Thursday, January 4, 2024

Rosalie's Favorite Movies of 2023

 by Rosalie Lewis

Sometimes, you just gotta watch what you feel like watching instead of what you’re supposed to feel like watching. Sometimes, you don’t have time for all 82 movies left on your 2023 catch up list before the clock strikes midnight on the new year. Sometimes, you shamelessly crib from Erika and decide to have four ties in your top ten list. Happy 2024, let’s do this!

Tied for 10: Joy Ride and Red, White & Royal Blue
My truth is that I enjoy laughter, and I am not ashamed. These movies both gave me lots to laugh about, while being at times extremely silly and relying on tropes of the road trip movie and the enemies-to-lovers movie, respectively. They also both have several memorable musical sequences set to irreverent hip hop songs (WAP for Joy Ride; Get Low for Red, White & Royal Blue). I could imagine putting either of these movies on when I’m feeling sick or sad and feeling soothed and comforted by them. I could picture watching with my sisters or even my nieces when they’re just a little bit older and having a great time giggling.

Quick rundowns of each, for those who haven’t watched yet:

Joy Ride is Adele Lim’s directorial debut and follows friends Audrey (Ashley Park) and Lolo (Sherry Cola) on a trip to China—ostensibly a business trip but also maybe a trip to discover Audrey’s roots since her birth mother is Chinese. Joining the two on their adventures are Lolo’s cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu) and Audrey’s actress roommate Kat (Stephanie Hsu). There are friendship testing moments, sexy hookups, over the top drug taking montages, and a lot of hilarious hijinks. Basically everyone in the cast is really, really ridiculously good looking, to use Zoolander parlance. The working title, according to Wikipedia, was Joy Fuck Club. If you don’t enjoy raunchy comedies this is probably not your bag, but it was very much mine. (Rentable on the usual places and streaming on Starz)
Red, White & Royal Blue is based on a successful romance novel by queer author Casey McQuiston and is directed by playwright turned filmmaker Matthew Lopez. In it, Alex (Taylor Zakhar Perez) plays the son of the first female US President and he hates the British Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine). Of course, this is a rom com so the two of them are forced to spend time together for PR reasons and realize they are both Very Hot and also Very Fun To Make Out With and also Isn’t David Bowie Cool and also What If Our Families Find Out (Even Though We Are Adult Men)? I say these things with love, because yes there are definitely still barriers and costs to being out, even if you live a life of privilege in other ways. This movie is worth overlooking Uma Thurman having a weird Southern accent (she’s the mom president, btw), because not only does it have some very sexy hookup scenes but it also has some genuinely tender and beautiful moments. It’s for sure a wish fulfillment movie, and I for one wish there were more movies this cute and happy. (Streaming on Prime)

9: Wham!
I cried when George Michael died in 2016. He and his music mean a lot to me, and so when this documentary showed up on Netflix I had to watch it immediately. I expected some questionable '80s fashion and interviews or concert footage from the early years, which is there. I did not expect to be bowled over by the story of a lifelong best friendship between George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley. Andrew Ridgeley is the kind of friend we all should be so lucky to have—absolutely gracious despite having receded from the spotlight when George went solo, reminiscing about how they were boys in middle school together in a real life Sing Street scenario, basically. Andrew’s mom kept heaps upon heaps of scrapbooks (around 50, according to director Chris Smith) with all their clippings, so those are treasure troves to see in the movie. There are home videos of the early days and unearthed concert footage from shows in China. You get to see some cringe-y rapping but you also see the way these two guys just had a blast making music and touring the world together. Documentaries about dead musicians are often either maudlin or middle of the road; this one felt celebratory and intimate.

Tied for 8: Priscilla and Barbie
Both Elvis and the original Barbie doll emerged in the late 1950s, achieving eponymous icon status and flummoxing the parents and moral handwringers with their sex appeal. In the intervening years, they have maintained a following while continuing to generate controversy, analysis, and money. It’s fascinating to see how much filmmakers have to say that feels fresh when you would think by now every angle would’ve been covered.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of last year’s Elvis from Baz Luhrmann, but leave it to Sofia Coppola to reveal something new. She excels in creating drama from inconspicuous details, from costume choices to the distance between the camera and its subject. In Priscilla, star Cailee Spaeny inhabits a young woman discovering and testing out the limits of her own agency. That agency bumps up against Elvis, her famous suitor who seems to view her as a doll more than a partner and is then surprised and aggravated when she has wants and needs of her own. I love the way the movie ends, and this is now officially in my top three Sofia Coppola movies.

Speaking of having wants and needs, Barbie invites us to think about why we expect a doll to embody the Platonic ideal of every possible iteration of human womanhood but also it can’t sexualize girls but also let’s not slut shame but also could this toy please fix body dysmorphia and eating disorders and by the way why are you playing with dolls when you could be Learning To Code? I wrestled with this movie a little bit even though I had a great time seeing it in the theater and participating in the Barbenheimer of it all. I wondered, “Does this actually challenge anyone’s existing beliefs or is it just letting us feel like we’re Fixing Sexism by giving our money to the IP of the moment?” I contemplated if it was a little didactic in its handling of gender essentialism. I wondered if a stronger movie would’ve lost the Mattel board subplot. But then, I realized I’m doing the same thing to Barbie the movie that we’ve done to Barbie the toy line and to women-directed movies and ultimately to women themselves. It doesn’t have to fix everything. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to make it pass some morality test to enjoy it. It got a ton of people excited about the movies, it’s directed by Greta Gerwig, it has Ryan Gosling singing and dancing and rollerblading, and it got that Matchbox 20 song stuck in my head for the first time in over twenty years. And that’s (K)enough.

7: Killers of the Flower Moon
After reading the book earlier this year, I was even more interested in this movie. Especially in the hands of a master like Martin Scorsese, who knows how to tell a compelling human story while shining a light on the parts of ourselves we’d rather not examine too closely. That being said, I also knew that it would be a heavy piece of art to reckon with. The story of these mostly forgotten Osage murders gets very dark and “solving” the murders doesn’t bring back the people who have been lost. Maybe that’s why I waited til the last day of the year to watch this.

The movie takes a different approach than the book because Scorsese centers the story on Mollie and Ernest Burkhardt (Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio) rather than on the FBI detective (Jesse Plemons) sent to investigate the murders. The book is strictly nonfiction, relying on case notes and interviews and other archival sources. The movie is able to add some shading and dialogue that makes the story, the relationship between the couple, and the betrayal of a community by a trusted figure all the more devastating.

Spoilers ahead so if you haven’t watched, skip to the next spot on my list. By casting Leo as Ernest, Scorsese pulls a trick on us. He knows that we’re primed to empathize with Leo, and he lets Leo have the kind of emotionally conflicted, guilt-ridden scenes where we might almost feel bad for Ernest. But then, at the last minute, he reminds us who we should really be crying for when Mollie asks, “What were you giving me in the shots?” No redemption for this guy. He might be in denial of his villainy, but he is absolutely a villain. Oh, and that coda at the end of the film with the last lines being spoken into a microphone by an unexpected person? I sobbed.

6: Bottoms
Ayo Edebiri is probably my person of the year. From Bottoms to The Bear to TMNT: Mutant Mayhem to her Letterboxd movie reviews, she just rules. This movie was made for me because my college roommate and I also started a fight club, but we didn’t invite other people we just drank Ice House and punched each other while listening to Death From Above 1979 several weekends in a row and then our other roommates told us that was probably not a healthy way to process our emotions about relationships ending and they were correct. Oh, by the way one of the guys from Red, White & Royal Blue is in this! But we are mostly here for The Women, amirite?

5: May December
Patrick and I did a whole podcast on Todd Haynes being a genius so I won’t say a ton here, but wow did I love this movie and how often have I thought about that “we don’t have enough hot dogs” scene in the last 30 days? Often.

Tied for 4: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem and Polite Society
Both of these movies feature teenagers stunting on bad guys and made me want to learn martial arts or at least punch the air, so I’m grouping them together. Much like Anthony King, I had Turtles at number one for several months after it was released. I saw it in the theater multiple times, I watched it once it hit streaming, and I’ve listened to the score and soundtrack a bunch too. My partner has been a TMNT fan since childhood and I’ve been grafted into the fandom to a lesser extent after seven years of exposure to the obsession. I loved the story, the characters, the animation, the music, the voice acting—it all made me feel giddy and energized in a way that little else did this year.

While Turtles is animated, Polite Society is a live action film with emphasis on ACTION! Like TMNT, this movie is also about siblings and conflicts between parents and children. Nida Manzoor directs this fun film about teenage Ria (Priya Kansara), who dreams of being a stuntwoman in movies but in the meantime has a YouTube channel. When her artist sister Lena (Ritu Arya) gets engaged to a rich handsome doctor, Ria worries that he’s too good to be true and her sister is throwing her life away to please society/their parents. So naturally, she enlists her BFFs to dig up whatever dirt they can on him while trying to convince her sister that she must be brainwashed. If you think you know what happens next, I assure you that you don’t. This movie is a little bit Jane Austen, a little bit John Woo, a little bit Bollywood, a little bit Blockers. You HAVE to see it, and thankfully you can because it’s streaming on Prime right now.

3: The Holdovers
I just loved this movie. Alexander Payne gives us a movie that could just be about a grumpy old professor finding unexpected lessons from interacting with a rebellious student but instead it’s much more delightful and heartwarming. It would be lazy and inaccurate to describe this as Rushmore meets Dead Poets Society by way of Frank Capra, but I do think there are shared strands of humanism in all of those things. Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Paul Giamatti drinking together is my new favorite movie genre.

2: Sanctuary
If nepo babies were all as talented as Margaret Qualley, no one would have a problem with them. In this movie, she shares the screen with Christopher Abbott and basically no one else. She’s a sex worker, he’s the heir to a hotel fortune and his father’s presumed successor. They’ve been working together for a while, and she performs a service that goes beyond the physical (don’t they always). When he makes it clear this will be their last meeting, she decides to fight for what she wants. I won’t say more about plot—but this took me on a ride and I loved it.

Tied for 1: Rye Lane and Sisu
I just couldn’t choose! I love both of these movies for very different reasons. Sisu is about the indomitable human spirit and killing Nazis and that’s about all you need, really. Thanks to Mikko for initially recommending this one! It exceeded my very high expectations and I can’t wait to watch it again.

Rye Lane is a slept on British romantic comedy where the meet cute is in a gender neutral bathroom and there’s an art show with pictures of butts and there’s a little bit of Before Sunrise and a sort-of heist to retrieve Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest from an ex’s place. There’s a karaoke scene and there’s a scene with the song “Sign My Name” by Terence Trent D’arby at a barbecue. There are cool fantastical visual sequences and petty declarations. There’s chemistry galore between the two leads (David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah), and confident direction from Raine Allen-Miller in her feature debut. I feel like I’m going to be watching this over and over the way I rewatch Notting Hill and Blast From the Past and Love & Basketball. It’s on Hulu and everyone should check it out immediately!

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate the shoutout and love that you loved Sisu so much!