We’ve collected a list of films from top directors likely to contend in next year’s Oscar race. Is it too early? Yes.
Yes, it’s way too early to do this. Blame my editorial overlords. But, believe it or not, awards planning for Oscars 2020 has already begun. The first salvo was Sundance, which yielded slim Oscar pickings, mostly on the documentary side. The first week of April, studio presentations at CinemaCon will throw out some tentative Oscar bait. May brings Cannes, which is unlikely to show Netflix’s best stuff in Competition due to French theaters’ archaic three-year exclusive theatrical window.
Depending on what new Oscar rules emerge in April, Amazon and Netflix are in the Oscar hunt. On the acting side, Meryl Streep is back, along with Timothée Chalamet, Antonio Banderas, and Adam Driver, in multiple movies.
Here’s a list of 17 potential 2020 awards auteurs, in alphabetical order.
Pedro Almodóvar, “Pain & Glory”
In the semi-autobiographical “Pain & Glory” (November 22, Sony Pictures Classics), Antonio Banderas portrays Salvador Mallo, an aging filmmaker in declining health looking back on his life, from his ’60s childhood through his ’80s coming of age and discovery of cinema. Almodóvar broke out Banderas in his 20s in Spain with “Labyrinth of Passion” (1982) and “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” (1989). “Pain & Glory” marks Banderas’ first Almodóvar feature since 2011’s “The Skin I Live In.” Portraying Mallo’s mother is another Almodóvar veteran, Penelope Cruz, who last worked with the director on “Broken Embraces” in 2009. In 2006, her work in “Volver” brought her the Best Actress award at Cannes and an Oscar nomination. Both stars appeared in the 2013 film “I’m So Excited.” “Pain & Glory” opens in Spain in March, and will likely screen in Cannes in May, followed by other European countries and stateside play at the fall festivals.
Noah Baumbach, Untitled
Still untitled and undated by Netflix, the New York writer-director’s latest relationship comedy boasts lead performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as a couple going through a divorce, with a supporting turn from Laura Dern.
Greta Gerwig, “Little Women”
Gerwig’s follow-up to the Oscar-nominated “Lady Bird” is her adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott children’s classic “Little Women” (December 25, Sony). Gerwig reunites with Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet as Jo and Laurie, and also stars Laura Dern as Marmee and Meryl Streep as mighty Aunt March, as well as Emma Watson as Meg, Florence Pugh (“Lady Macbeth”) as Amy, Eliza Scanlen (“Sharp Objects”) as Beth, and Louis Garrel as Professor Bhaer.
Noah Hawley, “Lucy in the Sky”
The “Fargo” series creator’s anticipated feature “Lucy in the Sky” (fall, Fox Searchlight) is inspired by astronaut Lisa Nowak’s bizarre 2007 true story (which the tabloids dubbed the “NASA love triangle”). The psychological sci-fi thriller brings stressed-out astronaut Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) back to earth from space, where she was romantically involved with another astronaut (Jon Hamm). When he starts dating another woman (Zazie Beetz), Cola does not take it well. Wearing a diaper like the ones the astronauts wore in space, she takes a deranged non-stop road trip across five states — with lethal weapons in her trunk.
Marielle Heller, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (November 22, Sony), the director’s follow-up to Oscar-nominated “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” stars Tom Hanks as iconic-sweatered children’s show host Fred Rogers, who hit a nerve in Morgan Neville’s hit documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
Kore-eda Hirokazu, “The Truth”
After winning the Palme d’Or for “Shoplifters” at Cannes, the Japanese auteur lined up an all-star cast for his first English-language film, “The Truth.” Based on an unproduced stage play that Kore-eda wrote 15 years ago, Ethan Hawke stars opposite Juliette Binoche as a woman who returns to France when her famous actress mother (Catherine Deneuve) publishes a controversial autobiography. Look for “The Truth” to bring Kore-eda back to the Croisette in May.
Rian Johnson, “Knives Out”
Stepping away from “Star Wars,” Johnson wrote and directed original Agatha Christie riff “Knives Out” (November 27, Lionsgate) starring Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Lakeith Stanfield, Michael Shannon, Ana de Armas, Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, and Christopher Plummer.
Ang Lee, “Gemini Man”
Never underestimate the Taiwanese-born filmmaker of “Life of Pi,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Brokeback Mountain,” and “Sense and Sensibility.” Yes, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” crashed on the digital frontier, but Lee used what he learned on that movie on another high-frame-rate movie, sci-fi thriller “Gemini Man” (October 11, Paramount), which will either revive Will Smith’s shuddering career or continue its decline. Written by a murderer’s row of A-list writers (David Benioff, Andrew Niccol, Jonathan Hensleigh, Christopher Wilkinson, Stephen J. Rivele, Billy Ray), the movie follows a 50-year-old high-end assassin (Smith) who runs afoul of another operative who seems to know his every move. That’s because, thanks to Weta Digital’s de-aging technology, Smith also plays his 23-year-old younger clone in the movie. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Benedict Wong and Clive Owen costar.
Fernando Meirelles, “The Pope”
The Oscar-nominated Brazilian director of “City of God” and “The Constant Gardener” returns to the award zone with “The Pope” (Netflix), written by Oscar biopic perennial Anthony McCarten (“Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Darkest Hour,” “Theory of Everything”). Set in 2013, Jonathan Pryce plays Pope Francis, the reluctant leader of the Roman Catholic Church, while Hopkins is his predecessor Pope Benedict, who resigned the papacy.
David Michôd, “The King”
The Australian writer-director cast Chalamet in his take on Shakespeare’s Henry V, “The King” (Plan B, Netflix) which also stars “The Rover” star Robert Pattinson, Thomasin McKenzie, and “Animal Kingdom” breakouts Ben Mendelsohn and Joel Edgerton, who co-wrote the script.
Dee Rees, “The Last Thing He Wanted”
Writer-director Dee Rees follows up Oscar-nominated “Mudbound,” which was picked up at Sundance 2017 by Netflix, with a bigger-budget political thriller for the streamer adapted by Rees and Marco Villalobos from Joan Didion’s terse 1996 novel, “The Last Thing He Wanted.” In the movie, Washington Post reporter Elena McMahon (a de-glammed Anne Hathaway), who is covering the 1984 presidential primaries when her mother dies, goes home to look after her dying father (Willem Dafoe). When she takes over his role as an arms dealer for the U.S. Government in Central America, she suddenly finds herself dealing with spies and the American military complex and flying to a remote island off the coast of Costa Rica. Ben Affleck and Toby Jones costar.
Jay Roach, “Fair and Balanced”
Tackling another ripped-from-the-headlines true story, the director of “Recount,” “Game Change” and Oscar-nominated “Trumbo” moved forward to shoot “Fair and Balanced” (December 20, Lionsgate) even after financier Annapurna dropped out. Written by “The Big Short” Oscar-winner Charles Randolph, the movie stars John Lithgow as the late Fox News kingpin Roger Ailes, Malcolm McDowell as media overlord Rupert Murdoch, Margot Robbie as Kayla Pospisil, Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, Connie Britton as Beth Ailes, Allison Janney as Susan Estrich, Mark Duplass as Douglas Brunt, and Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carls.
Philip Vaughan/ACE Pictures/REX/Shutterstock
Martin Scorsese,”The Irishman”
“The Irishman” (Netflix), adapted by Oscar-winner Steve Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) from Charles Brandt’s gangster saga “I Heard You Paint Houses,” stars an ensemble of Scorsese veterans –Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Bobby Cannavale, Harvey Keitel– plus Anna Paquin, Jesse Plemons, and Ray Romano. Netflix acquired the big-budget movie, which makes extensive use of de-aging VFX for its decades-long story of a mob-friendly labor leader who is accused of involvement in Jimmy Hoffa’s murder. How Netflix will release it is the $175-million question.
Steven Soderbergh, “The Laundromat”
Written by the Oscar-winning “Traffic” director’s long-time collaborator Scott Z. Burns, “The Laundromat” (Netflix) stars Oscar-winners Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman in a story inspired by the Panama Papers; we follow a group of journalists who discover and reveal 11.5 million files linking the world’s power elite to hidden bank accounts to skip taxes. Antonio Banderas, Alex Pettyfer, David Schwimmer, Will Forte, Matthias Schoenaerts and Jeffrey Wright costar.
Also on the awards docket is Soderbergh’s production of writer-turned-director Burns’ post-9/11 political thriller “The Report” (fall, Amazon Studios) which is a feat of dramatic writing for smart audiences that imparts reams of info about CIA interrogation techniques, along the lines of post-Watergate journalism drama “All the President’s Men.” Expect Soderbergh to play with Amazon’s recently announced flexible release strategy.
Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
The director’s ninth feature film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (August 9, Sony), stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a television western star trying to break into movies in 1969 Los Angeles; Brad Pitt plays his stunt double and roommate. The director’s starry ensemble also includes Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, Damian Lewis as Steve McQueen, Al Pacino, James Marsden, Emile Hirsch, Michael Madsen, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning and the late Luke Perry. How much will we see of the Charles Manson murders? We may find out in Cannes.
Joe Wright, “The Woman in the Window”
Oscar perennial Scott Rudin produced mystery thriller “The Woman in the Window” (October 4, Fox 2000), adapted by Tracy Letts (“August, Osage County”) from the A. J. Finn bestseller. Long overdue Oscar contender Amy Adams stars as an agoraphobic child psychologist voyeur who witnesses a crime, along with Oscar-winners Julianne Moore and Gary Oldman and Brian Tyree Henry, Anthony Mackie and Wyatt Russell.
Benh Zeitlin, “Wendy”
Eight years after the New Orleans filmmaker broke out at Sundance with Oscar-nominated “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” Zeitlin took his time working on his follow-up. Finally, 2019 brings the release of “Wendy” (Fox Searchlight), the story of a young girl kidnapped and taken to a destructive ecosystem where mystical pollen breaks the relationship between aging and time. Will he finish it in time for Cannes?
–With reporting by David Ehrlich and Eric Kohn.