TV & Movies

Get Up To Speed With This Year’s Academy Award Best Picture Nominated Films

By Tim Piccione
18th Mar 2021

2020 wasn’t good for many things, and yet, the year from hell still managed to deliver an epic slate of movie releases. With the Academy Award nominations released earlier this week, we’re getting you up to speed with every film hoping for Best Picture, why they deserved a nod, how you can watch them, and which snubbed movies are also worth checking out. To make things easier, we’re even ranking them in the order you should rush to see them.

In recent years, the Academy Awards have faced considerable backlash for its lack of female representation in major categories like Best Director and screenplays, and a lack of racial diversity across the board, especially in major acting categories–prompting the #oscarssowhite campaign beginning in 2015. While we’re happy to say that this year’s nominees look to change that trend, let’s hope that it has to do with genuine and lasting, not temporary, change.

With the global pandemic affecting several movie studio plans, we saw less ‘Oscar-bait’ movies released and more room for independent films and meaningful stories. Films like Minari and Sound of Metal may not have otherwise received so much attention or recognition in normal years but will now hopefully pave the way. And in a trend we should all get used to, streaming platforms have once again made their mark on the year’s most prestigious award ceremony.

Here’s our guide to this year’s Oscars Best Picture race.

#1 Nomadland

To be clear, we’re not ranking these films in order of most likely to win. But by all accounts, there is an excellent chance that Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland, starring the spellbinding Frances McDormand, is going to win this year–and deservedly so. Backgrounded by the picturesque American landscape, this beautiful film portraits the unique nomadic lifestyle chosen by people after experiencing loss, based on Jessica Brudder’s 2017 novel Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century.

Zhao, who was approached by McDormand for the project, effectively blends her documentary and feature filmmaking styles, including both actors and real people from the world being portrayed, giving the story an honest and raw sensibility. Before this year, only five women have ever been nominated for Best Director, and only one has won (Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker). If Zhao, an independent filmmaking woman of colour, wins Best Director as she did for the Golden Globes, as well as Best Picture, it will be a historic achievement. This film is visually stunning, emotionally affecting, incredibly acted, and a delight to experience.

How can you watch it? Nomadland is currently showing in cinemas around Australia.

#2 Judas And The Black Messiah

From director Shakka King, Judas and the Black Messiah dramatises the long untold story of FBI informant William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) infiltrating the Illinois Black Panther Party and its chairman, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). This thematically timely film explores historical racial injustice and the extent of police power abuse in the United States, with shockingly poignant results.
The historical drama deservedly picked up nods all around the board, from Sean Bobbitt’s brilliant cinematography to the original screenplay. Both Stanfield and Kaluuya are nominated for their arresting performances, with the latter a warranted favourite to win Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the young Hampton. If you recall the two actors working together on Jordan Peele’s 2016 social horror classic, Get Out, they deliver more of the same in career-best showings. Although someone needs to explain to us how the two main characters in a film can both be nominated as supporting. *shoulder shrug*
How can you watch it? Judas and the Black Messiah is currently showing in cinemas around Australia.

#3 Minari 

Lee Isaac Chung’s semi-autobiographical Minari tells the Yi family’s intimate story, Korean immigrants who move to a remote farming community in mid-1980s rural Arkansas. Chung didn’t set out to make a movie specifically about his own experience or about Korean immigrants, but rather one about being human, speaking more broadly to immigration, identity, otherness, acceptance, and crisis. 

As we mentioned earlier, Minari is precisely the kind of independent film that can sometimes fall through the cracks, especially with most of the dialogue being in Korean. But we’re so glad that this year it belongs heavily in popular discourse. Winning the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at Sundance and picking up Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes, the drama is now nominated for six Academy Awards. With a Best Actor nomination, Steven Yeun, alongside Riz Ahmed, makes history as the first Asian-American man nominated for an acting Oscar.

How can you watch it? Minari is currently showing in cinemas around Australia.

#4 Sound Of Metal

After losing his hearing, Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a recovering addict and professional heavy metal drummer, joins a house for deaf recovering addicts. Led by Joe (Paul Raci), a deaf army veteran, Ruben must accept his new reality. This impactful drama gives a compelling and engaging insight into the deaf community experience and deserves every bit of recognition it receives.

Sound of Metal is yet another uniquely told story about an underrepresented segment of society, rewarded across the board by the Academy, including screenplay, acting and its technical prowess. If this film doesn’t win Best Sound, for it’s meticulous and unparalleled ingenuity in depicting noise, or lack thereof, turn off the Oscars because they are in total shambles. Ahmed, who also makes history as a nominee of Asian descent, is also the first Muslim person ever nominated in an acting category. In any other year, Ahmed, who spent seven months learning sign language and drumming, would have indeed taken home a trophy (more on that later).

How can you watch it? Sound of Metal is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime.

#5 Promising Young Woman

If you’ve seen the trailer to Promising Young Woman, then you’ll know director Emerald Fennell was purposefully keeping us guessing in the hope of more aggressively surprising us in theatres. In keeping with that wish, we’ll just tell you that the thriller/comedy follows Cassie (Carey Mulligan) whose life appears to be going nowhere, except for her secret hobby and the revenge she exacts every weekend.
With a Best Director Oscar nomination for Fennell, the 93rd Academy Awards historically marks the first time that two women have been up for directing’s most prized statue (more later on why it should have been three). Amongst the film’s five nominations is Mulligan’s nod for Best Actress in a Leading Role–which she is currently favoured to win. Promising Young Woman unashamedly tackles one of our society’s most pressing issues–violent men and the systems protecting them. For that reason, and because Fennell manages to make this #metoo-era, revenge fantasy film incredibly entertaining while commenting on the broken patriarchy, it is one of 2020’s most important movies.
How can you watch it? Promising Young Woman is currently showing in cinemas around Australia.

#6 The Trial Of The Chicago 7

When The Trial of the Chicago 7 dropped last October, it immediately garnered serious Oscar buzz. And with good reason–it comes from writer/director Aaron Sorkin, felt incredibly timely amongst worldwide police brutality protests, and is made up of an all-star calibre roster of (male) actors. The film is a dramatisation following the infamous court trial of the Chicago 7 after violent clashes between anti-war protestors and the national guard during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

The film features some noteworthy performances like Sacha Baron Cohen’s (nominated) Abbie Hoffman and Mark Rylance as defence attorney William Kunstler. Most notably, however, is Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale, who delivers the movie’s most intense sequence as Seale is forcibly tied to a chair mid-trial. In the running for Best Original Screenplay, amongst five nominations, Sorkin’s story hits all the usual ‘sorkinisms’–grand public speeches, overly idealistic endings, and of course, the morality of well-spoken men. 

How can you watch it? The Trial of the Chicago 7 is currently available to stream on Netflix.

#7 The Father

Continually rejecting personal carers presented by his daughter (Olivia Coleman) and hellbent on defiantly living alone, Anthony (Sir Anthony Hopkins) begins facing his own mortality and questioning the very fabric of reality, as well as his own mind. The Father agonisingly tackles the tragedy of living with dementia and the mourning experienced by loved ones even before death.

At 83 years old, and with his sixth Oscar nomination, Hopkins becomes the oldest Best Actor nominee in Academy Awards history. Alongside his iconic performance as Dr Hannibal Lecter in 1993’s The Silence of the Lambs, many call Hopkins’ devastating portrayal of a man lost in his own mind as his best work. Olivia Coleman also picked up a nod for Best Supporting Actress. This film is thematically and stylistically ruthless and certainly worth your time simply for its two lead performances.

How can you watch it? The Father is currently showing at very select cinemas around Australia, so keep your ear to the ground.

#8 Mank

Orson Wells fanatics, old cinema enthusiasts, and David Fincher lovers are currently uniting together to bring down this masthead for daring to rank Mank last on this list. For many reasons, Fincher’s passion project and Netflix-produced film about scriptwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz is an incredible film and a technical achievement–genuinely made to feel like a picture from the 1930s. And then, for other reasons, it feels a little like film school homework. The story, written by Jack Fincher (David’s father) follows the tortured and alcohol-fuelled process of writing one of cinema’s most revered films, Citizen Kane.

It’s not surprising in the least that it picked up 10 Oscar nominations, the most of any film from the past calendar year. It won’t surprise you to hear the Academy falls over itself to recognise any film about its history, Hollywood, or filmmaking in general. Mank is unlikely to make noise in any major category but could well make its mark with technical awards.

How can you watch it? Mank is currently available to stream on Netflix.

What Snubbed Films Are Worth A Watch?

We know the dreaded ‘who got snubbed’ conversation is exhausting. So, very quickly, here are a few extra movies for your Oscars night prep that didn’t make it onto the Best Picture shortlist.
Regina King’s One Night in Miami, about an eventful night in 1964 featuring historical figures Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X, is the biggest surprise missing from this year’s nominees. More surprising and somewhat infuriating is King’s (a first-time feature director) omission from the Best Director list. You can find it on Amazon Prime.
While likely to win Best International Feature, Another Round, a Danish film starring Mads Mikkelsen about four middle-aged men who experiment with keeping a blood alcohol level of 0.05, is also clearly missing from this list. Stranger so because Thomas Vinterberg picked up a nomination for best director. You can currently watch it at the cinemas.
Finally, George C. Wolfe’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, about a tension-riddled recording session in 1927 Chicago, is worth a geez for many reasons. But for none more than to see Chadwick Boseman’s final and greatest performance as the smooth-talking and deeply scarred Levee Green. Sadly, and most deservedly, Boseman is likely to win this year’s Best Actor award. You simply must see the great performer’s final cap on an astounding career. You can find it on Netflix.
Next up, work your way through Netflix's best movies.
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

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