12 movies Oscar watchers should know about

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Along with the festive holiday decorations that surround us everywhere we go these days arrives the annual movie awards brigade, a period when the most hyped Oscar bait doesn’t always deliver the goods, but the long shot does and jockeys to the front of the line.

Studios have checked their lists twice (or more), and through the end of the year will be releasing wannabe Oscar contenders with a glint in their eyes and dreams of year-end prizes in their hearts.

Already, a few “sure things” need to overcome the baggage of a so-so advance buzz, i.e., Sam Mendes’ “Empire of Light,” out Dec. 9. Meanwhile, a few underdogs demand our attention, including Vicky Krieps as a suffocating real-life empress in “Corsage,” out Dec. 30; Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge as lovers facing an unfortunate future in “Spoiler Alert” (Dec. 2); and Naomi Ackie as tragic singer Whitney Houston in “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” (Dec. 23).

Anything can happen, after all, when it comes to Hollywood and the holiday awards season.

But before we spotlight the newbies hitting the block, let’s reconsider some of the early-bird standouts that have already made their case but might have slipped past your attention.

After a blip of a release, Amazon Prime is relaunching its heartwarming Mars rover odyssey “Good Night Oppy” on Nov. 23. It’s ideal for the holiday viewing, and is a lovely film about science.

Meanwhile, the bloody feud between Irish frenemies, “Banshees of Inisherin” is gonna be a strong candidate and is still playing in theaters; as is Todd Field’s daring creative statement “Tár,” with a volcanic performance from Cate Blanchett, who’s a frontrunner for best actress. And don’t discount Robert Eggers’ gruff, violent Viking epic, “The Northman” (now available to stream). It could be a sleeper. Also in the mix are “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (especially Angela Bassett’s fierce portrayal of Queen Ramonda) and Daniel Kwan’s insanely creative “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” one of the best movies of the year.

But now it’s time to look ahead.

To get into the spirit of the season, we’ve whipped up The 12 Films of the Awards Season — releases through the end of the year that Oscar watchers should keep an eye on.

OK, we cheated just a smidgen by wedging in one film that’s hitting the Bay Area in January. Don’t be a Scrooge about it, this happens every year.

Here’s our roundup.

‘The Fabelmans’

If there’s one shoo-in for a best picture nomination, it’s this one — Steven Spielberg’s deep dive into semi-autobiographical nostalgia that centers on a kid who falls in love with movies and then decides to make some of his own. Sound familiar? Early buzz is that the Spielberg and his co-writing partner Tony Kushner have created another witty gem, with a highly regarded veteran cast that includes Michelle Williams and Paul Dano as squabbling parents of neophyte filmmaker Sammy (Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord and Gabriel LaBelle). Since this is a Spielberg production, expect the tears to flow and flow.

Details: In theaters Nov. 23.

‘Bones and All’

While I question the sanity of anyone who thought releasing a movie about cannibalism around Thanksgiving time was a good idea, the presence of actors Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet, coupled with the storytelling quirkiness of “Call Me By Your Name” filmmaker Luca Guadagnino, might nudge this into a few awards categories.

Details: In theaters Nov. 23.

‘Avatar: The Way of the Water’

Derided by some, cherished by others, James Cameron’s 2009 special effects spectacle “Avatar” scored nine Oscar nominations and took home three. Cameron may be a divisive filmmaker but he’s always a reliable Hollywood showman, a technical wizard who knows how to deliver the visuals wows. Still, expect a split decision on this one, and its 3-hour-plus running time already has us squirming in our seats.

Details: In theaters Dec. 16.

‘Women Talking’

indie director/writer Sarah Polley offers up another one of her adventurous, scintillating and revelatory conversation starters. It’s a literal talker, adapted from Miriam Toews’s novel of the same, about faith and recovering from sexual abuse and trauma within a Mennonite community. Its ensemble cast (Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, Frances McDormand, Rooney Mara, Judith Ivey, Ben Whishaw, among others) makes it a prestige film with a strong pedigree and an equally strong voice and sense of purpose. It’ll be an awards magnet.

Details: In theaters Dec. 2.


“The Slap” that Will Smith put on Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars still feels raw, to the point where many of us don’t want to see either one of these two at the next ceremony. But what’s impossible to overlook is Smith’s presence in this, his latest epic drama that’s buzzing with interest. Director Antoine Fuqua has a spotty record (“Infinite” with Mark Wahlberg was a mind-numbing disaster), but the impressive trailer suggests this might catapult him into the awards orbit. It’s based on a true story about a slave who’s beaten nearly to death and later joins the Union Army. Smith both stars and co-produces.

Details: In select theaters Dec. 2, on Apple TV+ Dec. 9.

‘Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio’

Earlier this year, Disney+ released Robert Zemeckis/’ wooden live-action adaptation of its 1940 animated classic. Now Carlo Collodi’s complicated fable about a puppet wanting to be real gets a redo from one of the few filmmakers who could give the story the depth, texture and dimension it deserves. Visually, at least, this Netflix release looks unique and compelling.

Details: Available Dec. 11 on Netflix, following a short run in select theaters.

‘The Whale’

Brendan Fraser’s rip-your-heart-out tour de force performance here might well be the one to beat come awards season, partially because it’s touted as the comeback of the year for an actor who’s likable and who’s seen his share of ups and downs. All that aside, Fraser deserves recognition for this performance on its own terms. Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of Samuel D. Hunter’s 2012 stage piece is a tough, heart-wrenching odyssey as it ticks off the hours and days spent with 600-pound shut-in Charlie, who is trapped even more profoundly by his own grief. You won’t forget the performance, or the film itself.

Details: In theaters in Dec. 9

‘Glass Onion: Knives Out’

I know, I know. Director/writer Rian Johnson’s oh-so-clever star-studded mystery set on a Greek island where murder is on somebody’s mind is a long shot come best picture time. Oscar rarely bestows its biggest honor on a lowly comedy. But when it comes to entertaining the dickens out of us, few 2022 releases can match this one. Factor in that this sequel is even better than the original. It finds the divine Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) ferreting out rats and secrets amongst new suspects (Kate Hudson is a scream). It could well land Johnson a screenplay honor.

Details: In theaters Nov. 23; on Netflix Dec. 23.


If Damien Chazelle’s high-glitz lollapalooza of a film offers even one-10th of the Red Bull-like adrenaline rush experienced in its wild trailer, we’re in for something grandiose and over-the-top; in the best possible way. The creator of “La La Land” returns to his Hollywood haunt as Big Dreamers crash into harsh reality in 1920s Tinseltown. Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt and Tobey Maguire are just some of the stars vamping it up. We’re in, but have concerns that this could be way too self-indulgent.

Details: Opens in theaters Dec. 23.


Lukas Dhont’s wise and beautiful tearjerker might not be on your radar, but it should be and deserves a shower of awards. An intimate friendship between two 13-year-old boys in the Belgium countryside unravels after a blissful summer ends and they return to school. This is a film full of ache, understanding and compassion. It’s glorious filmmaking with two incredible young performances from Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele.

Details: Expected in theaters sometime in December.

‘White Noise’

Anyone who has the audacity to even try to condense one of author Don DeLillo’s mind-bending works into a movie deserves respect. Noah Baumbach takes on that tough assignment here, as both director and screenwriter for this Netflix production based on DeLillo’s genre-shifting 1985 award-winning novel. Ostensibly, “Noise” is a portrait of a family that suffers through a toxic waste disaster but true to DeLillo’s form it covers much more than that. In this adaptation, we’re there to peel back the layers and discuss what they all mean afterwards. Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle and Jodie Turner-Smith star.

Details: In select theaters Dec. 2; on Netflix Dec. 30.


This refashioning of Akira Kurosawa’s existential tearjerker “Ikiru” doesn’t arrive in the Bay Area until Jan. 6, but it’s well worth the wait. An astute screenplay from Kazuo Ishiguro and a classic performance from Bill Nighy ensure that Oliver Hermanus’ wistful ‘50s-era-set drama about an uptight British civil servant facing his mortality reminds us of the need to color outside of the lines and experience life to its fullest.

Details: In theaters Jan. 6.

Contact Randy Myers at soitsrandy@gmail.com.

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