The Academy Award nominations come out on Tuesday. Finally. The Baftas (in England) just days ago issued theirs and led with Oppenheimer, putting Poor Things close behind and then Killers of the Flower Moon and The Zone of Interest. Oscar will likely be similar and while we're waiting I consider several films that are, have been or could be contenders in the ever-growing world of film awards. I lead with a gem from Germany.

The Teachers' Lounge: 4½ stars

The Zone of Interest: 4

Werner Herzog Radical Dreamer: 4

The Kitchen: 3½

Memory: 3

THE TEACHERS' LOUNGE: Teachers are going to get this one, maybe even cringe because it is so real. Parents should see it too to get a better understanding of the school system, and failing that, at least see a riveting drama in which the complications just keep piling up. It's Germany's submission to the Oscars and has already won big at the German Film Awards, winning five big categories including best picture, director, screenplay and lead actor.

Courtesy of Mongrel Media

She's Leonie Benesch who plays a teacher newly hired at a school where she finds there are thefts going on. Apparently that's common in schools and one sign of how real this film is. She sets out to do something about it but everything she tries backfires. A boy is accused but his parents, Turkish immigrants, like the director Ilker Çatak, defend him and accuse the school of racism. When the teacher catches a scene on a laptop camera that points to someone else she's accused of violating privacy. The other teachers and the principal won't support her, citing bureaucratic issues, a student threatens her and, in a terrific sequence, a group of young reporters for the school paper grill her like a demanding Congressional committee. Brisk and immensely engrossing. (4 ½ out of 5)

THE ZONE OF INTEREST: This is one of those award possibilities. Los Angeles and Toronto critics named it the best of 2023 and it is back in a few more theaters, after opening in very few last month. It's definitely one to see, offering an innovative consideration of the Holocaust. How could people live an ordinary life while blindly ignoring what was going on? The film raises that question through a situation that really happened, was written about by novelist Kingsley Amis and made into a deceptively sunlit movie by Jonathan Glazer.

Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

A family lives a calm middle-class life except for a major incongruity. Their house and garden is right beside Auschwitz. The father (Christian Friedel) is the commander. The mother (Sandra Hüller) tends her flowers which now and then are covered in ash. There are noises heard from next door but generally the family is insulated from what is going on over there. Later, the father is offered a promotion which would require a move away and stirs up more of those normal-family thoughts. How will a relocation affect the children? Hardly the biggest question around them. Do they even think about what they're really part of? Do they approve? Do they go along with it out of patriotism? The film doesn't specifically ask but has the effect of making us ask. It's another way of expressing the banality of evil and it works. (In theaters) 4 out of 5

WERNER HERZOG RADICAL DREAMER: He's iconic but until now not personally well-known to movie fans. His work is though: 54 films, a character on the Simpsons, that distinctive voice and the many legends about his methods. He hauled a ship over the Andes Mountains in Fitzcarraldo, his most talked-about exploit. He filmed penguins in the Antarctic and a grizzly-bear naturalist in Alaska. He directed Nicole Kidman, Nicolas Cage, Christian Bale and has stories to tell about Klaus Kinski, nominally a friend but an extreme wild man according to some in this documentary.

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What does come through the strongest is Herzog's perfectionism and his daring to take chances. He's a visionary and says to be a good director you have to see beyond the story. He's always searching for new images but according to a former wife he's "completely insane." Maybe eccentric would be a better term. We certainly get appreciative comments from a long list of people he's worked with including Kidman, Christian Bale, Robert Pattinson, Patti Smith and Wim Wenders and Chloé Zhao two directors who say they were inspired by him. With lots of clips to illustrate, this is a fine portrait of the man. (Art-house theaters in Toronto and Vancouver now, Hamilton, Waterloo and London next week) 4 out of 5

THE KITCHEN: Here's a view of urban life at its rawest. It's set in London, Eng., sometime in the future. Gentryfication is rampant. Most social housing is gone (urban-renewed); just one neighborhood, known as "the kitchen" remains. It's vibrant with life in the streets and markets but is under threat. There's surveillance by drones that fly over and there are regular police raids to oust people from living there. They refuse to leave though. As a radio DJ (played by a former soccer player well-known in Britain) puts it: “They ordered us to leave. This is our home. We ain't goin' nowhere.”

Courtesy of Netflix

That spirit of resistance is well-portrayed in this gritty film written and co-directed by Daniel Kaluuya, who we know as an actor (Get Out (2017), Judas and the Black Messiah (2021). He shows he can do much more. He puts passion and anger into this one by following two young characters. Izi (Kane Robinson) is considering moving into one of the new condos but doesn't trust the developer. He becomes friends with a younger boy who won't move. Benji (played by strong newcomer Jedaiah Bannerman) is bitter about what's going on and what happened to his mother. Over her grave he moans “When you don't got money, they dump you”. Another man rails about governments and corporations that just take the land “for whatever.” The swelling resentment turns into a battle against the police when they return once again. An apt reponse in an intense film. (Netflix) 3 ½ out of 5

MEMORY: Sometimes you're nagged by old memories that won't go away. Sometimes you can't remember something recent. Both problems are in play in this film which has two vibrant actors, Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard, charm us even though the story line drags quite a bit. They are inadvertently connected after their characters meet at a high school reunion and have mistaken memories about each other. In her case, the memory isn't true at all and in his it's hard to tell because he's suffering from early on-set dementia.

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Movies often put such disparate types together and let them find connections. This one by the Mexican director Michel Franco is set in New York and does not feature violence as his previous film do. Philosophy is up front here; how to make sense of your life. Chastain plays a recovered alcoholic who stays steady by living a well-ordered life. Sarsgaard interrupts that when he follows her home from the reunion and sleeps outside on the sidewalk all night. Is he a threat? She says they've met before; he can't remember. His brother defends him and says he's harmless. The script keeps us guessing about both of them. They're both damaged and what can come of them together? She's easy with it; he's a gentle guy it seems and his brother is the one who objects. Why? Just one of the questions drifting about in this mostly-easy-going psychological drama. (Theaters in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal) 3 out of 5