After a year of pandemic-induced delays, movies returned to theaters in full force last year, culminating with a slate of 10 films fighting for the Best Picture trophy.
Many of these films can be found in theaters or on streaming platforms during the lead-up to the Oscars, so next time you need to take a break from studying, catch one of these acclaimed flicks. Here’s a rundown of each of the films nominated for Best Picture to help you decide which ones to squeeze in before the ceremony:
A touching coming-of-age film, Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” is a semi-autobiographical look at a Protestant family’s life in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s at the beginning of the Troubles. The film follows a young boy and his family as they attempt to navigate life in a rapidly changing and sometimes violent world. Central to the film is the friction in having to decide between staying with family or fleeing to safety. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, this film is a compelling and emotional frontrunner with a real shot at taking home the big prize of Best Picture.
Director Sian Heder’s “CODA” offers an emotional depiction of what it means to be family. The film follows Emilia Jones’ portrayal of Ruby, the titular CODA, or child of deaf adults, as she has to decide whether to pursue her passion for music or stay by her family’s side to help their fishing business stay afloat as the only hearing member of the family. At the core of the movie is the relationship between Ruby and her family and the love, however complicated, that they share for each other. “CODA” is a heartwarming film sure to leave you wanting more as the credits roll.
‘Don’t Look Up’
Directed by Adam McKay, this satirical, apocalyptic comedy-drama might hit close to home amid the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing political polarization. Two Michigan State University astronomers, played by Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio, make the scientific discovery of a lifetime that a comet is on track to hit Earth. Chaos ensues as their attempts to warn the public about the grave threat are hindered at every turn by a corrupt government administration. They navigate between diplomatic avenues as well as trying to warn the world through the media, though no one seems to care either way, and some even spread misinformation through the “Don’t Look Up” campaign. A film that combines both elements of comedy, drama and a little bit of tough realism, “Don’t Look Up” will certainly leave audiences with plenty of food for thought.
‘Drive My Car’
A passionate and heartbreaking road-drama, “Drive My Car” tells the story of Yūsuke Kafuku, played by Hidetoshi Nishijima, a fictional famed director and actor chosen to direct a play in Hiroshima and chauffeured by a young driver, Misaki Watari, portrayed by Tôko Miura. Yūsuke accepts the residency in Hiroshima after a personal tragedy, the effects of which are masterfully woven throughout the film by director Ryusuke Hamaguchi. Despite being just under three hours in length, “Drive My Car” is expertly paced, never including a dull moment as Yūsuke and Misaki’s relationship develops.
A groundbreaking adaptation of Frank Herbert’s legendary novel, “Dune” is an unforgettable epic for devoted and casual sci-fi fans alike. The desert planet Arrakis is beautifully brought to life by director Denis Villeneuve, whose grand visual style is perfect for Herbert’s world. “Dune” is more than just its cinematography, featuring an all-star cast headlined by Timothée Chalamet, who delivers a standout performance as Paul Atreides, a young noble who finds himself in the middle of a war for resources and a mysterious messianic prophecy. Villeneuve expressed hope for at least two sequels, so be sure to see “Dune” as soon as you can.
Hollywood legend Will Smith stars in “King Richard” as the father and coach of the modern-day tennis champions, Venus and Serena Williams, played by Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton, respectively. The film follows the girls’ journey on their path to becoming icons in tennis history as they are led by their brilliant and unrelenting father. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green artfully composes a heartwarming tale in his inspirational sports biopic that when coupled with breathtaking performances from the leading cast results in an explosion of emotions before your eyes. The heart of this movie lies in the nuanced storytelling and compelling performances of the entire cast portraying a family on the path to respect and success while simultaneously shattering glass ceilings.
Alana Haim of pop-rock band HAIM and Cooper Hoffman, son of the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, co-star in this 1970s coming-of-age comedy from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. Hoffman’s character, a teenage hustler named Gary Valentine who dabbles in waterbed sales and other hijinks, is the perfect foil to Alana Kane, portrayed by Haim. Set in California’s San Fernando Valley, the light-hearted but sincere movie comedically embraces the drama of 1970s Hollywood.
Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley” is a grim, yet visually magical tale of a carnival worker turned psychic, played by Bradley Cooper, whose penchant for cons and murder fuel his hunger for wealth and fame. Set in the 1940s, the film transports the audience to the peculiar world of a traveling circus and later to the gilded circles of New York’s elites, where Cooper’s character, Stanton Carlisle, employs deception to orchestrate lucrative cons presented as clairvoyance. But when he collaborates with an equally crafty psychiatrist, played by Cate Blanchett, to con one of New York’s wealthiest men, Carlisle’s lust for wealth finally spells his demise. As much a tale of sparkling showmanship as it is a tale of grotesque crime, the audience is left pondering the psychology of the human mind.
‘The Power of the Dog’
This dramatic new-age western follows two radically different ranchers in 1925 Montana. Phil, a charismatic but domineering ranchhand portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, leads the Burbank ranch while George, Phil’s soft-spoken brother portrayed by Jesse Plemons, assists from behind his brother’s shadow. Their routine life undergoes a change after George marries a widowed inn owner, Rose Gordon, and Phil exercises his power and cruelty over Rose and her son Peter, leaving them traumatized and alone in their new home. The story that unfolds is thrilling and filled with torment, fear and is fraught with tension that comes to a head in a twist ending that no one could see coming. Written and directed by Jane Campion, who became the first woman to receive two nominations for Best Director, “The Power of the Dog” emerged in the eyes of the public after nabbing the most Oscar nominations of the year.
‘West Side Story’
Nearly 60 years after the first film adaptation of “West Side Story” won the Oscar for Best Picture, the vibrant musical, which was remade last year by directing maestro Steven Spielberg, is once again vying for the most coveted award of the night. Hollywood newcomer Rachel Zegler delivers a stunning performance as Maria in the second film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s iconic Broadway musical, a beautiful and dynamic film that captures the allure of New York City and young love.