It’s the merciful end of another awards season, filled with bitterness, backlashes and backhanders, which obviously means that, yes, it’s the start of the next one! While frontrunners for each of the main categories might have shifted throughout the season, the last few months solidified the favorites who then proceeded to take home awards at last week’s Oscars ceremony. This time last year, it was arguably just Will Smith and Jane Campion who seemed like early contenders, so with enough grains of salt to fill the Dolby Theatre, here’s a risky, “don’t quote me on this” set of guesses for next year’s ceremony:
It’s admittedly not much of a big bet to predict that Steven Spielberg’s name will be a major part of awards season, the director having won three Oscars while being nominated for 16 others, but after coming home empty-handed this weekend, next year could well see him crowned once again. Following the fruitful route of Alfonso Cuarón and, most recently, Kenneth Branagh, The Fabelmans will see the director delving into his youth for a semi-autobiographical family drama, an unusually small film for a director more associated with a far grander scale. Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen will play parents while the script, co-written by Spielberg (his first credit as writer since 2001’s AI) and Tony Kushner, has been called “very revealing” by the not often revealed director’s longtime cinematographer Janusz Kamiński.
Two years after she terrified men who really should be more terrified in midnight-movie-turned-Oscar-contender Promising Young Woman, Carey Mulligan may well be returning to the race with another #MeToo-era tale. The two-time nominee (who was first up for best actress for 2009’s An Education) is taking on the role of the New York Times journalist Megan Twohey in She Said, an adaptation of the bestselling book co-written by Twohey and Jodi Kantor ( played by Zoe Kazan). It details how the pair worked to take down Harvey Weinstein with countless stories of his sexual misconduct. Directed by Unorthodox’s Maria Schrader, who won an Emmy for helming the acclaimed Netflix series, and also starring nominees Patricia Clarkson and Samantha Morton, it’s one of the most Oscar-friendly projects of the season.
This year may have seen an unusual dearth of examples (SAG nominee Jennifer Hudson just missed out for playing Aretha Franklin), but music biopic lead has historically been one of the easiest ways to score an Oscar nomination. Next year’s most likely pick is the British actor Naomi Ackie, best known for The End of the F***ing World, who nabbed the in-demand role of Whitney Houston in I Wanna Dance with Somebody. Houston’s untouchable vocals will be used but Ackie will take the singer through the many highs and lows in what’s been called a “no holds barred” drama by producer Clive Davis, who discovered Houston in her teens. Director Kasi Lemmons last ushered her Harriet star Cynthia Erivo to a best actress nod in 2020.
Even in his heyday, Brendan Fraser never had quite the run he’s about to have, a comeback so perfectly crafted, it’ll be the envy of every other faded star looking for a career reboot. After a small role in Steven Soderbergh’s mob drama No Sudden Move last year, the next 12 months will see him star alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese’s fact-based thriller Killers of the Flower Moon, remind us of his knack for comedy alongside Josh Brolin, Peter Dinklage and Glenn Close in Brothers, play the key villain in DC’s Batgirl movie and, most excitingly, lead The Whale, the highly anticipated new film from Darren Aronofsky. The director previously managed a successful rehaul of Mickey Rourke in 2008’s The Wrestler, securing him and co-star Marisa Tomei Oscar nominations, and is now hoping to do the same with his adaptation of the acclaimed play, that sees Fraser playing a 600lb gay man trying to reconnect with his daughter.
Breaking out with the horror hit Hereditary before securing his status as Next Big Thing with the expectation-upending melodrama of Midsommar, a film that a bolder Academy would surely have rewarded, the new film from Ari Aster carries with it a rare sense of curious excitement . Oscar recognition feels easily within reach and maybe his next film, “nightmare comedy” Disappointment Blvd, could be the one. It stars Oscar-winner Joaquin Phoenix as “one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time” in an ambitious decades-spanning faux-biopic also starring Patti LuPone, Amy Ryan and Parker Posey. Little is known other than it will be four hours long and that reportedly, Aster and Phoenix had a tumultuous relationship on-set.
Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Someone else who’s also felt on the verge of Academy approval for a few years now is Kelvin Harrison Jr, a prolific and preternaturally talented actor who’s quickly established himself as one of the best of his generation. While he has been charming, and musically adept, in Cyrano and The High Note, he has also confronted darker and knottier material in Luce and Waves and this next year sees him starring in two Oscar-friendly movies, one of which could net him his first nomination. His role as BB King in Baz Luhrmann’s extravagant Elvis biopic might be too small to register but he’s the lead in Searchlight’s Chevalier, playing Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the French-Caribbean music prodigy who fell from the top to the bottom of French high society after falling out of favor with Marie Antoinette. Stefani Robinson, award-winning writer in Atlanta, has written the script, suggesting this won’t be some stuffy period drama.
After Apple TV+ became the first streaming company to win the Oscar for best picture with Coda (much to the chagrin of A for effort Netflix), the tech giant will be aiming for more next season with Martin Scorsese’s $200m 20s-set crime drama Killers of the Flower Moon. Originally housed at Paramount before being shopped to streamers when execs balked at the budget, the adaptation of David Grann’s bestselling book about the mysterious murders of Indigenous people has an impressive top-line cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and Jesse Plemons. But the Native American actor Lily Gladstone could end up stealing the film from under them, having already impressed in Certain Women and First Cow, and could become the first ever Indigenous person to win a non-honorary acting Oscar.
After winning the best actress Oscar for La La Land, Emma Stone managed to avoid the Oscarbait curse, refusing to make the obvious and earnest choices as others have done once they’ve had a taste, working with Cary Fukunaga on the leftfield Netflix series Maniac and Yorgos Lanthimos for smutty and strange period comedy The Favourite. The latter did in fact nab her a nomination and she’s now re-teaming with the director, and the film’s screenwriter Tony McNamara, for an adaptation of Alasdair Gray’s Poor Things. It’s a perverse, Victorian-set spin on Frankenstein with Stone playing a woman brought back to life by a scientist using the brain of her unborn child and she stars alongside Ramy Youssef, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe and Jerrod Carmichael.
The acclaimed onetime actor has now fully transitioned into life as an acclaimed director, having ushered Julie Christie to a best actress nomination with Away From Her (and picking up a screenplay nod in the process) and picking up plaudits for the doc Stories We Tell and relationship drama Take This Waltz. Her latest de ella is an adaptation of Miriam Toews’s novel Women Talking, following a group of women living in an isolated Mennonite colony who come together when they find out the men have all been sexually assaulting them. It’s one of many #MeToo-themed films heading our way and with Brad Pitt’s Plan B producing (the same company that led Moonlight, Departed and 12 Years A Slave to best picture) and a cast including Frances McDormand, Jessie Buckley, Rooney Mara, Claire Foy and Ben Whishaw, expect it to be a mainstay of the season.
While all of the above are guesses at best, predicting a nomination for Emma Thompson is based on a sight seen sure thing, the wonderful Sundance two-hander Good Luck to You, Leo Grande. The much-loved multi-hyphenate (who has won Oscars for both writing and acting), is already a safe bet for a best actress nod, if not win, for her show-stopping performance as a retired schoolteacher who hires a sex worker to educate her on how to achieve an orgasm. It’s a small, somewhat stagey one-location film (other nominations, bar perhaps an original screenplay nod, might be a stretch) but Thompson is arguably the best she’s ever been and with the Academy already on her side, it feels like the closest we have to a dead cert at this stage.