Screen US editor Jeremy Kay highlights the best film contenders and considers the strength of human resolve in the wake of the Paris attacks.

Human resolve manifests itself in many ways. At a time when all eyes remain fixed on Paris, it might seem indecent to look beyond the dignity and despair that have consumed one of the world’s great cities.

Yet as the world honours those who died in the Paris attacks, it seems to me the notion of culture has seldom seemed so vital. Paris is one of the most magnificent film capitals. French film culture is a cornerstone of the global film industry. In these times of intolerance gone berserk, stories and storytellers and the celebration of the best among them must continue to play their part in defining our identity.

Which brings me, somewhat inelegantly, to the annual awards season contest. This year’s crop may not boast the strength in depth of recent seasons but there are messages of courage and resilience in the storytelling that seem to resonate with life in the wider world.

With the exception of the IFP’s Gothams nominees, which have already been announced, the critics groups and awards bodies will begin to make their announcements in late November leading into the Golden Globe, Bafta and Oscar nominations on December 10, January 8 and January 14 respectively.

Five potentially heavyweight films are still unseen at time of writing: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s The Revenant, Ron Howard’s In The Heart Of The Sea, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, David O Russell’s Joy and JJ Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens.

The early best picture frontrunner based on word of mouth and what Academy members tell me is Spotlight. Tom McCarthy’s drama, about the Boston Globe’s investigation into the cover up of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, has been an early favourite since it screened in Venice and Toronto.

It earned a strong response from the Academy and sustained applause for the cast and technical credits. Indeed Spotlight’s ensemble cast has already earned a special Gotham Jury Award.

John Crowley’s elegant Brooklyn and Ridley Scott’s global hit The Martian have won many fans and are in the running for best picture noms. Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen’s Inside Out and Steven Spielberg’s Bridge Of Spies are popular too, while Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario is boosted by strong supporting actor contender Benicio del Toro.

Speaking of performances, Michael Caine received a standing ovation at the recent AFI FEST screening of Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth.

And two very well-reviewed films, Todd Haynes’ festival hit Carol and Danny Boyle’s compelling Steve Jobs, are both similarly propelled by the performances of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in the former and Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet in the latter.

Further notable films in contention for Globe, Bafta and Oscar recognition include Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette, Jay Roach’s Trumbo, Lenny Abrahamson’s Room and James Vanderbilt’s Truth.

The Danish Girl, directed by Tom Hooper, who won an Oscar for The King’s Speech, and starring Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne, cannot be discounted and co-star Alicia Vikander is generating buzz.

Netflix is backing a US campaign for Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts Of No Nation. However, the tough subject matter may weigh against it.

And do not discount George Miller’s wildly inventive Mad Max: Fury Road landing a slot. Similarly, Straight Outta Compton has its fans and a nod for that would be a good way to engage with younger audiences.

Academy voters have not yet (officially) seen Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman’s Toronto title Anomalisa or the AFI Fest pair of Adam McKay’s The Big Short or Peter Landesman’s Concussion, however both have won plaudits from their festival slots at Toronto and AFI FEST. Sean Baker’s electric Tangerine has also inspired a devoted following.

László Nemes’ Son Of Saul, Hungary’s Oscar submission and widely admired Holocaust drama, is another outlier and if nominated would become only the tenth foreign-language film to achieve the feat.

Depending on how many Academy members vote for their favourite top five films, there could be between five and 10 best picture nominees where each film gets more than 5% of total votes cast.

Returning to Son Of Saul, made by a director who grew up in Paris, it is a stark warning to Europe that the horrors of institutionalised intolerance are never far away. I can think of no more fitting time than now for a film to reach the wide audience that only an Oscar nomination - or two - can offer.

Jeremy Kay is US editor for Screen International