Where to Watch the Top Awards Contenders

With the awards season in full swing, here's where you can watch all the top contenders.

By Matthew Lissauer

Steven Yeun in "Minari."

© A24 / Courtesy Everett Collection

By now you've probably been hearing a lot about movies like "Never Rarely Sometimes Always," "Promising Young Woman," "Nomadland," perhaps even "First Cow" and "Minari," not to mention all the great critical hits now streaming on Netflix and Amazon. Unlike previous years, where most of the award contenders are either playing in limited release or yet to fully debut beyond New York and L.A., your access to these films has become much easier, as many of the top nominated films are now available either in VOD or on streaming services. Whether at-home viewing of these films hinders their impact is up for debate, but at least you can say you caught them before the Oscars. Here are the top 15 award contenders to add to your watch list.

1. Nomadland

Chloe Zhao's western drama starring Frances McDormand has been heating up the awards race and Oscar conversation since its initial premiere last year at the Venice Film Festival. According to IMDb, "Nomadland" has already won 121 awards (at press time), and just picked up Best Feature, Best Director, Best Female Lead, Best Editing and Best Cinematography nods for the Film Independent Spirit Awards. At this point, it's safe to say that "Nomadland" will more than likely dominate the Oscars.


Drama / 2020 / R

A woman embarks on a journey through the American West after losing everything during the recession.

2. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Eliza Hittman broke out big with this powerful teen drama, and star Sidney Flanigan will be one to watch in the coming years. Shot like it was a documentary, giving it a striking air of intimacy, the film entered the awards conversation as soon as it premiered at Sundance last year. It went on to win the Grand Jury prize at the Berlin International Film Festival and was recently nominated for Best Feature at the Spirit Awards.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Drama / 2020

Faced with an unintended pregnancy and a lack of local support, Autumn and her cousin, Skylar, travel across state lines to New York City on a fraught journey of friendship, bravery and compassion.

3. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Based on a play of the same name this intimate jazz ensemble features a powerhouse final performance from the late Chadwick Boseman, who is almost guaranteed a posthumous Oscar nod. Viola Davis, as the titular Ma Rainey, is also a force to be seen.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Drama / 2020

Tensions rise when trailblazing blues singer Ma Rainey and her band gather at a recording studio in Chicago in 1927.

4. First Cow

Kelly Reichardt's low key historical drama has been heating up the awards circuit. It was named Best Picture by the New York Film Critics Circle, and became the most nominated film at the Gotham Awards, although it didn't land a win. Look for a breakout performance from supporting actor Orion Lee.

First Cow

Drama / 2019

Two travelers, on the run from a band of vengeful hunters in the 1820s Northwest, dream of striking it rich -- but their tenuous plan to make their fortune on the frontier comes to rely on the secret use of a landowner's prized dairy cow.

5. Minari

Lee Isaac Chung's timely family drama won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at last year's Sundance Film Festival. More recently it was named as one of the top films from both the American Film Institute and the National Board of Review. Steven Yeun and Youn Yuh-jung are the performances to watch, with both likely contenders for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress.


Drama / 2020 / PG-13

A Korean American family moves to an Arkansas farm in search of its own American dream. Amidst the challenges of this new life in the strange and rugged Ozarks, they discover the undeniable resilience of family and what really makes a home.

6. Sound of Metal

Riz Ahmed might be done with the "Venom" and "Star Wars" franchises for now, but that's ok if it gives him more time to turn in roles like this. Ahmed has already picked up the Gotham Award for Best Actor, and was just nominated for Best Actor at the upcoming Independent Spirit Awards. Supporting actor Paul Maci was also nominated for his role at the Independent Spirits and has landed a recent win from the National Society of Film Critics.

Sound of Metal

Drama / 2019 / R

A drummer's life gets turned upside down when he suddenly loses his hearing.

7. Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee makes a powerful statement in this part-Vietnam War movie, part-treasure hunt thriller. Equally powerful are performances from Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, as well as a brief but very key role from Chadwick Boseman. This could easily be a history-making moment with Boseman being posthumously nominated for two movies, this and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." Could this also be the year that Lee finally wins the Oscar for Best Director?

Da 5 Bloods

War / 2020

Four African American vets battle the forces of man and nature when they return to Vietnam seeking the remains of their fallen squad leader and the gold fortune he helped them hide.

8. Promising Young Woman

We have been floored by this revenge thriller -- and with good reason! Carey Mulligan is, quite simply, a force to reckon with, and that description applies to her Oscar chances just as much as her role itself. Writer and director Emerald Fennell is a breakout too, and deservingly so. We can't wait to see more from her.

Promising Young Woman

Thriller / 2020 / R

Nothing in Cassie's life is what it appears to be -- she's wickedly smart, tantalizingly cunning, and she's living a secret double life by night. Now, an unexpected encounter is about to give Cassie a chance to right the wrongs from the past.

9. I'm Thinking of Ending Things

Writer/director Charlie Kaufman is back at it with this confounding psychological thriller. While critical praise has been given to its stars, including actress Jessie Buckley, most of the award wins, so far, have been going to Kaufman's adapted screenplay from a novel of the same name. We won't spoil anything more about this movie. Just give it a watch.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things

Horror / 2020

Full of misgivings, a young woman travels with her new boyfriend to his parents' secluded farm.

10. Time

We've been giving a lot of attention to narrative features, but this timely documentary should be high up on your watch list. Filmmaker Garrett Bradley won the Directing award at Sundance where the film premiered last year. He's picked up additional wins for Best Director and Emerging Documentary Filmmaker at the International Documentary Association's IDA Awards, and the film itself won the Gotham Award for Best Documentary. It was also just nominated for Best Documentary at the Independent Spirit Awards.


Documentary / 2020

Entrepreneur Fox Rich spends the last two decades campaigning for the release of her husband, Rob G. Rich, who is serving a 60-year prison sentence for a robbery they both committed in the early 1990s in a moment of desperation.

11. Collective

Playing like a real-life "Spotlight," Romanian filmmaker Alexander Nanau's investigative doc is another likely contender for Best Documentary at the Academy Awards this year. It's also Romania's Oscar entry for Best International Feature Film. "Collective" was recently nominated for Best Documentary at the Independent Spirit Awards.


Documentary / 2019

Journalists uncover health care fraud in the wake of a deadly nightclub fire in Bucharest, Romania, in 2015.

12. Mank

David Fincher's "Mank" is a love letter to classic cinema as it dramatizes the origins of Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane." Shot like it was a film from that era, "Mank" has been picking up mostly technical award attention for direction, cinematography, art direction and costume design; but, there's also the fantastic performances from leads Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried. We wouldn't be surprised if it starts getting original music consideration for Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross as well, with the composers stepping away from their industrial sound for a more period-appropriate score.


Drama / 2020

1930s Hollywood is reevaluated through the eyes of scathing wit and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish "Citizen Kane."

13. Soul

Pixar's 23rd film is a magical, jazz-infused journey into the Great Beyond (and the Great Before). There is little question that this will be a prime contender for Best Animated Feature, and could even be Disney's fourth movie to vie for Best Picture. "Soul," however, is nothing without its music, and if Reznor and Ross are not considered for "Mank," then their jazzy score here should gain attention, along with some great featured music from jazz pianist John Batiste. "Soul" has already been named a top film from the American Film Institute and the National Board of Review.


Animated / 2020

Joe is a middle-school band teacher whose life hasn't quite gone the way he expected. His true passion is jazz -- and he's good. But when he travels to another realm to help someone find their passion, he soon discovers what it means to have soul.

14. The Forty-Year-Old Version

Drawing on her own experiences, Radha Blank writes, directs and stars in this comedy-drama that has been heating up the indie award circuit. Blank won the Directing Award at Sundance, where the film premiered, for her first-time feature. Just recently she won the Gotham Award for Best Screenplay. If the Oscars had a Best First Film award (and really they should), Blank would be a prime contender.

The Forty-Year-Old Version

Comedy Drama / 2020

A struggling New York City playwright finds inspiration by reinventing herself as a rapper.

15. Miss Juneteenth

Most people probably know her from supporting roles in "42," "Shame" and "Monsters and Men," but Nicole Beharie is one to watch with her breakout performance in this indie drama from first-time director Channing Godfrey Peoples. Just like Blank with "The Forty-Year-Old Version," Peoples drew on her own experiences for this film about a former beauty queen. Beharie recently picked up the Gotham Award for Best Actress and was just nominated for the same award at the Independent Spirit Awards.

Miss Juneteenth

Drama / 2020

A former beauty queen and single mom prepares her rebellious teenage daughter for the "Miss Juneteenth" pageant.

16. One Night in Miami

Actress Regina King's directorial debut has been a part of the awards conversation since its premiere last year at the Venice Film Festival -- a first for an African American female director. Since then, it's been picking up a number of accolades including being named one of the best movies of the year from the American Film Institute. Praise has been given not just to King for her direction, but also to screenwriter Kemp Powers, who also wrote the play in which the film is based, and actors Leslie Odom Jr. and Kingsley Ben-Adir, who portray soul icon Sam Cooke and political activist Malcolm X in the film, respectively. Also gaining serious attention is the original song "Speak Now," which Odom Jr. co wrote with Sam Ashworth. King, Odom Jr. and the song are all up for Golden Globes, and should be likely contenders at the Oscars.

17. Another Round

Thomas Vinterberg's ("Far from the Madding Crowd") comedy-drama is also Denmark's entry for the Best International Feature Film Oscar category. "Another Round" is a witty look at midlife crisis in which a group of 40-something teacher friends seek to prove a psychological theory that you are at your most relaxed and creative state when you are just a bit drunk. Mads Mikkelsen is a stand-out, and the film itself has been receiving high praise since it's debut on the international festival circuit.

18. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

It's been an interesting year for Sacha Baron Cohen. Not only has he been receiving high praise for his performance in the historical ensemble drama "The Trial of the Chicago 7," but he also covertly produced and starred in this perfectly timed reality comedy, which saw the return of his popular Kazakh journalist Borat. You might not consider the crude humor of the "Borat" movies to be "award-worthy," but Sacha Baron Cohen's unique brand of in-your-face incognito humor had been nominated previously at both the Oscars and the Golden Globes for the original "Borat." There's a strong chance here that such lightning will strike twice, especially from breakout supporting actress Maria Bakalova, who plays Borat's misguided daughter. Bakalova has already won praise from various critic organizations, and both Bakalova and Cohen are up for a Golden Globe.

19. Dick Johnson Is Dead

Kirsten Johnson's darkly comedic documentary was created as a way for her family to cope with the inevitable -- the death of her father, who is succumbing to dementia. After premiering to praise at Sundance last year, the doc debuted on Netflix and garnered an approval rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. With such high praise, it should come as no surprise that the film would be recognized as one of the best docs of the year by the National Board of Review, and lead to additional accolades from the International Documentary Association for Best Documentary Screenplay and Best Editing. It might be a dark horse contender for the Best Documentary Oscar, but this lovingly made film is sure worth a watch.

20. The Father

The story of an aging father who suffers from memory loss and the effects that has on family is a universal one, and Anthony Hopkins brings both levity and pathos to the role. "The Father" is a breakout first feature from Florian Zeller, which he adapted from his play "Le Père." Hopkins, and his melancholy performance, has been leading the plaudits for the film with SAG, Golden Globe and Critics Choice nominations, while Zeller and co-writer Christopher Hampton have received nods for their adapted screenplay. Also shining in her role as Hopkins' daughter is Olivia Coleman, who is up for SAG, Golden Globe and Critics Choice awards as well.

  • Where to watch: In theaters Feb. 26