The Oscars don’t always get it right. Case in point: last year when Will Smith dealt a slap to the host Chris Rock that shook the whole world, the unforgettable Moonlight Best Picture blunder, and a long track record of some questionable winners in the biggest categories (such as 2018 Best Picture winner Green Book). But, despite their many faults, the Oscars remain the most prestigious award ceremony in American cinema, and some of the best movies of all time have won Academy Awards. And thankfully, if you’re looking to expand your knowledge of prestige, award-winning film, Netflix has some great options for you to watch right now.
Netflix itself has entered the game in recent years, with some of its own films such as The Power of the Dog and Mank earning Oscar nominations and even wins. So whether you’re looking for a ’60s classic like Bonnie and Clyde or a modern masterpiece like Roma, Netflix has you covered.
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Nominated For: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing
This satire about the reality of climate change will make you laugh—and cringe—inside. Two astronomers, played by Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio, try to warn the world about an incoming comet that will destroy Earth, but don’t exactly find the reaction they’re looking for.
Nominated For: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay
This adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel of the same name stars Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, and Paul Mescal. The film was directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who was drawn to the complex story about motherhood.
Won for: Best Director
This Western drama starring Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and Benedict Cumberbatch received 12 nominations at the 2022 Academy Awards. It could have been due to the undeniable chemistry between real-life husband and wife Dunst and Plemons, or the powerful direction from Jane Campion—but you’ll have to judge for yourself.
Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor
Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. Do I need to say more? This 2019 gangster epic details mobster Frank Sheeran’s association with Jimmy Hoffa.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Nominated for: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Original Song
The Coen Brothers came in full force with this Western anthology film, which features six vignettes about the American frontier. The stories are fun, musical, and wildly adventurous. And you’ll catch sight of some deeply cool cameos, like Tom Waits and Willie Watson.
Nominated for: Best Documentary Feature
Ava DuVernay’s groundbreaking study of race, the criminal justice system, and mass incarceration shook viewers’ perceptions when it released. DuVernay examines how slavery has been perpetuated through the disenfranchisement, criminalization of behavior, and how the prison-industrial complex profits off of this. 13th is unflinching in telling brutal truths about the criminal justice system in America.
Won for: Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay
Prepare the tissues, because you’ll shed a few tears while you watch this Ang Lee feature. Jake Gyllenhaal and the late, beloved Heath Ledger play two cowboys who find love in an unexpected circumstance. It’ll rip your heart out and put it back together again.
Won for: Best Picture, Best Director
This iconic film features Sylvester Stallone in his most recognizable role as Rocky Balboa, a rough-and-tumble boxer, who sacrifices blood, sweat and tears to achieve his dream. Get inspired… to press play on your remote.
Won for: Best Adapted Screenplay
The historical drama about the real life of Alan Turing was a shoe-in for the Oscars. It had heart-wrenching performances, impossibly high stakes, and movingly authentic portrayals of the brutality of the past.
Won for: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director
You know the line: “Life is like a box of chocolates.” Whether you care to admit or not, Forrest Gump is a part of the American consciousness. It’s endlessly quotable, romantic, dramatic, and funny. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should fix that right away.
Won for: Best Costume Design
Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps star in this Paul Thomas Anderson-directed historical drama about a haute couture dressmaker whose life as an eligible bachelor takes a turn when he meets his newest muse. Though Phantom Thread was a prime contender across multiple categories, it ultimately took home the Oscar for best Costume Design–which seems fitting.
Won for: Best Cinematography, Best Production Design
Netflix’s own Mank, a 1930s-set Hollywood love letter directed by David Fincher, lost the Oscar for Best Picture at the 2021 Oscars to Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland. But the film, which follows screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he works to write the 1941 classic “Citizen Kane,” still took home two trophies—for Best Cinematography and Best Production Design—and offers stellar performances from acting nominees Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Won for: Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Costume Design
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is another Netflix picture, adapted from August Wilson’s play of the same name. With powerful performances from Colman Domingo, Best Actress nominee Viola Davis, and posthumous Best Actor nominee Chadwick Boseman, the film follows the events of a tense recording session for blues singer Ma Rainey in 1920s Chicago. Although it didn’t nab either acting trophy, the emotional film took home the awards in the Makeup & Hairstyling and Costume Design categories.
Won for: Best Documentary Feature
A controversial winner (but a winner nonetheless!), nature doc My Octopus Teacher follows filmmaker Craig Foster as he spends time with and forms a bond with a wild octopus off the Cape Town, South Africa coast over the course of a year. It’s different—there’s no denying that—but also undoubtedly original, wholly captivating, and even touching.
Won for: Best Supporting Actress (Laura Dern)
Noah Baumbach’s semi-autobiographical film about the dissolution of a marriage was a major player at the 2020 Academy Awards. Though the only trophy it took home was for Best Supporting Actress for Laura Dern, the film was also up for Best Picture, Best Actor (Adam Driver), Best Actress (Scarlett Johansson), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Original Score.
Won: Best Original Score
Quentin Tarantino’s thriller is an Agatha Christie-style mystery set in the American West just after the Civil War, with legendary composer Ennio Morricone earning his first Oscar for its score.
Won: Best Documentary Feature
Documentarian Bryan Fogel intended to experiment with doping in order to win a cycling competition—only his investigations into the practice opened up a bigger, more sinister scandal.
Won: Best Director (Alfonso Cuarón), Best Foreign Language Film, Best Cinematography
Alfonso Cuarón’s gorgeous autobiographical film follows Cleo (Oscar nominee Yalitza Aparicio), a live-in maid for a middle-class Mexico City family, throughout one year as both her life and the lives of her employers are changed forever.
Won: Best Documentary Feature
Manassas High School in Memphis isn’t known for its academic or athletic success, but a new football coach turns the underfunded football team around—which delivers a boost to the high school students’ morale.
Won: Best Documentary (Short Subject)
This short film follows a team of volunteer rescue works who risk their lives daily in order to attend to innocent civilians living in war-ravaged Syria.
Assistant Content Strategy Editor
Lauren Kranc is the assistant content strategy editor at Esquire, where she runs the brand’s social media accounts and covers pop culture and television, with entirely too narrow an expertise on true crime shows
Sirena He is an editorial assistant and writer who focuses on media and culture.
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