Where to stream this year's Oscar contenders, from 'Nomadland' to 'Two Distant Strangers'

Most of the year's nominated films are available on home streaming services, here's where to find the best

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
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Everything about this year's Oscars is a little bit different, from the timing of the show to the types of movies nominated to the ceremony itself, which will unfold on April 25 in a live presentation we still don't know a whole lot about. 

It's befitting of a year where Hollywood was turned upside down and inside out, where theaters were shuttered and blockbuster movies sat on the sidelines while smaller films and awards season fare secured release deals on streaming platforms. 

Frances McDormand in "Nomadland."

As a result, most of the year's Academy Award-nominated films are available on major streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.

Whether it's a sign of things to come or simply a sign of the times remains to be seen. But it's a good thing for casual movie watchers who want to catch up on the nominated titles before the show, as it's easy to program a mini-film festival in your living room to get up to speed on the year's most acclaimed films. 

Here are 13 recommendations of nominated movies to stream before the Oscar ceremony. The popcorn is up to you.  

1. "Nomadland"

Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Director (Chloé Zhao), Best Actress (Frances McDormand), Best Adapted Screenplay (Chloé Zhao), Best Cinematography (Joshua James Richards), Best Film Editing (Chloé Zhao)

Streaming on: Hulu

Favored in the Best Picture and Best Director races, Chloé Zhao's "Nomadland" tells the tale of Fern (the fabulous Frances McDormand), who lives on the road and follows seasonal work since employment dried up in her small Nevada town. It's a gorgeous film about an America we rarely see, and the community formed by the people that left society behind after society left them behind. 

2. "Pieces of a Woman"

Nominated for: Best Actress (Vanessa Kirby) 

Streaming on: Netflix

Vanessa Kirby in "Pieces of a Woman."

The first half-hour of Kornél Mundruczó's drama is as stirring a 30 minute trime frame as has been captured on film in a long time. Martha (Vanessa Kirby) is giving birth at home, and as complications arise in the birth, we see Martha and her husband Sean (Shia LaBeouf) go through the full range of human emotions. Additionally, it all unfolds in one unnerving unbroken shot. Good thing it's streaming at home, because you'll need a breather after.  

3. "Sound of Metal"

Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Actor (Riz Ahmed), Best Supporting Actor (Paul Raci), Best Original Screenplay (Abraham Marder and Darius Marder), Best Sound (Jaime Baksht, Nicolas Becker, Philip Bladh, Carlos Cortés and Michelle Couttolenc), Best Film Editing (Mikkel E.G. Nielsen) 

Streaming on: Amazon Prime

Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is a metal drummer who is losing his hearing and is slowly coming around to accepting that fact in Darius Marder's innovative and immersive drama, which uses sound tricks (muting, muffling, etc.) to put viewers inside his head. Through this technique, audiences are able to hear what he hears, and to ultimately feel what he feels. It's a totally unique sensory experience.  

4. "Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom"

Nominated for: Best Actor (Chadwick Boseman), Best Actress (Viola Davis), Best Production Design (Production Design: Mark Ricker; Set Decoration: Karen O'Hara and Diana Sroughton), Best Makeup and Hairstyling (Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson), Best Costume Design (Ann Roth) 

Streaming on: Netflix

Chadwick Boseman as Levee in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."

Chadwick Boseman brought legends to the screen, playing James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and Jackie Robinson to life during his brief career. In "Ma Rainey," he showed new depths to his skill set, in what sadly became his final screen role. "Ma Rainey" is making a push toward becoming a double-winner in the acting categories, with Viola Davis currently the favorite in the Best Actress race, which would give her her second win, following the Best Supporting Actress trophy she picked up for 2016's "Fences."

5. "One Night in Miami..." 

Nominated for: Best Supporting Actor (Leslie Odom Jr.), Best Adapted Screenplay (Kemp Powers), Best Original Song ("Speak Now")

Streaming on: Amazon Prime

Four legends, one night. Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) meet up at a motel following one of Ali's fights and discuss their respective roles in the civil rights movement and in the fabric of America in Regina King's resonant adaptation of Kemp Powers' stage play. 

6. "My Octopus Teacher"

Nominated for: Best Documentary Feature

Streaming on: Netflix 

A storytelling marvel as well as a grand technical achievement, "My Octopus Teacher" focuses on the relationship between diver Craig Foster and the eight-legged creature he befriends in the waters of a South African kelp forest. Filmmakers manage to capture the key events of the octopus' life on film, and viewers get to learn a little bit more about the magic of the world around them. A fascinating delight. 

7. "The United States vs. Billie Holiday"

Nominated for: Best Actress (Andra Day) 

Streaming on: Hulu

Andra Day in "The United States vs Billie Holiday."

Lee Daniels' look at the troubled life and career of Billie Holiday is far from perfect, but Andra Day's performance at the center of the film is a stone knockout, an honest, emotional portrayal of addiction, genius and recklessness set to some of the 20th century's most beautiful music. 

8. "Two Distant Strangers"

Nominated for: Best Live Action Short Film

Streaming on: Netflix 

Joey Bada$$ and Andrew Howard in "Two Distant Strangers."

An all-too timely tale of police brutality and race relations, "Two Distant Strangers" presents a "Groundhog Day" scenario where the protagonist, Carter (Joey Bada$$) is caught in a time loop where no matter what he does, he can't help but get killed by a grudge-carrying cop (Andrew Howard). And each time he does, he wakes up to do it all over again the next day, a layered metaphor for our current times. 

9. "The White Tiger"

Nominated for: Best Adapted Screenplay (Ramin Bahrani) 

Streaming on: Netflix

Adarsh Gourav and Rajkummar Rao in "The White Tiger."

Writer-director Ramin Bahrani's slickly told, darkly humorous drama unfolds like a gangster epic, detailing the rise of an Indian man (Adarsh Gourav) from the slums all the way up to the penthouse. It's a familiar arc, but Bahrani's telling — he adapted the screenplay from Aravind Adiga's novel — is rich with streetwise details and a deep sense of humanity that make the story feel at once universal and specific.

10. "Another Round"

Nominated for: Best International Feature Film, Best Director (Thomas Vinterberg)

Streaming on: Hulu

Mads Mikkelsen stars as a middle-age teacher who, along with a group of friends, decide to test a theory about blood alcohol content which may or may not be an excuse to do a lot of day drinking. The eventual American remake will overload on moralizing, but there's a freedom in director Thomas Vinterberg's telling, and the soaring final scene is one of the great moments from the last year of movies. 

11. "Do Not Split"

Nominated for: Best Documentary Short Subject

Streaming on: Vimeo

This urgent, heart-pounding on-the-ground account of the Hong Kong protests in 2019 shows the chaos in the streets that erupted over Hong Kong's extradition laws, and shows how quickly things can topple when people rise up against the system. 

12. "Crip Camp"

Nominated for: Best Documentary Feature

Streaming on: Netflix

An image from "Crip Camp."

A lively, inspiring story of the ways simple feelings of inclusion can lead to empowerment and societal change, "Crip Camp" focuses on a Catskills summer camp that was established for teenagers living with spina bifida, blindness, cerebral palsy, paraplegia and other ailments. There they were able to feel a sense of community and togetherness, the exact things they didn't feel in their everyday lives.

13. "If Anything Happens I Love You"

Nominated for: Best Animated Short Film

Streaming on: Netflix

A couple wrestles with the ghosts of arguments past while a sadness looms overhead. The source of that sadness is soon revealed in this heartfelt 12-minute short that will stay with you for much longer than its running time. 

Where to find other nominated films at home:

Netflix: "Mank," "The Trial of the Chicago 7," "Hillbilly Elegy," "Da 5 Bloods," "Over the Moon," "A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon," "A Love Song for Latasha," "Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga," "The Midnight Sky" 

Hulu: "The Mole Agent," "Collective"

Amazon Prime: "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm," "Time"

Disney+: "Soul," "Onward," "Mulan," "The One and Only Ivan"

Apple TV+: "Wolfwalkers," "Greyhound"

Paid Video on Demand: "The Father," "Judas and the Black Messiah," "Promising Young Woman," "Minari," "News of the World," "Tenet," "Pinnochio"

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

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