A movie watcher’s guide for Winter ’23: fun finds to must-sees

College winter break is a needed reprieve from the stresses of academic life, where students often travel, catch up with old friends and begin new professional opportunities. My winter break was an eclectic jumble of all these things, but it also included an engaging fourth element: a sudden, frantic movie binge. My family has always been cinematically inclined, especially now as the Golden Globes kick off film award season, and polite nudges to see every Oscar contender become coercions. Intensely peer-pressured, I made a concerted effort to cram in as many movies as I could during this break. Here’s a brief review of everything I saw and recommend. By the way, the 95th Academy Awards Nominations are coming out this week! 

 

For fun and in theaters now:

 

“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” (2022) (Dir. Joel Crawford, 100 min.)

A 10-year belated sequel to a spin-off didn’t initially sound promising. Yet, DreamWorks has delivered two excellent movies with “The Bad Guys” (2022) and now “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” another home run. “Puss in Boots” displays fantastic “Into The Spider-Verse”-inspired animation and tells the poignant tale of Puss in Boots’ ninth and final life. Many franchise-animated movies feel like a committee designed them, but not DreamWorks’ latest, where every frame shows a passion for entertaining and creating something wonderful. This movie is a recommended watch. 

 

“M3GAN” (2023) (Dir. Gerard Johnstone, 102 min.)

“M3GAN” (for Model 3 Generative Android, but pronounced Megan) isn’t as scary as horror movies go; it’s light on gore, all the kills are cutaways and the four-foot-tall M3GAN herself is hardly imposing. Instead, “M3GAN” is a fun romp that wears its “Child’s Play” influence on its sleeve, sardonically parodying contemporary technological phenomena (invasive home automation, “iPad babies” and their absentee parents, uncanny valley AI dolls) through the lens of campy slasher tropes. “M3GAN” feels like a modernized late-’80s-to-early-’90s kitschy horror/comedy film, a welcome niche for horror movies produced by Vassar-alum Jason Blum (‘91). This movie is surely worth a watch. 

 

Streaming on Netflix:

 

“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” (2022) (Dir. Rian Johnson, 139 min.)

Director Rian Johnson returns after the triumph of “Knives Out” (2019) with another star-studded ensemble and Daniel Craig’s hammy Southern gravitas. The greatest strength of “Knives Out” was the reinvention of the Agatha Christie-style murder mystery as a vessel for social commentary. The first film used the backdrop of New England white generational wealth to discuss American immigration and wealth disparity. In “Glass Onion,” Edward Norton’s portrayal of tech billionaire Miles Bron is used to comment on how our leaders, once seemingly brilliant, now look increasingly fallible and buffoonish in the internet age. Though the central mystery is somewhat predictable, “Glass Onion” is even more entertaining than its predecessor, with the spectacle-meter turned to 11, due to its Netflix-size budget and Janelle Monaé’s fun and skilled work in dual roles. This movie is a highly recommended watch.

 

“White Noise” (2022) (Dir. Noah Baumbach, 136 min.)

“White Noise” is a hard left-turn for Vassar-alum Noah Baumbach (‘91) from his previous films’ grounded depiction of divorce and its effect on children (“Marriage Story“ (2019) and “The Squid and the Whale” (2005)). Instead, “White Noise” follows a college professor (who heads the Hitler Studies Department but ironically does not know how to speak German) and his family as they encounter environmental disaster, urban boredom, social panic, religion and fear of mortality in one surreal scene after another. In addition to Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig, the film also features Don Cheadle, who I feel delivers the best performance. “White Noise” is polarizing; some may find it a brilliant exploration of the postmodern themes of Don DeLillo’s titular novel, while others may find its (intentionally) arch dialogue tedious. However, “White Noise” is like nothing else out there right now. It’s often hilarious and never dull—give it a try.

 

Oscar contenders:

 

“The Banshees of Inisherin” (2022) (Dir. Martin McDonagh, 114 min., streaming on HBO Max)

I already knew “Banshees” would be amazing, owing to the quadruple-whammy casting of Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan, and the direction of provocative auteur Martin McDonagh. And “Banshees” is amazing—but what floored me was how quiet and understated it is, unfolding as a parable that avoids the overtly political messaging of McDonagh’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017). “Banshees” isn’t afraid to move slowly or mask its comedy deep within twisted plot developments and character development. It is a dense yet subtle meditation on Catholicism, Irish culture, rural life and the symbiotic relationship between love and violence. This is a strong contender for my favorite film of 2022. 

 

“The Fabelmans” (2022) (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 151 min., in theaters and streaming on-demand)

Steven Spielberg has arguably shaped the American cultural imagination more than any other living director. Attempting to create an artistic reflection on his life and work is a tremendous undertaking, so it only makes sense that Spielberg himself would direct that movie. “The Fabelmans” is a semi-autobiographical account of Spielberg’s childhood growing up in New Jersey, Arizona and California, and the development of his love for making movies. “The Fabelmans” is at its best when it follows the story of his mother, Mitzi (beautifully played by Michelle Williams), her infidelity and her strained but loving relationship with her husband and children. The other half of the movie is trite, leaning into the “suffer for your art” trope and feeling at times too self-congratulatory. Still, the good outweighs the bad, especially if you’re a David Lynch fan (no spoilers).

 

“Triangle of Sadness” (2022) (Dir. Ruben Östlund, 140 min., streaming on-demand) 

“Triangle of Sadness” is a winding and incendiary class commentary highlighting consumption, aesthetics and currency as the modes of late-stage capitalist control. The film is separated into three thematic sections, each delivering searing, essential critiques of different positionalities of privilege. The late Charlbi Dean’s excellent performance as Yaya and supporting performances from Harris Dickinson, Dolly de Leon and Woody Harrelson are also excellent. “Triangle of Sadness” is an easy recommendation to any leftists or fans of darkly satirical works, like Bong Joon-Ho’s “Parasite” (2019). 

 

“Decision to Leave” (2022) (Dir. Park Chan-wook, 138 min., streaming on-demand and on MUBI)

“Decision to Leave” is incredible. It feels like a South Korean Hitchcock film dealing with themes of fatalism, obsession and romance inspired by “Vertigo” (1958) to create a sexy, captivating thriller. What takes this inspiration to the next level is Park Chan-wook’s singular artistic vision. Chan-wook employs lightning-fast pacing, dense and intelligent editing and an eye for the macabre, which infuses “Decision to Leave” with a spine-tingling edge that makes its love story more satisfying and its flashes of action more enthralling. This movie is a highly recommended watch.

 

“Living” (2022) (Dir. Oliver Hermanus, 102 min., in select theaters now and playing at Starr Cinema in Rhinebeck starting Jan. 27)

“Living” adapts Akira Kurosawa’s “Ikiru” (1952), which follows a government worker stuck in bureaucracy until a life-altering event, but changes the setting from Japan to 1950s England. While it might have been interesting to frame Kurosawa’s story in a contemporary setting, London’s post-war ennui is a perfect backdrop for a subtle and memorable performance by Bill Nighy (who played Billy Mack in the 2003 rom-com “Love, Actually”). Nighy is known for excellent character work, yet he’s never received an Oscar nomination; his role here as the humble and civil servant Mr. Williams is more than deserving. 

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed these recommendations and found some inspiration for your next cinematic experience! 

 

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