10 movies you need to see before the most unpredictable Oscars night ever

Brian Truitt

Who knows what Hollywood’s biggest night will exactly look and feel like on April 25, but one thing’s for sure about the upcoming Oscars: There are still enough high-end movies you'll want to watch in preparation.

That in itself is a minor miracle, with studios delaying so many of their big projects in the wake of COVID-19 and movie theaters temporarily closing their doors. But the Academy came through with some bold but good choices with its nominations this year, like Thomas Vinterberg breaking into best director for his under-the-radar Mads Mikkelsen raucous drama "Another Round" and Argentinian film "The Mole Agent" getting into best documentary. 

Oscars 2021:Who's up, who's down, and where you can watch this year's contenders

Save a seat for Frances McDormand:'Nomadland' is Oscar-ready

Here are 10 films to check out now that will be in contention on Oscar night:

'The Father'

Anthony Hopkins powered one Oscar best picture contender to a win with 1991's "The Silence of the Lambs" – could lightning strike twice? Up for best actor, Hopkins turns in one of his greatest performances in years playing a man with dementia trying to make sense of time and reality around him as his memory fades. And Olivia Colman, who plays his daughter making hard decisions when it comes to her dad's health, is up for supporting actress.

Where to watch: In theaters now, on video-on-demand platforms March 26 

Black Panther leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya, center) is targeted by the FBI in the period thriller "Judas and the Black Messiah."

'Judas and the Black Messiah'

With Golden Globe and Critics Choice hardware already, Daniel Kaluuya is so far ruling the best supporting actor race with his powerful portrayal of Illinois' Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton in Shaka King's 1960s-set thriller. However, he now has some competition in the Oscar race from his co-star LaKeith Stanfield, who plays the FBI informant tasked to undermine Hampton's efforts. 

Where to watch: In theaters

Levee (Chadwick Boseman, front) works on his own music and leaves his bandmates – Toledo (Glynn Turman), Slow Drag (Michael Potts) and Cutler (Colman Domingo) – incredulous in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."

'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom'

Twelve years after Heath Ledger was honored with a posthumous Oscar, it looks possible again: Chadwick Boseman, who died Aug. 28 at age 43, has already won Globe and Critics Choice honors and is a favorite to win best actor off his acclaimed performance as an egocentric cornet player in the August Wilson adaptation. And as the fiery title blues singer, Viola Davis made Oscar history when her second best-actress nomination made her the most-nominated Black actress ever. 

Where to watch: Netflix

More:Female directors triumph in Oscar nominations, but why is 'Judas' the only Black-led film in the best picture race?

Cassie (Carey Mulligan) is a woman on a quest of vengeance in the darkly comic thriller "Promising Young Woman."

'Promising Young Woman'

As a medical-school dropout on a vicious, righteous and colorful path of vengeance, Carey Mulligan makes an exceedingly strong case for a best actress win in the biting and dark thriller. Thanks to precursor awards recognition, a best picture victory is also not out of the realm of possibility for the #MeToo-themed film, which also scored directing and original screenplay honors for first-time director Emerald Fennell.

Where to watch: Apple TV and other video-on-demand platforms

Steven Yeun stars in Lee Isaac Chung's moving family drama as a Korean American dad and farmer who moves his clan (Alan S. Kim,  Noel Cho and Yeri Han) from California to Arkansas seeking out his American dream.


Lee Isaac Chung's acclaimed heartfelt drama about a Korean family seeking the American dream is coming on like a freight train. A Globe winner for best foreign-language film, "Minari" was a no-brainer for a best picture slot and Chung also nabbed a spot in Oscar's best director category. As the stubborn, hard-working farmer who moves his loved ones to rural Arkansas, Steven Yeun is in best actor contention, while Yuh-jung Youn, playing the clan's mischievous grandmother, is one to beat for supporting actress.

Where to watch: Apple TV and other video-on-demand platforms

Frances McDormand stars as a woman who lives the RV life on the road after the loss of her husband and town in "Nomadland."


Newly minted best actress nominee Frances McDormand could win Oscar No. 3 in Chloé Zhao's road-trip drama about a woman who works and travels across America as a nomad after her husband dies and her hometown collapses economically. And not only is she the first woman of color to earn a best director nomination, Zhao is the first woman in Oscar history to receive four nominations (directing, writing, editing and best picture) in a single year. 

Where to watch: Hulu

Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir, from left) takes a picture of his friends Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) in "One Night in Miami."

'One Night in Miami'

While Regina King was snubbed for best director and "Miami" didn't make the best picture cut, Kemp Powers' excellent cinematic revamp of his stage play about a night spent in the company of Black icons Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) didn't come up totally empty. Odom Jr., a Tony award winner for "Hamilton," scored a supporting actor nomination, and Powers earned a nod for adapted screenplay. 

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Orson Welles (Tom Burke, center) visits screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz in the hospital after a car accident in "Mank."


Orson Welles' masterpiece "Citizen Kane memorably took home only one Oscar, for best original screenplay. Ironically, that's one of the few categories that skipped David Fincher's throwback drama about the classic's creation. With the most nominations of any film going into the Oscars, "Mank" is a contender in best picture and director categories, Gary Oldman (as "Kane" writer Herman Mankiewicz) secured a best actor nomination three years after winning for "Darkest Hour," and Amanda Seyfried nabbed her first Oscar nod for supporting actress. 

Where to watch: Netflix

Riz Ahmed stars as a drummer who experiences a sudden loss of hearing in "Sound of Metal."

'Sound of Metal'

The most innovative and groundbreaking film of last year is poised to make some noise. Riz Ahmed grabbed his first best actor Oscar nod for his stunning portrayal of a hard-rock drummer who experiences a sudden loss of hearing and struggles to figure out his new life as a deaf person. "Sound of Metal" is also a legit contender up for best picture, and the film's a no-brainer to win the best sound category.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong, center left) and Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) lead a protest in Aaron Sorkin's "The Trial of the Chicago 7."

'The Trial of the Chicago 7'

Writer/director Aaron Sorkin's historical drama re-creating the tumultuous riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago – and the notorious trial that followed – is chock-full of top-notch performances. Sorkin missed out on a director nomination but got one for original screenplay, and Sacha Baron Cohen (also an Oscar screenwriting nominee or "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm") was the lone member of an A-list cast to get a supporting actor nomination. 

Where to watch: Netflix