Academy members, film critics, and guild members are often incredibly busy over the Thanksgiving holiday, catching up on a flood of screeners, RSVPing to special screenings, and rushing to catch all the award hopefuls that are suddenly knocking on their doors. For the average moviegoer, it can often be very different. For example, Adam McKay’s star-studded Don’t Look Up is screening all over New York and Los Angeles for a variety of awards voters, but it won’t be available in theaters until December 10, and not on the Netflix streaming platform until Christmas Eve.
But there’s no reason to feel left out! Whether you’re an Academy member or just a very eager Oscar viewer, so many of this year’s top hopefuls are available to watch now, no RSVP required. Ahead, a guide to many of them—may your Thanksgiving be stuffed with excellent moviegoing, and not just gravy.
King Richard (in theaters and on HBO Max November 19)
Reports of a disappointing box office debut should not dissuade anyone from catching up with this crowd-pleaser, whether in theaters or at home (it’s certainly the title you can guarantee everyone at your Thanksgiving table will agree on). Will Smith’s lead performance as the father of Venus and Serena Williams is leading the awards conversation around the film, but it could be a strong contender everywhere from best picture to best supporting actress (for Aunjanue Ellis) to best original score.
Belfast (in 580 theaters as of November 21)
Kenneth Branagh’s wistful, black-and-white coming of age tale based on his own childhood is probably the next closest thing to a slam dunk for a family movie outing over the holiday. Featuring supporting performances from two generations worth of stellar grown-ups (Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds, Caitriona Balfe, and Jamie Dornan) as well as the winning 11-year-old Jude Hill in the lead, it’s a family-friendly story but with heft, taking place at the beginning of the troubles in Northern Ireland. It’s also, as you might have heard, an extremely likely Oscar contender in many categories, especially best picture. Catch up now and figure out why Jamie Dornan singing “Everlasting Love” will be the hit single of the holiday season!
Power of the Dog (in limited release November 17, on Netflix December 1)
Give the family something to talk about with Jane Campion’s rich, textured neo-Western. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch in a career-best turn as a macho cowboy in 1920s Montana, the film tracks his collisions with a lonely widow who marries into his family (Kirsten Dunst), and her quiet, sensitive son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who makes a narrative-turning discovery. The critically acclaimed drama, playing in select theaters now before its Netflix bow, keeps you on your toes before its startling, clarifying final twist will have you wanting to get on the ride all over again.
Dune (only in theaters)
Denis Villeneuve’s epic adaptation of half of the classic sci-fi novel was released in October in theaters and on HBO Max, but if you missed it while it was on the streaming service, it’s still playing in movie houses. With awe-inspiring visual effects and landscapes and a cornucopia of talent (from Timothée Chalamet to Oscar Isaac and Zendaya), this big blockbuster is best seen on the big screen anyway. Plus, you’ll want to be all caught up for the sequel, which was recently announced for release in October 2023.
Spencer (in 1,200 theaters as of November 12)
So you love The Crown? Well, this is a very different take on Princess Diana and the royal family, but it’s a trip well worth taking. Featuring a career-best performance from Kristen Stewart as Diana Spencer, Pablo Larraín’s visually stunning drama follows Diana over three days as she attempts to navigate the Christmas holidays under the stifling and watchful eye of her in-laws. Stewart has been considered a lock for a best actress nomination ever since the film debuted at the festivals in the fall, and while the movie may be too odd for some, it’s a gorgeous and unique take on what it might have felt like to trapped in a life not fully your own.
Licorice Pizza (limited release November 26)
Paul Thomas Anderson returns to Southern California for this beautifully told story about a 15-year-old child actor (Cooper Hoffman) who has a big old crush on a 25-year-old (Alana Haim). The pair team up for a bunch of wild misadventures in Los Angeles that take them from motorcycle racing on a golf course to the home of a very famous Hollywood couple. There are appearances by Bradley Cooper and Sean Penn, among others, but the shining stars of this ’70s-set tale are Hoffman, the son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Haim, whose talents clearly go far beyond her very successful music act with her sisters.
House of Gucci (wide release November 24)
Holiday movies are all about entertainment, and Ridley Scott’s chaotic biopic certainly checks that box. Lady Gaga deliciously chews on every line of dialogue she’s handed as Patrizia Reggiani, who marries into the wealthy Gucci family before her relationship with Maurizio (Adam Driver) goes south, as things often do in life and love. From there, the saga devolves into a mishmash of wild accents, enormous set pieces, and lots of backroom drama on the evolution of the Gucci brand. Even if it doesn’t come together so seamlessly, there’s something for everyone there, right?
C’mon C’mon (limited release November 19)
Fans of Mike Mills’s tender family dramas Beginners and 20th Century Women will find more of the beautiful same in his latest, an ode to fatherhood drawn from his personal experiences. Though in this case, the story follows an estranged uncle (Joaquin Phoenix, in one of his subtlest and most affecting performances) connecting with his nine-year-old nephew (newcomer Woody Norman) on a road trip across the country. The film asks big questions about children and the future, but holds a close intimacy throughout.
The French Dispatch (in 1,200 theaters as of November 12)
One of the few specialty-release success stories of 2021, The French Dispatch, continues Wes Anderson’s art-house hot streak. His latest, an ode to old magazine journalism inspired by New Yorker writers and stories, features the biggest cast of any fall movie this year, from Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Frances McDormand to newcomers Jeffrey Wright and Benicio del Toro.
After becoming a critical hit at Sundance and the biggest purchase of the year, CODA was released in September, but for those who may have missed it, it’s still available on Apple TV+. This heartfelt story about a teenage girl (Emilia Jones) who helps her deaf parents (Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur) with their business shines the spotlight on a community not often given space for their stories in Hollywood, and features standout performances and a knockout ending.
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