The real contenders for Academy Award nominees arrive this fall, including ''Amistad,'' ''Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,'' and ''Titanic'' in December

Clear your calendars as 1997’s Oscar contenders sprint to the most overcrowded finish in years. Steven Spielberg, the 1993 Best Director, offers his first serious film since Schindler’s List (no, we don’t count the dinosaur sequel) with the slave-ship-mutiny drama Amistad, but his competition is fierce: 1992 winner Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil showcases Kevin Spacey as a suave Southerner accused of shooting his lover; the comedy Old Friends teams 1983 winner James L. Brooks with Helen Hunt, Jack Nicholson, and reigning Best Supporting Actor Cuba Gooding Jr.; 1980 winner Robert Redford directs and stars in The Horse Whisperer opposite 1996 nominee Kristin Scott Thomas; and 1996 Original Screenplay winners Joel and Ethan Coen reteam for the comedy The Big Lebowski. Don’t like those? Try these: Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction follow-up Jackie Brown boasts a great cast (check out the cover if you don’t believe us); Martin Scorsese’s Tibet epic Kundun is said to be good and good for you; The Boxer boasts My Left Foot‘s team of Daniel Day-Lewis and director Jim Sheridan plus Breaking the Waves nominee Emily Watson; Atom Egoyan’s small-town tragedy The Sweet Hereafter was a winner at Cannes; and some say James Cameron’s Titanic could end up the biggest fish in the Oscar pond. Wait! We forgot to mention 19-time nominee Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry, Sharon Stone in The Mighty, Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, Emma Thompson and her mom, Phyllida Law, in Alan Rickman’s The Winter Guest, and an updated Great Expectations with Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow….You get the picture. As for what the pictures get, nominees are announced Feb. 10.