The awards season this year is already looking to be another fiercely contested battleground, with plenty of promising pictures already on deck, including Denis Villeneuve‘s “Arrival,” Ang Lee‘s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” Kenneth Lonergan‘s “Manchester By The Sea,” Garth Davis‘ “Lion,” Damien Chazelle‘s “La La Land,” Morten Tyldum‘s “Passengers,” and David Frankel‘s “Collateral Beauty.” But could Warner Bros. be mounting a sneak attack?

The studio has just rescheduled Ben Affleck‘s Prohibition-era drama “Live By Night” in a big way, moving the picture up from a previously planned October 20, 2017 date to January 13, 2017. At first glance, that looks like a dumping ground date for a movie that might not live up to its promise, but it’s worth considering a couple things. Firstly, the studio doesn’t seem to have an Oscar season picture to back this year, and Affleck’s picture — at least on paper — has that potential. Secondly, the date is similar to the wide release date given to Clint Eastwood‘s “American Sniper,” which debuted first in Oscar-qualifying limited release in December, and went on to earn six nominations (including Best Picture), winning for Best Sound Editing.

Time will tell, but I’m assuming that WB moving the picture forward is a huge vote of confidence, and I won’t be surprised if they follow the “American Sniper” playbook and aim for an AFI Fest premiere. And if that’s the case, getting two-time Oscar winner Affleck (Best Picture for “Argo” and Best Screenplay for “Good Will Hunting“) into the race is going to be a very huge deal.

Starring Affleck, along with  Zoe Saldana, Sienna MillerElle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson and Chris Cooper, and based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, “Live By Night” centers on Joe Coughlin, the son of a cop who finds himself slipping into a life of organized crime. As he climbs the ladder of the underworld, he journeys from Tampa to Cuba, encounters various dames, lowlifes and more in a tale of revenge and redemption.

Affleck is currently shooting “Justice League Part One,” and I presume the plan now is for him to finish up “Live By Night” once he takes off the cowl.