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Column: A look back at the winter break movie releases

MJ (Zendaya) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) jump off a bridge in "Spider-Man: No Way Home." Photo courtesy of Matt Kennedy/Sony Pictures/TNS.

After all the craziness of the fall semester, Winter Break gave us time to sit down, relax and watch a movie. Fortunately, the holiday season is always filled to the brim with new releases — and this one was no different.  

Here are just some of the big movies we enjoyed over the break:

“Spider-Man: No Way Home”

It would be impossible to start this column anywhere else. So, if you haven’t seen it yet, skip this part. 

The most anticipated movie of the last two years kicked off its stint in theaters with the second-highest grossing opening weekend in U.S. history, behind only “Avengers: Endgame.” 

And for good reason. 

This was easily one of the most entertaining movies released in 2021. The inclusion of characters from previous Spider-Man franchises guarantees a fun, nostalgia-packed viewing experience. In addition, Willem Dafoe was incredible as the Green Goblin. 

However, as fun as the action on screen was, the writing left a lot to be desired. Instead of the well-developed hero with a sense of responsibility that emerges from “Far From Home,” Tom Holland’s Peter Parker takes colossal steps back in maturity, risking the fate of the universe just so he and his friends can get into college. 

Not to mention the screenwriters thought it was a good idea for the protagonists to carry around a "deus box machina" that would essentially solve every problem in the movie with zero consequences (because, without further explanation of multiverse rules, it seems like even the “cured” villains would go back to their universes to face certain death). 

I just wasn’t impressed. 6.75/10.

“West Side Story”

I was nervous about this movie from the moment the first trailer came out. Fortunately, it was actually pretty good, as any adaptation of the groundbreaking work from lyricist Steven Sondheim, composer Leonard Bernstein and playwright Arthur Laurents is bound to be. 

The adaptation was a faithful one, too, sticking closely to the developments of the original stage show from 1957. My only issue was that, by moving “Cool” back to the first act, the second act was less tense than in the 1961 movie. Despite this, it was still packed with the colors, music and dancing we all know and love. 

Fantastic performances from Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose as Maria and Anita, respectively, are sure to get them Oscar nods. Ansel Elgort, though, was clearly the wrong choice for Tony, delivering a relatively forgettable performance as the male lead. 

Despite the good-but-not-great effort from director Steven Spielberg, it was nice to see “West Side Story” back on the silver screen. 8/10.

“Don’t Look Up”

I hated this movie.

Satire is best when it is subtle. But Adam McKay’s boisterous, trope-heavy bore of a screenplay hits you over the head with painfully obvious references to the Trump administration and other aspects of modern society. It’s extremely smug and out of touch, as the movie appears to pat McKay on the back for being “right” instead of serving as a concerned allegory for the existential crisis of climate change. 

The movie went so far as to make Meryl Streep look bad. How is that even possible? 

And did I mention it was boring? This movie made 140 minutes feel like 1,400. Even good performances from Leonardo DiCaprio, Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett couldn’t save this disastrously paced disaster flick. I mean, the “climax” (which never climaxed) — a failure to save the world from the comet — came over half an hour before the end of the movie. 

Once again, I hated this movie. 4/10.

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“The Tragedy of Macbeth”

Finally. Cinema.

I’m not going to waste my time talking about the story of Macbeth. This was a very faithful adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy — a titan of global literature.

Frances McDormand and Denzel Washington brought a deliciously diabolical Lady Macbeth and Macbeth to life. The minimalist production design, beautiful black-and-white cinematography and stunning visual effects made for an aesthetically pleasing experience that served to heighten the film’s sensational acting performances.

It was an ambitious undertaking, but a very successful one from director Joel Coen. 9/10.

“Licorice Pizza”

Paul Thomas Anderson has done it again. This time, with a terrifically fun coming-of-age comedy about the unconventional nature of a first fling. 

Alana Haim excels in her big-screen debut, delivering a textured, complex performance as the film’s lead. Leaning into Anderson’s quick, witty writing, her performance highlights the uncomfortable aspects of her character’s relationship with the much younger Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) and provides great insight into how young adults mature emotionally. Bradley Cooper’s unhinged portrayal of Jon Peters also adds welcome comic relief to contrast with the movie's more serious themes. 

The production also does an outstanding job of using setting, music and style to transport viewers back to the 1970s. (Though, it should be said that the use of a fake Asian accent by a white character wasn’t necessary to achieve this effect). 

Despite its flaws, “Licorice Pizza” was a great, character-driven romance and a fine addition to Anderson’s stacked catalog. 9/10. 

And more…

There were too many movies from the holidays to include here. 

“The Lost Daughter,” the directorial debut from Maggie Gyllenhaal starring Olivia Colman, takes a fascinating, vulnerable look at the challenges of motherhood. 7.5/10

“Red Rocket” was a funny but uncomfortable exploration into the life of a vapid former adult film actor and the many bad decisions he makes upon returning home. 8.5/10.

And there are plenty more. Fortunately, with the new year getting started, there’ll be more great movies to sit down and watch.