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The Academy Awards are as high stakes as it gets for last year's film releases. With Oscar season approaching and some dark horse contenders now standing out as frontrunners, we're still wildly uncertain how the Academy will stand when it comes to nominations and the final awards themselves. Last year's nominees were announced on January 14th, so it shouldn't be much longer until we find out which films will be facing off this February. For now, here are 5 frontrunners for this year's Oscar awards, all of which have a serious shot at winning the coveted Best Picture prize.

5. Lion

Dev Patel portraying Saroo, a young man searching for his lost family in Lion. [Credit: The Weinstein Company]
Dev Patel portraying Saroo, a young man searching for his lost family in Lion. [Credit: The Weinstein Company]

Astounding audiences at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, Lion is the most recent directorial project of director Garth Davis. It features a young man named Saroo who becomes lost from his parents at the age of five. He is adopted by an Australian couple and spends years searching for his family. This movie was relatively unknown upon its release, but it has built momentum as a serious contender at this year's Academy Awards. It wouldn't be surprising to see Lion pick up a Best Picture nomination and then make a serious case to win.

4. Manchester by the Sea

Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in one of this year's most heart-wrenching dramas. [Credit: Roadside Attractions]
Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in one of this year's most heart-wrenching dramas. [Credit: Roadside Attractions]

Emotionally charged and notably well-acted, Manchester by the Sea brings a high quality drama to the big screen which continues to resonate with audiences. It stars Casey Affleck as a lonely Boston handyman suddenly charged with taking care of his 16-year-old nephew (played by Lucas Hedges). This is a film with the perfect gut punch story and enough astounding performances to make it an obvious contender for Best Picture. Perhaps the Academy's most conventional choice, this is the type of movie that no one will be surprised to see announced as a nominee within the next couple weeks.

3. Fences

Powerful performances by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis have earned Fences serious acclaim from critics. [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
Powerful performances by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis have earned Fences serious acclaim from critics. [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

With a screenplay from acclaimed playwright August Wilson, Fences takes a beloved piece of theatre and transforms it for the screen with the utmost success. Both Denzel Washington and Viola Davis have received widespread praise for their performances with nods from the Golden Globes for both of them. Fences is a dramatic, powerful story that will unquestionably garner a nomination for Best Picture along with various accolades for its leading performers as well. Whether the film has enough sway with the Academy to win big in February is yet to be seen.

2. La La Land

With charming performances from both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, La La Land has lived up to its hype and stands among the most contentious Best Picture nominees. [Credit Lionsgate]
With charming performances from both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, La La Land has lived up to its hype and stands among the most contentious Best Picture nominees. [Credit Lionsgate]

Ever since Whiplash director Damien Chazelle announced intentions to do a musical, all eyes have been on La La Land to rise above the competition and pick up the Best Picture award of 2016. Thankfully, the film puts forward charismatic leads, innovative new songs, and a vibrant visual flare that has had audiences raving since it first premiered in festivals. Long considered the absolute favorite, La La Land is a stunning, modern take on the classic Hollywood musical that has a serious shot at winning not only Best Picture but many other Oscars as well.

1. Moonlight

Ashton Sanders brings a powerful performance as Chiron in Moonlight. [Credit: 4AD]
Ashton Sanders brings a powerful performance as Chiron in Moonlight. [Credit: 4AD]

A film with humble beginnings, Moonlight has quickly risen in the rankings of critics for its captivating devotion to honest storytelling. The story of a young man growing up in Miami facing issues of personal identity while responding to his harsh environment, this is an original, impactful, and incredibly important film that has had critics buzzing for months. Many believe that Moonlight has usurped La La Land as the ultimate frontrunner. Either way, this is a movie that has shaken up the Oscar race and will demand some harsh deliberation on the part of the Academy. Regardless of how it performs in February, Moonlight is a striking story that everyone should consider watching.

Win or lose, all 5 of these films have impacted the industry and made a serious mark on audiences over the last year. Each one is well worth watching before the Oscars roll around in February, and they are certainly going to make for an interesting, diverse contest unlike anything we've seen at the Academy Awards before.

What film would you like to see win Best Picture? Respond in the comments below!

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