The Holdovers, Napoleon, & Priscilla
The most wonderful time of the year
The most wonderful time of the year is officially here!
No, not this isn’t about Thanksgiving, Christmas, or other joyous things that happen during this season, it’s about the films.
Almost every week for the remainder of the year, there are two or three quality films being released. It is full on movie overload and it is utterly glorious. In fact, there are still four of most anticipated films of the year that will be released in December.
With as many great films as there are out right now, I am not going to spend any time diving into the new releases that aren’t anywhere close to good (Wish, Quiz Lady, What Happens Later, Sly, Pain Hustlers, and Old Dads to name a few). It is more fun to be positive, especially this time of the year.
The attention of an audience is harder to grab than ever before.
In a world consumed by Tik Tok and short form video, there are many that struggle to grasp a world where long-form cinema remains in the public consciousness for years to come.
Quite often, outside thoughts will wonder into my head during a film. How could they not? We are in information overload as a society almost 24/7.
Many streaming services are rumored to force filmmakers into writing something attention grabbing into the script during the first 10-15 minutes. Why? If the audience isn’t captivated quickly, they will pull their phone out.
We are so quick to diagnose this as a problem with attention spans. But what if it really isn’t? What if the problem is actually the depth of the content put in front of us.
Audiences have been programmed to lose attention. Not to pick on superhero movies, but think of the formula for those movies for one second. First 15 minutes include an action sequence, followed 20-30 minutes of shallow & pointless story/dialogue, then another action sequence to draw you back in. Then rinse and repeat that process for 2 or 2.5 hours.
Great films keep your attention throughout. It doesn’t matter if they are 4 hours or 4 minutes long. You get so enthralled in the world and invested in the characters that you wouldn’t trade your attention for anything. Maybe the attention span of the audience is so short because they have been programmed to digest cinema in that way.
This all brings us to one of my favorite films of 2023, The Holdovers.
Much of the narrative around The Holdovers has been how the film is a throwback to 70s, both the time itself and the films of that time. If you spend five minutes inside of the film you can feel it in the production design, the dialogue, and the overall vibe of the film. While all of that is true, the most important throwback element of the film is the richness of the world that was constructed and explored. A true example of, “They don’t make em’ like they used to.”
There is lots to love about The Holdovers, but the most notable is just how well it holds your attention and entrances you in the world. It isn’t too often in today’s studio system that a film lets you marinate in a character study for 2 hours.
There is nothing to spoil about the Holdovers. The film follows a curmudgeonly professor at a prep school that has to watch over a group of boys who can’t go home for Christmas break. The script is predictable. There are no real surprises on where the movie goes. Some see this as a knock against the film, but it is actually a strength. In our current “spoiler culture”, it is refreshing to see something that you could overhear the entire plot from a friend, yet you still enjoy the film.
We are so used to getting short flashes of things that shortly holds our attention, but nothing that meaningfully holds our attention tight for a long period of time. The Holdovers is a throwback to the time when that is what mattered. A time when you showed people on screen that had differences coming together on some common ground. A time when you could have a quiet, intimate drama led by a star.
We have have been given so much from The Holdovers. A true throwback. A captivating character study. A breakthrough performance from newcomer Dominic Sessa. A new Christmas classic.
Rating - 4.5/5
The public reception to Napoleon has been a headscratcher to me.
The Ridley Scott directed biopic about the complicated dictator of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, has been ripped to shreds by audiences and critics alike.
By no means am I here to claim that Napoleon is a masterpiece with no flaws.
In fact, its flaws are pretty glaring.
That said, the film is good and even flat out amazing during certain sequences. There are few battle sequences, particularly the Battle of Austerlitz (which takes place on a frozen lake during the Russian winter), where I felt like I was watching one of the best movies of the year.
Aside from the jaw dropping action sequences and unique set pieces, Napoleon is also utterly hilarious, which really caught me off guard. The script seems so set on poking fun of Napoleon that it is honestly one of the funniest films of the year. Whether it is the hilarious one-liners like “Destiny has brought me this lamp chop”, the depiction of Napoleon’s insecurity, or the depiction of Napoleon’s sex life, the whole theater was laughing uncontrollably throughout the film (and rightfully so). While the final third strays from this tone, it doesn’t take away from how much fun that first hour and a half is.
Back to the flaws. Ridley Scott has a four hour and ten minute director’s cut of the movie that he has hinted at releasing.
You can feel that when watching Napoleon.
The film is cut in a way that is hard to follow as it quickly jumps from scene to scene or 10 years disappear with one quick cut. That critique of the film has some serious merit.
And so do many others.
Does the film feel both too long and too short? No doubt.
Should there have been an exploration into how Napoleon’s rule impacted the people of France? You bet.
Does it drag at times? Most certainly.
However, the critique that doesn’t have much merit is that it is an objectively bad film. Most people are hung up about the historical inaccuracies or Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, but I think most people are missing the point.
To me, the film is more about the myth of Napoleon than the actual Napoleon. Almost a parody. The story is told in a dramatic way because the legends surrounding him are indeed dramatic and exaggerated. That may be an incorrect read, but when the film is viewed through this frame, it all starts to make sense.
Why else would Ridley Scott commit to including so many of the legends surrounding Napoleon that we know are historically not true? If anyone is to blame for the confusion it is the marketing department for making it seem like this was going to be another cradle to grave biopic. If you want to say that the movie wasn’t funny, fine. But don’t point out the historical inaccuracies when you are missing the point.
In my mind, Napoleon is a hilarious take on one of the most insecure, petulant men the world has ever seen whose inability to control his own house lead to one of the most devastating reigns in history. You aren’t going to necessarily learn anything new about Napoleon, but you will have a good time.
Rating - 3.5/5
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One of my favorite things about Priscilla is the juxtaposition between the quiet, intimate nature of the film and the loud, noisy nature of the 2022 Elvis film.
You can’t go far in praising Priscilla without noting performances at the center. Cailee Spaeny gives such a nuanced, sincere portrayal of the titular character and Jacob Elordi gives a very grounded performance as Elvis.
Above all, the reason that the film works so well is because it doesn’t get preachy or get on a soapbox to tell us how what conclusions we should come to or how we should feel about what is portrayed. Far too many films assumes no level of intelligence from the audience and tries to hand them everything on a silver platter.
There is no monologue in the script by friends or family to get Priscilla to understand what is happening or going on.
It just gives us the facts.
The facts are enough to make the audience see all of it for what it is.
I am the first to admit that I am a sucker for a quiet, detailed character study with remarkable production design, enlightening performances, and a banger needle drop to end the film. Priscilla checks every single one of those and so many more.
Rating - 4/5
Upcoming films that I am excited about:
May December - Todd Haynes new movie starring Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore hits Netflix on December 1st
Leave the World Behind - A cast of Julia Roberts, Ethan Hawke, and Mahershala Ali are enough to get me excited for any film. Doesn’t hurt that the trailer looks great too. This will be on Netflix December 8th.
Wonka - Early buzz is that Wonka is exceptional & Timothee Chalamet gives an incredible performance as a young Willy Wonka. Will it be the holiday hit of the year? We will find out when it hits theaters on December 15th.
Maestro - Bradley Cooper’s second film, Maestro, is a biopic for famed composer Leonard Bernstein, with Cooper starring as Bernstein. Will director Bradley Cooper cement himself as one of the best up and coming directors? Time will tell when it drops on Netflix on December 20th. This is my most anticipated film for the remainder of the year.
Anyone But You - It has been well noted how much I love Rom-Coms. Add in two of the hottest stars in Hollywood and I am in. This very may end up being terrible, but I am holding out hope for the resurgence of the Rom-Com. It will be in theaters on December 22nd.
The Iron Claw - For months all we knew about the Iron Claw was that A24 was making a movie about the Von Erich brothers starring Zac Efron, Lilly James, and Jeremy Allen White. I don’t really follow wrestling, so it wasn’t really on my radar. Then I saw the release date and my interest was piqued. Then the trailer released and I was floored. This now sits at number on my most anticipated films for the remainder of the year.
Like I said before, the most wonderful time of the year!
Until next time!
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