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10 Oscar-Nominated Movies and Where to Watch Them

Everyone’s opinion on the 10 best movies of the year is going to be different, and the Oscars have the impossible task of providing their list to an enormous audience when they announce their best picture lineup. This year’s nominees encompass a diverse array of genres and filmmaking styles, and everyone may not agree on whether each of them deserved a spot on the list.

Ultimately, though, the best picture nominees are a solid representation of what has happened over the past year at the movies. There are titles from services like Netflix and Apple TV+, but others that played in movie theaters before finding a second home on streaming. Now, as the Oscars approach, many people are looking to catch up on the titles that were nominated this year. Thankfully, that won’t be as difficult as it might have been in years past.

Rachel Zegler in West Side Story.
20th Century Studios

Belfast (2021)

75 %
Genre Drama
Stars Jude Hill, Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Kenneth Branagh’s personal tale about growing up in Ireland during the Troubles works in part because it holds the perspective of the child at all times. The movie is about feeling nostalgic for a period in history in which things were actually terrible, and reckoning with what it means to have lived a relatively happy life amid such turbulence and upheaval. Belfast is a small, quietly profound movie about a family learning to live in an unstable world, and it features great performances from a wonderful, tight ensemble.

CODA (2021)

74 %
Genre Drama, Music, Romance
Stars Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur
Directed by Siân Heder
CODA debuted at the Sundance Film Festival more than a year ago, and its persistence in the Oscar race speaks to the power of its relatively straightforward story. The film follows a child of deaf adults who has a passion for music and finds her ambitions butting up against her parents’ expectations. None of this is unfamiliar territory, but CODA always leads with the emotions of its characters, and its ensemble cast may be the very best of the year. CODA isn’t always the most subtle film, but it is deeply moving in a way that few movies on this list dare to be.

Don't Look Up (2021)

Don't Look Up
49 %
Genre Comedy, Drama, Science Fiction
Stars Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep
Directed by Adam McKay
Adam McKay doesn’t care much for subtlety, and Don’t Look Up is very much in line with his most didactic qualities. The film tells the story of a pair of astronomers who discover that there’s a massive meteor headed towards Earth that could destroy the planet, and try to get anyone to do anything about it. Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio are great in the central roles, but it’s McKay’s anger that shines through most brightly. Don’t Look Up is about government inaction, but in its quieter finale, it’s also about how easy it is to take everything, from the people around you, down to the very air you breathe, for granted.

Drive My Car (2021)

Drive My Car
91 %
Genre Drama
Stars Hidetoshi Nishijima, Toko Miura, Masaki Okada
Directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi
There were plenty of commercial releases in 2021, but Drive My Car was emphatically not one of them. The movie unfolds over three hours, and tells the story of a theater director who first discovers that his wife has been cheating on him, and then loses her completely. It’s a movie about the process of grieving that never feels preachy or overly sentimental, as this theater director begins putting on a Chekov play where many of the actors are speaking different languages. Drive My Car is about what it means to move on in the face of unimaginable loss, and it’s one of the best movies of a very good movie year.

Dune (2021)

74 %
Genre Science Fiction, Adventure
Stars Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
In a year filled with great blockbusters, nothing matched the sheer ambition of Dune. Adapting just half of Frank Herbert’s iconic novel, the film tells the story of a young man who finds himself completely adrift after arriving on a new planet and discovering that his powerful father has been overthrown in a violent coup. The movie may lack a sense of finality, but it works because of the total commitment of everyone involved. Timothee Chalamet is excellent as Paul, the story’s protagonist, but he’s matched by a wonderful cast and deeply immersive production design and seamless visual effects. Dune is a marvel to behold.

King Richard (2021)

King Richard
76 %
Genre Drama, History
Stars Will Smith, Saniyya Sidney, Aunjanue Ellis
Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green
Of all the movies on this list, King Richard may be the one most propelled by its central performance. Will Smith stars as the father of Serena and Venus Williams, and the movie works hard to complicate the man who managed to raise two tennis legends. The film chronicles both girls while they’re still teens, and makes it clear that they were able to succeed in part because of Richard’s ambitions on their behalf. What’s also clear, though, is how much Richard’s expectations could weigh on them, and how strange his parenting style could sometimes be. King Richard paints a portrait of a complicated man, even as it makes clear how successful his approach ultimately was.

Licorice Pizza (2021)

Licorice Pizza
90 %
Genre Drama, Comedy
Stars Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Licorice Pizza writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson doesn’t play by anyone else’s rules. His films are wonders of tonal management, and they often operate more on a wavelength than on any strong, overarching plot. With Licorice Pizza, Anderson tells the story of two young people, one a teenager and one in her mid-twenties, trying to discover themselves against the backdrop of 1970s Los Angeles. It’s a story without any grand direction, but one in which every emotional beat is laid out pretty precisely. Licorice Pizza is about finding connection and validation in a world that is so often starved of those things, and how beautiful and sad life can be even when nothing much is happening.

Nightmare Alley (2021)

Nightmare Alley
70 %
Genre Crime, Drama, Thriller
Stars Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
A remake of a 1940s noir of the same name, Guillermo Del Toro’s Nightmare Alley is the director’s first movie without any concrete fantasy behind it. The movie, which tells the story of a carnie who becomes a successful mentalist, is ultimately a broader story about American profit and greed. It can feel long, and a little disjointed, but thanks in part to its stellar ensemble cast, anchored by a phenomenal Bradley Cooper, the movie’s inevitable final beats feel immensely satisfying. Nightmare Alley is a sprawling noir epic, and what makes it great is the ways in which it does and doesn’t update the conventions of that genre.

The Power of the Dog (2021)

The Power of the Dog
89 %
Genre Drama, Western
Stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons
Directed by Jane Campion
Jane Campion’s return to feature filmmaking after more than a decade didn’t disappoint. The Power of the Dog is a western, but it’s unbound by many of the conventions that have defined that genre. Telling the story of a Montana rancher who responds cruelly when his brother decides to marry, the film is lyrical and subtle and ultimately reveals itself to contain many conventions of the thriller genre. Every moment is handled masterfully by Campion, and she’s recruited an all-star lineup of incredible actors to help make the movie sing.

West Side Story (2021)

West Side Story
85 %
Genre Drama, Romance, Crime
Stars Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Rita Moreno
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Remaking West Side Story is perhaps the craziest idea Steven Spielberg has ever had, and this is the man who released Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List in the same year. The remake updates the original in some key ways but is incredibly faithful in others. Starring a cast of largely unknown talent, Spielberg gives each member of his ensemble a moment to shine, but what’s most important to this adaptation of the musical is what the virtuoso director is able to do with his camera. The choreography, the colors, the movement, all of it feels wonderfully alive in a way that even the best movies rarely are. West Side Story is a staggering achievement.

Editors' Recommendations

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Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance culture writer based in upstate New York. His work has been published in The Washington Post, The…
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