10 Funny Movies Coming This Oscar Season
As we head into fall and the days get shorter, moviegoers know what’s coming: a glut of awards-hungry films trying to court Oscar voters. The major fall film festivals — Venice, Telluride, Toronto — just wrapped up, and we’re starting to get a sense of what’s in the running for Best Picture. Not surprisingly, a lot of the possible major contenders — Killers of the Flower Moon, Oppenheimer, The Zone of Interest — are super-serious. Outside of Barbie, it’s hard to think of any comedy that’s hit theaters so far this year that has much of a shot at nominations. (Maybe Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse for animation?) As always, comedies are going to take a backseat to drama.
But looking over the next few months on the release schedule, I was happy to discover that there are 10 films still to arrive that are, in one form or another, comedies that might make an impact on the Oscar race. To be sure, some of these movies are pretty dark, but they’ve got a sharp sense of humor as well, suggesting this awards season could have its fair share of laughs.
I’ve arranged these movies by release date, the earliest of them hitting theaters at the start of October. I’ve seen a few of them already, so I can guarantee at least a handful of my picks will end up being winners. As for the others, they have plenty of buzz. We’re entering that point in the movie calendar where searing sagas and tear-jerking tales will be the norm. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be room for some lightness, too.
The Burial (October 6th)
Lots of award-seeking films are based on true stories, and such is the case with The Burial, which features Jamie Foxx as Willie E. Gary, a fast-talking lawyer who decides to represent Jerry O’Keefe (Tommy Lee Jones), a curmudgeonly local funeral-home owner suing a larger company that screwed him over. Based on a New Yorker piece, the movie has been praised for Foxx’s go-for-broke performance as this shamelessly showboating attorney, and I imagine the two actors’ contrasting personae has the possibility to be plenty funny.
She Came to Me (October 6th)
For people who don’t like their romantic comedies to be formulaic, let me recommend She Came to Me, the delightfully odd new film from writer-director Rebecca Miller. Peter Dinklage plays a creatively blocked opera composer who goes out one day to clear his head, meeting an idiosyncratic tug-boat captain (Marisa Tomei) with a sex addiction. (One snag: The composer is married to a brilliant shrink portrayed by Anne Hathaway.) A movie about the madness of attraction, She Came to Me chronicles what it’s like to feel stuck in one’s life, and what it takes to break free. Far from predictable, the film smartly balances humor and drama, making this a good date-night option for arthouse audiences.
The Holdovers (October 27th)
Election filmmaker Alexander Payne has won two screenplay Oscars, but he didn’t write his latest wry comedy, about an arrogant, unliked teacher at a prep school who has to look after one of his students during Christmas break. The Holdovers is the first time Payne has worked with Paul Giamatti since Sideways, and newcomer Dominic Sessa plays the sarcastic student. (Da’Vine Joy Randolph is also great as a cook at the school.) For anyone who gets the blues around the holidays, this sad/funny movie will scratch an itch, representing a comeback for Payne after the uneven Downsizing.
American Fiction (November 3rd)
One of the most significant award-season bellwethers is the Toronto Film Festival People’s Choice Award, which is voted on by regular audience members. Since 2008, the winner has failed to earn a Best Picture nomination only once, so that’s a very good sign for writer-director Cord Jefferson’s feature debut, which is based on the Percival Everett novel. American Fiction stars Jeffrey Wright as Monk, a struggling novelist who’s frustrated that publishers aren’t interested in his books anymore because he doesn’t write “Black” enough. (In other words, he refuses to engage in racist stereotypes that appeal to poverty-porn white readers.) To express his anger, he decides to pen the most offensively clichéd novel he can think of under a pseudonym — only to have it become a huge hit. This jaundiced satire is also a moving examination of Monk’s fractious family, which makes American Fiction an unlikely combo of Bamboozled and Terms of Endearment. Happily, it works.
Dream Scenario (November 10th)
Nicolas Cage got rave reviews out of Toronto for playing Paul, a remarkably ordinary teacher who, inexplicably, starts showing up in everyone’s dreams. Produced by Ari Aster (Hereditary, Beau Is Afraid), Dream Scenario is billed as a bizarre, Charlie Kaufman-esque comedy that takes aim at celebrity, social media and cancel culture. For those who prefer Cage when he’s toned down, this has the potential to be his most resonant film since Pig.
Fallen Leaves (November 17th)
Finnish writer-director Aki Kaurismäki is a master of deadpan comedy, his movies populated by somber, drunken souls whose hearts are broken. His latest, which won one of the top prizes at this summer’s Cannes Film Festival, is about two lonely people (Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen) who meet, but a possible love connection gets thwarted when he loses her number. Fallen Leaves has a lot of wry laughs about how, generally speaking, life is sorta miserable and full of disappointment — that Kaurismäki manages to make you laugh at those bitter truths is quite impressive. This is Finland’s official entry for Best International Feature Film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up as one of the five nominees.
May December (November 17th)
Years ago, Gracie (Julianne Moore) and Joe (Charles Melton) made headlines when she was his teacher, seducing the underage student and, later, marrying him. Now, an actress (Natalie Portman) is going to spend time with the couple in preparation for playing Gracie in a movie. May December is a sexy psychological drama that also is very funny, with I’m Not There director Todd Haynes playing with the material’s more inherently tabloid/tacky qualities, creating a film that’s both serious and knowingly campy, examining marriage, obsession and Hollywood’s fascination with turning trauma into Oscar-bait. That this sharp satire could itself get some Oscar love only makes the dark joke funnier.
Next Goal Wins (November 17th)
Taika Waititi won a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Jojo Rabbit, and he’s hoping for another crowd-pleaser with this adaptation of a 2014 documentary about American Samoa’s terrible soccer team — and how one coach tried to turn them around. Michael Fassbender isn’t known for comedy, so Next Goal Wins represents a change of pace for the Oscar-nominated actor, who plays the feisty, troubled Thomas Rongen, tasked with making these footballers respectable. Feel-good underdog sports films can connect with Oscar voters — think Rocky or Chariots of Fire — and Waititi certainly has his admirers. The reviews out of Toronto were mixed, but Next Goal Wins might connect with the Ted Lasso fan in your life.
Poor Things (December 8th)
Few modern directors craft dark comedies better than Yorgos Lanthimos, the man behind The Lobster and The Favourite. He’s back with this adaptation of the Alasdair Gray novel, reuniting with The Favourite star Emma Stone, who plays Bella, a young woman brought back from the dead who runs away with a lawyer (Mark Ruffalo), getting into all kinds of misadventures. Praised for its kinky, crazy audacity at the Venice Film Festival, where it won the top prize, Poor Things looks to be a surreal headtrip. You couldn’t ask to be in better hands.
Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget (December 15th)
It has been 23 years since we met Rocky, the cocky American rooster who helps a bunch of British chickens escape a farm. At long last, there’s a sequel, with Zachary Levi replacing Mel Gibson as the voice of Rocky. The supporting cast includes Thandiwe Newton, Bella Ramsey, Imelda Staunton and Lynn Ferguson, and whereas the original film was a Great Escape-style breakout movie, Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget will involve our fine feathered friends trying to break into a farm. A viable candidate for a Best Animated Feature nomination, this should be fun for the whole family — not to mention a nice antidote to all the serious fare we’ll be getting come Christmastime.