Portrait of an Oscar?

Even the season’s big biopics lean toward excess. Spike Lee leads the way at Thanksgiving with his three-hourplus Malcolm X, starring Denzel Washington in what may be an Oscar-winning performance as the black street hustler turned religious and political leader. Washington faces a serious challenge in the race for Best Actor from Jack Nicholson as the power-hungry Teamster boss in Danny DeVito’s Hoffa. One wonders how Nicholson, prosthetized up to the eyeballs, will get his tongue around the scads of undeleted expletives that will surely pepper

David Mamet’s screenplay. On second thought—he’ll manage. Robert Downey, Jr., makes his bid for greatness as the scandal-wracked Little Tramp in Richard Attenborough’s $40 million Chaplin, which also stars Dan Aykroyd as Mack Sennett, Kevin Kline as Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and the wonderful Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) as silent screen star Mabel Normand. In an oedipal twist that would blanch the cheeks of Freud. Chaplin’s daughter Geraldine plays his mother, Hannah. On a quieter note, Michael Caton-Jones directs Robert De Niro, Ellen Barkin, and Leonardo DiCaprio in This Boy’s Life, an adaptation of Tobias Wolff’s autobiography.