Our definitive guide to catching up on the year’s best films from the comfort of your own home.
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The Academy Award nominations are out, marking the end of one phase of aggressive campaigning and speculation, while simultaneously launching a second one. If the massive amount of great movies released in 2020 overwhelmed you, the nominations provide a concise list of films worth watching before your Zoom Oscar party. And with a couple more months of the pandemic ahead of us, there’s no excuse not to see all of this year’s nominees. While many of these films are starting to play in select theaters again (and others debuted in theaters and on streaming platforms simultaneously), nobody could blame you for not wanting to leave the house. Fortunately, almost all of the nominees for Best Picture are available to stream while you wait for the Oscars (and your second vaccine).
The multitude of streaming services, and the ever-shuffling roster of films on each one can be confusing, but it’s the reality of being a cinephile in 2021. We’ve done our best to make the process as simple as possible for you. If one or more of these movies is exclusive to a service you don’t subscribe to, this is a perfect time to rectify that. After all, many of these streaming services are beating traditional studios at their own game. Amazon scored a dozen nominations, and a subscription to Amazon Prime for $12.99 a month gives you access to thousands of films and TV shows, along with a plethora of other benefits. HBO Max is a newer player in the streaming world, but the fact that you can view Warner Bros. films on the day they hit theaters makes it well worth the $14.99 a month. And since Disney acquired 20th Century Fox, Hulu has become the definitive way to access the entertainment behemoth’s library of more grownup-skewing content. An entry-level Hulu subscription costs $5.99 a month, but it can also be bundled with Disney+ for $13.99. That option also lets you view Pixar’s “Soul,” another 2020 favorite.
Regardless of which streaming services you have, it’s time to start filling out those Oscar ballots. Whether you’ve seen all eight nominees or are starting from scratch, it’s much easier to make predictions with the films fresh in your head. With such a competitive roster, this is not a year you can afford to watch just 75 percent of the nominees. You need to see them all. And once you’ve done that, it’s a safe bet to say you’ll probably want to view a few of them more than once. Check below for a comprehensive guide to streaming all of the 2021 Academy Award nominees for Best Picture.
Shaka King’s period drama (released in February) tells the riveting story of the FBI’s attempts to take down the Black Panther Party in the 1960s, by way of William O’Neal’s infiltration and subsequent betrayal. Equal parts civil rights story and white-knuckled thriller, it’s a film that should not have to feel nearly as timely as it does. It boasts some of the years best performances from Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield, and scored six nominations in total, each one well-deserved. “Judas and the Black Messiah” is available to stream here on HBO Max.
It wouldn’t be the Oscars without an excellent Hollywood biopic in the mix, would it? “Mank,” the continuation of David Fincher’s ongoing collaboration with Netflix, tells the story of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz played by Gary Oldman in a predictably stellar performance. The film centers around his attempts to gain credit for his work on “Citizen Kane” after initially agreeing to remain anonymous. The screenplay was written by David Fincher’s late father, and the black and white opus is worth watching for the exquisite 1930s production design alone. With 10 Oscar nods, “Mank” is the most nominated film of the year, and streaming exclusively on Netflix.
In an age of seemingly-endless content saturation, “Minari” is the rare film that feels truly one-of-a-kind. Lee Isaac Chung’s authentic, and at times dreamlike, coming of age story follows a Korean immigrant family building a life in rural Arkansas in the 1980s. It uses a grounded, intimate story to examine the massive issue of assimilation, toeing a fine line between both worlds, just like the characters it portrays. Each part of the film works harmoniously with the others to create something truly unique without ever becoming uneven. The film is nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. “Minari” is available to rent on Amazon Prime.
One of the year’s most unique films, “Nomadland” finds director Chloe Zhao blending fact and fiction as she adapted Jessica Bruder’s nonfiction book “” into a film starring Frances McDormand. The book was a journalistic memoir about a subset of aging Americans who found their financial fortunes wiped out after the 2008 recession, and were forced to travel the country in vans looking for fleeting employment. Zhao cast many of the actual “nomads” that Bruder interviewed to play themselves, but created a fictional character played by McDormand to anchor the film. The groundbreaking film is nominated for six Oscars, including Zhao’s history-making moment as the first Asian-American woman to be nominated for Best Director. “Nomadland” is currently streaming on Hulu.
Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut is so much more than a rape/revenge thriller, but that doesn’t mean it’s not riveting. Beginning with the B-movie inspired poster, Fennell skillfully takes a clichéd genre and subverts it at every turn (sometimes subverting the expected subversions, if we’re being honest). Carey Mulligan gives an inspired performance, picking up one of the film’s five Oscar nominations. We can also thank this film for bringing about the welcome development of 2021 being the first year that two women were nominated for Best Director. “Promising Young Woman” is available to rent on Amazon Prime.
One of the best uses of sound design in recent memory, Sound of Metal stars Riz Ahmed as a heavy metal drummer who falls into a dark spiral as he struggles to cope with hearing loss. The film is a commentary on the costs of healthcare in America, and a reflection on the way artists’ identities are often intertwined with their crafts. “Sound of Metal” is nominated for six Academy Awards, including a Best Actor nod for Ahmed’s career-best performance. “Sound of Metal” is streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime.
Aaron Sorkin’s follow up to “Molly’s Game” is this period courtroom drama about the legal persecution faced by a band of anti-war protestors following the tumultuous 1968 Democratic Convention. His script was in development for over a decade, with a multitude of stars and directors attached at various points, before Sorkin eventually stepped in to direct it himself. The sprawling film boasts a star-studded cast, but the biggest draw is likely a scene-stealing performance from Sacha Baron Cohen, (who had quite the 2020). In Sorkin’s competent hands, classic Hollywood subject matter still makes for a fresh, sophisticated film that earned five Oscar nominations. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is available to watch on Netflix.
“The Father” finds playwright Florian Zeller adapting his own play, “Le Père,” and taking advantage of the realism that only film can offer to tell a gut-wrenching story of a man losing his entire sense of self to dementia. At the age of 83, Anthony Hopkins is the oldest Best Actor nominee in Oscar history. The honor is well-deserved, as are the film’s other five nominations. As you might imagine, it’s not always a fun movie to watch, but it sticks with you long after the credits roll. “The Father” isn’t currently streaming anywhere, but will be available to rent on March 26.