As we anticipate the 2021 Oscars, there’s the unavoidable fact that it’s going to look a little different than in years past thanks to COVID-19. One big change is the temporary rule that will let VOD and streaming films previously planned for theatrical releases to be considered for nomination. IndieWire recently released a list of films that are eligible under this rule and that it calls “worth seeking out.” We’re giving you our top picks from it, as well as the performances to watch, which can all be taken in from the comfort and safety of your own home.
Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
Spike Lee’s latest follows four friends — Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), Eddie (Norm Lewis), Otis (Clarke Peters), and Paul (Delroy Lindo) — who served together in the Vietnam War and shared the experience of being Black soldiers fighting for a country that treated them as second-rate citizens. Now, as older men, they decide to return to Vietnam to find the remains of their late squad leader, “Stormin’” Norman (Chadwick Boseman), as well as a stash of buried gold. The film flips between war scenes from the past and their present-day quest. However, rather than casting different actors to play the younger versions of each veteran, Lee puts Lindo, Peters, Lewis, and Whitlock Jr. opposite Boseman during flashback scenes. It creates what The New York Times calls “a sense of the uncanny immediacy of memory.” The choice allows for rich performances from the starring actors, led by Lindo, whose work in the film may make him a contender for Best Actor. And Boseman could get a posthumous nomination for his performance, which was one of the groundbreaking actor’s last before he passed away in August.
Palm Springs (Hulu)
Max Barbakow’s feature directorial debut sold at Sundance for $17.69 million, turning it into the most expensive acquisition made at the film festival to date. The well-received feature is a fresh take on Groundhog Day, focusing on a wedding guest named Nyles (Andy Samberg) and its maid-of-honor Sarah (Cristin Milioti), who find themselves reliving the same day over and over again. Deadline calls Samberg’s performance his “best screen outing to date” and acknowledges that in his supporting role, J.K. Simmons “adds just the right amount of sauce to steal every scene he is in.” Besides these names, keep an eye out for some familiar faces like Peter Gallagher and Camila Mendes when viewing the 90-minute comedy.
The Vast of Night (Amazon Prime)
For a first-time director, Andrew Patterson has made quite a stir with his sci-fi thriller that follows two young employees at a local radio station in 1950s New Mexico. Everett (Jake Horowitz) is a DJ for the station, while Fay (Sierra McCormick) works as a switchboard operator, jobs that place them in a position to discover an otherworldly broadcast. Variety calls Patterson’s freshman effort “a startlingly confident micro-budget indie” and McCormick “incredibly talented” in her role. Watch for a 10-minute, single-take scene that the actor masterfully delivers as Fay navigates various technical aspects of operating her switchboard while simultaneously realizing that something isn’t right.
In preparation for an Academy Awards like none before it, you can screen from the safety of your own space Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, Barbakow’s Palm Springs, and Patterson’s The Vast of Night. Decide for yourself if you find them worthy of Oscar nods, and be sure to note the well-received performances from Lindo, Boseman, Samberg, Simmons, and McCormick that you’ll find housed within the three titles. They may not be displayed on the silver screen, but we think the actors’ strong deliveries overcome the medium.