You have just over a week to catch up on Oscar nominees. And while much of the coverage of the contenders has been focused on big names and bigger movies, the real gift of the Academy Awards are the under the radar films it can bring to our attention. We’ve zeroed in on three nominees that are especially relevant to our current moment, but might have gotten lost in all of your scrolls:
Best Documentary Contender: Navalny
Our first pick is the most politically relevant of all the nominations: the feature length documentary from CNN Films about Vladimir Putin’s biggest rival inside Russia: Alexei Navalny. If you’ve followed his story, you have some idea of how shocking it was when he was struck ill by the nerve agent Novichok, Putin’s “signature murder weapon.” But the feature length documentary threads together the full narrative, combining an up-close portrait of the celebrity dissident with a riveting investigation into the assassination attempt on his life.
Filmed in secret over the last half of 2020, before the Ukraine war, it follows the opposition leader and his family in Berlin as he recovers from the poisoning. With his own team of investigators, they zero in on the would-be murderers in an attempt to get a confession, and in a jaw-dropping unraveling of events – they ultimately expose Putin’s entire assassination operation. The film is a tense real life espionage thriller that’s ultimately a call to action. Where to find Navalny: HBO Max.
Best International Feature Pick: Argentina 1985
Given the news coming out of Ukraine each day, you might want to follow Navalny with a true story that ends on a more inspiring note. Look for the film Argentina 1985, an impassioned dramatization of a David vs. Goliath courtroom battle, the story of how two public prosecutors and their inexperienced legal team took on Argentina’s bloodiest military dictatorship — despite immediate dangers and insurmountable odds.
As the Watercooler’s Churchill Gueverra writes, the film is a reminder of the importance of speaking truth to power – even when that power is a ruthless regime. It took home the Golden Globe for Best International Feature and it’s a top contender for the Oscar in the same category. Where to find Argentina 1985: Prime
Best Original Screenplay Nominee: Triangle of Sadness
For an antidote to stories about brutal dictatorships, you might want to disappear into Triangle of Sadness, which, despite its title, is actually the lightest of this year’s Oscar nominees. Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund earned nominations in Best Original Screenplay and Best Director for the movie, which is surprising for a dark comedy set on a yacht — and this is a yacht captained by a hard-drinking Woody Harrelson.
Arriving in the wake of White Lotus, the film transports you to a high end vacation while skewering one-percenters alongside young Instagram influencers, but the plot will upend your expectations. The Watercooler’s Sarah Mina Osman recommended the class satire for its originality and its bite. She did warn that there’s some gross out humor, and the film has divided critics for some of its over the top antics. Where to find Triangle of Sadness? Stream it on Vudu, Prime, Apple TV, or your Roku device.
Best Actor Contender: Paul Mescal in Aftersun
In keeping with vacation settings, another Oscar candidate to watch is scaled back indie Aftersun, which earned an Oscar nod and a BAFTA award for Irish actor Paul Mescal’s subtle performance, but was overlooked in other categories. The film did, however, take home the Outstanding Debut BAFTA for Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells.
It’s a story told through flashbacks, a bittersweet view of the disparity between our memories from childhood and our realizations as adults. A 30-something Scottish woman looks back on the last vacation she took with her father 20 years earlier, and that she is his age, her retrospective look becomes revelatory. As the Watercooler’s Tom Joliffe writes, “so much of what is expressed in this film is through what’s unsaid,” and Mescal’s performance is the most understated of all the Oscar contenders this year.
“Aftersun quietly reels you in, and when its big moments hit you, they really hit, with dazzling visual metaphors and the resonance (and re-workings) of iconic songs,” adds Joliffe. “You’ll be thinking about it for weeks after finishing.”
Where to find Aftersun: Select theaters, Apple TV+, Prime, Vudu, YouTube Movies, Redbox
Looking for other Oscar-nominated films? Here’s the complete list of top categories and where to find them right now.
If you’re in the mood for something else, head to the Watercooler’s Search Engine and surprise yourself.