8 classic films to pair with the 2021 Oscar Best Picture nominees
This awards season has perhaps been the strangest one on record — from Zoom acceptance speeches to the fact that most of the viewing public hasn't seen a film inside a theater in over a year, this is a year in movie-going history unlike any other.
But that doesn't mean there's still not plenty to celebrate, as the 2021 Oscar nominees for Best Picture reflect. By now, you likely have a favorite, a movie that spoke to you the most in this challenging time. Whether you embraced the shocking subversion of Promising Young Woman, were humbled by Fern's journey in Nomadland, or were engrossed by the courtroom upheaval of The Trial of the Chicago 7, we've got some suggestions for you.
Here are eight classic film pairings — match your favorite nominee with a throwback to create a winning double feature. Or why not envelop(e) yourself in them all? Surely, there's an award for that.
If you liked The Father, watch The Dresser (1983)
Nothing can come of nothing, so it's rather fortuitous both Anthony Hopkins and Albert Finney are doing the most in these King Lear-esque tales of mercurial aging figureheads and their struggling loyal caretakers. While The Dresser takes a more linear and straightforward approach to its storytelling, The Father allows us inside Anthony's (Hopkins) head, mixing up time, place, and people to reflect his lived experience with dementia. But both are poignant, heartbreakingly effective takes on aging, memory loss, and the existential loneliness of aging with just a touch of the Shakespearian about them.
If you liked Judas and the Black Messiah, watch The Black Panthers; Vanguards of the Revolution (2015)
Betrayed Fred Hampton now has a sobering biopic, but also keep your eyes on the prize with this doc about the revolutionary Black Panther Party, bursting with rare archival footage and grim relevance. Using interviews with surviving Panther members and FBI agents, it was the first feature-length documentary about the Black Panther Party. Judas gives Hampton a long overdue feature and delves into the relationship between Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) and his betrayer, Bill O'Neal (LaKeith Stanfield). But the documentary offers a bigger picture view of the groundbreaking activism and social justice work of the Black Panther party, placing Hampton's life (and untimely death) in a crucial and even more heartbreaking context.
If you liked Mank, watch Citizen Kane (1941)
Given that Mank is about the men who inspired (William Randolph Hearst) and wrote (Herman J. Mankiewicz) Citizen Kane, pairing these titles together is as obvious as the Roseblud sled reveal is oblique (80-year-old spoiler alert!). One can only enhance the other as Mank comes bursting with clever homage to Kane, and watching Kane with the backstory of Hearst and Mank's professional relationship as seen in Mank underscores the original classic's genius further. Debates will undoubtably still rage about whether Orson Welles or Mank deserves the lion's share of credit for the screenplay, but both films are cynical, heartbreaking looks at genius, ambition, and power with the techniques of classical cinema lending an impresario's touch.
If you like Minari, watch Places in the Heart (1984)
A family struggling to achieve the American dream on a farm as prejudice and nature conspire against them is a timeless tale. Minari follows a Korean family, led by a misguided patriarch, Jacob (Steven Yeun), determined to turn his dream of owning a farm into an American success story. In Places in the Heart, Sally Field stars as a widow, who builds a new family unit with a drifter, Moze (Danny Glover), and a blind World War I veteran, Will, (John Malkovich) in attempt to save her farm. Whether it's Korean immigrants or a Depression-era found family, we like it, we really like it.
If you like Nomadland, watch The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Modern-day nomads are the spiritual successors to Dust Bowl "Okies," with Fern's (Frances McDormand) journey across America mirroring that of the Joad family. Just as the Dust Bowl robs the Joad family of their homestead, so too does economic downturn push Fern on to the road. In both films, displacement forges new communities. And they all go on journeys of hardship, hard-work, self-discovery, and self-reliance that emphasize the value of personal connection and the natural world over material things. "I'll see you down the road" is the new "I'll be there." (So, where's the Springsteen song?)
If you like Promising Young Woman, watch Klute (1971)
Righteously vengeful women date back to the Greeks (hi, Medea). Still, Klute's paranoia and steely-yet-vulnerable heroine avenging her friends seems an essential blueprint for Emerald Fennell's thriller. Cassie (Carey Mulligan) actively seeks out vengeance in the name of her late best friend, plotting the destruction of her marks with an obsessive calculation. Bree Daniels' (Jane Fonda) quest for justice in Klute stems more squarely from her inadvertent involvement in the case, as a killer's next potential victim. Both films thrive on paranoia, interrogations of sexual violence, and subverting expectations with a feminist bent — but Mulligan's wig work can't compete with Fonda's epic shag.
If you like Sound of Metal, watch Children of a Lesser God (1986)
It's not hard to drum up enthusiasm for the trailblazing performances in these explorations of deafness and ableism. While Sound of Metal star Riz Ahmed has made history as the first Muslim actor to be nominated for Best Actor, Children of a Lesser God's Marlee Matlin remains the only deaf performer to ever win an Oscar. Each of these films grapples with the disconnects between the deaf and hearing communities, exploring what it means to fully embrace one's deafness and resist outside pressures to conform to ableist expectations — particularly when love is on the line. Both protagonists wrestle with a choice between romance and community—and their answer lies in the sound of silence.
If you liked The Trial of the Chicago 7, watch 12 Angry Men (1957)
12 Angry Men set an American precedent for courtroom drama; Aaron Sorkin's latest puts his finger on the scales. Based on a teleplay of the same name, 12 Angry became a gold standard with its glimpse inside jury deliberations. It seems an undeniable influence on Sorkin, who's used the drama of the courtroom from his early work of A Few Good Men through to his directorial efforts such as Molly's Game and this year's The Trial of the Chicago 7. But Chicago 7 is perhaps his most whole-hearted exploration of the genre yet with its explosive take on the protracted and infamous trial of its title. At their hearts, both 12 Angry Men and Chicago 7 interrogate flaws and foundational truths. They use a number of "angry" men to delve into how we define and implement justice, whether or not the whole world is watching.
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