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With four weeks off of school, having fewer responsibilities gave the Film Beat more time to watch films, old and new. Here are some things that the Film Beat watched over the winter break.

The gap between semesters is always a perfect time to catch up on the movies I was too busy to watch during the school year. Yet, returning home also gives me a chance to access the countless DVDs that my family has bought and kept over the years. So every winter break, I face a dilemma: Watch the latest films in order to get in on the conversation, or gravitate toward the old favorites? The answer, of course, is both. But while I finally got around to seeing Film Beat favorites like “Emma,” “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” and “Sound of Metal,” it was the old favorites that I enjoyed the most.

After the time I’ve spent on the Film Beat, it’s certainly a little weird to watch films that I’ve loved for most of my life and learn that they have low Rotten Tomatoes scores and divisive critical reviews. With old favorites, though, that’s not what’s important; it’s more valuable to focus on how much I enjoy watching these movies, even though I have seen them countless times and can quote nearly all of the lines. 

The National Treasure series may have a critical rating that is thirty percent lower than the audience rating, but I will never get tired of watching Ben (Nicholas Cage, “Face/Off”), Abigail (Diane Kruger, “Inglourious Basterds”) and Riley (Justin Bartha, “The Hangover”) run around historical landmarks on improbable treasure hunts. With movies like the Chronicles of Narnia film series, I’ve decided that it’s less about whether the films follow C.S. Lewis’s books perfectly and more about how they bring the world to life in such a lovely way. And sure, “Night At The Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” is not quite the epitome of comedy that I once thought it was, but it makes me laugh, and my sister and I have been parroting Kahmunrah’s (Hank Azaria, “The Simpsons”) utterly quotable lines to each other for over a decade. These movies come with the perfect kind of caveat, fueled by a nostalgic bias: They may not be perfect, but I love them anyway.

— Kari Anderson, Senior Arts Editor

I simply don’t know how I went so long without watching “Jennifer’s Body.” Since I, like many others, had nothing going on over break, I decided it was finally time to see what this acclaimed movie was all about.

For those who haven’t seen it, “Jennifer’s Body” follows possessed teen Jennifer (Megan Fox, “Rogue”) who hunts down and kills her male classmates, as her best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried, “Mank”) tries to stop her. Yeah. It’s crazy. Going into it, I was excited because I love Diablo Cody (“Juno”), and I know that this film is regarded as a cult classic.

But what I was not expecting was the hard-hitting social commentary. I don’t know if I was taking it too seriously, but I feel so passionately about the themes of sexual violence and toxic masculinity that make up this story. Obviously, it has an iconic script, with lines like “He looked like lasagna with teeth” and “You’re lime green jello and you can’t even admit it to yourself” being some of my favorites. 

But when I wasn’t laughing, a lot of this movie made me so sad. The reason that Jennifer is possessed in the first place is because an indie rock band uses her as a “virgin sacrifice” to Satan in exchange for fame and wealth. However, Jennifer was not actually a virgin, so she is perpetually possessed in the movie. Most unfortunately, if that isn’t a metaphor for how sexual assault can traumatize someone or monumentally change their life, then I don’t know what is.

I see myself watching this movie many times more, but I’m glad that the first time I watched it was over break. A well-written, clever, at times heartbreaking and (dare I say) genius film is just what I needed to end 2020 with.

— Judy Lawrence, Daily Arts Writer

Sometimes I feel like I’d be a great test subject for an anthropological study on the amount of time Gen Z’ers spend in front of screens. Some graduate student could write about how the strong economic growth of the ’90s influenced my parents, originally from working-class families, to start a large bourgeois family. Or perhaps they could write something about how the economic downturn of the aughts meant we couldn’t always afford great childcare, but they could sit us down in front of some video games or a computer or a TV to shut us up for eight hours. Whenever I’m with my family over winter breaks, we tend to blow through a lot of new and revisited media, so let me break it down.

The good stuff is easy to talk about, since they were the films I revisited with my siblings for the comfort of familiarity:

It’s no secret that “1917” is a masterpiece. The score by Thomas Newman (“Skyfall”), the cinematography by Roger Deakins (“Blade Runner 2049”) and the exhausting, relentless performance by George Mackay (“Captain Fantastic”) make me want to read T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf or whoever had anything to say about World War I. A few of my friends brushed it off as just another movie full of white guys, but I genuinely think there’s a place for films like this that explore masculinity so deeply. 

When I watched “1917” in theaters last year, I saw a young boy, his (assumed) father and his grandfather seeing the film together. Observing that family, and then seeing how Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman, “Game of Thrones”) spoke about his brother and mother and how Schofield (Mackay) interacted with the infant and stared at the photo of his wife and children resonated with me. I think we should talk about why male strength is so often represented through war, and why generations later men still hold such an attachment to these stories — just as director Sam Mendes (“Skyfall”) clearly does in his adaptation of his grandfather’s firsthand accounts of the war. 

And, obviously, all those one-shots. I mean, how can you not appreciate the work put into them?

Additionally, “My Neighbor Totoro” is Hayao Miyazaki at his finest. This film is a comforting and stunning story about children told in a completely non-condescending way. I could try to explain it, but it’d be better if you just watch it and see what I mean. 

I watched some bad stuff too, though:

“Spree” was a heavy-handed attempt at social critique but, at the same time, I always love a chance to see Kyle Mooney (“Saturday Night Live”) in anything. That’s all I have to say about that. 

“Wonder Woman 1984” was horse-tranquilizer-to-the-face levels of boring, but Pedro Pascal (“The Mandalorian”) seemed like he was having fun, particularly during a climax that my siblings and I struggled to hear over our own slightly mean-spirited laughter. Kristen Wiig (“Bridesmaids”) seemed lost — or maybe on autopilot — and it just made me want to see her in something like “The Skeleton Twins” again. 

Anything I could say about the film’s imperialist undertones or nauseating nostalgia for the ʼ80s has already been said, so I’ll just say I absolutely could not believe that they thought I cared enough to watch two and a half hours of this garbage. And this is coming from someone who actually really liked the first movie! I guess my closing thought is: “Imagine all the people …”

— Mary Elizabeth Johnson, Daily Arts Writer

My New Year’s resolution was to be kinder to myself. I knew this would be a tall order. What I didn’t know, though, was how exactly this promise would apply to my day-to-day life. It ended up involving a lot of movies.

While I had no in-person classes during the Fall 2020 semester, it was my busiest term yet. There were near-constant Canvas discussions, Zoom meetings, essays and assignments to complete. I convinced myself that I had no time to watch movies that I wasn’t reviewing and instead filled my schedule with news-watching, doom-scrolling and staring out the window dramatically, wondering if America was falling to pieces.

2021 has been different, so far. A large reason for this has been my entertainment choices, which, during this long break in lockdown, have mostly been the extent of my activities. While I usually go for pretentious, depressing movies, I decided to branch out.

The Studio Ghibli films are streaming on HBO Max for the first time in the United States and, on a whim, I clicked on one. I had never seen a Ghibli film before, having previously considered them something for kids. Throughout break, I have been kicking myself for how wrong I was.

The first movie I chose was “Spirited Away.” It’s not hyperbolic to say that it is one of the most beautiful films ever made. A train travels over lapping waves, beneath a sweeping, cloud-fluffed blue sky, to the soft patter of piano. Laughing, candy-colored spirits gather together in a glittering onsen, while the cute yet somehow-ominous No-Face stays in the shadows. The story of Chihiro, the film’s main character, is empowering no matter one’s circumstances, touching on consumerism, spirituality and love more insightfully than most “adult” movies. 

Needless to say, I was hooked. I went on to watch “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “My Neighbor Totoro,” films just as gorgeous and meaningful as “Spirited Away.”

To anyone else trying to practice self-care, Ghibli’s colorful, rich stories are perfect ways to escape real-world insanity and simultaneously contemplate relevant issues like prejudice, disease, despair and war in a safe environment. 

I don’t know what 2021 will throw at me, but I’m glad I have found these films.

— Andrew Warrick, Daily Arts Writer