The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday February 3rd

Column: Highlights from a packed holiday season at the movies

Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) in "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish." (DreamWorks Animation/Getty Images/TNS)
Buy Photos Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) in "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish." (DreamWorks Animation/Getty Images/TNS)

The holidays are for movies.

Well, they are for me, anyway. I spent my break watching over 70 hours worth of movies, many of which were released after finals ended — a roster that helped rake in over $600 million in domestic box office earnings in the last four weeks of 2022. 

After a lengthy time away, audiences were finally back in theaters during winter break. Here are some of the highs and lows for the movies that they had a chance to see on the silver screen.

"Avatar: The Way of Water"

Audiences have been waiting for this sequel for over a decade, so, unfortunately, I have to start here. 

"Avatar" was, without a doubt, the most visually stunning movie released in 2022. The generation-defining technical innovations that catapulted the first installment in the franchise to fame in 2009 are back and better than ever. Those lucky enough to see it in IMAX 3D were treated to three hours of luscious landscapes, immersive oceanic journeys and bright, bombastic action sequences.

What they weren't treated to, though, was a robust story. Dithering away for too long on side plots, spoon-fed exposition and a really awkward reliance on the word "bro" held the film back from being the bold, climate-conscious epic director James Cameron hoped it would be. 

Not to worry, though, as over $1.7 billion worldwide box office earnings mean it's profitable enough for him to move forward on the additional sequels he has planned. Hurray? 7.5/10

"Puss in Boots: The Last Wish"

Ok, hear me out: the Puss in Boots sequel was the best movie to come out this December. Yes, I'm serious.

The success of "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" has encouraged major studios to break free from the conventions of traditional animation, and the influence the Oscar-winning film had on this Shrek spinoff was crystal clear. "Puss in Boots" used dazzling colors, varying frame rates and a great score to highlight action sequences in bold, imaginative ways. 

The writing is tight and effective, quickly and effectively timing jokes that were flawlessly executed by the movie's star-studded cast. Its moral of living in the moment and appreciating the company around you was effective and endearing without being heavy-handed. And it has one of the coolest, coldest antagonists in animated history. 

Even as an adult, this was the most fun I had watching a movie in a while, and I really hope more people give it a chance before it leaves theaters. 10/10

"Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio"

Two Pinocchio movies in one year may not have been necessary. And no, I’m not counting the Pauly Shore one. On purpose. But famed director Guillermo del Toro's rendition was fortunately far better than Disney's attempt at a remake.

Where the latter faltered with grossly hyper-realistic animation and exaggerated performances, the former more than made up the difference. Del Toro's film used beautifully detailed stop-motion animation that exuded passion and care, and the performances were realisticly human. 

The adaptation, too, was far more compelling, placing Pinocchio and Gepetto in the background of fascist Italy. But the resulting political commentary and refreshing focus on Geppetto's emotional journey with grief offered a fresh take on a familiar story. 8.5/10

"Glass Onion"

Director Rian Johnson and Daniel Craig are back with another murder-mystery comedy, this time pitting a motley crew of wealthy personalities against each other on a private Greek island.

This "Knives Out" sequel may not have been as sharply-written as the original, but it was just as entertaining, with Craig and the ensemble cast providing plenty of fun moments en route to a flashy finale. A strong, emotionally-resonant performance from Janelle Monáe complimented Craig's more comical approach, and the partnership's great chemistry helped solidify it as another great entry into Johnson's filmography. 8.5/10

"Babylon"

Damien Chazelle is a gifted director, whose unique visionary style has lent beauty and vibrancy to films like "La La Land" and "Whiplash." 

This, though... this sucked.

Chazelle's attempt to capture the grimy excesses of Hollywood went way overboard, with viewers greeted by an elephant defecating (a lot) within the first two minutes of its horrendously bloated 3 hours and 9 minutes. 

It was a disjointed, self-indulgent mess, dawdling between unremarkable performances by Margot Robie and Diego Calva in an obnoxiously unoriginal rags-to-riches story and a promising but poorly developed look into the waning career of a silent movie star played by Brad Pitt. The great cinematography and production design were severely undercut by the film's jittery, dissonant editing. 

The film's score, put together by Chazelle's long-time collaborator, Justin Hurwitz, was spectacular, though. Bombastic brass, beautifully rich melodious and clever callbacks to his previous works make his music a true joy to experience. It and Pitt's performance were the two bright spots in what was, for me anyway, this year's biggest cinematic disappointment. 4/10

Other highlights

There were too many releases this year to go over all of them in depth.

"Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody," a disappointingly average biopic from the writing team behind "Bohemian Rhapsody," was the answer to the question, "What if you just put her Wikipedia page to film and added some filler?" Other than Naomi Ackie's breakthrough performance as the generational talent, this movie was fairly inconsequential. 5/10

"The Whale" was an aggressively emotionally manipulative movie in which director Darren Aronofsky tries to almost force audiences to tears. Not deterred by awkward writing or the heavy-handed, pity-inducing lens through which it views its protagonist, Brendan Fraser delivers a career-defining performance that will surely see him take home his first Oscar in March. 6.5/10

Netflix's film adaptation of "Matilda the Musical," aptly titled "Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical," was a wildly fun look at the life of the gifted schoolgirl and the dysfunction around her. The brilliantly written lyrics paired with colorful imagery and stunningly complex, now-TikTok famous choreography made for a very enjoyable streaming experience. 8/10

There were a few movies I didn't get a chance to see, including "M3GAN," the slasher about an animatronic doll that audiences and even some critics have rallied behind. 

But that's the beauty of it all. There's always something new to see, and this recent slate of releases has made me all the more excited to find out what's next.

@dthopinion

opinion@dailytarheel.com

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