At last, the nominees for the 2019 Oscars have been announced, and eight films earned the lucky Best Picture berth. They’re an eclectic bunch, ranging from a quiet family drama set in Mexico (Roma) to a kooky, dark arthouse comedy (The Favourite) to obvious crowd pleasers (Bohemian Rhapsody, Green Book) to the first superhero film ever nominated (Black Panther).
While some of the films are still playing only in theaters — or returning to theaters for limited runs, thanks to their new status as Best Picture nominees — others are available to stream, to rent digitally, or to buy to watch at home. So if you want to catch up with all of the Best Picture nominees before the 91st Academy Awards on February 24, here’s how to do it.
What it’s about: For his directorial debut, Bradley Cooper took on the much-adapted narrative of A Star Is Born, which first appeared in 1937 and then was remade in 1954, 1976, and now 2018. Cooper stars alongside Lady Gaga in the 2018 version, a love story about a fading music star who gives a talented newcomer the push she needs to break through — and then she begins to eclipse him.
Laced with instantly memorable songs and outstanding performances, 2018’s A Star Is Born hurtled into awards season gunning for the biggest awards. Though it came up short of a Best Picture win at the Golden Globes, it’s the kind of movie that tries to harness all its cinematic possibility to make your heart burst, and it more or less succeeds.
A Star Is Born earned a total of eight nominations; in addition to its Best Picture nod, the film is nominated for Lead Actress (Lady Gaga), Lead Actor (Bradley Cooper), Supporting Actor (Sam Elliott), Cinematography, Original Song (“Shallow”), Adapted Screenplay, and Sound Mixing.
What it’s about: Black Panther was the No. 1 box office hit in 2018 for a reason: With a stellar cast and a story that doubles as a groundbreaking celebration of black culture, it delighted audiences and felt like a game-changer for Marvel. And with its history-making Best Picture nomination, it has also become one of the most celebrated superhero movies of all time, boasting strong direction from Ryan Coogler and performances from Michael B. Jordan, Chadwick Boseman, Lupita N’yongo, Danai Gurira, and many others.
Part of what sets Black Panther apart is its brilliant treatment of its fictional setting, Wakanda. As Tre Johnson previously wrote for Vox, “It acknowledges and celebrates everything from traditional African society to African-American political debates, from the power and beauty of black women to the preservation of identity, all within the lush confines of the fictional African nation of Wakanda.” That’s quite an accomplishment — especially for a superhero blockbuster.
What it’s about: Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman — a critique of the age of Donald Trump by way of a true story from the 1970s about a black cop who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan — took home the Grand Prix at Cannes, which is the second-highest honor the prestigious festival gives out. Styled after blaxploitation films, the movie stars John David Washington, Adam Driver (who earned a Supporting Actor nomination for his performance), and Topher Grace (who plays a pitch-perfect KKK grand wizard David Duke).
BlacKkKlansman is a passionate, no-holds-barred film excoriating white supremacy and those who adhere to it, and it pleased many critics and audiences. I didn’t feel the same way — its heavy-handedness about modern parallels seemed to both mistrust viewers and blunt its force — but there’s no doubt that it generated a lot of discussion. And it netted Spike Lee his first Best Director nomination, which feels long overdue.
What it’s about: Fans of Queen were delighted by Bohemian Rhapsody, which mostly tracks the life of lead singer Freddie Mercury (played by Lead Actor-nominated Rami Malek) from the day he talked his way into fronting the band through the band’s legendary 1985 Live Aid performance, which the movie recreates in detail. That scene, along with one in which the band records the song “Bohemian Rhapsody,” is the much-needed high of the film.
But the way it scrambles some aspects of Mercury’s career while seeming strangely ashamed of his personal life was enough to ruin the movie for others — particularly because the narrative it builds around Mercury is nowhere near as colorful and vibrant as its subject. Sloppy storytelling may have been bearable in a movie that showed some passion for the iconic figure at its center; Bohemian Rhapsody is just a limp mess of a film — though for fans of Queen’s music, there’s still enough to keep it afloat.
What it’s about: A deliciously wicked, loosely historically based drama from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (who earned an Oscar nomination in 2017 for his screenplay for The Lobster and is now nominated again in the category this year), The Favourite is a dark comedy about three women: Queen Anne (Olivia Colman, nominated for Lead Actress), her closest friend and adviser Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz, nominated for Supporting Actress), and the young woman (Emma Stone, also nominated for Supporting Actress) who joins the household and starts to usurp Sarah’s coveted spot.
The film’s luxurious interiors, cockeyed sensibility, and complex trio of female characters with frank views on power, sexuality, and what they want out of life make for a film that’s both entertaining and loaded with pathos, feeling uneasily authentic in how it depicts what it takes to attain power. It’s tied with Roma for the most nominations at the 2019 Oscars (with a total of 10), and the three performances at its center are funny, complex, and unsparing. That’s especially true for Colman, a beloved TV and film actress (and the new Queen Elizabeth on The Crown) whose time, with her Best Actress nomination secured, may have finally arrived.
What it’s about: Green Book was the top winner at the Golden Globes in January, and though it didn’t fare quite as well at the Oscars, it’s now up for five awards: Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Lead Actor for Viggo Mortensen, Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali, and Film Editing. Directed by comedy veteran Peter Farrelly, Green Book is “inspired” by the true friendship of Tony Vallelonga, an Italian-American chauffeur/bodyguard from the Bronx, and Don Shirley, the black pianist Vallelonga is hired to drive and protect on a concert tour through the Deep South in 1962. It’s often funny, with some poignant moments and a heart that feels like it’s in the right place.
But the movie has been dogged by controversy almost since its premiere. Its co-writer, Nick Vallelonga (son of Tony), came under fire for spreading an Islamophobic conspiracy theory on Twitter. Old stories about Farrelly “pranking” women by forcing them to look at his genitals resurfaced as well. Shirley’s family disputed his portrayal in the film and said they hadn’t been contacted about the details, leading star Ali, who plays Shirley, to call them and apologize. And perhaps most troublingly, the film sloppily portrays the “Green Book” it is named for, leaving out or misrepresenting some pertinent details and flattening its history.
How to watch it: Roma is in select theaters and streaming on Netflix.
What it’s about: Roma is one of the 2019 Oscars’ two most nominated films, with a total of 10 nominations; it’s a lushly shot, monochromatic domestic drama from Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Children of Men) that tells the story of a family living in Mexico City in the early 1970s, and a girl named Cleo (played by newcomer Yalitza Aparicio, in a stunning turn that also earned her an Oscar nomination for Lead Actress) who works for them.
Focusing on the struggles and strength of the family’s women, Roma is funny, sad, and carefully told, a challenge to simply sit and pay attention to people who find themselves overlooked in their own homes. In addition to directing, Cuarón also served as cinematographer, and he chose to set the women’s stories — first and foremost Cleo’s — against the backdrop of political unrest in Mexico City. (Cuarón also earned Oscar nominations in the Directing and Cinematography categories, making him the only director in history to be nominated for both simultaneously.)
Given its sensitive, gorgeous rendering that’s garnered comparisons to world cinema masters like Fellini and Bresson, it’s no wonder that Roma has turned out to be one of the year’s strongest awards contenders. (It’s also the first film from a streaming service to be nominated for Best Picture.) It’s an incredible sensory experience, full of layered visuals and sound, that richly rewards the sensitive, attentive viewer.
Read our roundtable on Roma.
How to watch it: Vice is currently in theaters.
What it’s about: Few movies in 2018 have been more divisive than Vice, writer-director Adam McKay’s tale of the modern Republican Party as concentrated in the person of former Vice President Dick Cheney, which is now up for eight Oscars, including Original Screenplay and Directing for McKay.
Everyone in the film was a public figure and is portrayed by some famous actor. Christian Bale plays Cheney, and he — along with Amy Adams as Cheney’s wife Lynne, Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld, and Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush — take up most of the screen time. (Bale, Adams, and Rockwell all scored acting nominations for their performances — in the Lead Actor, Supporting Actress, and Supporting Actor categories, respectively.) But there’s a parade of familiar supporting characters too, including Colin Powell (Tyler Perry), Scooter Libby (Justin Kirk), and Condoleezza Rice (LisaGay Hamilton), as well as many senators, Congress members, Cabinet members, Supreme Court justices, and others.
Watching Vice can feel like watching a highlight reel from the late 20th and early 21st centuries, except in a depressing way. Certainly, the movie is not an attempt to convert anyone to a new way of thinking; the audience for this sort of film is likely already sympathetic to the most obvious of McKay’s theses, which is that Dick Cheney is a heartless guy. But at times, the movie feels most interested in indicting America for choosing Bush and Cheney in the first place — which means it’s preaching to the choir.
Read our roundtable on Vice.