If you’ve spent the last few weeks on the planet Earth, you’re probably aware that this weekend marks the release of the highly anticipated Star Wars The Last Jedi. The eighth installment in the 40-year-old franchise is expected to gross somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million this weekend in North American alone, which means theaters across the country are going to be packed with fans of a galaxy far, far away.
But what if you’re not one of them? Maybe you hate Star Wars (Last Word on Sports isn’t here to judge you); maybe you forgot to buy your tickets and now your local theater is sold out; or maybe you just want to wait until the excitement dies down so you won’t be crammed into a theater like a sardine as you indulge in the longest Star Wars movie ever. Whatever your reason for missing The Last Jedi, 2017 has been a terrible year blessed with brilliant films, and that holds true as we bring it to a close. In this article, you’ll find five movies to watch this weekend if you’re sitting out this round of Star Wars mania.
Five Movies to Watch Instead of Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The Shape of Water
This is probably the easiest sell for fans of Star Wars who missed out on tickets for opening weekend. It’s directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Pacific Rim) and features Sally Hawkins as a mute janitor working at a government research facility in 1960’s Baltimore. One day, an amphibious creature known as “the asset” (played by frequent del Toro collaborator Doug Jones) is brought in for study. Hawkins’ character forms a bond with the monster and falls in love with him over the course of the film, which drives the plot in violent and breathtakingly beautiful directions.
Michael Shannon plays the head of security at the facility, acting as the film’s antagonist and reminding viewers why he’s one of today’s best working actors. Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Richard Jenkins round out the supporting cast, each of them finding opportunities to make their characters shine in what could have been a movie dominated by Hawkins and Shannon.
From a technical standpoint, the movie is gorgeously, lovingly shot, and features one of the best scores in recent cinema. In both storytelling and cinematography it combines the heart of a musical with the intrigue of a Cold War thriller, and the end result is something truly unique. There’s no doubt that The Shape of Water asks a lot of its audience with its fairy tale love story, but if you’re willing to accept the romance at its core, del Toro’s masterpiece is a movie you’ll be wanting to revisit the moment the credits begin to roll.
Before its debut, Lady Bird was something of a mild curiosity. Actress Greta Gerwig, known for her work in mumblecore films, was making her directorial debut, working from a loosely-autobiographical screenplay she had written; the best-case scenario in this situation was a competent, somewhat engaging movie that would be a mild success for production company A24. In spite of these measured expectations, Gerwig’s movie debuted to rave reviews and is quickly shaping up to be one of the biggest hits in A24’s history.
Lady Bird stars Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) as Christine “Lady Bird” Mcpherson, a student at a Catholic high school in Sacramento in 2002. She’s fiercely independent, frequently clashing with her mother (played to perfection by Laurie Metcalf), asserting her individuality, and attempting to navigate the space between adolescence and adulthood as she prepares for life after high school. This is a movie tailor-made for mother/daughter viewings, but there’s something here for anyone and everyone. Lady Bird is an honest coming-of-age story that deftly balances incredibly funny moments with incredibly tender ones, and you’ll be hearing a lot about it as everyone gears up for the 2018 Academy Awards—so catch it while you can.
This is a movie for those who enjoy a solid political period piece helmed by one of our greatest living actors. To put it in terms Star Wars fans can appreciate, Darkest Hour is the kind of movie you get if someone were to take the Senate scenes from the prequel trilogy, devote a movie to them, and then do it well. The cornerstone of the film is Gary Oldman, who acts beneath layers of makeup and delivers an incandescent performance as Winston Churchill in the early days of World War II.
While this is very much Oldman’s show, and his performance is what holds Darkest Hour together in its darkest moments, there’s a lot to admire about the movie. The entire cast, including Lily James (Downton Abbey, Baby Driver) and Stephen Dillane (Game of Thrones), puts in solid work here, which further elevates Oldman by giving him talent to play off of.
Director Joe Wright isn’t afraid to step outside Westminster as the movie progresses, and he provides viewers with some top-tier aerial shots of the battlefields being affected by the decisions of Churchill and his advisors; these are terrible and beautiful, as bombs ravage pristine European fields, and they help drive home the human cost of the politicking on display throughout the movie.
In many ways, Darkest Hour plays as a prequel to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk from earlier this year, showing what precipitated the famous evacuation of the British army from Dunkirk. While it doesn’t quite manage to have the impact of Nolan’s movie, Wright’s film is wonderful in its own ways. Chief among these, of course, is Oldman’s performance, which more than makes up for any other flaws the movie exhibits.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri wasted no time cementing its status as one of the best films of 2017. It stars Frances McDormand (Fargo) as a grieving mother whose daughter was brutally murdered seven months before the movie begins. The police have made no progress in the case, spurring McDormand’s character to rent the titular billboards and begin questioning whether anyone really wants to solve the crime.
Her decision to rent the billboards is poorly received by both her family and the town, particularly those who are friends with the chief of police (Woody Harrelson), who is dying of cancer. Sam Rockwell, one of the most underrated character actors alive, delivers a standout performance as a temperamental, alcoholic deputy caught up in the events surrounding the billboards.
While on the surface this seems like it would be a mellow affair, no one has the eye or ear for black comedy that McDonagh does, and he manages to insert real humor into what could have been one of the darkest dramas of the year. No one in the movie is a saint, but there’s a vulnerability to the characters that will have you rooting for people on both sides as the plot progresses. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a story of redemption and love, simultaneously brutal and funny, and a film you absolutely won’t want to miss.
The Disaster Artist
The Disaster Artist is the latest (and best) movie put out by director/actor James Franco, who stars as the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau. It tells the true story behind what is widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made, the cult classic The Room.
The movie begins in an acting class in the ‘90s, with Greg Sistero (played by Dave Franco) watching in awe as one of his classmates delivers an over-the-top performance of a classic scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. Inspired by his peer’s fearlessness, Sistero asks if they can perform a scene together. The classmate is Wiseau, whom Sistero befriends and eventually moves to Los Angeles with. Once there, they attempt to break into the movie business with limited success.Disillusioned with Los Angeles, they eventually decide to make their own movie using Wiseau’s seemingly endless supply of cash (where he got this money is a topic of endless debate among fans to this day).
This is a very funny, and often surprisingly touching, movie that explores the relationship between Wiseau and Sistero. The Disaster Artist is based on the book of the same name written by the real life Sistero and Tom Bissell, and, while the story has been simplified for the big screen, the movie is more or less faithful to its source material.
Whether or not it deserves all of the acclaim being heaped on it is something you’ll need to decide for yourself, but Franco is magnetic in the lead role and more than earns every acting nomination coming his way. If you’re a fan of The Room this is a must-see, and even if you’ve never seen the cult classic there are worse ways to kill two hours.
…and that concludes the list! There are other movies out right now that are worth a watch as well (My Friend Dahmer comes to mind), but these five are receiving some respectable awards buzz and will be talked about quite a bit as we approach the Oscars. Star Wars is going to rule the box office this weekend, but these movies just plain rule and they’re great alternatives for anyone who wants (or has) to miss The Last Jedi this opening weekend.