This academic year was a big one for the movies. Major, long-anticipated blockbusters finally hit the theaters after being delayed by the pandemic. As COVID-19 restrictions relaxed, the film festival season also picked back up and delivered some excellent smaller productions that fostered discussion, praise and accolades.
For the blockbusters, the fall semester was dominated by “Dune” (2021). The star-studded science fiction epic raked in over $400 million from the global box office and shared a joint release in theaters and on HBO Max on Oct. 22. The film was so technically spectacular that it scored six Academy Awards for sound, original score, visual effects, production design, cinematography and editing. A review for the Daily described it as “an imaginative love letter to one of science fiction’s greatest stories.”
In the spring, “The Batman” (2022) reigned supreme. The film starred Robert Pattinson as the famed superhero as he worked to uncover Gotham City serial killer the Riddler (Paul Dano). After opening exclusively in theaters on March 4, the film secured over $760 million worldwide. The nearly three-hour movie takes inspiration from the film noir style and delivers a gritty and violent take on the comic book story. As a reviewer for the Daily wrote, it’s “as perfect as a ‘Batman’ film can likely be and the most ambitious superhero film in recent memory.”
Over winter break, franchise blockbuster lovers were treated to “The Matrix Resurrections” (2021) and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (2021). The former offered a critical and self-aware look at the existence of franchise culture itself while delivering the signature visual style that characterized the original trilogy. It was sharp in its cultural critiques, engaging in its special effects, nostalgic in its characters, costumes and references, and heartwarming in its love story.
The latter was a Marvel smash hit whose box office drew in nearly $1.9 billion worldwide. Similarly drenched with nostalgic references, the film saw Tom Holland’s iteration of Peter Parker team up with his earlier predecessors Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire to fight the villains of earlier Spider-Man films, like the maniacal Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) and Doc Ock (Alfred Molina). The film received a raving review in the Daily and was so popular that there was, for a moment in time, serious consideration as to whether it would be nominated for Best Picture.
Though “Spider-Man” did not receive that nomination, this year’s awards-bait ‘art’ films are as worth noting as the blockbusters. “The Power of The Dog” (2021) was particularly exceptional. Though its pacing feels glacial at times, the film offers a masterclass in slow burn and tension building, scoring director Jane Campion an Academy Award. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as a cruel and machismo rancher whose limits are pushed by the new wife (Kirsten Dunst) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) of his brother (Jesse Plemons). Every scene of the film is remarkably constructed and rife with sexual tension, markers of toxic masculinity and sweeping Western landscapes.
“Spencer” (2021) was similarly incredible. It starred Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana in a biopic turned psychological thriller. She hallucinates Anne Boleyn, eats her pearl necklace at dinner and jousts with royal employees. It also earned Stewart her much-deserved, first-ever nomination for an Academy Award. As stated in the Daily’s review, it’s “a movie made to near perfection.”
At the end of the academic year, cinephiles were treated to A24’s science-fiction adventure smash hit “Everything Everywhere All At Once” (2022). The film stars Michelle Yeoh as, according to A24’s website, “an exhausted Chinese American woman who can’t seem to finish her taxes.” As of early May, the film sits at a stellar 4.6 out of 5 on popular film social media site Letterboxd and holds a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. The five-star review for the Daily describes it as a “breathtaking visual delight” complemented by irreverent humor and themes rooted in “hyperhuman universal experiences.”
All in all, the year offered movie-goers with a variety of excellent choices. Marvel fans were rewarded with the long-anticipated return of “Spider-Man,” while DC enjoyers were treated with Robert Pattinson’s turn as everyone’s favorite brooding billionaire with a bat obsession. Science-fiction lovers finally got to see the long-awaited “Dune,” while fans of arthouse film enjoyed a wide range of projects from “Everything Everywhere All At Once” to “The Power of The Dog” and “Spencer.” With the reopening of the Somerville Theater in Davis Square after its hiatus during the pandemic, Tufts students had plenty of opportunities to enjoy the movies this year.