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The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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Back to December

A look at some of December’s top film releases
Rachel Zegler as Maria in Steven Speilberg’s “West Side Story.”
PHOTO CREDIT/ YouTube 20th Century Studios
Rachel Zegler as “Maria” in Steven Speilberg’s “West Side Story.”

Welcome back! While the winter recess has come and gone, the past month has been an exciting one for the film industry. Awards season is already upon us, and before we know it, the Oscars will cap off what has been an incredible year of cinema. With that being said, here are a few recent films that you should certainly check out in theaters or across streaming platforms.

“West Side Story”

A new adaptation of the timeless classic, Steven Spielberg employs a masterful set and costume design that screams authenticity and realism. Taking place in the Lincoln Square area of Manhattan’s west side, the film highlights New York’s historic transformation during the ‘50s while also inserting modernistic details that set it apart from previous retellings.

In the roles of young lovers Tony and María are Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler, respectively, while Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez and Mike Faist round out the main cast. Zegler and DeBose will surely receive nominations in their respective categories, as each was masterful in both the emotional scenes and musical performances. Without spoiling the story’s premise, these two roles are crucial to its impact and both actresses carry the scenes they appear in.

At just 20 years old, Zegler is bound to be a star in the industry for years to come. “West Side Story” is her debut film, and while there is stiff competition in the Best Actress category this year, she has undoubtedly secured her place in the shortlist of critics worldwide.

“West Side Story” premiered in theaters on Dec. 10. While it remains unclear when the film will reach streaming, it is still playing in most theaters at the time of publication.

“Nightmare Alley”

This thriller, taking place just a decade before “West Side Story,” depicts a much different landscape than the previous musical. “Nightmare Alley” stars Bradley Cooper as Stan, a troubled hustler who takes up mentalism to both perform and swindle. Split between New York City and a traveling carnival, the usual bright lights of each setting contrast with the dark aesthetic that Director Guillermo del Toro employs. This allows for an eerie tone to surround the entire film and its characters, building suspense until the very end.

The surrounding cast is highlighted by Cate Blanchett and Willem Dafoe, though the latter has a much smaller role. Meanwhile, Cooper turns in a solid performance in the lead role that has its moments but does not go above and beyond. Unfortunately, many of the other characters in the film are quite forgettable as the film centers on Stan.

Even without any iconic performances, “Nightmare Alley” deserves praise for the way it transports the audience into its dark atmosphere. Additionally, the film’s cinematography highlights impressive set designs that truly make it a period piece.

The film was released on Dec. 17, but has since extended its theatrical run with a black and white version of the film airing in select theaters nationwide. Meanwhile, “Nightmare Alley” will arrive on both Hulu and HBO Max on Feb. 1.

“Don’t Look Up”

Despite being a direct-to-streaming film, this satire was highly anticipated due to its ensemble cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence. The film follows two scientists trying to alert both the government and the world of a meteor that will wipe out the planet, and Director Adam McKay provides an excellent commentary on how the government, mass media and billionaires would all react in an apocalyptic scenario. Though many of the jokes become overused as the film goes on, the repetition reflects a stubbornness some may expect to see in a real life scenario, so I commend McKay for allowing the satire to blossom this way.

The only performance that stood out was Lawrence’s. Her character was the most relatable and realistic of the cast, as she grew increasingly frustrated and fearful throughout. A role like this is crucial in a film such as “Don’t Look Up,” as it provides a baseline for the rest of the film’s characters who act out satirically. With that being said, the other roles do little to earn praise as a direct consequence of the film’s writing.

All in all, “Don’t Look Up” relentlessly (and justifiably) mocks those in power. Unfortunately, this message and other criticisms from McKay are all established in the film’s first 45 minutes, leaving me a bit uninterested the rest of the way. But if you enjoy satire, you will surely enjoy this film’s message.

“Don’t Look Up” is now streaming on Netflix.

Nominees for the 2022 Oscars will be announced on Feb. 8, with the prestigious awards ceremony airing on March 27. While most of the films in contention have already been released, there is still much analysis and comparison to be done in weighing these films and performances against one another. Stay tuned to The Torch in the coming weeks as we continue to showcase new works and preview the Oscars!

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