At the 2020 Oscars, there are nine films in the running for the coveted title of Best Picture. It’s a strong, well-regarded group, ranging from historical dramas (1917, The Irishman) to critical darlings (Marriage Story, Parasite) to crowd pleasers (Joker, Little Women, Ford v Ferrari) to movies that meld the dark and the screwball in equal measure (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Jojo Rabbit).
Some of the nominated films are still in theaters. But a number are also available to stream, rent digitally, or buy and watch at home. So if you want to catch up with all the nominees before the 92nd Academy Awards on Sunday, February 9, here’s how to do it.
Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, Skyfall) won a Golden Globe for directing this historical drama based partly on stories his grandfather told him about World War I. The plot is relatively simple: Two British soldiers are sent on an impossible mission to warn a battalion of an impending ambush. Through trenches and peril and bombed-out cities, they are caught in the crossfire of a war that’s much bigger than them, and one where ordinary acts of heroism can go unnoticed.
1917’s cast includes Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Colin Firth, and Benedict Cumberbatch, as well as rising stars George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman. And the movie is edited (by the legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins) to look as if it was all filmed in one shot, which adds intensity to the action. With the film having recently won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture — Drama, it’s in a strong position heading into the Oscars.
Ford v Ferrari is a classic crowd pleaser, a biographical film set in the 1960s about a real-life story that seems made for the big screen. James Mangold (Logan) directs a cast led by Christian Bale and Matt Damon, who play legendary former racer and car designer Carroll Shelby and British driver Ken Miles. When Henry Ford (Tracy Letts) decides he wants to beat the celebrated Ferrari company at its own car-racing game, the pair joins the Ford Motor Company to develop a vehicle that can beat Enzo Ferrari’s racing cars.
The big test will be at the grueling 24-hour Le Mans race in France. And to beat Ferrari, Shelby and Miles will have to build a car from scratch — and confront demons of their own.
Time telescopes in Martin Scorsese’s latest movie, shifting back and forth through decades as old, wistful Frank (Robert De Niro) narrates the tale of his life as a hitman for crime syndicate boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and then for Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino, who has somehow never worked with Scorsese until now). The film has been rightfully compared to earlier Scorsese movies, like 1973’s Mean Streets, and 1990’s Goodfellas, and not just because of its subject matter; in The Irishman, the director reunites with some of his longest-running collaborators from those works, including De Niro, Pesci, and Harvey Keitel.
Like Mean Streets and Goodfellas — and all of Scorsese’s work, really — The Irishman is about guilt, sin, and redemption. But thanks to its lengthy 3.5-hour runtime, it has space to lean in two different tonal directions. The result has both the frenetic swagger of Scorsese’s mob movies and the more contemplative gut wrench of his most spiritual films, like 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ and his most recent earlier release, 2016’s Silence. The film also has the maturity of an older man’s perspective, an eye cast backward on a full life. The Irishman is lively and wry and very funny, but at times it also feels like a confession, a plea for grace, not just from its protagonist but also from the filmmaker himself.
How to watch it: The Irishman is streaming on Netflix.
Director Taika Waititi followed up his 2017 Thor installment with Jojo Rabbit, a dark comedy about a young boy in Nazi Germany, who everyone says is a “scared rabbit,” and the boy’s imaginary friend. That imaginary friend is one Adolf Hitler, and while the film is a little too sprightly to land any heavy punches — it’s more of a comedy with satirical elements than a true satirical tale — it’s best as a coming-of-age story about a kid who’s gotten lost in a world where loyalty has displaced love and bravado has displaced true bravery.
It’s a bold move to marry a coming-of-age narrative, which Jojo sets at the end of the Third Reich, to Waititi’s signature goofball aesthetic and frenetic self-awareness; the film is more successful in some moments than others. But by the end, it’s obvious what Jojo Rabbit is really about: how hate preys on the weak and the young, and how history keeps repeating itself.
Joker was undoubtedly one of 2019’s most-talked-about movies. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, who won a Golden Globe for his performance, it’s a gritty reimagining of the character’s early days, directed and co-written by Todd Phillips. Phillips has spent his career bringing a particular breed of pleasure-obsessed American masculinity to the big screen with successful, unforgettable side-splitters like Old School and the Hangover trilogy. And Joker is a well-crafted film that boasts an excellent turn by Phoenix as it tells the story of an impoverished, failed standup comedian who turns to violence and chaos because he feels the world has gone mad.
But while Joker actively courted controversy relative to the average superhero film, touting its “hard-R rating” even though there’s no such thing, there’s nothing particularly “bonkers” about it. It’s worth seeing, both for Phoenix’s performance and so you can participate knowledgeably in the conversation surrounding the film. But don’t expect to have your world turned upside down. Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Bill Camp, and Frances Conroy also star.
Greta Gerwig decided to follow up her beautiful, heartfelt 2017 comedy Lady Bird with an adaptation of Little Women that boasts an inspired cast featuring Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlen, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, Bob Odenkirk, Louis Garrel, Tracy Letts, and many more. It is every bit as funny and loving and heart-wrenching as Little Women has always been, throughout its many adaptations.
But for those who’ve loved the story for years, it packs a twist, interrogating the source material without disrespecting it, and thinking about what Louisa May Alcott wrote from a distance of more than 150 years. It’s not revisionist; instead, it functions like the best works of criticism, thinking about the circumstances in which a woman like Alcott would write a book like Little Women, and the world in which she lived. The film is deft, lovely, and altogether wonderful.
Noah Baumbach is America’s foremost chronicler of rough-hewn and disintegrating family units. In Marriage Story, he pries open one divorce to find the beating heart inside. The film sees the end of a marriage as both a cause for mourning and a source of bittersweet comedy: A relationship is changing, but not ending. And its evolution is something to behold.
Marriage Story is a showcase for stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as much as it is a triumph for Baumbach, recalling the wry humor and perfect pitch of Woody Allen’s best work, albeit with a touch less self-obsession (even though the couple seems at least partly — and probably inevitably — modeled on Baumbach’s 2013 divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh). Getting a story like this right requires a sense of the comical and the absurd along with the devastating, and Baumbach delivers.
How to watch it: Marriage Story is streaming on Netflix.
Named best comedy or musical motion picture at the Golden Globes, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the story of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an actor who was huge in the 1950s but whose star is fading in 1969, when the movie takes place. Rick’s stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt, mesmerizing in his Golden Globe-winning role), also acts as his driver, best friend, and pep talk provider. Two main stories run on parallel tracks in the film; one concerns Rick’s neighbor Sharon Tate, who is carefree, innocent, and eager to please. The other follows Rick and Cliff, and often splits into two stories of its own: Rick’s struggle to be an actor of real worth in a changing industry, and Cliff’s brush with a group of teenage girls (and a few guys) living on an abandoned ranch that once functioned as a movie set. That group just so happens to be the Manson family.
The movie sparked controversies upon its release, but it’s done well at the start of awards season. Tarantino won a Golden Globe for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s screenplay, in which he weaves a fairy tale, a fantasy, and a wistful elegy for a world that many of us wish we lived in — most of all, Tarantino himself. Famously obsessed with the history of cinema and its preservation, the director has recreated an era he wishes he could have worked in with such care and skill and love that, for the most part, it feels like his most personal film. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is lots of fun, but it’s also strangely, hauntingly sad.
It’s difficult to categorize a Bong Joon-ho film; the director excels at making movies that explode boundaries. His darkly comedic monster films like The Host and Okja, double as biting social commentaries, often aiming barbs at inequality, particularly in his native South Korea. Parasite returns to those themes with superb control; it’s a bleakly comic film about two families, one wealthy and one not so wealthy, and a caustic tale of class conflict. (At times it plays like a dark inversion of 2018’s Shoplifters.)
In Parasite, Bong is working at the top of his game, constructing with his cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo a world where drastic shifts inside houses signify not just changing living conditions but the interior state of the inhabitants. Everything on these characters’ insides shows up outside, too — and that may be why their world is in chaos.
At Cannes, Parasite won Bong the Palme d’Or in a unanimous decision by the jury, becoming the first Korean film to take home the festival’s top prize. Now, it’s made history again by becoming South Korea’s first Oscar nominee both for Best Picture and Best International Feature; with nominations for screenplay, director, editing, and production design, it might just win it all.