9 award-worthy movies to stream in the build-up to the 2021 Oscars
Step right up, folks… step right up! It’s time to roll out the red carpets, polish the golden statuettes, “1, 2… 1, 2” the lapel microphones, put the seat fillers on standby, take a moment’s silence for Joan Rivers and get the popcorn ready… it’s awards season!
To echo Maximus’s words… “Are you not entertained?”. No matter what you throw at Hollywood, the movies keep on comin’! The Golden Globes may be done and dusted, but the Oscars are taking place on the 26th April this year, giving you almost two months to catch up on these award-winning new streaming releases on Showmax!
Awards tally: 3 Oscar wins, 6 nominations; 1 Golden Globe win, 6 nominations
Steve McQueen the actor may be best known for The Great Escape, but his namesake, the British filmmaker, is becoming one of the great directors of our time. His fearless, bold biographical and historical drama 12 Years A Slave represents a full spectrum of humanity and landed nine Oscar nominations with three wins. It’s a major historical milestone in its own right – the first film to be produced and directed by a black filmmaker, and written by a black screenwriter, to win Best Motion Picture of the Year.
It follows the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in antebellum United States in 1841. Deceived by the prospect of a job, Northup suffers emotional and physical abuse at the hands of plantation owners. The underrated Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a restrained performance, and McQueen directs with the same subtlety and nuance. With unconventional long shots to ratchet up tension, this is a hauntingly beautiful and gut-wrenchingly powerful film.
Awards tally: 1 Oscar win, 3 nominations; 1 Golden Globe win, 2 nominations
There’s a strangely unbiased feel to Room, a story about a woman and her son who are held captive for seven years in a 3 x 3 metre space. Nominated for four Oscars, Lenny Abrahamson’s quietly powerful drama won Brie Larson an Oscar for Best Actress for her nuanced and affecting lead role. Ordinarily, there would be more of a focus on the captor in trying to understand their psychological state and motives. Downplaying this element seems so purposeful that there are echoes of Life is Beautiful in the deliberate choice to create your own reality.
This is what makes Room so contemplative, intimate and strangely intoxicating. Holding it together is a mother who has to guide her son in a strange new world. Venturing into the outside, he’s confronted with places, spaces and things he’s only heard of, making this alienating experience heartfelt and soulful. With wunderkind Jacob Tremblay, two immersive performances and deft direction underpin this hauntingly human drama about coping and resilience.
Awards tally: 3 Oscar nominations; 1 Golden Globe nomination
From her name (pronounced “seeuh-shuh”) to her gentle yet firm performances, two-time Oscar nominee Saorise Ronan has an old world grace and a haunting quality with the kind of face you’d expect to find in a dusty photo album. Born in New York City to Irish parents, she was destined to play Eilis in this wistful romance drama about an Irish immigrant who lands in Brooklyn in the 1950s.
Windswept in the best sense of the word, Brooklyn swathes you in ornate visuals, fine production design and authentic performances that capture the spirit of the times. Living vicariously through Ronan’s seemingly effortless take on young Eilis, this is an enchanting journey of ambition and love. Building a career for herself and stumbling into romance in the fast-paced New York, she’s torn between her new life and her home country, Ireland.
Awards tally: 6 Oscar nominations; 5 Golden Globe nominations
Australian-born actress Cate Blanchett is so gosh-darn watchable! It’s easy to see why Peter Jackson chose her to play Galadriel, with her uncommon grace and immensity of spirit. Strikingly beautiful and commanding a strong screen presence, she continually finds herself in fantasy roles playing powerful rulers or sorcerers. She wields the same out-of-this-world energy in Carol opposite a would-be protegee in Rooney Mara.
A real-life actor mentorship plays out on screen as an unlikely budding romance against 1950s New York. An adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s critically acclaimed The Price of Salt, Carol is a thoughtful, tender and beautifully composed romance drama. The forbidden affair captures the frailty of the human condition from the dizzying climbs of love to the infernal depths of prejudice.
Awards tally: 3 Oscar nominations; 1 Golden Globe nomination
Natalie Portman has been an enduring success in Hollywood. Starting with her role as a child star in The Professional, 25 years later she played Jackie Kennedy and was nominated for an Oscar and Golden Globe for her incisive performance. She absolutely embodies the perfectionism, mannerisms, style and psychology of the celebrated First Lady.
Following the assassination of John F Kennedy, Jackie is a character portrait about the style icon and her struggle to overcome the grief and trauma of this historic turning point in American history. This stylish and well-acted drama exudes the poise and grace of its title character, who was concerned with her late husband’s legacy and the world of “Camelot”.
Awards tally: 3 Golden Globe nominations
Amid a whirlwind of Miami excess in the 80s, a Cuban immigrant turned mob boss gets consumed by the same greed and drugs that built his empire. The Oscar-winning actor Al Pacino’s savage yet brilliant take on Tony Montana set him apart in one of his most iconic roles. It’s a fire and brimstone performance that probably led to his role in The Devil’s Advocate. As he’s been cemented in gangster infamy, many assumed he had worked with Martin Scorsese before The Irishman.
Back in 1983, this gritty remake penned by Oliver Stone and directed by Brian De Palma caught everyone by surprise with its ultra-violent mix of comedy and tragedy. The black-and-white poster and “say hello to my little friend” catchphrase have become an indelible part of pop culture. Ridiculed and admired, Scarface is a gangster epic that has come to serve as a warning to some and a misguided ambition to others.
Awards tally: 1 Oscar win, 5 Oscar nominations
Clint Eastwood is in his 90s and still making movies as if his life depended on it! Ironically he made a name for himself as an actor in spaghetti Westerns as the man with no name, but now is a bonafide household name as both an actor and director. Eastwood is a proud American, something you’ll notice from his propensity to wave that star-spangled flag as often and high as he can. His passion for film and his country collide in the biographical war drama American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper as the legendary Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle.
The drama comes to focus on the Texan cowboy’s long-range pinpoint accuracy over four tours of duty, and the effects of war, which take their toll on his home life. The drama’s brilliance is in the tense do-or-die moments as a cool-headed Kyle engages the enemy.
Awards tally: Cannes – Best Director, Palme d’Or nominee
Sofia Coppola is the director behind Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette, The Virgin Suicides and The Beguiled. As the daughter of The Godfather’s Francis Ford Coppola and related to Nicolas Cage and Jason Schwartzman, it’s as if she was destined for the world of film. She follows through on her powerful name with a strong cinematic voice with a feminine edge. This is what makes her films so compelling, as seen in The Beguiled, a star-studded American Civil War drama about the unexpected arrival of a Union soldier at a girls’ school.
Starring Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning, the casting echoes Coppola’s penchant for creating beautiful, exquisite and enigmatic films. With the handsome devil Colin Farrell as the proverbial cat in the henhouse, sexual tension escalates as the manipulative deserter tries to seduce everyone at Miss Martha Farnsworth’s dilapidated and haunting seminary.
Awards tally: Gotham nominee
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the hardest working actors today, constantly improving his craft, landing parts and dedicated to the creative process with projects like HitRecord. An intrepid actor, he converted his experiential knowledge and passion for film into writing and directing his feature film debut, Don Jon. Gordon-Levitt packs plenty of attitude and provokes thought with his funny, in-your-face character portrait.
He plays a New Jersey Catholic bartender, known as “Don Jon” for his knack for winning over the most beautiful women, who grapples with a porn addiction and his desire to objectify everything.
This is a bold comedy drama romance with an independent spirit, delving headlong into toxic masculinity and unrealistic expectations created by pornography. Struggling with real intimacy and the prospect of finding his one true love, Jon Martello learns valuable life lessons through relationships with two strong women.
Bonus pick: Oscar-winning short documentary Chernobyl Heart
This 38-minute film won the Academy Award in 2004 for Best Documentary Short Subject. It reveals the long-term health effects of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident on children living in Belarus and Ukraine in the surrounding areas. It’s not an easy watch by any stretch, but has also been billed as “first-rate television”.