EDITORIAL: 17 films to watch for the 2017 Oscars

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Last night at the 88th annual Academy Awards, "Mad Max: Fury Road" raked in six total wins to lead all films, an effort that likely no one predicted a year ago before it came out.  On this day after the Oscars, we must already call those 2015 films old news and look towards next year's contenders.  Plenty of movies will hit theaters in 2016, but only the best become Oscar hopefuls.  Set your sights on these 17 films for the 2017 Oscars.  Keep in mind that release dates and even titles of some of these unfinished films could still change.  Surprises come all the time, but this what the crystal ball is showing for the 89th Academy Awards.  

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1.  "Sully"-- When Clint Eastwood makes a film, Oscar voters gather around a campfire with marshmallows or start going to church.  He's coming off his biggest commercial hit with "American Sniper" and has targeted another American hero film with the miraculous story of pilot Chelsey Sullenberger's Hudson River plane landing.  Better yet, he's got Tom Hanks in front of the camera as the title character.  Oscar is drooling already.  (September 9)

2.  "Silence"-- Another filmmaker that travels with instant Oscar cred is Martin Scorsese.  "Silence" is a passion project the devoutly Catholic Scorsese has been trying to get made since finishing "Goodfellas" in 1990.  It is based on the 1966 novel of the same name that chronicles a pair of Jesuit Catholic priests from Portugal facing harsh persecution in 17th century Japan.  Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson top-line the cast.  (no release date yet)

3.  "The Birth of a Nation"-- There is always one Oscar hopeful that lights the January Sundance Film Festival on fire every year.  Following "Whiplash" and "Brooklyn," that number one prospect is actor/director Nate Parker's self-produced historical film on the Nat Turner slave rebellion of 1831.  It was the dual winner of the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize and netted the largest distribution deal in the festival's history ($17.5 million from Fox Searchlight).  Expect big things.  (October 7)  (news montage)

4.  "The Light Between Oceans"-- Filmmaker Derek Cianfrance ("Blue Valentine" and "The Place Beyond the Pines") gets better with every film.  He may be the next young filmmaker to break the glass ceiling as an Oscar contender.  His newest film surrounds a married pair of Australian lighthouse keepers (Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander) in the 1920's who recover a baby left in a lifeboat and race it as their own for years before the potential real mother (Rachel Weisz) returns to the picture.  This is the kind of heavy wrought emotion that wins Oscars for performers.  (September 2)  (trailer)

5.  "Free State of Jones"-- The "McConaugh-sence" continues for the "Dallas Buyers Club" Academy Award winner.  Matthew McConaughey tells the Civil War story of Newton Knight from the director of "Seabiscuit," Gary Ross.  He's been making stellar choices lately and this looks to continue that trend.  (May 13, 2016)  (trailer)

6.  "Money Monster"-- People forget that Jodie Foster is a pretty darn good director to go with her semi-retired acting.  She brings the wattage of George Clooney, Julia Roberts, and Jack O'Connell is a thriller about a cable business host held hostage of live television.  The tension looks as sensational as the journalism.  It opens, for now, directly against "Free State of Jones."  (May 13, 2016)  (trailer)

7.  "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk"-- "Life of Pi" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" Oscar winner Ang Lee takes on the Iraq war with this comedy/drama based on the Ben Fountain novel.  Lee thrusts an unknown lead (Joe Alwyn) as the face of a victory tour of returning troops who are disillusioned by the prospect of going back to the Middle East to finish their tour of duty.  Garret Hedlund, Steve Martin, Kristen Stewart, Vin Diesel, and a resurrected Chris Tucker co-star.  (November 11)

8.  "Passengers"-- Morten Tyldum, the Oscar-nominated director of "The Imitation Games," offers this science fiction romance as a follow-up.  Chris Pratt plays an astronaut travelling to a distant colony when his hibernation chamber erroneously wakes him up 60 years early.  Instead of growing old and dying alone, he wakes up another astronaut, played by Jennifer Lawrence.  They are joined by a solitary robot voiced by Michael Sheen.  Could this by "Solaris" mixed with "Gravity?"  (December 21) 

9.  "The Founder"-- Big biographies play well at the Academy Awards.  This one tells the takeover story of McDonald's founder Ray Croc, played by "Birdman" Oscar nominee Michael Keaton, and the namesake California burger joint originators (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) he may or may not have subverted to create his empire.  "The Blindside" and "Saving Mr. Banks" director John Lee Hancock leads the production.  (November 25)

10.  "The Accountant"-- Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick are hot A-list commodities and J.K. Simmons is an Oscar winner.  Give them a thriller together with a late fall release (coincidentally in the same "Argo" weekend slot from four years ago) and you can pencil in award attention.  Not much is known other than Affleck's title job un-cooking the books for unsavory employers.  (October 7)

11.  "The BFG"-- Normally, if Steven Spielberg makes a film, he's in the top 3 of a list like this next to Eastwood and Scorsese.  His "St. James Place" turned into "Bridge of Spies" and was #2 on this chart last year.  That turned into six Oscar nominations. "The BFG" is more of a fantasy/family entry from Spielberg and those don't track like his dramas, even with the Disney clout behind it.  Count on technical and artistic awards, but also the even chance of a mild flop like "The Adventures of Tintin" in adapted Roald Dahl's giant fantasy.  (July 1)  (trailer)

12.  "Collateral Beauty"-- When little is know about a film, you have to look to the cast as an indication of pedigree.  That applies to many movies on this list.  The concoction of Kate Winslet, Kiera Knightley, Will Smith, Edward Norton, and Helen Mirren is enough to dog-ear the corner to hear more about this David Frankel drama.  (December 16)

13.  "Snowden"-- Love him or hate him, filmmaker Oliver Stone makes loud fusses and moves the needle with the polarizing political stances portrayed in his films.  Expect a big heap of that with his portrayal of hot button figure Edward Snowen in his latest opus.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt portrays the whistleblower-or-traitor.  He is joined by Shailene Woodley, Nicolas Cage, Scott Eastwood, Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo, Timothy Olyphant, and Tom Wilkinson.   (September 16)  (trailer)

14.  "Demolition"-- Director Jean-Marc Vallee has made two strong Oscar favorites in a row with "Wild" and "Dallas Buyers Club."  Recent "Nightcrawler" Oscar snub Jake Gyllenhaal is his muse pegged to receive and continue Vallee's Midas touch.  He plays a hot shot banker who cycles through tragedy and stress after losing his wife in a car accident.  Naomi Watts and Chris Cooper co-star as support.  (April 8)  (trailer)

15.  "Miles Ahead"-- Don Cheadle makes his directorial debut and stars as Miles Davis, showcasing the life and times of the jazz revolutionary.  Once again, Academy voters love biographies and compelling figures.  You would be hard-pressed to top someone like Miles Davis.  Then again, look at number #16.  (April 1)  (trailer)  

16.  "I Saw the Light"-- From one music biography to another, Britain's delicious dish Tom Hiddleston dons an American twang, cowboy boots, and a ten-gallon hat to tell the tragic, short-lived life and impact of country music icon Hank Williams.  Thor meets Scarlett Witch as Elizabeth Olsen plays Hank's wife.  Start tapping your toe and actually enjoying real country music.  (March 25) (trailer)

17.  "La La Land"-- Musicals are a tough sell to get Oscar respect, unless your bringing out big names and numbers like "Chicago" and the classics of yesteryear.  Just ask the excellent "The Last Five Years" with Anna Kendrick.  Maybe something like "La La Land" can break through.  It is the follow-up from "Whiplash" writer/director Damien Chazelle and centers around the ever-moving romantic relationship between a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and an aspiring actress (Emma Stone).  Gosling and Stone were excellent years ago in "Crazy, Stupid Love.," so here's hoping their chemistry hasn't faded.  Oscar winner J.K. Simmons re-teams with Chazelle with a cast that also includes Finn Wittrock, John Legend, and mumblecore darling Rosemary Dewitt.  (July 15)

OTHERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON:  "Florence Foster Jenkins," "A United Kingdom," "LBJ," "The Girl on the Train," "The Zookeeper's Wife," "Hacksaw Ridge," "Five Seconds to Silence," "Manchester by the Sea," "Queen of Katwe," "American Pastoral," and "Genius"