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  • Writer's pictureglenndunks

25 Best of 2023

I typically give myself until the year's annual Academy Awards ceremony to catch up on that year's films. This past year I lost much of the energy and the drive required to properly sit down and write critically about movies. To kick myself up a gear or two, I actually decided to sit down now and write this list (basically take what I wrote on Letterboxd and republish it in one place). Tada. These are the movies I will take forward with me.

Please note, this list doesn't include documentaries. That's a list all its own.

25. The Creator (Gareth Edwards)

I know that it got a little bit lost in the shuffle to have made a bigger impact with the public—but even I know that I am probably always going to be in the minority in ranking Gareth Edwards’ The Creator so high. I have found myself thinking about it more than I expected after I saw it in September, no doubt aided by viewing it on Melbourne Museum's giant IMAX screen. A visual spectacle made even greater by the scope with which it incorporates its awe-inspiring effects into its natural shot-in-Thailand locations. More evocative of mood than I expected; even if it's message is rather one-noted. Still, has the guts to call America the villain and as bringer of war and violence, which you don't see quite so directly every day in a gung-ho effects-driven spectacle.

24. To Catch a Killer (Damián Szifron)

aka Eleanor of Baltimore. In an age of “they don’t make ‘em like they used to”, I do not want to ignore or snobbishly dismiss this rock solid mystery thriller that was exactly what I needed when it came my way. Obviously not as good as Seven, but many notches higher than, say, The Little Things. Think The Bone Collector, Taking Lives that's clearly inspired by an equally chilly Scandi mystery or, yes, the HBO miniseries Mare of Easttown. Thank god it wasn't a television series, though! Sometimes strains credibility, and the addiction storyline is a whiff; but when it sticks to the procedural, it really works with enough intrigue to have hooked me (at least) very early on.

23. Limbo (Ivan Sen)

A painful and protracted excising of the wound that is perpetual trauma and violence against Aboriginal Australians. How do you move on from grief if you've never been given the opportunity to grieve in the first place by a system that doesn't care about you? Took me a bit to get into it’s rhythms, until I figured out what it was doing. By then I had eventually grown so impressed by its restraint including the way Ivan Sen uses the frame with its super impressive monochrome cinematography that’s all silver and ink. A return to form for Ivan Sen after the bloodless Loveland, while simultaneously harking back to his early days before Detective Jay Swan became his definitive creation within Australian film and television.

22. The Eight Mountains (Felix van Groeningen, Charlotte Vandermeers)

It says a lot that we get so few films about male friendship that I constantly wondered when these two boys were going to realise they love each other. Because a movie that lets two (straight) men to contemplate and talk and exist is just so incredibly rare. That being said, they are both so hot that I wouldn't have said no—we will just have to live with Brokeback Mountain and God’s Own Country. As if Martin Eden wasn’t enough, this one proves Luca Marinelli is truly just so good at this whole thing. I am very happy for European filmmakers to keep using him to make classy and classic dramas about the tribulations of life. And, obviously, the cinematography is awe-inspiring. This is a film that really knows how to utilise 4:3 beyond using it as a storytelling shorthand for “in the past”.

Some of the enlightenment woo woo-ism was one mountain too much, but I ultimately didn't mind when the rest of it is so good. A massive improvement from The Broken Circle Breakdown, too (which, somehow, got far more attention than this one via its Oscar nomination). Finally, the choice to soundtrack this film to the songs of Daniel Norgren is perfection. To the European alpine as Dua Lipa was to Barbieland.

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

Yes, Rachel McAdams is as wonderful as everyone has said—and if I had a say, she would have been on the Oscar’s best supporting actress roster. But it is to the film's general credit that it allows her to be as good as she is. And so too, honestly, the entire cast, which includes Abby Ryder Fortson, Benny Safdie, Kathy Bates and a wonderful young ensemble. Everybody gets the chance to build such real characters (while adhering to the requitements of cinema) that get coloured well within the lines. And has mature ideas about religion too as an added bonus.

20. Origin (Ava DuVernay)

Genuinely couldn't take my eyes off it. Which, considering it is a written language-forward examination of society’s worst habits, is not something to be taken lightly. This is thanks in no small part to the actors, especially Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor who's face and voice express so much as her character discovers the well of intellectual understanding that has eluded her for so many years. But also thanks to Ava DuVernay's script (a smart and unexpected adaptation of Isabel Wilkerson’s novel Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent) and directing, which I quite frankly didn't expect to feels so expansive and ambitious. Shame on me for that. It doesn't always work, but my god it is an authorial vision and I suspect I will be thinking about it flaws and all much longer than I would've anticipated.

19. Godzilla Minus One (Takashi Yamazaki)

This Gojira is chunky yet funky, large but in charge. Uses the broad strokes of a Godzilla film to tell an ambitious story about war and PTSD, national pride and the weight of being, well, Japan after WWII. Effects are majorly impressive. It also just works as a sublimely entertaining Godzilla movie that doesn’t feel as labored as the recent Hollywood editions.

18. Oppenheimer (Christopher Nolan)

I would have liked Nolan to settle down for a little bit once in a while over its three hours (everything is always on, which probably explains why it was nominated everywhere at the Academy Awards). But it’s so impressive how everybody was able to translate something ostensibly quite minimal onto the biggest canvas imaginable and make it feel entirely at home.

17. Perfect Days (Wim Wenders)

Nearly into his ninth decade, and Wim Wenders remains one of the utmost filmmakers to film urban landscapes. Cinematographer Franz Lustig's work here is so beautiful and evocative, finding crevices within the Tokyo metropolis and finally makes good on the promise from his work on Hommage a Noir in the mid-'90s (See also Anselm, shot in 3D). A charming film that grows deeper with each moment, an affirmation that the most modest of lives is worthy and full of beauty.

16. An Asian Ghost Story (Wang Bo)

One of two sub-60min entries because it’s my list and I truly felt it was one of the best new releases I saw. Turns Hong Kong into its own mysterious limbo-world. Halfway between the past and the future, east and west, life and death. Impeccably, transportive (I assume) 16mm photography that makes us ask questions about what we're seeing while also demanding we marvel at the images it is capturing and the sounds it is unravelling. A very impressive work from Wang Bo that asks beguiling questions.

15. The People’s Joker (Vera Drew)

Not gay as in happy, but queer as in fuck you.

A radical punk exorcism of identity and industry, embracing the aesthetics of its experimental form and offering up a work of transart that doesn't kowtow to anybody. Even its own maker. Genuinely hilarious, too! And Vera Drew gives a pretty damn good performance amid it all, with a keen ear for line delivery. And, yes, I think it counts as parody, although I can see why Warner Bros. maybe wouldn't see it that way. Glad it will get an official release soon!

14. The Zone of Interest (Jonathan Glazer)

In many ways, the stark opposite of a film like Schindler’s List, yet nevertheless one that works in tandem. Striking and imposing as a work of art, it immediately feels as if it stands among the greats of films to have reckoned with the Holocaust. Stripping an entire war down to the barest of its essential parts: pain, humiliation, greed and shame. Hard to really say, “wow, I loved this!” for obvious reasons, which is probably why it ranks where it does. I don’t know. Lists are dumb! Nevertheless, it is a fascinating take on the form and a movie that will likely survive a thousand interpretations.

13. The Taste of Things (Trần Anh Hùng)

While the above title had the best feat of sound design of the year (its Oscar win for sound a miracle among miracles, honestly), I also want to give a shout out to Tran Anh Hung’s The Taste of Things in that department, too. An addictive serving of clanging pots, bubbling liquids and sloshing proteins. A genuine sensory extravaganza. That they felt the need to change its title to something as bland as “The Taste of Things” does not suggest that the distributors knew what they had here. A worthy successor to Babette’s Feast as a supreme feat of European delicacy cinema.

12. How to Blow Up a Pipeline (Daniel Goldhaber)

The edit on this thing is tight. There's a world where this is an entire HBO series with each character getting an episode to themselves, and thank Daniel Goldhaber that it is not that. What a great work of cinema. It's hard to be underground or genuinely radical in 2023, but it has anger and a propulsive fire to it that reminds me of what movies can really do and say.

11. Barbie (Greta Gerwig)

Pop cinema! All sherbert and fizz until it reveals more of its darker (but no less colourful) intentions. Yes, it's probably obvious in its themes, but I won't be mad at something trying to find a new way to funnel its rage and disappointment. A delirious and surreal comedy that has actual laughs among is award-worthy costumes, sets and—yes—Billie Eilish's film-capping tune. Corporate, yes; but doesn't get cut short.

10.  Sharper (Benjamin Caron)

Much like To Catch a Killer up top, this is just about the platonic ideal for a movie of this sort in 2023 (if it can even get made in 2023). Looks a dream with the right about of grit and gloss, shot on 35mm and using New York City is ways that filmmakers have seemingly forgotten about entirely. It took me back to stuff like A Perfect Murder, a movie that (yes, I enjoy more than most if Letterboxd is to be believed) remembers that while rich people are awful, it can be awfully fun to indulge in their lifestyles through the lens of a slippery, twisty thriller. At one part about 37mins in, I literally gasped and exclaimed "Oh my god!" because I had forgotten that movies could still look this way.

9. May December (Todd Haynes)

If Far From Heaven was Todd Haynes’ take on Douglas Sirk, then maybe May December is his John Waters. Such an unexpected tonal shift from Haynes, closer in style to his early work (like [safe]) and other New Queer Cinema cohorts like Tom Kalin by way of the camp aesthetics of television soap operas. But the style only ever elevates the substance. Finds surprising humour and emotion within the tabloid theatrics. The whole cast is great, but Natalie Portman and Charles Melton are especially spectacular.

8. Rotting in the Sun (Sebastián Silva)

Naturally, Sebastián Silvawas the one to emerge with the smartest and most wickedly mischievous commentary on social media and online culture since, I guess, Bo Burnham and Eighth Grade. This isn't simply a case of low hanging fruit as so many others have been. I usually find I am on his quasi-nihilistic wavelength anyway, but like Nasty Baby before it I particularly took to the way Rotting in the Sun lets not one single character off the hook for being a bad person. Leaving them stark naked (in some cases literally so) to rot away, the stink of the world radiating off them for the vultures to feed off of. Catalina Saavedra would have been on my supporting actress ballot. A film for the TikTok generation that would hate every second of it.

7. The Killer (David Fincher)

I love that after Fincher throws a weirdly atonal barely-minute-long opening credits sequence that you might expect to see on any random TBS procedural crime series and that plays as if on double-speed, and then follows it up with something so methodical and restrained and which will probably alienate many of the audience who will watch it on Netflix while they do chores or flip through their phone. Stylish and moves smoothly. The end is maybe anticlimactic, but I guess that's almost to be expected?

6. The Holdovers (Alexander Payne)

The surprising thing probably isn’t that The Holdovers is my favourite Alexander Payne since Citizen Ruth and Election. What’s surprising is that he achieved this by not being the sort of acidic pitch-black comedy like those early career titles. It’s true to life about the harsh realities of life, but simultaneously warm and comforting, which is a fusion I found lacking in much of his later output. Much has been made of how much it mimics the look and feel of the 1970s and that certainly goes a long way. And the performances. A small, but compelling ensemble. The kind that one could very easily watch a full hour more of.

5. Our Home Out West (Cole Escola)

As long as we've got Cole Escola then everything will be okay. The funniest anything that I saw all year and, just like The Holdovers above, is an immediate Christmas favourite.

4. Killers of the Flower Moon (Martin Scorsese)

Awe-inspiring and immense. Felt foolish to not give it five stars, even for that stretch where Leonardo DiCaprio impersonates Sling Blade. Tellingly, even after three-and-a-half hours, nobody in the late-afternoon audience got up to leave during the end credits.

3. Happer’s Comet (Tyler Taormina)

The vibiest vibes movie to have vibed in 2023. The biggest compliment I can give Tyler Taormina’s follow-up to Ham on Rye is that I fell asleep while watching it late at night and carried it with me through my dreams. Some people had Skinamarink last year, but I had Happer’s Comet.

I don't think I have seen a product that so perfectly and accurately evokes that late night sense of malaise. That stretch of time between, say, 2am and 5am when nobody actually chooses to be awake, and if you are it means you are either up very late or very early with no in between. But specifically so in suburbia. It's that sensation of listening to late-night talkback radio. It's reading a book to light jazz. It's the glow of the television. It's a single hooting owl. It's a freight train going by in the distance. It's spotting somebody underneath a streetlight and wondering where they are coming from or where they are going to be out at that time. It's that moment from David Lynch's Twin Peaks pilot with the swinging traffic light in the night air, but stretched out to 60 minutes. Nighttime vibes.

2. All of Us Strangers (Andrew Haigh)

Like most of Andrew Haigh's work, I found so much familiarity and lived queer experiences. I saw parts of myself, and those of others. It made me think of the ghosts of past loves, but more achingly the loves that likely will never be. The ways we're all scarred in ways that can't be whisked away by a pill or booze. The ache of feeling something so much in your gut but that you know can never be. Watching this at a queer film festival was an experience.

1. Anatomy of a Fall (Justine Triet)

It is obviously the biggest compliment in the world when I say that Sandra Huller gives the best Nicole Kidman performance in years.

The entire thing just rips, with not an ounce of fat on its meaty bones. It’s a film that genuinely makes me unsure of my words because how could they possible match anything here. It’s just a monumental feat of drama.



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