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For this month’s roundup of streaming movie recommendations, we’ve got some counter-programming for the Academy Awards. Here are 10 options that complement or are vastly preferable to this year’s Oscar darlings.
The Death of Louis XIV
Sitting at the top of this year’s Oscar crop is The Favourite, with 10 nominations. Here’s another film that undermines the supposed nobility of monarchy, although in an extraordinarily different way. With agonizing deliberation, it depicts the death of the titular French king, demonstrating that there’s no amount of wealth or power that can protect you from the indignities of mortality.
The Second Mother
Tied with The Favourite for the most nominations is Roma, which is the oddsmakers’ pick for many of the top awards. (And has yielded somewhat divisive reviews.) Another Latin American film about the life of a maid, this one follows the tension between an older woman and her grown daughter, who is uncomfortable with her mother’s work and the sacrifices their family has made for the sake of another. A cannily observed class study.
A Star is Born chronicles the simultaneous rise and fall of a female and male singer, respectively, through their tumultuous romance. Todd Haynes’s 1998 film examines a similar musical and romantic partnership in its aftermath, though filtered through a queer sensibility and set against the backdrop of glam rock in the ’70s. A thinly veiled analogue to the career of David Bowie at the time, it’s appropriately delirious and extravagant.
Political biopic Vice has snagged some nominations for reminding everyone of how evil Dick Cheney is and putting Christian Bale behind a ton of makeup. But this 2010 British film is a war on terror satire with a lot more teeth. Comedic genius Chris Morris brings us a ragtag group of dimwitted would-be terrorists, finding the pitch-black comedy in extremism.
The Black Power Mixtape 1967–1975
Black Panther is far and away this year’s highest-grossing big Oscar contender. The 2011 documentary The Black Power Mixtape examines the actual Black Panther Party. Assembled from lost and then rediscovered footage shot by Swedish news teams in the ’60s and ’70s, the wealth of unearthed material is contextualized with modern commentary and sharp editing, providing a helpful look at the black power movement.
A Huey P. Newton Story
In a similar vein, in 2001, Spike Lee (whose BlacKkKlansman is a major player this year) documented Roger Guenveur Smith’s one-man show about the eponymous Black Panther Party co-founder. Lee shoots stage plays with the same level of cinematic verve he brings to his regular joints, and the fact that he pulls it off with essentially a monologue is all the more impressive.
Available on: Starz
Green Book is this year’s big Oscar nominee to disdain thanks to its awkward vision of race relations, so watch this vastly different road trip movie instead. The late great Harry Dean Stanton stars in Wim Wenders’s 1984 film, which turns the American Southwest into an off-kilter wonderland of self-discovery, in which a mute amnesiac slowly rebuilds his humanity on a trip with his son.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Bohemian Rhapsody earned over $800 million and five Oscar nominations because people still love Queen, even though it handles Freddie Mercury’s sexuality, uh, not well. It boggles my mind that a film that so faithfully adheres to the musical biopic formula has been made in the wake of Walk Hard, a parodic masterpiece that buried the genre back in 2007. Beyond featuring genuinely great music and being absurdly funny, this is a great showcase for the idea that the best film criticism is filmmaking itself. Built into the jokes is scalding criticism of how we tell stories about artists and their lives.
For All Mankind
Why watch First Man‘s recreation of the moon landing when you can watch the real thing? This seminal 1989 documentary heralded a new wave of space-based science movies, but it remains among the best of the lot. The moonwalk footage remains absolutely mesmerizing.
Instead of the dour Cold War, watch this morbidly vivacious offering from Poland. This was the final film from auteur Andrzej Żuławski, a master of erratic storytelling. A deeply paranoid film finding the darkest signs in seemingly mundane life, it has strangeness emanating from its very bones. Not for everyone, but rewarding for those who can get on its wavelength.
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