With a shooting script in hand and the stage set, principle photography begins. Directors work closely with their performers and cinematographers to bring the writer's words to life and capture it all on camera.
There's never a dearth of prospective performances that look like they could certainly turn some heads at this early stage of the game, especially in the perennially competitive Best Actor category.
Apparently that "overdue factor" was not strong enough to compel AMPAS to honour veteran Michael Keaton over baby-faced Eddie Redmayne, even though they would have had a chance to award the Brit again this year for The Danish Girl. Could his transgendered turn in the upcoming Tom Hooper biopic make Eddie the first back-to-back acting champ since Tom Hanks?
Now that Michael Fassbender has finally broken through with the Academy (nominated for 12 Years a Slave), many will be keeping an eye on him for any other Oscar-friendly roles he takes from now on. The Aaron-Sorkin-penned Steve Jobs biopic could do the trick, but if that doesn't work out, he also has Macbeth and The Light Between Oceans in play.
Jake Gyllenhaal came real close to nabbing a much deserved Best Actor nom for Nightcrawler this past year, but ultimately fell short. Will the acting branch make it up to him this year? He has two high potential performances in Southpaw and Demolition this year, both from directors who have shepherded actors to the podium before.
I've been wondering for several years now when Joseph Gordon-Levitt is going to catch on with the Academy, if at all. He has a couple of shots this year with Oliver Stone's Snowden and Robert Zemeckis' The Walk. I'm personally more intrigued by the latter, in which JGL plays the charismatic French daredevil Philippe Petit.
But of course those aren't the only five names that'll be making noise. Brian Cranston, Johnny Depp, Colin Firth, Ben Foster, Tom Hanks, Matthew McConaughey, Ian McKellan, and Robert Redford all have decent prospects in the pipeline as well.
The supporting race is always trickier to assess from a year out, simply because there are so many more supporting performances per movie than there are leading ones.
Ensemble pieces like Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight will have more than enough opportunities to find traction for any of its formidable male cast. Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell... How are we to know who will be a standout, if anybody?
Sometimes the chance to play off of a nominated lead actor can pull a lot of attention to substantial supporting/co-lead roles. That may bode well for the likes of Tom Hardy in The Revenant, Ken Watanabe in The Sea of Trees, or even Seth Rogen in Steve Jobs (hey, who would've thought Jonah Hill would be a twice-nominated actor?)
Other films with potentially juicy supporting parts are simply too numerous to list.
Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant
Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs
Joseph Gordon-Levitt in The Walk
Jake Gyllenhaal in Demolition/Southpaw
Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl
Best Supporting Actor
Bradley Cooper in Joy
Tom Hardy in The Revenant
Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight
Seth Rogen in Steve Jobs
Ken Watanabe in The Sea of Trees
Stay tuned for the actresses...