Saturday, March 9, 2024

My 20 Best Movies of 2023

 My 20 Best Films of 2023

Honorable Mentions
- Slotherhouse
- Mission: Impossible - Dead Reconning, Part I
- Rustin
- Eileen 
- Dream Scenario 
- Asteroid City
- The Starling Girl
- Society of the Snow
- Theater Camp
- The Mill

Top 20

20. Barbie - 4 out of 5 stars - How does one make a Barbie movie that doesn't suck? I mean, for years, had someone told me that there would be a Barbie movie, I would have told you that there would be a 90% chance that it would be terrible - like watching a two our Aqua video from the 90's. This is not that! Okay, so it's a little bit of that.

Let me start on just a few faults of the film. I was impressed that this movie was aiming to be more than just a silly doll movie. It wanted to make some societal statements. However, there were times that I felt like I was being lectured to. But I felt, as a man, I probably deserved it. What was unclear was why I deserved it. The writing would then jump to another "lesson to be learned by society from Barbie," and I would think, "What about the last lesson that I was already taught?!" It just was too unfocussed, too jumpy and it wanted to say something so badly, but it seemed unclear as to exactly what it wanted.
I'm a huge Will Farrell fan, but I am not sure what kind of character he was trying to pull off here. I don't know if he understood what kind of character he was supposed to be. He had some funny stuff, but was wildly inconsistent.Not sure to blame that on how his character was written or on Farrell himself.
Only one other very minor complaint: The movie was not as funny as I thought it would be. I was prepared for a side splitter and what I got was just a splitter.
There was so much to love though. There was some clever writing, some great Barbie-like effects, the Barbie World was so fun to witness on the big screen, the jokes mostly landed and winked at those Barbie girl lovers that grew up on Barbie.
Of course, I couldn't go much further without giving giant kudos to Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling. Robbie was the perfect Barbie. And I love serious Gosling, but I might love comedy Gosling just as much. He was the comedy heart of the film. I don't find Gosling to be a wonderful singer, but I find it hilarious that he is not afraid to give it his all.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that the film plays heavy into the nostalgia of any woman/girl that ever played with Barbie. I find you hard pressed to find any Barbie owning woman/girl that wouldn't absolutely adore this movie. In fact, my wife said she'd give it five stars. This is near pop-art perfection.
Finally, it was so fun to be in a packed theater again! Opening day of Openheimmer and Barbie and the theaters were HOPPING! It was a blast! 19. John Wick: Chapter 4 - 4.5 out of 5 stars - My favorite John Wick film so far. Why? It actually had a plot. There was something besides “see bad guys, shoot bad guys“ to it.
Don‘t get me wrong, there is still a lot of killing bad guys. One after another. The bad guys are pretty stupid. They have worse aim than Storm Troopers. They can‘t seem to coordinate their attacks at all. I‘ve learned to suspend all my disbelief with all these shortcomings with John Wick. If you just see him as a superhero of sorts, it‘s easier to swallow it all.
One welcome addition was the John Wick “team“ of sorts. The other characters add depth and complexity to an otherwise pretty shallow story. They up the stakes. 18. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse - Creativity, uniqueness, mind-blowing animation, great vocal acting, big-time writing and story. This animated picture deserves to be nominated for Best Picture in the Oscars. It's near perfect.
One underrated, certainly less talked about aspect of this film is the humor. The comedy in the film had me laughing more often than most of the actual comedies Hollywood puts out every year.
So why not 5 stars you ask? Here's the thing - My mind is too simple and stupid to understand multi-verse movies. Now that they're getting all too common, I get more and more frustrated by them. Again, this is not a criticism of the film, rather a criticism of my weak mind. I have a hard time figuring out what universe they're in at different times and what the heck is going on.
It was still enough to keep me captivated and ultimately genuinely impressed with the entire thing.
My 11-year-old said it was the best movie he'd ever seen. My 21-year old gave it 10 out of 10 stars. 17. Fingernails - 4.5 out of 5 stars - I vacillated between 4 and 4.5 stars, but ultimately landed on 4.5 stars because, well boy did this one make me think.
Why 4.5? Well, this film asks so many of life's great mysteries of love: What is love? How is romantic love different from true love? Can you be in love with two people at the same time? Does everyone have a "soul mate" or that perfect person for them? All these questions are thoughtfully asked in a theoretical method that left me question long after the closing scenes.
I'm sure many won't like this film because of its ambiguous ending or its slow nature. Those are actually strengths for me. The point of this film is not to answer the questions, but simply ask them.
This is one of the year's most well acted films. Jesse Buckley, in particular shines like the movie star she has become. She's been in many great films, and while some may be better, this might be her best performance.
This film gave me emotions. I felt romantic, love, but most of all anger. Anger for the decision the characters make. It's been a while since a movie has got me this riled up, and not by simply sucking. It's on Apple TV if you're interested. 16. The Lost King - 4.5 stars out of 5 - Remarkably incredible and hard-to-believe TRUE story about a normal lady that thinks she knows where King Richard III is buried.
The film is great and Sally Hawkins, as always, makes it even better. But I left drop-jawed and in awe that this actually happened and I didn't hear a word about it. The story of this film blew me away. Highly recommend and you should definitely check it out. 15. Next Goal Wins - 4.5 out of 5 stars - If you're looking for just a great, enjoyable, happy times at the movie, this one's for you. This is the feel good movie of the year. This is Cool Runnings for 2023.
I also recommend that if you go see this movie, you do it at the West Valley Megaplex, in a theater full of Polynesian people. You will laugh harder and find it funny when there are specific jokes that go over your head but Polynesians find hilarious.
But this movie is hilarious if your Polynesian or not. I laughed from start to finish. It never once takes itself too seriously, and as soon as you feel it might, they throw in a couple of perfectly placed jokes to bring you back to earth.
My only issue with it is that it has so many sports cliches and tropes that are far too common in sports films. And I wish the movie had been from the perspective of the a player and not the washed up coach that doesn't want to be there. That lens has been played out.
The stakes are low, the jokes are flying and the laughs never stop. This is one of my favorite movies of the year. 14. Fremont - This short (90 min.) film was such a welcome, quiet little film that packs a bit of punch. It's a quaint black and white indie film that explores mental health, trauma at PTSD.
The black and white worked well for me. It gave it a peculiar feel that, complimented with a healthy dose of dry comedy make it intensely amicable and sweet.
Anaita Wali Zada is a revelation in this film. She is a perfect blend of wit and quiet stoicism. And I was pleasantly surprised when Jeremy Allen White showed up for the final fourth of the film. He has been on such a hot streak lately and it seems like he's in everything. But he's such a dynamic actor and the camera seems to love him. He's so compelling in his short time on screen in this film, he almost steals the entire thing.
I don't think I would have loved this movie 20 years ago or even 10 years ago. As my tastes have changed, I have begun to crave more and more simple storytelling with powerful emotions. This is exactly that and is one of 2023's best films of the year. 13. A Thousand and One - A big winner at Sundance and now I know why. Gripping and touching with surprising wonderful cinematography of NYC. A testament to Teyana Taylor's acting talent and a celebration of motherhood. Definitely will be included on many Best of 2023 lists in December. 12. A Haunting in Venice - 4.5 out of 5 stars - Much, much better than expected and I expected it to be decent. I went in expecting 3.5 - 4 stars and I left having watched what I feel is one of the best films of the year.
For those that love Venice (I took my first trip this summer), this is the perfect setting. You will enjoy the sweeping cinematography of the city and the house in which it is set. I should also mention that while there is some overtly scary scenes and jump scares, this is much more of a mystery than a horror film.
I have to say, I wasn't completely sold on Tina Fey in this role. Kenneth Branagh is sometimes over the top, but it generally works and adds a bit of comedy to the film. Speaking of comedy, there are a few genuinely great laughs.
I loved the unfolding of it all, the supremely creepy feel, the jump scares, the writing and the performances. It all worked. The best surprise late September movie that I can remember, a load of fun and certainly worth checking out. 11. Wonka - I went back and forward between 4 and 4.5 stars on this one. While I ultimately felt that this is a 4.0 movie (Still very good), I went with 4.5 for two reasons:
1. It deserves the extra .5 for being a "good" family movie. There are so many family movies released (especially on streaming) and most of them are the sucktitude of sucks as far as quality.
2. In 10 years, I firmly believe that this film will be considered a "classic" and that people will genuinely view it as a companion piece that is just as good, if not better, than the 1971 classic - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
There is a lot to rejoice in this film. Timothée Chalamet deserves credit for carrying the lead and making it his own. (Although I really missed the sarcasm from Gene Wilder's version.) The music is very good. There are a couple songs that really bounce. It's some of the better music in any recent movie musical I can think of, save another Roald Dahl adaptation "Matilda" from last year.
The supporting cast is rock solid. Sally Hawkins will get barely a mention for her role in this by most, but I find her to be captivating in every movie she's in and this one is no different. Olivia Coleman was the best actor in the entire film. She was menacing and hilarious as the bad guy/gal of the film.
Hugh Grant was okay. I know some people have hated him in this movie. I neither loved or hated him.
There is a scene in the middle of the movie, where the young girl "Noodle" and Willie Wanka are dancing on the rooftops and singing with balloons. The scene is so full of movie magic, it gave me chills. It is this scene alone that may vault it to "classic" category eventually.
I did feel it sort of limped to the end and I wish there had been a fun musical scene at the end (spoiler: there's not). But I also can't remember the last time I had this much fun at the movies with my kids and I go to a LOT of movies! Definitely worth seeing in IMAX like we did and definitely take your kids!
I'll admit, I was one of the cynical folks that rolled my eyes when the first trailer was released, but this thing completely won me over. 10. Self Reliance - The first movie I watched that was released in 2024 might just end up being the best movie I end up watching in all of 2024. It's that good. (Technically, I suppose the movie was released in a few theaters in 2023)
I don't remember the last time I laughed at a movie this much at any movie. My wife asked me several times, "Are you okay?" Gasping for air, I would briefly gasp, "Yeah. I'm okay" until another joke would slam into my brain and make me silly with anticipation for the next one.
Andy Samberg's company put this together. Part thriller, part romcom and part comedy, the entire thing keeps you guessing throughout. Some people might find this frustrating, but I loved it. I kept jumping to conclusions if this was all real or if it was a dream or just one man's mental illness. I loved the mystery of it all.
This is an original, but it did remind me of other comedies I love such as "Game Night" and "The Man Who Knew Too Little." The insanity of it all plays up the comedy into a perfect symphony of silly. I loved it and I love Sandy Amberg! 9. Killers of the Flower Moon - Let's jump right into the 3.5 hour elephant in the room. The super long run time is probably its biggest fault. And it is not really anyone's fault. The issue is, to do this story true justice, it should have been a limited streaming series of 5-6 hourlong episodes. I'd say - it's not LONG ENOUGH! Even three hours wouldn't do it justice.
What Scorsese and co. are trying to do here is win an Oscar, not an Emmy. So, while two or even three hours wouldn't do it justice, three and a half hours does it the bet justice that he could give it while keeping it palatable in theater.
There were deaths and stories and characters in this film that I wanted more from! I wanted a more in depth look and understanding of what happened. It's an awkward run time and I felt it in my kidneys.
As far as the movie, it is powerful, it is so well done, it is acting at its finest. It has twists and turns and is ultimately moving to the point of tears. Scorsese is almost showing off with his camera tricks and his ability to capture mood. He is a master.
Two minor quibbles: 1. Scorsese's editing style sometimes gets on my nerves. He never holds and audience's hand and so he expects the audience to be smart to follow the plot line. Therefore, he will often jump timelines and stories without warning and skipping many years without explanation. Sometimes, a little hand holding isn't a bad thing.
2. The ending (without too many spoilers) of a radio show felt a little bit like it cheapened the movie and was a bit of a cop out. It was jarring and it took me out of the story. While I give Scorsese credit for trying something different, this just did not work. Also, Scorsese pulling a Shyamalan and appearing briefly in his own movie definitely did not work for me.
Those quibbles aside, I was immensely entertained by this film. So much so, that I have been thinking about it ever since it ended. We saw it in IMAX, which was definitely the best way to see it, with its sweeping scenery and its gorgeous scenes. If you have an entire half a day to spare, it's definitely worth your time and your dime.
Lastly, I just want to give a shout out to Jesse Plemons. He has quietly become one of the greatest actors of our day and perhaps my very favorite actor. He is always tremendous and deserves more credit than he gets. 8. My Sailor My Love - What a surprise this little Irish film was. Sure, it's melodramatic and slow, but it is also full of heart and heartbreakingly powerful.
On top of the wonderful poignancy of the story, there is the opulent scenery of the Irish countryside. The setting almost makes the movie on its own, but there is a lot more to love.
This movie made me feel. Rage, sadness, annoyance, love, frustration. At its core it is a love story between two old people. It's also a story about growing old and dying.
The side story of the daughter is infuriating. Her story is one of jealousy, control and anger. She is both a prodigal's son and an antagonist. You feel for her and hate her at the same time.
I loved this film. It brought me to near tears. It's a surprisingly wondrous little film. 7. The Holdovers - First of all, I was taken with the look of this movie. It could have easily been filmed in the late 70's or early 80's. It takes place in that time period and the filmmakers definitely wanted you to feel it. It's got a Dead Poet's feel to it that is a bit magical.
Performances. All around great ones for sure. I really found myself caring most about Paul Giamatti's character. His heartbreaks were unmistakable and painful. I can't imagine another person in this role. Dominic Sessa has a bright future. Lots of awards coming his way during his career.
I was drawn into this world and ended up caring for each character much more than I thought I would. The pacing was a little slow at times, but the marvelous final third of the film made up for it.
I could tell they really wanted you to cry. I didn't cry, but felt emotional in a way that I haven't in maybe any film I've seen in the last few years.
This is one of the best films of 2023. 6. Story Ave - This little indie film is easily one of the best of 2023, especially if you love coming of age stories, such as I.
This is the story of a young teenaged kid that is blessed with tremendous artistic talent and paints extraordinary graffiti art. I immediately found myself pulling for this kid. He is charismatic and brilliant. My heart stretched with every one of his bad choices.
The kid is played by Asante Blackk. Already a young talent, this kid has a heck of a future in Hollywood! He plays the part perfectly. Luis Guzmán proves that he is more than just a character actor. His performance is one of the best I've seen all year. Their chemistry is undeniable and their connection is heartfelt and tight.
I loved this movie. It will almost definitely be in my top ten year end list. 5. The Iron Claw - Bring some tissues. When this one ended, I looked up behind me and saw likely 20 people wiping tears from their eyes. Count me in that number too. I was not immune from the water works. There is just too much emotion in this film to not feel... SOMETHING!
If you are wondering, this movie is a little bit about wrestling and a whole lot about family, brothers and daddy issues. It's a bio pic and unfortunately, it does fall victim to many of the bio pic issues: tries to cover too big a time frame and some limited character building in spots. But it also is different than other bio pics in that there is so much heart and focus on relationships between people.
This is a movie about brothers that love only one thing more than wrestling - each other. I appreciated the little time the film devoted to wresting and the deep, personal relationships between the brothers that was explored.
I've seen 138 movies released in 2023 and in my blessed opinion, Zac Efron is the frontrunner for the Academy Award for Best Actor. And Jeremy Allen White deserves some love for Best Supporting Actor.
Near the end, my eyes full of water and my chest about to explode, the credits rolled. I was floored by this true story. This is a movie almost everyone will enjoy. 4. Boys in the Boat - I submit that this might be the best American underdog story of all time, regardless of what you think about the film. That said...
I can't help but think I might be wearing Boys in the Boat colored glasses on this one. I loved the book, I was looking forward to the movie more than any other this year and I was overwhelmed with excitement when I saw that it was actually going to be good. It's difficult for me to disentangle all of that and be reasonable and neutral about this movie. So five stars it is.
I've seen some reviews calling it "too predictable" and "too straight forward." I have a counter to those stupid arguments: THE ENTIRE THING IS A TRUE STORY! Morons. Yes, it seems almost too unbelievable to believe. There seems to be too many coincidences and things to overcome to be true. Yes, the main character, Joe, seems to be straight from a movie script. But it all actually happened! And almost exactly as it was portrayed in the film. If you don't watch this movie and feel inspired, that's on your cold, withered heart, you Grinch!
Everything from the movie was almost precisely as I imagined it from the book. The character of Joe was cast perfectly. The other cast members as well. The look and feel of the film takes you back to 1936 in a way that others cannot. I thought it was brilliantly directed by George Clooney.
Anyone who has read the book has undoubtedly thought, "This would make an AWESOME movie!" Well, that's much easier said than done. It is a huge talent to put this thick, grand-scale book into a 2 hour movie. Clooney pulls it of like a genius and even though I knew exactly how it would end, I was wracked with tension. The closing scene I swallowed my urge to cry. It was unbelievably moving.
So get off your high horse, critics that look down on this type of inspiring, feel good family film! No matter how much you want to deny the feel goods, this was a true story that was well captured on film. This was a masterclass on how to make an audience cheer in the theater. In fact, the packed movie house I was in cheered in giant applause as the credits rolled. 3. Scrapper - This is the sweetest little movie you'll ever see. At a mere 80 minutes, it packs a ton of emotional punch into a small bit of time.
A Grand Jury Prize winner at Sundance, I had a feeling this film would rock. But I wasn't expecting the emotional power such a simple little film would pack. There is a scene at the end that is so simple and so sweet, but it just leveled me with its power.
The biggest plus of this film is the chemistry between the daughter and the father. Their banter is hilarious and cute. You can't help but cheer for them.
I want so bad to go 5 stars. Maybe on second viewing, I'll go five stars. Alright, alright. I talked myself into it. I'm editing it to five stars. One of the best films of 2023. 2. The Quiet Girl - 5 out of 5 stars
This is a slow, foreign film, spoken in a dialect not of my own. Not normally my cup of tea, but I was taken by this film. This is a movie about childhood trauma and how one good adult in the life of a child can make all the difference in the world.
The performances are sharp at times, muted at others. It’s not frustratingly slow, it’s just slowly paced.
Watching this on an airplane was a bit embarrassing as the older gentleman next to me likely could see me wiping my tears at the end.
I have absolutely no problem saying that this is the best film of 2023 so far. It‘s touching. I was moved. 1. Oppenheimer - 5 out of 5 stars - There are some movies that may not really be your thing, but you have to respect them because they are 1. An important part of history. 2. Creative and innovative 3. Technically remarkable. 4. Downright fascinating. Oppenheimer is a combination of ALL these things.
It is not a perfect film. It gets bogged down a little bit by its sudden stop-and-go nature. Sometimes it felt a little bit like when I am on a rollercoaster and it suddenly stops, jolting me into the lap bar. Regardless, I believe it will go down as one of the all time greats, along side great historic films like Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List and The Pianist.
There is so much to say about this film. An absolute #1 is the score for me. The score drives this movie. It makes common conversations in back rooms feel like world changing discussions. It builds and crests and falls and flows throughout the film without error, pointing out its peaks and crushing you with its valleys.
Second, the cast is darn near perfect. Cillian Murphy will win Best Actor next year for this role and it will be absolutely deserved. Robert Downey Jr. will win Best Supporting Actor. (In fact, I would put money that this film will clean up at the Oscars in many categories). But the secondary players here are also superb. Special shout outs to Emily Blunt, Matt Damon and Tom Conti as Albert Einstein.
The visuals, makeup and cinematography are top notch. It's all a near perfect storm of talent coming together to make a lasting work of art.
Normally, a film that is 95% of white collar guys talking behind closed doors would not be my thing, but Christopher Nolan somehow makes it feel like its the most crucial thing you will ever watch. Best movie of 2023 (so far) and will one day be seen as one of the greats of all time. I look forward to watching it again.

2022 10. The Banshes of Insherin 9. The Phantom of the Open 8. To Leslie 7. A Man Called Otto 6. The Fallout 5. Cha Cha Real Smooth 4. Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical 3. RRR 2. Top Gun: Maverick 1. All Quiet on the Western Front 2021
10. C'mon C'mon 9. Mass 8. A Quiet Place Part II 7. On the Rocks 6. Encanto 5. Last Night in Soho 4. Belfast 3. Blue Bayou 2. Coda 1. Cyrano

10. News of the World 9. The Wolf of Snow Hollow 8. Manari 7. Nomadland 6. The Father 5. The Invisible Man 4. The Little Things 3. Princess of the Row 2. Sound of Metal 1. Promising Young Women

2019: 10. Parisite 9. Rocketman 8. The Art Of Self Defense

7. Greener Grass 6. The Mustang 5. A Marriage Story 4. Richard Jewell 3. 1917 2. Peanut Butter Falcon 1. JoJo Rabbit
10. Upgrade 9. What They Had 8. Leave No Trace 7. Three Identical Strangers 6. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs 5. Free Solo 4. A Quiet Place 3. Green Book 2. Won't You Be My Neighbor 1. Eighth Grade

10. Dunkirk
9. Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi
8. The Shape of Water
7. Get Out
6. The Big Sick
5. Logan Lucky
4. Lady Bird
3. It
2. Brigsby Bear
1. Only the Brave

2016: 10. 10 Cloverfield Lane 9. Sully
8. Eye In The Sky
7. La La Land
6. Life, Animated
5. Pete's Dragon
4. Hidden Figures
3. Hacksaw Ridge
2. Arrival
1. Lion 2015
10. Spotlight
9. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
8. The Martian
7. The Revenant
6. Ex Machina
5. Ant Man
4. Inside Out
3. The Walk
2. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
1. Room

10. The Hobbit
9. Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
8. The Theory of Everything
7. Joe
6. Big Hero 6
5. Boyhood
4. The Imitation Game
3. Big Eyes
2. Whiplash
1. St. Vincent

10. The Heat
9. Mud
8. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
7. Despicable Me 2
6. Gravity
5. Short Term 12
4. Nebraska
3. 12 Years a Slave
2. Philomena
1. The Kings of Summer

10. Premium Rush
9. Moonrise Kingdom
8. The Amazing Spiderman
7. Looper
6. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
5. Argo
4. Frankenweenie
3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
2. Sleepwalk With Me
1. Safety Not Guaranteed

1 comment:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Good to hear from you! Not my top movies at all though.