Ultimate 2021 Oscars Best Picture Contenders Guide

Yes, it’s that time again. Before you can even take a moment (or two months) to smell the roses, it’s Oscar season again and the race for that elusive Best Picture win. Granted, in a “traditional” year we’d be in a post-Cannes period looking forward to the deluge of fall festival world premieres. However, this year the pandemic pushed the annual French cinematic lovefest to July. With the Venice, Telluride, and TIFF trifecta beginning just six weeks later, the 2022 season is in for a fast and furious start.

READ MORE: Samuel L. Jackson, Danny Glover and Elaine Stritch finally getting their Oscars

From a bird’s eye view, there are 25 “likely” best picture contenders on the board (or almost). That doesn’t count another 19 films that could either be category contenders or serious surprises. Although we’ve purposely omitted Animated Feature or International Film contenders for now. And with many films not officially dated, the “likely” selects could grow or shrink dependingly. Oh, and don’t forget there are a guaranteed 10 Best Picture nominees this season. So, if this 25 picture list is accurate, well, those aren’t bad odds are they?

Here’s a look at the almost 50 films that “should” shape the 2022 Oscar race. Maybe.


Wes Anderson,THE FRENCH DISPATCH” (Searchlight Pictures)
That cast. Anderson’s pedigree. A Cannes competition selection…twice. The October release date (Y’all forgot that was prime Best Picture release month right?). Hard to see it not being a significant player throughout the season.

Guillermo del Toro, NIGHTMARE ALLEY” (Searchlight Pictures)
Del Toro’s follow-up to Best Picture winner “The Shape of Water” was always going to be under the awards season microscope. And that was before Bradley Cooper, Willem Dafoe, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Michael Shannon, and Toni Colette came along for the ride.

Ridley Scott,THE LAST DUEL” (20th Century Studios)
The legendary director has been hit or miss the past few years, but this end-of-year period piece just happens to feature a screenplay co-written by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Nicole Holofcener. The last time Affleck and Damon co-wrote and starred in a movie was “Good Will Hunting” which led to their Best Original Screenplay Oscar. No pressure fellas.

A second Ridley Scott-directed contender? Based on current release dates it looks like it. Throw a fashion family drama into the mix with Al Pacino, Salma Hayek, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Adam Driver, and…Lady Gaga and, well, wowzers. Can Scott get two films to the Best Picture finish line?

Steven Spielberg, “WEST SIDE STORY” (20th Century Studios)
Sure, it’s a movie remake of a stage musical that spawned 1962’s legendary Best Picture winner, but it wouldn’t be the first time both films earned Oscar’s top nod. “Cleopatra,” “Mutiny on the Bounty” and “My Fair Lady” all played that game before. And, Spielberg’s recent Best Picture nomination track record is nothing to sneeze at either.

Denzel Washington,A JOURNAL FOR JORDAN” (Sony Pictures)
Washington’s latest directorial effort tells the true story of an Army Sargeant (Michael B. Jordan) who authored a journal of life advice for his son just in case he was killed in action. Granted, release dates can change at the drop of a hat, but that Dec. 22 release date screams Oscar player to us, how about you?

Paul Thomas Anderson,UNTITLED PTA” (MGM/UA)
Two of PTA’s last four films (“There Will Be Blood,” “Phantom Thread”) earned Best Picture nominations and a third (“The Master”) should have. Throw in yet another Bradley Cooper performance and a ’70s San Fernando Valley setting and it’s all too intriguing to ignore. And that late Christmas-timed limited release (same as “Phantom”) is a clue that MGM/UA is hoping for awards and critics love.

Adam McKay, “DON’T LOOK UP” (Netflix)
I mean, McKay has had two back-to-back Best Picture nominees. He’s sorta on a roll. And a cast featuring Timothee Chalamet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Meryl Streep, Tyler Perry, and...Ariana Grande? What AMPAS member isn’t make this a screening priority?

Rebecca Hall,PASSING” (Netflix)
Hall’s directorial debut didn’t get across the board euphoric raves out of Sundance, but it certainly got enough. Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga are legit acting nominee contenders, but no one should discount this drama’s shot at a BP nod.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, “TICK TICK…BOOM” (Netflix)
Expect some fall festival love for Miranda’s feature directorial debut. And, rumor is the Netflix release plays. Plus, we’re hard-pressed to see how SAG members will be able to resist the surprisingly snappy singing talents of Andrew Garfield.

Denis Villeneuve,DUNE” (Warner Bros)
Venice and TIFF are set to screen Villeneuve’s highly anticipated adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel. Like the somehow underrated “Blade Runner 2049,” something tells us box office is going to be the key to its industry perception. Therefore, the fact it’s still going to be on HBO Max and in theaters gives us pause. Speaking of that one-year Warner Bros distribution arrangement…

Jon M. Chu, “IN THE HEIGHTS” (Warner Bros)
Third-party services show no big bump for HBO Max around “In The Heights” opening weekend. That makes its box office performance even more disheartening as a chunk of ticket buyers didn’t avoid the theatrical experience. Of course, it earned rapturous reviews, and if WB keeps the drumbeat going it “should” still earn a Best Picture nomination Plus, it helps the unexpected controversy is already out of the way (we think).

Reinaldo Marcus Green, “KING RICHARD” (Warner Bros)
Will Smith playing Richard Williams, the father and coach of tennis legends Serena and Venus Williams? A Nov. 19 release date smack dab when you absolutely want to release an Oscar contender? A possible fall festival debut? Setpoint, Mr. Smith and Mr. Green.

Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton in a fantasy film that begins in an Istanbul hotel room directed by George Miller? That might not seem like typical Academy fare, but then again the door has been swung wide open by films precisely like Miller’s masterpiece, and last production, “Mad Max: Fury Road.” There is no guarantee it will release this year (it’s not dated), but if MGM/UA moves it to December they will certainly have Oscars in their sights.

Liesl Tommy,RESPECT” (MGM/UA)
Is it “Walk the Line” or is it “Get on Up?” Is it closer to “Ray” or is it along the lines of “Rocketman?” Two of those were Best Picture nominees, and the other two were notably not. Jennifer Hudson will certainly have members’ attention as she tries to fill the shoes of Aretha Franklin, the undisputed Queen of Soul. And word is, the film is much better than the trailers have let on. We’ll find out soon enough when it opens in theaters on August 13.

Mike Mills,C’MON C’MON” (A24)
“Beginners” won Christopher Plummer an Oscar. “20th Century Women” earned Mills his first nomination in the Original Screenplay category. Now, he’s teaming up with Academy favorite Joaquin Phoenix for a road trip movie lensed by none other than “Marriage Story” and “The Favourite’s” Robbie Ryan. There’s a rumored impressive fall festival debut and along with A24’s undisputed acumen, we’re very, very intrigued.

Stephen Chbosky, “DEAR EVAN HANSEN” (Universal Pictures)
Yes, we all know that Ben Platt looks way too old to be playing a high school student now (or on-screen), but, guess what? The word is the film plays. And it plays much better than you’d ever expect (I mean, it is Tony Award-winning source material). Does that mean it’ll play to AMPAS members? Possibly, but that September 24 release date has us concerned. That’s simply too early for a legit Best Picture nominee.

Justin Chon,THE BLUE BAYOU” (Focus Features)
There has been buzz surrounding Chon’s latest since before the pandemic hit. You’ve got Cannes debut in the Director’s Fortnight slate, Oscar winner Alicia Vikander and a timely immigration storyline will likely make it a must-see Sur la Croisette and in theaters this September.

David O. Russell, “UNTITLED DAVID O. RUSSELL” (20th Century Studios)
It’s been six years since the box office and critical disappointment of “Joy” but Russell is still a five-time Oscar nominee and has three Best Picture nominees to his credit. Ignore him at your own peril. (Also, it’s unclear Disney/20th will even release it this year).

Joel Coen, “THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH” (A24/Apple TV+)
Forget the Oscar checklist among the talent in front of and behind the camera. From what we’ve heard, this one is a player with a capital “P.”

Could this finally be Benedict Cumberbatch‘s moment? And if that’s the case, can that love propel it into Oscar’s top 10?

Sian Heder,CODA” (AppleTV+)
You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll watch it at home on your Apple TV+ app. Hmm. I’d say it needs some major in-theater word of mouth among the industry to really be a player, but I did review it virtually and still totally fell for it. Oh, also a rare Sundance U.S. Dramatic Competition Grand Jury and Audience Winner.

Aaron Sorkin, “BEING THE RICARDOS” (Amazon Studios)
Unclear if this will make it in time for this awards season, but, as you’re aware, Hollywood absolutely loves stories about itself. And if Nicole Kidman can pull off playing comedy legend Lucille Ball? Anything is possible.

Clint Eastwood, “CRY MACHO
It’s easy to say Eastwood’s Best Picture days are behind him as a filmmaker, but “American Sniper’s” nomination was just six years ago and he guided Kathy Bates to an Oscar nod a little over a year ago for “Richard Jewell.” Plus, after seemingly retiring from acting following “Grand Torino,” he’s put himself back in the spotlight again at the lively young age of 91-years-old. Sure, the Sept. 17 release date isn’t a good sign, but all this at 91? Damn.

Olivia Wilde, DON’T WORRY DARLING (Warner Bros.)**
Another film that currently isn’t in the awards season window, but it easily could be. And with Harry Styles, Florence Pugh, Chris Pine, and Dakota Johnson, it’s bound to be a must-see for just about everyone. If WB drops it at a festival this fall you know they think they’ve got the goods.

*Currently dated for 2022
**Currently dated for Feb. 2022


Michael Showalter, “THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE” (Searchlight Pictures)
This one is likely all about Jessica Chastain transforming into the heavy mascara-wearing evangelist. I mean, the late, great Jan Hooks is currently the definitive Tammy in my opinion, but I’m happy to be proven wrong.

Leos Carax,ANNETTE” (Amazon Studios)
A musical opening the Cannes Film Festival starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard with music from the Sparks Brothers? Unless it’s transcendent (always possible) we’re not sure it crosses into AMPAS territory.

Chloe Zhao,ETERNALS” (Walt Disney Studios)
Zhao just won Best Director and Best Picture. There will be a ton of attention on her next work which happens to be a Marvel Studios release, “Eternals.” Granted, “Black Panther” earned a Best Picture nomination and five other nods, but we’re skeptical this sci-fi fantasy can resonate similarly. Would love nothing more than to be proven wrong, however.

Joe Wright, “CYRANO” (MGM/UA)
Wright’s had a tough few years with everything the eventual Netflix release “Woman in the Window” endured behind the scenes, but he’s returning to the safe confines of the biopic with “Cyrano.” Of course, unlike his smash “Darkest Hour,” this Cyrano de Bergerac life story is a musical. With a Dec. 25th release date and Peter Dinklage playing the title role you’ve got to be excited right? Right?

Kenneth Branagh, “BELFAST” (Focus Features)
Is it “Roma” in Northern Ireland or something more? (Or is that enough?)

Paolo Sorrentino,THE HAND TO GOD” (Netflix)
Is it “Roma” in Italy or just a potential International Film play? (Or is that enough?)

Edgar Wright,LAST NIGHT IN SOHO” (Focus Features)
Might be just another great Wright thriller or might be something more. If Focus can guide “Promising Young Woman” to Oscar glory why not “Last Night in Soho?” Major TBD.

Tom McCarthy, “STILLWATER” (Focus Features)
A premiere screening at Cannes is nothing to sneeze but are the “Not Without My Daughter” meets “Taken” vibes just from the marketing materials or the film itself?

Sean Baker,RED ROCKET” (A24)
The Academy somehow didn’t nominate “The Florida Project” for Best Picture. And, despite universal acclaim, we can only imagine a handful saw the masterful “Tangerine.” Has the organization finally caught up to Baker or will he continue to be relegated to critics groups, the Gotham and Spirit Awards for his latest endeavor?

Clint Bentley,JOCKEY” (Sony Classics)
If SPC can get “The Father” all those nominations and Anthony Hopkins a win over the beloved Chadwick Boseman there should be little concern over “Jockey’s” Clifton Collins, Jr. landing a Best Actor nod this season.

Kogonada,AFTER YANG” (A24)
The director of the criminally underrated “Colombus” returns with Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith in tow. Question marks all around, but where it debuts may hint at its awards prospects.

Joanna Hogg, “THE SOUVENIR: PART TWO” (A24)
Yet another Cannes premiere. Likely just a Gotham/Spirits/Critics Groups favorite though.

Mia Hansen-Løve, “BERGMAN ISLAND” (IFC Films)
Debuting at Cannes (do you sense a trend?), but already locked up for other screenings at major fall festivals. Can it break out amongst the logjam of prestige players this year?

Jane Campion,THE POWER OF THE DOG” (Netflix)
This Netflix/BBC Films co-production will debut on the fall festival circuit and could be another awards player for star Benedict Cumberbatch. Oh, and pay attention to that Johnny Greenwood score.

Andrew Dominik, “BLONDE” (Netflix)
Michelle Williams landed an Oscar nomination playing Marilyn Monroe, can Ana de Armas duplicate her success? Oh, take note: this is a Plan B production. Their taste is (usually) exquisite.

Pablo Larrain, “SPENCER” (NEON)
Love Larrain. Love Kristen Stewart. Hoping to be impressed, but justifiably concerned.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul,MEMORIA” (NEON)
Cannes! Tilda Swinton! Sure, it could be a Best Actress play but will Weerasethakul’s aesthetic play to an industry audience? Ponder.

George Clooney, “THE TENDER BAR” (Amazon Studios)
Is this the beginning of the second (or is it third?) Ben Affleck comeback? If Amazon decides to qualify the film for this awards season lookout.

Alan Taylor,THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK” (Warner Bros)
Don’t think this “Sopranos” prequel has a shot at Oscar glory? May we kindly remind you of “The Fugitive?”