There’s a long way to go until we find out the winners of the 89th Academy Awards. However, the films that are going to be in contention at the 2016 Oscars ceremony are starting to find their way into UK cinemas in abundance, marking the beginning of the awards season release market.
To help you sift through the myriad glossy biopics and historical dramas, here’s a list of 20 films that are likely to be big players at the 2016 Oscars, along with their UK release dates.
Unfortunately, not every film that will be in the discussion fit on this list. There wasn’t room for music biopic Straight Outta Compton, crazy action movie Mad Max: Fury Road or Brie Larson drama Room. All of those in more could be in with a chance next year, but here are 20 awards season must-sees.
20. The Martian
Based on a buzzy sci-fi novel and directed by genre master Ridley Scott, The Martian looks set to be one of the biggest blockbuster movies of the latter part of 2015. With a prestige director at the helm and a near-solo performance from Matt Damon at its centre, the film could also target awards bodies.
The film has been receiving solid reviews since it premiered at Toronto earlier this month, with Damon’s performance being praised in particular. The visuals are impressive, too, lensed by regular Scott collaborator Dariusz Wolski, hinting at potential technical nominations.
It’s not a movie that’s going to make massive waves over awards season, given its commercial edge, but if it hits in the same way that Gravity did last year, there could be room for it at the 2016 Oscars ceremony.
UK Release Date: 30th September 2015
19. Inside Out
Last year, The Lego Movie felt like a guaranteed pick for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, only to find itself completely absent from the category, nommed only for Best Original Song. There’s little chance of Inside Out – the latest film from Pixar – being snubbed, but is there a chance that it could perform outside of its home category?
The film is a sophisticated study of humanity wrapped up in a colourful animated film. It has real heart, depth and stunning voice performances as well as the studio’s trademark visual invention. Few films have the feel of an instant classic for both adults and children, but Inside Out certainly does.
No animated feature has ever won the Oscar for Best Picture, but if anyone can do it, Pixar can. Two of their works – Up and Toy Story 3 – have been rewarded with nominations in the category before and Inside Out is one of the studio’s most accomplished films. This year, the Best Picture category is wide open and an unusual choice could creep in.
UK Release Date: Out now
18. Black Mass
After a string of critical and commercial duds, Johnny Depp is in need of a return to form in his career. Black Mass, in which Depp plays ruthless Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger, who spent years on the FBI Most Wanted list before his arrest in 2011.
Director Scott Cooper, last seen with dark drama Out of the Furnace, channels Scorsese with his gangster tale, aided by Depp delivering a dark, violent and transformative performance. Academy favourite Benedict Cumberbatch has a supporting role as Bulger’s politician brother.
It’s Johnny Depp who stands the best chance at awards glory for Black Mass, but there’s always a chance that Cumberbatch or Joel Edgerton could sneak into Supporting Actor contention by the time the 2016 Oscars come around.
UK Release Date: 27th November 2015
17. In the Heart of the Sea
Ron Howard is a fixture of awards season, with many of his films drawing the attention of awards bodies. His latest, In the Heart of the Sea, traces the true story of shipwreck and animal attack that inspired Herman Melville to write his iconic novel Moby Dick.
The film is set on the whaling ship Essex, focusing on captain Benjamin Walker and first mate Chris Hemsworth. Disaster strikes when the boat is attacked by an angry sperm whale and torn apart, leaving the crew stranded miles from land. They are eventually forced to resort to cannibalism when rescue is not forthcoming.
In the Heart of the Sea was originally slated for release earlier this year, but was shifted to a more awards-friendly date. The film’s impressive mix of historical weight, a prestige director and visual spectacle could make it a major player.
UK Release Date: 26th December 2015
16. Beasts of No Nation
Netflix makes its first major move into heavyweight cinema with awards hopeful Beasts of No Nation, starring British performer and almost certain Bond of the future Idris Elba. The streaming service will release the film globally next month after a successful run on the festival circuit.
Director Cary Fukunaga sets the film in an unnamed West African country, focusing on Elba’s mercenary and his army of child soldiers, recruited in the midst of a civil war that has destroyed their families and communities.
Aside from its rather experimental release method, Beasts of No Nation has been widely praised for its approach to violence and Elba’s intimidating performance. It is Elba who is most likely to appear at the 2016 Oscars, with his name one of the first on any list for Best Supporting Actor thus far.
UK Release Date: 16th October 2015
Justin Kurzel exploded onto the movie scene with brutal Aussie true crime drama Snowtown in 2011. His follow-up to that incendiary cinema debut is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, following in the intimidating footsteps of the likes of Welles, Kurosawa and Polanski.
Michael Fassbender plays the eponymous military man, who traces a bloody path to the Scottish throne after a premonition from three witches, egged on by his wife (Marion Cotillard). Trapped in an endless cycle of blood, he is driven insane by the violent world in which he is forced to live.
Kurzel’s film has been achieving five-star rave reviews and excellent critical notices since debuting at Cannes in spring. Fassbender and Cotillard are being lauded for their central performances and Kurzel’s visual invention could propel him to awards glory if the film lands on its cinema release.
UK Release Date: 2nd October 2015
In the last few years, with the double whammy of Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, writer-director David O Russell has established himself as a fixture of awards season. For the 2016 Oscars, O Russell has once again turned to leading lady Jennifer Lawrence for Joy.
Lawrence will play Joy Mangano. Mangano was a struggling single mother in America but turned her life around when she invented the Miracle Mop and started a career in business. Fellow O Russell collaborators Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper appear as, respectively, Mangano’s father and an exec at the Home Shopping Network.
With Hollywood darling Lawrence in a strong female role, Joy is a dead cert to occupy some space in the awards season discussion. Whether it will capitalise on any of its nominations is another question, as American Hustle’s total shutout made clear.
UK Release Date: 1st January 2016
Sold on the basis of enormous spectacle and its embrace of 3D tech, Everest is currently making its way through cinemas as a tentpole release. However, with its starry ensemble cast and heart-breaking true story basis, it’s also a film that could make an appearance on the red carpet.
For Jake Gyllenhaal, one of the film’s major stars, this is the third entry in a loose trilogy of physicality – after Nightcrawler and Southpaw. Alongside Josh Brolin and Jason Clarke, Gyllenhaal will be looking to find a footing in the acting categories for his role in the intense drama.
Everest might be a film too commercial to trouble the Academy all that much, but it should put on a decent showing in the technical categories at the 2016 Oscars and could nab an acting nod as well.
UK Release Date: Out now
Italian director Paolo Sorrentino made his last appearance at the Oscars when he won Best Foreign Language Film for The Great Beauty last year. His latest film, Youth, stars acting royalty Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel.
Caine plays a retired orchestra conductor holidaying with his daughter Rachel Weisz and film director friend Keitel. He receives an invitation from the Queen to come out of retirement and perform for Prince Philip.
Sorrentino’s meditation on ageing has attracted strong critical notices thus far, debuting at Cannes and making its way to Toronto. Its best awards chances are in the acting categories, with reviews suggesting that Caine does his best work in years with the film.
UK Release Date: 15th January 2016
11. The Big Short
Out of nowhere this week, a trailer arrived for Anchorman director Adam McKay’s drama The Big Short. The film had originally been set for a release at some point in 2016, but was suddenly moved to a Christmas release Stateside and January over here, courting Oscar nominations.
The film, starring an ensemble of the biggest Hollywood stars, follows a young group of investors who made a tonne of money by essentially predicting the global financial crisis. With such weighty names as Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt attached, this could be a major awards player.
Paramount must have a certain degree of confidence in The Big Short in order to have moved it into such a prominent awards position. If it’s half as good as they think it is, the 2016 Oscars could have a surprise entry in their midst.
UK Release Date: 22nd January 2016
Films about journalism often do well at the Academy Awards, with All the President’s Men nominated for Best Picture and winning the prize for Best Adapted Screenplay. The latest film to explore that world is ensemble drama Spotlight, which had its script by Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy featured on the 2013 Black List of unproduced screenplays.
Spotlight is based on the work of the eponymous Boston Globe team covering a sexual abuse scandal. The ensemble is full of awards-friendly performers, including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams.
The film premiered at Venice this month to strong critical reviews and looks certain to figure in some way at the 2016 Oscars. Whether it’s for performance, script or the whole shebang, Spotlight is sure to make waves.
UK Release Date: 29th January 2016
A co-production between the UK, Ireland and Canada, Brooklyn is a sweeping love story of the kind that the Academy laps up like a stray cat who finally gets let in the back door. English novelist Nick Hornby has written the script, adapted from Colm Tóibín’s novel.
Saoirse Ronan takes the lead role as an Irish immigrant who moves to New York in the 1950s. She is seduced by the appearance of romance in her new home, but soon her past starts to tug her sharply back and she must decide which side of the Atlantic she wishes to reside.
If the Academy is looking for an inoffensive film to lavish praise on at the 2016 Oscars, Brooklyn seems like the ideal candidate. Ronan is one of the best actors of her generation and it’s only a matter of time before she receives some awards recognition for that.
UK Release Date: 6th November 2015
Focusing on one of the most important equality movements in the history of the United Kingdom, Suffragette is a historical drama written by Shame and The Iron Lady scribe Abi Morgan. It combines true historical elements with a fictionalised narratives to paint a picture of a turbulent time.
Carey Mulligan stars in the lead role as a fictional woman who becomes embroiled in the battle for women’s suffrage, inspired by the likes of Emmeline Pankhurst (a cameoing Meryl Streep). The film promises soaring drama, emotional moments and a massive heart.
Suffragette hasn’t received the uniformly positive reviews of some of the other films on this list, but the uplifting story and distinct Britishness is a recipe for awards success.
UK Release Date: 12th October 2015
7. Bridge of Spies
Steven Spielberg is set to return to the awards picture ahead of the 2016 Oscars with Cold War drama Bridge of Spies, based around the true story of an American plane shot down in Soviet airspace in 1960.
Tom Hanks stars as negotiator and lawyer James Donovan, who is aiming to secure the release of the US pilot. British acting royalty Mark Rylance, last seen on villain duty in The Gunman, also stars alongside Hanks.
Spielberg is always a reliable horse to back in awards season discussion and with the backdrop of patriotism, this could be one of the major candidates at the 2016 Oscars.
UK Release Date: 27th November 2015
6. The Hateful Eight
It looked like Quentin Tarantino was set to shelve his second Western The Hateful Eight when a version of the script leaked online. He eventually decided to press ahead with the film, having secured his dream cast for the film, set in Wyoming after the American Civil War.
The film follows the eponymous group of Westerners, who hide out in a stagecoach stopover during a blizzard. The casting is incredibly interesting, with Tarantino regulars Samuel L Jackson, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen joining the likes of Bruce Dern and Kurt Russell.
Tarantino is a reliable awards season presence when he has a film out and odds are that one, if not more, of his eight stars will earn a Supporting Actor nomination and an Original Screenplay nod is far from out of the question.
UK Release Date: 8th January 2016
Denis Villeneuve has been a big figure in recent thriller cinema, bursting onto the scene with Incendies and then consolidating his presence with the flawed, but entertaining, Prisoners in the English language. His newest film, Sicario, is undoubtedly his best yet – exploring the brutal actions of Mexican drug cartels.
Emily Blunt stars as the by-the-book cop tasked with joining maverick CIA agent Josh Brolin and taciturn assassin Benicio Del Toro. She soon becomes embroiled in the brutality and murky morality of the cartel world.
Sicario is an enormously accomplished film, which is immaculately lensed by long-overdue Oscar hopeful DoP Roger Deakins. The performances are terrific and Villeneuve’s direction is top class. Gradually growing in esteem since its premiere at Cannes, this is going to be a player on 2016 Oscar night.
UK Release Date: 8th October 2015
4. Steve Jobs
Cinema is in love with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, from Ashton Kutcher’s critically reviled biopic to a recent documentary from Alex Gibney. The latest person to take on Jobs is director Danny Boyle, from an Aaron Sorkin script, with Michael Fassbender as his star.
The film follows Jobs at three product launches, tracing the evolution of Apple from technology upstart to powerhouse of the industry. Fassbender’s central performance is the main story, but Seth Rogen provides ample support as fellow co-founder Steve Wozniak and Kate Winslet as a member of the apple team.
It’s Fassbender who boasts the best chance of a nomination for Steve Jobs, depending on how the film compares to the star’s performance in Macbeth, but Sorkin can often be counted on for a nomination in a writing category.
UK Release Date: 13th November 2015
3. The Revenant
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu shocked the world earlier this year when he scooped the triple whammy of Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars for Birdman. Rather than rest on his laurels, Iñárritu has embarked on another hugely ambitious project – The Revenant.
The film is the ambitiously mounted tale of woodsman Leonardo DiCaprio, who is robbed and left for dead by his companions. Shot by DoP Emmanuel Lubezki using only natural light, the film ran over-budget and over-schedule with five extra months eventually added to principal photography.
The Revenant, if it turns out to not be an expensive disaster, could well be a frontrunner in the race for the 2016 Oscars. Lubezki has won the last two Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and looks like a fair bet to win the gong again. Elsewhere, there’s the usual intrigue around whether DiCaprio can finally break his Oscar duck.
UK Release Date: 15th January 2016
Perhaps the buzziest title coming out of the festival circuit, Carol is proving to maintain a stunning amount of momentum since its debut in competition at Cannes earlier this year, where Rooney Mara was joint winner of the Best Actress prize.
The film, from director Todd Haynes, follows Mara’s 20-something as she falls in love with Cate Blanchett’s older, married woman against the backdrop of New York in the 1950s. It is based on a semi-autobiographical novel from author Patricia Highsmith, published in 1952.
Depending on the way The Weinstein Company chooses to position its performers, Carol could stand a great chance of securing the prizes for both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. Also lauded for its direction, the film is also likely to make a showing in the other major categories.
UK Release Date: 27th November 2015
1. The Danish Girl
Since the first stills were released of Eddie Redmayne as trans pioneer Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl, speculation has mounted that Redmayne could be the first man to win back to back acting Oscars since Tom Hanks in the 1990s.
The film follows Redmayne as Einar Wegener, husband to Alicia Vikander’s artist and illustrator. When Wegener is painted by his wife as a woman, he begins to realise that he is more comfortable as a woman and ultimately undergoes the first ever male-to-female gender reassignment surgery.
The Danish Girl will almost certainly pick up a handful of nominations at the 2016 Oscars, with Redmayne and Vikander definitely in the running for two of the acting prizes. The question is whether anyone can usurp Redmayne from retaining his crown.
UK Release Date: 1st January 2016
What do you think of my list of films to watch before the 2016 Oscars? Which do you think will emerge triumphant on the big night? Have I missed any major films off this list? Let me know in the comments section.