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So if you can manage to pry your eyes away from all the glitz and glamor of the Academy Awards, here are five films you're better off watching, presented in no real order and selected without any qualifications other than my personal preference. You can stream them all on Netflix, too!
5. Young Mr. Lincoln (dir. John Ford, 1939, USA) One never really needs an excuse to watch a Ford film. Young Mr. Lincoln stands among his most enduring efforts, that rare sort of reverential biopic that resists hero worship or hagiography, the kind Ford essentially perfected. It's an incredibly concise film whose apparent simplicity belies some of the director's most philosophical insights into the mythical nature of American history.
4. Mafioso (dir. Alberto Lattuada, 1962, Italy) This Italian feature remains one of my favorite comedies ever, a great satire of cultural elitism, class tension, dysfunctional families, and postwar nationalism. Lattuada wasn't the most intellectual or aesthetically advanced postwar Italian directors, but his populist style is actually quite subversive—he connects with audiences via banal, easily digestible scenarios, then slowly introduces sinister, high-stakes story twists that darken previously corny material. Good, bleak fun.
3. Waking Life (dir. Richard Linklater, 2001, USA) Champions of Richard Linklater's Oscar-nominated coming-of-age drama Boyhood cite its radical, time-crunching structural invention, but Linklater has been making radical films for decades. An early masterwork of digital cinema, one that introduced new possibilities for cinematic imagery, this wondrously bizarre comedy is heavy with ideas—posthumanism, situationist politics, free will, metaphysics, social philosophy—but it never feels pedantic or obstinate. It's as joyous and life-affirming as anything in Boyhood.
2. It's Such a Beautiful Day (dir. Don Hertzfeldt, 2012, USA) While everyone gripes about the grossly overrated The Lego Movie not being nominated for Best Animated Film, why not treat yourself to maybe the greatest animated feature of the 21st century? In his capsule review, J.R. Jones said Hertzfeldt "may be the only legitimate successor to Charles M. Schulz," a truly apt observation that's evident in the film's every hand-drawn line.
1. I Don't Want to Be a Man! (dir. Ernst Lubitsch, 1918, Germany) A recent discovery for me, this might be Lubitsch's best silent feature. The story—a fascinating and deeply funny fable of sexual identities, sexual equality, and sex itself—involves a young woman who spends an evening dressed as a man and discovers firsthand how men treat each other differently than they treat women, and so many of the director's most noteworthy thematic devices are here in a sort of embryonic state. True to form, Lubitsch withholds some specific narrative information and ends the film with a lot of unresolved conflicts, imbuing a seemingly simple story with deep, humanistic ambiguity.