CINEMA RETROSPECTIVE-2023 EDITION
2022,  2021,  2020,  2019, 2019 MID YEAR, 2018, 2018 MID YEAR, 2017, 2016, 2015
The "Big Tuna" Vito Carli weighs in with Summation of the Year in Film

A Comprehensive Look at 2023 in Film

(122823) 2023 will probably go down in the film history books as the year of "Barbieheimer" because these two films so completely and unexpectedly dominated much of the yearís box office and they did the unthinkable (which Marvel/Disney has largely failed to do) in bringing back large groups of viewers back to the movie theatres to see films on big screens. They also acquired near unanimous widespread critical acclaim. Of the two Oppenheimer was much more substantial and it is one of the finest films by a major film maker. But it is much more than a superb biopic, it is an almost perfect examination of how society and government often use people for their own ends then throws them to the wolves after their purpose is over (see Joan of Arc and Thomas Paine for other real-life examples). Also, although it is over three hours, I wouldnít cut a minute. If anything, I wanted to see a longer version. I cannot say the same for Killers of the Flower Moon which is at least an hour overlong and suffers from unnecessarily slow pacing. Somebody really needed to take a pair of scissors to it. Although Barbie is more clever and visually appealing and might inspire more good conversations, I thought it was merely good, and it has more flash than substance, whereas Oppenheimer is a masterpiece.

I picked the Indy Past Lives as my best film of 2023 with the more traditional big budget crowd pleaser, Oppenheimer being just edged out of that top spot. Not only does Past Lives have a perfectly developed love triangle story that everyone can relate to, but it also does a great job at representing the Korean, Korean American and Anglo-American communities and it shows the tensions that exist between them. The dialogue and characterization were so lovingly done that it puts most of the other Oscar contenders and top ten candidates to shame (including the over-hyped The Holdovers and the much better Maestro) which struck me as something closer to generic Oscar bait films. Not only does Past Lives break ground with its cross-cultural exploration but it is the best Indy film of the year by a long shot.

2023 was another year in the rapid decline of the comic book and graphic novel film dynasty which may be in a death spiral. The few superhero films that worked and/or did well financially (such as Spiderman: Across the Universe and Guardians of the Galaxy 3) followed their own idiosyncratic visions (at this point Iíd see anything by James Gunn.) and they could stand on their own. But the films that didnít work or do well like the Flash, Ant-Man Quantumania, Captain Marvel: Rise of the Gods and The Marvels were merely the latest bland, badly written generic, chapters in increasingly tiresome ongoing sagas. Also, they were often ugly from a visual standpoint with terrible CGI although they all cost small fortunes to make. But the best film adapted from a comic or graphic novel by far this year was David Fincherís terrific, spell binding The Killer currently streaming on Netflix.

It was also a fine year for animated films as a whole. In most other years Spiderman: Across the Spiderverse would have easily been on my best films list. But this year there were three superb, and better animated films (two of which were from Japan) that I liked even better. They rivaled the best live action films for Quality and creativity. They were Suzame and The Boy and His Heron, but I also enjoyed My Year of Dicks (a short film in which every vignette featuring a male is in a different animation style) and Nimoma, a glorious gender bending film about a washed-up knight who fights evil with an amoral, androgynous sidekick. The more family friendly and fun, Leo (on Netflix) had Bill Barr and Adam Sandler voicing the parts of a tuatara and turtle in a story of animals passing on their wisdom to grade school students.

It was also a decent year for sci-fi (or if you prefer speculative fiction films) and genre films in general. Godzilla: Minus One was one of the best in the series, and Creator was a thoughtful adventure film that championed AI and depicted an artificial being as a possible messiah (You can think of it as the anti-Terminator). Finally, there were two terrific hybrid films which blended sci-fi with other genres. Infinity Pool was a riveting dark comedy/horror/sci film that effectively updated the so called eat the rich genre (see last yearís Triangle of Sadness and this yearís Saltburn), and the sci-fi/ romantic dramady, Poor Things gave us a splendid update on Mary Shelleyís Frankenstein story which turned it into into a wickedly funny and addictively watchable tale of female emancipation (look for a full review in the future). I also had a great time seeing The Wrath of Beckyí R, a wonderful gleefully violent revenge flick with no redeeming social content (itís this yearís Violent Night)

The year also gave us some terrific music docs such as Little Richard: I Am Everything about the great rock icon, Jellyroll which examines a self-destructive rapper turned country star and the moving American Symphony, about the award winning former Tonight Show musical director, and orchestral jazz musician, Jon Batiste who at the peak of his success had to deal with his wifeís life threatening illness.

This was a highly competitive year for the Best Film choice so it was a particularly difficult year to make a Top Ten list. Almost every great director in the film industry made a film this year including Martin Scorsese, Hayoa Miyazaki, David Fincher, Sofia Coppola, Todd Haynes, Kelly Reichardt, Greta Gerwig, Michael Mann, Wes Anderson, Aki Kaurismaki, Paul Schrader, Wim Wenders, Justine Trier, and Ali Alister. Luckily the films by Martin Scorsese (Killers of the Flower Moon and Personality Crisis), Wes Anderson (Asteroid City) and Alexander Payne (The Holdovers) were not their best films and the newest movies by Denis Villeneuve (the second Dune), Francis Ford Coppola (Megalopolis), and Ethan Coen (Drive Away Dolls) wonít come out until next year, and I didnít get a chance to see Michael Mannís Ferrari or American Fiction or Zone of Interest yet, which makes the choices a little bit easier.

But bumping The Killer down from the Top Ten because of the last-minute addition of Poor Things was still particularly painful and in a worse year would have made my top ten or even top five but the open-ended ending which failed to give me a feeling of closure worked against it a bit. Also, it was blown away by the originality of Poor Things both in terms of story and visuals and I found the charisma and charm of Emma Stone who is in top form completely irresistible.

Iím going by the official wide release dates in Chicago, so the film had to open here in 2023 to make the list. If a film screened earlier for a few days in New York or California (like Wim Wenderís new film) but it wonít open in Chicago until 2024, then it might be on next yearís list. This explains why Living, R.M.N. and Quiet Girl are here, but the newest film by Wim Wenders (Perfect Days) is not.

Now without further ado here are my best films of the year list. At some point a much longer list may appear on my www.artinterviews.org  website.
 

1) Past Lives
Director-Celine Song
A fairly modern woman in Seoul who grows up with an ultra-traditional Korean male friend but through circumstances they are separated. She meets up with him after many years of separation and serves as his guide when he comes for a visit after she has gotten married. All their scenes together suggest unrealized passion and desire and she is torn between him and her modern American husband. The film may make you think about the choices you have made and how your life could have turned out differently if you had chosen another path. Director, Cindy Songís beautifully nuanced screenplay is exceptional and she is the most promising new talent to emerge this year. In Korean with English subtitles and English. Streaming on You tube, Google play, Vudu, Viki and Apple TV.
 

2) Oppenheimer
Director-Christopher Nolan
Unforgettable and powerful epic biopic with an outstanding performance by Gillian Murphy (who bears no resemblance to his character in Peaky Blinders) is about a brilliant scientist who arguably saved the country during WW II who lives to see his name and rep besmirched. Robert Downey Jr. (finally finding a role worthy of his talent) is completely magnetic playing the villain, a great opportunistic cad and consummate evil politician. The film is also a great achievement in terms of acting, direction, and cinematography and many will no doubt watch it and study it for many years. But this beautiful cinematic artwork (which was released in an exclusive 70-millimeter deal) demands to be seen on a high-resolution big screen, and it would be a greatly diminished thing on the small screen. In any other year this would be the number one film. Streaming on You Tube, Google play, Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

 

3) Poor Things
Director-Yorgos Lanthimos
Fantasy oriented feminist film is kind is like an update on Bride of Frankenstein in which the doctor and Dr. Frankenstein figure are the same person. and places the female monster who is probably the most human character goes on a fascinating path to self-discovery. Also, the film, which contains some of the best acting, costumes and visually inventive cinematography (it is shot on 16-millimeter film on a 30-millimeter camera framing some shots that look like old pictures). Emma Stone works perfectly with Yorgos Lanthimos (they also worked together on The Favorite)
in one of the best recurring director/actor teams in all of cinema, and she gives what may be her best performance. The film looks as good as Barbie and it is twice as smart and more understanding of human nature. A tasty delight from start to finish, this gloriously bawdy and odd hard to classify film with a steampunk setting lingers in your imagination like a vivid fever dream. At press time this was playing at theatres.
 

4) R.M.N.
Director-Cristian Mungiu
This bleak and downbeat drama about several immigrants that are persecuted by the nativists in Transylvania arrives at a universal truth that could not have been timelier now that a new wave of Venezuelan migrants is arriving in the US. Another winner from the best film maker to emerge from the Romanian New Wave, Chris Mingiu (see 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days) In Romanian with English subtitles. Streaming on You Tube, Google play, Vudu, Viki and Apple TV. Streaming on AMC, You tube, Sling, Google play, and Vudu.
 

5) Living
Director- Oliver Hermanus
Bill Nighy deservedly got a well-deserved best actor Oscar nom last year, but sadly few have seen this fine drama about a dying man who finds a purpose in his last days and it remains obscure. But this magnificently acted, character-driven drama does an excellent job of attacking the callousness of the corporate mindset, and it almost parodies government absurdity as well as Brazil or The Metamorphosis which it resembles. Streaming on Netflix, YouTube, Google play, Vudu, Amazon Prime, and Netflix.
 

6) Little Richard: I am Everything
Director-Lisa Cortes
Fine documentary captures the contradictory nature of one of rockís greatest figures who alternated between periods of debauchery and ultra-right-wing religiosity. This also delves a bit more into his status as a gay icon than previous films that spotlighted him, and it includes some of the best rock music clips (including the classic clip from The Girl Canít Help It) ever . It also shows he was not only one of rockís earlier performers, but also one of its best. Available on DVD and streaming on MAX, YouTube, Google play, and Vudu.
 

7) Fallen Leaves
Director-Aki Kaurismški
This deadpan Finnish filmís characters and setting are so different from what we see in American films it almost seems to take place on another planet. Itís all about a woman who was fired from her low-level grocery job for taking home expired food who goes on a date with a man fired from his job for drinking, but the piece of paper that she wrote her number on is lost in the wind. Whether they will and should pursue a relationship is the filmís central dilemma. The film does a convincing job at depicting the hopeless day-to-day existence in a terrible, economically challenged town, Helsinki, with has few job prospects and seems frozen in time. Although it starts out dreary the films ends up surprisingly warm hearted and with its classic film references (a zombie film is compared to Bresson) the film should appeal to cinema aficionados as well as romantics. This film has been included in this yearís Oscar shortlist for Best International Film. In Finnish with English subtitles. It is on this yearís list of Streaming on MUBI
 

8) The Quiet Girl (An CailŪn Ciķin)
Director-Colm Bairťad
During a difficult period for her family a young girl must leave her mom to temporarily stay with her aunt and uncle. Initially the aunt is kindly and the uncle resents her. This slowly and perfectly builds to the most emotionally satisfying climax of the year. In Gaelic with English sub-tiles. Streaming on Amazon Prime, Paramount, YouTube, Sling, Philo GooglePlay, Vudu, and Amazon Prime.
 

9) Infinity Pool
Director-Brandon Cronenberg
In an elite resort in a faraway country a man accidentally runs someone over and is sentenced to death. To get around the verdict, the city executes his clone to save face in public, and people begin to purposely commit crimes so that they can be entertained by seeing their own clones killed. The young and underrated English actress, Mia Goth (who so far has been associated with genre films) of the "X" series, shows once again why she is one of the most impressive rising stars in Hollywood, and director Brandon Cronenberg shows he inherited some of his dadís (Dave Cronenberg) talent. Streaming on Hulu, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, Redbox and Amazon Prime.
 

10) My Year of Dicks
Director-Sara Gunnarsdottir
TMy Year with Dicks- A teen girl decides to lose her virginity and she meets a bunch of prospective lovers that fail to please her. Each entertaining vignette in this short film depicts a story of one of the males in a different animation style. Available online.
 

Honorable Mentions (#11-25)

11)
Suzame, Elegant and emotionally resonant animated tale from Japan about a teen girl who accepts her role as a nature goddess in order prevents an earthquake which has its origins in a giant mystical worm. Dubbed in English or in Japanese with English sub-tiles. From Makoto Shinkai, the creator/director of the similar Weathering with You, and this oneís another winner. Streaming on Amazon Prime and Crunchyroll.

12) The Boy and his Heron,  A boy whose mom died during his birth travels to another realm with a talking heron to bring his mom (or a version of him) to this reality. This draws heavily from the early real life of the animation genius, Hayao Miyazaki. This was supposed to be his last film but now he might do some more. Dubbed or in Japanese with English sub-tiles. At press time this was playing at theatres

13)
The Killer, Michael Fassbender does a magnificent job portraying a trained assassin who makes a crucial error in one of his hits. David Fincherís film which is one of his best directorial efforts (and this is the guy who gave us the near classics, Fight Club, Zodiac, and Seven) is told in first person (like the Punisher War Zone comic) and takes us deep into the mind of an amoral killer plus shows us his bleak, dark world. Wonderful and riveting film was based on a French graphic novel. Streaming on Netflix.

14) Tori and Lokita This heart breaking and timely Belgium film depicts two poor orphan kids who work as low-level criminal and struggle to live in a daily basis. In French with English sub-titles

15) Blackberry, This excellent Social Network like fact-based drama depicts how some idealistic anti-social misfits helped by a ruthless business type ended up getting one of the best and most successful recent inventions off the ground. Streaming on AMC, YouTube, Slight TV, Amazon Prime, Google play, Vudu, and Amazon Prime.

16)
Saltburn, Well acted and beautifully shot second film by actress/director Emerald (Promising Young Woman) Fennell concerns a poor young man is taken in by his rich friendís family who mistreat him at the same time they help him. They are the most entertaining and eccentric wealthy families on this side of The Royal Tenenbaums and Rosamund Pike gives one of the best supporting performances of the year. Streaming on Amazon Prime.

17) Fremont, In this modestly budgeted but winning film, a young Afghan immigrant gets a job in a small Western town as a fortune writer for a Chinese restaurant. The small town here is so longingly and convincingly depicted that it is almost like a human character. The only familiar face (Jeremy Alan White from the Chicago based show, The Bear) has a very short but marvelous scene. Streaming on You tube, Google play, and Amazon Prime.

18) The Cow Who Sang into The Future, Weirdly wonderful Magical Realist film about a Chilean town in which cows sing songs (without moving their lips) in which they predict the future and the dead rise when they are needed to help the living. In Spanish with English sub-titles. Streaming on YouTube, Google play, Amazon Prime, Vudu, and MAX.

19) Showing Up, Kelly Reichardt (The Cow) teams up again with Michelle Williams who stars as a struggling artist with an eccentric family who probably is not good enough to become successful in her trade. In this first-rate example of slow cinema every little event takes on big significance. Streaming on Showtime, YouTube, Hulu, Fubo, Sling TV, Amazon Prime, Paramount, and Vudu.

20) Polite Society, In this totally fresh genre blending tale a young girl who is an aspiring stunt women finds out some terrible things about her future mother-in-law so she tries to prevent her sisterís wedding. The yearís best surreal English Indian kung fu wedding comedy contains many of the yearís most creative fantasy action sequences, and it achieves much of what The Marvels and Ms. Marvel (although it wasnít bad) tried to do much better. Streaming on Peacock.

21) Are You There God? Itís Me Margaret, Very effective Catholic coming of age film about a teen who struggles to fit in after in a new town her parents relocate. Based on the funny, touching young adult novel, this is like the best after school special but about youíve never seen. Streaming on Starz, Hulu, YouTube, Sling TV, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Philo, Google Play and Vudu.

22) Anatomy of a Fall, Film is about a court case involving a woman who may or may not have killed her author husband. This film successfully violates many conventions of a court film and it includes a terrific performance by German actress. The film shows how negative everyday little scenes or situations from daily life could seem incriminating when taken out of context. Sandra Huller which may earn her an Oscar nod for best actress was also in the critically acclaimed possible Oscar nominees Zone of Interest. In French with English sub-titles. Streaming on YouTube, Amazon Prime, YouTube and Google Play.

23)
Creator, Marvelous sci-fi action film is kind of like a reverse Terminator with America attacking benevolent Ai's in Asia (which also evokes the Viet Nam War). One of the smartest and timely genre films of the year features a fine performance by Denzelís son Washington.

24) Maestro, Bradley Cooper gives a terrific performance as a brilliant bisexual conductor, Leonard Bernstein who has to deal with destructive sexual desires and his loyal wifeís illness. Top notch in every way but conventional and not particularly transgressive.

25) How to Destroy a Pipeline, Methodical and chilling tale of a bunch of young eco terrorists staging an event is top notch and it moves along nicely.

 

Vittorio Carli, who teaches at area community colleges and has reviewed films for The Star and The Examiner. He is an avid film buff and an author.
His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.
You can find more of his writings at. www.chicagopoetry.org

For more of his reviews including previous Top 10 lists go to www.artinterviews.org, www.artinterviews.org/best.
and www.reelmoviecritic.com


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