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The 15 films to look forward to at next year’s Oscars. (One of them is Star Wars.)

Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens is our completely out there prediction for next year's Oscars.
Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens is our completely out there prediction for next year's Oscars.
Lucasfilm

The red carpet has been rolled up, the lights of the Dolby Theatre are dimmed, and America has added Birdman to its list of films to check out once it gets to Netflix. Yes, the Academy Awards are over, and we won't have to think about them again until nominations for the best films of 2015 are announced next January.

The 87th Oscars struggled a bit to find Oscar-friendly projects to reward. There were lots of great films in 2014, but many of them fell outside of the Academy's comfort zone.

The opposite problem exists when looking ahead to next year's awards. Now, there just might be too many Oscar-friendly projects. And that promises a very good year for film fans.

Here are 15 projects we think could have a big impact at next year's Oscars.

1) St. James Place

St. James Place

Steven Spielberg (left) and Tom Hanks just hang out with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the set of their new movie, St. James Place. No big. (Handout/Getty Images)

What is it: Tom Hanks plays a lawyer recruited by the US government to win the release of a pilot downed in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. It's based on the 1960 U2 incident.

Why it could be big: Even beyond Hanks, this project is stuffed with Academy-friendly names. Steven Spielberg is directing. Two of the credited writers on the screenplay are Joel and Ethan Coen. And the cast includes Alan Alda, Birdman co-star Amy Ryan, and great British actor Mark Rylance. I don't have to tell you how much the Academy loves British people!

Why it might struggle: If this is even moderately good, it should be in for a boatload of nominations. The Academy even showered nominations on War Horse, in terms of recent Spielberg films. What we should really be focused on is why this isn't going to win.

2) Joy

Joy

David O. Russell and Jennifer Lawrence are teaming up again for Joy. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

What is it: Jennifer Lawrence plays a single mother who invents a new kind of mop, then parlays it into a business empire, with the help of the Home Shopping Network. And who works at the Home Shopping Network? None other than Bradley Cooper.

Why it could be big: It's directed by David O. Russell, who also co-wrote with Annie Mumolo (a screenwriting Oscar nominee for Bridesmaids). Russell's last three projects have been The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle. All were roundly embraced by the Academy, and the last one wasn't even that good. Plus, this is chock-full of Academy beloved actors. In addition to Lawrence and Cooper, there's Robert DeNiro and Diane Ladd.

Why it might struggle: Russell is also overdue for a flop, and it seems a little weird to cast Lawrence as someone who's a single mother of three. Theoretically possible? Sure. But Russell also frequently works with Amy Adams, and she might have made more sense in the role.

3) The Hateful Eight

Hateful Eight

You wouldn't actually retire on us, would you, Quentin Tarantino? (Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)

What is it: Quentin Tarantino has wanted to make a Western-inspired movie for a while. To some degree, Django Unchained likely scratched that itch, but The Hateful Eight is a forthright take on the genre, featuring a stagecoach stop, a blizzard, and a cast of unlikely characters brought together in the midst of the storm.

Why it could be big: Tarantino has scored with the Academy for Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds. He also keeps rumbling about retiring after his 10th film. (Fittingly, Hateful Eight will be his eighth.) While we'll believe that if it proves to be true, this could be one of the last chances for the Oscars to give him a Best Picture trophy.

Why it might struggle: Both Django and Basterds dealt with actual historical atrocities in thrillingly cinematic ways. Eight, at first blush, is a lighter film.

4) Suffragette

Suffragette

Filming for the movie Suffragette took place at Parliament in 2014. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

What is it: Isn't it a little weird how few films there are about the battle for women's rights in the 19th and early 20th centuries? Well, here's one, set in the early days of the movement, when feminists had to keep their activism secret from the government. It sounds like it could combine the best of spy thrillers and historical docudramas.

Why it could be big: Meryl Streep and Helena Bonham Carter are in this. Carey Mulligan plays the lead. It's chock full of great British actors even beyond that, with a script by the tremendous Abi Morgan. Plus, it's set in the UK, which could give Academy voters just enough remove to feel comfortable voting for it. It has yet to acquire US distribution, but c'mon. It will.

Why it might struggle: Director Sarah Gavron is unproven, having mostly worked in documentaries and smaller films. Then again, the same was true of Ava DuVernay before Selma.

5) Brooklyn

Brooklyn Fox Searchlight

Saoirse Ronan and Domhnall Gleeson star in Brooklyn. (Fox Searchlight)

What is it: Most of the buzz out of Sundance centered on Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, but with its focus on teenagers, it feels like a classic example of the Oscars ignoring something Sundance loves. Instead, look to this adaptation of Colm Tóibín's novel, starring Saoirse Ronan, who received her first Oscar nomination at just 13.

Why it could be big: Ronan joins acclaimed theater director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby for this one, and just the description of it — a sweeping romance set in 1950s Ireland and New York City — has "Oscar" written all over it.

Why it might struggle: It can be hard for movie to sustain buzz all the way from Sundance to the Oscars. But if Whiplash did it, this movie can.

6) The Revenant

The Revenant 20th Century Fox

Leonardo DiCaprio is nearly eaten by a bear in The Revenant. (20th Century Fox)

What is it: Leonardo DiCaprio gets mauled by a bear in the early 19th century. Leonardo DiCaprio's compatriots take all his stuff, then leave him to die. They shouldn't have done that. Based on a true story, believe it or not.

Why it could be big: On the surface, the story of revenge undertaken after a bear mauling doesn't seem like a huge Oscar player. But then you look at the director and discover it's ... Birdman's Alejandro González Iñárritu, who just won a bunch of Oscars. Plus, DiCaprio is long overdue for a prize. Academy voters will at least look at this one.

Why it might struggle: It's set in two genres the Academy rarely enjoys: western and revenge thrillers.

7) Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

Michael Fassbender stars as Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs. (Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images)

What it is: See title above.

Why it could be big: The Oscars have cooled on traditional biopics that capture the full sweep of someone's life in recent years, occasionally nominating them but rarely giving them more than a prize or two (and usually for acting). But this one, which focuses solely on three key product presentations in the life of Apple's mastermind, fits the nontraditional mode the Oscars still like. Plus, it's directed by Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle, from a script by Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, starring Oscar-nominated actor Michael Fassbender. And it's based on Walter Isaacson's best-selling biography. Yeah. It would have to really stink to not get in.

Why it might struggle: Some of the biggest stories out of the Sony hack centered on the struggles of getting this film made. (Sony ultimately passed, and the film went to Universal.) That resulted in a lot of unintended early hype that could have made its profile too big, too soon.

8) Snowden

Snowden

Joseph Gordon-Levitt will probably not perform any musical numbers and/or standup comedy in Snowden. (Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Hilarity for Charity)

What it is: Again, see title.

Why it could be big: It's been a while since Oliver Stone was big with the Academy, but they used to love him. He's won three Oscars (two for directing and one for writing), and been nominated for eight more.) And the idea of Stone, with his famously paranoid lefty politics, taking on the Edward Snowden story seems like a perfect fit. Plus, he's got Joseph Gordon-Levitt, still waiting for his first Oscar nomination, and Shailene Woodley, still waiting for hers, along for the ride.

Why it might struggle: It's been a while since Oliver Stone had a strong hold in the Academy. And there's very good reason for that. He's made a lot of mediocre films since the '90s. Remember World Trade Center? Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps? No? Here's hoping this is a return to form.

9) Tomorrowland

What it is: Every so often, the Academy embraces a blockbuster, provided it's original enough. This year's best bet is Disney's take on the golden age of science fiction, with George Clooney and Britt Robertson seeking out a secret world full of imaginary technology. It's directed by Brad Bird, from a script by Damon Lindelof, among others.

Why it could be big: This one requires two things to crack the Oscar race — great reviews and surprisingly robust box office earnings. If it can achieve both of these things, it has the pedigree (especially from Clooney) to pull down some nominations.

Why it might struggle: Both reviews and box office success are largely out of its control.

10) The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl

Eddie Redmayne just won an Oscar. He's following that up with another project that might be Oscar-friendly. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

What it is: This adaptation of David Ebershoff's novel of the same name, is loosely based on the life of Lili Elbe, one of the first people in history to undergo gender reassignment surgery. The film also focuses on her marriage to her wife, Gerda.

Why it could be big: Director Tom Hooper last made The King's Speech and Les Miserables. And star Eddie Redmayne just won an Oscar for his work in The Theory of Everything. A sensitive portrayal of trans issues is the sort of thing the Oscars would seem likely to embrace enthusiastically.

Why it might struggle: Trans activists often ask why films and TV shows about trans people star actors who are not, themselves, trans. This idea has gained even more prominence in recent years. The Danish Girl will portray Elbe both pre- and post-transition, which will likely be the explanation for casting Redmayne, but the question remains open.

11) Ricki and the Flash

Ricki and the Flash

Kevin Kline and Meryl Streep will star together in Ricki and the Flash. Here they are in 2009! (Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)

What it is: Meryl Streep plays an aging rock star who left her family for fame and fortune. She gets an opportunity to fix matters when her estranged daughter (Streep's real-life daughter, Mamie Gummer) needs help.

Why it could be big: In addition to Streep, this comedy stars Academy Award winner Kevin Kline and is directed by Jonathan Demme, who won his Oscar for Silence of the Lambs but largely made quirky comedies before that. With a script from Oscar winner Diablo Cody, who won for her work on Juno, this seems right in everybody's wheelhouse.

Why it might struggle: The Oscars rarely embrace comedies that don't also have an element of tear-jerking drama. Will they with Streep involved? Yet even if this movie isn't up Oscar's alley, the collection of talent involved suggests it will be up our alley.

12) Carol

Carol The Weinstein Company

Cate Blanchett stars in Carol. (The Weinstein Company)

What it is: A young woman falls in love with an older one, in this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's 1952 novel The Price of Salt. It's famed for being one of the first novels with LGBT themes to have something like a happy ending.

Why it could be big: Director Todd Haynes is usually a little too arty for the Academy as a whole, but his previous chronicle of this era — Far from Heavenwas the closest he came to an Oscar breakthrough. With Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara working with him this time around, there's every possibility this one does very well.

Why it might struggle: Haynes is a brilliantly artistic director, but that's often exactly what the Oscars don't want.

13) Trumbo

Trumbo

Bryan Cranston will play Dalton Trumbo in Trumbo. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

What it is: Dalton Trumbo is one of only a handful of people to be retroactively rewarded an Oscar. His work writing the 1953 film Roman Holiday won an Oscar, but the award went to Ian McClellan Hunter, as Trumbo wasn't credited. (The Academy gave Trumbo an award for the film in the 1990s, years after he had died.) The writer was blacklisted during the Red Scare. The Congressional hunt for Communists particularly impacted Hollywood, and Trumbo, a former member of the Communist party, was ultimately jailed for refusing to name names of other members. That led to his inability to find work and need to submit his scripts through various friends and other fronts.

Why it could be big: That's certainly an Oscar-friendly story, starring Bryan Cranston, the sort of actor it would be easy for the Oscars to embrace. It's also an opportunity to right old wrongs without actually, y'know, righting them.

Why it might struggle: It's directed by Jay Roach, a competent but not exactly exciting director.

14) Silence

Silence

Martin Scorsese's next film will be Silence. (Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images)

What it is: This is only so low because it will probably come out in 2016. Directed by Martin Scorsese, it tells the tale of Jesuit priests in 17th century Japan, who encounter both persecution and seemingly insurmountable cultural differences. It stars Liam Neeson and is based on a book.

Why it could be big: Scorsese is always someone the Oscars watch closely, while Neeson is primed for another nomination.

Why it might struggle: It's filming right now. There's a chance it comes together quickly enough to be out by the end of the year, but it's decidedly a slim one. Still, any Scorsese project is worth anticipating. (Also on the list of 2016 releases worth being excited for is the Coen brothers' Hail Caesar, which appears to have assembled the greatest cast in history.)

15) Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens

What it is: It's a new Star Wars movie, directed by J.J. Abrams.

Why it could be big: This might seem ridiculous, but the Academy loved the initial Star Wars, much more than many subsequent blockbusters. It was nominated for Best Picture, Best Directing, and Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and it ended up winning seven prizes. So there's built-in affection, and if this is good, it could garner some love.

Why it might struggle: Even if it's good, it's still the seventh film in a mega-franchise. There's really no path for that sort of movie to score big historically. But you never know.

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