It’s almost that time. Moviegoers are finally about to get a break from all of the big-budget summer blockbusters and superhero action movies, as studios move away from large-scale spectacles in favor of award-season prestige films.
And this year is already shaping up to be one of the most interesting—and controversial—Hollywood award seasons in recent memory.
Here’s a look at five upcoming Oscar-buzzy movies you need to know about.
Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of the controversial and acclaimed novel Silence may be the most ambitious of his career: According to reports, it will run well over three hours, the longest film he’s ever made.
The movie tells the story of Jesuit priests (played by Liam Neeson and Andrew Garfield), who are persecuted for their faith while serving as missionaries to Japan in 1639. The story’s overt Christian themes and big questions about suffering, the presence of God, mercy and persecution have made it one of the most challenging works of religious fiction written in the last century. And Scorsese—who himself considered becoming a priest—has spent more than 20 years trying to get the film made.
After his acclaimed turns in Birdman and Spotlight, Michael Keaton has become a go-to Oscar-season talent.
It’d be easy to turn the true story of Ray Croc—the man who turned McDonald’s into one of the most recognized brands in the world—into a parable about capitalism, branding, food and the American Dream. And though those are all part of the story, it’s Keaton’s ability to turn eclectic, larger-than-life characters into authentic, compelling performances that makes The Founder one of the year’s most anticipated movies.
(Warning, the trailer contains some mild profanity.)
La La Land
Damien Chazelle, the writer and director of the breakout hit Whiplash could have gone a lot of different directions following his tour-de-force drama. But an Old Hollywood-style romantic musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling probably isn’t what people were expecting.
It’s a highly stylized creative risk. But with its jazzy soundtrack and unique, ambitious approach to Hollywood romance, it looks like one of the most interesting movies of the season.
Birth of a Nation
It’s impossible to talk about the upcoming film Birth of a Nation without mentioning the rape scandal involving the movie’s director, writer and star Nate Parker (and for good reason). Back in 1999, while a college student, Parker was accused of raping a fellow student. Though he was acquitted at trial, the details of the case are disturbing, and the woman who accused Parker and his roommate of raping her and stalking her, later committed suicide. His roommate at the time, Jean Celestin who was also accused in the sexual assault, was convicted, but following an appeal, the charges were dropped. Celestin is a co-writer of the film.
The 17-year-old allegations have largely overshadowed the upcoming release of the film, and have led to larger conversations about how audiences should attempt to separate the artist and their art (similarly to Hollywood names like Woody Allen and Bill Cosby). It’s especially complicated, considering that prior to the case becoming widespread public knowledge, the movie was heralded as one of the most important works of cinema in years.
The film tells the true story of slave and preacher Nat Turner, who led a slave rebellion in 1831. The movie caused such a stir at the Sundance Film Festival, that it was purchased for more than $17 million to Fox Searchlight—a record for the festival.
The real story of Nat Turner is an important chapter in American history, and the movie itself will likely spark big discussions about race, faith and Parker himself.
Here’s the official synopsis for the upcoming Jennifer Lawrence/Chris Pratt space epic:
A spacecraft is transporting thousands of people to a distant colony planet that has a malfunction in one of its sleep chambers. As a result, a single passenger is awakened 90 years before anyone else. Faced with the prospect of growing old and dying alone, he eventually decides to wake up a second passenger.
Lately, the Oscars have loved big-budget, space survival movies (think Gravity and The Martian), and with two of Hollywood’s most popular young talents starring, Passengers may be able to keep the genre’s momentum going. Part love story, part adventure (the plot revolves around what happens when their ship carrying thousands of sleeping passengers starts to malfunction), the movie could be the award show’s big-budget contender.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.