Every year, when awards season rolls around, I tell myself that I’ll sit down to watch the heavy-hitting noms. I don’t like to be out of the loop and watching at least a couple of the nominated movies makes me feel like I’m very much nuzzled inside the loop.
Sadly, it’s also a fact that not all of the movies will appeal to my specific tastes. With 24 categories, it’s only natural that I’ll love some and have some fly over my head without making an impact.
This year, my strategy is looking a little different. Instead of sitting through every single nominated flick, I plan to take a look through the many years gone by and only watching the ones that speak to me. For you, I’ve compiled a list of Oscar-winners through the ages. You’re welcome.
The Shape of Water
The Shape of Water is a fantasy thriller with a solid hit of romance and was nominated for 13 Oscars in 2018 (the film won four). Set during the Cold War in the 1960s, the movie follows Elisa Esposito (played by Sally Hawkins), a mute cleaner who works in a high-security government lab facility and communicates through sign language. When she falls in love with a humanoid amphibian creature that’s been captured and held hostage in the lab — and when she hears word that his days are numbered — she busts him out.
We’ll forgive you if you haven’t gotten around to watching Nomadland yet, since it’s only just taken home three awards at the 2021 Oscars (and drops onto Disney+ on 30 April). Directed by Chloe Zhao and starring Frances McDormand as Fern, this film follows a woman in her 60s who lost everything in the Great Recession. Instead of rebuilding the life she once had, Fern takes on the life of a nomad and travels around the US, meeting real-life nomads Linda May, Swankie and Bob Wells along the way.
If you haven’t yet sat down to watch the Taika Waititi-directed comedy, Jojo Rabbit, then I urge you to make today the day you do. The movie was nominated for six gongs in the 2020 Academy Awards and when it won for the best adapted screenplay, Waititi dedicated it to “all the indigenous kids in the world who want to do art and write and dance and who are the original storytellers.” It’s set during the Second World War and follows Hitler Youth cadet Jojo Betzler whose devout Nazism manifests through his imaginary best friend, Adolf Hitler. So, you can imagine the spanner thrown his way when he finds out his mum is hiding a young Jewish girl in a hidden closet.
Starring Olivia Colman (who won an Oscar for this role), Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone, The Favourite is a period drama set in the early-18th century during the reign of Queen Anne (Colman). The film is loosely based on a true story (though some political affiliations have apparently been watered down) and, as the story goes, a new servant comes to town and gets close with the frail queen, sending court into a tizzy.
The Last King of Scotland
For a slightly different type of royal story, The Last King of Scotland is an absolutely gripping watch. In fact, Forest Whitaker’s performance earned him the best actor Oscar and has even been described as one of the best of all time with his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. The story is all told through the eyes of Nicholas Garrigan (played by James McAvoy), a young Scotsman who nestles his way into Amin’s good graces.
George Clooney and Shailene Woodley steer the ship in the 2011 movie adaptation of The Descendants. Just like the novel, this movie is set in Hawaii and kicks off with Clooney’s character, Matt King, and his two daughters immediately after their mother (his wife) is involved in a tragic accident. The film was nominated for five awards in 2012 and took home the award for best adapted screenplay.
My heart takes some serious time to recover after every rewatch of Titanic but going back every few years for a watch is always worth it. You know the story: big ship, bigger iceberg, hot scenes between Kate Winslet and Leonardo “In His Prime” DiCaprio, and a floating door that was absolutely big enough for two people. If you need more convincing, Titanic is still tied in first place as the film that’s received the most Academy Awards of all time — a huge feat, since it was way back in 1998 that it won 11 gongs.
The Life of Pi
When Life of Pi was released (and then won four out of 11 nominations at the Oscars), it was hailed as a genius use of 3D and CGI graphics. Nine years on and nothing has changed — it’s still brilliant. Based on Yann Martel’s 2001 novel, directed by Ang Lee (of Brokeback Mountain), Life of Pi stars Suraj Sharma, who plays Pi Patel — a man who’s stranded out at sea with nothing but a life raft.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri tells the heart-wrenching true story of Mildred Hayes (played by Frances McDormand), a grieving mother who takes on the local authorities to have her daughter’s rape and murder investigated. The film is inspired by a 30-year-old murder case in Texas that remains unsolved and was celebrated upon its release, winning four of seven nominations at the 90th Academy Awards, in 2018.
Dive into the ballet world in Natalie Portman’s iconic psychological horror film, Black Swan if you want to walk down memory lane and also never sleep again. In the movie, Nina (a ballerina played by Portman) is cast as the White Swan, Princess Odette. But when another ballerina is suggested as a better fit for the role, she spirals down into darkness. Portman’s performance was so believable that it won her the Oscar for best actress.
When Avatar rolled into cinemas in 2009 (and promptly won Oscars for best cinematography, art direction, and visual effects), it quickly became the highest-grossing movie of all time, knocking Titanic off its perch after 12 years of sitting pretty. Then, 10 years later Avengers: Endgame took first place, only for Avatar to win it back in 2021 after a brief cinema run in China. Besides the fact that both these movies star the goddess Zoe Saldana, there’s a reason it’s been such a knockout. Avatar is a bloody epic movie. I recently rewatched the film more than 10 years since my last watch and I was a blubbering mess at multiple points. It’s worth a watch (or a rewatch), particularly before the sequel is released in 2022 (and the many coming after it).
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Anything involving Wes Anderson’s dreamy aesthetic and chaotic energy has instantly got my vote. The four-time Oscar-winning movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel has both of these in spades as it recounts the story of legendary concierge Gustave H. and his trusted lobby boy Zero Mustafa, with a stolen priceless painting and a rich family feud thrown in the mix, too.
Ford vs Ferrari
One of the more recent inclusions on the Oscar-winning list (specifically, it won two in 2020), Ford vs Ferrari stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale. The pair play race car drivers during the famous battle between Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari in 1963, where Ford failed attempt at taking over Ferrari. Cue: pride-fuelled fights and a high-stakes car race.
Almost all people have probably seen Braveheart but I have to be honest . . . I haven’t. Apparently, it’s a historical epic drama telling the story of the late-13th-century Scottish Warrior, William Wallace, during the First War of the Scottish Independence against King Edward I of England. And it, just quietly, won five Oscars without a single acting nom.
If these movies have got you jotting down your shopping list of snacks for a weekend on the couch, head over the Disney+ where every last one of them is streaming now.Image: Disney