EDITORIAL: 16 films to watch for the 2016 Oscars

(Image: goldderby.com)

Once one awards season ends, another one begins!  The winners from last night's 87th Academy Awards can bask in the glow of immortality for a while.  Meanwhile, business in Hollywood will quickly shift and move on to the 88th Academy Awards that will happen in February 2016.  After all, we are already over two months into the 2015 calendar year for movies.  Before the year of 2015 is out, we will soon learn and adopt another crop of competitive films to equally revere and nit-pick.  

Last year, I wrote this very same column the day after the 86th Oscars and keenly predicted many of the films that were in play during last night's awards.  I'm going to try to do a little deep gazing into the crystal ball for 2015.  Here are 16 films to watch for the 2016 Oscars.  I'm trying not including the big-name blockbusters that will surely sweep into some technical and artistic awards.  Rather, I'm zeroing out the ones that have Best Picture-level possibility and pedigree.  This is purely early prognostication.  Be careful as release dates shift all the time and a competitor may delay and leave.  It's early, so very few of these movies have trailers.

  (Image: collider.com)

(Image: collider.com)

1.  "The Revenant"-- Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy team up with newly minted three-time Oscar winner Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the writer and director of "Birdman," on a revenge western.  Now that's a deadly combine of talent.  That will make the Academy turn its head.  Honestly, you had us at DiCaprio, but now Inarritu is the hottest director in town.  Because of the huge success of "Birdman" last night, this becomes the unquestioned #1 Oscar contender as it stands today.   (December 25)

2.  "St. James Place"-- Director Steven Spielberg returns to history with this Cold War drama chronicling the legal battle to free a captive U-2 spy place pilot from Russia.  Tom Hanks is your lead. You had us at Spielberg and Hanks, which likely automatically makes this the #1A frontrunner for Oscar gold right now next to "The Revenant."  That's just too good on paper to dismiss.  (October 16)

3  "Joy"-- Between "Silver Linings Playbook" and "American Hustle," director David O. Russell is on a roll and that points him on the immediate Oscar radar.  "Joy" gives him the chance to reunite with his muses Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro for a domestic true story of a successful home inventor who gets her big break on the Home Shopping Network.  You had us at Lawrence and Cooper.  Bradley Cooper has scored acting Oscar nominations for three straight years, earning two with Russell.  Will "Joy" extend the streak to four?  (December 25)

4.  "Steve Jobs"-- Maybe Michael Fassbender and "Slumdog Millionaire" Oscar winner Danny Boyle will have better luck than Ashton Kutcher and company to give us a biography of the influential modern business tycoon and inventor.  This is still tightly under wraps.  (October 9)

5.  "Midnight Special"-- Director Jeff Nichols has steadily risen through the ranks with "Take Shelter and "Mud."  With the right project, he can be an Oscar contender.  "Midnight Special" is a self-described "sci-fi chase film" that is under right wraps.  It stars Adam Driver, Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton, and Nichols regular Michael Shannon.  With a bigger scale, this could be a headliner for Nichols.  (November 27)

6.  "The Walk"-- "Forrest Gump" and "The Polar Express" director Robert Zemeckis triumphantly returned to live-action filmmaking with Denzel Washington's outstanding drama "Flight" in 2012.  "The Walk" tells the story of the embattled tight-rope walker Philippe Petit, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and his daring walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974.  History and pedigree are both in place for Oscar potential here.  (October 2)

7.  "Triple Nine"-- John Hillcoat, following up "Lawless," has assembled a dynamite ensemble cast for a heist drama.  He has lined up Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, and Gal Gadot.  You had Oscar's attention at Kate Winslet.  (September 11)

8.  "Inside Out"-- When it comes to animated movies that get Oscar attention, look no further than the original works of Disney/Pixar.  Pete Docter, the man who won an Oscar for "Up," offers this amusing look inside our brains to look at our emotions and feelings competing against each other in the form of little character representations.  (June 19)  (trailer)

9.  "Concussion"-- Fascinating and topical sports dramas have gotten Academy Award attention for years.  "Concussion," directed by Peter Landesman ("Parkland") and starring Will Smith, Albert Brooks, and Alec Baldwin examines the true story of a team of doctors who made findings on head injuries in the NFL that lead to mental problems and even suicide in former players.  No sport looms larger than the NFL and this is not going to be as chipper as "Draft Day" for selling the brand.  (December 25)

10.  "Pawn Sacrifice"-- Prolific filmmaker Edward Zwick ("Glory," "Blood Diamond," "The Last Samurai," "Courage Under Fire") returns to tell the story of the epic Cold War chess match, dubbed the "Match of the Century," between American icon Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) and Russian master Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) that inspired and captivated the world in 1972.  (September 18)

11.  "Aloha"-- Thanks to "We Bought a Zoo" and "Elizabethtown," the formerly edgy Cameron Crowe is probably losing the bold coolness that made "Jerry Maguire" and "Almost Famous."  His reputation can still pack a film with people that want to work with him.  "Aloha" sends Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Bill Murray, Rachel McAdams, John Krasinski, Alec Baldwin, and Danny McBride to the island state for a redemptive romantic comedy that will put butts in seats.  Thanks to his track record over the last three years, you had Oscar's attention at Bradley Cooper.  (May 29)  (trailer)

12.  "Black Mass"-- "Crazy Heart" and "Out of the Furnace" director Scott Cooper has put together a crime drama about infamous Boston criminal-turned-FBI-informant Whitey Bulger, played by Johnny Depp.  Kevin Bacon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sienna Miller, Dakota Johnson, and Joel Edgerton co-star.  I now Depp is Hollywood Kryptonite right now, but this looks like the kind of film  September 18)

13.  "Ricki and the Flash"-- This musically-driven film from long-lost "Silence of the Lambs" filmmaker Jonathan Demme represents the obligatory role and nomination push that comes with the presence of Meryl Streep.  She plays a wife and mother than gives up her family to become a rock star.  (June 26)

14.  "Regression"-- International director and Academy Award winner Alejandro Amenabar ("The Sea Inside," "The Others" tends to garner good attention.  He teams with Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson for this secretive small town mystery thriller.  (August 28)

15.  "Pan"-- Visionary director Joe Wright ("Atonement," "Pride and Prejudice," "Hanna," "Anna Karenina") brings us a flashy Peter Pan prequel/retelling that's sure to grab Oscar attention for the visual and artistic award categories, even if it occupies the blockbuster section of releases.  You never know.  Maybe Hugh Jackman can be the next over-the-top villain that everyone, public and critics alike, love.  (July 17)  (trailer)

16.  "In the Heart of the Sea"-- Finally, Ron Howard, like Zemeckis, Spielberg, Zwick, and Amenabar listed above, represents a former Oscar-winning director that will get awards attention pointed at their film without much trouble or resistance.  Name recognition goes a long way.  Skewing to the action side, Chris Hemworth plays the beefy sailer leading his men in the survival and resistance against repeated encounters with a large white whale, the real-life inspiration of "Moby Dick."  It doesn't look like a big-timer Oscar shoe-in, but neither did "Master and Commander" and that eventually earned 10 Academy Award nominations.  (December 11)  (trailer)