This guide was originally written for CLTure.org.
April is here, and that means awards season is reaching its climax with the 93rd Oscars looming at the end of the month. Typically, the Academy Awards take place in February, but due to the ongoing pandemic and the constant delays holding back films over the past year, the awards show was pushed back a few months.
Now, things are coming down to the wire as critics, voters and movie-lovers alike are all cramming to check out all of this year’s top films. With theaters largely closed for the majority of 2020, most of the top contenders released straight to streaming services or Video on Demand sites and are now readily available for viewers to check out from the comfort of their own home. That makes for the perfect movie day binge as you prepare for Hollywood’s biggest night.
Whether you’ve already seen all the Best Picture nominees and are ready for a rewatch, or you haven’t seen any of the films at all, we’re here to break down all eight Best Picture nominees and where you can watch them – plus a few of our favorite snubs.
Let’s get started.
Nomadland – Hulu
If you’re only going to watch one nominee this Oscars season, make sure it’s Nomadland. The real-life drama starring Frances McDormand is up for six awards, and it’s the frontrunner across the board, including Best Picture and Best Director, where Chloé Zhao is the first woman of color to be nominated. Set in 2011, Nomadland tells the story of Fern, a woman who has lost everything in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and as a result sells her remaining possessions to travel the country in a van searching for work. With many across America still facing job insecurity in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Nomadland’s deeply personal narrative and its indictment of the capitalist machine feel more timely than ever.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Netflix
Writer-director Aaron Sorkin’s latest project jumped out of the gate as an Oscars favorite, and while the hype surrounding Chicago 7 may have lessened a bit, it’s still right up there at the top. Chronicling the real-life events of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Chicago riots, and the ensuing trials, the film takes courtroom drama to the next level with thrilling dialogue and storytelling. It may not be as powerful as Judas and the Black Messiah (more on that in a bit), but it’s most definitely worth a watch.
Minari – Paid Video on Demand (PVOD)
If you’re looking for a dark horse contender that could be this year’s surprise winner, look no further. Minari has it all – from the stellar performances of Steven Yeun and Yuh-Jung Youn to the tender, emotional family narrative, and don’t forget adorable child star Alan Kim. Despite being made by an American director, financed by American companies, and filmed in America, Minari was wrongly nominated as a foreign film at the Golden Globes in February because the characters frequently speak in Korean. As a result, Academy members may see a Minari victory as a way to show how far the group has come and distinguish themselves from the Hollywood Foreign Press responsible for the debacle at the Globes. While it’s not on any streamers for free at the moment, rent or purchase Minari on any paid VOD service like Prime Video, Apple TV, Google Play or Vudu.
Promising Young Woman – PVOD
If you haven’t heard about director Emerald Fennell’s debut film yet, then that’s perfect, because blind is the best way to go into this one. With each new scene Promising Young Woman delivers crazier twists and turns that will keep you guessing and leave your jaw on the floor. Carey Mulligan stars as Cassie, a woman bent on tackling the toxic culture of sexual assault and violence against women, and her performance has made her the favorite to take home Best Actress at this year’s show.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Judas and the Black Messiah – PVOD on April 2
If you missed the chance to check out Judas and the Black Messiah on HBO Max earlier this year, don’t worry. The film is still playing in theaters if you’re comfortable enough to venture out, but starting April 2 it will return to streaming services as a paid rental option. Telling the infuriating and heartbreaking true story of the U.S. government’s efforts to take down the Black Panther Party and its leader Fred Hampton, this film feels incredibly timely after the political and civil unrest of the last four years, which could convince a younger, new Academy to award Judas the top prize. Stars Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield have each garnered high praise for their performances, with both earning Best Supporting Actor nominations.
The Father – PVOD
The Father may be the most under-the-radar film on this list, simply because it just now became widely available to the public. It premiered over a year ago at Sundance in 2020, then finally got a limited theatrical run in February, and is now available to rent on video on demand services like Amazon, Apple, Google and Vudu. Starring legendary actor Sir Anthony Hopkins and Academy Award-winner Olivia Colman, The Father tells the story of an aging man with dementia and the daughter who cares for him as he nears the end of his life. The film is nominated for six Oscars, including Hopkins and Colman as Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress, respectively.
Sound of Metal – Amazon Prime Video
Sound of Metal may not be guaranteed to take home any Oscars this year, but it is a surefire bet to be one of the most unique viewing experiences of 2020. Riz Ahmed stars as Ruben, a punk-metal drummer who suddenly and dramatically begins to lose his hearing. Director Darius Marder works magic behind the scenes as he fully embeds viewers in Ruben’s situation through strategic sound editing, creating a truly visceral experience. Ahmed and co-star Paul Raci each earned acting nominations for the film, and Ahmed could even be a dark horse to take home Best Actor.
Mank – Netflix
After a six-year hiatus from film, director David Fincher made his return with Mank and earned a whopping 10 Oscar nominations along the way. Fans of Fincher’s dark, twisted murder mystery filmography will be confused to find the director tackling the drama of Old Hollywood in this film based on the creation of Citizen Kane, but Fincher’s late father penned the script, which made it somewhat of a passion project for him. While Mank racked up the most nominations of any film this year, experts are only predicting it to take home at most one or two awards.
Da 5 Bloods – Netflix
If Da 5 Bloods had been released six months later, it likely would have been a frontrunner in the Best Picture race, but alas, it hit Netflix all the way back in June 2020 and the awards campaign couldn’t keep it up for nearly an entire year. Director Spike Lee never disappoints, and his latest is no exception. Told in alternate timelines – one in 1970s war-era Vietnam, the other in present day – Da 5 Bloods follows a crew of Black veterans as they relive the horrors they experienced in country, all while trying to recover the remains of their fallen squad leader. The film features some truly stellar moments with the late, great Chadwick Boseman, but star Delroy Lindo delivers the year’s single best acting performance – and should have not only earned a nomination, but won the whole thing.
One Night in Miami – Amazon Prime Video
For whatever reason, the Academy decided to only nominate eight films for Best Picture this year, rather than the 10 they are allowed, and One Night in Miami fell victim to the cut. A more-than-worthy nominee, the film is adapted from Kemp Powers’ stage play of the same name, which imagines what happened inside a real-life hotel room in Miami one night when Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown and Cassius Clay soon to be Muhammad Ali shared an evening together. The film features strong performances across the board, with Kingsley Ben-Adir’s Malcolm X standing out, although it was Leslie Odom Jr. who earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his portrayal of Sam Cooke.
Soul – Disney+
It’s always an uphill battle for an animated film to earn a Best Picture nomination, but Disney and Pixar have proven they have what it takes, with Up and Toy Story 3 earning noms in 2009 and 2010, respectively. So, it wouldn’t have been too out of the ordinary for a prestige animated film like Soul to get a little love. The film feels far more adult than any of the studio’s past works, tackling existential ideas like purpose, identity, and what it means to truly live, which result in a truly profound and moving finale that will leave viewers misty-eyed.
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.