9 classic films you should pair with Oscar Best Picture nominees
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Whether you’ve seen all the Best Picture nominees this year or are still trying to catch up, odds are you’ve picked out a favorite and are maybe craving a little more of the same.
And while many of the nominated films are getting love precisely because they’re not like anything that has come before them, it’s undeniable that every filmmaker has their inspirations. (Some of the nominated directors this year have even curated art house screening series precisely around this fact.) So, whether you’re rooting for Get Out, The Shape of Water, or Three Billboards (or something else entirely), we’ve got a collection of classic film recommendations for you based on the Best Picture nominees.
If you liked ‘The Shape of Water,’ watch: ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’ (1954)
Guillermo del Toro has widely cited the influence of Creature from the Black Lagoon, recounting how he saw the film as a child and wondered why the creature didn’t get the girl at the end. It was this postulation that inspired The Shape of Water (and much of his monster-obsessed oeuvre). Some of the bare bones of The Shape of Water can be found here, specifically the presence of an Amazonian-based creature known in Black Lagoon as the Gill-man. In Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Gill-man is a monster in love with the scientist’s girlfriend Kay (Julie Adams) who is portrayed primarily as a dangerous and murderous force to those attempting to study him. While the Gill-man is used as the antagonist in a 1950s B-movie “creature feature,” it’s a captivating tale of a misunderstood creature and the woman he loves. Tonally it’s quite different from The Shape of Water and reverses the hero-villain roles, but it’s still compelling to watch the film that inspired Del Toro in so many ways (including the design and feel of his own fish-man).
Available on: Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes
If you liked ‘The Post,’ watch: ‘All the President’s Men’ (1976)
In so many ways, The Post is the perfect prequel to All the President’s Men — establishing the reach, influence, and tenacity of The Washington Post via their role in publishing the Pentagon Papers before transitioning to Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting on Watergate. The Post even ends where All the President’s Men begins — with the break-in at the Watergate complex. Many argue All the President’s Men is the best film ever made about journalism, and The Post is unlikely to be the film that unseats it from that title. Still, it’s fascinating to watch them in concert with each other — to understand Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham’s commitment to investigative journalism and the American public that created an atmosphere where Woodward and Bernstein could thrive. All the President’s Men beats with the urgency and immediacy of being released fresh on the heels of the actual Watergate scandal (when the film was made, we were still decades away from knowing the identity of the source dubbed “Deep Throat”). It has a certain grittiness and cinéma vérité flavor unique to the filmmaking of the 1970s that is erased by the polish and mythologizing of the Steven Spielberg American hero narrative of The Post. The films are both perfect complements to each other and extremely different in the way they attack similar moments in history.
Available on: Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes
If you liked ‘Lady Bird,’ watch: ‘Stella Dallas’ (1937)
One of the greatest compliments that has been paid Lady Bird is that it represents mother-daughter relationships in a way no other film has before it. This is largely true, and it particularly holds water when it comes to classic Hollywood where the sacrificial mother storyline reigned supreme. There are countless great films that interrogate mother-daughter relationships from the wartime heroism of Mrs. Miniver to the noir double-crossing of Mildred Pierce to the racial tensions of Imitation of Life. But what helps set Lady Bird apart is its willingness to address issues of class and how the sense of how well we’re “keeping up with the Joneses” can affect our relationship with our parents in our teenage years. Perhaps no classic film examines that better than Stella Dallas, a 1937 remake of a silent film starring Barbara Stanwyck in an Oscar-nominated performance as the titular social-climbing, helplessly gauche mother. Stanwyck and Anne Shirley as her daughter Laurel bring real heartbreak and pathos to a story about a parent and child who love each other deeply despite the class barriers standing in the way of their happiness. If you thought Lady Bird’s conclusion made you cry, you’ll need a whole box of tissues for Stanwyck’s ultimate selflessness.
Available on DVD
If you liked ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ watch: ‘Roman Holiday’ (1953)
Because the Motion Picture Production Code expressly prohibited representations of gay romance in films that were made back in the day, Call Me By Your Name was never going to have a direct classic correlation. And while there are plenty of films, particularly the oeuvre of Douglas Sirk, that deal with LGBT concerns through metaphor, veiled references, and themes of repression, we feel that Roman Holiday is ultimately the closest thing to the 1980s-set Italian romance. Here, we have another forbidden romance that arises out of time spent together surrounded by the sights and sounds of Italy. In both cases, obligation and circumstance conspire to keep the two lovers apart despite heaps of stolen glances and quiet yearning. Another fun correlation? While Call Me By Your Name has introduced the world to Timothée Chalamet and launched him into the stratosphere, Roman Holiday served as the launching pad for another Hollywood great (and eventual icon), marking the first major American role for Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn plays Princess Ann, who escapes from the palace for a day of exuberant sightseeing courtesy of American journalist Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) who she just happens to fall for along the way. Young, forbidden love against an Italian backdrop featuring at least one major star in the making? Yes, please.
Available on: Starz, Google Play, Vudu, and Apple
If you liked ‘Darkest Hour,’ watch: ‘The Finest Hours’ (1963)
Akin to his countrywoman Elizabeth I, there have probably been more cinematic representations of Winston Churchill than we can count. Darkest Hour is the latest to bring awards acclaim to a leading man stepping into the legendary British prime minister’s shoes (The Crown just did it last year on the television side for John Lithgow). However, this docu-drama is unique in that it crafts a biography of Winston Churchill using a blend of historical reenactments by professional actors and actual film footage. Orson Welles serves as narrator, a fitting choice given that his distinctive voice and larger-than-life personality tie him nicely to Churchill’s legacy (it’s a shame he never played the man onscreen). The film focuses primarily on Churchill’s time as prime minister during World War II, which coincidentally is also the backdrop for Darkest Hour.
Available on DVD
If you liked ‘Phantom Thread,’ watch: ‘Rebecca’ (1940)
Obsessive love, controlling men, and the ghosts of past family members are all themes pertinent to both Phantom Thread and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca. Paul Thomas Anderson has cited the film as an influence, saying, “I’m a large aficionado of those large Gothic romance movies as the old masters might do them.” In Rebecca, the titular former Mrs. De Winter haunts the marriage of Laurence Olivier’s Maxim and Joan Fontaine’s nameless narrator. Similar themes of claustrophobia and obsession weigh upon Fontaine’s young ingénue until the pressure threatens to tear their relationship apart. In Phantom Thread, Alma (Vicky Krieps) is a more threatening presence than Fontaine’s weak-willed naïf, but many of the same twisted trappings of the Gothic romance remain — from the fog-filled locations to an oversized home to an obsession with control to the interfering presence of others in the household (Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca; Lesley Manville’s Cyril in Phantom Thread). Ultimately, both films seek to probe the toxic nature of love and the controlling influence of those we are romantically linked to by choice or unfortunate circumstance.
Available on DVD
If you liked ‘Get Out,’ watch: ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1968)
Director Jordan Peele has cited a wide array of classic films as inspiration for his horror satire Get Out, including Night of the Living Dead, Rear Window, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. However, nothing quite captures the paranoia and social commentary of Get Out as well as Rosemary’s Baby. What Peele’s film does for race and his exploration of the lie of a post-racial America, Rosemary’s Baby did for women and the rising tide of second-wave feminism’s push for women’s autonomy over their own bodies. Pregnant and eager to start a family, Rosemary (Mia Farrow) finds herself increasingly distressed by the strange behavior of her husband and neighbors and her unsettlingly pregnancy. Her paranoia increases until the terrible truth is revealed.
Available on: Starz, Amazon, Fandango, Vudu, iTunes
If you liked ‘Dunkirk,’ watch: ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ (1957)
Christopher Nolan is yet another filmmaker who regularly references the influence of classic cinema in his work and he’s mentioned the impact of everything from All Quiet on the Western Front to The Battle of Algiers on Dunkirk. But David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai was one of the first (and most compelling) films to focus on the folly and cost of war, rather than the heroism of it. By having us follow a group of largely unnamed soldiers fighting for their lives and depicting the heroism of a defeat and evacuation, Nolan put forth a similar message. Both films are filled with futile efforts from the soldiers involved, whether it is escape or building a bridge that the Allied forces are already planning to destroy. Nolan and Lean are experts at managing parallel developing storylines, as The Bridge on the River Kwai flits between British POWs led by Alec Guinness and the Allied forces plotting their rescue led by William Holden. What really sticks out is how much both stories are just narratives about the harrowing fight for survival, which can often become the only hollow victory available to the individual men compelled to go to war for their countries.
Available on: Google Play, Vudu, iTunes
If you liked ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,’ watch: ‘Ace in the Hole’ (1951)
Frances McDormand has compared her Three Billboards character and her desire for vigilante justice to numerous John Wayne characters, but it is another classic altogether that feels most tonally similar to Martin McDonagh’s film. McDonagh excels at writing brutally dark comedies that exude a distinctive cynicism. Though his movies were far more wide-ranging, Billy Wilder was also a master of cynical black comedy and nowhere is his work darker than in the pitch-black noir Ace in the Hole. Kirk Douglas stars as Chuck Tatum, a disgraced former reporter who creates a media circus surrounding the rescue of a man from a collapsed cave in New Mexico. Tatum delays rescue efforts (to the victim’s detriment) to build a bigger story and win recognition for his reporting. Wilder viewed the film as a cynical examination of the relationship between the American media and the public. While Three Billboards deals more specifically with vengeance and casts its critical eye at law enforcement rather than the press, it shares a darkly sinister tone with Ace in the Hole that gets at something peculiarly (and upsettingly) American.
Available on: Google Play, Vudu