The greatest single line in cinema of the past 12 months was delivered inside of a Barbie Dreamhouse. Mid dance, mid smile, Stereotypical Barbie (played with heart and humor by Margot Robbie, who was somehow not nominated for Best Actress) turns to the other Barbies and blurts out: “Do you guys ever think about dying?” The music stops and Barbie begins her colorful existential crisis.
According to the Oscar-bestowing Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the best movies of the past year thought A LOT about dying. Oppenheimer thought about the death of the whole world. The Zone of Interest thought about living a normal life while thousands of people next door are slaughtered. Killers of the Flower Moon portrayed a death match between greed and romantic love, and Barbie, of course imagined the death of patriarchy, adolescence, and earth-toned color palettes.
Not all these movies are tragedies (though admittedly, most are). Considering mortality is a cross-genre, cross-religion phenomenon. Do you guys ever think about dying? is a question that leads to other important questions like “Is there a heaven?” “How do we go about manifesting an earth as it is in heaven?” “Who gets to decide who dies?” — and other super casual conversation-starters. While these questions may not be ripe for a dance party, they do make for great cinema and even better streaming, where you can seek comfort in your couch and the warmth of your cat or your dog, who, bless ‘em, probably don’t think much about dying.
Here are our favorite Oscar-nominated films and how to watch them:
Barbie (stream on Max)
Barbie doesn’t just think about the end of things; this year’s box-office juggernaut also considers the beginning. As Olivia Bardo writes in ‘Barbie’ Is Greta Gerwig’s Genesis Story, “The Bible is a lot like Barbieland. Both are full of complicated, often misunderstood women. And both Gerwig’s Genesis story and the Bible push us to question: What does it mean to be a woman?”
Killers of the Flower Moon (stream on Apple TV+)
It’s not surprising that writer/director Martin Scorsese, who recently met with Pope Francis, created a masterpiece about the consequences of neighbor-love failing in the most violent way. The film tells the true story of how white ranchers infiltrated the homes of the Osage Nation to steal their oil riches. “There’s an eerie parallel between the Oklahoma of the 1920s and the U.S. of 2023,” writes Zachary Lee. “Both then and now, we see communities and their stories extinguished by those in power.”
Past Lives (stream on Paramount+ with Showtime)
Past Lives is the best love story I’ve seen in years. At first glance, it’s a classic love triangle: Nora’s childhood friend and crush from Korea comes to visit. It’s been decades since they’ve seen each other, and now Nora is living in New York — and married. As audience members, we expect animosity between the past love interest and the current love interest; instead, they offer each other kindness and curiosity. “Past Lives is a poignant exploration of both the burden and grace available to us as creatures of free will who are bound to the finality of our choices,” writes Zachary Lee.
The Zone of Interest (watch in theaters)
This best-picture nominee follows the daily life of a Nazi commandant and his family — who live next door to Auschwitz. “They live a disturbingly wholesome life,” writes Abby Olcese, that echoes in the film’s most urgent warning: “Evil is as common as a family playing on their lawn, willfully turning away from the sounds of the screams next door.”
Oppenheimer (stream on Peacock starting Feb. 16; rent on Amazon, YouTube, Apple TV+ and Google Play)
This biopic from director Christopher Nolan paints a portrait of a brilliant, troubled father of the atomic bomb. Throughout the film, we see J. Robert Oppenheimer — and other scientists — swallow their moral qualms by telling themselves that this world-destroying weapon is actually an instrument of peace. But as Abby Olcese writes, “If peace is secured through ‘mutually assured destruction,’ is it really peace?”
The Color Purple (rent on Prime and Apple TV+)
Alice Walker’s The Color Purple was adapted into a 1985 film, a musical, and most recently, a musical film. This latest adaptation arrives in the wake of recent antisemitic and transphobic comments by Walker. Fortunately, as Deirdre Jonese Austin writes, director Blitz Bazawule’s adaption is capable of “reimagin[ing] a vision of healing and liberation rooted in the God that is found in all of us, including those who have been harmed by Walker’s words and actions.”
Godzilla Minus One (not yet available for streaming)
Godzilla, who theatergoers first met on the big screen in 1954, was originally a monster who would show the destructive power of the nuclear bomb. Though subsequent Godzilla films have explored alternate angles, Godzilla Minus One returns Godzilla to that original metaphor. As Mitchell Atencio writes, “Minus One is a sharp and intimate look at the moral injury that follows war, and a reminder that community is the way through.”