2022 Oscar predictions: Lady Gaga, Kristen Stewart, more contenders to look out for

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·28 min read
2022 Oscar predictions: Lady Gaga, Kristen Stewart, more contenders to look out for
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As swift as a shake of Glenn Close's butt, the 2022 Oscars are bouncing into view, and EW has an early look at potential contenders to look out for in the months ahead. Before this year's likely nominees roll out to the superstar trio of international fall festivals in Venice, Toronto, and Telluride — a.k.a. the Father, Son, and House of Gucci of the awards circuit — check out our updating list of Oscar predictions and players that stand to break out over the weeks ahead.

<em>The Eyes of Tammy Faye</em>

Jessica Chastain has yet to really drag herself up for a role in the way that Academy voters like. Yes, she packs a dramatic punch (Zero Dark Thirty, Tree of Life), but Oscar loves a two-hander that sees an actress transforming both body and soul. And you can't get much showier than Tammy Faye, whose renegade career as a maverick televangelist thumped America's collective bible as much as her colorful, unorthodox fashions strained their gaze. Here, Chastain doesn't play Faye as much as she lives in the late lady's spirit, finding her essence not only through the prosthetics and wigs, but clearly tapping into the intangible essence that made Faye such an enigmatic presence in the first place. Industry voters adore real-life portrayals, especially those dolled up in high-drag aesthetics (Hustlers costumer Mitchell Travers works wonders, here), so this could finally be Chastain's ticket to awards heaven.

<em>House of Gucci</em>

Nearly 13 years of Lady Gaga finding ways to tell interviewers that she's Italian have led to this moment: A hearty Bolognese of a tale featuring Mother Monster as Patrizia Reggiani, the (thickly accented) real-life murderess who hired a hitman to execute her ex-husband (and head of the namesake fashion brand) Maurizio Gucci. The film looks like a caviar version of a low-brow Italian soap opera, with equal parts camp (Jared Leto's makeup is pure pop art) and socially commentative themes driving its historically rooted narrative. But, for as juicy as the film appears on the surface, it has prestige merits backing its bid for Academy glory. Ridley Scott is fresh from awards runs for The Martian and All the Money in the World, as are Oscar-verified stars like Adam Driver (a nominee for Marriage Story), Leto (Best Supporting Actor winner for Dallas Buyers Club, in yet another kind of transformative role AMPAS loves), and Gaga herself, who, in 2019, earned a Best Actress nod and a Best Original Song victory for her work on A Star Is Born. The jury is still out on whether the film has the goods to hit its mark as an Oscar kill shot, but it's shaping up to be one of those starry, fantastical vehicles that drips with old-Hollywood nostalgia and new celebrity smolder we don't see much of anymore. For Oscar glory, to the Gay Gods, we pray — in the name of the father, son, and House of Gucci.

<em>Eternals</em>

Yes, we know: Swankie is a titanic force of good in her own right, and by that definition, Nomadland is a superhero film. But when it comes to the caped kind, real superhero flicks don't typically register in the awards conversation this high, this early. But Chloé Zhao's directorial follow-up to her Best Picture-winning road movie is already courting our gaze to look beyond time-tested expectations. Studio blockbusters have a reputation for watering down creative visions, but it's hard to imagine the material — inspired by the Marvel comics franchise of the same name — curbing Zhao's strengths. Instead, the filmmaker is more likely to mold the reliable (if popcorn-light) genre into a big-budget arthouse adventure, unlike anything we've seen before. And if there's anyone who can seamlessly follow Christopher Nolan's lead in elevating the genre from mere technical marvel to multi-nominated masterpiece, it's the woman who landed Frances McDormand a job offer from Target.

<em>The Tragedy of Macbeth</em>

After a year rife with slow-building success for Lee Isaac Chung's Minari (at this time last year, no one could've predicted that the film would walk away with nods for Best Picture and Best Director), A24 now finds itself in another interesting position. In just a few short years, the distributor has earned the distinction of being the premier small-budget powerhouse pushing films like Lady Bird and Moonlight into the fray, a legitimate challenger to the gilded throne long held by the major studios. For perhaps their mightiest awards contender this season, they've again joined forces with Apple TV+ — a pairing that has yet to find its footing at the Oscars (justice for On the Rocks). With their combined power, though, Joel Coen's black-and-white Shakespearean drama — with heavily touted performances from Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand — could break the mold as an eye-catching take on familiar material. And with long-standing industry favorites steering the ship, the performances from its stars (Washington is one of the most beloved figures in the industry, while McDormand won Best Actress last year without setting foot on the campaign circuit) should bubble up double toil and trouble for those in their respective categories on the trail.

<em>Belfast</em>

If five-time Academy Award nominee Kenneth Branagh has anything to do with it, Judi Dench — seven-time nominee and one-time winner — could bag a second statuette in 2022. Her part in writer-director Branagh's semiautobiographical drama about growing up in 1960s Northern Ireland falls in line with the Academy's recent penchant for offbeat grandmothers — Hillbilly Elegy's Mamaw (Glenn Close), Minari's beloved Soonja (Yuh-Jung Youn) — in coming-of-age tales. But it's Caitríona Balfe's role as a no-nonsense Irish mother fighting to keep her family together who could hit the race as a major dark horse contender.

<em>The French Dispatch</em>

When Wes Anderson drops a movie, you'd better have your awards antennae tuned in — especially when it features a cast as robust as this. Anticipation for the 7-time Oscar nominee's latest ensemble piece (a love letter to old-school journalism set in a fictional French city) has brewed for well over a year, with the coronavirus pandemic offsetting the project's planned 2020 rollout across high profile festivals (its Cannes bow was canceled) en route to a suspected awards run. Now, the film lands as one of Searchlight's top-tier contenders next to Nightmare Alley and The Eyes of Tammy Faye, which also presents a potential problem. While the threat of distributor cannibalism is minimal between Dispatch and Tammy, Anderson's narrative will run side-by-side with Alley's Guillermo del Toro, whose last project, The Shape of Water, emerged from the 2017 Oscar race with a Best Picture victory. Anderson's "overdue" narrative (again, seven unconsummated nominations) could help him with a mighty cast (Timothée Chalamet, Saoirse Ronan, Frances McDormand, Benicio Del Toro, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray) and timely themes of media influence further speaking to industry voters across the board.

<em>Bruised</em>

If you want an Oscar, chances are you go gritty, or you go home. Halle Berry — who remains the only woman of color to have a Best Actress trophy — wears that sentiment both in front of and behind the camera on her feature directorial debut. Bruised lives up to its title, following a down-and-out MMA fighter caring for the son she gave up as an infant after he unexpectedly re-enters her life. The film initially made the rounds at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, and Netflix wisely banked it for a 2021 awards season run, likely to ensure the safest rollout for a film Berry poured her soul into from the beginning. Initially written for a white woman, the lead character's identity shifted drastically under Berry's watch, enough that the Oscar winner eventually made the jump into the director's chair after circling as a performer. If her efforts paid off (and critics don't have their daggers out, as they sometimes do for first-time actress-filmmakers), the result could serve as the Hollywood heavyweight's long-awaited return to the Oscars stage, with her own personal career redemption story — bumps, bruises, and all — making a potential hit land that much harder.

<em>Cry Macho</em>

There's been a self-important, maudlin air among audiences surrounding every Clint Eastwood film released over the last decade, as many have long labeled the 91-year-old's career as well off into its twilight era. But each release proves the Hollywood icon has staying power with no signs of stopping. From commercial might (The Mule grossed $174 million globally in 2018) and prestige acclaim (Richard Jewell bagged Kathy Bates a nod in 2020) to a combination of both (2014's American Sniper earned $550 globally atop a Best Picture nod), Eastwood remains a versatile threat at the box office and beyond. But Cry Macho sees him venturing into new territory, as the Warner Bros. western will trot out to theaters and streaming on HBO Max — a first for Eastwood on the digital frontier. His audience skews older, so it might be difficult to gauge how much of a hold the drama has on pop culture at large if most consume it at home instead of on the big screen.

<em>Dune</em>

Frankly, Denis Villeneuve doesn't miss. Since 2010, all but one of the French-Canadian master's movies have scored a single Oscar nod or more — including 2016's Arrival, which bagged eight overall (including Best Picture and Best Director). And his profile has only gotten bigger with the impending release of Dune, a blockbuster adaptation of Frank Herbert's epic sci-fi novel. Delayed from its originally slated 2020 debut, anticipation for Dune has only grown since the first round of teasers promised big-name stars (Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya), knockout visual effects, and stunning cinematography from Oscar-nominated Lion lenser Greig Fraser. But as visually delectable as his films are, Villeneuve's style never outweighs the substance of a project, and Warner Bros.' confidence in pushing Dune to the usual festival hotspots (Toronto and Venice are confirmed thus far) ahead of its theatrical bow indicates their confidence in the film's universal appeal has only spiced up since last year.

<em>West Side Story</em>

Yes, the Academy is diversifying, and, yes, its tastes are changing, but it's foolish to bet against tradition with this lot. And it doesn't get any more obvious than Steven Spielberg directing a Sondheim musical, let alone one like West Side Story, which has spent the last 60 years embedding itself deeper and deeper into pop culture history thanks to Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins' universally beloved film adaptation. But, therein lies a potential problem: Audiences generally like the classics to remain, well, classic, and touching such adored material is playing with fire. Spielberg is no amateur, however, and with the blessing of the original film's star, Rita Moreno (who also appears in this version), things are looking bright for the film's success.

<em>Being the Ricardos</em>

Fans swallowed Nicole Kidman's casting as Lucille Ball harder than a dose of Vitameatavegamin, but Being the Ricardos boasts major pedigree across the board (writer-director Aaron Sorkin, Oscar-winning actors Javier Bardem and J.K. Simmons star opposite Kidman as real-life figures) that deserves a fair shake. Whether you think Kidman looks enough like Ball to bring her story to life is beside the point: There's no denying the potential for greatness when you have this many Academy-verified folks congregating in one space, telling the story of a beloved Hollywood great.

<em>The Harder They Fall</em>

Any movie that puts a gun-toting Regina King in a bowler hat automatically deserves an Oscar. But the rest of the film looks like it hits the bullseye of excellence, too. Bold costumes, a slick soundtrack, and quick-witted writing (the trailer is a hoot) combine for what appears to be an electrifying gallop through tired plains, as director Jeymes Samuel (otherwise known by his stage name The Bullitts) remixes the western genre for a new audience.

<em>Respect</em>

At long last, Aretha Franklin's iconic legacy gets the big-screen, well, respect it deserves. With Jennifer Hudson — hand-picked for the role by Franklin before her death in 2018 – steering the ship vocally and dramatically, the film had considerable buzz leading into its originally slated 2020 Oscar run. However, the decision was ultimately made to push the film back to 2021 amid the pandemic, which might not have been the best idea. As we saw last year, Netflix was able to slot in a relatively underseen performance in Hudson's absence, with Vanessa Kirby's turn in Pieces of a Woman garnering industry respect with little commercial fanfare. Respect stands to do both. Hudson has earned raves for her turn (though the film itself wasn't received quite as enthusiastically), and it's a performance people want to succeed: what better way for Hollywood to honor a fallen legend than by anointing the portrayal of her life story that she sought out? Hudson has also steadily risen back into the upper ranks of the film industry after winning her first Oscar for Dreamgirls back at the top of 2007. The road wasn't easy (she had her share of critical dry spells and commercial droughts), but, like Judy's Reneé Zellweger in 2020, she stands to take hold of the kind of redemption narrative the Academy adores, hitting every high note along the way.

<em>Jockey</em>

Clifton Collins, Jr. is one of those actors — one whose face you've seen countless times over the years, who's paid his dues over dozens of projects and memorable supporting roles over the years. Now, Jockey finally places him center-stage for a potential awards run that might do justice unto his robust roster of credits. The actor leads writer-director Clint Bentley's quiet drama as a storied equestrian rider eyeing an end to his days in the saddle while his health deteriorates, and, on plot alone, the film has its foot in the door with Oscar voters; actors love watching other actors flex their way through character-based struggles, especially when it's a fading star rallying one last battle cry (Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, Bradley Cooper in A Star Is Born, Michael Keaton in Birdman, etc.). Collins also has a supporting role in Guillermo del Toro's widely touted Oscar play Nightmare Alley backing up his bid for a nomination, so expect to see him working the trail hard with his unsung charisma as the season progresses.

<em>Nitram</em>

After his supporting performances in major productions like Get Out and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri rode the wave of critical praise alongside their parent films, Caleb Landry Jones could be on the road to solo acclaim after his leading work in Justin Kurzel's Nitram earned him an unexpected victory for Best Actor at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Though not as reliable an Oscar predictor as Telluride, TIFF, or Venice, Cannes can still launch potential contenders into orbit (Elle's Isabelle Huppert and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood star Brad Pitt recently got their respective starts in the south of France), so, while far from a surefire bet, Jones is one to watch as the Best Actor race takes shape.

<em>Spencer</em>

Thanks to Emma Corrin, who scored an Emmy nod for her royally lauded performance as the Princess of Wales in Netflix's The Crown, fictional portraits of the late icon have come into fashion in ways the mainstream was perhaps unwilling to digest back when Naomi Watts made a major career gamble in the 2013's disastrous Diana. Renewed interest in her life undoubtedly fuels the trajectory of Neon's upcoming drama starring Kristen Stewart, but in the hands of Chilean visionary Pablo Larraín, this tale of a specific period in Diana's life — the film follows the dissolution of her marriage to Prince Charles across a royal Christmas vacation — will be anything but standard. The Jackie helmer already proved he can recontextualize history in unimaginable ways, and renegade distributor Neon backing the project only further communicates just how singular it will be. Stewart, an admittedly odd choice for the part, has endured a wave of criticism after taking on a role with such cultural baggage, but her slow and steady climb from commercial darling to high-brow artist (check out Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper, for starters) suggest an impending transformation unlike anything we've seen from her before — which will only help her "overdue" narrative in the end.

<em> Red Rocket </em>

Red Rocket is a hilariously on-the-nose title for a movie about a washed-up porn star starring real-life MTV-VJ-turned-porn-actor-turned-movie-actor Simon Rex. But, with The Florida Project helmer Sean Baker (and A24) driving the vessel deep into awards season, expect the movie to probe beyond mere sensationalism.

<em>Last Night in Soho</em>

As rapidly as the Academy's demographics have evolved in recent years thanks to diversity initiatives, its traditional genre bias has yet to crumble. Only a handful of horror films have overwhelmingly succeeded with AMPAS. While The Exorcist, The Sixth Sense, Black Swan, and, most recently, Get Out have all won critical and Oscar-verified accolades, masterworks like The Witch, Midsommar, and Hereditary have gone relatively ignored on the prestige circuit. Edgar Wright's mastery of genre-hopping fare (see horror-comedy Shaun of the Dead and action-comedy Scott Pilgrim) has poised his time-hopping ghost story Last Night in Soho as one of the most peculiar and anticipated titles of the year, featuring a buzzed-about turn from The Queen's Gambit breakout Anya Taylor-Joy and rising star Thomasin McKenzie. Wright's well-touted cool-kid cred (and a respected cast) paired with his ace co-writing credit with 1917 writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns should be enough to slot Last Night on even the stuffiest voter's radar. And if the film is as good as its bonkers trailer suggests, Wright could be the one to finally scare up a sea change for horror as the Academy creeps into the future.

<em>The Last Duel</em>

All eyes are on the Lady Gaga vehicle House of Gucci to be Ridley Scott's major Oscar play this year, but the famed director has another ornately wrought project waiting in the wings for a Venice debut. Starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, and Ben Affleck, The Last Duel's cast suggests broad commercial appeal with high drama (the film follows the last legally sanctioned trial-by-duel in French history) meeting 14th century historical flair. Perhaps Gucci and Duel will balance each other out, with affection for both coalescing over whatever title the race deems worthy enough to go the distance.

<em>Flee</em>

One of the most unorthodox films in the early awards conversation, Flee unites a high concept vision (the film is a documentary-animation hybrid based on a true story) with a timely, reality-based narrative (Riz Ahmed is set to voice the central Amin, a man fleeing Afghanistan to Denmark as he prepares to marry his husband, in a future English dub) that will pop with audiences on surface factors alone. And with a likeable celebrity force like Ahmed — hot off a landmark year that saw his Sound of Metal hit big at the Oscar — leading the campaign, Flee stands to reach new viewers thanks to its producer-star's inherent charms as the awards heat turns up.

<em>Don't Look Up</em>

Adam McKay has an ace track record at the Oscars, from The Big Short to Vice. His latest (about a pair of astronomers who try to warn earthlings about the planet's impending collision with a comet) boasts a cast that suggests prestige appeal. From Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence to Meryl Streep, Tyler Perry, and Ariana Grande, almost every corner of Hollywood is represented in the film. It's hard to imagine that such a grand roster of talent would agree to appear in anything but what the film appears to be: A glistening spectacle of celebrity with its eye (and green thumb) on a message.

<em>The Green Knight</em>

Likely a symptom of the pandemic, A24's 2020 slate skewed bare compared to past offerings, with only four titles in major contention for awards throughout the calendar. Focus then tightened on Minari ahead of the drama's ascent to Oscar glory. This year, the distributor's schedule is again focused, though many assume the Apple co-release The Tragedy of Macbeth will be its mightier play. Still, David Lowery's stylish take on the iconic Sir Gawain tale has slowly built a sturdy profile over the summer, thanks to Dev Patel's performance, cited as a stark, daring contrast to his previous work. Blending high fantasy with Arthurian prestige, The Green Knight might gallop into the fray as the dark horse of the season.

<em>Cyrano</em>

As beloved as he is for his iconic run on HBO's Game of Thrones, Peter Dinklage has amassed a diverse filmography packed with juicy roles ranging from small parts in big-hit blockbusters to his underrated turn in last year's Netflix drama I Care a Lot. Here, in a rare leading role, he fronts a big-screen adaptation of the stage musical he previously starred in as the titular libertine writer back in 2018. And by all accounts from his work on stage, Dinklage will showcase his range vocally and dramatically in director Joe Wright's take on the classic tale.

<em>A Journal for Jordan</em>

There's no film with a more pristine set of qualifications heading into the current Oscar race. Beloved icon Denzel Washington in the director's chair? Check. Oscar-nominated screenwriter following up his Mudbound success with another hard-hitting drama? Yes. Weepy, true-life material following a woman (Chanté Adams) imparting wisdom upon her son with help from a book of letters written by her husband (Michael B. Jordan) stationed overseas in Iraq? It's the perfect mix for both a commercial hit and a critical success.

<em>Next Goal Wins</em>

Searchlight hasn't confirmed whether Taika Waititi's directorial follow-up to his awards season juggernaut Jojo Rabbit will make the cut in time for next year's Oscars, but hopes are high for the filmmaker's venture from Nazi Germany to the soccer field. Michael Fassbender, Elisabeth Moss, and nonbinary star Kaimana lead the inspiring tale of a driven coach's desire to take the American Samoa team from one of the worst in the world to the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The story feels a bit safer than Waititi's last big-screen outing (it's safe to say Hitler won't serve as an imaginary friend to any children in this film), but it's easy to see where the source material (the team once lost a match by 31 points) could give the inherently witty writer plenty of room to shine.

<em>Passing</em>

Actress Rebecca Hall steps behind the camera for a timely adaptation of Nella Larsen's classic novella about African Americans "passing" as white. The film received standout reviews at Sundance, with the lead performances of Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson earning specific praise. Between Power of the Dog, Don't Look Up, and more, Netflix has a full slate of contenders at the top of the race, but none feel as culturally relevant as Passing.

<em>The Power of the Dog</em>

Jane Campion's first film in 12 years lands among a landmark year for female filmmakers, months after Chloé Zhao became only the second woman to win Best Director in Oscar history. But chalking Campion's potential success up to a surge in industry attention on gender equity is a disservice to her talents. She has earned her place among the greats, dating back to her landmark Palme d'Or victory for 1993's The Piano. The Power of the Dog arrives nearly three decades later with superstar talent (Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst) in tow, but the real star has always been Campion's directorial flourishes — of which there are many (the gorgeous contrast of blood splatters draped over a field of wheat, shots of sprawling landscapes that swallow the characters whole) on display in the western's haunting teaser trailer. Cumberbatch hasn't competed for an Oscar in seven years, and Dunst has an astounding zero nods to her credit; that stands to change if Campion's track record of coaching brilliant work from her casts holds true here (just ask Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin, they have the hardware to prove it).

Untitled Paul Thomas Anderon Movie

Is it called Soggy Bottom? Is it not called Soggy Bottom? Will we still call it Soggy Bottom even after it's announced that Soggy Bottom was just a working title? The answer to those questions remains a mystery, but one thing's certain: Acclaimed filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson stands on solid ground atop any prospective awards race. All but one of Anderson's films released in the last 25 years (justice for Punch-Drunk Love) have earned at least two Oscar nods, and with one of the most powerful men in Hollywood (Bradley Cooper) leading an industry-focused tale (the film reportedly follows a high-school-student-turned-child-actor) dolled up in period dressings (the film takes place in the 1970s), it's safe to assume voters will drink up every drop of Anderson's latest cinematic milkshake.

<em>Nightmare Alley</em>

Don't let the title fool you — Guillermo del Toro's Carol reunion for Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara is a movie matchup pulled straight from a well of cinephile dreams. All right, that might not be the draw (Mara reportedly has a much smaller role than she did in the Todd Haynes classic), but Del Toro — hot off his Best Picture victory for The Shape of Water — is still cooking up a marriage of cinema greats for his ambitious period thriller. There's little to go on for now, save for a prior remake of William Lindsay Gresham's source novel that didn't go over well with critics or audiences in 1947, and light plot details for its contemporary update. The story sees a traveling conman (Bradley Cooper) cross paths with an equally dangerous psychiatrist (Blanchett), and it's reportedly dolled up like an old-fashioned film noir. If there's anyone who can bring fresh perspective to a time-tested genre, it's the man who, well, wrote a moving romance about a woman boning a fish that won Best Picture.

<em>A Hero</em>

The Cannes awards are less an Oscar portent than similar ceremonies from their festival brethren (TIFF's People's Choice Award is a stalwart foreteller of Academy tastes). Still, the French event's selections feel weightier as the festival returned to the global stage after the coronavirus pandemic. Critically beloved filmmaker Asghar Farhadi's latest earned him the festival's Grand Prix honor this year, amplifying the voice of the already esteemed mind behind two films that have won the Best International Feature at the Oscars. Unfortunately, the Academy still favors star power over international prestige, so A Hero seems, at the very least, poised to travel a similar path to the Academy Awards as Farhadi's previous works.

<em>CODA</em>

Marlee Matlin made history as the first (and, so far, only) deaf Best Actress winner when she took the prize for her role in 1986's Children of a Lesser God. Since then, she's worked steadily, though subsequent roles have yet to match the critical or commercial success of her star-marking vehicle. That stands to change with the Apple-backed CODA, which sees the performer drawing on real-life experience as she takes on the part of a deaf mother to a teenager who can hear. Early raves for the project tout Matlin's performance as one to watch as the Support Actress race plays out.

<em>Everybody's Talking About Jamie</em>

It feels weird to say a bombastic, vibrant, pro-LGBTQIA+ musical featuring Oscar-nominated talent in drag (hello, a wigged-and-wonderful Richard E. Grant!) is on the bubble of awards consideration in 2021. But Amazon's sweetly enjoyable musical about a high schooler (Max Harwood) pursuing his dream of becoming a famous queen sashays onto the global stage at an odd time. Everybody's Talking About Jamie is pure Golden Globes fare, yes, but therein lies the issue; without a concrete network partner heading into the 2021-22 race, Jamie could end up being a casualty of the Globes' ongoing controversy (more on that here). This is a film that needs to build a platform toward recognition it's fully deserving of, and the Globes — what with their carved-out categories for musical pictures — could've given the project its first pair of glistening stilettos en route to potential Oscar glory. The goods are there — particularly the film's original songs — but a literal path for it to traverse, sadly, might not be.

<em>King Richard</em>

In a year where Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles forced a cultural conversation around mental health in sports, a film like Will Smith's King Richard — about how the titular father of Venus and Serena Williams helped mold his daughters' minds and train their bodies to become world-renowned athletic greats — is poised to volley an ace mix of timely themes and hard-hitting drama. Regardless of a film's overall reception, Oscar voters have rallied around Smith in the past (The Pursuit of Happyness, Ali), particularly when he was at his zenith as a legitimate box office draw. While he's not the money-making star he used to be (it's less his fault and more a byproduct of Hollywood's fixation on brand versus celebrity), there's still a considerable amount of fanfare that surrounds each of his releases. His good standing with the public has yet to take a hit. He's tried to recapture Oscar glory in recent years (Concussion, Seven Pounds), though the attempts didn't pan out. Now, as he enters a new chapter in his career, Smith's appeal — ever charming, as it always has been — straddles the line between Hollywood nostalgia and current celebrity power, which could be a golden factor in setting up a key serve to the Academy.

<em>Mothering Sunday</em>

It's clear that Olivia Colman, as of late, is an awards darling. Riding high on goodwill from The Favourite, The Crown, and The Father, the British star has risen to the ranks of the Hollywood elite in just a few short years. She's now the kind of star who makes a movie, versus the other way around. Viewers will come for Colman in a delightful supporting role, but there's a considerable amount of anticipation building for Eva Husson to follow up on the success of her well-received 2018 drama Girls of the Sun. A period romance filled with costume-laced intrigue feels like the right note for the pair to hit together while the actress' chops are hot.

<em>The Worst Person in the World</em>

Renate Reinsve is a superstar in the making, as the 33-year-old burst onto the global scene at the center of the third film in Joachim Trier's "Oslo Trilogy" of projects set in the Norwegian capital. While the film itself is an outstanding, darkly comic look at romance, Reinsve's performance is a breakthrough, star-making turn that already earned her the coveted Best Actress prize at Cannes in July. Trier's work is a shoo-in as Norway's Best International Feature play, but Reinsve should find herself in the thick of the Best Actress race with likely support from the critics' groups likely carrying the momentum over from Cannes.

<em>Swan Song</em>

Gypsy 83 director Todd Stephens' first film in 20 years lands with all the right elements at exactly the right time: Here, the queer filmmaker sets beloved actress Jennifer Coolidge in the supporting saddle at the peak of her critical high for HBO's The White Lotus, while, judging by early notices out of the film's SXSW debut, Udo Kier gives a spellbinding performance as a hairdresser out and about town after he styles a deceased client for the last time at her funeral.

<em> C'mon C'mon </em>

Two years after scoring a victory for Joker, Joaquin Phoenix jumps back into the ring in Mike Mills' black-and-white road trip drama about an artist taking care of his nephew while they travel across the country. The film is Mills' first since 20th Century Women slow-burned its way into awards voters' hearts back in 2016. Phoenix's performance — which will also screen at the New York Film Festival later this year — should generate enough heat to remain in the Best Actor conversation. But, even with great performances anchoring the overall work, 20th Century Women's lone Screenplay nod proves Mills' writing is often the star of the show, so be on the lookout for another contender in that category here.