These 11 Must-Watch Performances Will Win Oscars This Year

Future statuette spotting courtesy of the Toronto Film Festival.

The Oscars are five months away, yet "awards season" began last week with the start of the Toronto International Film Festival, a parade of prestige films and high-caliber stars looking to make an impact with critics. So who will be polishing one of those gold bald heads come February? We have a few ideas.

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Sandra Bullock, Our Brand Is Crisis

Taking over a role written for George Clooney, Bullock stars in this satire as "Calamity" Jane Bodine, a campaign string-puller who will stop at nothing to get her clientele elected. In this case, it's a staunch Bolivian billionaire who doesn't care much for her unhinged demeanor. Dredging up her inner rapscallion, Bullock spits fire at a rate that would make Aaron Sorkin dizzy. While Crisis can't quite keep up, the actress gives the comedy a bleak edge. We root for her and know it's the wrong thing to do. It's wildly entertaining—and just the right amount of depressing.

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Emily Blunt, Sicario
Lionsgate

Denis Villeneuve directs his drug-war saga like a horror movie, and Blunt is his scream queen. The Edge of Tomorrow actress, playing a diligent, by-the-book FBI agent, descends into the hell that is cartel-owned Juarez. She witnesses unthinkable violence. Ethical poison seeps into her bloodstream. And even when she crosses back over to the U.S., the battle follows her home. The pressure warps Blunt's exterior, a physical performance that rivals her brutish male contemporaries.

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Johnny Depp, Black Mass

Depp's reputation took a tumble after the actor parlayed his Oscar-nominated clout into a string of blockbusters. The Mad Hatter wasn't exactly Donnie Brasco. With Black Mass, Depp weaponizes his love for disguise to become the slimiest, most charming mobster Southie ever encountered. With a thick history of cinematic crime lords behind him, Depp could've easily gone big and bad with Whitey Bulger. He plays the opposite—and it gets under the skin. Here's our full take on Depp in Black Mass.

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Benicio Del Toro, Sicario
Lionsgate

Like Anton Chigurh by way of The Bourne Identity, Del Toro's Alejandro is a methodical killer who knows more than everyone in the room. The actor is a ball of pent-up energy. His mannerisms are controlled, even when wringing a cartel hostage's mind of information, and while he says few words, each glare tells volumes of the past and present. And then there's the moment of unleashing, a flipped switch that takes Del Toro to a transcendent level. Here's why Del Toro thinks Sicariois his Hamlet.

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Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation

Reportedly discovered by True Detective director Cary Fukanaga while playing hooky from school, the 14-year-old Ghanaian wowed crowds as a child surviving a cruel and manipulative African war. Idris Elba stars alongside him as the leader of a machine gun-toting militia, but he's overshadowed by Attah's whispered work. Beasts is a coming-of-age story that begins with innocence, peaks with bloodshed, and descends to maturity. Attah ensures that his character is no mere pawn, but living it.

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Jacob Tremblay, Room

Another child newcomer, five-year-old Tremblay owns this story of captivity, recovery, and familial connection. Knowing only a single room, his character Jack lives in a filtered reality of memories and TV imagery. He's a jumbled mess of emotions, triggered and stabilized by his mother, who pushes through her own mental breakdown to keep him from devolving. If Tremblay is director Lenny Abrahamson's pawn, he has a keen spatial awareness. When Jack glimpses outside his prison, he undergoes immediate transformation. Watching from the outside is riveting.

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Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Last year's Best Actor winner is a sure-thing nominee in 2016. As Lili Elbe, one of the first transgender women to undergo sexual reassignment, Redmayne is delicate and assiduous. We can see the fire of his true identity burning inside him. It's like a dual role for the actor: a wayward painter contending with early-20th-century standards and a woman who, when she dons a gown, wig, and makeup, glows. The Danish Girl is a Zeitgeist-y picture, and Redmayne captures the excitement of the time.

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Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

The truth is Redmayne is nothing without the film's real star, Vikander, playing Lili's wife, Gerda. There are two transitions in Danish Girl: a man becoming a woman, and a woman becoming an individual defined by her own ambition. Vikander, having a hell of a year after Ex Machina and Man from U.N.C.L.E., adds contemporary emotion to the turn-of-the-century biopic. She's strong-willed and sensitive, teary-eyed when it counts. Danish Girl could easily stumble into sentimentality, but Vikander won't let it slip from her fingers.

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Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

There's nothing cut-and-dry in the new film from the creator of HBO's Looking, Andrew Haigh. This is a heavy romantic drama set in the twilight years. A week before their 45th wedding anniversary, a couple watches the husband's old (and deceased) flame creep back into their lives. As the past unravels, the graceful Rampling contemplates and reckons with the discoveries—which, she realizes, have all redirected the course of her life—like a politician. Her husband is not a great person. She loves the dolt. But mistakes were made. Whether it's worth throwing everything away is the motivation behind Rampling's tender performance, one of the best of the last decade.

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Cate Blanchett, Truth

Journalists were en vogue at this year's TIFF, and Blanchett channeled her inner Cary Grant to help Robert Redford chronicle the events of "Rathergate." Her Mary Mapes is an ace journalist for 60 Minutes, and early in reporting the Bush military scandal, she's All the President's Men-style explosive. When the story comes crumbling down, so does Mapes. Blanchett mastered the strained eye twitch in movies like The Aviator and Cinderella. Here it's in full-force, making a news story personal and terrifying.

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The Spotlight Cast

Tom McCarthy's docudrama account of the Boston Globe's Catholic Church sex abuse investigation doesn't have a hero. The paper's Spotlight Team operated like a journalistic SEAL squad, writers compounding intel and editors pulling the trigger on publish dates. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and the rest of the cast function as this unit and never break. There are moments of fury, moments of understanding, puzzles completed through stretches of dialogue, but it's expertly calibrated by the actors sharing screen time. Spotlight is a team. No one steals it.

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