11 Oscar-Nominated Movies You Should Totally See
Marriage Story, 1917, and The Irishman should all be on your watch list before the Academy Awards.
On Jan. 13, the film industry and movie fans woke up early to watch the announcement of the 2020 Academy Award nominations. There were snubs that set Twitter on fire (no Jennifer Lopez for Hustlers, Taron Egerton for Rocketman, or Lupita Nyong'o for Us) and plenty of nods that seemed to have always been on lock (tons of love for The Irishman and Joker). But though the Oscars aren't the be-all and end-all decider of whether a movie is good, the list of nominees can be great inspiration for your own watch list. We've gone through this year's crop to single out 11 Oscar-nominated movies that are worth your time.
What it's nominated for: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score
Nominees Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver star as an actress and a director attempting to consciously uncouple without going broke, destroying each other, and/or traumatizing their young son. Writer-director Noah Baumbach skillfully demonstrates how the legal apparatus of divorce can bring even the most amiable couples to their breaking point. But it's not as bleak as it sounds: Laura Dern (also nominated), Merritt Wever, Ray Liotta, and Julie Hagerty provide moments of levity, and Stephen Sondheim fans can look forward to not one but two renditions of numbers from his 1970 musical Company.
What it's nominated for: Best International Feature, Best Documentary Feature
This Macedonian-made feature is a labor of love years in the making. Co-directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubo Stefanov set out to make an environmental film but ended up spending three years off-and-on with their ultimate subject, Hatidze Muratova, a keeper of wild bees in rural Macedonia. The film follows Muratova as she tends to both her charges and her elderly mother, and then contends with the arrival of a family who see the potential profit in her endeavor and decide to try beekeeping for themselves—at great cost to her. New York Times critic A.O. Scott dubbed Honeyland "a lyrical environmental fable" and "a sad and stirring tale of struggle, persistence and change."
What it's nominated for: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (twice), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Costume Design
Martin Scorsese made an epic for Netflix, and it's been racking up nominations all awards season. Based on the nonfiction book I Heard You Paint Houses, The Irishman is basically a mashup of the filmmaker's greatest hits—mob intrigue; plum roles for Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci; and a decade-spanning story illuminating the life of Frank Sheeran, the mob hitman who took responsibility for the officially unsolved disappearance of labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa. Come for the de-aging technology that allows the actors to play their characters as younger men and stay for the electrifying performances and signature Scorsese grit.
What it's nominated for: Best Documentary Feature
The Sama of this documentary's title is a child born into the Syrian Civil War. A co-production of PBS' Frontline, For Sama's main subject is also the documentary's filmmaker, Waad Al-Kateab. She documents her own life as an activist and a mother, struggling to balance her desire to help the people of Syria with her need to carve out a life for her daughter in the midst of violence and political strife. Watching Al-Kateab and her physician husband do their best to provide their child with some sense of normalcy will remind you not to take your own daily safety for granted.
What it's nominated for: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing
Perhaps the buzziest film on this list, the South Korean dark comedy has swept away audiences all over the world. Bong Joon-ho directs a sharply funny and fierce ensemble of (shockingly not nominated) actors in an allegory of the way capitalism rots society and forces families to pay the price. If you can, avoid any plot synopsis that's more specific than that. There's a lot more to Parasite than its twists, but why ruin them for yourself?
Pain & Glory
What it's nominated for: Best Actor, Best International Feature
Filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar (All About My Mother, Talk to Her) and Antonio Banderas have been collaborating since the early '80s, and that familiarity is essential to their latest project. Pain & Glory conducts an inventory of the life and relationships of an aging Spanish director through several vignettes. Autobiographical as it is, the film is more reflective than indulgent, and incorporates the poetic visuals fans have come to expect from Almodóvar's work.
What it's nominated for: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score
Lady Bird filmmaker Greta Gerwig's adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic domestic novel breathes new life into the March sisters, a close-knit, Civil War-era family that most viewers have likely encountered previously in one form or another. In her hands, Little Women offers meta-commentary on the challenges, choices, and derision faced by artists who are women. (It feels relevant to note that Gerwig was snubbed for an all-male list of nominees in the Best Director category.) Perhaps most impressively, this adaptation even makes infamous literary brat Amy March (a nominated Florence Pugh) sympathetic.
What it's nominated for: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Original Score, Best Makeup and Hairstyling
This World War I film by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Spectre) is a technical and artistic feat, so it's no surprise that it's in the running for nearly every technical award. See it on the big screen if you can to fully appreciate the uniqueness of the way it was shot and choreographed. Though 1917 was not shot in one extremely long take, Mendes and his team managed to make it look that way. Add in a story of human vulnerability and persistence—inspired by the real war stories passed down to the director from his grandfather—and stirring performances, and you have a war epic that was destined for Oscar glory.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
What it's nominated for: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing
Quentin Tarantino's love letter to '60s Los Angeles weaves together two seemingly disparate stories: that of the enduring friendship between a washed-up actor (a nominated Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman (an also nominated Brad Pitt), and the Manson Family's brief reign of terror. This being a Tarantino film, they eventually collide in a sensational conclusion. But before that, the filmmaker has ample opportunity to show off his affinity for the era and for Hollywood history, recreating it in the most sumptuously lifelike way. Pitt and DiCaprio have buckets of chemistry, and there isn't a weak link in the supporting cast.
I Lost My Body
What it's nominated for: Best Animated Feature
We'd guess that this is the only title in the Animated Feature category you don't recognize. Fortunately, the French film is easily available on Netflix. Directed by Jérémy Clapin, I Lost My Body has an odd main character in a severed hand, which spends the film tracking the body it's been detached from through Paris. If you choose to watch the English dubbed version, you'll hear the voices of Dev Patel, Alia Shawkat, and George Wendt. But watching with subtitles won't distract from what L.A. Times critic Kenneth Turan calls a "dark, strange and altogether wonderful feature."
The Two Popes
What it's nominated for: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay
Not to be confused with HBO's raunchy series The Young Pope and The New Pope, this feature is more rooted in fact (and doesn't feature, at any point, a kangaroo). It stars Jonathan Pryce as the cardinal who would become Pope Francis and Anthony Hopkins as the aging Pope Benedict XVI, with the two nominated actors sparring, bonding, and determining the direction of the Catholic Church across just a few days. With the church and the papacy being as grand and often secretive as they are, even a fictionalized account of these conversations makes the viewer feel like they're being ushered behind the curtain, and these world-class actors make it all worthwhile.