The Oscars are on Sunday, which feels weird. Didn’t we just have the Oscars? Or were they a hundred years ago? Seems like the Academy should generally know what they’re doing over there (just kidding) so we’ll take their word for it on this one. Still, it feels a little strange to be celebrating movies after a year of not going to any of them. Most of the biggest releases got punted to this year or next, and the quieter fare preferred by the Oscars wasn’t always easy to find.
But just because the theaters weren’t open doesn’t mean there wasn’t good stuff this year. As a matter of fact, there were all sorts of great options that caught the Academy’s attention and if you want to be at least a little caught up for your Oscar ballot on Sunday, here’s where you can catch the best ones.
A Danish comedy starring Mads Mikkelsen about a group of teachers who decide to see how boozing it up daily affects their lives won big acclaim this year and landed director Thomas Vinterberg a Best Director nomination. You can stream it on Hulu.
A feast of acting talent with Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman both nabbing nominations for their portrayals of a man in the early throes of dementia and the daughter who struggles to help him through it, even when he doesn’t remember who she is. It’s as tough to watch as it sounds, but well worth it. Check it out on Amazon Prime.
Judas and the Black Messiah
The riveting true story of rising Black Panther Party star Fred Hampton and the friend who stabbed him in the back is a tour de force from Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield. They more than earn their acting nods, and the movie netted a well-deserved Best Picture nomination. You can’t see it on HBO Max anymore, but it’s still available for rent on Amazon.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Chadwick Boseman’s final performance is the one to beat in the Best Actor category, but there are great performances aplenty here. Most notably: Viola Davis, who also got a nomination for her portrayal as the titular Ma Rainey. This one didn’t get a Best Picture nominee (it should have) but it’s a serious contender in many other categories. You can watch it on Netflix.
If there’s one thing Hollywood loves, it’s stories about Hollywood. David Fincher was angling for Oscar bait with Mank and he got it, leading the year’s pack with ten nominations, including acting nods for Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried. As a true story of how the Citizen Kane screenplay came together, it’s a rich bit of moviemaking lore and it’s all available on Netflix.
The exquisite, tender tale of a Korean American family resettling in the American South is about as beautiful and affirming as movies got in 2021, warranting its nominations for Best Actor (Steven Yuen), Best Supporting Actress (Youn Yuh-jung), Best Director (Lee Isaac Chung) and Best Picture. You can and should rent it on YouTube.
Chloé Zhao’s movie is poised to win big and is the favorite for Best Picture, Best Director and a slew of other awards, many of which would break the glass ceiling for women of color. Its portrait of a life on the road — not quite documentary but not fully scripted either — is sometimes staggering in both its heartache and its beauty. It’s streaming on Hulu and you should absolutely watch it.
Promising Young Woman
You’ll never really see this movie coming, which subverts pretty much every expectation you might have about it out of the gates and never stops zigging when you think it’ll zag. Emerald Fennell’s tail of a woman on a mission of vengeance grabbed a Best Actress nominee for Carey Mulligan and a Best Picture nod for the movie itself. You can check it out on Google Play.
Sound of Metal
Possibly the most tender movie about heavy metal ever made, Riz Ahmed stars as the drummer in a metal band who starts to lose his hearing and, subsequently, his entire world. The film is quiet, anchored in Ahmed’s magnetic performance (if anyone upsets Boseman, it’ll be him) and you can immerse yourself in its world on Amazon Prime.
The Trial of the Chicago 7
If you like Aaron Sorkin, you’ve likely already seen this one, which traffics in all his usual talky plot beats, crackerjack dialog and stirring political idealism. If you haven’t, the true story of The Academy liked it, giving it a Best Picture nomination. You can see what you think on Netflix.