Chef, School of Rock, Always Be My Maybe, Pitch Perfect — Bingeworthy films for the holiday season
In keeping with the tradition of surprises in 2020, we've shuffled the annals of holiday films to present a fresh list — from La La Land to The Half of It.
As bleak as 2020 has been, there is no denying that the holiday season is finally upon us. Therefore, although we're
stuck safe at home, there is no reason why we cannot celebrate with a movie marathon of our favourite holiday features.
But sticking to the tradition of surprises this year, let's shuffle the annals of Christmas films and swiftly get rid of the It's A Wonderful Life and Bridget Jones' Diary-s. Entertainment has evolved since then and we're more than happy to present you with a whole new collection of our favourites that go mighty well with a (small) carton of caramel fudge, or a hot-chocolate-with-marshmallow cuppa.
So, here's a list of films you can watch as you usher in the new year, distilling the essence of optimism and hope for a better tomorrow.
La La Land
After his 2014 masterpiece Whiplash, Damien Chazelle created yet another tour-de-force with 2016’s La La Land. With its bright colourscape, proudly sitting on veritable talents like Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, it’s a no-brainer of an entry into the list of holiday favourites. Sebastian and Mia’s stories of success (following a downtrodden year-end bout of ill-luck) is just the shining cherry that people need on the icing of hope that they have painstakingly created over the debacle that was 2020.
La La Land burst into Hollywood at a time when Broadway musical adaptations were far and few and much to the sheer joy of hopeless romantics like myself, Chazelle’s happily-ever-after fits perfectly with the times (its absurdities included).
The film celebrated the idea of movies as a wonderland, and as the language of our fantasies. With a candy-coated narrative, La La Land was all about casting away cynicism and accepting the bubble-gum-induced dreaminess, just the perfect mental space to slip into during the holidays.
In a world that's gradually expanding on the "interweb" and shrinking with nuclear, often isolated familial units in reality, Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina's Mexican extravaganza Coco is the perfect way to bring in the wholesome holiday cheer.
The musical takes a deep-dive into death as a passage to celebration of life. Mainly focusing on family bonding born out of traditions, it’s a story of a multigenerational matriarchy, rooted in the past — a practice that the millennials are finding increasingly difficult to practice in the actual world.
Stringing the theme of music at its epicentre, Unkrich and Molina upheld the need and importance of community through the film’s central character Miguel and his adventures into the netherworld. Michael Giacchino’s original scores elevated the Pixar animation to a sublime level, both highlighting the culture’s dependence on music as a lingual communicator, as well as, bringing focus to its indigenous tunes smack into the Hollywood razzmatazz of Disney.
Coco spoke of loves lost and found; of prioritising one’s own and always knowing they’ll be your 4 am reflection boards and fall-back options anytime, anywhere, never any questions asked.
School of Rock
What more do you want during the 10-day-long winter than to snuggle in your blanket fortress, sip on some frothy chocolate shake and whip out your favourite Jack Black movie? School of Rock, released in 2003, is the perfect goofy sign-off to the miserable 2020, evoking unbridled hope and delight.
Directed by Richard Linklater, School of Rock sees Black play a temp school teacher who has discarded the rule book to live life on his own terms, (and frequently mooch off his best friend/roommate). The ever-so-charming Black head-bobs, strums, and gallivants into the screen with lessons about following one's passion, body positivity, and self-love with generous doses of hilarious one-liners and a raucous, spirit uplifting playlist featuring AC/DC and Metallica.
You can never have enough of Black's livewire caterwauling. With guitar solos and drum riffs, plucky tweens, and their snooty parents, School of Rock ensures it leaves a decadently sweet and satisfying aftertaste like the rich plum cake you sneak into your room at night for a midnight snack.
School of Rock is the cutesy, maniacally energetic sister of Dead Poets Society, with sparks of Sister Act and Sound of Music.
Jon Favreau broke his on-screen hiatus of 18 years with the 2014 directorial about a mercurial celebrity chef, who resigns from a popular city restaurant to hike Miami roads on a food truck with his son and best friend.
Kramer Morgenthau’s deft lens focused on delectable kitchen sequences. Scenes of Favreau’s skilled hands cutting through tempered beef briskets and fresh, juicy tomatoes, were reminiscent of Enid Blyton’s detailed picnic descriptions of the Secret Seven, Famous Five or the Five Find-Outers that many of us would hungrily consume as children, cozied up in our bean-bags, near the bejewelled Christmas tree.
The foodgasms in Chef are aroused not only through cooking references but also a well-researched food tour of each item, explaining its history and worth. As Favreau’s Carl Casper educates his son Percy (Emjay Anthony) about niche US favourites, the audience is thrust into a world of spices, ingredients, sauces, and their delicious marriage.
With his pan-searing and bread-tossing, Casper broke away from pompous norms of restaurant culture to honour generous portions of home-grown delicacies found in the nooks of the US states. As the film's writer, Favreau artfully built a narrative on food, family, and friends — the three most important condiments for a complete holiday.
Always Be My Maybe
Is any holiday binge-fest ever complete without a bonafide rom-com? But it's 2020, and our social-media-aware sensibilities demand sensible, sensitised, and (somewhat) realistic content, even when we're giving into frivolity.
Comedian Ali Wong's Always Be My Maybe is familiar turf, but it takes the done-to-death theme of a happily-ever-after to add in some pertinent variables — like growth, personal and professional; change, as a person and of your circumstances. It also spotlights the concept of personal space, something not many rom-coms (or commercial fares, in general, tend to address).
Always Be My Maybe comfortably shuttles between cocky and serious, but it's the most entertaining in the parts where Wong negotiates her Asian-American identity and upbringing with her scaldingly funny humour. The film, however, is never chest-thumpingly subversive. It retains the signature gooeyness the genre is associated with, and its pretty-as-a-picture packaging, complete with poster-card locations and candy-coloured costumes, ensuring your holiday spirits are always perked up.
Pitch Perfect series
If you are not a music nerd, chances are Pitch Perfect (2012) was your segue into the a-capella subgenre. Delightfully cheeky, the Pitch Perfect franchise has some of the best musical covers to offer, that we didn’t know we needed but somehow are now are addicted to — from Anna Kendrick's 'Cups', which has earned a place in the annals of music history, to the mashups of Bruno Mars’ 'Just the Way You Are' and Nelly’s 'Just A Dream,' and 'Bright Lights' and 'Magic'.
Also starring Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Adam DeVine, and a host of other actors forming the formidable ensemble cast, the three films provide an aca-awesome movie-watching experience for the holiday season. The witty repartee between the Barden Bellas and their arch-nemesis The Treblemakers, the visually spectacular stage performances, the bonds of sisterhood, and the spontaneous pop music insult-offs buoy the films that does not aim higher than to shake off your routine dreariness of life.
Indeed, the Pitch Perfect franchise is the perfect blend of earworms and harmless, slightly risque fun. And who can forget the exhaustive dictionary of puns from aca-scuse me, aca-believe it to look who’s in "treble."
Mary Poppins Returns
Rob Marshall's hat-tip to old Hollywood with 2018's Mary Poppins Returns is a must in our list of holiday features. Emily Blunt's portrayal of the no-nonsense nanny is just the thing necessary to make the year-ending complete. A troubled family always makes for good cinema viewing — add to that the charm and enigma of simple magic, and you've got your perfect Christmas cocktail.
Straight-backed and sly-eyed, Blunt's Mary Poppins is at the centre of a heartwarming story highlighting a dysfunctional London family being righted by the magical goings-on of an otherworldly governess.
With Mary’s band of perky children, straddling along to her song-and-dance numbers, Blunt reinstated children’s faith into the good-old Disney allure.
For children not christened in a world where Home Alone was a New Year’s staple, Marry Poppins Returns is a sure-shot waft of night magic to offset the cheerful rainbow colours.
Silver Linings Playbook
David O Russell's Silver Linings Playbook is an odd-but-must addition this year. At a time when the COVID-19-induced lockdown posed a massive challenge to many, it's only fair that a feel-good saga like this film slides into our holiday list.
A thematic cousin to Russell's previous The Fighter, the film introduces to viewers, a no-frill Philadelphia world. Here, the characters each struggle with their share of mental illnesses, coming out stronger and more endearing as humans by the end of it.
The film wades through the muck it happily develops and tells its viewers that nothing is truly impossible. Bradley Cooper (Pat Solitano) and Jennifer Lawrence (Tiffany) paint a shoddy picture of a happy ending, but their broken edges are what we’d rather buy into than the picture-perfects of any Mills & Boon couple.
Leading the chaos is a squabbling Robert De Niro, a protective and sports-obsessed father, and Jacki Weaver, the moral anchor of the film. The Solitanos’ malfunctional family unit is a direct tug on the heartstrings to remind us that however crooked they may be, your loved ones are always your biggest cheerleaders.
Nancy Meyers’ rom-com cannot possibly evade our list, mostly because it’s a checklist of all things holiday-y, including the film’s title. Christmas miracles befall on the lives of Cameron Diaz, Jack Black, Kate Winslet, and Jude Law, when the two women decide on a house swap for the long holidays. Dean Cundey’s lens keenly captures the white marvels of the season while Meyers’ screenplay conjures up two couples, poles apart, yet meant for each other.
The soft golden glow of romance in the film has the apt blend of a hundred gooey Mars bars, which we would happily consume, all doe-eyed, silently salivating over Law’s crystal green eyes and curly lashes.
Black’s goofy clumsiness, on the other hand, provides ample heart-melt moments where you’d want to puncture the television/tablet sets and enter his world and generously engulf him in a bear hug.
The Half of It
Netflix’s 2020 feature The Half of It is our very own version of Mean Girls, except, no one’s particularly mean in this one. Alice Wu’s cosmopolitan cast coughs up adolescent wonders like Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer, and Alexxis Lemire, all of whom occupy significant spaces playing flawed, yet essentially wonderful humans.
Wu’s treatment of a same-sex love story neatly tucked within the adolescent space of high school drama, works to her favour and creates the right amount of appeal for it to glide seamlessly onto our list.
Not only did Wu’s film pay a worthy tribute to homosexual teens, grappling with their identity crises, but also developed an intricate narrative on the bonds of friendship and how they transcend self-aggrandisement and flourish on humble actions life forgiveness and non-judgement.
The Half of It emphasised the need to love, but also have a best friend to cherish life to its fullest.
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