Fall Movie Preview: Oscar Contenders

Historical dramas and biopics dominate the upcoming slate of films vying for Oscar attention.

Forest Whitaker, second right, and a host of A-list actors star in "Lee Daniel's The Butler."

Forest Whitaker, second right, and a host of A-list actors star in "Lee Daniel's The Butler." Historical dramas crowd this fall's field of Oscar contenders.

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With summer coming to a close, the big, bloated, testosterone-driven action movies will give way to serious, star-studded dramas vying for Academy attention. Historical dramas and biopics dominate the upcoming slate of films, many of which will premiere at the upcoming Venice Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival. Here's what's already getting the most buzz:

[Gallery: Oscar Preview]

 

"Lee Daniels' The Butler" (Aug. 16)


Ushering in fall's award season, "The Butler" – about an African-American butler who served seven presidents – is sure to be both a crowd-pleaser and a tear-jerker. Conceptually, it's not too groundbreaking ( The Hollywood Reporter describes it as a "'Readers' Digest' overview of the 20th century American civil rights movement"). Yet it could at least snag some acting nominations, with superb performances by Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and a galaxy of surprising cameos. 

 

"Rush" (Sept. 27)


Based on a real-life Formula 1 racing rivalry in the 1970s, "Rush" looks like it's a lot of fun. But don't underestimate it: It's got some critically adored talent behind the scenes, directed by Ron Howard with a script by Peter Morgan ("The Queen," "Frost/Nixon").

 

"Gravity" (Oct. 4)


The trailer, a single scene of an astronaut floating hopelessly in to space, sends shivers to the spine. "Gravity" stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney – a duo as A-list as it comes – and is directed and written by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón.

 

"Captain Phillips" (Oct. 11)


Ripped from the headlines, "Captain Phillips" looks to follow the example set by "Zero Dark Thirty." It's about the 2009 hijacking of a ship by Somalian pirates that required a Navy SEAL rescue, with Tom Hanks in the title role. Directed by Paul Greengrass of the "Bourne" series, it may lack the gravity of Bigelow's Oscar-nominated masterpiece.

 

"12 Years a Slave" (Oct. 18)


"12 Years a Slave" is already drawing comparisons to Oscar-winning "Django Unchained," as it follows a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the mid 1800s. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the titular slave, Solomon Northup, who ultimately wrote a book about the ordeal.

 

"Philomena" (Nov. 1 in the UK; a U.S. release date is expected soon)


Judi Dench teams up with "The Queen" director Stephen Frears in this film, based on a true story, about a journalist (Steve Coogan) helping a woman find her long lost son.

 

"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" (Nov. 29)


Hollywood loves a biopic and this film, about the early career of African civil rights leader Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) is already producing plenty of Oscar buzz. 

 

"Out of the Furnace" (Dec. 6)


By the writer and director of "Crazy Heart," "Out of the Furnace" features Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Forest Whitaker and Zoe Saldana against a grim, working class, manufacturing town back drop. In both tone and pedigree, it has all the makings of a very serious Oscar movie. About today's economic hardships, it stands out in field packed with historical dramas.

(Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

"Dallas Buyers Club" (Dec. 6)


Set in the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, "Dallas Buyers Club" has the weight to attract critical attention. Speaking of weight, Matthew McConaughey, playing an HIV victim who traffics medicine, lost a ton for the role (a sure-fire way to get an Oscar nomination). But can this small, independent film compete against the season's big, studio dramas?

"American Hustle" (Dec. 13)


Director David O. Russell is going for a three-peat in Academy attention with "American Hustle." It stars Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper of Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook" (which won Lawrence an Oscar), and Christian Bale and Amy Adams of "The Fighter," another Russell film that won Bale an Oscar.

 

"The Monuments Men" (Dec. 18)


This World War II drama features George Clooney (in a mustache!), Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray and John Goodman. It's about a team of soldiers who protect monuments and other artistic artifacts from Nazi destruction, so the Academy will likely be attracted to its theme of protecting culture.