Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Rob's Favorite Movies of 2023

 by Rob DiCristino

It was a great year!

10. No One Will Save You (Dir. Brian Duffield)
The third Duffield-scripted joint to make my recent lists (after Spontaneous and Underwater) proves that he and I have matching sci-fi sensibilities, a shared love of allegory and of fiction’s unique power to help us cope with an unforgiving and unpredictable world. Duffield’s work is both rooted in genre tradition and deceptively innovative, this time offering a nearly-wordless home invasion story capped-off by an alluring and intelligent performance from Kaitlyn Dever, who continues to prove that she’s a movie star in the making.

9. Fallen Leaves (Dir. Aki Kaurismäki)

Kaurismäki’s understated romance may feel too stilted and dour for some audiences to see the big beating heart at its core, but nearly anyone can appreciate its idiosyncratic approach to loneliness, the way its middle-aged protagonists (Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen) avoid the easy narrative shortcuts that trap so many rom-com characters in trite and mindless misunderstandings. Instead, our Fallen Leaves friends are beset on all sides by deeply risible but ultimately relatable misadventures that test their commitment to themselves just as much as — maybe even more than — their commitment to each other.

8. Passages (Dir. Ira Sachs)
Speaking of commitment, Ira Sachs’ bitchy and malcontent love triangle drama draws a critical eye to those co-dependent, ego-centric love sponges who make it such a difficult proposition. Martin and Agathe (Ben Whishaw and Adèle Exarchopoulous) are trapped in the careless thrall of filmmaker Tomas (Franz Rogowski), all three of them cut and bleeding from the shrapnel of his self-destructive tendencies. Bouncing impetuously between his husband and the Parisian schoolteacher carrying his child, Tomas scratches and claws for the security of others while remaining disastrously ignorant to the gaping hole inside of himself.

7. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. (Dir. Kelly Fremon Craig)

Rather than lament the fact that They Don’t Make Them Like That Anymore, The Edge of Seventeen director Kelly Fremon Craig decided to go ahead and prove that They Still Can. Her adaptation of Judy Blume’s seminal coming-of-age novel is magically warm and endlessly empathetic, treating its titular pre-teen (Abby Ryder Fortson, in a performance that should be getting far more attention) with every bit as much compassion as it does the adults in her life (a group led by a superb Rachel McAdams). Craig’s film is old-fashioned in the best way, a classic tale told with pitch-perfect aplomb.

6. BlackBerry (Dir. Matt Johnson)

The Moneyball Innovation Celebration model was in full effect in 2023, and Matt Johnson’s chronicle of tech history’s second-greatest masterminds was the best of the bunch. Genius can be difficult to dramatize — its intangibles often too intangible for even the best screenwriters to invest us in — but failure is second nature to us all. Sporting a blistering supporting performance from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Glenn Howerton, BlackBerry demonstrates the limits of inspiration in a vacuum and the debilitating effect of unchecked ego. The boys at Research In Motion were ahead of the curve, for sure, but someone else was just a little bit further.

5. Killers of the Flower Moon (Dir. Martin Scorsese)
A murder mystery set at the edge of the American frontier; an earnest lawman’s hunt for a faceless killer; corporate espionage and ancient rituals. Reading David Grann’s 2017 bestseller reveals just how little resemblance Killers of the Flower Moon bears to Martin Scorsese’s larger filmography. But by shifting the narrative focus from the righteous Bureau agent to the devious conspirators, Scorsese and co-writer Eric Roth find the soul of the piece, the themes of ambition, corruption, and decay that the eighty-year-old auteur has obsessed over for decades. In the film’s chilling final sequence, Scorsese confronts the limits of that pursuit, acknowledging that even his own reach often exceeds his grasp.

4. Bottoms (Dir. Emma Seligman)

Every generation deserves an outrageous teen sex comedy, and Emma Seligman’s Bottoms is the best to come along in a good long while. A queer, irreverent Superbad with the slapstick sensibilities of Wet Hot American Summer, Seligman and co-star Rachel Sennott’s Bottoms challenges the popular notion that today’s teens are too upright to be sloppy, too PC to be bullies or outcasts. These kids are victimized by the hellscape of our modern world, sure. They have phobias and addictions and traumas. But more importantly, more urgently: They’re in high school. And high school, in case you’ve forgotten, is the fucking worst.

3. May December (Dir. Todd Haynes)

Todd Haynes’ latest presents itself at first as a quiet domestic drama, the kind of Lifetime Original that tempts middlebrow audiences with salaciousness — here a woman jailed for her affair with a teenager — without crossing any censor-approved lines. But rooted underneath May December’s glazed exterior is a juicy story of (literal) role-play and seduction, a feature-length session of tantric masturbation led by Natalie Portman’s hacky television actress, Elizabeth. While Elizabeth struts and preens for her audience — both inside and outside the text — Haynes slowly reveals the delusions that would consume her if she had the self-awareness to see their toxicity.

2. Oppenheimer (Dir. Christopher Nolan)

Not content to merely depict The Most Important Fucking Thing to Ever Happen in the History of the World, Christopher Nolan couches it in arguably the best biopic of the century so far, a staggering deconstruction of ambition, persecution, punishment, and remorse. His American Prometheus bears the weight of our collective sins not because he can, not because he wants to, but because he believes he should. It’s that intersection between ego and ability that makes Oppenheimer both a challenging contradiction — “You’re not just self-important; you’re actually important” — and a monumental achievement.

1. Poor Things (Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
If you’re reading this, you know that my favorite film of any given year is typically an introspective tragi-comedy that blends self-deprecation and metaphysical despair to produce a kind of guidebook for life (see The Worst Person in the World, The Banshees of Inisherin, Palm Springs, etc.), a film that acknowledges our ultimate universal insignificance while arguing that we can still make meaning and purpose out of the absurd. No 2023 release does that better than Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things, a finely-crafted primal scream in defense of humanity that deserves a place among the best existential comedies of all time.

1 comment:

  1. HAZAA! Thanks dude! Between your list and the recent podcast, im coming away with a wonderful bunch of suggestions for flicks ive yet to watch (super stoked to see Poor Things!). Happy New Year!