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10 Movies Oscars Voters Should Watch: Boy and the Heron, Robot Dreams

Are You There Oscar? 10 Movies Voters Should Watch Before Turning in Ballots
Are You There Oscar? 10 Movies Voters Should Watch Before Turning in Ballots

Awards Circuit Column: It’s not just about “Barbenheimer” and biographical dramas. Awards voters need to look beyond the shiniest Oscar contenders to find under-heralded gems. From documentaries about musical greats to coming-of-age stories that brilliantly tap into the tribulations of being a tween, several movies deserve to be in the conversation for top prizes.

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BAFTA first round voting opens on Friday, Dec. 8, along with Critics Choice film ballots due. In addition, Golden Globe nominations are coming on Monday, Dec. 11. Here’s to hoping the groups can look far beyond two summer blockbusters.

Read: Variety’s Awards Circuit for the latest Oscars predictions in all categories.

As an annual holiday plea, here are 10 films voters should view before casting their ballots. You can also read the 10 underrated performances of 2023, which cite more incredible movies.

Honorable mentions: “Beau is Afraid” (A24); “Chevalier” (Searchlight Pictures); “Every Body” (Focus Features); “Flamin’ Hot” (Hulu/Searchlight Pictures); “Flora and Son” (Apple Original Films); “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” (Neon); “Joy Ride” (Lionsgate); “Little Richard: I Am Everything” (Magnolia Pictures); “Migration” (Illumination); “The Peasants” (Sony Pictures Classics)

‘American Symphony’ (Netflix)

‘American Symphony’ (Netflix)
‘American Symphony’ (Netflix)


Director Matthew Heineman follows Jon Batiste as he prepares for a Carnegie Hall concert while his wife battles cancer. It’s a moving look at an artist coping with personal and professional challenges, and a film too beautiful to ignore. Beyond bestowing a nod for doc feature (a no-brainer), it’s time for the Oscars to nominate a nonfiction movie for best picture. That’s a milestone that other masterpieces of the genre, such as “Hoop Dreams” or “Searching for Sugar Man,” should have achieved. If there’s any justice, “American Symphony” will break that glass ceiling.

Other categories to consider: directing, editing, sound, original song, documentary feature

‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ (Lionsgate)

‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ (Lionsgate)
‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ (Lionsgate)


Judy Blume’s novel of the same name has helped generations of readers navigate the transition from childhood to young adulthood. But adapting beloved books is daunting — often the elements that make a story compelling on the page don’t make the transition to the screen. But Kelly Fremon Craig nails it, offering up a movie that honors its source by staying true to its bighearted spirit. She’s helped by her stellar cast, which includes a never-better Rachel McAdams and a breakout turn by young Abby Ryder Fortson in the title role. Their thoughtful work helps the movie transcend the limitations of its YA genre. The film was a commercial disappointment, but the lackluster box office isn’t a reflection of its quality — and its message of acceptance remains vitally important.

Other categories to consider: supporting actress (Rachel McAdams), adapted screenplay, costume design

‘BlackBerry’ (IFC Films)

‘BlackBerry’ (IFC Films)
‘BlackBerry’ (IFC Films)


Writer and director Matt Johnson takes entertainment to a new level with this taut and thrilling look at the demise of the first smartphone. Harnessing two powerhouse performances from Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton as Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, the biz and buzz are more than real and should be considered properly.

Other categories to consider: director, actor (Jay Baruchel), supporting actor (Glenn Howerton), adapted screenplay, makeup and hairstyling

‘The Boy and the Heron’ (GKids)

‘The Boy and the Heron’ (GKids)
‘The Boy and the Heron’ (GKids)


Animator Hayao Miyazaki is renowned for conjuring up dazzling cinematic worlds. And at 82, he hasn’t lost a step. His latest movie is a visual feast, filled with magical lands and creatures only he could dream up. It’s also a deeply personal tale, one that unfolds against the backdrop of World War II Japan, as a boy undertakes a perilous journey that helps him come to terms with the death of his mother. The first best picture nomination for a non-Disney animated movie would be worthy recognition for Miyazaki’s contributions to the medium.

Other categories to consider: animated feature, original score

‘The Burial’ (Amazon MGM Studios)

‘The Burial’ (Amazon MGM Studios)
‘The Burial’ (Amazon MGM Studios)


Sometimes, you just want to watch a great ol’ movie. No strings attached.

You get that with Maggie Betts’ crowd-pleasing courtroom drama “The Burial.” Many have been waiting for Betts’ next joint after her astonishing debut “Novitiate” (2017), and the filmmaker manages to bring a film that is both entertaining and compelling. Not to mention, it features one of Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx’s most charismatic and rich performances of his long career. A movie that can hold your attention and make you feel good, is time well spent.

Other categories to consider: actor (Jamie Foxx), supporting actress (Jurnee Smollett), adapted screenplay

‘Dream Scenario’ (A24)

‘Dream Scenario’ (A24)
‘Dream Scenario’ (A24)


Nicolas Cage gets a role deserving of his bizarro talents in Kristoffer Borgli’s black comedy, where he portrays a mild-mannered professor who pops up in everyone’s dreams. The Oscar-winning actor of “Leaving Las Vegas” (1995) and Emmy winner Julianne Nicholson showcase excellent chemistry. With an epic hairline, precise comedic timing, and the funniest “fart scene” in recent years, this fantasy film is quintessentially A24. Think of it as a quirky cousin to last year’s best picture winner, “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

Other categories to consider: actor (Nicolas Cage), supporting actress (Julianne Nicholson), original screenplay

‘Dumb Money’ (Sony Pictures)

‘Dumb Money’ (Sony Pictures)
‘Dumb Money’ (Sony Pictures)


From “I, Tonya” helmer Craig Gillespie, the wickedly smart and, at times, tragic look at the GameStop stock story of 2021 packs a wallop. With a stunning ensemble (notably Pete Davidson and America Ferrera), sharp script by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo and foot-bumping needle drops, there’s nothing “dumb” about this Sony title.

Other categories to consider: supporting actor (Pete Davidson), supporting actress (America Ferrera), adapted screenplay, editing

‘Robot Dreams’ (Neon)

‘Robot Dreams’ (Neon)
‘Robot Dreams’ (Neon)


Every year, there’s always a movie that can be best described with one single word: delightful.

Last year, it was “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On,” and now, “Robot Dreams” by director and writer Pablo Berger. It began its run at Cannes before Neon acquired the non-dialogue animated film about a lonely dog who builds himself a robot companion. Simply beautiful, moving, and exquisitely crafted, Oscar noms for this gem are a dream I hope can come true.

Other categories to consider: animated feature

‘Somewhere in Queens’ (Roadside Attractions)

‘Somewhere in Queens’ (Roadside Attractions)
‘Somewhere in Queens’ (Roadside Attractions)


I love it when someone as well-known as Ray Romano can still surprise you. The “Everybody Loves Raymond” Emmy winner Ray Romano plays triple duty as a writer, director and star in this heartwarming family story about an Italian family reconciling with the end of their son’s high school basketball career. Sweet and funny, encompassing an always incredible Laurie Metcalf, this tiny dramedy looms large in the minds of its admirers—a stunning directorial debut.

Other categories to consider: supporting actress (Laurie Metcalf), original screenplay

‘The Taste of Things’ (IFC Films/Sapan Studios)

‘The Taste of Things’ (IFC Films/Sapan Studios)
‘The Taste of Things’ (IFC Films/Sapan Studios)


Tràn Anh Hùng’s culinary romance contains a delicious performance by Oscar winner Juliette Binoche, along with hypnotic and meticulously choreographed cooking sequences. It’s a leading contender for international feature, but a best picture nod would give the movie its just desserts.

Other categories to consider: director, supporting actress (Juliette Binoche), adapted screenplay, production design, cinematography, costume design

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