Awards Race 2021: Where to Watch the Top Award Contenders

The awards race is on. Take the holiday break off and get acquainted with this year's top-nominated films. Here's where you can watch 'em all.

Matt Lissauer

By Matt Lissauer

Awards Race - Where to Watch Award Winners 2021 - "Belfast."

© Focus Features / Courtesy Everett Collection

It's Christmastime, and along with all the good tidings, in the world of cinema, the awards race is in high gear. Critics have compiled their year-end Top Ten lists, and several award organizations have already named their nominees. As such, the race for Best Picture, Best Actor/Actress, and Best Director is already taking shape. Among the top contenders are "Belfast," "The Power of the Dog," "Licorice Pizza," and "West Side Story."

While you stay warm and cozy this holiday season, take the opportunity to relax with your loved ones - safely, of course - and enjoy a good film (or two; or four). Below are twenty films that are all in top competition. We highlight them all and point you to where you can watch them right now, whether at home or in the theater.

Belfast

In "Belfast," Kenneth Branagh pays homage to his childhood. The film is reminiscent of Alfonso Cuarón's semi-autobiographical "Roma," but remains very distinctly Branagh's. As it stands, "Belfast" is already among the Golden Globes and Critic Choice Awards' top contenders. In turn, the film will likely lead many Oscar categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and each performance award.

The Power of the Dog

Director Jane Campion's stark Western drama is another likely candidate for Best Picture. "The Power of the Dog" also features powerful performances from its principal actors - Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Previously, Campion made Oscar history in 1993 when she became the second woman ever nominated for Best Director. This was for "The Piano." Despite not receiving that award, she did receive the Oscar for that film's original screenplay. There's good reason to think Campion will be up for all these awards again. But for Best Director, will the Academy duly honor her this time around?

Flee

Jonas Poher Rasmussen's documentary is a leading contender for three Oscars - Best Documentary, Best Animated Feature, and Best International Feature Film. With its success at Sundance earlier this year, where it won the World Cinema Documentary award, the widely acclaimed "Flee" has gained momentum in the awards race. In addition to receiving two awards from the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics' Circle has named it Best Non-Fiction Film. Now it's up for an Independent Spirit Award and four Annies. No documentary has ever been nominated for the Oscar's big prize, Best Picture. But "Flee" is probably the strongest candidate to make history.

West Side Story

It's almost fitting that 60 years after "West Side Story" won Best Picture, the movie is up for consideration once more and could likely win the same award. This would make Steven Spielberg's revised version the second remake to win the trophy since Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," and the first remake of a previous Best Picture winner. The odds of "West Side Story" winning the top prize are slim but not improbable. Far more likely would be Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and an interesting head-to-head contest for Best Supporting Actress. This would pit Ariana DeBose against Rita Moreno, who had previously won the Oscar in 1961 for the same role that DeBose is now playing.

West Side Story Poster

West Side Story

PG-13

Musical

December 10, 2021

Licorice Pizza

After giving us Daniel Day-Lewis' final on-screen performance in "Phantom Thread," Paul Thomas Anderson returns with a 1970s-set coming-of-age drama. "Licorice Pizza" features pop-rock singer Alana Haim in a breakthrough performance. Haim isn't the only singer-turned-actor in the running for a major award. Her main competition is fellow pop-star Lady Gaga for her lead in "House of Gucci" (another period-set dramedy). Haim and Gaga both have Golden Globe and Critics' Choice Award nominations. Beyond that, you can expect Anderson to land nods for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, as well as Best Picture.

The Lost Daughter

Maggie Gyllenhaal writes and directs this extraordinary debut feature. Coleman also shines in a performance that is likely to earn her a third Best Actress Oscar nomination. "The Lost Daughter" has already won top prizes at the Gotham Awards. The film is up for several top awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards, and Best Director and Best Actress at the Golden Globes.

Dune

Denis Villeneuve's sci-fi epic reminded everyone of the true power of cinema. Even if you're not into warring space colonies, the stunning visuals and sheer scope of it all are enough to inspire awe. Due to this, it's not surprising that "Dune" has been nominated for several awards - despite many believing it was too risky to succeed. A Best Director nomination seems like a good bet, along with Best Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay, and yes, even Best Picture. Of course, it'll be in the technical categories where "Dune" will clean up the most. No matter the case, all of this is good news for those looking forward to "Dune: Part Two."

Summer of Soul

Roots front-man Questlove makes a bold directorial debut with this rock-doc that shines a light on a forgotten piece of music history. "Summer of Soul" was one of the buzziest films at Sundance this year, and it's now a leading contender for Best Documentary. The documentary recently swept the Critics Choice Documentary Awards and received top honors from the American Film Institute and National Board of Review.

  • Where to Watch: Hulu

Encanto

Disney's "Encanto" reminds everyone what the Mouse House does best. It's a fanciful story, full of compelling visuals, voice performances and beautiful songs. Broadway king Lin-Manuel Miranda is the driving force behind those songs. The film's signature tune, "Dos Oruguitas," has already been nominated for a Golden Globe and Critics Choice award, as well as making the Oscars' shortlist. You can also expect nods for Germaine Franco's score, as well as, of course, Best Animated Feature.

King Richard

Will Smith gives a performance of a lifetime in this biopic from Reinaldo Marcus Green ("Monsters and Men," "Joe Bell"). "King Richard" tells the story of Venus and Serena Williams, two of tennis' most formidable females. The story is told through the eyes of Richard (Smith), a father who pushes his daughters to success in his own way. Smith and co-star Aunjanue Ellis have already received awards for their performances. They will next compete for Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards. While the film as a whole might be up for Best Picture, the performances stand out as the top competitors.

CODA

"CODA," which stands for Children of Deaf Adults, was Apple's big purchase at Sundance this year. The investment appears to be paying off. Since its Sundance premiere, "CODA," Sian Heder's outstanding sophomore effort after "Tallulah," has received considerable praise. Leading the film is Emilia Jones, who delivers a standout breakthrough performance. As such, "CODA" should prove Apple can compete on level terms with Netflix and Amazon, much like its acclaimed TV productions.

Don't Look Up

With several negative reviews following its recent theatrical premiere, Adam McKay's star-studded "Don't Look Up" could suffer in the awards race. However, such a thing hasn't stopped award-friendly films in the past (see Glenn Close in "Hillbilly Elegy" last year). Despite the poor reception, the film is fueled by the chemistry of its cast, all of whom are no strangers to the awards race. Another entry point for "Don't Look Up" is its surprise acting turns by Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi. Their in-movie song "Just Look Up" has made the Oscar shortlist for Best Original Song. Likewise, Cudi could be competing against himself with a nomination for "Guns Go Bang" from another Netflix contender, "The Harder They Fall."

Drive My Car

"Drive My Car," a new drama from Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi, is adapted from a short story by Haruki Murakami. If the title seems familiar, it's because Murakami borrowed it from the famous Beatles tune. Its title, however, is not the only thing it borrows from the song. The lyrics of the song served as the main inspiration for the story, which features an older man - a former actor - bonding with his 20-something chauffeur. Among its many accolades, "Drive My Car" holds the rare distinction of earning a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is now on the Oscar shortlist for a Best International Feature nomination.

Raya and the Last Dragon

Disney is a force to be reckoned with this awards season. Including their newly acquired Fox properties (20th Century Studios and Searchlight Pictures), the studio already has 108 major award nominations. Considering Disney is known for its animated hits, it should come as no surprise that it's dominating the Annie Awards and the Best Animated Feature race. "Raya and the Last Dragon," particularly, leads the Annies with ten nominations. While "Encanto" may be top of mind for everyone since it just released, "Raya," the studio's songless animated fantasy from March, is just as strong a contender. What's better than some in-house competition?

Ascension

© MTV Documentary Films / Courtesy Everett Collection

© MTV Documentary Films / Courtesy Everett Collection

Jessica Kingdon provides a glimpse into modern life and culture in China in this illuminating documentary. This is MTV Documentary Films' second awards entry since MTV's documentary unit reformed. Last year, the studio garnered attention with its China-set film "76 Days," which chronicled the early days of the COVID pandemic in Wuhan. "Ascension" won the Best Documentary Feature award at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. The film also led the Critics' Choice Documentary Awards along with "Summer of Soul." It is currently up for an Indie Spirit Award, a PGA Award, and is on the Oscars shortlist for Best Documentary Feature.

Ascension (2021) Poster

Ascension (2021)

Documentary

October 15, 2021

Watch on

The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Three years ago, Sony Pictures Animation made a big splash at the Oscars with "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse." The favorite that year was Disney's "Ralph Breaks the Internet," but "Spider-Verse" upset it and won Best Animated Feature. The "Spider-Verse" creators are poised to upset Disney once again with this delightfully animated action-comedy. "The Mitchells vs. the Machines" is another title leading the Annie Award nods. It's also technically a Netflix film. The streamer picked it up when Sony couldn't distribute it theatrically due to the pandemic. It's probably better that Netflix did, as Sony was set to release it under a more vanilla title – "Connected."

Nightmare Alley

Horror director Guillermo del Toro assembles an all-star cast for this reinterpretation of a 1946 novel and a 1947 noir classic. It's a perfect blend of horror-chills and noir-thrills that only del Toro can deliver. Although "Nightmare Alley" was overlooked by the Golden Globes, it is up for seven Critics' Choice awards. However, del Toro is an Academy favorite, so expect Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nods. Other possible nominations include Best Visual Effects and Best Cinematography for Dan Laustsen, who previously was nominated for del Toro's 2018 Best Picture winner "The Shape of Water."

Luca

Pixar's Italian gem from this year may not be as deep a story as last year's "Soul," but that won't stop it from scooping up several award nods. It already landed eight Annie nominations, along with a Golden Globe and Critics Choice nomination for Best Animated Feature. "Luca" will likely earn an Oscar nod, but "Encanto" or "Raya" are probably better bets at which Disney film will take home the gold.

Passing

Actress Rebecca Hall makes a stunning directorial debut with this personal, passion project. "Passing" made waves at Sundance earlier in the year and is up for several honors, including 13 Black Reel Award nominations. The major awards have largely overlooked the drama so far, save for Ruth Negga. Her supporting role could land her an Oscar nod. Also of note is the classic cinematography from Edu Grau, which recalls the time period and evokes the movie's central theme. Hall could also earn a nod for her adapted screenplay.

The Worst Person in the World

© Neon / Courtesy Everett Collection

© Neon / Courtesy Everett Collection

Although "Titane," France's big Palme d'Or winner, was overlooked this year, there are still several films in the Oscar running that premiered at the festival. One such film is Norway's "The Worst Person in the World." Norwegian director Joachim Trier completes his "Oslo Trilogy" with this dark rom-com that follows Julie (Renate Reinsve) as she navigates life and love amid chronic indecisiveness. Reinsve shines in the role, which has already earned her multiple plaudits, including the Best Actress award at Cannes. In addition to being named Best Foreign Film by the New York Film Critics Circle, "The Worst Person in the World" is on the Oscar shortlist for Best International Feature Film.

Matt Lissauer

Matt Lissauer is a writer & data manager for Noovie. When he is not busy writing listicles, Matt is enjoying life in New Jersey with his lovely wife and three kids.

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