We are thankful for films



Film critic Hunter Friesen reflects on what he is thankful for within films.


Thanksgiving is always a time of year where we celebrate gratitude, something that we don’t do enough these days. As a film critic, I share as much of the blame as everybody else. My process usually consists of watching a film, passing judgment on it, and then moving on to the next thing. It’s an all-consuming routine that doesn’t leave any room for taking a step back and seeing the bigger picture. So, in an effort to absolve my past sins, I’ve written about what I am thankful for in the five films I saw over Thanksgiving break. 

I’m thankful that the rest of the cast of “House of Gucci” was able to save the film from Jared Leto’s terrible performance. It’s mind-boggling that his offensively bad turn as Paolo Gucci is netting some serious Oscar buzz, especially compared to the great work by his fellow castmates. Ridley Scott (who’s having a great 2021 with this and “The Last Duel”), mounts the film with the self-seriousness one would expect, which may disappoint those looking for a bit of eccentricity. No matter, the sprawling story of love, power, and betrayal is handsomely crafted and engaging, with Lady Gaga proving that her performance in “A Star Is Born” was not a stroke of beginner’s luck.

I’m thankful for Will Smith’s electric performance in “King Richard,” which saves the film from being just your average sports biopic. The story of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams has to include their father, Richard Williams, who could be viewed as either a parent pushing his children to be the best or a tyrant that used others to place himself in the spotlight. The film takes the stance of the former, which could be guessed based on the title and Smith’s producing credit. But the lack of a complicated take on the character doesn’t detract from what Smith accomplished on-screen, which will surely net him his long-overdue Oscar. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Aunjanue Ellis as Oracene Williams, who holds her own as she goes toe-to-toe with Smith in the harder-hitting scenes.

I’m thankful that Lin-Manuel Miranda gave musical theatre fans their version of “Avengers: Endgame.” After years performing and writing songs for films, the “Hamilton” creator has stepped into the director’s chair for “Tick, Tick… Boom!” which tells the tragically short life story of Broadway writer/composer Jonathan Larson. Miranda has stacked his cast with a bevy of Broadway talents, many of which go unnoticed to the untrained eye. Andrew Garfield leads the pack as Larson, bringing panicked energy as he attempts to jump-start his career with a show that’s consumed most of his life. By depicting the turbulent creative process, Miranda has made a film that is a love letter to all those that have poured their hearts and souls into their work.

I’m thankful to Kenneth Branagh for utilizing the pandemic to direct his first great film in twenty-five years. The famed British thespian took quarantine as an opportunity to write and direct “Belfast,” his autobiography about his upbringing in the titular city during the 1960s. Despite being about a specific time and place, Branagh’s film tells a universal story with sweet simplicity. There’s true passion behind every frame and performance. It’s not a perfect film, but it hits nearly every emotional beat it sets out to accomplish, with much of the credit going to the incredible cast, especially the discovery of the young Jude Hill.

I’m thankful to Pablo Larraín and Kristen Stewart for revamping the biopic genre with “Spencer.” For those that are fans of “The Crown” and the usual crop of English royalty biopics (“Elizabeth,” “The Queen,” “The King’s Speech”), “Spencer” will be quite the wild ride. Opting for claustrophobic camerawork and a haunting score by Jonny Greenwood, Pablo Larraín’s chamber piece tracks Princess Diana’s ungodly struggle to survive for three days on holiday with the royal family. Kristen Stewart may as well have written her Oscar acceptance speech along with preparing for this role, as there isn’t an ounce of her presence in this truly transformative performance.