Uncut Gems, Hustlers, For Sama: The Five Films That Flew Under the Radar During Oscar Season

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Uncut Gems, Hustlers, For Sama: The Five Films That Flew Under the Radar During Oscar Season

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Who would’ve thought that it was still possible to be surprised by the Academy? Especially in a year when the Oscars continued to make headlines not for its nominations but for its inexplicable snubs. As has now become tradition, the Academy chose to disregard acknowledging any female directors in the Best Director line-up – Greta Gerwig earned only an Adapted Screenplay nod. Gerwig’s Little Women, perhaps the year’s most inventive film was shut out from the shortlist as were the lead turns in two of the other invigorating films of the season: Adam Sandler in Josh and Benny Safdie’s Uncut Gems and Jennifer Lopez in Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers.

Yet, for an award body with a predictable set of nominations and eventual winners (you could see that Brad Pitt win coming), the Oscars did throw us a surprise by awarding Bong Joon-ho’s masterful Parasite for four prestigious honours – Original Screenplay, Best International Feature, Best Director, and Best Film. Even then, there are quite a few experimental films that remained underappreciated and by extension, underseen, due to the Academy’s penchant for being biased toward recognising prestige, auteur-led outings.

But now that the award season is finally over, the good news is that your watchlist doesn’t have to include films that the Oscars approve of. Below is a list of five films that flew under the radar during award season but represent some of the most audacious filmmaking of the year:

1. Uncut Gems: Josh and Benny Safdie’s Uncut Gems is without any exaggeration the best film of the year that condenses the lifetime of a panic attack in just two hours. Featuring a sensational performance by Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner, a gambling addict who keeps owing people money by the minute, the crime thriller boasts the kind of fluidity that makes filmmaking look and feel like a magic trick. Bonus? You get to watch Adam Sandler punch The Weeknd, set to the tunes of Kendrick Lamar. It’s as electric as it can get.

Uncut Gems is streaming on Netflix India.

2. The Farewell: Lulu Wang’s The Farewell is easily the best film that you might not have heard of this award season. A bilingual comedy-drama headlined by Awkwafina (she won a Golden Globe for her performance) in her first dramatic role, Wang’s autobiographical film follows a Chinese family which decides to not let their grandmother know of her impending death and schedule an impromptu family gathering instead. Told from the perspective of Billi Wang, the Chinese-American granddaughter, Wang grapples with heady themes like identity and the immigrant experience with a joyful touch that never loses track of humour or of the sentimentality that makes family so indispensable.

Let’s hope it gets an India release soon.

3. I Lost My Body: Nominated in the Best Documentary shortlist, Jérémy Clapin’s I Lost My Body, an animated French fantasy drama is one of the most moving films of the year. The film that premiered at Cannes Film Festival last year, chronicles the journey of a severed hand that escapes from a lab to find its way back to its rightful owner. Besides being a captivating visual affair, I Lost My Body’s charm lies in being utterly strange and yet wholly poetic. It’s unlike anything you’ve seen this year.

I Lost My Body is streaming on Netflix India.

4. Hustlers: Based on Jessica Pressler’s 2015 New York Magazine piece “The Hustlers at Scores: The Ex-Strippers Who Stole From (Mostly) Rich Men and Gave to, Well, Themselves,” Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers is an energetic, unforgettable heist drama. Starring Jennifer Lopez (the actress is also one of the co-producers) in a career-defining turn as one of the strippers, the film is intelligent and tender and makes the ludicrousness of its premise such a rewarding affair. It’s almost impossible to not warm up to 50-year-old Lopez’s shocking display of core strength as well as the film’s undercurrent of female empowerment.

Hustlers released in India in September and is now out of the theatres.

5. For Sama: Directed and narrated by Waad-Al-Kateab, For Sama – nominated for Best Documentary – is an important film of our times. The film is both a love letter to the idea of home as well as a mother’s apology to her daughter for choosing to stay back in Aleppo and raising her during the Syrian Civil War instead of fleeing. Movies for the most part, have the responsibility to recreate life, but For Sama stands out for reflecting just how easy it is to erase any semblance of life. It’s as urgent as a wake-up call can be.

There’s always another rewatch of Parasite waiting in case you’re done watching all of these films.

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