An Oscarologist’s work is never done. Yes, the Oscarcast only just ended. And we’re only seven weeks into 2015. But it’s never too early to start forecasting next year’s big awards winners, right? Here’s an early guesstimate of the nominees in the major categories — bearing in mind, of course, that I haven’t seen a single one of these films and that several of them are still in production (and may not even hit theaters by the end of the year, when all is said and done). There will doubtless be nominees that are not on anyone’s radar yet — and the actual noms will likely be concentrated among a much smaller number of films. But you know that Harvey Weinstein isn’t worried about such niceties. So why should I?
• Black Mass (Warner Bros., 9/18) Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper’s new film stars Johnny Depp as long-on-the-run Boston Irish mobster Whitey Bulger. Starry cast + true story = Oscar bait.
• Brooklyn (Searchlight, TBA) John Crowley’s tear-jerking indie, based on Colm Tóibín’s novel about an Irish immigrant in 1950s New York, won raves at Sundance last month and a quick acquisition by Fox Searchlight.
• Demolition (Searchlight, TBA) Jean-Marc Vallée’s last two films, Dallas Buyers Club and Wild, have earned major Oscar attention so expectations are high for this drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts.
• The Hateful Eight (Weinstein Company, 11/13) Despite the online leak of an early draft of the script, Quentin Tarantino has moved ahead with production of his Western set in post-Civil War Wyoming.
• In the Heart of the Sea (Warner Bros., 12/11) Ron Howard’s last film, Rush, never got much awards traction. But this one (which also stars Chris Hemsworth) boasts an epic scope and a classier pedigree: Nathaniel Philbrick’s nonfiction best-seller about the 1820s whaling tragedy that inspired Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick.
• Inside Out (Disney/Pixar, 6/19) Pete Docter’s Up is one of only two animated features in the last decade to earn a Best Picture nod, and his new Pixar release seems similarly innovative in its storytelling, bringing to life the competing emotions inside a little girl.
• Joy (Fox, 12/25) David O. Russell brings back his repertory company — Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro — for the true-life story of the Long Island single mom who invented the Miracle Mop.
• The Revenant (Fox, TBA) In Alejandro G. Inarritu’s new film, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a frontiersman in the 1820s seeking vengeance on the men who left him for dead.
• Silence (Paramount, TBA) Martin Scorsese’s period drama looks like an Occidental version of Roland Joffe’s 1986 Oscar winner The Mission, with Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as Jesuit priests facing hostility in 17th-century Japan.
• Steve Jobs (Universal, 10/9) This production has been a hot potato. David Fincher was attached to direct Christian Bale in the title role. When that fell through, Danny Boyle stepped up, with Michael Fassbender as the Apple founder and innovator. One thing that hasn’t changed (much): Aaron Sorkin’s script, which reportedly sidesteps a traditional chronology in favor of three revealing moments Jobs’ life.
• John Crowley, Brooklyn
• Alejandro González Inárritu, The Revenant
• David O. Russell, Joy
• Martin Scorsese, Silence
• Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight
Look out for a complete wild card in this race (a la the 2004 nomination of Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles for City of God): Jafar Panahi, the banned Iran director who shot his road-trip movie Taxi on the sly and sneaked it out of his homeland for this month’s Berlin Film Festival (where it nabbed the top prize, the Golden Bear). There’s virtually no chance Iran will submit the film as its official entry for the Foreign Language Film category, but I could see the directors’ branch of the Academy rallying around the embattled auteur.
• Don Cheadle, Miles Ahead
• Johnny Depp, Black Mass
• Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
• Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
• Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
As usual, there are at least a dozen actors with juicy roles that could command award attention. Cheadle, a nominee in this category for 2004’s Hotel Rwanda, makes his directing debut in a biopic of the legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. And Redmayne follows his Oscar-winning turn in The Theory of Everything with another showy role, as the Danish artist and transgender pioneer Einar Wegener. Could he become the first actor to win back to back since Tom Hanks?
• Blythe Danner, I’ll See You In My Dreams
• Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
• Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
• Meryl Streep, Ricki and the Flash
• Lily Tomlin, Grandma
Three of these actresses earned raves out of Sundance last month: Danner, who’d pick up her first-ever nod as a widow who begins dating again in Brett Haley’s indie; Ronan, acclaimed as an Irish woman torn between lovers on two continents in Brooklyn; and Tomlin, a nominee 40 years ago in Nashville, as a witty lesbian poet who sets out on a road trip with her granddaughter in Paul Weitz’s dramedy. Lawrence seems like a safe bet in another splashy showcase from David O. Russell, and you can’t rule out Streep, playing aging rocker trying to reconnect with her family in Jonathan Demme’s new film.
• Bradley Cooper, Joy
• Tom Hardy, The Revenant
• Michael Keaton, Spotlight
• Mark Rylance, St. James Place
• Ken Watanabe, The Sea of Trees or Silence
Cooper could earn his fourth nom in a row for David O. Russell’s Joy, and Tom Hardy is another talented Brit who seems destined for awards recognition (he’s also attached to star in the Elton John quasi-biopic Rocketman). Thomas McCarthy’s Spotlight, about the Boston Globe‘s investigation of abuse by Catholic priests, could win Michael Keaton a statuette after his Birdman near miss. As for Mark Rylance, the great British stage actor is overdue for a meaty movie role — maybe Steven Spielberg’s Cold War thriller with Tom Hanks will do the trick. And this could be a very big year for Ken Watanabe, who’s about to make his Broadway debut in a revival of The King and I. He also has high-profile supporting roles in Martin Scorsese’s Silence and Gus Van Sant’s The Sea of Trees opposite Matthew McConaughey.
• Rooney Mara, Carol
• Marion Cotillard, Macbeth
• Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
• Gugu Mbatha-Raw, The Free State of Jones
• Julianne Moore, Freeheld
Rooney Mara is poised to return to the Oscar dance as a 1950s department-store clerk romancing Cate Blanchett’s housewife in Todd Haynes’ new Patricia Highsmith adaptation. Marion Cotillard plays Lady Macbeth opposite Michael Fassbender in a high-profile big-screen version of the Bard’s bloody Scottish play. Jennifer Jason Leigh gets down and dirty as an accused murderer in the charge of two bounty hunters in Quentin Tarantino’s Western. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who had two showy lead roles last year in Belle and Beyond the Lights, get another prominent turn in Gary Ross’ fact-based drama: she’s a former slave in the Reconstruction era who’s married to a Southern farmer who defied the Confederacy (Matthew McConaughey). And this year’s Best Actress winner could return to the race in Freeheld, another true-life drama about a New Jersey cop whose terminal illness prompts a legal fight for survivor benefits by her lesbian partner (Ellen Page).