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The top 25 Oscar-nominated films, ranked

Of the 62 movies nominated, these are the 25 best (and how you can watch them).

89th Annual Academy Awards - The Oscars Greenroom, Designed By Rolex Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images

This year, 62 movies are nominated for Oscars.

They range from massive, world-beating success stories — like the musical La La Land, nominated in 14 different categories, and Moana, one of the biggest films of 2016 in the US — to much smaller films you’ve probably never heard of unless you have the nomination list committed to memory (we see you, Pear Cider and Cigarettes).

Many of them are among the best films of 2016, including critical favorites like Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea. Some are utterly terrible, like Suicide Squad, nominated for Makeup and Hairstyling. But there are 62 of them, and if you watched all of them (as we did), you’d have a pretty good sense of what the world of film looked like in 2016.

But you don’t want to watch 62 movies to be prepared for the Oscars, do you? (Not like you’d have time to do so between now and then anyway.) If you just want to watch the best of the best, we can tell you how best to spend your time.

So here are our 25 top movies nominated for Oscars; the full ranking of 62 can be viewed here. Many are still in theaters, some are available for digital download, and one or two are even on streaming services. If you’ve got a few hours between now and the Oscars ceremony, why not check out some of the best films of the year?

1) Moonlight

Moonlight A24

Nominated for: Picture, Director (Barry Jenkins), Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), Supporting Actress (Naomie Harris), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Original Score

Our choice for the best film nominated for any Oscar this year is this beautiful coming-of-age story, which spends a few days with a boy named Chiron at three different periods of his life: as a child, a teenager, and an adult. Chiron grows up poor and black in low-income housing in Miami, and he’s also slowly trying to come to terms with his homosexuality, something he only confronts in fits and starts. The film’s unusual structure — it’s essentially three short stories about the same character, played by three different actors — makes it unlike anything else out there, and its poetic direction and performances take it to the next level.

Read our review

Availability: In theaters; also available for digital download and on DVD February 28

2) I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro Magnolia Pictures

Nominated for: Documentary Feature

Director Raoul Peck turns author James Baldwin’s final book proposal — he died before he could write the full work — into a gorgeous, incendiary deep dive into the history of race in America, or, more accurately, just the history of America. The film is a collage of footage from throughout the country’s history, right up until the present, and its insistence that systemic racism is a disease America must deal with before it can truly be its best self is presented in convincing fashion.

Read our review

Availability: In theaters

3) 4.1 Miles

4.1 Miles ShortsHD

Nominated for: Documentary Short

The best of the stellar short documentaries nominated, the 26-minute 4.1 Miles follows a group of residents of the Greek island of Lesbos trying to rescue people who flee Afghanistan by boat. The island’s struggles to cope with the influx is placed alongside the tireless rescuers’ work to save those in the water, mostly women and children.

Availability: Streaming at the New York Times; also in theaters or available via digital download along with other Oscar-nominated short films, as part of the Oscar Shorts program.

4) Toni Erdmann

Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischek in Toni Erdmann Sony Pictures Classics

Nominated for: Foreign Language Film (Germany)

The German comedy Toni Erdmann slow-burns its humor, winding up to the punch with care and pathos. Toni Erdmann is about a father who refuses to do what’s expected of him, and a daughter whose drive to be nothing like him has pushed her to the verge of hysterics. Their relationship is a hothouse in which the absurdity of modern life can be both exposed and forgiven.

Read our review

Availability: In theaters

5) Manchester by the Sea

Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck in Manchester By the Sea Amazon

Nominated for: Picture, Director (Kenneth Lonergan), Actor (Casey Affleck), Supporting Actor (Lucas Hedges), Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams), Original Screenplay

Beautifully shot and full of knockout performances, Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea is a remarkable film in almost every respect. In the film, a janitor with a tragic past (Casey Affleck, whose nomination sparked controversy) returns home to care for his teenage nephew after his brother dies. The film’s greatest achievement is not just portraying but embodying the complicated inner lives of the men at its center. The result is hard to categorize: Is it drama? Melodrama? Tragedy? Comedy? What's certain is this: It's a masterpiece.

Read our review

Availability: In theaters

6) O.J.: Made in America

O.J.: Made in America ESPN

Nominated for: Documentary Feature

Nearly eight hours long, this documentary played briefly in theaters to qualify for the Oscars before airing in four parts on ESPN (where most viewers saw it). But regardless of whether you saw it in theaters or on TV, it’s a mesmerizing opus that turns the life and trial of O.J. Simpson into a Rosetta stone for understanding America’s troubled relationships with race, celebrity, gender, class, and itself. That director Ezra Edelman has made a movie both this engaging and this long feels miraculous.

Read our review

Availability: Streaming in three parts on Hulu; also available on DVD and for digital download

7) 13th

Angela Davis speaks in the film 13th Netflix

Nominated for: Documentary Feature

Selma director Ava DuVernay’s meticulous documentary makes a convincing and compelling case that many of the United States’ most pressing social issues — chief among them mass incarceration — are a direct outgrowth of the country’s history of black slavery and its lingering racial divide. A Netflix exclusive, 13th is the definition of activist filmmaking and an instant paragon of the form: It uses a savvy combination of talking-head interviews, archival footage, and onscreen text to weave a clear, compelling argument that sticks with you long after the film has ended.

Read our review

Availability: Streaming on Netflix

8) Arrival

Amy Adams in Arrival, which is nominated for 8 Academy Awards (though she is not, which is a real shame) Paramount

Nominated for: Picture, Director (Denis Villeneuve), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Production Design, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing

Director Denis Villeneuve’s tale of first contact between aliens and humans became an unexpected box office hit and a powerful metaphor for establishing communication with those who are very different from you. The should-have-been-nominated-for-Best-Actress Amy Adams plays a linguist invited to help translate an alien language, and the process of doing so changes her life in more ways than one. The film is both intelligent science fiction and a deeply emotional story of learning to live with loss — and its truly alien-looking aliens are surprisingly engaging characters.

Read our review

Availability: In theaters; also available on DVD and for digital download

9) Hell or High Water

CBS Films

Nominated for: Picture, Supporting Actor (Jeff Bridges), Film Editing, Original Screenplay

David Mackenzie’s neo-Western crime thriller stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as a pair of bank-robbing brothers, and Jeff Bridges as one of the Texas Rangers on their tail, but the real star of Hell or High Water is the film’s West Texas setting (never mind that it was filmed in New Mexico). The sense of economic anxiety and the deeply entrenched gun culture offered by Hell or High Water ’s setting are the perfect accompaniment to a bank heist story, and they combine to make the movie much more pointed and memorable than your standard shoot-’em-up.

Read our review

10) Moana

Moana and her grandmother Walt Disney Pictures

Nominated for: Animated Feature, Original Song ("How Far I’ll Go")

The daughter of a Polynesian island chief (don’t call her a princess) sets off on a quest to save her village and culture from a mythical force, with assistance from a demigod voiced by Dwayne Johnson and an unhelpful chicken sidekick, and everyone occasionally bursts into songs co-written by Hamilton mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda. All the beats of a standard-issue Disney princess story are present, but there’s nothing standard-issue about Moana, which represents the Disney animated feature formula at its very best.

Read our review

Availability: In theaters; on digital download; available on DVD March 7

11) Fire at Sea

Fire at Sea Kino Lorber

Nominated for: Documentary Feature

Hundreds of African and Middle Eastern migrants arrive on the Italian island of Lampedusa every week. In Fire at Sea, documentarian Gianfranco Rosi shows what life looks like for the island's residents and the rescue crews, cutting between scenes of life on the island and the people who help receive and treat migrants. The film is a deeply humane exploration of the human cost of the crisis and how people live in the midst of it.

Availability: In theaters

12) Ennemis Intérieurs (Enemies Within)

Ennemis Intérieurs ShortsHD

Nominated for: Live-Action Short

The normally despair-laden live-action short film category is downright jolly this year, but for this somber look at how the French government turns the screws on an Algerian Muslim applying for citizenship, so that he’ll give up the names of others who attended a men’s group affiliated with a mosque he attended. (The government suspects them of being terrorists, but provides no evidence.) The short feels almost unbearably timely — making it all the more interesting that it’s set in 1996.

Availability: In theaters or via digital download along with other Oscar-nominated short films, as part of the Oscar Shorts program

13) My Life as a Zucchini

My Life As a Zucchini
My Life As a Zucchini

Nominated for: Animated Feature

This Swiss animated film (dubbed in English with a terrific cast led by Nick Offerman) essentially asks, "What if the Peanuts gang lived in a group home for troubled children?" Young Zucchini finds himself a ward of the state after his mother dies, and his darkly whimsical adventures with the other kids in foster care somehow perfectly walk the line between taking Zucchini’s journey seriously and becoming too depressing to bear.

Availability: In some theaters

14) Pear Cider and Cigarettes


Nominated for: Animated Short

This 35-minute, Kickstarter-backed autobiographical short film from Canadian graphic artist Robert Valley portrays his 25-year friendship with a self-destructive but charismatic figure known as Techno. It uses bold, graphic Photoshop-designed animation to follow the narrator and Techno’s difficult relationship, both in terms of the events that transpire and the feelings that are evoked. Given that Pear Cider and Cigarettes began life as a graphic novel, it’s understandable that the film frequently has the feel of a living comic book, but Valley’s use of simple but dynamic animation, music, and narration turn it into something unique, occasionally difficult, and, most of all, memorable.

Availability: In theaters or available via digital download along with other Oscar-nominated short films, as part of the Oscar Shorts program

15) The White Helmets

The White Helmets

Nominated for: Documentary Short

The Syria Civil Defense is a group of ordinary men — former builders, tailors, and artisans — who work to extract victims from beneath the rubble in places like Aleppo. The group has saved more than 58,000 people since 2013. This 41-minute documentary short follows the men as they struggle to prevent the loss of life, and lets them tell us why, as one man puts it, "this job is sacred."

Availability: Streaming on Netflix; also in theaters or available via digital download along with other Oscar-nominated short films, as part of the Oscar Shorts program

16) Silence

A scene from Martin Scorsese's Silence Paramount

Nominated for: Cinematography

Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese deserved better than a mere one nomination for his long-gestating examination of the gap between faith and understanding. Based on the novel of the same name by Shûsaku Endô, the film follows two priests searching for their mentor in 17th-century Japan and trying to provide sustenance to Christians practicing their forbidden faith in hiding. A small, slow, challenging film, Silence is the kind of movie only Scorsese could make, and it’s too bad how thoroughly the Oscars overlooked it.

Read our review

Availability: In some theaters

17) The Salesman

The Salesman Cohen Media Group

Nominated for: Foreign Language Film (Iran)

Asghar Farhadi won't attend the Oscars this year because of President Trump's travel ban, but the film he’s nominated for both recasts Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (one storyline has the film’s characters rehearsing a production of the play) and tells its own empathetic story of life in Tehran.

Availability: In theaters

18) The Red Turtle

The Red Turtle
The Red Turtle will arrive in January.
Sony Pictures Classics

Nominated for: Animated Feature

An enchanting fable about an unnamed man who gets shipwrecked on a desert island where he meets a mysterious giant red turtle, this Belgian-Japanese co-production is a quiet but striking marvel of the animation medium. Completely dialogue-free, The Red Turtle depends on its lovely, European-style animation and well-wrought sense of place to tell an emotional but universal story about finding one’s place in the world.

Read our review

Availability: In theaters

19) Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings LAIKA

Nominated for: Animated Feature, Visual Effects

The fourth feature from the stop-motion animation studio Laika is all about the power of storytelling, but Kubo and the Two Strings real power comes from its eye-popping visuals, so unlike anything else in the animated realm. Kubo has the bones of a quest narrative but fleshes things out with a much deeper and more resonant story about family, tradition, and myth, with a strong Japanese folklore inflection giving it added character.

Read our review

Availability: Digital download

20) 20th Century Women

Annette Bening is captivating in 20th Century Women. A24

Nominated for: Original Screenplay

20th Century Women is an autobiography of a cultural moment, driven by stellar performances from Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, and Elle Fanning. The multigenerational story is light on its feet, funny, and wide-ranging, full of bright performances, evocative music, and the occasional experimental flourish.

Read our review

Availability: In theaters

21) Hail, Caesar

Channing Tatum dances. Universal

Nominated for: Production Design

The Coen brothers’ ode to the Hollywood studio system of the early 20th century is packed so full of celebrities — George Clooney! Scarlett Johansson! Channing Tatum! Tilda Swinton! So many more! — as well as singing, dancing, and mugging that it’s easy to miss the film’s deeper thematic musings on religion, relevance, and capitalism. Given the Oscars’ historic love of any and all films celebrating Hollywood, it’s a little odd this one didn’t earn more nods beyond Production Design, but Hail Caesar’s surface commitment to the 1940s old Hollywood aesthetic is fun, well-executed, and worthy of notice.

Read our review

Availability: Streaming on HBO; digital download

22) Loving

Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton as Mildred and Richard Loving. Focus Features

Nominated for: Actress (Ruth Negga)

Though it tracks the 1967 Supreme Court case that invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage, Jeff Nichols’s Loving is more focused on the actual marriage that inspired that landmark ruling. As Richard and Mildred Loving, Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga together craft a subtle, nuanced portrait of a marriage under scrutiny, keeping the film’s focus squarely on the real-life humans whose names have come to represent a major cultural shift.

Read our review

Availability: Digital download

23) La La Land

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land Lionsgate

Nominated for: Picture, Director (Damien Chazelle), Actor (Ryan Gosling), Actress (Emma Stone), Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Production Design, Costume Design, Original Score, Original Song ("Audition"), Original Song ("City of Stars"), Sound Mixing, Sound Editing

Equal parts joyfulness, wistfulness, and bittersweet melancholy, La La Land — a gentle, largely unassuming little musical about two would-be artists who fall in love over the course of one year in Los Angeles — is a disarmingly slight movie to have somehow managed 14 Oscar nominations. But its nomination haul and probable Oscar triumph speak both to how well-crafted it is and how much America could use a little escapism right now. (It’s proved a box office hit too.) But there’s more to La La Land than simple escapism. It’s also a tribute to nostalgia in all its forms — especially nostalgia for the chapters of your own life you can’t quite put behind you.

Read our review

Availability: In theaters

24) Jackie

Natalie Portman played Jackie Kennedy in Jackie Fox Searchlight

Nominated for: Actress (Natalie Portman), Costume Design, Original Score

Jackie approaches the legend of America’s Camelot era as a sort of experimental movie, an exercise in real-time mythmaking. Natalie Portman is brilliant as the grieving widow learning quickly how to craft a legend. It’s a revelation, a steady gaze into the early years in which the American presidency was a site for crafting an image not just for the history books, but for the cameras.

Read our review

Availability: In theaters

25) The Lobster

The Lobster A24

Nominated for: Original Screenplay

Probably the weirdest movie nominated for an Oscar this year, this Yorgos Lanthimos film concerns a world in which single people must go to a hotel to seek their perfect mate. If they can’t find said mate within an allotted period of time, they’re condemned to be transformed into an animal of their own choosing. This dry, strange satire of the dating scene won’t be for everyone, but if you can get on its wavelength, it’s a tremendously funny look at the things we do for love.

Read our review

Availability: Streaming on Amazon Prime; also available on DVD and for digital download

Want more? Read our full ranking of all 62 nominated films here.