2023 Year Enders, Features, Film

YEAR-ENDER: Anna Hoang’s Favorite Films of 2023

Mojo dojo worlds to enjoy, circumnavigate

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While the plot device of world-hopping might finally be put to rest, I can’t help but feel that the 2023 was a year in which I ricocheted between different places. Dimensions collapse between the blockbuster big guys and quiet-release small guys, the purely technical and the front-page gaudy, veterans and rookies, history and the present. As a pop culture consumer, I had my own quiet travels to unfamiliar circuits, from the splashy Vanderpump Rules cheating scandal to lists of eligible NFL suitors should Taylor Swift embrace her WAG era. Not having an account, I even took a dip into Twitter during its sequential bursts of flames that year.

I said it in previous years and I’m glad to say it again, but it really has been a great year for movies. As before, placing my favorites in a list was a hard feat, and I’m not sure if I’d have the same list come April. Regrettably, I’ve fallen behind in international films and documentaries (spiritually, Broker would be in this list and I have a feeling Monster will be an apparition on my 2024 list).

Before getting down to it, I wanted to celebrate the spirit of 2023’s biggest event by offering double-feature ideas that will surely make two billion hundred dollars combined. No, I’m still not over Saw Patrol.

DOUBLE FEATURE PROPOSALS

“CAMP LOS ALAMOS” (OPPENHEIMER / THEATER CAMP)
Taking from what I know at face value from both movies and not having read American Prometheus, I’d like to think Oppenheimer would relate to being a theater kid.

“JOINT SLAY” (RENAISSANCE: A FILM / NAPOLEON)
Which army would win: Napoleon’s soldiers at the Battle of Austerliz or the mobilization of the Beyhive on Rachael Ray’s Instagram comments during Lemonade (2016)?

“THE VARIABLE SCHIELE” (INFINITY POOL / INSIDE)
Keep a bottle of Sarna near by because a side effect of watching men suffer is the itchy feeling that I, too, will find myself in these highly improbable scenarios and suffer far worse.

“DISTRESSED RICH BOYS” (THE HOLDOVERS / SALTBURN)
Instead of a back-to-back viewing, I propose watching both at the same time, similarly to that video of watching all of the Fast and Furious movies on nine different screens. My theory is that the Saltburn estate and the New England snow will look like a glamorous timeshare ad and that Giamatti’s horrified expressions will be in reactionary rhythm with Keoghan’s hijinks.

“NOT ENOUGH IN-YUN” (MAY DECEMBER / PAST LIVES)
On a more serious note, I think these two enhances each other, as one is about the performance of acting and the other is the genuine pursuit of sincerity.

ANIMATION: OUTSIDERS LOOKING IN

I know!! Separating animated movies from my favorites list is part of the Problem. But I had a hard time singling out one when I found that my favorites had a personal connection to me and with each other. Across the Spider-Verse had exceeded my already-high expectations, but because of the cliffhanger, I felt compelled to hold off until the trilogy is out for public review. In the meantime, I wanted to share that Nimona and TMNT: Mutant Mayhem were the two movies I cried over the most (though the top spot might go to Godzilla Minus One the most if we’re counting by scene). Both of the films emanated the feeling of not belonging but still chasing that need to be a good person despite the odds. I wonder if I would have understood this concept when I was younger, and maybe my reaction to watching four turtle boys longing to be part of an audience watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is magnified either from a delayed response or because the message still applies to this day.

ANYWAY, here is the thing! Shout-out to A Thousand and One, How to Blow Up a Pipeline, and Priscilla for also being good movies.

TOP TEN FILMS

10. REALITY (dir. Tina Satter)
I’m sorta looking forward to Dakota Johnson and Sydney Sweeney deadpan-talking at each other in Madame Web but before that, I have to remind myself that Sweeney can hold the attention of the court if she wanted to. In Reality, Sweeney plays the titular real-life whistleblower who nabbed secure government documents related to the Russian interference in US elections. I came into this not knowing about the event or how this film will turn out, especially since it’s an adaptation from Satter’s stage play. The script is taken from the actual interrogation between Reality and the FBI agents, which might seem like, “Oh, the work’s already cut out!” No, sir — this was re-enacted with a masterful surveillance eeriness that put me in awe of, you know, acting.

9. THEY CLONED TYRONE (dir. Juel Taylor)
I’ve been slacking on TV shows, but in periods where I want to laze around and just have fun with the characters, I can know that I can rely on the unlikely ragtag trio in Juel Taylor’s They Cloned Tyrone. I won’t curse good projects with the selfish wish of a sequel, but if there is another project with these four, my eyes are peeled.

8. THE KILLER (dir. David Fincher)
After Mank, I was expecting very little in the next Fincher project or another vehicle that has Michael Fassbender as lead assassin again. The Killer was a pleasant surprise to me, and perhaps is enjoyable only in relativity to his filmography, which tends to be from the perspective of the law. The Killer is Fincher’s return to form in that world through an inverted entrance. We watch from the perspective of a meticulous hitman who spends the first ten minutes describing a routine that permits success, only for us to witness him fuck up his only assignment during this movie. There is comedy in the details and unreliable narratives and I can’t wait to catch them in the next rewatch.

7. GODLAND (dir. Hlynur Pálmason)
I thought this would be a bit meditative and unreachable, but when I found that I was focusing my energy and internal desires for the priest to get absolutely wrecked by the Icelandic locals, I knew that I was encroaching on good territory. Godland tells the story of Lucas, a Danish priest who comes to Iceland on a religious mission. It uses fictionalized photographs from the 1800s to guide a “behind-the-scene” narrative, but expands the landscape by creating poetry from its alien quietness. I’m not familiar with the history of Danish colonizers, but the tension between Lucas and his Iceland guide Ragnar indicates that strange lands are not always friendly, even if you claim yourself to be God’s soldier.

6. PAST LIVES (dir. Celine Song)
I can be a sobbing sucker for What-Ifs, but it turns out I’m even a bigger sucker for good people wanting good things for others, despite the What-If hanging over their heads.

5. VOLEUSES (dir. Melanie Laurent)
In the case that you have made the reasonable choice to not watch 365 Days, the storyline supposedly goes that the Christian Grey character is obsessed with a woman that he happened to see on a beach the same exact time his father was murdered. It’s sorta how I feel about Melanie Laurent, who I have loved since Inglorious Basterds and Beginners during a transformative period in high school. She has tinkered in intimate gal pal friendships, from starring with Marion Cotillard in Dikkenek or helming the director’s seat in Respire, but when Voleuses was quietly released on Netflix, I felt like this is a karmaic gift for being patient. I’m not used to receiving something that is perfectly tailored to what I want in a movie, so I couldn’t objectively say if it’s a good movie. But I can tell you that this is my movie.

4. KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON (dir. Martin Scorsese)
Seeing this in a packed IMAX screening on opening night is probably one of my favorite moviegoing experiences I’ve had. The laughs at that one courtroom character’s scene to the gasps of the best cameo of the year — I’ll hold those treasures forever. Aside from the extensive research and consultations into its authenticity, KOTFM was a daring mode of storytelling. David Grann’s book opens the murders of the Osage as a mystery: who could be behind these atrocities? In the film, there is no mystery: the unspeakable acts are performed by white men, two of which are played by the most recognizable faces in modern cinema. But Scorsese makes no mistake; we view de Niro and DiCaprio in vehement anger and with little hope for redemptive motive. Lily Gladstone, who shares less screen time but elicits a moving performance, doesn’t turn the tide — she is the tsunami. Here’s the power of narrative: to watch the wolves become crabs in a barrel when the pressure is on.

3. MAY DECEMBER (dir. Todd Haynes)
I knew that I would love it from the start, but I didn’t know how much I would enjoy talking about it. The way that the two Oscar winners are playing characters that are engrossed in a game of 4D chess with each other while the CW actor (no disrespect!) is tending to his butterfly cocoons and brings forth the best emotive performance this year — I have to stan the layers.

2. THE ZONE OF INTEREST (dir. Jonathan Glazer)
Watching The Zone of Interest was like taking a psychedelic downer. In the first thirty minutes, I knew I was in the presence of a Glazer experience, but wasn’t really sure when it would hit. The timing might vary among others, but I knew, that by the way I felt goosebumps during the garden scene, that I was locked in. I’m not sure how to exact my reactions, but I found myself surprised at some of my own emotional responses, like having the wind was knocked out of me at certain scenes or being weirdly irate at a character for placing a thousand apples in the dirt. The Zone of Interest creeps into your autonomic system, where your heart rate might change from the thought of something bad happening in a scene or the sweaty, unknowable feeling of coming back to your normal routine and feeling that you are complicit in something.

1. POOR THINGS (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
I follow a few fitness inspo accounts on Instagram in admiration for someone’s work ethic to the schedule, dieting, and the confidence in knowing that the journey will culminate into a finished goal. I also like that the progress is attainable, that anyone can theoretically achieve the same thing if they wanted to (really wanted to). But when I watched Emma Stone in Poor Things, I’m fixated on the notion that playing Bella Baxter would be impossible for anyone else other than Stone. Technically, it’s probably not true, but seeing Bella come to life in this movie felt like watching an athlete breaking an Olympic record or a scientist discovering a new phenomenon. The movie is everything critics say it is, but Stone cements Bella as a character that can be reverent, intelligent, emotional, and yearning in a fucked up world. Now that’s inspo.

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