THERE may still be three months to go until Oscars season heats up again, but all film fans know that the Academy never sleeps and buzz is already building around the possible awards contenders.
From Cannes darling Carol to biopics The Danish Girl and Joy, the probable nominations list is already taking form, meaning it's officially time to take a long hard look at the offerings.
Cate Blanchett's next movie was first tipped as an Oscars contender at Cannes, where it received glowing reviews and won her co-star Rooney Mara the best actress gong. Both actresses are early favourites, as is the film itself, about a woman in a loveless marriage who sparks a connection with a 20-something department store clerk. Features a stellar score and beautiful '50s costumes too.
Not just any film, but the film that might just prove fifth time lucky for Leonardo DiCaprio. "Poor Leo" has been nominated again and again without taking home a golden man but, as a 19th century fur trapper hell-bent on revenge, he'll be hoping for glory come February. Last year's best director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is behind the camera and the first trailer looks gritty and awesome. Not to mention the fact that DiCaprio slept in an animal carcass and ate raw bison during shooting.
Jennifer Lawrence looks set to be back in the front row at next year's ceremony with a nod for the inspirational-sounding Joy. The former best actress winner (Silver Linings Playbook) plays a single mother turned multi-millionaire businesswoman in David O'Russell's biopic of Miracle Mop creator Joy Mangano.
The Danish Girl
Eddie Redmayne returns in another challenging role as pioneering transgender artist Lili Elbe, one of the first known people to undergo gender reassignment surgery. The 33-year-old Brit won last time around for his performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and was so excited then that we're not sure he could actually cope with the ecstasy of triumphing twice. Alicia Vikander as wife Gerda fully deserves a nomination, if not a win, for best actress.
Ridley Scott is already a firm favourite for a best director nod, having never won the accolade before. This Matt Damon movie proved a hit with fans and critics alike, so certainly ticks the likeability box. Could it win best picture? Doubtful.
Bridge of Spies
Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance make a pretty awesome trio. This Cold War drama about a US lawyer recruited to defend a Soviet spy and then help the CIA exchange him for a captured US pilot sounds gripping on paper, but will it cut it as a best picture nominee?
Mad Max: Fury Road
George Miller's high-energy effort has been dubbed "the best action movie of the past 15 years" and Warner Bros is pushing it for an Oscar or two. Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult have the studio's support but whether it is too mainstream remains to be seen.
The Lego Movie fans were less than impressed when the film was snubbed at the Oscars last year, but there's little doubt Inside Out will not suffer the same fate. The clever Pixar movie about the inner workings of the mind is already the animated film of the year, winning five-star accolades from some critics. The "children's film" succeeds in appealing to viewers of all ages, from under-10s to adults brushing up on Freudian displacement.
The Academy do favour a comeback, making Sylvester Stallone a hot bet for an acting nod in this sports drama about Rocky Balboa's time as a trainer to the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed.
The Lady in the Van
Could an adaptation of an obscure-sounding Alan Bennett story win over US Academy voters? British films have fared well across the pond in recent years (The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything and The King's Speech to name a few), which could give Nicholas Hytner's movie a boost. Starring Maggie Smith (and we all know how much Americans love Downton), Dominic Cooper and James Corden, this charming film deserves a look in.
The Oscars will take place on February 29 (AEST).
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