Friday, December 29, 2023

Notes on Film: My Favorites of 2023

 by Anthony King

Look at me, I'm growing.

At the beginning of the year I made a list of movie goals. One of those goals was to watch at least 60 new releases. For many (most?) that's nothing, but for a guy who spends most of his time watching older movies this posed a challenge. While I didn't hit 60, I'm happy to report I watched 53 movies released this year, the most new releases I've ever watched. Obviously I missed several big releases of the year: Killers of the Flower Moon and Oppenheimer being the big two I'll eventually watch; Poor Things, Saltburn, The Zone of Interest, and Beau is Afraid are four more I'll also watch soon. A big portion of my 2023 list are independent films (lots of indie horror). Worry not, though, I also watched a handful of big titles. Films I liked but didn't make the top 10 include: Barbie, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Five Nights at Freddy's, M3GAN, Evil Dead Rise, Dungeons & Dragons Honor Among Thieves, Cocaine Bear, and Renfield. Bigger titles I did NOT like include: May December and Maestro. Here are my ten favorite movies of 2023.

10. Narvik (dir. Erik Skjoldbjaerg)

I love a good piece of historical fiction, and Narvik satiates all my cravings. It tells the story of a small port town in Norway who has to defend itself as the Nazi army begins to invade. Ingrid helps run the local inn which is currently hosting a meeting of diplomats. Her husband Gunnar is a devoted soldier in the Norwegian army who has to leave suddenly to help stave off the Germans. Narvik is part grandiose war movie, part thrilling spy movie, and part touching romance. The performances are top notch, the drama made this writer cry several times, and the battle sequences are fist-pumping good. Find it on Netflix.

9. Landlocked (dir. Paul Owens)
By far the smallest (in several ways) movie on my list, Landlocked is a remarkable film that has taken up residence in my brain. It's about a young man who returns home after his father has passed away. He finds an old video camera and discovers he's able to see into the past when he looks through the viewfinder. One of the reasons Landlocked has stayed with me since I first saw it in September is that it's deeply unsettling. The longer it sits with me, the more uncomfortable I get thinking about it (in a good way). Owens shows how far talent and imagination can take you in creating a work of art; that, while a pile of money could be nice, working within financial limitations can be good sometimes. Landlocked is big and fun and terrifying ideas come to life, and it's one of the best horror movies of the year. Currently streaming on Tubi.

8. The Price We Pay (dir. Ryuhei Kitamura)

I try not to make assumptions but usually when people use the term “mean-spirited” it has a negative connotation. For me, though, it's my siren call. And Kitamura has been calling me ever since I saw Midnight Meat Train (2008). In MMT he showed a darkly, violently voyeuristic obsessive Bradley Cooper. In Downrange he had a mad sniper picking off innocent passersby on a lonely highway. In Nightmare Cinema (2018) he terrorized Catholic high school girls. And in The Price We Pay he has a backwoods Texas Chain Saw-style family torture women and burglars. Like Patrick stated earlier this year, you have no idea what's coming in this movie if you go in as blind as possible. I can't guarantee you'll love it, but I can guarantee you'll be surprised. And if you love Kitamura as much as I do, you're going to lap every bit of The Price We Pay up. Available on Peacock.

7. Infinity Pool (dir. Brandon Cronenberg)
I'm still standing by my claim that Infinity Pool is a movie solely about addiction. I'm probably way off base, but this struck such a chord with me on a level I certainly wasn't expecting, I'm still recovering. It's a story about a down-on-his-luck writer who is nearing his “bottom floor” while addiction begins to consume his life MASKED as an eat-the-rich story about a well-to-do couple who travels to a remote island resort and gets wrapped up in a violent body-snatching scheme. Either way, all three of those things sound like fantastic movies, and young Cronenberg is deft at weaving stories that cross in and out of science fiction, horror, dark (dark) comedy, and gut-wrenching drama. In other words, it's very good. His best to date, actually, and it's currently streaming on Hulu.

6. Scream VI (dirs. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett)

With all the drama coming to light surrounding the next entry in the Scream franchise, I sincerely hope the sixth is the final entry. Let's go out on a drama-free high note! Leading up to its release I ran through all the previous entries, all of which I saw for the first time this year with exception to the first. Consider me a fan of the entire franchise, and someone who was just happy to see it continue. I love the setting in NYC, I finally loved Melissa Barrera, my love for Jenna Ortega grew, and this only proved to me that MBO and TG can do no wrong. Not since the first time I saw Scream (1996) in theaters was I as surprised at the killer's reveal. Hopefully this delivered what all the forever crybabies constantly whine about Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) needed in a horror franchise. Scream VI is streaming on Paramount Plus.

5. Sick (dir. John Hyams)
Sick is the second of three movies on this list that caught me by surprise (Landlocked is the first). Sick also caused us to subscribe to Peacock, a streaming service I vowed never to add to our ever-expanding library of services (for no other reason than to keep the number low). As I wrote about in the past, the last thing I wanted to watch was another COVID movie, but the early raves reeled me in, and my jaw still drops whenever I think about the reveal. Maybe I'm stupid, naive, or whatever, but I did NOT see the second half of this movie coming. The story tells of a couple friends in the early stages of the pandemic who isolate themselves at a lakeside mansion. It quickly turns into a home invasion movie and gets very violent. Hyams obviously knows how to make an action, but the way he delivers an extremely tense thriller mixed with his brilliant action-oriented filming style is mind-boggling. I wasn't super impressed with Alone (2020), but Hyams delivers so hard with Sick I became a lifelong fan. Find Sick on the Cock.

4. Infiesto (dir. Patxi Amezcua)
I watched Infiesto on February 4th, and it never moved out of my top five. Again, I was fed up with all the books, TV, and movies telling stories revolving around the pandemic, yet here's the second movie in my top five revolving around the pandemic. At the very beginning of the pandemic, two Spanish detectives are investigating the kidnapping of a young woman. As the case evolves, things are revealed to be much bigger and much more sinister than they had anticipated. All this while also navigating the ever-increasing devastation of the COVID pandemic. Heavily inspired by David Fincher's Se7en (1995), this is truly the definition of an edge-of-your-seat thriller. And you might want to protect your TV screen because there's a moment in Infiesto where you'll want to throw something at it. Find it on Netflix.

3. Gran Turismo (dir. Neill Blomkamp)
Hey, I'm just as surprised as you to see a movie about video games and race cars this high on my list. I remember seeing this trailer for the first time and thinking to myself, “I hate how much I want to see this movie.” I will say this: I regret not seeing it in a theater but it might be even higher on my list. But holy shit this movie rules so hard! I'm a big fan of Blomkamp. District 9 is a modern masterpiece, and his short films are incredibly imaginative and so far ahead of his time (particularly the Cooking with Bill series, his entry The Driver series for BMW, and the Bad President! series). I don't play video games. Can't stand them. But I'm a sucker for racing games, and appreciate cool-looking cars that go fast. This is a true story about a young man who wins a contest playing video games to become a real-life race car driver. Orlando Bloom owns the company, David Harbour is the crew chief, and Archie Madekwe is the driver. As much as I love Harbour, he's too David Harbour here. Bloom is very good, but Madekwe is phenomenal. His passion oozes through the screen. But this is all about Blomkamp. No other racing movie has been filmed as well as Gran Turismo. Blomkamp's use of drone footage is breathtaking, and his way of crafting a story is always inspiring. Currently streaming on Netflix.

2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (dir. Jeff Rowe)

I thought for sure this would be my number one. It held the top spot for four months even. I also thought for sure this wouldn't be anywhere near my top 10 list. Which is why this is the biggest surprise of the year for me. As much as I love TMNT and cartoons, I'm hardly ever blown away by the animated movies I see. Yet the fearsome foursome delivered in a way that I wasn't expecting. A lot of people couldn't get into Mutant Mayhem because of the animation, but it was that very thing that hooked me. It's doodles (very very good doodles, mind you) in a notebook come to life. While I grew up with the original live-action movie and have associated those voices with The Turtles for most of my life, Mutant Mayhem delivers the perfect voice characterizations for our heroes in a half shell. It's very funny, very exciting, and insanely rewatchable. In fact, go watch it on Paramount Plus right now!

1. The Holdovers (dir. Alexander Payne)
I live in Nebraska and it's a state law that when Alexander Payne makes a movie it has to be your number one of that year. You know I love a sad movie. If I could somehow extract the melancholy tone from certain films and concoct some sort of liquid from that tone I would bathe in it twice a day. The Holdovers has the bath water I love (gross). Paul Giamatti is a teacher at prep school in Massachusetts who is assigned to watch the small group of boys who have nowhere to go over the Christmas break. All the boys get the opportunity to go on a trip. All but one, played by Dominic Sessa. Giamatti and Sessa are joined by the school's cook, played by Da'Vine Joy Randolph, and the three of them try to make the most out of their holiday. Giamatti is never not good, but he's at his best when he works with Payne. Sessa, in his first ever movie role, is remarkably great. And I think the Oscar is definitely Randolph's to lose. This will now become a yearly staple in the Sadvember rotation, and I look forward to another full-on sob when I watch it next year.

I watched more new movies than I ever have and I made a list. Coming next week, my film discoveries of 2023!


  1. Everybody is dismissing Gran Turismo, i did too when i saw the awful trailer. but i'm a sucker for car racing movies. And Blomkamp at the helm surely was the main selling point for me. Everybody i know who give it a chance likes it

  2. I can’t get enough of The Holdovers. I’ll definitely expect that I’ll watch it every year and I wouldn’t mind seeing all three of the main performances and the screenplay get as many accolade nominations (and hopefully wins) as possible.