Even if the Oscar race often feels unnecessarily drawn out, when it comes to catching up with every nominee, there are never enough hours in the day. Maybe you’ve seen more of the nominees than usual this year, given the later Oscar date—April 25—and that fact that so many of us are still largely stuck in our homes. Even so, there are always those smaller movies or under-the-radar performances that slip through the cracks. And then there are the shorts: though some are devoted to seeing all of them every year—you know who you are, and I salute you—it’s a category that even the most dedicated moviegoers often cut corners on.
To help you catch up before the awards ceremony, here are eight movies or performances that haven’t gotten as much buzz as some of the frontrunners. They include one not-to-be-missed feature documentary, and several performances in movies that might have eluded your viewing list. Also included are a handful of shorts plucked from each of the three categories, Animated, Live Action and Documentary, that are worth your attention, works that provide a big payoff for a minimal time investment—and that may launch you on a new, annual tradition of catching them all.
Vanessa Kirby for Best Actress in Pieces of a Woman
Kornél Mundruczó’s Pieces of a Woman is the kind of movie you need to steel yourself to get through. But Vanessa Kirby gives so much wrenching dimension to the story’s lead character, Martha, a woman who loses her child minutes after giving birth, that you can barely turn away. As a mother riven by grief, Kirby doesn’t just help us imagine the unimaginable; she guides us through this specific and piercing kind of sorrow so deftly that we feel we’re walking along with her, step by leaden step.
Where to watch: Netflix
Leslie Odom Jr. for Best Supporting Actor in One Night in Miami
Regina King’s feature directorial debut, adapted from Kemp Powers’ stage play, imagines a meeting of four Civil Rights-era luminaries—Muhammed Ali, Malcolm X, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke—in a Miami motel room in 1964. All of the lead performances are terrific, but even among them, Leslie Odom Jr., as Cooke, stands out. At one point, he outlines for Malcolm X (played by Kingsley Ben-Adir) a key tenet of Black ownership as it pertains to musicianship: that the writers of songs, not the singers, are the ones who make the money. His confidence, sturdy and bold, finds its truest expression in the song he performs late in the movie, as a guest on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show: singing “A Change Is Gonna Come,” in a voice as supple as silk, Odom’s Cooke outlines the meaning of hope in the midst of despair. He treats the song as a promise, not a wish, a shout of certainty that’s as much needed today as it was in 1964.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video
Paul Raci for Best Supporting Actor in Sound of Metal
Paul Raci has had a long career as a theater actor and in small roles in movies and TV. But the role of Joe, in Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal, is his breakthrough moment: Joe runs a rural shelter for recovering addicts who are also deaf, and it’s his job to persuade Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a heavy-metal drummer who is rapidly losing his hearing, that a life without sound is still one worth living. Raci was raised in Chicago by deaf parents, and is well versed in American Sign Language, a skill that makes him suited to this role. But it’s the keenness of his gaze, softened just a bit around the edges, that makes you believe in this character’s no-nonsense compassion.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video
Collective for Best Documentary Feature and Best International Feature
In 2015, a fire broke out in a Bucharest night club with only one exit, killing 27 people immediately and injuring another 180, 37 of whom would later die while hospitalized. The horrific event spurred political upheaval, prompting a shift in Romanian governance—and then a group of journalists for a sports newspaper uncovered an even deeper scandal in the nation’s health-care system, one that proved the government had failed to safeguard citizens’ welfare, and their very lives. Collective, directed by Alexander Nanau, is the story of that scandal and the journalists who broke it, and though it takes place in Romania, its significance is universal. This is a movie about survivors and grief, about the importance of a free press, and about all the ways a government can fail its people—but it also suggests what can happen when even just one person wants change badly enough.
A Love Song for Latasha for Best Documentary Short Subject
The 1992 Los Angeles riots are often referred to colloquially as the Rodney King riots. But they had another catalyst, too, an event that occurred less than two weeks after King’s beating: the shooting death of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins at the hands of a store clerk who believed she was stealing a $1.79 bottle of orange juice. In A Love Song for Latasha, director Sophia Nahli Allison addresses the horror of Harlins’ death in a stark sequence narrated by her cousin Shinese in voiceover: as she describes the day Latasha died, evocative, flowing line drawings float and dance on the screen, interrupted by blasts of video static, a reflection of the way events replay in, and haunt, our memories. But mostly, A Love Song for Latasha is a celebration of a life, and of friendship between Black girls. Shinese recalls how she and her cousin would trek to a favorite burger joint after school, having saved up some quarters to play their favorite song on the jukebox, Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.” It’s a beautiful, touching detail, and a reminder that the small things you remember about lost friends are what sustain you the most.
Opera for Best Animated Short
An animated short that’s nine minutes long is worth just nine minutes of your time, right? Maybe that’s generally true. But I watched Opera—directed by Erick Oh, a former Pixar animator—three times, and I may have to go back for a fourth viewing, at least. In this strange, gorgeous, wordless work, a group of nearly featureless, round-headed beings—citizens of a highly detailed, multi-tiered pyramid world—go about the business of life, which includes, but is not limited to, being born, working, fornicating, worshiping, dancing, eating, defecating and dying. Intricate and ambitious, Opera is a mini history of human civilization that’s as wild as a Hieronymus Bosch painting and as meticulously crafted as a Swiss clock. It left me spellbound, tickled, but also vaguely unsettled. Would you call it obsessive to watch one short five times?
Where to watch: ShortsTV
Feeling Through for Best Live-Action Short
Late one night, a young New Yorker named Tereek (Steven Prescod), possibly homeless and definitely in some sort of crisis, notices a deafblind man, Artie (Robert Tarango), holding a sign politely asking for help crossing the street. Tereek is reluctant to stop for him, and isn’t even sure how to help. But as he guides Artie to his bus stop, a channel of wordless communication opens between these two men. Feeling Through, directed by Doug Roland and executive-produced by Marlee Matlin, is both potent and gentle, packing a lot of searching questions into its trim 18 minutes. It ends with a reassurance that’s almost metaphysical: we may think spoken words and facial expressions are our chief mode of communication, but really, the essence of who we are vibrates through our very skin.
Colette for Best Documentary Short Subject
In this bracing and gruffly poetic short, directed by Anthony Giacchino, 90-year-old Colette Marin-Catherine, a former member of the French Resistance, visits the site in Germany where her older brother, also a Resistance fighter, died at the hands of the Nazis shortly before the arrival of Allied liberation troops. This is a film about the long half-life of grief, though it also offers the promise of regeneration. At one point Colette, who has been accompanied on this trip by a young history student, Lucie Fouble, expresses embarrassment that she, a person not known for crying, has wept in front of a stranger. Then she hears birds singing near the site where her brother died. “Who knows,” she asks her new young friend, “if birds are not a collection of all our sorrows?” In that moment, their songs carry a weight far beyond that of their little bodies.
Burrow for Best Animated Short
Last, a sweet little curlicue: In Madeline Sharafian’s six-minute animated bonbon Burrow, a happy-go-lucky rabbit enthusiastically sets out to build herself a modest underground home—her blueprint includes a combo bathroom/disco—only to be discouraged when she sees that her fellow denizens of the earth (groundhogs, ants, a surly badger) already have much more elaborate digs. Burrow is parable about teamwork, and about allowing yourself the freedom of not keeping up with the Joneses. And if you really want a disco in your bathroom, why not?