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An early, early, early look at 2017 Oscars

Rafer Guzman
Armie Hammer, left, and Nate Parker star the drama “The Birth of a Nation,” which was directed by Parker.

Is it too early to predict the Oscars for 2017? Yes, but it’s too much fun to pass up.

After all, Oscar-nominated films aren’t that hard to identify. They seem to be created using a handful of familiar ingredients: socially relevant topics, historical figures, well-regarded actors, previously nominated directors and — let’s be honest — major-studio money. There are always surprises like “Mad Max: Fury Road,” the action-epic that received 10 nominations, but these are few and far between. Raise your hand if you knew that “Spotlight,” “The Danish Girl” and “The Revenant” would be Oscar contenders even before they were released.

Using this highly unscientific approach, along with gut instinct and a dash of Internet buzz, here are films we might see at the 2017 Academy Awards.

Florence Foster Jenkins

She was an eccentric socialite in the early 1900s who sang opera despite a lack of rhythm, pitch, tone or ability to pronounce foreign words. Nevertheless, she became a cult sensation and, in 1944, at the age of 76, played a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall. Why is this film an Oscar contender? Jenkins is played by Meryl Streep. Directed by Stephen Frears (“The Queen”).

Free State of Jones

Matthew McConaughey plays Newton Knight, a farmer who led an armed rebellion against the Confederacy in Jones County, Mississippi, during the Civil War. With Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keri Russell and Brendan Gleeson. Written and directed by Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit”). Opens May 13.

Manchester by the Sea

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has said he wants an Oscar, and this new film could be part of his plan. Directed by playwright-filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan (the 1996 Broadway hit “This Is Our Youth”), it stars Casey Affleck as a mess of a man who suddenly finds himself the guardian of his teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges). Following rave reviews at Sundance, Amazon snatched it up for $10 million. A release is expected this year.

Richard Pryon: Is it Something I said?

Stand-up comedian Mike Epps stars as the controversial comedian in a biopic that follows him from his rough childhood (Oprah Winfrey plays his brothel-running grandmother) to the heights of his career. Eddie Murphy plays Pryor’s father. Directed by Lee Daniels (“Precious”).

Sing Street

A rock and roll romance set in 1980s Dublin, written and directed by John Carney, whose indie film “Once” (2007) earned an Oscar for best original song (“Falling Slowly”). This project just might earn another thanks to original music by Scottish songwriter Gary Clark, a veteran of the ‘80s who fronted the overlooked pop band Danny Wilson. Opens April 15.


Tom Hanks plays Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who in 2009 became a national hero for saving the passengers and crew of US Airways Flight 1549 by staging an emergency landing in the Hudson River. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Opens Sept. 9.

The Birth of a Nation

Nate Parker’s film about the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner became a sensation at this year’s Sundance, and Fox Searchlight purchased it for $17.5 million — a festival record. Parker wrote, directed and stars in the film alongside Gabrielle Union, Armie Hammer and Penelope Ann Miller. Opens Oct. 7.

The Founder

He didn’t win for “Birdman” and wasn’t even nominated for “Spotlight,” but Michael Keaton could get another shot at the gold as Ray Kroc, the Illinois salesman who turned McDonald’s into a global enterprise. Written by Robert D. Siegel (“The Wrestler”) and directed by John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side”). Opens Aug. 5.

The Girl on the Train

This could be another “Gone Girl” or “Room,” a film adaptation of a best-selling thriller. Emily Blunt plays Rachel, a British woman whose commuter train passes the home of a seemingly happy married couple she does not know. When the wife disappears, however, Rachel becomes increasingly involved. With Rebecca Ferguson and Justin Theroux. Directed by Tate Taylor (“The Help”). Opens Oct. 7.

The Queen of Katwe

A biopic of Phiona Mutesi, a girl from the slums of Uganda who dreams of becoming a world chess champion. With Lupita Nyong’o as Mutesi’s mother, David Oyelowo as a chess-savvy missionary and India’s Mira Nair (“The Namesake”) as director, this Disney project has obvious acting-nomination possibilities. It’s scheduled for a fall release.


Woody Harrelson plays a neurotic misanthrope trying to connect with the teenage daughter he has never met (Isabella Amara). The director is Craig Johnson (2014’s well-received drama “The Skeleton Twins”) and the boutique cast includes Laura Dern and Judy Greer. It’s written by comic artist Daniel Clowes, an Oscar nominee for his “Ghost World” screenplay in 2002.