Oscar season — aka winter — is upon us, meaning all the future classics are finally hitting theaters in rapid fire, just in time for us to huddle up indoors. Already identifiable are a few definite contenders: “Gone Girl,” “Boyhood” and maybe even “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Historically speaking, however, the best is yet to come. Here are five of the season’s most buzz-worthy bets for the 2015 Academy Award s, in order of release date.
“Wild” — to be released Dec. 5
Stars: Reese Witherspoon
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee of “Dallas Buyers Club” (2013)
Based on the bestselling memoir by Cheryl Strayed, “Wild” follows Witherspoon as she embarks upon a 1,100-mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. “Wild” is scripted by Nick Hornby, the man behind “High Fidelity” (2000) and “An Education” (2009). “Wild” offers a woman’s glimpse at the Great American Adventure.
“Inherent Vice” — to be released Dec. 12
Stars: Jena Malone, Reese Witherspoon, Joaquin Phoenix
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson of “There Will Be Blood” (2007)
This might be a bit more of a dark horse than a sure thing in the Oscar ring, but it’s gobbling up critical acclaim for its bizarre, artistic style and star-saturated cast (Maya Rudolph, Martin Short and Josh Brolin also make appearances). Based on the 2009 novel by postmodern literary ground-breaker Thomas Pynchon, “Inherent Vice” imagines the drug-infused streets of 1970s Los Angeles, as the newest case of private detective Doc Sportello (Phoenix) gets him tangled up with his ex-girlfriend.
“Big Eyes” — to be released Dec. 25
Stars: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Jason Schwartzman
Director: Tim Burton of “Alice in Wonderland” (2010) and “Corpse Bride” (2005)
If anyone can finally push Amy Adams into the Oscars’ winner’s circle, it’s legendary gothic auteur Tim Burton. “Big Eyes” depicts the life of famous painter Margaret Keane, whose husband notoriously nabbed credit for her life’s work. Behind the star-studded cast sits Danny Elfman, who penned the score. Sounds like a recipe for success.
“Into the Woods” — to be released Dec. 25 in the U.S.
Stars: Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick
Director: Rob Marshall of “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” (2011)
Disney’s Christmas release is an adaptation of renowned Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim’s musical by the same name. “Into the Woods” combines a hodgepodge of familiar fairy tales, giving each a bittersweet twist. For 124 minutes, Cinderella (Kendrick), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) and her Wolf (Depp), Jack of the infamous beanstalk (Daniel Huttlestone) and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) will love, grieve, search and sing together on the big screen. Hopefully, Johnny Depp will continue to honor the Sondheim tradition, after an impressive performance as the titular character in “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (2007). Undoubtedly, this musical flick will be the perfect holiday fix for show biz fanatics.
“Selma” — to be released in select cities Dec. 25, and in general theaters Jan. 9
Stars: David Oyelowo, Tim Roth, Cuba Gooding Jr.
Director: Ava DuVernay
“Selma” is a much-anticipated exploration of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Oyelowo), tracing the behind-the-scenes action of civil rights heroes from President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to Annie Lee Cooper (played by Oprah Winfrey). If it lives up to the building Oscar buzz being generated on Indiewire, director DuVernay may become “the first woman of color to ever be nominated for a Best Director Oscar.” It’s about time.
— Drew Robertson contributed to this article