Wednesday, August 17, 2016

of Montreal Albums Ranked

The best quote I've ever heard about of Montreal is from former member Dottie West in the documentary "The Past is a Grotesque Album" (paraphrased): "Either you've never heard of us, or we're you're favorite band of all time".  That isn't an inaccurate sentiment, as I don't know anyone who has two or three of Montreal records.  Seemingly, if you own more than one record, you own more than ten.  And amazingly, with that many albums, there really aren't many duds in the group.

So, since they have long been one of my favorite bands and are probably the artist I find myself going back to the most, I figured it would be interesting trying to rank their albums, EP's and compilations.  I will go ahead and preface this with the knowledge that since Kevin Barnes is literally a musical chameleon, I'm sure there is an album you love that is on the lower end, or one that you hate that is in my top 5.  But that is something even more incredible about this band: there isn't some fan agreed on definitive list of their best work.  Everyone seems to love different records for different reasons and other fans totally get it.

Another quick note: While I'm counting a few EP's separate, I actually included Icons, Abstract Thee with Hissing Fauna since 4 of the 5 tracks are part of the vinyl release and thats the version I first heard.  Icons is incredible and does kind of deserve mention as its own project, but I have trouble separating the two so for the purpose of this list it is with Hissing Fauna.  On its own, I don't really know exactly where it would be, but probably still in the top 5.  It was a true golden era.

So without further ado, Kevin Barnes' of Montreal ranked.

21. thecontrollersphere EP (Polyvinyl - 2011)

Since it came out I've never enjoyed this EP, and I still can't find much of anything positive to say about it.  The opening track is loud and goes nowhere, the second song, "Flunkt Sass vs the Root Plume" has its moments but isn't very memorable.  The second side has a long and repetitive opening song and doesn't get a ton better from there, though "Slave Translator" is the most listenable song in my opinion.  I will sometimes put it on to see if I'm missing something, but I'm yet to find that something.  

20. If He Is Protecting Our Nation Then Who Will Protect Big Oil, Our Children? (Self-Released - 2002)

Originally sold as a tour only compilation album of unreleased and alternate versions, you can hear a lot of Gay Parade and Coquelicot in these songs, but it is clear they are b-sides at best.  There are a few standouts, in particular "Cast in the Haze (Been There Four Days)", which was one of Kevin/Jamey's best collaborative songwriting efforts.  But overall, it is for hardcore fans only and is unlikely to be something you regularly listen to, even if you're favorite albums are from the pre-Aldhils era.

19. The Bedside Drama: A Petite Tragedy (Kindercore - 1998)

I've heard arguments against this being the worst of Montreal studio album, with more than one person declaring it their all-time favorite, but it still falls at the bottom of my list.  It isn't that it is a bad album, and in fact some of the songwriting is quite good.  It just happens to be boring for the most part (which is probably the biggest insult to Kevin Barnes one can give).  "One of a Very Few of a Kind" and "Honeymoon in San Francisco" are my two favorites on here, but outside of those two songs and a few others, it just seems like a lackluster bridge between the outstanding Cherry Peel and Gay Parade.  

18. Young Froth/Taypiss (Self-Released - 2013)

This is more of an occasional interesting listen than a remarkably good collection of songs.  The more you listen, the more you can start to hear Kevin Barnes experimenting and heading towards the songwriting style and lo-fi sound that would define his early work, such as Cherry Peel and The Gay Parade.  There are some songs like "Drachnids" and "Propaganda" that I find myself going back to, but overall it is just a unique look into the mind of a young Kevin.  That said, if you're lucky enough to have one of the other 682 copies out there, I hope you keep them safe and give them a listen every once in awhile.

17. The Bird Who Continues to Eat the Rabbit's Flower (Kindercore - 1999)

There are a lot of catchy songs from the first few years, but "If I Faltered Slightly Twice" might top them all.  That song, combined with "You Are an Airplane" make this EP a good listen.  The full 9-track re-release contains some covers that are good, yet not terribly essential or exciting.  It is worth a listen for sure, but it is likely you'll pick your favorites and let the rest pass you by.  

16. Aldhils Arboretum (Kindercore - 2002)

Something I do love about this album is that every song has a unique story to tell.  It just doesn't have that defined sound that its predecessor Coquelicot or the follow-up Satanic Panic had, leaving it feeling somewhat disjointed at times.  From the documentary and what I've read, this album was the one that Kevin had the least creative control on.  Some people might like the diversity and cleaner, more guitar-driven sound, but to me it is one of the staler releases, seeming less like an album and more of a collection of singles. "An Ode to the Nocturnal Muse" and "Kissing in the Grass" are both standout tracks, but my favorite song from this album and one of my most listened to songs ever has to be "Jennifer Louise", which embodies all that is right with this album: witty, catchy, story-driven and thought provoking.

15. The Early Four Track Recordings (Kindercore - 2001)

This collection of early songs is my favorite of the pre-Cherry Peel compilations, though it is sometimes hard to remember which song I want to listen to since the titles serve no purpose except to tell a strange story about Dustin Hoffman.  Even so, I will never forget that the one-two punch of "Dustin Hoffman Does Not Resist the Temptation to Eat the Bathtub" and "Dustin Hoffman's Wife Comes Home" are some of the very best early Kevin Barnes songs.  It may not be an album you listen to all of the time or think about, but it is definitely worth an occasional spin.  

14. Horse & Elephant Eatery (No Elephants Allowed): The Singles and Songles Album (Bar/None - 2000)

It is impressive how well this collection flows together, seeing as it is a compilation of b-sides, rare tracks and unreleased songs from the early years of the band.  The funny storytelling aspects are there, with each song telling its own little tale with new characters introduced second to second.  It is unlikely to convince someone the value of early of Montreal music if they don't already enjoy it, but it is essential for those who already do. "Scenes From My Funeral" is a personal favorite, as well as "The Problem With April".  

13. Daughter of Cloud (Polyvinyl - 2012)

This compilation of unreleased songs and rarities from the golden age of Barnes (Hissing Fauna, Skeletal, etc.) has some real gems.  The opening track, "Our Love is Senile", is one of the true standouts, as is "Tender FAx".  There are a couple of songs that could have stayed unreleased, but overall, this is easily the best of the unreleased/rarity compilations from the band.  Check out the version of "Feminine Effects" from this album featuring Rebecca Cash's vocals, which gives it an interesting feel as compared to the numerous other versions I've heard (my personal favorite being from the Deerhoof split).

12. False Priest (Polyvinyl - 2010)

False Priest gets a bad wrap for having to follow-up a string of increasingly popular and acclaimed albums.  I still remember this being hyped more than any other of Montreal album, thanks to the featured artists and the Jon Brion production.  In the end, it is a good album, just not a great one.  When it hits, it hits hard, with songs like "I Feel Ya Strutter", "Sex Karma" and "Girl Named Hello" being among my favorite Kevin songs.  But half of the tracks sound more like over-produced R&B remixes of outtakes from previous albums than the ever-evolving and unique sound we had come to expect from Kevin at this point.  Admittedly though, I definitely have days where I need to listen to something and only False Priest will do.  

11. Aureate Gloom (Polyvinyl - 2015)

Released two years after LousyAureate Gloom keeps the full band rock feel from its predecessor and takes it to much darker places (with the genre addition of "alternative country" poking in from time to time).  It has some great late-prediod of Montreal songs, in particular "Bassem Sabry", "Empyrean Abattoir"and "Virgillian Lots", but overall, the songwriting is less consistent than the previous effort, particularly on the second side.  That being said, "Estocadas" is one of the coolest deep-cut of Montreal songs.  A year later and I think it is still growing on, so who knows how much it will rise or fall on this list over time.

10. Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse (Kindercore - 2001)

While The Gay Parade has whimsy in spades, I don't think Kevin ever delved as far into the world of fantastical storytelling as he did here on Coquelicot.  Each songs transports you into another interesting tale that gives insight into the strange fantasy world of early of Montreal, with character-based songs like "Penelope" and "Rose Robert" standing out as some of the early best.  The back half features some of his better piano-based songs, such as "Let's Go For a Walk", "It's Just So" and "A Dreamy Day of Dreaming of You".  Nothing can quite compare to the 17+ minute closing piano masterpiece, "The Hopeless Opus or the Great Battle of the Unfriendly Ridiculous", which showcases the true instrumental and songwriting talent of Kevin Barnes. 

9. The Gay Parade (Bar/None - 1999)

After a lo-fi indie rock masterpiece, Kevin wanted to introduce us to a new world, and he did that exceptionally well on his third album.  The Gay Parade, similar to Coquelicot, focuses on many fantastical characters, from the "Fun Loving Nun" to the "Miniature Philosopher", each with their own witty song.  What makes this such a great concept album is the feeling of unity throughout.  None of the characters are directly related, but the storytelling style and the songwriting makes one feel as if this could be a fantastical collection of short stories set to music.  The last song, "Nickee Coco and the Invisible Tree", really ties it all together perfectly though, giving us the wonderful anthem chorus to close out the album and a funny story to go along with it.  This is the most-lighthearted listen if you're looking for a purely good time.  

8. The Sunlandic Twins (Polyvinyl - 2005)

Putting this album as low as number 8 feels very wrong, because it is an incredible album and really helped get me into of Montreal, but there are just so many great albums that this is where it happens to land.  From start to finish, some of Kevin's best melodies are across this synth and dance driven classic.  "Wraith Pinned to the Mist & Other Games" is the reason most casual listeners know the band, and that paired with "Requiem for O.M.M.2" and you already have two amazing hits.  But some of the darker side of this record, like "I Was a Landscape in Your Dream", are true standouts.  If you're looking for an entertaining listen and like the more danceable aspects of the band, this might be the album you find yourself coming back to most frequently.

7. Lousy With Sylvianbriar (Polyvinyl - 2013)

After years of songs dwelling in Kevin's head until he fleshes them out on a computer mostly relying on his own instrumentation, of Montreal once again became a band.  The result is a record that sounds like it could have just as easily been recorded in 1969 as 2013.  What makes this record such a standout in the catalog isn't the newfound sound however, it is the superb songwriting, not reliant on production or expansive instrumentation.  "She Ain't Speakin' Now", "Triumph of Disintegration", "Obsidian Currents" and "Raindrop in my Skull" are some of Kevin's best songs, not to mention the 7" single from this era, "Jigsaw Puzzle".  It may have turned off some fans of the mid-00's sound, but to me, it was a welcome break to showcase one of the best melody writers of our time at his best.  

6. Innocence Reaches (Polyvinyl - 2016)

Sure, this is probably a high ranking for an album that just came out, but I literally cannot stop listening to Innocence Reaches.  I wasn't as opposed to the Lousy/Aureate style as some other fans were, but I also didn't realize how much I missed electronic of Montreal.  This is the best of both worlds, alternating between highly danceable tunes like "it's different for girls" and my personal favorite "let's relate" with the psychedelic rock, full-band songs like "chaos arpeggiating" and "les chants de maldoror".  The two most intriguing songs to me that could be major jumping-off points for the next album are "ambassador bridge" and "nursing slopes", both combining the different sounds of the rest of the album very effectively into low-key and catchy tracks.  The future is bright and I couldn't be happier with the new record, critics be damned! 

5. Cherry Peel (Bar/None - 1997)

This is where it all began, and stands alone in the catalog as the only album that really sounds totally raw and unpolished.  Kevin Barnes had spent years writing catchy, pop-jingles and decided to record them however he wanted to and in the process, made a should-be indie rock classic.  "Everything Disappears When You Come Around" is hilarious and catchy beyond belief. "I Can't Stop Your Memory" is a beautiful song. "Don't Ask Me To Explain" is one of the best of Montreal songs. "Tim Wish You Were Born a Girl" is frequently stuck in my head and is a great example of the band's versatility, even from an early age.  And that is just naming a few of the 14 incredible songs that opened up an amazing career (that sounds little to nothing like it for the most part, outside of the humorous and pop-sensible songwriting).  If you're a fan of the later classic oM albums but could never get into the early sound, try again and start here.

4. Paralytic Stalks (Polyvinyl - 2012)

Paralytic Stalks moves all over this list.  When it came out, I really didn't like it.  Then, a few years later, it was one of my all time favorites.  As for now, well it still remains closer to the top. It has some of my all time favorite of Montreal songs, like "Spiteful Intervention" and "Dour Percentage", but it also has songs like "Exorcismic Breeding Knife", which are long and fail to really develop or catch my interest.  The best example of this might be the closing track, "Authentic Pyrrhic Remission", which opens with an incredibly catchy song, followed by 5+ minutes of random ambient noises and light instrumentation before closing with a beautiful 2 minute piano-based song. All things considered, the sound that Kevin developed on here is absolutely outstanding and is unlike anything else he has ever done.  "Wintered Debts" and "Gelid Ascent" are both excellent showcases for this expansive sound, and if you, like me, didn't enjoy it when it first came out, give it another try. It might just be the best album you've ever heard. 

3. Satanic Panic in the Attic (Polyvinyl - 2004)

Satanic Panic in the Attic is the turning point.  The point at which of Montreal became less of a band and became more of Kevin Barnes' therapy sessions with himself recorded that us fans are lucky enough to here.  This is where the layered vocal harmonies all singing whatever the hell they want to began ("Lysergic Bliss").  This is where Kevin showed that he could produce an all-over the place song, but keep it catchy enough to have it be a single ("Disconnect the Dots").  He showed that he could still write a nice slower acoustic song ("City Bird").  Basically, he showed that there is nothing he cannot do, and is one of the all time greatest musicians.  There might be more compelling singles on some other albums, but overall, this is one of his most consistently amazing albums.  

2. Skeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl - 2008)

I will never understand how the first reviews of Skeletal Lamping were anything but glowing.  Kevin Barnes perfectly emulates his two biggest idols, Prince and Bowie, and makes a glam-funk masterpiece. Most of the songs are actually 3-4 different songs slapped together, with unexpected twists and turns every couple of minutes, yet somehow flowing as a single piece start to finish.  "Touched Something's Hollow" and "An Eluardian Instance" couldn't be more different songs, but they piece together magnificently.  The Georgie Fruit character is in full force, with songs like "St. Exquisite's Confessions" and "For Our Elegant Caste" giving his character the voice it needs, while other songs like "Beware Our Nubile Miscreants" combine Georgie's elaborate sexuality with Barne's storytelling prowess.  The real highlight here might be the 7-minute long "Plastis Wafers", which nails every thing I love about of Montreal perfectly. 

1. Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (Polyvinyl - 2007)

This is the obvious choice, but that doesn't make it the wrong choice.  Hissing Fauna is Kevin Barnes' masterpiece, with classic lyrics, melodies, harmonies, production, instrumentation and everything else in between, from start to finish.  Everything is polished just enough, while keeping the rawer, more indie sound that had always defined of Montreal, in tact.  But what truly makes this album one of the best ever recorded is the fact that it is a quasi-concept album of two characters, divided by 12-minute long "The Past is a Grotesque Animal".  The first half of the album is the autobiographical, "Kevin" side.  "Suffer for Fashion" is one of his best album openers, followed by the connected, darker tracks "Sink the Seine" and "Cato as a Pun".  "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse" and "Gronlandic Edit" might be the two best songs of Montreal ever recorded, the latter in particular standing out as Kevin's true classic.  The catchy "A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger" serves as the perfect lead in to the aforementioned "Grotesque Animal".  

Somewhere into the magnificent 12-minutes however, Kevin Barnes in his depressed state, mourning the end (and later rebirth) of his relationship with Nina, becomes his alter-ego who would exist on the next few albums to come.  Georgie Fruit, who would play a much bigger role on Skeletal Lamping, glides seamlessly into the fold, with "Bunny Ain't no Kind of Rider" and "Faberge Falls for Shuggie", (which takes the time to announced the next three album titles in the catchiest of manners). The last three songs keep up this excellent, more danceable vibe.  

Since my original copy of this album was on vinyl, I actually had no idea that "Du Og Meg", "Voltaic Crusher/Undrum to Muted Da", "Derailments in a Place of Our Own" and "No Conclusion" were in fact not part of this original album but instead 4/5 songs from the EP Icons, Abstract Thee.  Thus, I am counting that EP as part of Hissing Fauna.  It would still be #1 without these songs, but they add so much more to an already perfect album, particularly "No Conclusion", which is one of the all-time greatest breakup songs.  

If you've never heard it, you're truly missing out.  That goes for this album, and most all of the rest of them.  I hope you've enjoyed reading this ranking of albums.  If you already listen to of Montreal, I'm sure you hate most of this list because your favorite could easily be any one of these.  If you don't already listen to of Montreal, give it a try, you're missing out.  

Monday, February 29, 2016

A way too early look at 30 films that could be 2016's Oscar contenders


Now that another season of predicting winners and nominees from movies that many of us have seen and read extensively about, we now have 365 days until we get this feeling of relief again.  But it is never too early to look and see what might be the major players for next years award season.  Obviously, many of these films I am basing this off of concept, cast and director alone.  By this time next year, half of these films being in the conversation for an award will be laughable at best.  For now, it sure is fun to look ahead and see what we might be talking about in the same light we are currently discussing Spotlight, The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Big Short right now.  

30. LBJ

Director: Rob Reiner

Lead Actors: Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, C. Thomas Howell, Jeffery Donovan

Release Date: TBA 2016

IMDB Synopsis: The story of U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson from his young days in West Texas to the White House. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: This, if anything, seems like a great vehicle for Woody Harrelson to get a nomination.  Presidential biopics always have potential if done well, even if they are about one of the least liked presidents in recent history.  Rob Reiner is a trusted name and is always liable to put out something significant.

29. Lion

Director: Garth Davis

Lead Actors: Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman, Dev Patel, David Wenham

Release Date: TBA 2016

IMDB Synopsis: A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: There is a chance that this film doesn't go very far into awards season, but it is getting some early hype, and could easily be one of the more touching movies of the year.  With a cast that includes two time nominee Rooney Mara and former winner Nicole Kidman, there is a lot of potential for this to pull an acting nomination.  If it is absolutely outstanding, who knows how far it could go.

28. Una

Director: Benedict Andrews

Lead Actors: Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn, Indira Varma

Release Date: TBA 2016

IMDB Synopsis: When a young woman unexpectedly arrives at an older man's workplace, looking for answers, the secrets of the past threaten to unravel his new life. Their confrontation will uncover buried memories and unspeakable desires. It will shake them both to the core. (IMDB link)

Why it could be a contender: I have a feeling that this could be the year that Rooney Mara begins to become that perennial contender that instantly makes a movie jump into the conversation.  It seems like her, Brie Larson and Alicia Vikander are on their way to becoming the new it-girls in terms of the Oscars.  This movie is from a rookie director, so there is a chance that it completely bombs, but the premise seems interesting enough on paper that if it could pull in Mara, it could perhaps pull us in as well.

27. Loving

Director: Jeff Nichols

Lead Actors: Joel Edgerton, Michael Shannon, Marton Csokas, Nick Kroll and Ruth Negga

Release Date: TBA 2016

IMDB Synopsis: Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: It seems like Hollywood might have foreseen backlash at the lack of diverse film offerings in 2015, because there are a lot of movies that scream Oscar nominee on paper that deal with racial issues.  The first on this list is about an interracial couple and is directed by Jeff Nichols, who was responsible for 2012's outstanding film Mud.  It is a little strange to see names like Nick Kroll high up on the cast list, but one never knows how well they might transition into a film about more serious subject matter (no offense to Kroll, who is frequently hilarious).  

26. Free State of Jones

Director: Gary Ross

Lead Actors: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keri Russell, Sean Bridgers

Release Date: May 13th, 2016

IMDB Synopsis: Set during the Civil War, Free State of Jones tells the story of defiant Southern farmer, Newt Knight, and his extraordinary armed rebellion against the Confederacy. Banding together with other small farmers and local slaves, Knight launched an uprising that led Jones County, Mississippi to secede from the Confederacy, creating a Free State of Jones. Knight continued his struggle into Reconstruction, distinguishing him as a compelling, if controversial, figure of defiance long beyond the War. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: Finally a film with a release date! In May... While that isn't usually the time you put out Academy friendly movies, I'm putting this one on here because it seems like the type of movie that could get a bunch of technical nominations and perhaps sway a few voters to give it a look for picture if it ends up being anything more than a summer blockbuster.  McConaughey hasn't been pitching a perfect game since his breakout 2013, but he has been frequently solid and there is no reason to think that it stops this year.  And Gary Ross did have Oscar nomination success with his 2003 film Seabiscuit.  

25. The Promise

Director: Terry George

Lead Actors: Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac, Shohreh Aghadashloo, Charlotte Le Bon, James Cromwell

Release Date: TBA 2016

IMDB Synopsis: Set during the last days of the Ottoman Empire, The Promise follows a love triangle between Michael, a brilliant medical student, the beautiful and sophisticated Ana, and Chris - a renowned American journalist based in Paris. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: There isn't much to go off of on this premise, but the director is responsible for writing and directing Hotel Rwanda, so he has the pedigree.  Christian Bale is becoming another yearly fixture and has been elevating the films he has been in for years, and Oscar Isaac is looking to become the same thing over the next few years.  The love-triangle set in the fall of the Ottoman empire could end up being a winning concept, and this certainly seems like the type of film that could generate acting nominations.  

24. The Light Between Oceans

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Lead Actors: Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender, Rachel Weisz

Release Date: September 2nd, 2016

IMDB Synopsis: A lighthouse keeper and his wife living off the coast of Western Australia raise a baby they rescue from an adrift rowboat. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: The Place Beyond the Pines was wildly underrated, and I could see director Cianfrance making a comeback with this film.  The trailer was recently released and actually made me even more excited for this movie, moving it up a few spots on the list.  It is based on a best selling book, starring two Oscar winners and a perennial nominee and looks to tell a moving story, there is no reason that this won't be a fantastic film.  

23. Manchester By the Sea

Director: Kenneth Lonergan

Lead Actors: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Gretchen Mol, Kyle Chandler, Kara Hayward

Release Date: January 23rd, 2016 (Sundance), TBA 2016 (Wide Release)

IMDB Synopsis: An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy's father dies. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: I have not seen this film yet, but the reviews from Sundance were outstanding.  Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams were highly praised, and the film itself was incredibly well received (8.9 IMDB/94% Rotten Tomatoes).  The premise is vague and I haven't wanted to read too deeply into the reviews as to not get anything spoiled, but from what I have read it seems like this could end up being one of this year's Sundance heavyweights.  

22. The Accountant

Director: Gavin O'Connor

Lead Actors: Anna Kendrick, Ben Affleck, Jon Bernthal, J.K. Simmons, Jeffrey Tambor, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, John Lithgow

Release Date: October 7th, 2016

IMDB Synopsis: A forensic accountant un-cooks the books for illicit clients. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: Okay, I realize this is likely way too much faith to put into a Ben Affleck accounting drama.  But based on the director, the extensive cast including J.K. Simmons, Jeffrey Tambor and Anna Kendrick, and the October release date, I am putting faith in this movie with a one sentence synopsis that could either come off as cliche and boring or fascinating and award-worthy.  

21. A Monster Calls

Director: J.A. Bayona

Lead Actors: Felicity Jones, Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell, Geraldine Chaplin, Lewis MacDougall

Release Date: October 14th, 2016

IMDB Synopsis: The monster does not come walking often. This time it comes to Connor, and it asks for the one thing Connor cannot bring himself to do. Tell the truth. This is a very touching story about a boy who feels very damaged, guilty and mostly angry. He struggles at school with bullies, and pity looks from everyone, and at home with his mother's sickness. Will Connor overcome his problems? Will everything be okay? Will Connor be able to speak the truth?

A boy seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mom's terminal illness.
(IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: Unless this completely bombs, I would expect to see this in the Adapted Screenplay category if nothing else.  I have not read the book, but I've heard that is excellent and has the potential to become a great movie.  I get Pan's Labyrinth vibes from reading the plot description and the early photographs that have come out definitely give the film a darker look.  That combined with a cast of favorites, including Felicity Jones and Liam Neeson, and I think this is a film with a great deal of potential.  

20. Florence Foster Jenkins

Director: Stephen Frears

Lead Actors: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Helberg

Release Date: May 6th, 2016 (UK)

IMDB Synopsis: The story of Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York heiress, who dreamed of becoming an opera singer, despite having a terrible singing voice. (IMDB link)

Why it could be a contender: There still isn't a listed US release date for this, and it definitely seems silly in concept but think about it. Meryl Streep as an heiress who wants to become an opera singer, despite being terrible and being taught by Hugh Grant.  Maybe it ends up just being a fun little British comedy, but maybe it is one of those surprise movies that is heartfelt and clever enough to make some noise.

19. A United Kingdom

Director: Amma Asante

Lead Actors: Rosamund Pike, Tom Felton, Laura Carmichael, Jack Davenport, David Oyelowo

Release Date: TBA 2016

IMDB Synopsis: Prince Seretse Khama of Botswana causes an international stir when he marries a white woman from London in the late 1940s. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: Part of the reason that Loving was all the way down at #27 was because there is another historical film centered around an interracial marriage that seemed like it could be more likely to make a run at awards season.  A cast including David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike is a good starting place, but I'm actually basing a big part of this decision on the director.  She previously director a smaller independent film, Belle, which was quite well done, and given a more star studded cast and a larger production budget, I believe she could make something incredible.  

18. Sully

Director: Clint Eastwood

Lead Actors: Tom Hanks, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn, Autumn Reeser, Aaron Eckhart

Release Date: September 9th, 2016

IMDB Synopsis: On January 15, 2009, the world witnessed the "Miracle on the Hudson" when Captain "Sully" Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) glided his disabled plane onto the frigid waters of the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 aboard. However, even as Sully was being heralded by the public and the media for his unprecedented feat of aviation skill, an investigation was unfolding that threatened to destroy his reputation and his career. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: It might be unwise to have a Clint Eastwood/Tom Hanks collaboration this low on the list.  I'm just not sure the world is ready for another heroic Tom Hanks as a captain in a dire situation film yet, only three years removed from Captain Phillips.  But, Sully is a well-known American hero and Clint Eastwood is a well-known American director who is prone to making popular movies about American heroes (see: American Sniper), so there is a chance that this ends up being not only a box office smash, but an award's season smash as well.  

17. Untitled Woody Allen Film

Director: Woody Allen

Lead Actors: Blake Lively, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, Anna Camp, Parker Posey

Release Date: October 12th, 2016 (France)

IMDB Synopsis: The Plot is Unknown (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: Betting for Woody Allen films is really risky.  Midnight in Paris was one of my favorite movies of the past 10 years, and earned a lot of nominations and a win. The follow-up film a year later was not well received.  Then, he helped Cate Blanchett earn Oscar gold with Blue Jasmine, but his two films since that have not had the same success.  He has always been a hit-or-miss director, but lately it is a little more erratic.  That being said, the cast could be an interesting mix for Allen and the very few shots that have come from set are exciting to say the least. I would look for this to be a movie with a low floor but a very high ceiling, and could be another Midnight in Paris surprise.  I could also see this being another successful role for Carrell that could be another nomination.  

16. Deep Water

Director: James Marsh

Lead Actors: Rachel Weisz, Colin Firth, David Thewlis

Release Date: TBA 2016

IMDB Synopsis: Yachtsman Donald Crowhurst's disastrous attempt to win the 1968 Golden Globe Race ends up with him creating an outrageous account of traveling the world alone by sea. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: I was a fan of James Marsh's last film, The Theory of Everything, though I think it benefitted a great deal from having a really good story to tell.  It looks like he might have found another very entertaining, yet less well known story.  This sounds like it could be a hilarious vehicle for Colin Firth, who can be quite funny when he needs to be.  On paper, it seems like the type of film that could be successful at combining humor and suspense, much like The Martian this year.  Or it could end up being Firth looking goofy on a boat for two hours.

15. Money Monsters

Director: Jodie Foster

Lead Actors: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Caitriona Balfe, Jack O'Connell

Release Date: May 13th, 2016

IMDB Synopsis: In the taut and tense thriller Money Monster, Lee Gates (George Clooney) is a bombastic TV personality whose popular financial network show has made him the money wiz of Wall Street. But after he hawks a high tech stock that mysteriously crashes, an irate investor (Jack O'Connell) takes Gates, his crew, and his ace producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) hostage live on air. Unfolding in real time, Gates and Fenn must find a way to keep themselves alive while simultaneously uncovering the truth behind a tangle of big money lies. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: The first trailer I saw for this made it look like it could either be a by-the-books predictable thriller or a very interesting film that combines suspense with the economic world. I trust Jodie Foster with the cast, so I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt and assuming it is more the latter.  My only fear is the release date, since, as I mentioned with an earlier movie, May is not really the time you put out a movie if you plan for it to be a major award's season player (though that general rule has been broken with 2014's Grand Budapest Hotel in March and 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road in June).  This could be a mediocre economic thriller, or it could be this year's The Big Short or Wolf of Wall Street meets Argo.  Time will tell.

14. Brain on Fire

Director: Gerard Barrett

Lead Actors: Chloë Grace Moretz, Richard Armitage, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jenny Slate, Tyler Perry

Release Date: TBA 2016

IMDB Synopsis: A look at a young woman's rapid descent into insanity. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: Another best-seller being adapted means another chance for a screenwriting award, but I also think that there is a chance this is a bigger player when it is all said and done.  Moretz seems like she is on the verge of a breakthrough role and a drama dealing with a descent into insanity could be that role.  The director doesn't have a long list of achievements, but that doesn't mean that this won't be the film to take him over the top.  As trailers and more information rolls out, this could move way up on the list or off of the map completely.  

13. Book of Henry

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Lead Actors: Jacob Tremblay, Naomi Watts, Lee Pace, Sarah Silverman, Dean Norris, Maddie Ziegler, Bobby Moynihan

Release Date: TBA 2016/ October 26th, 2016 (Germany)

IMDB Synopsis: Plot kept under wraps. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: Jacob Tremblay, particularly after charming the entire audience at Dolby Theater last night, is about to become everyone's go to dramatic child actor, and for good reason.  His performance in Room was outstanding.  This is a film with no information as to the plot yet, but knowing he is in it and the future director of Star Wars IX (who is also responsible for Jurassic World and Safety Not Guaranteed) is in the directors seat is comforting.  It may end up being an Academy unfriendly blockbuster, or it could be that surprise late release that throws the whole awards out of whack.  

12. HHhH

Director: Cédric Jimenez

Lead Actors: Rosamund Pike, Mia Wasikowska, Jack O'Connel, Jason Clarke, Jack Reynor

Release Date: TBA 2016

IMDB Synopsis: 1942: The Third Reich is at its peak. The Czech resistance in London decides to plan the most ambitious military operation of WWII: Anthropoid. Two young recruits in their late twenties, Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, are sent to Prague to assassinate the most ruthless Nazi leader - Reich-protector Reinhard Heydrich, Head of the SS, the Gestapo, and the architect of the "Final Solution". (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: World War II films have long been successful at the Oscars.  From the plot description, it sounds like this film could fall into the category of drama, in which case it has award-season bait written all over it, or action thriller, in which case enjoy it and don't cross your fingers for nominations.  I think it might end up being a successful combination of the two, filled with up and coming actors and actresses (seriously, Jack O'Connel continues to amaze).  

11. Untitled Robert Zemiciks WWII Romance

Director: Robert Zemiciks

Lead Actors: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris

Release Date: November 23rd, 2016

IMDB Synopsis: Set in 1942 following a spy who falls in love and marries a French agent during a dangerous North African mission. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: It may seem foolish to predict awards for movies that have little plot details and no titles, but based on release date, actors, synopsis, directors, really everything about this movie is calling out to be contender.  Zemeciks was thought to maybe jump back onto the Oscar train this last year with The Walk, but that didn't go as well as planned.  Something about this seems different, and if the November 23rd release date is any sign, they feel the same way I do.  I think the real question is, can a film that is just now filming and has a current cast of three people legitimately be finished in time for November.

10. Weightless

Director: Terrence Malick

Lead Actors: Christian Bale, Michael Fassbender, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Ryan Gosling, Haley Bennett, Benicio Del Toro, Val Kilmer, Holly Hunter

Release Date: TBA 2016

IMDB Synopsis: Two intersecting love triangles. Obsession and betrayal set against the music scene in Austin, Texas. (IMDB link)

Why it could be a contender: Terrence Malick is a director that can have movies like Thin Red Line or Tree of Life that firmly plant themselves in Oscar contention, as well as movies that are just too artistic or confusing for the major voting bodies to get behind.  Based on the brief plot description and the immense cast, I have a feeling this has the potential to be his most awards season friendly movie, and may well be a firm Best Picture contender depending on how it turns out.  Time will tell, and with Knight of Cups (also directed by Malick) coming out soon, it begs to question whether or not this will even be released in 2016. 

9. Passengers

Director: Morten Tyldum

Lead Actors: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburn

Release Date: December 21st, 2016

IMDB Synopsis: A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 60 years early. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: Since Gravity, space movies have firmly been in Oscar contention year in and year out, with Interstellar garnering tech awards and nominations and this year's The Martian even getting a Best Picture nod.  With Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, two of Hollywood's hottest actors, in the lead roles, this could be this year's science fiction epic that surprises everyone by becoming a financial and critical success.

8. The Zookeeper's Wife

Director: Niko Caro

Lead Actors: Jessica Chastain, Daniel Brühl, Iddo Goldberg, Michael McElhatton

Release Date: TBA 2016

IMDB Synopsis: The Zookeeper's Wife tells the account of keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, Jan and Antonina Zabinski, who helped save hundreds of people and animals during the Nazi invasion. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: There are a lot of book adaptations that look good on paper for this year's ceremony.  I put this as the top of this year's WWII fare because I think it has the most potential in concept.  If anything, this seems like the kind of role that could garner Chastain another nomination.  

7. La La Land

Director: Damien Chazelle

Lead Actors: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, J.K. Simmons, Finn Wittrock, Sonoya Mizuno, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend

Release Date: July 15th, 2016

IMDB Synopsis: A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: A comedy-drama-musical about Los Angeles that comes out in the middle of the summer is probably not the best thing to put your money on, but I saw Whiplash and I know how much potential Damien Chazelle has.  Pairing him with J.K. Simmons is definitely going to get me excited, and it has been awhile since we've had a musical make very much noise in award's season.  This could be the one to change that, with an all star cast and a seemingly relatable premise.  I'm happy that Chazelle is, for the time being, sticking to jazz themed movies.  

6. Story of Your Life

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Lead Actors: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Michael Stuhlbarg, Forrest Whitaker 

Release Date: TBA 2016

IMDB Synopsis: Taking place after alien crafts land around the world, an expert linguist is recruited by the military to determine whether they come in peace or are a threat. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: I already had one science fiction film highly ranked on this list, but based on recent years it really does seem like it is safe to assume one will be an award's season player.  This could end up being a flashy movie without much to say, but I'm putting faith in Adams and Renner to deliver up the most clever science fiction film of the year.  A linguist attempting to interpret alien communication could be the coolest concept of the year if it is properly executed. 

5. The Birth of a Nation

Director: Nate Parker

Lead Actors: Armie Hammer, Nate Parker, Jackie Earle Haley

Release Date: October 7th, 2016

IMDB Synopsis: Set against the antebellum South, THE BIRTH OF A NATION follows Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher, whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner, accepts an offer to use Nat's preaching to subdue unruly slaves. As he witnesses countless atrocities - against himself and his fellow slaves - Nat orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: It is hard to really pick an adequate spot for this movie.  On one hand it was the highest cost purchase at Sundance this year, so studios definitely think it could make a run. That being said, I am seeing some more mixed reviews following the festival.  Some think it is a masterpiece about a difficult issue and praise how raw of an effort it is from an amateur director, while others criticize the directing and cannot see it really making a major run at the top prize.  Time will tell, and it will be interesting to see if it is worth the fortune paid.  

4. Nocturnal Animals

Director: Tom Ford

Lead Actors: Amy Adams, Isla Fisher, Jake Gyllenhaal, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Armie Hammer, Michael Shannon

Release Date: TBA 2016

IMDB Synopsis: A "story inside a story," in which the first part follows a woman named Susan who receives a book manuscript from her ex-husband, a man whom she left 20 years earlier, asking for her opinion. The second element follows the actual manuscript, called "Nocturnal Animals," which revolves around a man whose family vacation turns violent and deadly. It also continues to follow the story of Susan, who finds herself recalling her first marriage and confronting some dark truths about herself.

Based on Austin Wright's book 'Tony and Susan'. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: Based on concept alone, this would be my top pick of the year.  The split-narrative element could become distracting or it could make this a movie for the ages.  The cast alone had me excited, as well as the director's debut "A Single Man", which was excellent.  It seems like a risky movie that could end up being phenomenal, or crash and burn before we even hit the Golden Globes.  

3. The Founder

Director: John Lee Hancock

Lead Actors: Linda Cardellini, Michael Keaton, Patrick Wilson, Nick Offerman, Laura Dern, B.J. Novak

Release Date: November 25th, 2016

IMDB Synopsis: The story of McDonald's founder, Ray Kroc. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: At this point it would be silly to bet against a Keaton led film, after two straight Best Picture wins.  It is a biopic about a well known figure, giving the film high potential to be a major awards season player.  Could this be Keaton's win after seeming a lock early in 2014 only to lose momentum at the last minute?  I would bet that it will be in the conversation if he does half as well as he did in Birdman and Spotlight.  

2. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Director: Ang Lee

Lead Actors: Vin Diesel, Kristin Stewart, Garrett Hedlund, Steve Martin, Chris Tucker, 

Release Date: November 11th, 2016

IMDB Synopsis: An infantryman recounts the final hours before he and his fellow soldiers return to Iraq. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: Ang Lee is a bit hit or miss with the Oscars, but he does have two best director statues to his name and a war themed dramedy seems like another movie that could certainly garner recognition.  Being able to pull in Steve Martin for his first live-action film since the early 2010's is a big win already.  Based on an already award-winning novel, there is a good chance that this could be one of the films we're still talking about this time next year. 

1. Silence

Director: Martin Scorsese

Lead Actors: Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Ciarán Hinds

Release Date: TBA 2016

IMDB Synopsis: In the seventeenth century, two Jesuit priests face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and propagate Christianity. (IMDB link

Why it could be a contender: This movie has been hyped for a few years now, and Scorsese has been on a roll recently (not that he ever really was in a slump).  It is going to be strange seeing a late career Scorsese film without Leonardo DiCaprio in the staring role, but a surging Adam Driver and an always solid Liam Neeson as the leads in a religious action-drama sounds like a winning combination.  When trailers begin to surface and more is known about this movie, it'll be easier to see if it is more The Departed or Goodfellas Scorsese, with the potential to go all the way, or if it is Bringing Out the Dead or Shutter Island Scorsese that, while still great, isn't award season great.