Friday, December 29, 2023

My Top Ten Films of 2023

1).  Oppenheimer   (2023)   R  The story of American scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), who, at the urging of a desperate U.S. government wanting to end WWII, developed the atomic bomb. You will want to find a theatre showing the film in 70 mm film or on IMAX (the film was shot entirely with IMAX cameras) because there are scenes that will only have their full impact on a big screen. Oppenheimer is, behind the Dark Night trilogy, the Christopher Nolan film that will speak to the most people, with still a few Nolan touches (including an interesting sex scene that happens in an unexpected place). Based on the best-selling Pulitzer Prize-winning book American Prometheus, this is the story of a man who was driven by solving a problem and couldn’t or wouldn’t see the ramifications of what he was about to unleash until it was too late. Cillian Murphy is brilliant as Oppenheimer, a man who hid behind a mask of almost cool indifference while battling demons inside himself and friends that turned foes. Robert Downey Jr. delivers an exceptional performance as Lewis Strauss, who used Oppenheimer's brilliance to achieve his own goals. I think the Downey Jr. is the front runner with this performance to win the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. The cinematography is fantastic, with incredible shots that will dazzle and, sometimes, horrify you. The film uses black-and-white scenes to up the tension of scenes as we go back and forth in the life of Oppenheimer, a man who was convinced he knew more than anyone else, even if that confidence untimely cost him dearly. I loved Emily Blunt as Kitty, Oppenheimer’s long-suffering wife, and Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock, the love of Oppenheimer’s life and a woman he could never totally turn his back on. Oppenheimer is a long film (just over 3 hours), but you get swept up in the story about a man who leads the race to create a bomb so destructive that it would stop a World War and create something even scarier than a mad dictator who wanted to take over the world. So find a theatre with the biggest screen in your area and immerse yourself in a story about a man who stopped a war and created a new demon to deal with.  My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again   Oppenheimer Website

2).  Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023)  PG  Our favorite Brooklyn-based friendly neighborhood Spider-Man Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), is about to travel across the Multiverse with his pal Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) to join up with a whole new batch of Spider-People to face off with a villain more powerful than anything they have ever challenged. I loved the first film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which was released back in 2018. I am happy to say it was worth the wait! In fact, I think this sequel is better than the original. The film is full of that eye-catching animation style we fell in love with in the first film. The humor is still there, but this film deals with much more than being a superhero. It’s about first love and how it can almost consume you. How important family is while trying to become your own person. And it is a film about fate and if you can change the future. The humor is still there, and the animation is just jaw-dropping. The amount of Easter-eggs in this film must be in the hundreds, and it will take a while to even log them all. Plus, figuring out who is doing some of the voice work will be fun because it’s a large cast. Now the length is long at two hours and twenty minutes, but that shouldn’t surprise you as the first one was in at two hours. Shameik Moore and Hailee Steinfeld are brilliant as our star-crossed lovers, and the new addition, Oscar Isaac, doesn’t disappoint as a new addition to the Spider-Man multiverse. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a film that will thrill you, delight you, and, yes, bring a tear or two, and I can’t wait until the next one! Unlike many superhero films, there isn’t a need to stay through all the credits.   My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again   Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Website

3). The Holdovers (2023) R  Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) is a history teacher at a remote prep school known for being demanding and cranky. The last thing he wants to do is babysit a student named Angus (Dominic Sessa), who has no place to go during the holidays, but he has no choice. They are now stuck together along with the school cafeteria manager (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) for the holiday break. It’s going to be a holiday that both won’t forget. This is a funny and touching film about three lost souls who aren’t happy about having to spend the holidays with each other. As you would expect, Paul Giamatti is just about perfect in the role of the teacher who looks down on his students and expects far more than they are willing to give. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is a delight as the cook with an attitude who isn’t going to take any gruff. The surprise of the film is Dominic Sessa, who holds his own with Giamatti, able to act toe to toe and hold his own. The two play off each other wonderfully, and their timing and chemistry is a wonder to behold. I also want to mention Carrie Preston, a favorite of mine, who lights up the scenes she is in as the love interest for the teacher. With its clever twists and turns, The Holdovers is a delightful and entertaining exploration of finding family and understanding in unexpected places. So class, find your places, because Mr. Hunham is about to teach us a thing or two.   My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again    The Holdovers Website

4).  Poor Things (2023) R Bella (Emma Stone) is brought back to life by a brilliant but unorthodox scientist (Willem Dafoe) by putting a baby’s brain inside a grown woman. Bella is eager to learn and is whisked off to discover life by Duncan (Mark Ruffalo), a lawyer who only wants Bella for himself. Free from the prejudices of the times, Bella is about to discover her place in the world and her purpose, to stand for equality and liberation. Emma Stone is a force of nature in this film, and it could win her another Academy Award. It is hard to describe her performance because she goes from someone who can barely talk and walk to someone who is in control of both her body and her mind. It’s an astounding feat of acting, and it’s wonderful to watch. Now, I will warn you that you will see her character, Bella, have sex a lot. I mean a whole lot. There is a reason, and I won’t ruin it; it’s essential to the storyline. Still, it’s a bit of a shock. Mark Ruffalo is hilarious as the man who seduces Bella and then can’t keep up with her. Willem Dafoe, as the mad scientist (and he is mad), looks as if he is having so much fun in the role, and his character’s face is genuinely horrifying to look at. The story is beautifully told, and the set design, which is best described as steampunk meets 1900 European, is so much fun to look at and significantly adds to the film’s feel. Poor Things is one of the best pictures of the year. It's a strange and funny film filled with surprises and wonder, one I want to watch again. And did I mention that Emma Stone is pretty darn good in it?   My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again   Poor Things Website

5). Godzilla Minus One (2023) PG-13  It’s after World War II, and a monster has been created from the nuclear radiation fallout of the bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan will never be the same. The review of the film will be up Friday night. Finally, we have the Godzilla movie that we have been waiting for. Godzilla Minus One is a reboot of the classic tale of the giant lizard that comes up from the ocean to terrorize Japan. Unlike many Godzilla films that focus on the monster and how much destruction he can deliver, this film concentrates on the people he is attacking and how they respond to the attacks both in the past and in the present. I don’t want to go into too much detail as the storyline is incredibly well done, but I will let you know that WWII and its after-effects play a huge part in the film. And while the film features the people, you still get the mighty Godzilla destroying cities, blasting his heat ray and chomping on both trains and people. Godzilla Minus One is a film meant to be seen in the theatre so that you can experience Godzilla in all his glory, and the ending is pretty cool too. Excuse me now while I put on some Blue Oyster Cult and revel in what I just saw.  My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again  Godzilla Minus One Website

6).  Killers of the Flower Moon (2023) R   The story of the Osage tribe, who were given land no one wanted to create their reservation. However, oil was discovered on their land, and the tribe became wealthy. Because of this new development, the tribe is being murdered one by one under mysterious circumstances. Into the mix comes Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio), a WWI vet who has come to work for an uncle named King (Robert De Niro) to work on his ranch. Ernest sees himself as a man who loves women and sets his sights on Mollie (Lily Gladstone), a member of the local Osage tribe. He uses his charm to put Mollie under his spell and eventually marries her with a full blessing from King. But all is not well in the town where the Osage have become rich. They are being murdered, and no one is doing anything about it. The film is from master storyteller Martin Scorsese, and he gives us a world where it might be the 20th century, but the laws of the Wild West still prevail. I loved how Scorsese immerses us into the world of the Osage, showing us their past while also giving us a clue what their future will entail. DiCaprio isn’t in the pretty boy role of his past but portrays a man who loves a woman but maybe loves money even more. It’s a part with a lot of depth to it, and Leo is up for showing us a man who thinks he is smarter than he is. After some horrible comedies, De Niro is back with a role that may get him another Oscar. His portrayal of King is a masterful job of giving us a complex man who is always two moves ahead of everyone else, or at least he thinks he is. De Niro provides us with a man who could be your favorite uncle if you don’t ask too many questions. The film, though, belongs not to the men but to Lily Gladstone, as Mollie, a woman who is smart and deeply devoted to her family and her tribe but falls for a white man, an outsider whom she knows she should be wary of, but she can’t turn off her heart. She dazzles us every time she shows up on the screen as Mollie is slowly captivated by the charms of the man she will marry. I will warn you not to buy that large drink right before the film starts because it’s almost three and a half hours long. And that makes this film not in my top five Scorsese movies. After two and a half hours, the film starts to feel long, but Jessie Plemons' brilliant performance as a federal agent investigating the murders gives it a necessary boost. It’s a film that spends too long giving us the day-to-day workings of Ernest as he does the bidding of his brother Byron (Scott Shepard) and King. And I would have loved an intermission at some point to give us a chance to catch our breath and digest what we had seen. Nevertheless, I encourage you to see this impactful film in a cinema and be captivated by the incredible performances, especially Lily Gladstone's, and the enchanting Osage traditions.   My Rating: Full Price   Killers of the Flower Moon Website

7).  Past Lives (2023)  PG-13   Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) were two childhood sweethearts who had a special connection. Then Nora moved away with her family to America and the two lost contact with each other. Twenty years later, they are reunited one fateful week in Seoul as they confront notions of love and destiny. One minor problem, Nora is married. Past Lives is one of the best films of the year, a sure bet to be on my top ten list. Past Lives is a film about love and how relationships don’t always work out how they should. It’s a film about what if. Nora has changed from when she was a kid living in Korea. She and Hae Sung have grown in different worlds, affecting how they view themselves and their place in society.. I loved Nora is in a good marriage with a husband, Arthur (John Magaro), who supports and understands her. Filmmaker Celine Song doesn’t make Arthur the villain of the film. Instead, the villain is time. What makes this film work is the brilliant performances of the two leads. Greta Lee is perfect as the headstrong young woman who has made a life in a new world and is happy but still wonders what her life would have been if she had stayed in Korea. Teo Yoo is fantastic as the idealistic young man who clings to a relationship rooted in the past. Hae Sung has years of living in a different culture than Nora, one with varying expectations of relationships, and that’s his downfall. Past Lives explores love and relationships, both ones that work and those that are better left in the past, because love doesn’t always end like a fairytale.   My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again    Past Lives Website

8).  Barbie (2023) PG-13  Barbie is about living in Barbie Land, which is the perfect place for a perfect person in a perfect world. That is until you have a full-on existential crisis. Or you’re a Ken. I am a big fan of both Margot Robbie and filmmaker Greta Gerwig, so I was looking forward to this film. Plus, this has become one of the most hyped summer films and will be a big box-office draw. I liked the movie but didn’t love it, and I think some people will be disappointed by the fact that Barbie goes back and forth between Barbie Land and the ‘real world.’ It’s partly a musical, and the film has some brilliant numbers, including a wonderful number called ‘I’m Just Ken’ that Ryan Gosling does that just might bring the house down. I found the film funny but not hilarious, though there is one line the narrator (Helen Mirren) says that was on the floor funny. It’s a strange film where the narrator talks to us but also speaks to the characters. The set design of Barbie Land is brilliant, and the opening sequence of letting us see a day in the life of Barbie is one of the film’s highlights. Some of the ‘real world’ scenes disappointed me, and Will Ferrell is a dud as the Mattel CEO, never giving us the laughs we want from him. There are a couple of fun cameos in the film, and Simu-Liu as the rival Ken is a lot of fun. As the often-forgotten Allan (Skipper’s boyfriend), Michael Cera is hilarious as the character that everyone ignores. Margot Robbie has the tough part of playing the perfect Barbie, and she does a nice job, but it’s hard to play someone who has the time and doesn’t have emotions. I enjoyed some of the cast-off Barbie and Ken dolls (all based on real failed Mattel toys) and how they worked them into the film’s plot. Overall, Barbie is fun, and if you owned a Barbie or two (and Ken), you will have a good time seeing them come to life. I had a good time seeing Barbie, but I wanted more in Barbie Land and a lot less of the ‘real world.’ I guess I’ll always be a G.I.Joe (original size) guy.  My Rating; Full Price  Barbie Website

9).  American Fiction (2023) R  Monk (Jeffery Wright) is a writer whose last book wasn’t exactly a success. He is fed up with ‘Black’ entertainment that relies on tired and offensive tropes. Monk decides to write a ‘Black’ book of his own, and much to his surprise, it becomes a big hit. Now Monk must play the part of a mysterious, anonymous, angry black writer, precisely whom he claims to disdain in real life. This is a film that is easily made in my top ten films of 2023, with a mesmerizing performance by Jeffery Wright and an original script that contains some incredible dialogue. American Fiction is a film that you will talk about long after leaving the theatre, and if Wright doesn’t get an Academy nomination, then there isn’t justice in the world. Wright is perfect as Monk, a man who feels that he embodies what a Black writer should be: intelligent, articulate, and confident. Unfortunately, this isn’t what the modern literary world is like anymore, and his writing style no longer sells books. The film is funny, touching, and filled with a plethora of compelling characters. American Fiction is a film that was a joy to watch from beginning to end, and it’s all because of the brilliance of Jeffery Wright.   My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again   American Fiction Website

10). Flora and Son (2023) R  Flora (Eve Hewson) is a single mom who is at her wits’ end with her son Max (Orén Kinlan), who seems almost at war with his mom. Flora decides that Max needs a hobby and rescues a guitar from a dumpster. Max rejects the gift, so Flora tries to learn how to play it. Music is the one thing they might have in common, and one person’s trash can be a family’s salvation. The film is from John Carney, one of my favorite filmmakers of the last 15 years. He loves music, having been in a band in the early 90s (The Frames), so all his movies involve the love of music and how it can change lives. Flora and Son is a brilliant film about a mother and son who seem always at odds, but there is a connection, and their love of music brings it out. Flora takes up the guitar with the help of an online teacher, Jeff, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Eve Hewson is magnificent as the mom who speaks her mind and has been hurt by love. Her chemistry with Gordon-Levitt feels natural, and you can see the connection they have from their first scene together. I loved Orén Kinlan as Flora’s son Max, who can’t seem to stay out of trouble but has a talent for creating music. The music is terrific, with Hewson and Gordon-Levitt showing off their musical chops. By the way, Eve Hewson has some music in her blood. Her dad is Bono. Be sure to stay through the credits to hear the song that Jeff writes for Flora. Shot entirely in Ireland, Fora and Son is a fun, fantastic journey into discovering how music can connect people, even across the internet.   My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again   Flora and Son Info

13). Wonka
15). Saltburn

Almost Made It List:  The Persian Version, The Lady Bird Diaries, The Deepest Breath, The Mission, The Pigeon Tunnel, May December, The Taste of Things, Asteroid City, Perfect DaysBlackberry, Fallen Leaves, The Peasants, Bottoms, The League, The Last Rider, Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, Rye Lane, John Wick: Chapter 4, The Quiet Girl, A House Made of Splinters, A Thousand and One, Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, American Symphony, Albert Brooks: Defending Your Life, Maestro, All of Us Strangers, The Iron Claw, Cocaine Bear

Worst Films of 2023: Winnie the Pooh: Blood & Honey, Mafia Mamma, The Oath, The Exorcist: Believer, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, Meg 2: The Trench, The Machine, The Out-Laws, Slotherhouse, Expen4ables, Murder Mystery 2

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.