We know, we know, no one wants to talk about Oscar Season when it's only September, but ... tough. The Toronto Film Festival, the 11-day movie marathon known for spitting out our awards contenders each year, is underway, and so Oscar Season has officially begun. Over the next few months, dozens of hopefuls will hit theaters, and moviegoers will face such dilemmas as astronaut George Clooney vs. Nazi hunter George Clooney, survivalist Jennifer Lawrence vs. 1970s Jennifer Lawrence. It's going to be a jam-packed season and we can't wait to see what the studios have to offer.
Here are the 10 movies we expect to make some waves this fall/winter:
1. 12 Years a Slave (Oct. 18)
If you thought it was too early to be talking about Oscar Season at all, then you won't like this: 12 Years a Slave, the latest movie from Steve McQueen, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as a man sold into slavery, is already the front-runner to win Best Picture. When the movie premiered at Toronto, it blew audiences away due to its devastatingly realistic depiction of slavery and Ejiofor's powerhouse performance. It's getting a ton of hype right now, so there's always the possibility of backlash but still, judging from reactions so far, it seems unlikely 12 Years a Slave will be anything less than extraordinary.
2. Gravity (Oct. 4)
People are freaking out about Gravity, that astronauts-stuck-in-space movie that gave you nightmares when the trailer premiered a few months ago. Critics are calling it "a nerve-shredding suspenser," a "testament to human grit and groundbreaking technical ingenuity," and "the most realistic and beautifully choreographed film ever set in space." The epic thriller, directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men), stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as astronauts stranded in outer space. It's been said that Bullock gives the performance of her career, and is almost certain to earn her second Oscar nomination. Count us in.
3. Labor Day (Dec. 25)
It's a fact: everything Jason Reitman touches turns to gold. The 35-year-old director has made five films, two of which were nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, and all of which have earned him enormous critical acclaim. His latest, Labor Day, based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, is bound to earn him yet another nomination, if not a win. The film stars Kate Winslet as a fragile, depressed single mother who houses and develops feelings for an escaped convict (Josh Brolin), while her teenage son (Gattlin Griffith) looks on. Early reviews have said that Reitman's film keeps the same thoughtful, intimate tone as the wonderful book it's based on.
4. Inside Llewyn Davis (Dec. 6)
The Coen Brothers' latest film about an aspiring folk singer (Oscar Isaac) struggling to survive in the 1960s music scene premiered at Cannes in May to amazing reviews, and we've been looking forward to it ever since. The Coens (No Country for Old Men, True Grit) hardly ever disappoint, and Isaac, a relative newcomer, is said to be a worthy contendor for Best Actor.
5. Her (Dec. 18)
When the trailer for Her, Spike Jonze's new film about a lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with a robot computer (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), was released a month ago, it reduced us to a pile of tears in less than three minutes. The story is odd, yes, but Jonze and Phoenix give it a sweet, sad poignancy that's bound to break the hearts of even the most cynical viewers. With a supporting cast that includes Amy Adams and Rooney Mara, Her is a sure-fire Oscar nominee.
5. The Wolf of Wall Street (Nov. 15)
It had us at Leonardo DiCaprio's dance moves. The Wolf of Wall Street, directed by Martin Scorcese and starring DiCaprio as a real-life stockbroker who gets involved with a $200 million dollar scam, looks to be as smart, funny, and wholly entertaining as anything the duo (The Departed, Shutter Island) has done before. Jonah Hill, Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and Kyle Chandler co-star.
6. August: Osage County (Dec. 25)
This star-studded movie could just be re-titled "Oscar bait," but it looks too good for us to care. Based on an acclaimed Broadway play, directed by John Wells (Shameless), produced by George Clooney, and starring Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis and Abigail Breslin, August: Osage County has one hell of a pedigree. The plot - dysfunctional, estranged family reunites for a funeral, chaos ensues - is well-worn, but the sharp dialogue and stellar performances give a familiar concept new life.
7. Prisoners (Sept. 20)
On the topic of A-list casts, Prisoners might be the movie to beat. Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard and Paul Dano star in the upcoming crime thriller, about a father (Jackman) who goes all vigilante when his young daughter is kidnapped. He captures the man he thinks is responsible (Dano), holding him hostage in crazed, desperate hope of finding his daughter alive. Only a few reviews are in so far, but they're excellent, praising Denis Villeneuve (Incendies)' direction and the entire cast's performances.
8. Don Jon (Sept. 27)
Don Jon, the directorial debut of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, may not be Oscar bait, but it looks too great to ignore. Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed, and starred in the film, about a porn-addicted guy who falls in love with a romantic-comedy obsessed woman (Scarlett Johansson). When it premiered at Sundance back in February, it received unanimous acclaim, with critics calling it "funny, touching, smart, and supremely confident." We'd see any movie with Gordon-Levitt in it even if it sucked, so the fact that Don Jon is good is just an added bonus.
9. The Monuments Men (Dec. 18)
George Clooney is apparently everywhere this season, and it's actually possible, although unlikely, that he could be up for five Oscars come 2014 - acting for Gravity, producing August: Osage County, and directing, writing, and acting in The Monuments Men. The latter film is an ensemble drama about a group of art historians who venture into war-torn Germany during World War II in order to save artworks from being destroyed. Featuring Clooney, Matt Damon, Jean Dujardin, John Goodman, Bill Murray, and Cate Blanchett, The Monuments Men is sure to be great - but more importantly, it has the best looking cast, like, ever.
10. American Hustle (Dec. 25)
It's predicted that if Steve McQueen doesn't win Best Director for 12 Years a Slave, David O. Russell will take home the gold for his latest film. The director has been this close to winning the Oscar for years, thanks to the success of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, and 2014 might just be his year, thanks to American Hustle. The ensemble drama, about the 1970s Abscam sting operation, contains the same rapid-fire dialogue, jaw-dropping performances, and surplus of Boston accents as Russell's past films. Oh, and iIt stars Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Amy Adams, Robert DeNiro, Jennifer Lawrence, and Louis C.K. We want to go to there.
Honorable Mentions: Rush (Sept. 13), Captain Phillips (Oct. 11), Saving Mr. Banks (Dec. 13), Nebraska (Nov. 22)