November 17, 2016 7:44 AM EST

It’s the kind of tale that would be unbelievable if it weren’t true: a young boy gets lost on the streets of Kolkata and lands in an orphanage, where he is adopted by an Australian family. Nearly two decades later, he tracks down his birth family in a remote Indian village by using Google Earth.

Yet it happened to Saroo Brierley, who told the story in his 2013 memoir A Long Way Home, which inspired the new film Lion, out Nov. 25. The British actor Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) says he responded instantly to the way themes of family and identity were explored in the script. “It took me 10 years to land a role like this,” he says.

Patel spent months prepping for the film, traveling to India to retrace Brierley’s trip and visiting orphanages like the one Brierley stayed at as a child. Along the way, Patel found similarities between Brierley’s story and his own, especially when it came to their shared Indian heritage. “He’s more an Aussie than he is an Indian, so he goes back there like an alien,” Patel says. “There was a lot I related to in having connections to a country but rediscovering your culture and history.”

Patel’s turn in the role has generated awards-season buzz. But the most meaningful review might be the one from the real-life Brierley, who says, “I don’t think there’s a person out there that could have done a better job.”

DRAMA CALENDAR

More films with awards-season ambitions

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

Nov. 18

A divorced couple reckons with the boundaries of love, violence and revenge in a romantic thriller from Tom Ford, which sees a successful gallery owner (Amy Adams) haunted by her novelist ex (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his violent new book.

RULES DON’T APPLY

Nov. 23

Warren Beatty’s first film in 15 years dramatizes the life of Howard Hughes (Beatty) and explores the restrictive sexual mores of 1950s Hollywood through a forbidden relationship.

MISS SLOANE

Nov. 25

Jessica Chastain plays a ruthless Washington lobbyist with fungible ethics who will allow nothing to stand in the way of passing a gun-control bill.

LA LA LAND

Dec. 9

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling star in this wistful Technicolor musical from Whiplash director Damien Chazelle, about an actor and a musician trying to make it in love and Los Angeles.

THE FOUNDER

Dec. 16

John Lee Hancock directs this biopic about Ray Kroc and the rise of McDonald’s, with a captivating performance by Michael Keaton as the relentless Kroc.

PASSENGERS

Dec. 21

Aboard a spacecraft transporting them to a new planet, two ex-earthlings (Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt) fall in love after their hibernation pods malfunction 90 years before they were scheduled to reach their new home.

SILENCE

Dec. 23

Martin Scorsese’s new drama stars Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as 17th century Jesuit priests who travel to Japan on an evangelical mission that doubles as a search for their mentor (Liam Neeson).

20TH CENTURY WOMEN

Dec. 25

Annette Bening gives a stellar performance in this new dramedy from director Mike Mills (Beginners), in which three women–played by Bening, Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning–pitch in to raise a teenage boy while figuring out their own lives in late-1970s Southern California.

FENCES

Dec. 25

Denzel Washington directs and stars in this adaptation of August Wilson’s 1983 play about a Negro League baseball player struggling to support his family in 1950s Pittsburgh. Washington and co-star Viola Davis won Tonys for their onstage portrayals.

GOLD

Dec. 25

A failing businessman (Matthew McConaughey) and an eager geologist (Edgar Ramirez) search for gold in the jungles of Indonesia, but the adventure really gets going once they reach the boardrooms (and investors) of Wall Street.

PATERSON

Dec. 28

Minimalist indie director Jim Jarmusch named his new movie both for its main character, a bus-driving poet played by Adam Driver, and the struggling New Jersey city in which he lives and works. Both are in for subtle, unforeseen changes.

This appears in the November 28, 2016 issue of TIME.

Write to Cady Lang at cady.lang@timemagazine.com.

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