You be the judge: how to watch the Oscar hopefuls

We trawl the streaming services for this year’s Oscar-nominated films – and two female actors neglected by the Academy

It’s the Academy Awards on 26 February, and while the Oscars’ extreme bias towards late prestige releases means you still have to head to the cinema to do most of your pre-ceremony catch-up, a handful of nominees can be accessed from your couch. I’ve already enthused about scrappy underdog best picture nominee Hell or High Water, which is available on the usual on-demand channels; ditto Captain Fantastic and Florence Foster Jenkins. Netflix can hook you up with Yorgos Lanthimos’s wicked dating satire The Lobster, a pleasingly against-the-grain screenplay nominee, and Ava DuVernay’s stirring, Bafta-winning civil rights doc 13th. Head to Curzon Home Cinema, meanwhile, to check out Tanna, a rapturously shot Vanuatuan tribal romance that is very much the dark horse in the foreign-language race, and for a mere £2.20, Gianfranco Rosi’s sparse, shivery refugee-crisis meditation Fire at Sea, handily the most deserving of this year’s documentary nominees.

The one that will likely win, however, is currently streaming on BBC iPlayer, and if you have eight hours of a lazy Sunday to set aside for OJ: Made in America, Ezra Edelman’s mammoth inquisition into the trial of another century, you’ll find yourself duly engrossed. Edelman makes the most of the considerable time he’s been allotted, leaving no investigative stone unturned on the matter of OJ Simpson’s murder case, but also skipping off them into morally ruminative sidebars on racial prejudice and socioeconomic imbalance in the US. It’s not startling to anyone of newspaper-reading age in 1995, nor is it assembled with much cinematic ingenuity, but it’s honestly compulsive.

None of this week’s new DVD releases are up for Oscars tonight, though at least two of them should be. In the best actress category, for example, I’d gladly replace the near-annual boilerplate Streep nomination slot with a nod for the revelatory Hayley Squires in I, Daniel Blake (eOne, 15) or a career-best Rebecca Hall in Christine (Universal, 15).

‘Heart-clutching’: Hayley Squires with Dave Johns in I, Daniel Blake .
‘Heart-clutching’: Hayley Squires with Dave Johns in I, Daniel Blake. Photograph: Allstar

Squires, entirely heart-clutching as a single mother painted into an impossible corner by the benefits system, is, for me, the standout virtue of Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or winner. It’s a film, I’d venture, that is more valuable for the rightful awareness of governmental neglect it has stirred than its own somewhat fusty construction, in which Loach and regular writer Paul Laverty’s characteristically vehement politics hobble their salt-of-the-earth characters more than it enhances them. It’s rare that I so vigorously agree with a film without wholly believing it – but in its least spoken, most visceral moments, notably Squires’s crushing breakdown in a food bank, Loach has me completely.

Needless to say, it’s a tougher, more resonant account of life on the breadline in contemporary Britain than the bestseller-based, trueish-life story A Street Cat Named Bob (Sony, 12), which blends smeary junkie miserablism with cat-video perkiness to thoroughly peculiar – albeit not entirely unappealing – effect.

Rebecca Hall’s exquisitely anxious performance is just one of many elements successfully navigating a precarious knife-edge in Christine, Antonio Campos’s intimate biopic of Christine Chubbuck, the young Florida newscaster who famously shot herself on live TV in 1974. Sharply considering the personal and professional demons that could have led to such a horrific undertaking, Campos’s film comes within a hair’s breadth of speculative exploitation, yet compassionately maintains just the right distance. For Hall, this is major, shattering work, to be viewed alongside Kate Lyn Sheil’s inside-out interpretation in last year’s documentary Kate Plays Christine in a valuable, if rather grim, double bill.

On the sillier side, Train to Busan (Studiocanal, 15) is roaring, riveting nonsense: a South Korean zombies-on-a-train spectacular that delivers on the terms of its lunatic premise with brio and invention to spare. Wallow in it before the promised English-language remake inevitably dials down the derangement. Meanwhile, Ouija: Origin of Evil (Universal, 15) is a (very) minor miracle of studio cinema: a prequel to a dingy horror screen-filler that, by reaching back to the 1960s both in setting and in B-movie inspiration, actively redeems a cheapo franchise with style, wit and an active scare or two. Both films are better popcorn accompaniment than the proficient brand-name mechanics of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Universal, 12), but if you must, Tom Cruise’s latest outing as the rogue ex-military justice fighter also improves on its predecessor, raising the bar from “incomprehensible” to “inoffensive”.

‘Everywoman’: Melanie Lynskey in I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore.
‘Everywoman’: Melanie Lynskey in I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. Photograph: Allyson Riggs/Netflix

Finally, if you read the coverage of last month’s Sundance film festival assuming its buzziest titles were distant viewing prospects, you were wrong. In an unprecedented development, the festival’s surprise grand prize winner, Macon Blair’s directorial debut I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, has skipped cinemas to land directly on Netflix, where subscribers are already savouring its antic, inky-black and very grisly comic stylings. With a grab-bag of influences including early, scrappier Coen brothers and Blair’s Blue Ruin director Jeremy Saulnier, this story of a depressive nurse drawn by misfortune into an oddly exhilarating southern gothic underworld is a rabbit-hole dive that steers pretty recklessly around some tight tonal corners but is held in check by the wry, irresistible everywoman integrity of actor Melanie Lynskey. Unlike other top Sundance winners, there won’t be any Oscar attention for this one in a year’s time – let’s give it its due now.


Guy Lodge

The GuardianTramp

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