominated No, so perhaps there is hope yet. For now, however, it remains as an honorable mention.

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