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A Quick Look At “Early Bird” Oscar Contenders

Ladies and gentlemen, we have officially reached the beginning of the Super Bowl for movie lovers: Oscar season!

With the Telluride, Toronto, and Venice Film Festival happening simultaneously and the New York Film Festival happening at the end of next month, awards season has officially kicked into high gear. That means we’ll get an idea of whether contenders like Widows, The Favourite, Roma, A Star Is Born, and First Man will live up to the hype.

However, let’s not forget films that managed to make an impression before the fall season. Here’s a preview of the “early bird” films and performances that have potential to become Oscar plays.

Black Panther

For starters, there’s perhaps one of the biggest question marks of this season: Black Panther. When I say it’s a big question mark, I don’t mean anything regarding its quality. It is incredibly worthy. I just mean it’s up in the air as to whether it’ll overcome superhero genre bias. Superhero films like Wonder Woman and most infamously, The Dark Knight, have tried breaking the superhero glass ceiling in Best Picture, yet didn’t quite make the cut. Can Black Panther succeed where those films have failed?

Well, Disney is gearing up an aggressive awards push for the film which has become a global audience hit. Not to mention, a nomination for Best Picture would not only help audience viewership but call B.S. on the newly announced, and then denounced, “Most Popular Film” category. Superhero films can be worthy if they provide the right quality and Black Panther could provide proof of that.


Another early bird with Best Picture potential, is BlacKkKlansman from Spike Lee. After making waves at the Cannes Film Festival with Lee winning the Grand Prize, BlacKkKlansman is has become a specialty hit with a current $31 million domestic gross against a $15 million budget. I know box office shouldn’t always affect a film’s awards chances. But when it comes to specialty films released early in the year trying to enter the conversation, they have to achieve a wide audience to become a major player since the indie circuit becomes pretty competitive in the fall.

So far, BlacKkKlansman has the right ingredients for a Best Picture nomination. It has positive reviews, it’s a specialty hit, and it captures our current political zeitgeist. Not to mention, Spike Lee has potential to achieve a long overdue Best Director nomination. Despite directing iconic films such as Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X, he has never received a competitive directing nomination, which could finally change this time around.

Speaking of unrewarded veterans, 72 year old Paul Schrader has written such classics as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and American Gigolo, yet has not received a single nomination over the course of his career. Crazy, right? Well, that could potentially change with the religious drama First Reformed. Aside from being a Best Actor play for Ethan Hawke, First Reformed could land a spot in what is looking like a very vacant Best Original Screenplay category.

Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

Another film looking to take up space in Original Screenplay is Sorry To Bother You which feels like the kind of idiosyncratic choice that the writer’s branch likes to go for (i.e. Ex Machina, In The Loop, The Lobster, etc.). Also, Eighth Grade, which has been winning the hearts of anyone who has seen it, may make a play in Original Screenplay as well.

Then, there’s a much more competitive category at the moment: Best Documentary. Typically, this category doesn’t feel very competitive but we have some hefty contenders. Some of them have become sleeper hits. You have RBG, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Whitney, Three Identical Strangers, Minding The Gap, and McQueen vying for attention even though it’s the middle of September which means there are potential contenders STILL waiting to be seen. Wowza!

Now, let’s take a look at individual performances.

Glenn Close

For starters, Glenn Close is starting her path to her long overdue Oscar for The Wife. Given how there’s no clear frontrunner in the Best Actress race, we might as well say she’s out in front without saying the race is completely sewn up, because we still have some sights unseen that are too numerous to mention.

Also, we still should not discount Toni Collette in Hereditary. It may be a horror performance, but the fact that it is one of the most critically acclaimed performances of the year thus far, if not THE most, is enough to make her a legitimate dark horse.

While Disobedience should be a major contender across the board, its best bet for a nomination is in Supporting Actress for Rachel McAdams. She is arguably a co-lead in the film but because she plays a very receptive character in the same vein as Rooney Mara in Carol, who was a Supporting nominee, that might result in her placement here. It also helps that she recently scored a Supporting Actress nomination for Spotlight and won career-best raves for her work in Disobedience.


Something that the acting branch can be partial to is the comedic “wild card” nomination like Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids and Robert Downey, Jr. in Tropic Thunder. One performance that fits that bill is Michelle Yeoh in Crazy Rich Asians. She is a scene stealer in a film that is becoming a bonafide hit. Unless comedy bias does come into play, the iconoclastic Michelle Yeoh could be on track to finally becoming an Oscar nominee after delivering years of great performances.

As for other plausible acting plays, there’s Alex Wolff who could get pulled along with Toni Collette for Hereditary; Elsie Fisher is still in contention for the “rising star” slot in Best Actress for Eighth Grade; And Michael B. Jordan who provides the best chance at an acting play for Black Panther with his supporting role as the villainous Erik Killmonger.

Yet, that was just a quick preview. Are there any other “early bird” films or performances that you feel will stay fresh in people’s minds? Please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!!


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