As Hollywood's hype machine whirs up for awards season, moviegoers find themselves inundated with prognostications, praise, pans and punditry about the films anointed as Oscar contenders. But for all the buzz generated by these prestige pictures, it can be a challenge for even the most dedicated cinephiles to keep track of them at the multiplex, thanks to studios' labyrinthine schedules of limited releases, gradual expansions and one-week Academy Award qualifying runs. A quick guide to where and when some potential players are scheduled (for now) to open:
Director Bennet Miller's fact-based drama about the twisted relationship between Olympic wrestlers Dave and Mark Schultz (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum) and rich benefactor John du Pont (Steve Carell) opened last Friday in six theaters in Los Angeles and New York. The film will expand to a few more markets over the next two weeks, including a considerable footprint in the Philadelphia area, where the film takes place. By Dec. 19, the film will be in about 400 theaters. (Sony Pictures Classics)
Making his feature writing and directing debut, Jon Stewart has released a film about Maziar Bahari, the journalist accused of spying and imprisoned in Iran for 118 days. The film opened nationwide in 371 theaters last Friday. Expansion plans have not been announced. (Open Road Films)
"The Imitation Game"
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and directed by Morten Tyldum, this drama about the English mathematician and World War II code breaker Alan Turing will open in two theaters each in Los Angeles and New York on Friday, then expand to the top 10 markets Dec. 12. (The Weinstein Co.)
"Merchants of Doubt"
Based on the book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway and directed by Robert Kenner, this documentary about spin doctors and media manipulators began a one-week awards-qualifying run in Los Angeles and New York last Friday. Its official opening is scheduled for March 6. (Sony Pictures Classics)
Based on Cheryl Strayed's bestselling memoir, the film stars Reese Witherspoon as Strayed, who undertook a life-changing 1,100-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. The movie, director Jean-Marc Vallee's follow-up to his "Dallas Buyers Club," opens Dec. 3 in Los Angeles and New York, then rolls out two days later in San Francisco, Phoenix, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Toronto. It will widen to 700 to 800 theaters in North America by the end of the year. (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Julianne Moore garnered excellent reviews when this Alzheimer's drama premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Co-written and co-directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, "Still Alice" begins a one-week awards-qualifying run in Los Angeles and New York on Dec. 5, ahead of its wide release Jan. 16. (Sony Pictures Classics)
The first feature film adapted from a Thomas Pynchon novel finds Joaquin Phoenix portraying a pot-smoking private eye enlisted by his ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) to investigate a plot involving her billionaire boyfriend. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the comedy-drama will open in limited release Dec. 12 and expand nationwide Jan. 9. (Warner Bros.)
Mark Wahlberg has called his role in this drama, about a self-destructive college English professor with a sizable gambling debt, the most difficult part in his career. A remake of the hardboiled 1974 film starring James Caan, "The Gambler" is directed by Rupert Wyatt ("Rise of the Planet of the Apes"). It will open in limited release Dec. 19 and go wide Jan. 2. (Paramount Pictures)
Unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival in May, writer-director Mike Leigh's exploration of the later years of the 19th century British artist J.M.W. Turner earned fine notices for lead Timothy Spall. The film opens in Los Angeles and New York on Dec. 19 and will expand throughout December and January. (Sony Pictures Classics)
Bradley Cooper plays the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who served four tours of duty in Iraq and became known as the most accurate sharpshooter in U.S. military history. Kyle's 2012 memoir served as the basis for the film, directed by Clint Eastwood. The film will open in select theaters on Christmas Day in Los Angeles, New York and Dallas before going wide Jan. 16. (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Tim Burton takes on the strange but true story of Margaret and Walter Keane, the prolific painter of sad-eyed images and her fast-talking husband who took public credit for the images. Starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, "Big Eyes" will open in moderate release on Christmas Day. Expansion plans have not been announced. (The Weinstein Co.)
Directed by Ava DuVernay and starring David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr., this historical drama set against the 1965 voting-rights marches in Alabama made a splashy debut at AFI Fest this month. It will open in select theaters Christmas Day, then nationwide Jan. 9. (Paramount Pictures)
"A Most Violent Year"
Set in 1981, during one of the most crime-ridden winters in New York history, writer-director J.C. Chandor's gritty exploration of the American dream stars Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain as an immigrant businessman and his wife trying to stake their claim in life. "A Most Violent Year" is set to open in Los Angeles and New York on Dec. 31 and expand nationally throughout January. (A24 Films)