Favorite films of 2023 features a mixed bag

I don’t know if 2023 will be remembered as a great year for movies or not.

That’s better judged from a greater distance than has passed at the point of the writing of this column, but there were a lot of good ones. I did experience enough to think 2023 will at least be remembered as a good year.

Like every year, I didn’t get a chance to see every movie released, and for various personal responsibilities, I probably saw fewer this year than I have in a couple of decades.

There is no doubt I missed some good or even great ones, and hopefully dodged a lot of bad ones.

This year will be remembered for the box-office and critical success of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” two movies that will be forever linked in the minds of many since the films opened to great fanfare on the same weekend and both did so well at the box office.

The year will perhaps be remembered as the downfall of the superhero movie, a genre that has dominated the box office for the better part of this century, but comparatively fell on hard times this year.

Of course, it wasn’t just superhero movies that flopped. Franchises in general took it on the chin with sequels to The Fast and the Furious, Indiana Jones, and Mission Impossible franchises all failing to be profitable or too meager to matter.

However, “John Wick 4” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” bucked that trend, so don’t count on Hollywood totally giving up on sequels or super heroes.

With that said, here’s my ten favorite movies of the year. If you ask me tomorrow, this order would no doubt change and maybe some of the choices too. I actually switched it up quite a bit while writing this column.

I’ll start with an honorable mention. I admit I feel a bit guilty leaving out Martin Scorsese’s “Flowers of the Killer Moon” in my top 10.

Scorsese is probably my favorite modern director, but this film was just too long. I got tired watching it. It’s expertly directed. The acting is great, though Leonardo DiCaprio should have taken the FBI role that Jesse Plemons capably filled as Scorsese originally wanted. Lily Gladstone was fantastic in her role and should get an Oscar nomination if not a victory. But the movie was too long of a sit for me to truly enjoy, and ultimately that is on Marty.

Here’s my Top 10 of 2023.

10. The Iron Claw

Growing up in Memphis, where the studio wrestling show was the No. 1 Neilson-rated TV show in the area at its height in the 1970s and ‘80s, I could not escape being a wrestling fan as a kid. So I remember the Von Erich family and their tragic story fairly well. Sean Durkin’s film skims over or lightly touches on some of the rougher edges of their history, but it’s clear that the point of his film is that the loving relationship between Kevin Von Erich (Zac Efron) and his girlfriend/wife Pam Addison (Lily James) became his saving grace in a life filled with tragedy.

9. Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse

Peter Parker will forever be “my Spider-Man,” but when Marvel makes such compelling and revolutionary animated films about the Miles Morales version of the character, even an old head like me has to take notice. The film is kinetic with a compelling story involving “the multiverse” that is handled much better than similar storylines Marvel is attempting to exploit in many of its live-action films.

8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Director James Gunn wraps up his Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy in fine fashion, bringing the motley band of space pirates’ story to a pause while also telling us the tragic origin of Rocket Raccoon. It’s a funny, touching, and exciting conclusion to the Guardians story (at least for now), and a great send-off movie for Gunn as he crosses the street to run DC Studios for Warner Bros., with Peter Safran. Gunn’s next movie will be “Superman: Legacy” in the summer of 2025.

7. Godzilla Minus One

Now this is a great Godzilla movie by director Takashi Yamazaki for Japan’s Toho Studio, the originator of the character is the mid-1950s. When I wrote my initial review, I said this was the best Godzilla movie in decades. Upon reflection, this is probably the best Godzilla film ever made. The king of the kaiju stuns in all his destructive glory in this reboot, but it is the crushing, universal story of former World War II kamikaze pilot Shikishima who can’t shake his survivor’s guilt, PTSD, or Godzilla who ends up being the hero of the film. Just a fantastic use of a pop-culture icon to help tell such a strong human story.

6. Air

For the longest, this project, directed by and co-starring Ben Affleck, was my favorite movie of the year. It premiered in March, so I’m wondering if recency bias has me ranking it lower than I should. The film is about how Matt Damon’s character Sonny Varcaro convinced Michael Jordan and his parents to choose Nike as the shoe line he would endorse instead of more popular basketball brands Converse and Adidas at the very beginning of his professional basketball career. Damon is excellent in his role, but Viola Davis makes the movie with her turn as Jordan’s mom. Jason Bateman is also a standout in an all-around excellent cast.

5. Anatomy of a Fall

The film, co-written and directed by Justine Triet and her writing partner Arthur Harari, won the Palme d’Or at last summer’s Cannes Film Festival. It’s one part murder mystery and one part courtroom drama that answers some questions, but might just leave you wondering what exactly was true and what wasn’t. In the film, Sandra’s husband Samuel is either accidentally killed from a fall, murdered by his wife, or committed suicide. We gain all the evidence presented at the trial, and we get a verdict, but it’s ultimately left up to each individual viewer to decide what actually happened in this deliciously sinister movie. What you end up believing may say more about you than it does the film.

4. Poor Things

This is the wildest and wackiest movie I’ve seen in some time. It’s bolstered by terrific performances from Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, and Willem Dafoe. The film is basically an alternate take on the Frankenstein story, but where the mad scientist places the brain of his unborn child in the body of his deceased wife after her suicide. Yeah, it’s out there, but Stone and Ruffalo’s performances are terrific and likely to garner them Oscar nominations if not the trophies themselves. This movie won’t be for everyone, but it’s an absolute trip delivered by director Yorgos Lathimos.

3. Oppenheimer

This is likely your winner for Best Picture at the Oscars, and it would be hard to argue with this complex story about a complex man, handled deftly by Christopher Nolan, who is one of the best and most consistent directors working today. Cillian Murphy is excellent as the prickly lead in the film about a man who questions whether he’s used his brilliance for good or ill. The film is packed with robust performances by Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, Kenneth Branagh, Emily Blunt, and Matt Damon, but none are as strong as Robert Downey Jr. in a role that is likely to win him an Oscar. The film is as much a mystery as it is a biography.

2. Past Lives

Most everyone has that one love that got away which they remember every now and then. “Past Lives” is the story of perhaps getting that second chance, and what one will or won’t give up for it. This film is excellent and as relatable as a movie can be. Celine Song is the writer-director, and the film has me looking forward to whatever her next project is.

1. The Holdovers

This movie will likely join my list of films that I watch regularly during the Christmas season. It might not make the list every year, but I’m sure it will next year. The movie is about found family for the holidays. Three misfits who are initially at odds end up making each other’s lives a little better even if it’s just for a little while. Paul Giamatti plays a misanthropic classics professor at an all boys school stuck with school-sitting duty over the Christmas holiday with cook Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and student Dominic Sessa. The three bond in a touching, heartfelt way that’s a joy to watch. Sessa is a young actor to watch in the future.

Most Anticipated Films of 2024

Deadpool 3” pits Ryan Reynolds’ Mercenary with a Mouth against Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and possibly other X-Men on July 26.

Dune: Part 2” was supposed to open last fall but with the actor’s strike nixing publicity, Warner Bros. opted to move it to its new March 1 release date.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” should be a fun follow-up to the reboot. How can you go too wrong with a cast that includes Paul Rudd, Bill Murray, and McKenna Grace? It’s set to open March 29.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” opens May 24 and picks up years after the previous sequel left off and moves this series closer to where the original “Planet of the Apes” films began in the 1960s.

Joker: Folie a’ Deux” opens on Oct. 4 with Joaquin Phoenix returning to his Academy Award-winning role, but this time Harley Quinn is added to the mix with Lady Gaga playing the psychiatrist-gone-bad. The movie is said to be a musical.

Nosferatu” is directed by Robert Eggers (“The Witch” and “The Northman”). It’s a remake of a 1922 film that was a blatant ripoff of Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula.” We’ll see what Eggers has in store with a cast that includes Bill Skarsgard, Lily-Rose Depp, Willem Dafoe, Nicholas Hoult, Anna Corrin, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. It’s scheduled to open on Dec. 25.

New in Local Theaters – Jan. 5, 2024

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