Star Wars and others highlight the holiday movie season

Many things come to mind when we consider the holiday season. Attending church, caroling, and shopping are among the most popular activities unique to that time of year. Yet, there is one element of the holiday season that we seldom recognize: the movies. The latter part of December and early weeks of January, in particular, deliver us many of the most renowned films of the year. This year, films such as Star Wars: Rogue One, La La Land, Sing, Moana, and Manchester by the Sea, all released within the last month, captured popular attention and gained nominations for numerous awards.

While each of these extraordinary movies, ranging from comedy to adventure to drama, inspired their viewers, none matched the power of Damien Chazelle’s romantic drama, La La Land. La La Land tells the story of two struggling performers in Los Angeles, one an aspiring actress, played by Emma Stone, and the other a solo-working jazz pianist, portrayed by Ryan Gosling. As the two lovers’ careers grow, the couple begins to face the challenges of balancing personal ambitions with the fragile state of their love affair.

While Chazelle’s plot may seem to resemble many of the countless romantic dramas of today, La La Land actually represents one of the most unique films of the 21st century, as it introduces light musical elements into a contemporary setting. Long past the era of Grease or Footloose, critics may view La La Land’s musical emphasis as antiquated and cliché. Yet with the musical renaissance of today, La La Land gains the invaluable ability to completely differentiate itself from the competition and remain memorable to its viewers.

“When you compare La La Land to the rest of the Academy Award-oriented movies that are being pumped out of Hollywood right now, it is unique in the sense that it doesn’t take itself too seriously,”said junior Frances Mize. “And in that same vein it asks the viewer not to take themselves too seriously.”

In addition to the film’s whimsical elements, the impeccable chemistry between Stone and Gosling in La La Land infatuates viewers. As moviegoers witness Mia (Stone) and Sebastian (Gosling) fall for each other underneath the lights of classic Los Angeles, La La Land truly enchants.

“Ryan and Emma are simply amazing,” said junior Ashley Ahn. “I predict that La La Land will undoubtedly win many, many Oscars this year.”

Similar to Chazelle’s powerful love story, Illumination Entertainment’s film, Sing, continues along the popular trend of on-screen musicians. Sing, an animated comedy directed by Garth Jennings, illustrates the story of five animals, all of different ages and backgrounds, who compete for a $100,00 cash prize. Buster Moon, a koala who owns a local theater, organizes the competition as an ambitious attempt to revive his theater and prevent it from demolition. Throughout the series of competition, auditions, and performances, various characters sing covers of popular modern songs.

While Sing may lack the seriousness of many renowned films, it most definitely does not lack the starpower, as it hosts numerous famous actors, including Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Tori Kelly, Scarlett Johansson, and Taron Egerton. Excluding McConaughey, who plays Buster Moon and lacks a singing role, Jennings’s film exposes the incredible vocal talents of these seemingly one-dimensional celebrities to the public. Despite the popular appeal of the film’s soundtrack and the all-star cast, Sing lacks the substance of other animated films of the year, such as Zootopia.

“Despite its lighthearted nature, Sing feels extremely rushed and shamelessly unoriginal,” said junior Henry Alford. “These limitations reduce the movie down to its cute singing animals, the occasional witty moments, and a karaoke soundtrack.”

Although Alford’s criticism seems harsh for an animated children’s film, he is most definitely not alone. Many critics agree that despite all of the movie’s anticipation, Sing is simply too hollow of a film for high praise. Consequently, the film scored a mere 6.5/10 on Rotten Tomatoes and 3/5 on Common Sense Media.

While many of the holiday films, including La La Land and Sing, made significant splashesat the box office, none came close to matching the popularity of Disney’s latest Star Wars installation, Rogue One. Unlike Disney’s previous addition to the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens, Disney inserts Rogue One right smack in the middle of the series. Disney designed the film as a convenient prequel to the fourth, or what some would call the first, movie in the series, A New Hope. As most people not living under a rock know, A New Hope revolves around the extensive journey of Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, and the rest of the crew to destroy the Death Star, and overthrow the evil Empire. The film’s title, A New Hope, actually stems from one of the early scenes of the movie, where Princess Leia, who is imprisoned for stealing blueprints of the Death Star from the Empire, sends a message to Jedi master Obi Wan Kenobi, proclaiming that Kenobi is “her only hope.” Thus, with this iconic scene in mind, doesn’t it seem natural for the viewer to wonder: “How in the world did she get those blueprints?” Bam! Just like that, Disney had the inspiration to produce Rogue One, which tells the story of a group of rebels saving the galaxy by stealing the blueprints to the Death Star and identifying a weakness in the seemingly invincible spaceship. Despite some of the movie’s flaws, viewers and critics appreciated the originality of the plot of Rogue One, unlike the The Force Awakens, which was seen as merely a replication of A New Hope.

“While the movie started out a little slow, I really thought that Rogue One was a strong film and is what The Force Awakens should have been; it introduced the audience to a brand new story and characters while keeping them engaged,” said senior and devout Star Wars fan Arman Varzi.

Despite high ratings from various movie sites and high praise from fans, in some viewers’ eyes Rogue One lacked the substance to be comparable to other movies, and serves simply as a bridge between two other, more significant movies.

“With an all-out brawl between Imperial Star Destroyers and Rebel X-wings at its climax, a Darth Vader cameo, and countless Easter eggs, Rogue One brought back the nostalgia of seeing the original Star Wars trilogy,” said sophomore Luke Zhuo. “Undoubtedly, it will be remembered as a ‘guilty pleasure’ film, which provides nothing to further the Star Wars story but reminds viewers of ‘the good old times’.”

Regardless of one’s stance on the worthiness of the new movie, there is no denying how successful Rogue One was at the theater, as it exceeded $900 million in box office revenue and was at the top of the list for popular movies at the end of  2016.