I saw no exceptional new movies during 2023, nothing I would describe as truly great. Perhaps something slipped by me, especially since I’ve had less time than ever to watch movies but I doubt any of the highly-acclaimed major motion pictures that I purposefully skipped would change my mind.
Therefore I don’t feel I can make a “top ten” this year but I do want to highlight eight good and very memorable new movies I saw this year. In no particular order:
THE CAINE MUTINY COURT-MARTIAL
William Friedkin is one of my favorite filmmakers. I was saddened by his recent passing and grateful that he left us one more movie. CAINE confirmed once again that Friedkin was the best director of stage-to-screen adaptations. What I admire and will remember most about this movie is the way that it took me philosophically down one direction and then in the final five minutes threw a glass of champagne at me. It was one more slap in the face from a filmmaker who was brave enough to give them when we needed it.
On one hand, FERRARI is a return to form for Michael Mann who feels like he’s been experimenting the last twenty years rather than making movies with the same energy and ambition than he did in the 90s. On the other hand, his new biopic seems inconsequential. It had me asking the same question that came to mind while watching nearly every movie that isn’t on this list through 2023, “What was the purpose of telling this story?” Regardless, it is nice to see the master back at work. His power and precision behind the camera is undeniable.
For those aware with Alexander Payne’s work, his newest movie holds no surprises. However, it is refreshing to be given another familiar cinematic present by Payne. The movie is peaceful and unfolds at a beautifully slow pace. It’s about the kind of quiet courage that is required more often in life than the big, heroic acts we usually see on screen.
Brandon Cronenberg’s latest is a very flawed film, for instance I don’t think it works very well visually at all, but I have continued to think about it often since I saw it in February. The concept and moral/philosophical implications of the story are fascinating and if a film lingers in your mind for nearly a year, there must be something special about it.
KNOCK AT THE CABIN
M. Night Shyamalan’s comeback after a series of truly terrible pictures still impresses me. His latest movies might not be as good as his first two but there is no denying Shyamalan understands suspense more than any other working filmmaker. This movie particularly surprised me with how it disregarded the need for any build up, jumping right into the action of the story with very high stakes. It’s a bold move and one I make take inspiration from in my own work.
I can’t be totally objective about this film since it was made by my friends and collaborators on THE PENDRAGON CYCLE but one thing is for sure, Dallas, Jeremy, and co. created something we haven’t seen in a long, long time: a crazy, politically incorrect comedy. It is a breath of fresh air to see the style of Adam Sandler movies from the 90s alive and well. That’s what they were going for and it’s a slam dunk!
Many of the reviews and reactions to David Fincher’s latest claimed that it was fun but forgettable. His new, stylish thriller had the opposite effect on me. Fassbender’s narration gives this hitman movie (a sub-genre that is otherwise worn out) layers of subtext. I still haven’t stopped thinking about the ending. And of course, I found Fincher’s execution to be tight, a true unpretentious craftsman at work, and that alone should be celebrated.
THE ZONE OF INTEREST
A new Jonathan Glazer film is a rare and (for me) highly-anticipated event. How does a filmmaker discover a new approach to the Holocaust as a subject? Glazer finds the way through Martin Amis’s book and his own research of the historical figures. The movie creeps up and inside you. By the midpoint, when I felt engrossed by the domestic troubles of the Höss family, I knew what Glazer was up to and that his methods were effective. It isn’t his best but it is one I will be thinking about for some time.
Now if my top 10 of the year could include older films that I saw for the first time, that would be a completely different story.
- Il Sorpasso (1962)
- The Secret of Roan Inish (1994)
- The Train (1965)
- Nadine (1987)
- Dead and Buried (1980)
- Dogfight (1991)
- Ryan’s Daughter (1970)
- Johnny Mnemonic in Black and White (1995)
- The Sergeant (1968)
- Mister Johnson (1991)
And finally, the most disappointing movies of the year, ones that I truly hoped would be better than they are: OPPENHEIMER, MASTER GARDENER, and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING PART 1.