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An Oscars 2022 syllabus

Looking to be prepared for this fall’s awards contenders? Here are some movies to watch ahead of time.

Yes, yes, we know what you’re thinking. Oscars? 2022? In May of 2021?! We hear you. We, too, would love to merely spend the next month priming ourselves for the majesty of "F9." 

But consider how “Nomadland’s” Best Picture win (and that dubious, awkward finish to this year’s supremely unorthodox ceremony) culminated a pandemic-prolonged Academy Awards season, and we suddenly find ourselves at the onset of what’s expected to be a much shorter Academy Awards season, should the ceremony return to its February window as it most likely will. We’re only a few shorts weeks away from the release of “In the Heights,” after all, which is expected to be a major contender--and with several more delayed projects having jumping ship to 2021 from last year, it isn’t too early to begin tracking which will be buzzing the loudest come nomination morning in several months' time. 

Earlier this week, KENS 5's Jackson Floyd and film critic David Lynch had their requisite far-too-early conversation measuring up that buzz at this point. 

Here, we offer up a handful of movies to watch now in preparation for those awards-season conversations, including previous work from directors and actors expected to be in the thick of the 2022 Oscars race. The best part? They’re all available to watch today, so you can get a head start during a free afternoon or when you call in sick to work because the effects from your second COVID-19 vaccine are hitting you extra hard. 

“A Star Is Born”

Bradley Cooper’s striking, better-than-most-everyone-was-expecting 2018 directorial debut introduced us to new sides and abilities of its co-stars, Cooper and Lady Gaga. Both are returning to the big screen this year via roles with obvious awards potential; Mother Monster is following up her Oscar-nominated debut with Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci,” while Cooper is starring in Paul Thomas Anderson’s next project (code name: “Soggy Bottom”) and Guillermo Del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley.” 

Watch it on: HBO Max.

“Dreamgirls”

Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar in 2006 for playing a fictionalized singer in “Dreamgirls.” 15 years later, it isn’t too early to call her a surefire Best Actress contender as we await director Liesl Tommy’s “Respect,” in which Hudson will bring R&B icon Aretha Franklin to life on the screen. It’d do us well to reacquaint ourselves with the former American Idol finalist by revisiting her debut role.

Watch it on: HBO Max.

“Patterson” and “Logan Lucky”

When Adam Driver returns to the movies, he returns in abundance. 2021 is set to be the fourth year in the last six where the twice-Oscar-nominated actor appears in at least three major projects. Judging by his upcoming roles -- the musical romance “Annette,” Ridley Scott’s historical drama “The Last Duel” and Scott’s other 2021 movie, “House of Gucci” -- Driver will be showing off his range in upcoming months. 

It only makes sense to prepare by watching two of his lesser-seen movies that combine to show off that range he’s capable of: Steven Soderbergh’s wily “Ocean’s 11”-meets-NASCAR heist movie “Logan Lucky” and Jim Jarmusch’s quieter, pensive character study “Paterson.” 

Watch “Logan Lucky” on Hulu and “Paterson” on Amazon Prime.

“Inside Llewyn Davis” 

It can seem like the Coen Brothers have eased up on their productivity in the last half-decade, but that unfortunate realization is at least somewhat tempered by the fact we can return to “Inside Llewyn Davis,” their 2013 megamelancholy portrait of lonely artistry. As it happens, several key figures in the film’s development have strong shots at Oscar glory this year, including Oscar Isaac, starring in Paul Schrader’s gambling drama “The Card Counter”; Joel Coen, writer and director of “The Tragedy of Macbeth”; and Bruno Delbonnel, cinematographer for “The Tragedy of Macbeth” who has so far racked up five Academy Awards nominations but no wins. 

Watch it on: Amazon Prime.

“Shutter Island”

Guillermo Del Toro’s follow-up to his multi-Oscar-winning “The Shape of Water” is giving off hints of a sprawling narrative with the director’s sensibilities leaning away from fantasy and back towards horror--it’s right there in the name, “Nightmare Alley.” Whether the well-regarded Mexican filmmaker’s shiny pedigree will entice the Academy toward a genre it has continued to shy away from in recent years (with the exception of “Get Out”) remains to be seen, but this movie’s cast (Toni Collette, Bradley Cooper, David Straithairn, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara...and that’s just the start) is undeniable, with 15 acting nominations and two wins among those names alone. 

With respect to the smaller scale and ensemble of “Get Out,” you’d have to go all the way back to “Shutter Island” to find a horror/horror-adjacent movie with as big a cast of A-listers and obvious prestige potential as “Nightmare Alley” is boasting early on. Consider those parallels enough to get Martin Scorsese’s 2010 mental hospital thriller on your watch list this year, to say nothing of the fact Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio may very well jump into the Oscars 2022 race themselves if their upcoming FBI drama “Killers of the Flower Moon” is finished in time. 

Watch it on: Netflix

“West Side Story”

Steven Spielberg has his work cut out for him. The beloved 1961 original he’s adapting eventually won 10 Academy Awards -- a record at the time -- and has only maintained its status as a Hollywood classic in the 50 years since. Spielberg’s remake, starring Ansel Elgort and newcomer Rachel Zegler, stands to be one of the most-discussed movies when it comes out later this year, so 2021 is as good a time as any to revisit Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise’s original. 

Watch it on: Amazon Prime, HBO Max. 

“The Post,” “The Martian” and “The Big Short”

We’re gearing up for a Year of the Ensemble, with seemingly half of Hollywood’s most recognizable stars appearing in a handful of upcoming projects (with some overlap). Among them: Paul Thomas Anderson’s as-yet-officially untitled next movie, Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune,” Guillermo Del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley,” Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” and Steven Soderbergh’s “No Sudden Move.” The 2022 Academy Awards, then, could very well bring broad recognition of stories featuring sprawling casts--an interesting development given how the voting body’s tastes have favored smaller, more intimates films in recent years (see: this year’s Best Picture winner). 

The 2016 Academy Awards were the last time we saw a bunch of large-ensemble films up for Oscar gold, so we’d do well to catch up with “The Post,” “The Martian” and “The Big Short.” What’s more: The directors of those three movies each have new projects coming this year. 

Rent “The Post,” “The Martian” and “The Big Short” on VOD platforms. 

“Avatar”

You might have heard of it? 

No, we aren’t expecting the years-delayed sequel to James Cameron’s blockbuster to arrive in 2021, and there’s reason to suspect we may not get it next year either. What we are expecting this fall is Denis Villeneuve’s highly anticipated intergalactic fable “Dune,” which has a strong chance at being the first massive-budget sci-fi fantasy since “Avatar” to nab a Best Picture nomination in several months’ time. What better way to prepare than refamiliarizing ourselves with the last movie the Academy deemed worthy of such recognition, overlooking the CGI creatures and fantastical plot in the process? 

Plus: Mauro Fiore, the cinematographer who helped bring Cameron’s vision to Oscar-winning life, is also behind the camera for “Infinite,” a new sci-fi thriller from Antoine Fuqua that could create buzz later this year. 

Watch it on: Disney+. 

“The Mitchells vs. the Machines”

The surest thing to a potential Oscar nominee to have come out already in the young year is the widely acclaimed family comedy “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” which sees “Into the Spider-Verse” and “The LEGO Movie” creators Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s trademark brand of frenetically endearing and endearingly frenetic humor coating a robot apocalypse tale. Given the producers’ track record, it may not be too early to slot the Sony Picture Animation offering into your Best Animated Feature rankings. 

Watch it on: Netflix