Every year, the Academy Awards snub a handful of films lacking the box office returns of “Avatar” or the star power of “Lincoln” — they’re just not “Oscar-worthy.” Yet, such films don’t need the validation of an award, as they’re excellent on their own. Here are seven such films to catch before the year ends.
Trey Edward Shults’ soul-crushing “It Comes At Night” follows a family surviving amid the fallout of a viral disease. Paranoia threatens to plunge the family’s seeming idyll into darkness, as the titular “it” encroaches (or does it?). The film is ambiguous enough to make David Lynch proud, and through its vagueness, the film crafts maximum tension. As the opening flash of A24’s logo guarantees, this isn’t your typical horror-thriller. It’s better, smarter and much more unnerving.
Need a Netflix break? Make sure it’s Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja,” a film crazier than your finals schedule. It centers around the bond between a young girl (Seo-Hyun Ahn) and her beloved, genetically engineered super pig; features a Jake Gyllenhaal performance that is essentially a Joker audition; and switches tone enough times that you stop trying to identify a genre. Is it a science-fiction dark comedy functioning as a biting critique of the meat industry and the capitalist machine that enables it? Who knows — but if nothing else, Steven Yeun is perfect in this film.
One of the most beautiful films of the year is first-time director Kogonada’s “Columbus.” The architecture is framed so that we absorb its quiet beauty, in the same way that the film’s protagonist, Jin (UC Berkeley alumnus John Cho), does upon finding himself in Columbus, Indiana, after his famed architect father falls into a coma. Cho has never been better, and the same is true for his co-star, Haley Lu Richardson. As a young woman hesitating to pursue her dreams, Richardson delivers one of the year’s most underrated performances. This ethereal, soft-spoken indie film isn’t one to miss.
“Batman & Bill”
Unlike “Justice League,” this Hulu documentary actually has a story to tell about the Caped Crusader. For decades, Bob Kane was credited as the sole creator of Batman. Yet, the ideas of writer Bill Finger defined the character as we know him — Finger’s many creations include Batman’s secret identity as Bruce Wayne, Gotham City and the design of the Joker. Despite this, Finger died alone and penniless. “Batman & Bill” chronicles the process of restoring credit to one of the most influential minds in all of pop culture and becomes an emotional portrait of the families built and destroyed by fame.
The second A24 film on this list takes a page from Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler,” offering an antihero so despicable that you hate to root for him. Yet, Robert Pattinson is endlessly watchable as Constantine Nikas, a small-time crook who goes to great lengths to free his developmentally disabled brother (played by Ben Safdie, who co-directed the film with his brother, Josh) from prison. “Good Time” is frenetic and thrilling, and the mesmerizing synth score by Oneohtrix Point Never is one of the best of the year.
In this biting critique of Instagram culture, Aubrey Plaza shines as a woman determined to enter the influencer sphere. The film combines Plaza’s deadpan humor with darkness in equal measure — something of a tonal trademark for the film’s production company, Neon, which seems poised to take the Oscars by storm with the upcoming “I, Tonya.” For those seeking to be ahead of the curve, there’s no better place to start one’s Neon obsession than with “Ingrid Goes West.”
Amma Asante’s film about the marriage between Sir Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), heir to the throne of Bechuanaland (present-day Botswana), and Ruth Williams Khama (Rosamund Pike) is the sweetest film on this list. The drama heightens as Bechuanaland’s fight for independence from Britain is weaved into the film’s romance. Powerful performances from Oyelowo and Pike make this underseen film a true gem.
Harrison Tunggal is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected]ilycal.org.