The 95th Academy Awards race is on with The Woman King, Killers of the Flower Moon, Avatar: The Way of Water, The Fabelmans, Till, and Michelle Yeoh eyeing Oscars glory.
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Love for CODA continues to crescendo after its historic Best Picture victory at the 94th Academy Awards, but echoes from a healthy Sundance slate — and whispers of high-profile projects from Hollywood heavyweights ahead — have already piqued industry interest.

THE WOMAN KING; Killers of The Flower Moon; Avatar The Way of Water
2023 Oscars contenders to watch in the awards race ahead.
| Credit: Ilze Kitshoff/TriStar Pictures; Melinda Sue Gordon/Apple TV +; 20th Century Studios

Read on for some (super early) potential contenders to keep an eye on in the 2023 Oscars race.

Armageddon Time Anne Hathaway; Jeremy Strong; Anthony Hopkins
Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images; Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic (2)

Armageddon Time

With heavyweights (Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong) on heavyweights (Anthony Hopkins) populating James Gray's big-screen return, the film should be a showcase for finessed acting. After reaching for the outer layers of the universe on the bizarre sci-fi drama Ad Astra in 2019, Gray comes back to Earth with a coming-of-age tale set in the 1980s, suggesting a return to the  more poignant dramatic material (The Immigrant, Two Lovers) he's known for. Add the Academy's penchant for men writing about the origins of… well… men (Licorice Pizza, Belfast, etc.) and we predict an awards season apocalypse for any contender that stands in Armageddon's way.

AVATAR 2
Credit: 20th Century Studios

Avatar: The Way of Water

There's a bit of liquid courage bolstering The Way of Water, as the hyper-expensive 20th Century sequel lands a peculiar 13 years after the first in a massive planned series from Oscar-winning titan James Cameron. Whether the film can sustain audience interest to the tune of the first film's $2.8 billion global haul after that time gap is key to determining whether Avatar 2 is written off as a disappointment or heralded as an Academy Awards comeback for Cameron. Either way, it's a virtual guarantee that golden accolades will flow in favor of the project's innovative special effects and dazzling technical elements.

Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt
Credit: Gisela Schober/Getty Images

Babylon

Damien Chazelle's La La Land follow-up First Man failed to launch into the Best Picture race, but his glittery tale of yesteryear's Tinsel Town (Brad Pitt as John Gilbert! Margot Robbie as Clara Bow!) aims to pave his golden back to the Oscars.

Ana de Armas, Marilyn Monroe
Credit: Samir Hussein/WireImage; Frank Povolny/Twentieth Century Fox/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Blonde

Since her star-making turn in Knives Out and scene-stealing role in Daniel Craig's final Bond film, Ana de Armas has steadily risen in the ranks of Hollywood on the verge of a supernova break. That could finally come as she takes on the iconic legacy of Marilyn Monroe in Andrew Dominik's Blonde, a fictionalized account of the Hollywood legend's life. Normally, an ascending star playing a real-life historical figure would feel like a given for Oscar attention, but early reports seem to indicate that Blonde — which was slapped with an NC-17 rating — could push the limits of "biopic" territory beyond what audiences (and the industry) are willing to accept. Dominik already suggested the project won't necessarily fulfill expectations, as it rolls out through the lens of "a person whose rational picture of the world as being overwhelmed by her unconscious." Translation: If you're looking for a Wikipedia-as-movie biographical account of Monroe's life, look somewhere else. If last year's Kristen Stewart-fronted Princess Diana ghost story/fever dream/cinematic impressionist interpretation of royal history Spencer is any indication, Blonde could be a tough sell — but, like its subject, the work of the woman at the center could emerge through the chatter en route to greatness.

Sundance Film Festival Preview
Credit: Apple TV+

Cha Cha Real Smooth

Ahead of becoming the first streamer to win Best Picture with CODA, Apple TV+ made the most expensive purchase at Sundance when it nabbed the Audience Award-winning, Cooper Raiff-helmed dramedy also starring a recently overlooked (The Lost Daughter, anyone?) Dakota Johnson.

Elvis
Credit: Hugh Stewart/Warner Bros.

Elvis

Baz Luhrmann is hit (Moulin Rouge!) or expensive miss (Australia) when it comes to narrative quality, but even his middling projects are rife with visual decadence. All of his features since Romeo + Juliet have bagged at least one crafts Oscar nod. Expect the same from the Tom Hanks-starring biopic Elvis.

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE
Credit: David Bornfriend/A24

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Money talks on the awards trail, and Everything Everywhere All at Once has its hot-dogged fist clenched on the loudest bullhorn of the year so far. With $47 million in domestic ticket sales (and counting), Oscar voters can't ignore the success of A24's organic hit, which audiences and critics will continue to champion as the season chugs along. Atop passion for the film's experimental, boundary-pushing visuals and narrative (the film follows a woman traversing various universes containing her own alternate lives), iconic, overdue actress Michelle Yeoh's central performance is a career-best turn from the Crouching Tiger and Crazy Rich Asians star. Count on critics groups — and Twitter masses — to give this one a second wind as the year draws to a close, likely making it difficult for Oscar voters to ignore.

Steven Spielberg arrives at the 2022 TCM Classic Film Festival Opening Night 40th Anniversary Screening Of "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial…"
Credit: Steve Granitz/FilmMagic

The Fabelmans

The future looks pretty — oh, so pretty — for Steven Spielberg's West Side Story follow-up. The Academy's eyes and ears loved his interpretation of a classic musical, but the icon aims for their hearts in this semi-autobiographical meditation on his childhood.

Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack appear in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande by Sophie Hyde, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute/Nick Wall

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

Emma Thompson struck an electric, sexy chord at Sundance as a retired widow who hires a sex worker (Daryl McCormack) for a night of self-discovery. Searchlight saw the gilded potential, and dropped $7.5 million for the rights out of the festival.

Killers of the Flower Moon
Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon/Apple TV +

Killers of the Flower Moon

Martin Scorsese? Yep. Historical epic? Absolutely. Leonardo DiCaprio? Swoon (and, yes, check). The legendary filmmaker's upcoming drama about the Osage tribe murders ticks all the right boxes for an Oscar contender, on paper anyway.

Lightyear
Credit: Disney/Pixar

Lightyear

Few things are more powerful than Disney's infinite hold on the Best Animated Feature category. Enter Lightyear, the studio's animated blockbuster that rockets into orbit, fueled by nostalgia (it's a Buzz Lightyear origin story oozing with Toy Story history) and director Angus MacLane's track record. The first-time solo feature director has had a hand in shaping beloved Disney titles as an animator, with credits like A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, WALL-E, Up and more already amongst his glittering career constellation.

Next Goal Wins - Elisabeth Moss, Taika Waititi, and Michael Fassbender
Credit: Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic (3)

Next Goal Wins

Taika Waititi's follow-up to the Oscar-winning Jojo Rabbit continues to ride a will-it-or-won't-it-drop path to release. Searchlight still hasn't confirmed a concrete date, so we're unclear on whether or not the film will make the cut in time for the 2023 Oscars; if it does, hopes remain high that a talented cast including Michael Fassbender and Elisabeth Moss will drive an inspirational sports story forward as they tell the story of an impassioned soccer coach who takes his American Samoa team from one of the worst in the world to the 2014 FIFA World Cup. It's undoubtedly safer territory than the Nazi satire of Jojo Rabbit (as we wrote in last year's Oscars forecast, it's safe to say Hitler won't serve as an imaginary friend to any children in this film), but it's clear that Waititi's penchant for witty dialogue and against-all-odds characters (the team once lost a match by 31 points) could help elevate and reframe the time-tested underdog story through a lens we've yet to see before.

Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan attend CinemaCon 2022 - Universal Pictures and Focus Features Invites You to a Special Presentation Featuring Footage from its Upcoming Slate at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace during CinemaCon, the official convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners, on April 27, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

She Said

Not even five years after New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey changed the film industry (and awards season) forever with their reporting on Harvey Weinstein's sexual abuses, Hollywood came knocking with a big-screen adaptation starring Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan. It won't be hard to get audiences to watch the film community processing its own trauma on the big screen with someone like Mulligan, fresh off her nomination for Promising Young Woman, leading the charge — the success of She Said on the Oscars circuit, however, might depend on how much the film implicates the industry machine (including potential voters) that surrounded Weinstein for years.

Regina King
Credit: Rich Fury/Getty Images)

Shirley

Regina King is bringing life to one of American history's trailblazing political queens. The Oscar-winning If Beale Street Could Talk actress here teams with John Ridley (Academy Award winner for 12 Years a Slave) to tell the story of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black congresswoman in the United States. The Academy's enduring affection for films about real-life figures (three of the last four Best Actress winners played historical women) and King's track record in the industry (one Oscar, four Emmys, two Critics Choice Awards) could convene in spectacular fashion if the film rolls out this year.

Natalie Portman in 'Thor: Love and Thunder'
Credit: Marvel Studios

Thor: Love and Thunder

Most of us assume Marvel spectacles will land technical nods (we know the sound is going to be, like, really good) — but the Oscar-verified pedigree fueling Thor: Love and Thunder (Taika Waititi, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale) suggests potential above-the-line traction, too.

Whoopi Goldberg during the Tribeca Talks at the 2019 Tribeca TV Festival at Regal Battery Park Cinemas on September 12, 2019 in New York City.
Credit: Dominik Bindl/Getty Images

Till

Since winning for Ghost in 1991, Whoopi Goldberg hasn't had a meaty role that's allowed her to flex like the powerhouse dramatic actress that she is. Her turn in Chinonye Chukwu's historical drama — about the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black Mississippi boy, and his mother's (Danielle Deadwyler) pursuit of justice — already feels like a contender on paper, given Goldberg's stature coupled with Chukwu's trajectory after the 2019 drama Clemency starring a career-best Alfre Woodard.

Lady Gaga Top Gun video
Credit: Lady Gaga/YouTube

Top Gun: Maverick

Lady Gaga said she spent "years" penning "Hold My Hand," the anthemic arena-rock single written as the lead single from the Top Gun: Maverick soundtrack. Off to a muted start on the American charts, the signature tune from Tom Cruise's upcoming nostalgia-fueled sequel to director Tony Scott's classic '80s action staple has yet to make the same kind of pop cultural impact as Berlin's Academy Award-winning Top Gun cut "Take My Breath Away." But, Gaga's pair of prior Best Original Song nods (including one victory) indicate passion for the star's work could ignite like jet fuel on the awards trail.

Sundance Film Festival Preview
Credit: Sundance Institute

When You Finish Saving the World

Jesse Eisenberg's directorial debut earned so-so reviews at Sundance, though standout praise for Julianne Moore's turn as a mother struggling to connect with her son might've cleared a path for A24 to campaign her to a sixth nomination.

THE WOMAN KING
Credit: Ilze Kitshoff/TriStar Pictures

The Woman King

Viola Davis is Hollywood royalty, whose career lives up to the noble title of Gina Prince-Bythewood's latest, The Woman King. Early film stills suggest Davis is all ferocious heart and fiery grit as the leader of the Dahomey Amazons military regiment in West Africa.

Frances McDormand, Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley
Credit: Michael Stewart/WireImage; Jason Merritt/Getty Images; Karwai Tang/WireImage

Women Talking

It's been 10 years since screenwriting nominee Sarah Polley directed a feature, and the amount of Oscar-approved talent (Frances McDormand, Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, Brad Pitt's Best Picture-winning company Plan B) who lined up for her return suggests they smell gold in this tale of Mennonite women reconciling with sexual trauma.

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