Arts & Culture

A perfectly off-beat watch list for an absurd holiday season

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Maybe it’s the sugary peppermint drinks rotting our brains. Or perhaps the endless Michael Bublé is drowning us in the feeling that we will never know true holiday cheer – whatever the reason, the Christmas season is usually accompanied by an inexplicable, pensive sadness.

This year, with many of us isolated from our loved ones, and some coping with the more painful brunt of the pandemic, that lingering feeling has turned into something far worse. If you’re not in the mood for a feel-good, cheesy holiday movie, I can’t say I blame you. Bah humbug.

Here is a watch-list curated specifically to squash any lingering holiday spirit during your quarantine. These picks are bizarre, dark, and somehow perfect for our current cultural moment.

I’m thinking of ending things

This psychological Charlie Kaufman film follows a young woman traveling with her boyfriend Jake to visit his parents while she contemplates ending the relationship. The movie explores themes that are on all of our minds right now: loneliness, the grueling passage of time, and even our complicated relationship with death.

It’s heavy dialogue becomes hard to follow and frustratingly nonsensical, but if you have faith and stay along for the ride, Kaufman’s artistry slowly unravels itself to you. It’s beautifully crafted, and while at times (forgivably) pretentious, you get closer to solving the puzzle-like experience with every watch.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is a collection of six short stories that highlights the almost comic cruelty inflicted by the rugged Western frontier. Westerns usually allow us to dip our toes into dangerous thrills at a safe distance, but in this cynical take on the genre, the Coen brothers turn cinematic adventure into progressively darker cautionary tales. In these stories, like in the real world, tragedy is random and often meaningless. But don’t worry, this movie is just as hilarious as it is a bummer.

Maniac

This Netflix mini-series follows two characters, Annie and Owen, as they participate in a drug trial that promises to cure their deep emotional traumas. The drugs send their minds off to quirky alternate realities where the two build a connection as they confront their personal demons. It’s another frustrating puzzle, but this one is not as morbidly pessimistic as the others on this list. It’s a gorgeous, fanciful portrayal of the healing power of a human connection, something worth reminding ourselves of these days.

Sorry to Bother You

If you haven’t seen this Boots Riley film yet, now is the perfect time to watch. “Sorry to Bother You” follows a man named Cassius Green as he pursues a telemarketing career, and is forced to confront the realities of coercive American capitalism. It’s an absurdist comedy that tackles complex social issues with intelligent, and often uncomfortable satire. Through Cassius, Riley thoroughly explores what it means to be a product of our broken social system, and the conflicts that inevitably exist in us because of it.

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