This year’s Oscars season has been front-loaded, with the majority of contenders having already been released. However, in order to be ready for the Academy Awards on February 24, there are a few more must-sees to add to your list:
Roma – In select theaters & available on Netflix
Writer/director Alfonso Cuaron showcased his directorial range with his Oscar-winning film, Gravity, in 2013. This year, he’s created a masterpiece to tell his personal tale of family, honor and compassion. The story is autobiographical, with 90% of the scenes taken from the filmmaker’s memory. Cuaron used his own family’s furniture on set and cast actors who resembled the faces from his past.
Set in the Colonia Roma of Mexico City in the 1970s, the story focuses on Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), one of two maids in a middle-class household of seven. Dutiful in her job, and serving more as a family member than hired help, Cleo is easily reminded of her status within the household. Nonetheless, she remains quiet in her chores, loves the children for whom she cares, and avoids the boiling controversies between the often-absent patriarch, Antonio (Diego Cortina Autrey), and his wife Sofia (Marina de Tavira). Outside the house, Cleo falls into a whirlwind love affair, but a fateful rendezvous results in pregnancy, leaving her trapped. Her employers provide help, but when her lover disappears, she becomes solely responsible for her unborn child, all the while trying to support a family that appears to be coming apart at the seams.
The film caught early buzz after winning top prize at the Venice Film Festival in September, and was recently nominated for three Golden Globe awards including best director and best screenplay. The film’s masterful cinematography combined with empathetic storytelling will sweep Oscar off his feet, and contend for multiple Academy Awards.
If Beale Street Could Talk – In select theaters; everywhere December 25
Two years ago, the film Moonlight broadened Oscar’s lexicon. The coming-of-age story is a portrait of exquisite pain cloaked in beauty. Writer/director Barry Jenkins has a way of tackling gritty subject matter with grace, painting new shades of on-screen passion. With his latest film, Jenkins brings another romance drama to the big screen, and similar to Moonlight, the timeliness of this film allows the story to resonate to the tone of soft poetry.
James Baldwin’s novel impacted Jenkins as a film student at Florida State University, and he wrote the screenplay five years ago without knowing if he could secure the rights. Yet, on the strength of the screenplay as well as that of his only feature-length credit — 2008’s Medicine for Melancholy — Baldwin’s family decided to take a chance on Jenkins. The deal was struck before Moonlight was made and it is the first time the novelist’s work has been adapted for film.
Set in early 1970s Harlem, the film opens on Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James). The two are childhood friends who grow into lovers, engaged to be married with a baby on the way. They are a unit, thriving on passion and art, when Fonny is falsely accused of rape and incarcerated at the hands of a racist cop. Convinced she can prove his innocence, Tish begins a crusade to clear her fiancé’s name.
Vice – In theaters December 25
Writer/director Adam McKay’s ability to combine comedy and tragedy is revolutionary. In 2015, his film The Big Short unveiled mind bending revelations about the 2008 housing crash, and the Oscar-winning script is chock-full of humor. Now, he has reunited with Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell (all of whom co-starred in The Big Short) to give audiences an unparalleled glimpse into the life and times of Vice President Dick Cheney.
Bale gained over 40 pounds to play the title role, and is virtually unrecognizable behind a combination of makeup, prosthetics and wigs. He portrays the former vice president from age 21 to 75, alongside Amy Adams who plays Cheney’s wife, Lynne. McKay took a risk in depicting some of the nation’s darkest hours with a comedic bend, but his all-star cast delivers, and the film has garnered multiple Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, and Critics Choice award nominations.