15 Awards Contenders to See Before the End of the Year

If you love the Oscars, these are the movies to see in the coming months.

Sony Classics | Focus | Paramount | Fox Searchlight

We're still nearly six months away from the Oscars, but rapidly approaching the season when the year's biggest awards contenders start filling theaters. If you're the kind of person who clears your December weekends to see the year's best Oscar bait, here's a look at which movies to catch in theaters before the end of the year.

#1. Foxcatcher (Nov. 14)

Channing Tatum and Steve Carell in 'Foxcatcher.'
Channing Tatum and Steve Carell in 'Foxcatcher.'
Sony Classics

In the Mix For: Best Picture, Best Actor (Steve Carell), Best Supporting Actor (Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo), Best Supporting Actress (Vanessa Redgrave), Best Director (Bennett Miller)

After winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes, Foxcatcher is the film to beat come awards season. From what we've heard, Steve Carell is a shoo-in for a Best Actor nod for playing real-life philanthropist and possibly schizophrenic murderer John du Pont, who was one of the U.S. Olympic wrestling team's biggest boosters in the 1990s. Channing Tatum plays Olympic hopeful Dave Schultz, whose brother was killed by du Pont in 1996. It's unclear whether Tatum will be eligible for Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor. Either way, he's won plenty of praise in his own right, as has Mark Ruffalo, who plays his coach.

#2. Interstellar (Nov. 7)

Matthew McConaughey in 'Interstellar.'
Matthew McConaughey in 'Interstellar.'
Paramount

In the Mix For: Best Picture, Best Director (Christopher Nolan), Best Actor (Matthew McConaughey), Best Actress (Anne Hathaway), Best Supporting Actress (Jessica Chastain)

It's still too early to tell if Christopher Nolan's outer space epic is really an Oscar contender. Nolan's movies have always been a little too pop for Oscar tastes, but if the movie hits all its marks, it could potentially end up with nominations in all six major categories.

#3. Birdman (Oct. 17)

Michael Keaton in 'Birdman.'
Michael Keaton in 'Birdman.'
Fox Searchlight

In the Mix For: Best Picture, Best Director (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu), Best Actor (Michael Keaton), Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton), Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone)

Everything we've seen from Birdman just whets our appetite for more. It looks like the season's most weird and wonderful movie, and it stars Michael Keaton as a washed-up aging actor still pigeonholed by the superhero role he's most famous for. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu already has an awards-laden resumé after making 21 GramsBabelBiutiful, and more. And Birdman will likely be his breakthrough to mainstream US success.

#4. Unbroken (Dec. 25)

Jack O'Connell plays Louis Zamperini in 'Unbroken.'
Jack O'Connell plays Louis Zamperini in 'Unbroken.'
Universal

In the Mix For: Best Picture, Best Director (Angelina Jolie), Best Actor (Jack O'Connell)

If Unbroken lives up to expectations, it'll be one of the biggest stories of awards season as Angelina Jolie will find herself nominated for every directing award in Hollywood. The real-life story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner-turned- WWII soldier who was taken prisoner in Japan, is already a harrowing and inspiring best-seller. Interestingly, Jolie's movie will likely overshadow her husband's WWII project as he plays a tank commander in Fury.

#5. Wild (Dec. 5)

Reese Witherspoon in 'Wild.'
Reese Witherspoon in 'Wild.'
Fox Searchlight

In the Mix For: Best Picture, Best Actress (Reese Witherspoon), Best Supporting Actress (Laura Dern)

Reese Witherspoon stars in this adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's memoir of her 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. At the age of 22 Strayed's life was set reeling by the death of her mother, and by 26 her marriage had fallen apart and she was using heroin. Her long lonely hike was her way of rebooting her life. The real story here is Reese Witherspoon who finds herself in a position for a big awards season. Not only is she producing and starring in Wild, but her other movie, The Good Lie, could also prove an awards contender, and she could end up with a Best Supporting Actress nod for her role in Inherent Vice.

#6. Gone Girl (Oct. 3)

Ben Affleck in 'Gone Girl.'
Ben Affleck in 'Gone Girl.'
Fox

In the Mix For: Best Picture, Best Director (David Fincher), Best Actor (Ben Affleck), Best Actress (Rosamund Pike)

Working with excellent source material, David Fincher could have another big awards season with Gone Girl. Gillian Flynn's best-selling novel intertwines two competing narratives of one woman's disappearance on her fifth wedding anniversary. If the movie is as good as the book (not at all a given), it could mean awards attention for its two leads, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, as well as producer Reese Witherspoon.

#7. Inherent Vice (Dec. 12)

Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin in 'Inherent Vice.'
Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin in 'Inherent Vice.'
Warner Bros.

In the Mix For: Best Picture, Best Director (Paul Thomas Anderson), Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix)

Every time Paul Thomas Anderson makes a movie it's a safe bet it will be up for some awards consideration. This time he's adapted Thomas Pynchon's hippie-era LA crime novel, Inherent Vice. With a soundtrack written into the book and a Lebowski-esque protagonist, the story was already primed for an adaptation. Joaquin Phoenix will almost definitely end up in the Oscar conversation. Supporting work from the likes of Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, and Owen Wilson could also win attention.

#8. Mr. Turner (Dec. 19)

Timothy Spall in 'Mr. Turner.'
Timothy Spall in 'Mr. Turner.'
Focus Features

In the Mix For: Best Picture, Best Director (Mike Leigh), Best Actor (Timothy Spall)

With two big wins at Cannes (one for Best Actor, one for cinematography), Mr. Turner is poised to be this year's biggest awards season sleeper hit. Timothy Spall, a long-time character actor in a well-earned lead, plays the eccentric 19th century British painter J.M.W. Turner. After coming up big at Cannes, Spall is one of the top contenders going into the Best Actor race.

#9. Into the Woods (Dec. 25)

Meryl Streep in 'Into the Woods'
Meryl Streep in 'Into the Woods'
Walt Disney Pictures

In the Mix For: Best Picture, Best Director (Rob Marshall), Best Supporting Actress (Meryl Streep)

This one's a bit iffy. Best Picture and Director nominations for the Sondheim musical adaptation are long shots. But any time Meryl Streep's in the conversation, she's a contender, and she's got a great supporting role here as the witch who sets the story in motion.

#10. Big Eyes (Dec. 25)

Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams in 'Big Eyes.'
Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams in 'Big Eyes.'
Weinstein Co.

In the Mix For: Best Actress (Amy Adams)

Big Eyes is supposed to be the film that puts Tim Burton back on track after years of schlocky adaptations and remakes starring Johnny Depp. It's the real-life story of Walter and Margaret Keane. Walter earned fame and fortune in the 1950s as he mass marketed his paintings of big-eyed children. But it turned out it was all a lie, and his wife, Margaret, was the real artist, which came to light during a messy divorce case. Christoph Waltz plays Walter and Amy Adams plays Margaret. She's at the top of many early prediction lists for Best Actress, and Waltz may end up a contender as well.

#11. A Most Violent Year (Nov. 12)

Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain in 'A Most Violent Year.'
Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain in 'A Most Violent Year.'
A24

In the Mix For: Best Supporting Actor (Albert Brooks)

After making Margin Call and All Is Lost, J.C. Chandor's latest has been garnering awards buzz from the moment it went into production. Set in New York in 1981, one of the city's most statistically violent years ever, A Most Violent Year stars Llewyn Davis star Oscar Isaac as an immigrant business owner trying to weather the violent storm. Isaac and Jessica Chastain are both long-shot contenders, but as Isaac's lawyer, Albert Brooks is probably the movie's best chance at an Oscar nod.

#12. Maps to the Stars (TBA)

Julianne Moore in 'Maps to the Stars.'
Julianne Moore in 'Maps to the Stars.'
Prospero Pictures

In the Mix For: Best Actress (Julianne Moore)

Julianne Moore won the Best Actress award at Cannes for her work in this David Cronenberg Hollywood satire, making her an early contender for the Oscar. Moore plays an aging actress living in her mother's shadow. Her new assistant, played by Mia Wasikowska, is from a very dysfunctional Hollywood family. While the movie has won tons of buzz, (even for Robert Pattinson in a supporting role) it still doesn't have a definite U.S. release date.

#13. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (Sept. 26)

Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy in 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.'
Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy in 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.'
Weinstein Co.

In the Mix For: Best Actress (Jessica Chastain)

Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy play a couple whose breakup is told from two very different perspectives in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. Director Ned Benson actually made three movies here. First he made two: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her. The third movie, Them, was made at the request of producer Harvey Weinstein, and it combines both narratives. Them will see the widest release with Him and Her getting extremely limited art-house runs.

#14. Exodus: Gods and Kings (Dec. 12)

Joel Edgerton and Christian Bale in 'Exodus: Gods and Kings.'
Joel Edgerton and Christian Bale in 'Exodus: Gods and Kings.'
Fox

In the Mix For: Unknown

Exodus: Gods and Kings is a long-shot for awards contention, but with Ridley Scott directing and Christian Bale starring, everyone is still paying attention. The movie retells the story of Moses and the Biblical Exodus from Egypt, this time with action scenes that look like they were lifted from 300. Scott always swings for the fences with his epic movies, but no one knows yet if this is a home run or a whiff. He's already run into controversy with the picture by casting three white actors (Bale, Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver) in the lead roles for a movie set in Biblical Egypt.

#15. Whiplash (Oct. 10)

Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons in 'Whiplash.'
Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons in 'Whiplash.'
Sony Classics

In the Mix For: Best Supporting Actor (J.K. Simmons)

Whiplash won a lot of attention at Sundance earlier this year. The music school drama stars Miles Teller as a young drummer who will stop at nothing to achieve greatness. J.K. Simmons plays his domineering, militaristic drum teacher, and for his work he stands a good chance of winning an Oscar nod.

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