Believe it or not, the Oscars are this weekend. Even though this is Hollywood’s big night, no one really seems to care this year. I won’t give you my opinion as to why that is here, but I do think I can provide you with some decent entertainment alternatives for your Sunday night.
Instead of wasting your evening watching a bloated awards show, check out five of the best films 2018 produced. None are nominated for Best Picture, yet all five are excellent, unpretentious films that manage to make a real impression on the viewer.
Set in Oakland, Blindspotting is the year’s best film about race. It follows Collin (Daveed Diggs) as he attempts to finish out his probation sentence without getting into trouble with his best friend Miles (Rafael Casal). The film looks and feels great, embracing its setting and engulfing you in the Bay Area and its fantastic characters. In fact, that’s the strongest aspect of the film. Nothing is contrived – even the Shakespearean-esque monologues done using rap. Instead of just saying racism is bad, it challenges how we view identity and the impact of upbringing on an individual. Blindspotting is the type of film that is going to age incredibly well, especially given the current political climate. Watch this over films like Green Book, Sorry to Bother You, or even BlackKklansman.
Recall, if you can, the last week of eighth grade before heading off to high school. You were probably bubbling with nervous excitement and anxious dread. Bo Burnham captures that feeling and, with the added themes of social media and how it can alter social perception, elevates it to a brutally realistic look at the life of the modern tween. Discouraged by the juvenile subject matter? You shouldn’t be. Rated R, Eighth Grade pulls very few punches, never becoming too childish to take seriously. It even features one scene that, while unfolding, made me want to punch the screen. Elsie Fischer is phenomenal as Kayla Day and the rest of the cast is similarly solid. It’s available on Amazon Prime, so if you want to both laugh and cringe, watch it.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
This is the best superhero film since The Dark Knight. It follows Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), not Peter Parker, as he battles the evil Kingpin for the survival of the multiverse. If that weren’t weird enough, he is helped by a team of Spider-people, all hailing from different universes with unique, fresh backstories. In an era of superhero overload, this film manages to feel fresh, unlike say Black Panther. This is likely due to its animation. Everything about it looks and feels like a comic book. As such, it’s almost written like one, relying on quick and witty dialogue. Its crowning achievement is that it nails the essence of Spider-Man without sacrificing any of the fun. Spider-Man is filled with real messages on things like responsibility, the power of belief, and identity. This is the singular best execution of a creative vision since Mad Max: Fury Road.
The Sisters Brothers
This film is criminally underrated. For whatever reason Jacques Aquiard’s gruesome Western didn’t do great at the box office or gain awards traction with the Academy. Unfortunately, it looks destined for the great, but forgotten pile. That’s a shame because this film is really fucking good. Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly carry the film as the Sisters brothers, two different yet equally deadly bounty hunters in 1850s Oregon. Both actors are masterful throughout, bringing the grit and grime of the Frontier to life with them as they try to retrieve a debt owed to their boss, the Commodore. Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed are similarly excellent, and the ensuing chaos is both bone-chilling and exhilarating, but never unnecessary or boring, eventually bringing the film to a strong emotional conclusion.
The Death of Stalin
The Soviet Union was a wild place. Espionage, sabotage, murder, and lying were all commonplace in the Soviet political playbook, especially under the ruthless Joseph Stalin. Now, given the political culture, how did they handle the death of such a strongman? In short, not peacefully. Armando Iannucci’s film takes that grim premise and flips it completely on its head into a biting, hilarious piece of political satire. The script is so well written and so fast that even just watching the characters talk is fascinating. All of the actors perform in their own native accents, shunning any sense of realism while simultaneously cranking up the absurdity. Steve Buscemi stars as Nikita Khrushchev. That sentence alone should be enough to get you to watch it. The Death of Stalin is a hilarious romp that also works in critiques of politicians and the way they view power. If nothing else, the fact that a film like this exists should serve as the ultimate reminder that the good guys won the Cold War. Support freedom, watch this film.