This is actually the most exciting period of the year for any self-respecting cinephile: I’m talking about the time when every week there’s a spectacular movie you don’t want to miss. There are so many good movies and so little time, so the serious question is: what to watch before the Academy Awards?

Here’s a smart list of movies to watch before the Oscars Ceremony, definitely.



Why You Should Watch: It’s been a while since Hollywood has had a great musical, and La La Land, written and directed by Whiplash mastermind Damien Chazelle, has undoubtedly taken that throne. Starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling (who both sing and dance!), the movie follows two aspiring artists who fall for each other as they struggle through showbiz. Stone is likely a lock for the Oscar, and despite a small backlash, this dazzling, feel-good flick has proved to be catnip for audiences and critics alike.



Why You Should Watch: The squawks that Florence Foster Jenkins emits when straining for high notes sound as if she were a goose trying to lay an oversized egg after ingesting helium. Her pitch could not be any flatter if it were a bulldozed pancake found under a ton of bricks. During her lone public performance, she huffs and puffs and nearly blows down Carnegie Hall while committing auditory assault in the first degree.



Why you should watch: A tightly wound star turn from Casey Affleck helps writer-director Kenneth Lonergan deliver on his early promise in this heartbreaking tale of love and regret. Striking a delicate balance between the sharp focus and sprawling scope of his first two films, this heartbreaking third feature finally confirms Lonergan as an auteur of genuine merit rather than just exasperating promise.



Why you should watch: Joan Didion wrote that “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Sometimes, though, we tell stories to kill, to stick a stiletto in and watch the blood drain. That’s the moral of “Nocturnal Animals,” a harsh cautionary tale about love, vengeance and the divide between life and art, that shadowy space in which real people are turned into fictional characters and old hurts made into narrative grist. Here, an unhappy girlfriend becomes a happy wife, a betrayed man becomes a victim all over again, and assorted murderers take turns bringing the pain.



Why you should watch: “Lion” sneaks up on you as it proceeds to pluck your heart strings with its little cat feet. Then, before you know it, tear ducts will be brimming and your entire being will be awash with incredible joy but also a splash of bittersweet sorrow. At least that is what happened to those around me during the course of this incredible true story about a five-year-old Indian boy named Saroo, whose life is changed in 1986 after being separated from his idolized older brother, ending up more than a thousand miles from his home and family.



Why you should watch: Despite mixed reception of this biopic, Natalie Portman’s performance as the most famous of first ladies is one to watch this year. She’s almost guaranteed an Oscar nomination for her work playing Jacqueline Kennedy in the aftermath of JFK’s assassination. Jackie is very much about public versus private personas, and how a celebrity figure is forced to deal with grief. Portman hasn’t been around much lately, so this feels like a great, and high-profile, homecoming for the actress.



Why you should watch: Denis Villeneuve’s uplifting sci-fi drama about attempts to understand extraterrestrial visitors could be just the antidote we need. As befits the director of Incendies and Sicario, Villeneuve also injects a sociopolitical edge into the fantasy narrative, with growing international tensions and calls for an armed response striking a very contemporary nerve, alongside tense discussion about understanding “the difference between a weapon and a tool”.



Why You Should Watch: Moonlight is the sort of deeply involved personal story that film critics—and audiences—love. The film follows Chiron, a young gay black man, from his childhood into early adulthood, revealing his struggles as he falls in love and grapples with his sexuality. Three different actors play Chiron as he ages, including Trevante Rhodes; and Naomie Harris, best known for the Bond films, gives a stunning performance as his crack-addicted mother. We especially love this film, and consider it a contender for the Best Picture Academy Award.



Why you should watch: Those six Oscar nominations Hacksaw Ridge earned earlier this week – including one specifically in Gibson’s name, for Best Director – suggest the film business believes 10 years as an industry pariah has been long enough. What undoubtedly helped sway their judgement is that the film on which he’s staked his comeback is very, very good. Desmond Doss, who’s played as an adult by Andrew Garfield, was a committed Seventh Day Adventist and pacifist who served as a medic at the hellish battle for Okinawa towards the end of the Second World War. He saved 75 lives on the field of battle without ever lifting a weapon, and remains only one of three conscientious objectors to have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.



Why You Should Watch: Loving is based on a 1958 Supreme Court battle that arose after a black woman, Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga), and a white man, Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton), were arrested for getting married in Virginia. It’s a slow, careful movie that is more about the couple’s relationship and how they were affected by the arrest and trial than it is about the court case itself. Even though it’s a historical film, it has timely resonance underlined by wonderful performances. Director Jeff Nichols’ screenplay, especially, could earn a nod.


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