In my memory, Winter Break 2019 will always be defined by “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” While I watched some (far superior) movies like “Little Women” and “Knives Out” during this holiday season, my brain still can’t let “Skywalker” go.
It’s a beautifully crafted, wonderfully performed, roller coaster ride of a waste of time. While there are imaginative planets and exciting battles aplenty, the movie is crushingly soulless. It lacks what makes the Star Wars movies worth watching — a heart. Every other film in the saga, even the prequels, had at least one character whose motivations, successes and defeats meant something, or at least could be understood on basic emotional terms. “The Rise of Skywalker” does not. Its screenwriters forced a resurrected Emperor Palpatine into the story, and the personal conflicts built up during the first two movies are sidelined, altered or ignored to accomodate a villain never meant to be in the trilogy in the first place. Palpatine is only there for nostalgic purposes, and his rise takes the entire film down.
Yet, while “Star Wars” stumbled, two other smash hits from this holiday season, “Knives Out” and “Little Women,” blazed a new way forward. They took well-worn, nostalgic blueprints, like Agatha Christie mysteries and a classic novel, and updated them with emotive characters and prescient topics. Nostalgia has its place, and it can add a touch of familiar flavor to movies whose main concerns are affecting plots and believable characters. “The Rise of Skywalker” shows, though, that it should never, ever, be the full meal.
—Andrew Warrick, Daily Arts Writer
As someone who grew up with an older sister who was determined to be a spy, I’m not sure why it took so long for me and my family to watch the James Bond movies starring Daniel Craig (“Knives Out”). But we gave it a shot over winter break, and, to no one’s surprise, we loved them. I’m not sure why we liked them as much as we did, especially considering “Casino Royale” consisted mostly of an hour-long poker game that I only half understood and yet was completely enthralled by.
The plots didn’t always make sense (I still don’t really know what happened in “Quantum of Solace,” if I’m being honest), but I feel like with James Bond, the action is what matters most anyways. James Bond’s stunts — a lot of which were performed by Craig himself — were amazingly done and often had us rewinding the DVD to see them again. “Skyfall” was by far my favorite installment, though, mostly because we finally got to see more of M (Judi Dench, “Shakespeare in Love”). When the new movie comes out in April, I know for a fact that my family will be first in line to watch 007 kick butt again.
—Sabriya Imami, Daily Arts Writer
Aside from the milquetoast mediocrity of “Bombshell” and the nonsensical wormhole of a Star Wars movie, I filled my break with films released earlier in the year that I had missed out on. One was “High Life,” which I found to be one of the most legitimately compelling and tragically under-discussed movies released in 2019. Claire Denis’ ability to tell a harrowing human drama without the constraints of linear storytelling is a glorious thing to behold. While the film’s quiet conversations and symbolism-drenched imagery lent themselves to a slow pace, I was never truly bored. The movie also made me realize the largely untapped potential of arthouse actress Mia Goth (“Suspiria”).
Another 2019 catch-up movie I saw over break was Johanna Hogg’s (“Unrelated”) autobiographical feature, “The Souvenir.” It follows a young film student as she gets involved with a heroin-addicted older man. Nothing about the film’s plot makes conventional sense — it is nearer to a living, breathing diary of Julie’s life (Honor Swinton Byrne, “I Am Love”) than a story. But Hogg enforces an unwavering subjectivity around the film, placing a viewer so unquestioningly in Julie’s perspective that all her decisions seem inevitable more than unwise. We are not here to judge Julie, and by extension Hogg. We are fascinated but powerless observers. I have never before seen a film that wraps you up as completely in its own intimacy as “The Souvenir” does. It’s why I watch movies.
—Anish Tamhaney, Daily Film Editor