Unless you’re a year-round handicapper, Oscar punditry can often be an exasperating exercise in futility. The instinct to prognosticate based on sentimental choices (aka personal favorites) happens just as often as on cultural trends, Academy voters’ past histories, or even the cynical, hypothetical suitability of a particular type of story to resonate strongly enough with critics and audiences to keep it in the national conversation through awards season. And then there are movies like “A Star Is Born,” opening this week, that seem to scratch every one of those itches, and just plain happen to be great entertainment for anyone lucky enough to see them. With buzz and backlash emanating out of fall festivals and the studios’ “serious” pictures starting to hit theaters, here’s a snapshot of what the Best Picture race might look like as awards seasons begins.
'A Star Is Born'
Bradley Cooper has already demonstrated a gift for transformation, and for versatility, thanks to everything from “Wedding Crashers” to “American Sniper.” But he pulls double duties as star and director in this latest version of the classic Hollywood story of two talented musicians who fall for one another as their careers take dramatically different paths. Working opposite the amazing Lady Gaga, Cooper delivers an amazing performance in a film worthy of it, and well worth his audience’s attention.
'First Man' (October 12)
Damien Chazelle has absolutely lit up the awards circuit since the release of his breakthrough film “Whiplash,” and after his almost-win in 2016 for “La La Land,” he has become a filmmaker whose releases are bona fide events. Taking a page from another Best Picture nominee, “The Right Stuff,” Chazelle’s latest offers a biography of Neil Armstrong and the events leading up to his trip to the moon in 1969. Featuring an all-star cast that includes his “La La” leading man Ryan Gosling, the film is poised to be one of the films to beat this season.
'Boy Erased' (November 2)
Joel Edgerton has quietly built a career for himself that has defied expectations but virtually ensures that whatever he’s involved with will be different, intriguing and ambitious. His sophomore effort as a director, already attracting widespread acclaim, is an adaptation of Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name, explores the morally complex world of gay conversion therapy through the eyes of a young man (Lucas Hedges, “Lady Bird”) going through it and the head therapist (Edgerton).
'Can You Ever Forgive Me?' (October 19)
Despite her pedigree as a comedienne, Melissa McCarthy has steadily proven herself a capable dramatic actress, and Marielle Heller’s account of the true story of Lee Israel promises to deliver her with a film worthy of her talent and audiences’ time. A portrait of an author who resorted to fraud, fabrication and theft when her work fell out of vogue, the film has already drawn praise at both the Telluride and Toronto festivals.
'Green Book' (November 21)
Despite his enormous commercial success with his brother Bobby (from “Dumb and Dumber” to “There’s Something About Mary”), Peter Farrelly might not seem like the guy most likely to helm a would-be Best Picture contender. But his latest project chronicles the real-life relationship between a New York bouncer (Viggo Mortensen) and a Jamaican-American classical pianist (Mahershala Ali) as they tour music venues in the Jim Crow-era South, and it’s already generating lots of attention, not just for the great performances of his two leads but the thoughtful, unflinching portrait it paints of race relations.
'If Beale Street Could Talk' (November 30)
Barry Jenkins’ sumptuous, transcendent follow-up to “Moonlight” is on track right now for Best Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, and Supporting Actress nominations, and in that last category, Regina King seems like the woman to beat.
'Roma' (December 14)
Alfonso Cuaron’s career has been marked by a series of surprising, always rewarding turns, moving from “Y Tu Mama Tambien” to his work on the “Harry Potter” franchise to two back-to-back science fiction classics, “Children of Men” and “Gravity.” Rather than cashing in on that success with another franchise film, Cuaron’s latest goes wonderfully small and deeply personal with an impressionistic, semi-autobiographical story of a middle-class family living in Mexico City in the 1970s.
'Vice' (December 25)
Adam McKay has made a remarkable transformation in just the last few years, focusing his own political outrage into a body of work that mercilessly indicts the powerful who preside over the powerless. Following his amazing “The Big Short,” McKay tells the true story of Dick Cheney, portrayed with astonishing accuracy by Christian Bale, who physically transformed himself into the former Vice President. An all-star cast bolsters what is sure to be one of the most engaging - and outrage-inducing - movies of the year.