Streaming the 2019 Oscar nominees

The Academy Awards will be handed out on Sunday, February 24. Are you caught up on the major nominees?

Eight films made the cut in the category of best picture and a few of them are still in theaters, notably the offbeat royal drama The Favourite (2018, R), which came away with ten nominations, political commentary Vice (2018, R) which scored eight nomination, and Green Book (2018, PG-13), with five nominations in all.

Also still in theaters is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018, PG), the current favorite in the animated feature category.

A number of nominated films, however, are already available to watch at home. Here’s an easy guide to what you can see and how you can see them.

Best Picture

Two of the top nominees are currently available to stream on Netflix. Roma (Mexico, R, with subtitles) and Black Panther (PG-13).

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The ‘Alt’ Oscars: The Silent Years

The Academy Awards were born in 1927, the brainchild of MGM’s Louis B. Mayer, a studio head whose original idea for an organization to negotiate labor disputes and industry conflicts evolved into the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The awards themselves were an afterthought and initially more public relations gimmick than egalitarian celebration of the arts. Every member of the Academy (then as now an exclusive organization where membership is by invitation only) was involved in nominations but a committee of five judges picked the winners and Mayer, of course, oversaw it all. If he didn’t actually handpick the winners, be surely put his thumb on the scales. By 1929, Academy members were voting on the final ballots themselves and in 1934 the ceremony moved from November to March. Additional categories were added and other refinements made over the years (Foreign Language Film got its own statue in 1957) but otherwise the Academy Awards as we know them today were born: a glitzy event that brought the stars out and handed out trophies.

That leaves practically the entire silent movie era out of Oscar history. Hollywood had reached a zenith in terms of craftsmanship, glamor and ambition when The Jazz Singer was released before the first awards were handed out. It was. By its second year, sound films dominated the awards.


Let’s imagine an alternate history where the Academy Awards had been born earlier and (as long as we’re dreaming) with a more egalitarian purpose from the outset. What kind of winners might you have in an era when movies were more international and there was no such thing as a “foreign language film” when credits and intertitles were easily replaced for each region? What landmarks leading up to that first ceremony, where the twin peaks of populist blockbuster and artistic triumph—Wings and Sunrise—represented the Best of Hollywood, might have been chosen in the golden age of twenties cinema, or the birth of the feature film in the teens, or even the wild days of experimentation and rapid evolution in the decades previous?

Here are my picks for a few key awards in the imaginary Oscar history.

1928: Metropolis
Best Picture, Cinematography, Production Design
Released in January of 1927 in Germany and two months later in the U.S., this landmark was just too early for consideration in the inaugural awards (handed out in May, 1929). So I’m giving this early 1927 release a clear playing field with its own Oscar year: Academy Awards Year Zero. Sure, science fiction isn’t a big player with the Academy, but otherwise it has all the hallmarks of an Oscar favorite: epic canvas, astounding sets, visionary visual design and the timely theme of man struggling to find his place in the rapid spread of technology and machinery, all under the firm control of filmmaker Fritz Lang. Hollywood had never seen anything like it before. The film was soon edited down for and the original cut was lost for decades. The 2010 restoration restores scenes, characters and story lines unseen since opening night and confirms just how grand Lang’s vision was.

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Can DiCaprio beat McConaughey? Fearless Oscar predictions give awards an edge

This year’s Academy Awards, which air Sunday, is a real contest in most categories. Sure, Frozen has a lock on best animated feature and best song (just ask all those parents of young kids who still can’t “Let it Go”), while Gravity is a shoo-in for the technical categories.

The rest of the race is a little more competitive. Is the best picture battle coming down to the soaring space drama of Gravity vs. the grim historical events of 12 Years a Slave? Will Matthew McConaughey take home best actor, or does recent buzz for Leonardo DiCaprio hint at a surprise? Here are our predictions, all based on a mix of scrupulous research, previous winners, personal opinion, and pure speculation.

Matthew McConaughey in 'Dallas Buyers Club'

Best actor
America loves a comeback story and Matthew McConaughey is the story of the year. After coasting through endless romantic comedies and lightweight adventure pictures, he reinvented himself with a series a roles that cast his easy charm in challenging characters. Ron Woodruff in Dallas Buyers Club is the culmination of that transformation and it’s just the kind of character conundrum that Oscar loves to honor. But just when it looked like McConaughey had it in the bag, the buzz for Leonardo DiCaprio’s adrenaline-charged performance in The Wolf of Wall Street began to grow, at least as measured by the conversation on social media. And let’s face it, it takes real strength to sustain that kind of energy and compete with Scorsese’s runaway filmmaking.

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17th Annual Online Film Critics Society awards announced

The Online Film Critics Society proudly announces the recipients of the 17th annual OFCS awards for excellence in film.

Steven McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” was the standout winner, with recognitions for Best Picture, Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender), Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong’o), and Best Adapted Screenplay, for John Ridley’s hand in bringing Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir to the big screen.

Cate Blanchett won Best Actress for her turn in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” while Alfonso Cuarón bested the stiff competition as the Best Director winner for the critically and commercially successful “Gravity.”  The film also won in the categories for editing and cinematography, as well as special awards for its sound design and visual effects work.

Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises” won Best Animated Film, while France’s “Blue Is the Warmest Color” was recognized as the Best Film Not in the English Language.  Writer-director Spike Jonze won Best Original Screenplay for “Her,” and Joshua Oppenheimer’s audacious and disturbing “The Act of Killing” was voted as the best documentary of the year.  Films not yet released in North America were recognized in a separate top ten list.

A special award was also given to the late Roger Ebert, whose decades of work in criticism helped to popularize serious film appreciation to a wider audience, and whose tireless persistence in the face of cancer was as inspiring as any of the films he championed.

“Our members outdid themselves this year and we couldn’t be more excited,” said OFCS Governing Committee members Robert Humanick, Wesley Lovell and Cole Smithey. “After selecting a superb set of nominees, tough decisions were made and the result is a fine array of work enhanced only by the pool from which they were chosen.”

Founded in 1997, the Online Film Critics Society ( is the largest and oldest Internet-based film journalism organization. Over 250 members voted in this year’s awards.

The Online Film Critics Society 2013 Film Awards Winners

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Best Animated Feature: The Wind Rises
Best Film Not in the English Language: Blue Is the Warmest Color
Best Documentary: The Act of Killing
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
Best Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Best Supporting Actor: Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
Best Original Screenplay: Her
Best Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave
Best Editing: Gravity
Best Cinematography: Gravity

Special Awards:
Best Sound Design and Best Visual Effects to Gravity
To Roger Ebert, for inspiring so many of our members

Top Ten films Without a U.S. Release:
Closed Curtain
Like Father, Like Son
Our Sunhi
The Rocket
Stranger By the Lake
We Are the Best!
Le Weekend
Why Don’t You Play in Hell?

They Shoulda Been a Contender: 2012 Oscar Snubs

By sheer numbers, the 84th Annual Academy Award Nominations seems to belong to Hugo, with 11 nominations. But given those are largely in the technical / craft categories, the success story this year is The Artist, a modern silent movie, shot in black and white, with two French stars practically unknown in the United States. With ten nominations, it should be the surprise off the season, except for the fact that this is simply the last lap in its run as the unlikeliest picture to win the hearts of awards season voters.

'The Artist' - 10 nominations for a silent film in black-and-white with two French stars

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences moved the nominations announcements to January a couple of years ago, effectively shortening the “awards season,” but the unintended consequences have been to push the rest of the pretenders to Oscar glory into a free for all, everyone trying to predict or influence or simply contrast eventual Academy Award nominees. As a result, there are few real surprises by the time the Oscars are announced. It’s the final party in an absurdly overcrowded season of awards proms and I’m about partied out.

Plus there’s that new Academy sliding scale of Best Picture nominees. Bumped up from five to ten spots last year (not out of altruism but because indie pictures kept knocking the big audience-pleasing Hollywood movies out of contention), the number is now determined by the number of “You like me, you really, really like me!” number one votes a film received on the Academy ballots. This year, it resulted in nine nominations: an odd number for an odd year.

And yet… it’s the Oscars. They still matter. A nomination is indeed an honor (certainly more of an honor than the Golden Globes) and a snub is still something to get worked up over. And so here is out annual scorecard on Oscar’s slights and oversights: they shoulda been a contender.


There are nine nominees this year, but is more really better when Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Hollywood’s inevitable and inadequate 9/11 drama) and The Help (this year’s answer to The Blind Side?) and War Horse (Spielberg sentiment run amok) fill out those extra slots? This year swings so far in the other direction of Big Films with Important Messages Hammered Home with Insistent Direction that the indie films that spurred the expansion are all but ignored.

Take Shelter

Two of the most glaring slights: Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichardt’s lost-in-the-desert frontier drama (did it play too early in 2011 for voters to remember its understated virtues?), and Take Shelter, a psychological drama about mental illness and end-of-the-world fears wrapped up in contemporary anxieties of economic survival.

Continue reading at MSN Movies

Voices Off – The Village Voice Film Poll

The 2011 Village Voice Film Poll is out and I once again was invited to participate.

The only disappointment for me is that I was unable  to see two of the films that made the Top Ten compilation list: Margaret (still hasn’t screened for Seattle critics and no Fox offered no DVD screeners) and A Separation (that did screen in Seattle, but only after the poll deadline).

On the bright side, my top four films all placed in the compilation Top Ten. Which ones are those? You’ll have to can see my list here.

Just for the record, and because it’s no surprise, The Tree of Life took the top spot, just as it did for the Indiewire survey and the MSN poll.

Weekend Viewing: Oscar at Home

And the award goes to… Now really, what’s the fun of second guessing the Academy if you haven’t seen the movies yet?

You could, of course, go to the theater to catch “The King’s Speech” or “True Grit,” and if you happen to live in multiplex-land you may still be able to find “Black Swan,” “The Fighter” or “127 Hours” hanging on to one of those screens. (See MSN Showtimes for screenings near you.)

But a lot of the nominees are long gone from theaters. The good news is that many of them are available for home viewing on DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and/or pay-per-view. Here’s a list of those you can see now on a small screen near you.

The Social Network” (Sony) – With 8 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor (Jesse Eisenberg), this is the film that dominated the critics and awards groups leading up to the Oscars and still the favorite to take home the top gold. The DVD and Blu-ray releases (reviewed here) are superbly produced and feature a top notch documentary on the making of the film.

Continue reading at MSN Videodrone

Oscar Snubs on MSN: They Shoulda Been a Contender

My annual accounting of contenders who missed the Oscar cut is live on MSN. There weren’t any surprises this year. Here’s my wish list of the surprises I would have enjoyed seeing.


Oscar opened the Best Picture list to ten nominees last year, not out of guilt for leaving out so many worthy nominees, mind you, but as a way to make sure the big audience-pleasing Hollywood movies that Middle America (in other words, the Oscar telecast audience) has actually seen would find a place in the show. This year they score with blockbusters “Toy Story 3” (both number one at the box office and one of the best reviewed films of 2010) and “Inception,” Hollywood hits “The Social Network” and “True Grit” and success stories “The King’s Speech” and “Black Swan.”

What did they miss? I don’t think anyone expected “Let Me In,” the remake of the Swedish winter-dark vampire thriller “Let the Right One In,” to show up this year, being both a remake and a horror film, but this perfectly-realized film surely deserves a nod as much as (if not more than) most films that made the cut. “The Town” was widely predicted to be a nominee and Peter Weir’s etched-in-earth survival drama “The Way Back” was the best film of 2010 that no one saw in 2010. But the most egregious absence is Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer,” which swept the European film awards yet is nowhere to be seen on this year’s list of nominees. The smart, gripping, subtly Hitchcockian thriller may have simply come out too early in the year, or maybe the recent extradition controversy simply churned up a belated Polanski backlash. Either way, this is the Best Film of 2010 to come out of the nominations empty-handed.

Read the complete feature here.

They Shoulda Been a Contender: Oscar Snubs 2010

It’s Oscar time again and you know that means. Yes, it’s my annual Oscar snubs piece for MSN, a tradition I originally stumbled into six years ago and have happily been upholding every year since.

Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, nominated for screenplay but not direction: the will of Hashem or Academy oversight?

I confess, it’s been a while since I’ve gotten myself worked up over anything the Academy has done, either at nomination time or during the awards itself, but I can still poke a stick at the egregious mistakes that the Academy makes every frickin’ year and have a little fun with it.

Is it just me, or is the awards season getting longer, busier and utterly exhausting? The flurry of critics groups and professional organizations and self-appointed awards groups beating a path to the Oscar door ends up wearing out the awards season before the Academy Award nominations are even announced. Every new press release proclaims a new prediction (“Avatar” is Best Picture? Really?) or a showdown (“The Hurt Locker,” baby!). The bets are made, the critical positions are staked out and the fans line up: Are you Team Cameron or Team Bigelow? Are there any surprises left for the early morning ceremony, especially when they expand the Best Picture category to 10 films? Is there enough energy left to whip ourselves up into a froth of indignation? Do we even care?

Well, yeah, we do. Somehow the Oscars still matter. We celebrate the worthy nominees and kibitz, complain and gripe about everyone the Academy missed. And, once again, even with the love spread out to 10 Best Picture nominees, there is no shortage of deserving artists who didn’t make Oscar’s cut, and we’re not shy about sharing our opinions on where they went wrong. So once again we offer our annual report card on Oscar’s slights and oversights. Call it: They shoulda been a contender.

Best Actor

Is there an actor who doesn’t belong here? Perhaps not, but for all the goodwill and gentle authority of Morgan Freeman‘s Nelson Mandela in “Invictus,” his inclusion feels more like a goodwill gesture when compared with the discomfortingly unkempt angles and inarticulate anguish that Joaquin Phoenix embodies in “Two Lovers,” which arrived early in 2009 and was all but forgotten by the end of the year. I suppose Phoenix has no one to blame but himself, after his promotional antics upstaged the film and Ben Stiller turned him into a punch line at last year’s Oscar ceremony, but that doesn’t change the power of his performance.

Read the entire feature at MSN here, and if you are so inclined, stick around and take the time to explore the rest of the MSN Guide to the 2010 Academy Awards.

Obligatory Oscar Comments – Kate Winslet, Sean Penn, Jerry Lewis

The Academy gave us Hugh Jackman, both a song and dance man and a costumed superhero, to host the 2009 Oscar ceremony and it was still the dullest on record. The big musical number was actually tackled by talented folks doing a respectable job, but the old-fashioned show-biz tribute was decidedly lacking in imagination or electricity. The “Best Song” had no credibility when Bruce Springsteen’s song didn’t even make the cut. I liked the classy touch of bringing out five previous winners for each acting category not just to introduce each nominee but to offer them praise directly – even if you didn’t win the statue, you got high praise indeed from Oscar royalty. But it was still probably better for the nominees than it was for us at home. The closest thing to an upset was Departures taking the Best Foreign Language Film (most of us had money down on Waltz With Bashir, but then again, most of us have never seen Departures), Sean Penn showing a sense of humor in his acceptance speech and Jerry Lewis, in contrast, showing great restraint in his.

Little man, what now?
Little man, what now? (copyright AMPAS)

But being a blogger I’m obligated to offer some opinion of the awards. So beyond the fact that 2008 was a thin year for American cinema (especially put up against the meaty line-up of nominees last year) and that Slumdog Millionaire is another overrated underdog story with glib social politics only marginally more interesting than those of Crash (Haggis, not Cronenberg), I’d like to say that the Academy did right in its performer awards. Mickey Rourke gave a hearty and beautiful performance as The Ram and his off-screen story only feeds the character onscreen. But Sean Penn’s performance was inspiring, a transformation that finds the heart and soul of a historical figure and sends blood pumping through a man who has become practically deified over the decades. His Harvey Milk is not a crucified messiah but a human being who found his calling and his passion. His Harvey Milk is not just an out-and-proud gay man, but a man who is no longer embarrassed at being himself, bad jokes and all. His greatest revelation: the way this goofy gay nerd won folks over with his sincerity, his passion and his complete lack of self-consciousness, and the way he showed them how to become a political force to stand up for their rights.

As for Kate Winslet, who Time Magazine proclaimed “Best Actress” on the cover of the issue I received the day before the Oscars, I say that she is very good in two 2008 movies that are not, and that  she won for the right performance. In Revolutionary Road, she is the sensitive would-be artist/intellectual with fantasies of a life beyond suburbia, married to a blithely self-aggrandizing husband (DiCaprio) who just doesn’t understand, or even notice, her disappointment at the compromises of their lives. After all, they’re living the middle-class dream, aren’t they? Winslet plays her character as a dam holding in the building waters of frustration and discouragement and discontent until the walls burst and everything flood out in a torrent of furious rage and hostility directed at her shallow, self-absorbed husband. Those scenes are explosive. The rest of the film is a glib commentary on lives that are not lived so much as acted as illustrations of unrealistic dreams and stifling conformity and even Winslet rarely breaks out of the quotation marks that Sam Mendes puts around the performances.

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Oscar Snubs: Who got dissed at Oscar 2009?

My annual “shoulda been a contender” list is up at MSN now.

Best Picture

Academy voters have proven quite open-minded about hobbits and elves, serial killers, gangsters and all manner of eccentrics when it comes to handing out Oscar gold. So why is it that comic-book movies still get no love from Oscar? “The Dark Knight” has been racking up critics’ awards and guild nominations all season, only to be knocked out of Academy Award contention by the self-consciously serious “The Reader.” Literary pedigree and “important” themes trump pop-culture mythology. Apparently voters don’t know how to respond when the metaphors are masked in spectacular set pieces and Halloween costumes.

From the flamboyant to the sublime: It would have been lovely to see Kelly Reichardt‘s quietly intimate “Wendy and Lucy” get a nom and some much-deserved attention. And although foreign films are rarely acknowledged in the top category, it would have been exhilarating to see “A Christmas Tale” (MSN Movie’s pick for best film of 2008) in that company, especially because it wasn’t even submitted for the Foreign Language Film category. At least “WALL-E” has its Animated Feature Film nomination (and is pretty much a shoo-in to take home the statue).

See the complete list here.