The seemingly endless buildup to March's Academy Awards revolves around a dozen or so films that win all the praise and plaudits -- you probably haven't seen "Call Me By Your Name," "The Post" or "The Shape of Water" yet, but you've certainly heard a lot about them.
Two 2017 gems you haven't heard a lot about, and whose names you most likely won't hear on Oscar night, are now streaming on Hulu and available on many digital platforms. One is a portrait of a remarkable Midwestern city, and the other a portrait of a remarkable comedian who takes a rather eyebrow-raising departure to the Midwest. Both are among my favorite films of the past year.
• "Columbus" is the debut film from Seoul-born, single-named director Kogonada, and is set in the titular Indiana city, just 45 miles south of Indianapolis. It's home to a collection of modernist buildings by architects including I.M. Pei and Eero Saarinen, and provides the backdrop for a tale of fractured relationships.
John Cho stars as Jin, a 40-something Korean-American book translator who finds himself in Columbus after his father collapses while in town to give a lecture at the local library. Jin and his father have never been close, and there are hints that his father's relationship to his younger assistant (Parker Posey) may have something to do with it.
Enter Casey, a 19-year-old librarian played by Haley Lu Richardson who dearly loves architecture but is too preoccupied with caring for her mother (Michelle Forbes) to further her studies. Casey and Jin meet each other during a smoke break and become quick friends; Casey's enthusiasm for the buildings around her begins to open Jin's eyes to architecture, and Jin shows Casey the potential of a world beyond Columbus.
But what a world Columbus is -- Kogonada and cinematographer Elisha Christian prove that you don't need a $200 million budget and a candy-colored fantasy setting to create a transportive film experience. Practically every frame of "Columbus" is a postcard, and dripping with the influence of Yasujiro Ozu ("Tokyo Story") and perhaps Wes Anderson (particularly "The Darjeeling Limited"). This is simply one of the most beautiful movies of recent years.
And it's helped by beautiful performances, especially from Richardson. Perhaps best known as one of the teens terrorized by James McAvoy in "Split," Richardson gives a lived-in performance that feels completely authentic and should put her on every casting director's radar.
Cho proves once again that he can do anything. Here he takes on a worldly sadness. On Fox's "The Exorcist," he was a lovable family man who literally turns into a snarling demon. In the "Star Trek" films, he makes for a charismatic, confident Sulu. And of course he was hilarious in "Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle." How is this guy not the biggest star in the world?
"Columbus" is streaming on Hulu and available for rental and purchase from Amazon, Google Play, iTunes and YouTube.
• He's loud, he's vulgar, he's more than a little annoying. He's also small, unassuming, shy, and a loving father and husband.
He's Gilbert Gottfried, and the documentary "Gilbert," directed by Neil Berkeley, shows us all sides of the longtime standup comedian. One minute, I'm laughing way too hard at a wildly inappropriate joke about Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. The next, I'm on the edge of tears as Gottfried's sister Arlene shows photos she took of their mother in her last days.
One of the most memorable passages of the film was shot in St. Charles during one of Gottfried's weekend stints at Zanies. Gilbert checks into Pheasant Run Resort, which is hosting a military memorabilia convention where the comedian runs into men in full Nazi regalia. Later on, two of the "officers" attend Gilbert's standup show and approach him at the merch table afterward. Gottfried's response to a joke told by one of them is worth the price of a rental.
"Gilbert" is streaming on Hulu and is available for purchase and rental from Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, VUDU and YouTube. Gottfried himself returns to Zanies' Rosemont location at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 10. Tickets are on sale for $30 at zanies.com.
• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald multiplatform editor. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.