In a typical Academy Awards season, many top contenders are playing only in a few theaters when the nominations are announced. But like much of our lives these today, the way we watch movies has been upended. This year, most of the Oscar hopefuls are available for anyone to watch right now, across the country — not just in theaters, but on subscription streaming services and on video on demand.
Here are eight of those films, each of which is either streaming or will be by the end of the month, and each of which is likely to be named in one or more categories when the nominations are announced on March 15. There’s still plenty of time to catch up — and view the Oscars like an insider.
A front-runner for both best picture and best actress, “Nomadland” stars Frances McDormand as a widow adjusting to a new economic reality after losing her job. She travels around the West, living in her van and seeking seasonal employment while camping alongside other quasi-homeless people. Based on Jessica Bruder’s book — and adapted to the screen by Chloé Zhao — this moving and visually striking slice-of-life drama is a non-sensationalistic look at the hardships of living paycheck to paycheck, mitigated only slightly by a sense of community and the freedom to roam. Stream it on Hulu.
The writer-director Lee Isaac Chung tells a version of his own story in the disarmingly heartfelt “Minari,” a low-key drama about a Korean immigrant (Steven Yeun) and his wife (Yeri Han), who move to rural Arkansas and get jobs at a local chicken plant while trying to establish their own produce farm. Yeun and Han, who play parents trying to preserve their cultural traditions while pursuing the American dream, are strong candidates in the acting categories. Chung surrounds his leads with vivid detail, sharing the humor, the anxiety and the hope of this family. Available Feb. 26 to rent or buy on VOD.
‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’
Aaron Sorkin (who has an Oscar for his “The Social Network” screenplay) is likely to hear his name called again this year, for writing and directing the punchy and relevant political drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Based on the contentious legal aftermath of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the film has an awards-worthy cast (led by Sacha Baron Cohen, playing the counterculture provocateur Abbie Hoffman) facing off as the antiwar activists and the conservative reactionaries who squabbled over the difference between “the right to protest” and “inciting a riot.” Stream it on Netflix.
‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’
Based on August Wilson’s Tony-nominated 1982 play, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” covers one lively 1927 day in a Chicago recording studio, where a blues singer (Viola Davis) argues with her white business partners while her band swaps stories and practices her song. The movie features the final screen performance of Chadwick Boseman, who’ll almost certainly get a posthumous nomination for his take on the ambitious, cocky trumpeter Levee Green. This is a riveting and revelatory film all around, skillfully directed by the Broadway veteran George C. Wolfe. Stream it on Netflix.
‘Sound of Metal’
Riz Ahmed gives one of 2020’s best performances in “Sound of Metal,” a quietly expressionistic drama directed by Darius Marder (who also co-wrote the film with his brother Abraham and Derek Cianfrance). Ahmed plays Ruben, a drummer and a recovering addict whose livelihood and sobriety are threatened when he starts losing his hearing. Ahmed and Marder take the viewer inside Ruben’s experience, using sonic effects and subtle gestures to convey the mounting panic of someone who fears that everything he values is slipping away. Stream it on Amazon Prime.
‘Welcome to Chechnya’
“Welcome to Chechnya,” an enlightening documentary on the treatment of L.G.B.T.Q. citizens in Russia’s Chechnya could be nominated in both the documentary and visual effects categories. To try to safely capture the struggles of activists, the journalist and filmmaker David France keeps their identities anonymous, using cutting-edge digital technology to replace their faces. This identity-masking technique reinforces the film’s themes, which examine the lengths some people are forced to go to hide who they are. Stream it on HBO Max.
The fine Danish director Thomas Vinterberg has made one of the best films of his career with “Another Round,” which he co-wrote with his frequent collaborator Tobias Lindholm. Mads Mikkelsen plays a depressed teacher who joins his fellow middle-aged drinking buddies in an experiment, to see if they’ll be happier, more honest and more creative if they drink alcohol steadily throughout the daylight hours, every day. This may sound like the premise for either a raunchy comedy or a bleak drama, but Vinterberg, Lindholm and Mikkelsen approach the idea with a free-flowing mix of seriousness and whimsy, frankly exploring life’s pains and pleasures. Rent or buy it on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu or YouTube.
The best Pixar Animation Studios picture since “Coco” is a similarly playful fantasy, about an affable fellow who crosses over into the spirit world. Jamie Foxx is the voice of Joe, a music teacher who longs to be a performing pianist in a jazz combo, but who suffers a near-fatal accident. Tina Fey is a shapeless unborn being who becomes Joe’s guide to the netherworld between life and death, just as he becomes her mentor in the art of being human. With its beautiful music, its optimistic tone and its imaginative imagery, “Soul” isn’t just a clever cartoon, it’s a little jolt of joy. Stream it on Disney+.