Genre Circuit: First Half of the Year Oscar Contenders

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We’re officially at the halfway point of 2019. With “Best Of So Far” lists being released this week pertaining to the strongest movies of the year so far, it’s time that “Genre Circuit” jumped in on the action. In this instance, we’re looking at five of the most formidable Oscar contenders to emerge from the yearly slate of movies. Featuring an instant horror classic, a soulful biopic, a magical musical, a climactic showdown, and a childhood goodbye, here are the five early awards favorites.

“Aladdin” (Walt Disney Pictures)
Directed by Guy Ritchie

Guy Ritchie’s live-action adaptation cast a spell of wonder and exuberance, finally reclaiming the Disney magic of yore. Though wish as hard as he might, Will Smith won’t be receiving any “Best Supporting Actor” recognition despite giving his own whimsical spin on everyone’s favorite genie. What’s likely in the Oscar mix is “Speechless,” (written by Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, and eight-time Academy Award-winner Alan Menken) an empowering pop ballad about overcoming the systemic eradication of the female voice. The song features a memorable reprisal sequence that is the big takeaway from the reimagining – though its musical play “aside” execution has received polarizing reactions. Still, it’s catchy and plows through with force, much like “Let It Go.” Plus, how could Academy members resist the awesomeness of seeing Naomi Scott vocally slay the song on stage with show-stopping gusto? That would leave audiences, well, speechless.

“Avengers: Endgame” (Marvel Studios)
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo

Thanos may be defeated, but the biggest enemy is still to come: the Academy Awards. At the time of this publication, “Avengers: Endgame” has yet to replace “Avatar” from its reigning spot atop the all-time box office earners. Breaking that record would have been quite the advantage, highlighted in every awards campaign ad. For now, Disney will just have to settle with its pop culture dominance throughout the decade, culminating in this long-awaited battle royale of superheroes. “Best Visual Effects” might be the token win the franchise will have to settle for, though it pales in comparison to “Infinity War’s” meticulous attention to detail in the midst of unrelenting frenzy.

Marvel chief Kevin Feige is surely attempting to mount an acting campaign for Robert Downey, Jr. given the quippy thespians past ties. However, the performance quality itself might be overblown due to Iron Man’s tragic character fate. If the Disney awards strategists gambled on Chris Evans — someone who is beloved in Hollywood on and off screen but yet to nab that penultimate role – they could potentially secure a spot for him if the “Best Actor” field is on the weaker side. Evans already has his reel with that heartfelt bench scene between his Captain America and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon.

“Rocketman” (Paramount Pictures)
Directed by Dexter Fletcher

The psychedelic Elton John biopic plans to parallel “Bohemian Rhapsody’s” success at the Academy Awards. However, Paramount Pictures may not realize it faces a tougher battle. Its domestic box office returns are noteworthy against its modest budget, but internationally the rock star’s fans aren’t clamoring for a history lesson. Being released in the summer among tentpole blockbusters doesn’t give the contender a chance to distinguish itself. Furthermore, the late-year release of “Bohemian Rhapsody” meant the excitement was fresh in voter’s minds, something that won’t be the case for “Rocketman” with its early unveiling.

Still, look for Taron Edgerton to make a run for “Best Actor” since Academy voters might feel pressured to accept an iconic musician personification who actually sings. Jamie Bell and the increasingly popular Richard Madden are hoping to break into the Supporting Actor race, a category “Bohemian Rhapsody” couldn’t muster anyone into. Finally, listen up for a “Best Original Song” nomination announcement with new Elton John tune “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again.”

“Toy Story 4” (Pixar)
Directed by Josh Cooley

Josh Cooley’sToy Story 4” is hoping to repeat its predecessor’s rapturous Academy response. Andrew Stanton directed “Toy Story 3” to a “Best Picture” nomination, following in the footsteps of “Beauty and the Beast” and “Up” as the only animated films to ever be recognized in the category. While this fourth entry doesn’t quite have the critical acclaim to make it a surefire bet, there’s plenty of sentimental value that could sustain buzz all year round. Pixar’s biggest hurdle is competing with fellow Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Frozen 2,” which drops in late fall. As we saw at this year’s ceremony, sometimes the film that pushes the genre forward instead of reveling in nostalgia is the one that ends up winning the statue. Don’t be surprised if fellow actors rally around Tom Hanks to become the first-ever voice performance to be nominated for “Best Actor.”

“Us” (Universal Pictures)
Directed by Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele is angling for another major awards-run with his sophomore success. In what’s arguably the most thematically stacked horror film since “The Shining,” the question is whether “Us” can shine where Kubrick’s stunning classic could not. Lupita Nyong’o’s dual performance remains the one to beat in “Best Actress” at this stage of the year. Leftover goodwill from his scene-stealing work in “Black Panther” should buoy Winston Duke’s visibility in the “Best Supporting Actor” field. He strikes the perfect balance of ardently protective father and flat-out comedic relief amidst the home invasion mania.

“Original Screenplay” should also factor into the film’s road to the Dolby Theatre, featuring one of the most creative domestic horror narratives in recent memory. The word “tethered” has already cemented itself in pop culture lexicon despite the film’s young existence.

Do you think these films will respectively nab at least one Academy Award nomination in 2020? Let us know in the comments below, as well as your personal genre contenders from the first half of the year!

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