It seems that this year, the Oscars may be ruled by dramas. Pretty much all of the big contenders are dramatic films with powerful anchoring performances, many of them showcasing outstanding character studies. With the hundreds of fantastic dramas that came out in 2016, it may be hard to sort out which ones are must-sees before February, so the list below narrows the field down to 13 dramas to see before Oscar night.
The dramas earning Oscar buzz this year tackle a wide variety of complex and difficult subjects, among them: grief, laws of segregation, conscientious objection to war, highly universal struggles to communicate, the challenges of growing up queer and black, single motherhood, and the ever-painful process of being in love. Some are based on true stories, while others are totally fictional, and no matter what mood you're in, you're sure to be able to cover all your bases and find a dramatic film you'll love. It's not clear what movies will win on Oscar night, but if you make a point of seeing these dramas, you'll no doubt be able to make some solid ballot guesses.
If there's one movie you should go out of your way to catch before the Oscars, it's Moonlight. Directed by Barry Jenkins and adapted from the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight, about one man's experience growing up queer and black, is one of the most original and finely made films of the past several years. It feels guaranteed that Moonlight will net several nominations, including Best Director, Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali. For his stunning performance as the caring and conflicted Juan, Ali seems likely to walk away with a well-deserved gold statue.
Jackie is all Natalie Portman's. She carries the film with strength and complexity as grieving First Lady Jackie Kennedy. This focused historical drama has done well with critics and should surely be getting nominations for Best Picture, Best Director (Pablo Larrain), and of course Best Lead Actress.
The unique and critically acclaimed Fences, adapted by writer August Wilson from his play of the same name, features two powerhouse performances: Denzel Washington as a working-class man in the 1950's coming to terms with his lost dream of playing major league baseball (he was too old by the time the league's segregation rules were abolished), and Viola Davis as his wife. Washington seems sure to be nominated for Best Lead Actor and may win, and Davis seems likely to get a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Best Picture, Best Director (also Washington), and Best Adapted Screenplay nods are also very likely.
4'Manchester By The Sea'
As much a showcase for Casey Affleck as Jackie is for Natalie Portman, Manchester By The Sea, the devastating drama about a man coping with grief should surely earn several Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director (Kenneth Lonergan), Best Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams), Best Original Screenplay, and of course, Best Lead Actor for Affleck. It's probably a race between him and Washington to see who will win.
5'Hell Or High Water'
Neo-western crime drama Hell Or High Water isn't necessarily a shoe-in for any Oscar win, or even any nomination, but it's in contention for a number of categories, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture, and Best Supporting Actor (a scene-stealing turn by the always excellent Jeff Bridges.)
Hidden Figures is inspiring and uplifting, about the true (and under-recognized) story of the black women mathematicians, physicists, and engineers who helped NASA put a man in space. It's a strong film that could earn a Best Picture nomination, and it also has a stellar soundtrack by Pharrell Williams that should hopefully net him a nomination for Best Song ("Victory").
The box office and critical success of this science-fiction drama about a linguist communicating with aliens has defied many expectations about what sci-fi movies are capable of. Arrival is quiet, smart, and thoughtful, and Amy Adams is performing at perhaps her highest level to date (which is saying something.) She should likely get a nomination for Best Lead Actress, and the film should pick up several more nominations for things like Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, as well as some of the more technical fields like Best Editing and Best Cinematography.
This inspiring drama, about a man who was adopted as a child and goes on a journey to find his biological family, features stunning performances by Dev Patel as the lead and Nicole Kidman as his adoptive mother. Lion is a serious, emotional, and confident film based on a true story, and it will probably be nominated for Best Picture, while Patel could be in the running for Best Lead Actor and Kidman could get a nod for Best Supporting Actress.
This subtle and confident true historical drama tells the story of the interracial couple that took their right to marry to the Supreme Court and won. Loving is anchored by two strong, nuanced performances by talented newcomer Ruth Negga and Joel Edgarton. Either of the two could earn nominations, and the film may end up in the Best Picture race as well.
Andrew Garfield stars in this true historical war drama about a pacifist soldier during World War II who carried no weapons but saved dozens of lives. His performance is searingly honest and deeply committed and may likely lead to a nomination for Best Lead Actor, while there's a chance the film could be in the running for Best Picture as well.
11'20th Century Women'
This warm and nuanced family drama from the director of 2010's stunningly original Beginners, Mike Mills, stars Annette Bening as a feminist matriarch raising her son (as well as a group of other misfits) in 1979 Santa Barbara, California. Bening owns the film, giving her character incredible depth and humanity, and she should no doubt earn a nomination for Best Lead Actress. The film could also be a contender for Best Picture.
Elle is a brutal psychological thriller about a woman seeking revenge on her attacker, and its artful direction and strong performances make this pitch dark French drama likely to lead the pack for Best Foreign Film.
13'La La Land'
This musical may be full of singing, dancing, and fantastical imaginative visuals, but it's also no doubt a drama, focusing on the real human challenges of falling in love. With its fantastic original score and strong lead performances by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, La La Land should surely get Oscar recognition on all the musical categories, as well as likely Best Lead Actor and Actress, Best Picture, and Best Director (Damien Chazell) nods.