Monday, January 8, 2024

Mark Ahn's Favorite Movies of 2023

 by Mark Ahn

“You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.”

Honorable mentions: Asteroid City, Killers of the Flower Moon – In a year full of masters releasing new work, I needed more time to think about these two. Not making my top ten is not a statement of lack of quality or dislike, but my own recognition that I had a longer way to go in thinking about them. Please enjoy what our Rob DiCristino wrote about them in the links.

The “sorry to have missed you” list:
American Fiction
May December
Poor Things
The Zone of Interest

9, 10. John Wick: Chapter 4, Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning, Part 1
Don’t make me choose between the two most reliably entertaining and consistent franchises left in the world. The biggest danger here is that our love for Keanu Reeves and Tom Cruise makes them bruise and batter their bodies for yet another decade, but they’ve definitely earned that right. They’ve never been more popular or well-liked, and it’s been a perfect combination of movie-star power (which mostly has been shunted into action movies and television in the 2020s), effects innovation, and just-serious-enough stakes.

8. Godzilla Minus One
I’ve realized that the later editions of Jurassic World have ruined me. Not to spoil those sequels too much, but I’d argue that the heart of why those sequels don’t work as well as they could have is that the human characters are so devoid of any humanity that we’re actively rooting for the dinosaurs to win. This movie decides to swing the momentum in the direction of the humans, as if to remind the audience that a giant lizard emerging from the ocean would actually be a terrifying, not a joyful, experience. It’s weird to even write that out, but that’s how far into the ocean we’ve gone.

7. Barbie, Oppenheimer (together)
I always accepted certain “established” rules of the movie industry. For instance, you don’t ever release a blockbuster on the same weekend as another one. Or, that audiences only want one kind of movie at a time. Previously established intellectual property is the only way to make money during the summer. And, of course, a modern addendum, the only way to be a fan of something is to disparage everything else, because competition has to be toxic, rather than constructive. Maybe it’s too idealistic or reductive, but the Barbenheimer experience gave me hope that every movie summer can be like this one, filled with conversation, excitement, and fun, because of movies that were made with care and thought. They’re not flawless creations, but they re-confirmed the power of America’s most populist artform to create a cultural moment for everyone to share.

6. Anatomy of a Fall
An extraordinary event happens to ordinary people, which puts the audience in the position of feeling the microscope intensity of scrutiny on everyday life. Why do people insist on examining their lives in the fine grain of singular moments, rather than the broad pastiche that those moments coalesce to? It all begins with a boy, his dog, and an interview.

5. The Holdovers
What’s really beautiful about The Holdovers is that despite the obvious differences in the three main characters, they all experience the loneliness that gets to all of us. There’s jokes and sarcasm, but it hides a vulnerability and deep melancholy that can take on a different shape in the cold of winter. The movie is quite loving to its characters, which matches the literary rhythm of the jaded professor (Paul Giamatti) and a troubled student (newcomer Dominic Sessa), but they’re balanced beautifully by the secret MVP of the film, Da’vine Joy Randolph.

4. Ferrari
I don’t want Enzo Ferrari’s life, fraught with trying to run a racing team, scrimping for pennies, and balancing a bewildering menagerie of family and hangers-on. What I do want is Michael Mann to film Enzo Ferrari’s life, and then I get to live in 1950s Italy, which looks lovingly recreated with Mann’s typical exacting precision. I don’t want to wear those suits, but I do want to sip espresso on a piazza, put on some sunglasses, and check the lap times on my stopwatch with some old guys. The blend of hotheaded, narrow-minded competitors and technical prowess is a perfect blend of ingredients for Mann. If this is his final movie (hopefully not), then I’m happy that he got to complete this labor of love; something that his title character would understand.

3. The Killer
Michael Fassbender’s titular character actually feels like a guy (it’s always a guy) who’s watched every David Fincher movie, and could recite line and scene, but who isn’t clear on what lesson he should be learning. But he definitely knows he’s cool, and smarter than everybody else. There’s nothing wrong with being the hero of your own universe, but are you really the hero if you’ve never truly challenged yourself? Fincher, as usual, puts the audience in the place of the voyeurs he often criticizes, drawing us into the small ordinariness of human obsession.

2. Past Lives
Another film that I found to be surprisingly gentle, perhaps because the nostalgia for a “what-if?” moment is inevitably tinged with regret, and needs to be handled with care. It’s a film made for adults, living in that ambiguous space in our heads where closure hasn’t happened yet, and we’re wondering how much that closure is actually worth. Celine Song’s debut film avoids being too sentimental by taking its considerations seriously, which is probably the best way to deal with something that has weighed on your mind for a long time.

1. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
I’ve resisted animation for a long time. Animated features, though undoubtedly of high quality and entertainment value, always felt too different from live-action features to be put into the same category. The creative rules are different (not worse or less, just different) and the subjective lack of animated features that stuck in my memory made me mostly greet new ones with indifference. So I’m really surprised that this lasted as long as it did at the top of my list; at the end of the day, I couldn’t come up with a reason why it shouldn’t be my favorite.

It’s aesthetically so beautiful. The soundtrack is fantastic. Everything about the story is meaningful and character-driven. I’m as burned out as anyone on comic book properties, but this one avoids the fatigue by taking the multiverse concept and actually incorporating it in a way that’s (stop me if you heard this one) meaningful and character-driven, rather than content-driven. I cared so much about everything that was happening; I didn’t think about whether it was animation or not. It completely immersed me in a story in way that nothing else in 2023 did, and that seems pretty deserving of being top of the list.

1 comment:

  1. Mark, I love this list! I need to catch up with some of your picks (Godzilla, Past Lives, Spidey, Ferrari); but I love reading about what you love about each of these. I just watched Anatomy of a Fall a couple days ago, and it was awesome! It took me til the very end of the movie to realize it was the actress from Toni Erdmann--no wonder she was so compelling to me. And the little kid was great too!