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I’ve seen every Oscar movie — here are the 7 you need to watch

 Dominic Sessa and Paul Giamatti in The Holdovers .
Dominic Sessa and Paul Giamatti in The Holdovers .

Each year I make it my mission to watch every single movie nominated for an Academy Award in the eight major categories (Picture, directing, acting and screenplay). And now that I’ve checked off all the biggest Oscars movies of 2024, I can confirm that it’s a very strong field this year.

You could watch all 10 nominees in the Best Picture category, and you wouldn’t find a bad movie in the bunch. But if you’re a little short on time, and only want to watch the real cream of the crop, then I’m rounding up my top 7 favorite picks down below.

From a courtroom drama that had me so close to the edge of my seat that I was in danger of falling to the floor, to a heartfelt comedy-drama that’s the cinematic equivalent of a warm hug. This year’s Oscar movies are of the highest quality, here’s the 7 you should watch first.

‘Anatomy of a Fall’

Much to my disappointment, "Anatomy of a Fall"  looks set to walk away from Oscar night empty-handed. This French courtroom drama is nominated in five categories, including Best Picture and Best Director (for Justine Trent), but it faces stiff competition in all of them. At least it’s already got a major trophy to its name having won the prestigious Palme d’Or at last year’s 76th Cannes Film Festival.

One of the most engrossing movies of 2023, "Anatomy of a Fall" follows a successful novelist (Sandra Hüller) who is accused of murdering her husband (Samuel Theis) by pushing him out of a third-story window. While she protests her innocence, her blind son (Milo Machado-Graner) is caught in the middle as the sole witness to the events. Hüller gives a true acting masterclass in the lead role, but the performances across the board are stellar. Plus, the twisting plot will keep you hooked up until the end.

‘The Holdovers’

By the time the credits rolled on "The Holdovers" my jaw was starting to ache from smiling too much. They don’t make movies like this anymore, but Alexander Payne’s holiday-themed comedy is a testament to the enduring appeal of an unashamedly heartfelt movie. This delightful film will have you laughing one moment and tearing up the next, and you might just declare it your new favorite movie by the end.

"The Holdout" sees Paul Giamatti give the best performance of his career, as Paul Hunham, a cranky professor at a posh New England boarding school. Forced to stay on campus over Christmas break to look after the students with nowhere else to go, the inflexible educator develops an unexpected bond with a young burnout (Dominic Sessa) and the school’s cook (Da’Vin Joy Randolph) who’s still grieving the death of her son. This odd trio are unlikely companions, but over the festive period, their bond grows in ways that will warm your soul.

Buy/rent on Amazon or Apple

‘Oppenheimer’

"Oppenheimer" has dominated the awards shows that precede the Oscars, and the narrative is building that this year is Nolan’s overdue time in the spotlight. So, if "Oppenheimer" does prove to be the movie that finally wins the British filmmaker Best Picture (and almost certainly Best Director), then there really couldn’t have been a more deserving flick.

Recounting the life of Robert J. Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project that birthed the first atomic bomb, this biopic packs just about everything you could want from a movie. For starters, the stacked cast list all give career-best performances, none more so than Cillian Murphy in the lead role, while the direction from Nolan is masterful with inventive touches such as the sequence depicting Oppenheimer’s post-bomb-dropping speech. Plus, this is a three-hour movie that speeds by in a flash. In a seriously strong year for movies "Oppenheimer" would be a worthy winner, and it’s no wonder it’s the current favorite to win.

Buy/rent on Amazon or Apple

'Past Lives’

I’m pretty happy with the Oscar nominations this year, but there was one snub that broke my heart: Greta Lee not getting a Best Actress nod for her powerful performance in "Past Lives." Lee plays Nora Moon, a South Korean immigrant who moved to Canada as a child, and she anchors this stunningly beautiful drama.

A semi-autobiographical debut from director Celine Song, "Past Lives" chronicles the shifting dynamic between two childhood friends, Nora and Hae (Teo Yoo), over more than two decades, as they grow apart, come back together and reflect on the choices they’ve made (and didn’t make) over a fateful week. What could have been a cheap “will they, won’t they” narrative is elevated by Song’s impressively tender screenplay and two wonderfully subtle performances from its leads. The whole movie is utterly enchanting, but it’s the melancholic ending that leaves the biggest mark.

Rent/buy on Amazon or Apple

‘Poor Things’

"Poor Things" is a fiendishly funny comedy with a wickedly wonderful leading turn from Emma Stone as Bella Baxter, a young woman brought back to life by a kooky scientist (Willem Dafoe) who embarks on an adventure of self-discovery with a debauched lawyer (Mark Ruffalo) at her side. Along the way, she discovers about herself and also learns about the wider world around her.

A quick word of warning, "Poor Things" is not a movie to watch with your parents — there’s a whole load of risque material here — but if you don’t mind a few smutty scenes, it’s easily the funniest movie of 2023. The core cast clearly had a ball making this movie, and director Yorgos Lanthimos brings that aspect to the screen in spades. Only a slightly rushed third act dents "Poor Things" because otherwise, it's probably the most consistently entertaining pick on this list.

‘The Zone of Interest’

Calling “The Zone of Interest” a must-watch feels strange because it’s the one movie on this list I have absolutely zero intention of ever rewatching. Or at least, not rewatching for a very long time. But that’s not because of its quality, but rather because my first watch was such a haunting experience that I’m not sure I’m ready to endure this harrowing drama a second time quite yet. Nevertheless, it’s a movie of such importance that I strongly implore you to watch it at least once.

Inspired by the 2014 novel of the same name, “The Zone of Interest” follows German officer Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), who is assigned to oversee the operation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. The harrowing movie opens with Höss and his wife, Hedwig (Sandra Hüller), having settled into their surroundings with a disturbing ease and the pair are now happily raising their five young children just a stone's throw away from the site of unimaginable atrocities. “The Zone of Interest” is a brutal watch, but it’s also a vital look at a dark chapter of history that must never be forgotten

'May December'

“May December” was a shock omission in several of the majority Oscar categories this year. Its sole nomination in the big eight comes in Best Original Screenplay, and that’s a real shame. The main trio, Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore and Charles Melton, all deserved recognition for their excellent performances in this oddly funny drama from director Todd Haynes.

Natalie Portman plays an actress taking on the role of an infamous woman (Julianne Moore) who was caught having a relationship with a minor. 20 years later, the mismatched pair are still together and are now married despite their romance becoming a national tabloid scandal when first discovered. However, the arrival of the actress set to bring their controversial story to the screen forces the couple to reflect on the past and their relationship faces new pressures. Melton in particular has earned deserved praise for his portrayal of Joe Yoo, the husband who begins to wonder if he was groomed as a child and who’s really in control of his marriage.

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