9 classic films you should pair with the 2020 Oscar Best Picture nominees
The perfect classic movies to watch for fans of Joker, Parasite, Little Women, and more.
Even if you’re not a voting member of the Academy, you’ve probably got a horse in the Oscar race – a personal favorite, maybe the movie that inspired you most this year.
As Oscar Sunday approaches, whether you’re still catching up on nominated titles (let’s face it, this accelerated awards season has been tough on movie lovers) or looking for something that reminds you of your favorite movie of 2019, we’ve got some suggestions for you. Whether you’re team Parasite, mesmerized by the cinematography of 1917, or still sad Little Women didn’t get more love, here are 9 classic film pairings to shake up your screening list.
If you liked Little Women, watch Little Women (1949)
Greta Gerwig’s exquisite deconstruction of the Louisa May Alcott novel is the seventh big screen adaptation of Little Women, and there’s plenty of reasons to watch many of the previous versions. Arguably, the 1994 iteration starring Winona Ryder as Jo and the 1933 George Cukor version featuring then relative newcomer Katharine Hepburn as Jo are the best known (and well-loved). But we’d recommend a second look at the 1949 rendition, which boasts a truly star-studded cast that includes June Allyson as Jo, Peter Lawford as Laurie, Elizabeth Taylor as Amy, Janet Leigh as Meg, Mary Astor as Marmee, and Margaret O’Brien as Beth. It diverges from the novel in several ways, including making Beth the youngest sister, but it still captures so much of the spirit and heart of Alcott’s novel. Plus, who can resist the idea of Liz Taylor as bratty March sister Amy? Each Little Women reflects its own time, and this is no exception, foregrounding aspects of the plot that honor post-war values in many ways. Though ultimately, it’s still a beautiful reflection of the minds, souls, and hearts of women.
If you liked 1917, watch All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
1917 could repeat history if it wins Best Picture, following in the footsteps of 1930 victor All Quiet on the Western Front. The film is still considered one of the most remarkable movies ever made about war. Based on a novel of the same name, it follows a troop of German soldiers in World War I, focusing specifically on Paul Bäumer (Lew Ayres). It was heralded for its realism in its depiction in the horror and confusion of war, stressing its futility over any sense of honor or valor. Made prior to the enforcement of the Hollywood Production Code, it’s one of the most violent films of its time, an infamous shot with a man’s hands left clinging to barbed wire borrowed from a real story told to director Lewis Milestone. With its World War I setting and its tale of average foot soldiers, tasked with an impossible mission, and surrounded by an ever-shifting range of faces and violence, All Quiet on the Western Front feels like a clear model for 1917’s own story of wartime chaos and disillusionment.
If you liked Jojo Rabbit, watch The Great Dictator (1940)
Rife with black comedy and political satire, Jojo Rabbit draws on a legacy of films like Mel Brooks’ The Producers and Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. Lampooning Hitler and fascism, The Great Dictator was far ahead of its time, being released over a year before the U.S. entered World War II. Chaplin was inspired to make the film, which parodies Hitler in the form of fictional dictator Adenoid Hynkel (Chaplin), by Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda film Triumph of the Will. Telling the story in parallel with that of a lookalike Jewish Barber (also played by Chaplin), Chaplin directly interrogated the buffoonish nature of dictatorship, while also shining a light on horrifying efforts to purge the Jewish population. Though Chaplin later said if he’d known the full extent of the horrors of the concentration camps, he never would have made the film. Both movies examine the nature by which hate is spread, and urges us to find common ground in our humanity. Doubling as Hynkel, the Barber gives a speech imploring crowds to remember this, saying, “You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate — the unloved and the unnatural!” In its most essential ways, it’s basically the same message as Jojo Rabbit’s “F— you, Hitler.”
If you liked Marriage Story, watch Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
These two films share essential parts of their DNA, both telling the story of a vitriolic divorce between a couple locked in a custody battle over their son. While Marriage Story focuses largely on the divorce itself and the personal relationship between the couple, Kramer vs. Kramer is more squarely about the relationship between father and son, and Ted Kramer’s (Dustin Hoffman) struggles as a single parent. Both films look intensely at the emotional toll of divorce, as well as the complex machinations of the legal teams that get involved. Divorce seems ripe territory for Oscar love, particularly in the acting categories. Hoffman won an Oscar for his performance in Kramer vs. Kramer and his co-star Meryl Streep was nominated for supporting actress, while both Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver have earned nominations for their performances. Not to mention, Laura Dern is favored to win in the supporting category. Marriage Story perhaps grants its central couple slightly more humanity in the end, but the two films are a natural pair — even if the couples at their heart simply aren’t meant to be.
If you like The Irishman, watch On the Waterfront (1954)
Martin Scorsese is both a legendary filmmaker in his own right, and one who is consistently drawing on the work of his own heroes. The rough-and-tumble stories of gangsters that proliferate so much of his work have a rich cinematic history, but The Irishman, which is based on a true story, deepens that narrative by investigating the relationship between organized crime and infamous union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). With On the Waterfront, Elia Kazan similarly examined corrupt union bosses with mob connections. Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) is a dockworker who wrestles with testifying against murderous waterfront boss Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), weighing his loyalties and loves against what he knows is right. Many of the same themes and concerns run through both films, and they share an East Coast working-class midcentury setting. Kazan rather famously was believed to have made his film as a metaphorical justification for his naming names to the House of Un-American Activities Committee, while Scorsese is continuing to build on themes of loyalty, regret, and morality that have dominated his entire filmography (not to mention returning to longtime muse Robert De Niro in a leading role). Both of these titles couldn’t have just been contenders — they are heavyweights in cinematic history.
If you liked Parasite, watch Rear Window (1954)
It’s nearly impossible to pair Parasite with any film given that it is so utterly unique and unexpected in every way. Yet, Bong Joon Ho has cited the films of Alfred Hitchcock as an influential force on his own suspense thriller. While Parasite uses its twists and turns to interrogate the class system and capitalism, it shares a sense of voyeurism with Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Both films dig into the psychology of observing others without their consent and making vast assumptions from afar. Rear Window follows Jeff Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart), a photographer who is house-bound after breaking his leg. He becomes convinced his neighbor has murdered his wife after spying on them through his apartment window. A sense of dread, voyeurism, and unexpected violence pervade both films, reminding us that our neighbors are never just who we assume they are. Both use their housing tract as not just a setting, but as a central character in the action, the wealthy home at the heart of Parasite as lively and full of secrets as Rear Window’s large apartment complex and shared courtyard. Hitchcock was dubbed the Master of Suspense, but Bong could easily lay claim to that title with an added dose of social commentary.
If you liked Ford v. Ferrari, watch Le Mans (1971)
Racing and cars have captured the imagination for generations, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans race has been one of the most consistently captivating. It provides the setting for both current Oscar contender Ford v. Ferrari and the 1971 Le Mans. Ford v. Ferrari focuses on the real-life efforts of Ford to find a way to defeat Ferrari in the 1966 Le Mans with the help of racer Ken Miles (Christian Bale) while Le Mans tells the story of fictional driver Michael Delaney (Steve McQueen). Michael wrestles with his role in the death of a fellow driver, while preparing for that year’s race. Car lover McQueen actually entered into the 1970 Le Mans race, filming on location throughout the event with a cadre of drivers employed by his production company participating in the race. Ultimately, both films use the race as a way to explore the limits of human achievement, an obsession with cars, and the inherent risk and grief involved in such a dangerous sport.
If you liked Joker, watch Taxi Driver (1976)
Since its release last fall, Joker has been described as an amalgamation of two Scorsese classics – Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Its story of an aspiring stand-up comedian obsessed with a talk-show host is lifted directly from The King of Comedy, but Joker’s emphasis on mental illness and vigilante justice that devolves into murder feels much more of a piece with Taxi Driver. The 1976 Scorsese film follows lonely cab driver Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro, who also has a supporting role in Joker), who descends into insanity as he plots the assassination of a presidential candidate. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) and Travis Bickle are cut from the same cloth, two disturbed individuals who lash out at their society amidst a time of general anxiety and disillusionment – their actions lead them to be viewed as heroes by some despite their villainous intentions. Both films ask us to interrogate how we interpret mental illness and the societal circumstances that breed paranoia and violence. For both Arthur and Travis, salvation is only found in violence – a troubling if always pertinent message. In every way, Joker is reaching across time and talking to Taxi Driver.
If you liked Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, watch The Long Goodbye (1973)
Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is rife with references to pop culture of its time, including showing actual footage of Sharon Tate film The Wrecking Crew. It’s steeped in the filmmaking of that time, and Tarantino even programmed a month of screenings at his Los Angeles New Beverly Theatre to showcase the broad list of movies that inspired him. However, we’d recommend a film made a few years after the events of his ninth outing – 1973’s The Long Goodbye. Its meandering, drug-soaked, neo-noir haze pairs perfectly with Tarantino’s interrogation of the counter-culture and Los Angeles as a character unto itself. The Robert Altman film is based on a Raymond Chandler novel centered on private detective Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould), but it moves it from its post-war setting to the 1970s. Marlowe’s idiosyncrasies (like his dedication to his cat) and his dubious morality pair perfectly with Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth’s (Brad Pitt) own intriguing brands of masculinity. Both titles are utterly groovy and languid in their approach to their storytelling – and we can definitely hear Marlowe telling the hippies to get out of his driveway.