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The Biggest Oscar Contenders of 2019

What Are the Biggest Oscar Contenders of 2019?

(Updated 01/23/2019)

Fall is in full swing, and for a movie fan, that means one thing: Oscar season is upon us. Some of the best films were released in the final months of the year, including major blockbuster events like STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER and heavy-hitting dramas like BOMBSHELL and UNCUT GEMS.

As we approach the end of 2019 and awards season begins heating up, let’s take a closer look — following our first set of 2019 Oscar predictions — at the biggest contenders of the year. These are many of the people and films likely to be among the Oscar nominees when they're announced on January 13, 2020.

Update: The 2020 Oscar nominees have been announced; you can read about them here.

Best Picture

Could Sam Mendes's 1917 Win Best Picture?

[Image Credit: NEON]

While several of the potential nominees for the Oscars, especially in the Best Picture race, have yet to hit theaters, there are a few we’ve already seen and loved. They’re all worth seeking out if you haven’t already. For starters, one hopeful Oscar nominee is Lulu Wang’s remarkable family drama THE FAREWELL. The film, starring Awkwafina, was a major hit over the summer, thanks to a beautiful story about family and coming to terms with generational differences. Another summer favorite and a very likely Best Picture nomination was Quentin Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD, which revisited the pivotal summer of 1969 through the eyes of two aging Hollywood stars. It's a lock for a Best Picture nomination.

Hitting screens this November and December are several other major contenders: KNIVES OUT, the thrilling whodunit with a killer ensemble from STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI director Rian Johnson featuring the first post-Marvel role from Chris Evans; and A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD, starring Tom Hanks as beloved icon Mister Rogers. While a film like STAR WARS wouldn't normally be in the Best Picture race, remember how THE RETURN OF THE KING, the conclusion of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, racked up a whole collection of wins, including Best Picture.

Dramas like UNCUT GEMS (from the directors of GOOD TIME) and PARASITE (from SNOWPIERCER director Bong Joon-ho) have been generating a lot of buzz at film festivals in recent months, and also stand a strong chance of earning nods. The biggest dark horse is, of course, JOKER – the gritty origin story starring Joaquin Phoenix as a version of Batman’s arch-nemesis. (Read our JOKER primer.) As we’ve seen in the past couple of years, the Oscars are more open to embracing comic book movies than ever, so JOKER has a decent chance at a nomination. There's also a good chance that 1917, the upcoming war movie from director Sam Mendes, will be in contention for the top Oscar prize.

Best Director

Quentin Tarantino on the set of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

[Image Credit: Sony Pictures]

As is often the case, we’re likely to see directors from several of the Best Picture nominees in the running for Best Director. Quentin Tarantino is a lock for ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD, which feels like his most personal film to date. It’s also a movie about the movie industry set in an earlier time period, which the Oscars love.

Lulu Wang could easily end up with a Best Director nomination for THE FAREWELL, given how successful that film has been over a relatively long run. Bong Joon-ho’s PARASITE is already being hailed as a masterpiece, and it’s easy to imagine his film dominating the nominations, including Best Director. JOKER seems like a toss-up in this category, but the fact that director Todd Phillips is best known for THE HANGOVER trilogy might sway Oscars voters who were pleasantly surprised by his latest work. Marielle Heller impressed the Oscars last year with her biographical drama CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?, and she’s back this year with another biopic: A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD, which tells the story of Fred Rogers – one of the most beloved people in all of history. We can’t imagine Heller not gaining attention for this one. (We take a look at the Fred Rogers movie here.)

Best Actor

Joaquin Phoenix in Joker

[Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]

While JOKER’s prospects as a Best Picture or Best Director contender are a little up in the air, one thing is for certain: Joaquin Phoenix is destined to receive a nomination for his astonishing transformation and incredible performance in the movie. Leonardo DiCaprio also seems like a sure thing for a nomination, having given arguably the best performance of his career in ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD.

Rounding out the top five are a set of really interesting contenders. There's Adam Sandler, for his striking and serious dramatic role in UNCUT GEMS, and Antonio Banderas, for his role PAIN AND GLORY, the meditative career-retrospective new movie from celebrated filmmaker Pedro Almodovar. Michael B. Jordan might end up with a nomination for his role as a fair-minded young lawyer in JUST MERCY.

Best Actress

Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly in Bombshell

[Image Credit: Lionsgate]

Our first pick in this category is Charlize Theron, whose lead performance in BOMBSHELL, as former Fox News reporter Megyn Kelly has been wowing the first audiences to see the film. She’s in great company with Renee Zellweger, who lights up the screen as the late, legendary Judy Garland in JUDY, and Saoirse Ronan, who reunites with LADY BIRD director Greta Gerwig in this winter’s LITTLE WOMEN. (Check out our deep dive into the appeal of LITTLE WOMEN.)They’re followed by a couple of particularly exciting contenders who really stood out this year: Awkwafina, the rapper-turned-actress, and star of THE FAREWELL; and Cynthia Erivo, who follows up her stunning turns in BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE and WIDOWS with the lead role in HARRIET, a biopic about Harriet Tubman, the heroic former slave who formed the Underground Railroad to lead other slaves to freedom. (Check out our interview with HARRIET star Cynthia Erivo and filmmaker Kasi Lemmons.)

Best Supporting Actor

America's best friend, Tom Hanks

As proven by the names in these last two categories, there are no small parts. First up are the obvious contenders: Brad Pitt for his excellent work as Leonardo DiCaprio’s right-hand man in ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD, and Tom Hanks for taking on the role of a lifetime in A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. (Sure, Hanks seems like a leading role in the movie, but Sony may position him as a supporting actor in order to increase his chances of winning.)

Sterling K. Brown delivers a ferocious, awards-worthy performance in WAVES, the new drama from the director of IT COMES AT NIGHT. And while it’s difficult to narrow it down – there are a lot of great supporting actor performances this year! – the last slot may very well go to Shia LaBeouf, for his sensational turn in his own autobiographical drama HONEY BOY, and possibly even to Robert Downey Jr., for his final turn as Tony Stark, in AVENGERS: ENDGAME.

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers

[Image Credit: STX Films]

Scarlett Johansson could easily take home an Oscar this year; she’s absolutely divine in JOJO RABBIT, the World War II satire from THOR: RAGNAROK director Taika Waititi. Meryl Streep and Margot Robbie both have performances that could put them in contention: Streep in LITTLE WOMEN; and Robbie for BOMBSHELL (about the Fox News scandal) and ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD, in which she plays the late actress Sharon Tate. And Maggie Smith might just earn a nomination for her role in DOWNTON ABBEY, which builds on her dedicated excellence on the show that inspired the film.

And yet there’s one name that’s been talked about more than most: Jennifer Lopez, who gives the performance of her career in HUSTLERS.

Want more Oscar predictions? Check out our primer to this year's award season.

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