TVAndMovies

42 Movies You Will Be Talking About This Awards Season

From journalists to astronauts, mothers to gangsters, physicians to rap stars, and trans pioneers to imperators furiosa, here are the most likely contenders for the 2015 season.

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Adam B. Vary / BuzzFeed News; 20th Century Fox; Universal Pictures; Focus Features; The Weinstein Company; Disney-Pixar; Warner Bros. Pictures; Lucasfilm; Fox Searchlight Pictures; Netflix; AMPAS; Ryan McVay / ThinkStock

Before looking at the movies with the best, good, decent, and merely OK chances at making an impact this awards season, it's important to note an unusual and exciting development this year. For the first time in what seems like ages, many of the strongest contenders are films fronted by and largely about women. I'm talking about films like Inside Out, Room, Brooklyn, Carol, The Danish Girl, and (though it has yet to screen anywhere yet) Joy, each of which have the chance of earning a wide array of nominations beyond the accolades expected for the women at their center.

This is not how things usually shake out. Last year, three of the Best Actress nominees were the only nominees for their respective films, and Wild only earned nods for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. But this year, there is a strong chance all five Best Actress nominees will be for films that are also nominated for Best Picture. What makes this especially delicious to watch is that several contenders for the Best Actor category could be either lone wolf nominees or fronting films that earn just a few other nods. I'm talking about films like Mr. Holmes, Black Mass, Trumbo, Legend, and Youth.

Of course, the awards season is still quite young. Although the Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Telluride, Venice, and Toronto Film Festivals have revealed dozens of possible contenders, several of the films on this list have not screened anywhere, for anyone, so their inclusion here is purely speculation. And, as always, there is the chance of a wildcard nominee popping out of nowhere. So please take this list in the spirit of good fun, like awards should be!

1. Clouds of Sils Maria

Sundance Selects

Possible nominations: Best Actress (Juliette Binoche), Best Supporting Actress (Kristen Stewart)

Binoche plays a famous actress planning to return to the play that launched her career. She acts her tail off, but she is a long shot for a nomination this year. Stewart, however, as her put-upon assistant, has already made awards history with this film, as the first American actress to ever win at France's César Awards, for Best Supporting Actress. This is also an incredible, beguiling film about what it means to be famous and successful in show business, a theme that brought Birdman all those Oscars last year, so who knows!

When it was released: April 10

2. Ex Machina

A24

Possible nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Alicia Vikander), Best Supporting Actor (Oscar Isaac), Best Original Screenplay (Alex Garland), some craft and technical categories (Cinematography, Production Design, Visual Effects, etc.)

Science fiction used to be a nonstarter at the Oscars, but Gravity, Her, and Interstellar have helped elevate the genre's credibility with the academy (something that will benefit The Martian even more). Plus, last year, The Grand Budapest Hotel was a helpful reminder that movies that open in the first half of the year can still make a big impact on awards season, and there is a genuine contingent of the academy that devours this kind of gorgeous, high-end, brainy film and will vote for it. Vikander's breakout year between this film and The Danish Girl makes her the most obvious acting nominee, but Isaac has become so ubiquitous lately that I wonder if he might snag a supporting nod for his performance as a malevolent bro-tech genius — if for the disco scene alone.

When it was released: April 10

3. Mad Max: Fury Road

Jasin Boland / Warner Bros. Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (George Miller), Best Actress (Charlize Theron), Best Adapted Screenplay (George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris), a crap-ton of craft and technical categories (Score, Editing, Cinematography, Production Design, Costumes, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound Effects, Sound Editing, Visual Effects)

There is a universe in which Mad Max: Fury Road earns as many as 13 Oscar nominations, and while I desperately want to live in that universe, I don't think it will reach quite that high. I do dearly hope that the film can at least clear the bar for the expanded Best Picture field, but I suspect its best chance for a top-line nomination will be for Best Director, as Miller's peers recall the awe they (and we!) all felt upon witnessing the astounding feat he pulled off as he closed in on 70 years of age. If the Best Actress category weren't so (magnificently) competitive this year, Theron would be more of a shoo-in for a nomination. The film's many behind-the-scenes craftspeople and technicians, however, should be shopping for formal wear now.

When it was released: May 15

Possible nominations: Best Actor/Supporting Actor (John Cusack, Paul Dano), Best Supporting Actress (Elizabeth Banks), Best Original Screenplay (Michael Alan Lerner, Oren Moverman), Best Sound Mixing

This unusual biopic of Beach Boys wunderkind Brian Wilson — played as a young man in the '60s by Dano, and as an older man in the '80s by Cusack — was a modest indie hit over the summer, with both actors receiving some of the best reviews of their careers. The dilemma of whether to split them for lead and supporting — and which one of them would receive the demotion — is rather rampant throughout this season. Regardless of the category, though, should Dano finally earn his first Oscar nomination, he will never have to suffer through this ignominy ever again.

When it was released: June 5

5. Inside Out

Disney-Pixar

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay (Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Pete Docter), Best Animated Feature, Best Score

No animated feature has earned a Best Picture nomination since Pixar's Toy Story 3 in 2010; not coincidentally, it was the last animated feature to fill several Olympic-size swimming pools with human tears — that is, until Inside Out. Just look at that above still from the movie, as Joy realizes the vital importance of Sadness, and, yup, crying again!

When it was released: June 19

6. Mr. Holmes

Miramax and Roadside Attractions

Possible nominations: Best Actor (Ian McKellan), Best Adapted Screenplay (Jeffrey Hatcher), a couple craft categories (Costumes, Makeup and Hairstyling)

No one has been nominated for an Oscar for playing Sherlock Holmes, but if anyone can be, it is Sir Ian McKellan, who plays Holmes at the end of his career and at the top of his faculties, and in the twilight of his life 30 years later as his mental acumen is fraying and fading away. It is an astonishing performance, and one that would be more of a lock for a nomination had the film been released in the fall instead of the summer. But it was also a genuine art house hit in an otherwise punishing year for independent film, and it is the kind of movie that should play as well on screener DVDs as in a movie theater.

When it was released: July 17

7. The End of the Tour

A24

Possible nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Jason Segel), Best Adapted Screenplay (Donald Margulies)

After spending the better part of the decade on a beloved sitcom (How I Met Your Mother) and in a series of well-received romantic comedies (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five-Year Engagement, I Love You Man), Segel has made no secret of his desire to stretch into unexpected territory with this performance as the late acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace. It will be an uphill climb for Segel to get a nod: The film is basically one extended conversation, it opened in the summer, and Wallace's family and estate repudiated the film even before it had finished shooting. But Segel has also won wide acclaim for his performance, and he's already demonstrated a willingness to talk up the film, something that has proven crucial for the awards campaign season.

When it was released: July 31

8. Straight Outta Compton

Universal Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (F. Gary Gray), Best Supporting Actor (Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti), Best Original Screenplay (Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus)

Despite its historic box office success and strong critical reception, this movie is something of a long shot. It will require some careful campaigning — for one thing, N.W.A skews a bit young for the academy's older membership — and some films that have not opened yet in theaters or premiered at a film festival will have to underwhelm for voters to take a second look at Straight Outta Compton. If they do, let's hope they focus as much on Mitchell's deeply affecting performance as Eazy-E as on Giamatti's strong work as the group's morally dubious manager.

When it was released: Aug. 14

9. Black Mass

Claire Folger / Warner Bros. Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Actor (Johnny Depp), Best Supporting Actor (Joel Edgerton), Best Makeup and Hairstyling

In most years, it is the female acting categories that are populated with tepidly received films featuring strong lead performances. This year, however, the less-than-thrilling films that still nominally remain awards contenders are largely headlined by men. Case in point: Black Mass. The biopic of Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger disappointed critics while still earning strong notices for Depp's robust performance as Bulger, and Edgerton's weaselly performance as Bulger's BFF in the FBI.

When it was released: Sept. 18

10. Sicario

Richard Foreman Jr. / Lionsgate

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Denis Villeneuve), Best Actress (Emily Blunt), Best Supporting Actor (Benicio Del Toro), Best Original Screenplay (Taylor Sheridan), some craft categories (Cinematography, Editing, Score)

This is a meaty, tense crime thriller shot like an art film, with performances by Blunt and Del Toro that are so taut they feel like they could snap at any moment. I don't know if it will have the juice to sustain interest through the rest of the season, with flashier, arty thrillers like Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant also in the mix. But there are people who really like this movie, and Villeneuve — who also made the 2013 kidnapping thriller Prisoners — is fast becoming a major filmmaker.

When it was released: Sept. 18.

11. Mississippi Grind

A24

Possible nominations: Best Actor (Ben Mendelsohn)

You may never have heard of this movie or its main star, but people in Hollywood seem to love Mendelsohn! He just got an Emmy nomination for a Netflix show (Bloodline), and people have been talking about his performance in this film as a gambling addict since it premiered at Sundance last January. The Best Actor contenders this year are a litany of familiar names — DiCaprio, Hanks, Caine, Fassbender, Redmayne — but, like I said, people love Mendelsohn, and they may love him enough to give him his first Oscar nomination.

When it was released: Sept. 25

12. The Walk

Sony Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Zemeckis), Best Actor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Best Adapted Screenplay (Zemeckis and Christopher Browne), various craft and technical categories (Cinematography, Score, Sound Editing, Visual Effects)

The story of Philippe Petit's famous 1974 high-wire walk between the top of the twin World Trade Center towers has already won an Oscar, for the 2008 feature documentary Man on Wire. But Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Flight) aims to bring the story to life by placing audiences on the wire with Petit — and in stomach-churning 3D! The entire film is its own hire-wire act, between Gordon-Levitt's twinkly French accent as Petit, the inevitable comparisons to Man on Wire, and the whimsy of the film's first two acts as Petit learns his craft and plans his death-defying walk. But this film is high-risk, high-reward, and if it resonates with audiences, it could end up as this year's Life of Pi — a technical marvel that also works as an emotionally stirring fable. Plus, now that Oliver Stone's Snowden — starring Gordon-Levitt as the NSA whistleblower — is moving to 2016, the actor won't have to deal with competing against himself.

When it will be released: Sept. 30

13. Freeheld

Lionsgate

Possible nominations: Best Actress (Julianne Moore), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Shannon), Best Supporting Actress (Ellen Page)

Reactions to this tearjerker — based on the true story of a terminally ill New Jersey cop (Moore) who fought for the right to give her domestic partner (Page) her pension after she died — were mixed at best when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. But reactions to the performances by Moore, Page, and especially Shannon, as the straight cop who becomes a major ally for the couple, were strong. This has been a true labor of love for Page, who is also a producer on the film, and her passion for it could help keep the movie on the academy's radar in the months following its limited release.

When it will be released: Oct. 2

14. The Martian

20th Century Fox

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Ridley Scott), Best Actor (Matt Damon), Best Adapted Screenplay (Drew Goddard), some craft and technical categories (Editing, Production Design, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects)

This grand sci-fi adventure about an astronaut (Damon) who is accidentally marooned on Mars was one of the best received films at TIFF this year. If the film can translate that critical enthusiasm to Gravity-style box office, then it is pretty darn likely it will earn some Gravity-style nominations — providing Damon can avoid any more Project Greenlight-style blunders. (Too late!)

When it will be released: Oct. 2

15. Steve Jobs

Universal Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Danny Boyle), Best Actor (Michael Fassbender), Best Supporting Actress (Kate Winslet), Best Supporting Actor (Seth Rogen), Best Adapted Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin), some technical and craft nominations (Editing, Cinematography)

The last time Sorkin told the story of a Silicon Valley tech titan, The Social Network became a sensation, netting $224.9 million worldwide, earning eight Academy Award nominations, and winning Sorkin his first Oscar. Expectations are, if anything, even higher for Sorkin's adaptation of Walter Isaacson's biography of the infamously ambitious Apple founder, especially for Fassbender's performance as Jobs. That pressure has already resulted in some testy words between Sorkin and current Apple CEO Tim Cook over the film, which automatically makes this movie even more of a must-see!

When it will be released: Oct. 9

16. Beasts of No Nation

Netflix

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Cary Fukunaga), Best Actor (Abraham Attah), Best Supporting Actor (Idris Elba), Best Adapted Screenplay (Cary Fukunaga), some craft categories (Editing, Cinematography)

In any other circumstance, this harrowing story about child soldiers in West Africa — with newcomer Attah as the 11-year-old who falls under the thrall of a charismatic warlord (Elba) — would be a natural awards season contender, and it already earned raves out of TIFF. But it is the first original feature film from Netflix, which will simultaneously release the film in select Landmark theaters and on its streaming service on Oct. 16. The company has major awards season plans for the film, but it is an open question how the academy will interpret Netflix's ambition to expand into feature films, especially with theatrical exhibitors almost in lockstep in opposition. This one will be interesting.

When it will be released: Oct. 16

17. Bridge of Spies

Jaap Buitendijk / DreamWorks Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Steven Spielberg), Best Actor (Tom Hanks), Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance), Best Supporting Actress (Amy Ryan), Best Original Screenplay (Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen)

Spielberg's first film since 2012's Lincoln is another historical drama, this time about the American lawyer (Hanks) conscripted by the CIA in the early 1960s to help rescue a spy plane pilot shot down over the Soviet Union. Typically, historical drama + Spielberg = a trip to the Oscars; we'll have a better sense of whether awards season history will repeat itself after Bridge of Spies debuts at the New York Film Festival on Oct. 4.

When it will be released: Oct. 16

18. Room

A24

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Lenny Abrahamson), Best Actor/Supporting Actor (Jacob Tremblay), Best Actress (Brie Larson), Best Supporting Actress (Joan Allen), Best Adapted Screenplay (Emma Donoghue)

This fragile story of an abducted young woman (Larson) and the 5-year-old son (Tremblay) she gave birth to in captivity would typically be dismissed as "too small" for the Oscars. But this was my favorite movie at TIFF, and I was far from alone — it should likely inspire the kind of passionate support that could even make the movie a Best Picture nominee. I just hope that Tremblay is campaigned as a lead actor instead of a supporting one. His character is in every scene — the film is in essence from his point of view — and his performance is just as nuanced and vital as Larson's.

When it will be released: Oct. 16

19. Truth

Sony Pictures Classics

Possible nominations: Best Actress (Cate Blanchett), Best Supporting Actor (Robert Redford)

There are a lot of true stories about intrepid truth-tellers bucking the system this year; this one tackles the 2004 scandal that brought down network news titan Dan Rather (Redford) after he and producer Mary Mapes (Blanchett) broadcast a story questioning the military service of President George W. Bush. Its tale of investigative journalism will inevitably be compared to the better regarded Spotlight, which opens three weeks later, and Blanchett will be competing against herself in the better reviewed period romance Carol. (More on those films below.) But after Redford failed to earn a nomination for 2013's All Is Lost, I suspect he could earn the requisite make-good nomination for his work here.

When it will be released: Oct. 16

20. Suffragette

Focus Features

Possible nominations: Best Actress (Carey Mulligan), some craft categories (Costumes, Production Design)

Another fact-based drama about bucking the system! This one is about the literal life-and-death fight for women's voting rights in England circa 1912–13, which is certainly in keeping with this quite feminist awards season. Its reviews out of the Telluride Film Festival, however, were tepid, focusing the most praise on Mulligan's performance as a woman who gets swept up in the cause.

When it will be released: Oct. 23

21. Brooklyn

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (John Crowley), Best Actress (Saoirse Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (Julie Walters), Best Adapted Screenplay (Nick Hornby), some craft categories (Production Design, Costumes, Cinematography)

This grand adaptation of Colm Tóibín's novel about a young Irish woman (Ronan) pulled between her home country and adopted one in New York first debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, but it wasn't until it hit the festival circuit this fall that its awards season momentum really began to build — not just for Ronan's lead performance but for the entire film.

When it will be released: Nov. 4

22. Spotlight

Open Road Films

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Tom McCarthy), Best Supporting Actress (Rachel McAdams), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo), Best Original Screenplay (Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer)

After TIFF, Spotlight was declared by the Oscar cognoscenti as the film to beat for Best Picture, and it's easy to understand why. Its depiction of the effort by a team of investigative journalists at the Boston Globe to report on the massive cover-up of pedophilia among the Catholic clergy has a mature, cumulative power that makes for a deeply satisfying moviegoing experience. The decision to campaign its ensemble all as supporting actors, meanwhile, is the right one, and while I've singled out McAdams, Keaton, and especially Ruffalo as possible nominees, several other actors you've likely never heard of and with just a couple scenes also make a profound impact in the film.

When it will be released: Nov. 6

23. Trumbo

Hilary Bronwyn Gayle / Bleecker Street

Possible nominations: Best Actor (Bryan Cranston), Best Supporting Actress (Helen Mirren), some craft categories (Production Design, Costumes)

Cranston is basically a god now as a TV actor, but, a little sadly, his first starring vehicle after Breaking Bad's finale in 2013 — about screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, a Hollywood eccentric who was blacklisted in the 1950s for his involvement with the Communist Party — was tagged as too TV movie–ish when it premiered at TIFF. Of course, given the higher quality-to-crap ratio of TV versus movies of late, that could easily be taken as a compliment. And as Argo and Birdman recently proved, Hollywood certainly loves a movie about itself.

When it will be released: Nov. 6

24. By the Sea

Universal Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Director (Angelina Jolie), Best Actress (Angelina Jolie), Best Actor/Supporting Actor (Brad Pitt), Best Original Screenplay (Angelina Jolie), craft categories (Costumes, Production Design, Makeup and Hairstyling)

Last year, Jolie's film Unbroken was regarded as a slam-dunk Oscar front-runner… until people saw it, and then it only eked out three nominations, for its cinematography and sound. Clearly, the problem was that Jolie only directed and produced that movie. For her next directorial effort, the period marriage drama By the Sea, she also wrote the script and stars alongside her real-life husband Brad Pitt for the first time since they played a married couple in 2006's Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Who knows whether her efforts here will make a dent in awards season, but By the Sea will at least have 100% more Brad and 200% more Angelina!

When it will be released: Nov. 13

25. Carol

The Weinstein Company

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Todd Haynes), Best Actress (Cate Blanchett), Best Supporting Actress (Rooney Mara), Best Adapted Screenplay (Phyllis Nagy), several craft categories (Cinematography, Costumes, Production Design, Makeup and Hairstyling)

Of the major films with LGBT themes opening this fall, Carol seems like the one best equipped to go the distance this awards season. The story of a housewife (Blanchett) and shopgirl (Mara) who fall wordlessly in love in the 1950s played to a rapturous reception at Cannes in May. Mara even won the festival's Best Actress prize, but in the cynical calculus of awards season campaigning, The Weinstein Company has decided to run Mara in the supporting actress category, even though the film is largely from her character's point of view. Perhaps audiences will likely be too caught up in the sumptuous period visuals from director Todd Haynes (I'm Not There, Far From Heaven) to care?

When it will be released: Nov. 20

26. Legend

Universal Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Actor (Tom Hardy)

Like Black Mass, this is a mess of a gangster movie with a dynamite central performance — only this time, they're two performances, from Tom Hardy as the infamous twins Reggie and Ronnie Kray, who ruled over the London underground in the 1960s. If the academy is hungry to have a famous gangster among the Best Actor nominees, I think the edge could go to Hardy, who evinces more charm and sympathy for his characters, and whose film opens later in the calendar.

When it will be released: Nov. 20

27. Secret in Their Eyes

STX Entertainment

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Billy Ray), Best Actress (Julia Roberts), Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Best Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman), Best Adapted Screenplay (Billy Ray)

Another odd micro-theme this awards season is American movies that share their story from a previous Oscar winner. Secrets in Their Eyes, however, changes a fair amount from the 2009 Best Foreign Language Film winner The Secrets in Their Eyes, especially regarding the crime that launches the story: Instead of the rape and murder of a man's wife, it is a woman's daughter — and that woman, played by Julia Roberts, is part of the FBI team tasked with finding the killer.

When it will be released: Nov. 20

28. Creed

Barry Wetcher / Warner Bros. Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Ryan Coogler), Best Actor (Michael B. Jordan), Best Supporting Actor (Sylvester Stallone), Best Supporting Actress (Phylicia Rashad), Best Adapted Screenplay (Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington)

Thirty-nine years ago, a little movie about an unlikely boxing hero became a major box office hit and a surprise winner for Best Picture. This year, Fruitvale Station writer-director Coogler and star Jordan reunite for this fascinating addition to the Rocky franchise, with Jordan playing Adonis, the son of Rocky Balboa's flashy rival Apollo Creed, and Stallone playing Rocky — for the seventh time — who agrees to be Adonis's trainer. The trailers for the film have been electrifying — if the film can deliver too, watch out.

When it will be released: Nov. 25

29. The Good Dinosaur

Disney-Pixar

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Animated Feature, Best Score

Could two Pixar movies be nominated for Best Picture in the same year? Probably not! But when Disney screened some extended clips from The Good Dinosaur at the D23 Expo in August, one scene between the title dino, Arlo, and his feral human friend, Spot, hit me with an emotional wallop I did not see coming. So I am including the movie in this list, because it could wallop the academy, too.

When it will be released: Nov. 25

30. The Danish Girl

Focus Features

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Tom Hooper), Best Actor (Eddie Redmayne), Best Actress/Supporting Actress (Alicia Vikander), Best Adapted Screenplay (Lucinda Coxon), some craft categories (Cinematography, Production Design, Costumes, Makeup and Hairstyling)

While The Danish Girl wasn't as beloved at TIFF as Room, Spotlight, or The Martian, it was still one of the strongest films at the festival, and it boasts two of the strongest performances of the year, from Redmayne as Lili Elbe, one of the first trans women to undergo gender confirmation surgery, and Vikander as Lili's wife, Gerda. The movie treats both women as narrative equals. It even begins and ends with Gerda, and yet there is still some question of whether Vikander will be considered as a lead or a supporting performance. Which is absurd! Make the madness stop!

When it will be released: Nov. 27

31. Macbeth

The Weinstein Company

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Justin Kurzel), Best Actor (Michael Fassbender), Best Actress (Marion Cotillard), Best Adapted Screenplay (Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, Todd Louiso), some craft categories (Costumes, Production Design, Cinematography)

The Oscars haven't smiled much on Shakespearean adaptations in the last few decades, but based on the raves from the Cannes Film Festival for this new version of the Bard's most brutal tragedy, this movie could finally end that trend. Fassbender will just have to figure out whether to favor this film or Steve Jobs, but the most pressing awards season question may be this: If this film does earn a fair number of nominations, will everyone have to refer to it as "The Scottish Movie" during the Oscar telecast?

When it will be released: Dec. 4

32. Youth

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Actor (Michael Caine), Best Supporting Actress (Jane Fonda, Rachel Weisz), Best Supporting Actor (Harvey Keitel), Best Original Screenplay (Paolo Sorrentino), Best Cinematography

Another Cannes darling, this film from recent Oscar winner Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) also benefits from being about two aging filmmakers, a composer (Caine), and a director (Keitel), vacationing at a lavish resort hotel in the Alps. Fonda's brief scenes in the movie as an aging film actress, meanwhile, are already the stuff of legend, and could bring her back to the Oscars as a nominee for the first time in 29 years.

When it will be released: Dec. 4

33. In the Heart of the Sea

Jonathan Prime / Warner Bros. Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Ron Howard), Best Actor (Chris Hemsworth), Best Adapted Screenplay (Charles Leavitt, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver), some craft and technical categories (Editing, Cinematography, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound Effects, Sound Editing, Visual Effects)

Based on the book about the real-life whaling ship disaster that inspired Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, this looks like the kind of grand historical epic that often runs the table at the Oscars. Hemsworth lost most of his Thor-ish bulk to play the first mate who survives the whale's devastating attack only to waste away on the open ocean, the sort of bodily suffering that often brings awards season attention.

When it will be released: Dec. 11

34. The Big Short

Paramount Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Adam McKay), Best Actor/Supporting Actor (Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell), Best Adapted Screenplay (Adam McKay, Charles Randolph)

This late addition to the 2015 release calendar, based on Michael Lewis's best-seller about the 2008 financial crisis, is something of a wild card this awards season. Co-writer and director Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights) has a considerable profile in the movie industry, but as a straight comedy director he's never come close to Oscar consideration. His cast, meanwhile, have 13 acting nominations and four wins among them. Plus, the previous of Lewis's books to be adapted into movies — 2011's Moneyball and 2009's The Blind Side — were both nominated for Best Picture. There is a joke here about fancy credit-default swap math leading to Oscar gold, but, you know, don't bet on anything just yet.

When it will be released: Dec. 11

35. Son of Saul

Sony Pictures Classics

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (László Nemes), Best Actor (Géza Röhrig), Best Original Screenplay (László Nemes, Clara Royer), Best Foreign Language Film, some craft categories (Cinematography, Production Design)

This Grand Jury Prize winner at Cannes (essentially second place) won effusive praise for its haunting story of an Auschwitz prisoner (Röhrig) in 1944 who is forced to burn the corpses of the dead. It is an obvious front-runner for the Best Foreign Language Film category, but I suspect its formal rigor and emotional devastation will drive voters to expand their gaze to many other categories as well.

When it will be released: Dec. 18

36. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Disney-Lucasfilm

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (J.J. Abrams), Best Supporting Actor (Harrison Ford), Best Adapted Screenplay (J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan), a ton of craft and technical categories (Editing, Score, Production Design, Cinematography, Costumes, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound Effects, Sound Editing, Visual Effects)

Before you scoff, the first Star Wars movie earned 10 Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor for Alec Guinness. A lot has changed in Hollywood and for the academy since then, but if Abrams can bring the goods, and if this movie approaches global commercial domination, then all bets are off as to how high this film could reach at the Dolby Theatre.

When it will be released: Dec. 18

37. 45 Years

Sundance Selects

Possible nominations: Best Actress (Charlotte Rampling), Best Actor (Tom Courtenay), Best Adapted Screenplay (Andrew Haigh)

There are several movies this year that feature seasoned actresses confronting their twilight years, including Lily Tomlin in Grandma, Blythe Danner in I'll See You In My Dreams, Maggie Smith in The Lady in the Van, and Susan Sarandon in The Meddler. But with the Best Actress race packed with performances in films that are major contenders in many other categories, I suspect that the best shot for a lone wolf Best Actress nominee will be Rampling for her finely tuned work in this Berlin Film Festival favorite, about a married couple facing a quiet crisis when the husband (Courtenay) learns some surprising news about his late ex-fiancé. Then again, Courtenay (Quartet) and writer-director Haigh (Weekend) could squeak into the race, too.

When it will be released: Dec. 23

38. Concussion

Sony Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Peter Landesman), Best Actor (Will Smith), Best Supporting Actress (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Best Adapted Screenplay (Peter Landesman)

Will Smith has had a rough few years, but that could all end with a positive response to this biopic of the physician who diagnosed the repetitive brain trauma disease suffered by professional football players. That said, Concussion has already come under major scrutiny for its confrontation with, and acquiescence to, the NFL.

When it will be released: Dec. 25

39. Joy

20th Century Fox

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (David O. Russell), Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Supporting Actor (Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro, Édgar Ramírez), Best Original Screenplay (David O. Russell, Annie Mumolo)

The last three films directed by Russell — The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle — have 25 nominations among them, including Best Picture for all three. Russell's streak is expected to continue with this story of a single mother who becomes a home shopping entrepreneur. The title suggests the film is about Miracle Mop creator Joy Mangano, but Russell's rewrite of the original script by Mumolo (Bridesmaids) changed enough of the story that now, apparently, it is not anymore. This may prove confusing, but the chance to see Lawrence in a role that doesn't require her to shoot a bow and arrow may also prove quite welcome.

When it will be released: Dec. 25

40. The Hateful Eight

The Weinstein Company

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Quentin Tarantino), Best Supporting Actor (Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, probably some other people too), Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Best Original Screenplay (Quentin Tarantino), several craft and technical categories (Editing, Score, Production Design, Costumes, Cinematography, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing)

Like Russell, Tarantino has been on a roll of late, but unlike Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight keeps its scope largely limited to a single location: a snowed-in cabin in the Wyoming mountains. With a large ensemble, it's impossible to know sight-unseen which, if any, of the cast will end up rating a nomination — or, for that matter, whether any of them would qualify for lead instead of supporting. But I tried anyway, in part because if the part is good enough, I could see a scenario in which Jackson finally wins his first Oscar. Or not!

When it will be released: Dec. 25

41. The Revenant

20th Century Fox

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Alejandro González Iñárritu), Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Supporting Actor (Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson), Best Adapted Screenplay (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Mark L. Smith), several craft and technical categories (Editing, Cinematography, Costumes, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing)

Birdman's Iñárritu has been shooting this movie, based on the real-life fur trapper (DiCaprio) who was mauled by a bear and left for dead by his compatriots, for the better part of a year, thanks in part to his commitment to filming only using natural light — with his two-time Oscar winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Iñárritu's uncompromising ambition reportedly pushed his cast and crew to the breaking point and beyond, but so far the absolutely stunning footage from The Revenant suggests it might have all been worth it.

When it will be released: Dec. 25

42. Anomalisa

Paramount Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Animated Feature, Best Adapted Screenplay (Charlie Kaufman)

This is the last release of the year, and the final film on this list, so I'm just going to throw caution to the wind here and toss in the possibility that it, too, could earn a Best Picture nomination. Reviews out of Venice and TIFF have been ecstatic, heralding the film's hand-crafted approach to animation and Kaufman's return to feature filmmaking after his 2008 film Synecdoche, New York. Last year, however, the decision to hold A Most Violent Year until the final weekend of December took the wind out of its awards season sails. But, you know, ultimately, whether it earns any awards or nominations or accolades of any sort, what matters most is that audiences will get a chance to experience this film for themselves.

When it will be released: Dec. 30