As 2018 nears its close, attention is shifting towards which films might be in contention for the Oscars next February.

In what promises to be a strong year, directors including Damien Chazelle, Barry Jenkins, Steve McQueen, Alfonso Cuaron, Adam McKay, Yorgos Lanthimos, Mike Leigh, Karyn Kusama and Spike Lee all have new movies out winning admiring early notices.

The Academy recently announced its intention to scrap a proposed new category, Best Popular Picture, after critics suggested it was a means of excluding successful blockbusters like Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther (2017) from competing for the top prize, prompting speculation among Marvel fans that that film might now be under consideration.

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Here’s an overview of the early front runners for the 91st Academy Awards.

Best Director

Jenkins and Chazelle could again find themselves shortlisted in a repeat of 2016, when the former’s Moonlight (eventually) triumphed over La La Land.

Jenkins’s new film, If Beale Street Could Talk, is an adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name, while Chazelle has reunited with Ryan Gosling from the Los Angeles musical for First Man, an intense biopic of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong.

Mexican director Cuaron’s semi-autobiographical drama Roma, soon to appear on Netflix, could see him repeat his triumph in 2014 when he won for Gravity, a result that would mark a major landmark for the streaming giant, which has faced resistance from the filmmaking establishment but did take home the documentary Oscar in 2018 for the sports doping drama Icarus.

Bradley Cooper, making his directorial debut with A Star is Born, has won admiring reviews since the film premiered in Venice and Toronto and would make a popular choice. Another actor making his first appearance behind the lens, Joel Edgerton, is an outside tip for the gay conversion drama Boy Erased.

Other strong entries include McQueen, not seen since helming 2013’s Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave, for Widows - a remake of an ITV Lynda La Plante drama starring Viola Davis – Lanthimos for The Favourite and McKay for Vice, his film about George W Bush’s vice president Dick Cheney.

Karyn Kusama, who made the eerie dinner party drama The Invitation in 2015, could be in with a shout for the noirish Destroyer while Spike Lee, who has been twice nominated but never won, might well find himself in contention for BlackkKlansman.

Best Actress

Lady Gaga is clearly leading the field at the time of writing for her moving debut feature performance in A Star is Born. Like her director, the pop star – who previously acted in TV’s American Horror Story – would be a popular winner.

She has some serious competition, however.

Davis, who won the 2016 Supporting Actress prize for Fences, is expected to be nominated for Widows, as are Olivia Colman for her portrayal of Queen Anne in The Favourite, Nicole Kidman for Destroyer and Glenn Close for her role in Bjorn Runge’s The Wife.

Some other possible candidates include comedian Melissa McCarthy for Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Emma Stone in The Favourite, Carey Mulligan in Paul Dano’s Wildlife and Saoirse Ronan for Mary, Queen of Scots.

Toni Collette for Hereditary would be an unlikely but entirely worthy nominee for her extraordinarily committed turn in the horror sensation of the year.

Best Actor

Few would be surprised if Cooper and Gosling were shortlisted for A Star is Born and First Man. But this week Christian Bale – undergoing his latest Method transformation to play Dick Cheney in Vice – also emerged as a frontrunner. Reviews are embargoes until its December release date, but one critic has dubbed it “one of the best castings ever”.

Also causing a stir are Ethan Hawke, for his role as a troubled priest in Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, and Call Me By Your Name (2017) star Timothee Chalamet, playing a meth addict opposite Steve Carrell in Felix Van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy.

Hollywood legend Robert Redford, soon to retire and never having won a competitive Oscar, could also finally receive the nod for his role in David Lowery’s The Old Man and the Gun.

Other possible nominees include Mahershala Ali for Peter Farrelly’s 1960s-set comedy drama Green Book, Hugh Jackman for the political biopic The Frontrunner and perhaps Rami Malek for his performance as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody.

Best Picture

For the headline award of the evening, A Star is Born, First Man and Roma all feel like dead certs at this early stage.

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As discussed, Black Panther would be a popular nominee while the Academy’s past preference for the directors of Widows and If Beale Street Could Talk could see those films shortlisted.

Some other interesting propositions that might find favour include Luca Guadagnino’s giallo remake Suspiria, the Coen Brothers’s new Netflix project The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Mike Leigh’s historical drama Peterloo and Hereditary

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