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  • Writer's pictureoliverjlwebb

2023: A Year in Review



Thank you to all of our readers and contributors for all of your continued support. Whether you were team Barbie or team Oppenheimer, or perhaps neither took your fancy, Barbenheimer undoubtedly set the trend in 2023 and helped fill cinemas, which was much needed after the pandemic. 2023 also saw the return of Greta Gerwig, Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne, Christopher Nolan, Emerald Fennel, Yorgos Lanthimos and many more.


We asked our contributors to select some of their favourite films of the year, as well as special guests Ruairi O’Brien, Vera Graziadei and Peter Brown.




Ruairí O'Brien


Clockwise from left, courtesy of: Searchlight Pictures; A24; Universal Pictures


The Zone of Interest (Dir: Jonathan Glazer)  

 

This film is not a movie, that is it's not something you really sit down and enjoy with a bowl of popcorn. It's more like a thing you experience. It leaves the viewer with a feeling you can't really wash off.

 

The premise is simple. We spend time observing the family of the man commanding Auschwitz. There is very little plot. It's just immersion into their world where they go about their days as if life is normal.

 

I have huge admiration for Jonathan Glazer for pushing the boundaries of cinema and making a completely uncommercial film that takes on an old subject in a different way.

 

 

Barbenheimer (Dir: Christopher Nolan & Greta Gerwig)

  

There has been a lot said about these two movies but I loved that they set the box office afire.

 

To Nolan's credit Oppenheimer was not an east subject- it concerns itself with doubt, bitterness and regret. It looks for sympathy for a man who lead the creation of the most devastating weapon ever used. The fact that he sold any tickets at all is an achievement.

 

Barbie was so much more than I expected. It's not perfect but it's fun and it's life affirming with a great if simple message.

 


The Holdovers (Dir: Alexander Payne)

 

This film does that seventies thing of just using simple elements to tell a modest tale and yet leaving you with a really rewarding sense of having enjoyed your time with great characters. Paul Giamatti is always great and here he really delivers. 

 

It's not loud or flashy but it's perfect.

 

 

Poor Things (Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos)

 

Yorgos Lanthimos returns with more madness. It's like a cartoon for adults. No great message or topic but a surreal ride with wonderful visuals.

 



Vera Graziadei


Clockwise from top left, courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures; Netflix; Mubi; Picturehouse Entertainment.

As a BAFTA and BIFA voter, who’s also had the joy of attending Berlinale and Cannes last year, I’ve plunged into a cinematic marathon, watching nearly 90 films in one year, most of them independent films. This is the most I’ve ever watched in a year in my entire life and the outcome of this is that I’m even more madly in love with film than I ever was before. I’m not a fan of blockbusters and black and white commercial filmmaking. I love complex, nuanced, character-driven films that make you feel, think and stun you with beautiful cinematography and original perspective. In just under 2 hours (and often times under 3), you can discover worlds previously unknown before, learn about human condition that you normally don’t have access to, refine your understanding of issues you grapple with yourself, deepen your own empathy and moral and critical thinking. Laugh and sometimes shudder. Here’s my top ten paired up as double bills.

 


Saltburn (Dir: Emerald Fennell) and Poor Things (Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos)


Bold, audacious and thrilling storytelling that challenges societal norms and expectations. Both films have complex, provocative characters and a plot that delves into the darker aspects of human nature and societal transactions. Both have breathtakingly incredible performances: Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe and Katherine Hunter in the former and Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike and Richard E. Grant in the latter.

 

 

The Zone of Interest (Dir: Jonathan Glazier) and 20 Days in Mariupol (Dir: Mstyslav Chernov)

 

Auschwitz -based historical Film and Ukrainian War Documentary. Former examines the human capacity for evil and ability to compartmentalise evil while getting on with one’s life, the latter is a raw and heartbreaking documentary depiction of the current horrors of war Ukrainian citizens are subjected to. Both films are a traumatizing and heartbreaking watch, so please consider this a trigger warning.

 

 

All of Us Strangers (Dir: Andrew Haigh) and Memory (Dir: Michel Franco)


Extremely moving romantic drama films that deal with memories (current ones, lost ones, the ones never made) and trauma and how it manifests in relationships, especially when you are falling in love. All of Us Strangers: Andrew Scott’s portrayal of Adam stands out for nuance and sensitivity and all the familial and romantic dynamics are moving and authentic. Memory: Peter Sarsgaard and Jessica Chastain are outstanding as a man with an early onset of dementia and a recovering alcoholic respectively and both plunge to unbelievable emotional depths together.

 

 

The Holdovers (Dir: Alexander Payne) and The Eight Mountains (Dir: Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch)

 

Both films deal with loneliness, loss and search for belonging and one’s place in the world. The former is a heart-warming albeit dark Christmas dramedy about an unlikely friendship between a sharp-tongued cranky teacher, an abandoned privileged student and a grieving cook. Eight Mountains is also about an unlikely lifetime friendship between a lost city boy and ‘grounded’ mountain boy and their contrasting life choices.

 


May December (Dir: Todd Haynes) and How to Have Sex (Dir: Molly Manning Walker)

 

Both delve into a complex and controversial aspects of relationships and consent. May December, based on a true story, explores nuances of an unconventional relationship with a significant age difference founded on statutory rape and child sexual abuse and How To Have Sex, based on director’s personal experiences, tackles the sensitive topic of underage sex and also rape and consent. MD’s main strength is the very strong script and breathtaking performances by Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore and Charles Melton while HTHS is visually compelling and presents an authentic depiction of adolescence.  




Peter Brown


Clockwise from top left, courtesy of: Anime Ltd; Warner Bros. Pictures; Apple Original Films.


Godzilla Minus One (Dir: Takashi Yamazaki)

 


Barbie (Dir: Greta Gerwig)

 


Killers of the Flower Moon (Dir: Martin Scorsese)




Corey McKinney


Clockwise from left, courtesy of: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; Sony Pictures Releasing; Lionsgate

In a year where bomb makers and Barbies ruled the roost, I’ve decided to highlight three existing franchise films as my top picks of the year. A ‘part two’, a ‘volume three’ and a ‘chapter four’ were among my highest rated films of 2023, movies that built upon or wrapped up their existing storylines in a wonderful way.

 


Spiderman: Across the Spider-Verse (Dir: Joaquim Dos Santos, Justin K. Thompson, Kemp Powers)

 

Sony Pictures Animation had a job to do in following up the universally acclaimed Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse, and with Across the Spider-Verse I believe they in fact surpassed the original. Right from the unreal drum-fuelled Gwen Stacy cold open to the epic battle in Mumbattan, the film takes the action to new heights as Miles Morales battles his way through the Spiderverse. The heartbreaking twist at the midpoint adds massive stakes to the rest of the story, with the human relationships being the centrepoint to this vibrant animation. My only frustration with the film would be the pacing, this is very much a Part 2 of 3, and the final 40 minutes had what felt like three separate climaxes. Nonetheless this was still up there as one of my films of the year, with a very special shoutout to Daniel Pemberton for his beautiful score.

 


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (Dir: James Gunn)

 

James Gunn’s story of a ragtag group of a-holes finally came to a close in 2023, with the third installment of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Volume 3 focused mainly on Bradley Cooper's Rocket Raccoon, giving us a look into his horrific past and the events that made him mistrustful and unkind in previous installments. Some of the flashbacks in this film were up there with the most shocking moments I watched in cinema in 2023, huge admiration for Bradley Cooper for bringing such emotion to an animated character. The rest of the Guardians are back, and in fine form as they deal with their trauma through a mix of humor and violence. These films are renowned for their awesome soundtracks, and Vol.3 is no different with brilliant tracks from Radiohead, The Flaming Lips and Florence + the Machine.

 


John Wick: Chapter 4 (Dir: Chad Stahelski)

 

My final choice didn’t stop at a Trilogy, with the fourth installment of the John Wick franchise bringing Keanu Reeves back to punch, kick, slice and shoot his way through an endless onslaught of henchmen. Honestly by this point in the John Wick franchise I’m almost at a loss as to what he’s fighting for. The poor fella just wants some peace. The real applause for these films is not in the story though, but the fight choreography and wonderful set pieces that appear to get bigger and bigger with each film. The two standout ones for me was the epic apartment complex sequence, where in one take the camera lifts high above the action as we see Wick battle his way from room to room against endless enemies. The second was the almost humorous fight up the steps towards the Sacre-Coeur, where at one point he appears to roll all the way back down to the bottom. With his bullet-proof suit and zero pain tolerance, John Wick could probably survive comfortably in the comic-book movies mentioned above. However for me it's this far-fetched, almost superhuman, aspect of these movies that just make them so enjoyable. I’ll finish by saying that I hope the fan-theory that John Wick Chapter 5 will be him ‘fighting his way out of Hell’ becomes a reality. John Wick vs. The Devil would surely be peak cinema.




Oliver Webb


Clockwise from top left, courtesy of: Le Pacte; Focus Features; Peccadillo Pictures; Oscilloscope Laboratories


Anatomy of a Fall (Dir: Justine Triet)


Justine Triet’s Palme d'Or winning film is a beautifully captivating thriller and stunningly captured by DP Simon Beaufils. Sandra Hüller would be my pick for Best Actress at the 96th Academy Awards.



The Holdovers (Dir: Alexander Payne)


Alexander Payne returns to fine form with this brilliantly poignant tale of a long winter in a New England prep school in 1970. Paul Giamatti and Da'Vine Joy Randolph are both excellent too and wouldn’t be surprised to see them both take home an Academy Award.

 


Sometimes I Think About Dying (Dir: Rachel Lambert)


Harold and Maude meets Office Space in Rachel Lambert’s tale of depression and dreary office life. Daisy Ridley is fantastic here too.

 


Le Paradis (Dir: Zeno Graton)


A remarkable film from Zeno Graton that explores forbidden love in a juvenile reform centre.

 




Alex Harper


Clockwise from top left courtesy of A24; Momentum Pictures; Picturehouse Entertainment; Searchlight Pictures


War Pony (Dir: Gina Gammell & Riley Keough)


On the Pine Ridge Reservation, two souls briefly cross paths. Pre-teen Matho (Ladainian Crazy Thunder) is stealing from his fathers stash, trying his hand as a drug dealer; Bill (Jojo Bapteise Whiting) has found his way onto the straight and narrow, using his baby mama’s bail money to buy a poodle named Beast for breeding. Their stories barely intertwine, yet cover a vast experience for boys and young men on the Reservation— at once crushing, hopeful and human. War Pony is a love letter to Pine Ridge, crafted by a quartet of friends, directing debutants (and Cannes Camera d’Or winners) Riley Keogh and Gina Gammell, and local writers and artists Franklin Sioux Bob and Bill Reddy, who take from personal history (the original title was Beast, for Reddy’s late dog) and the passed down stories the Oglala Lakota. A film as bruisingly honest as it is uplifting— and cemented by the spirit of Bill. A character and performance so winning and assured that as the camera lands on him for a final time, it’s hard not to be left with a smile.



Past Lives (Dir: Celine Song)


In-yun: the concept that every successive life lived will layer on top of one another, compounding our connections. One life, maybe Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae-Sung (Teo Yoo) brush shoulders. 8000’s lives and meetings later, they are soul mates. Well, that’s what Nora tells foreigners like Arthur (John Magaro) when she wants to seduce them. In Past Lives, we glance at the tenuous connections these three characters make across a lifetime— as children, college students, married adults— and witness as they interrogate how much fate has led them to their place. Celine Song’s debut is deft and mature, composed to only let the biggest emotions erupt once; if unforgettably so.



All Of Us Strangers (Andrew Haigh)


Yamada Taichi’s novel Strangers, and the first adaptation for film of it (Obayashi Nobuhiko’s The Discarnates) are both horrors. This is something you wouldn’t be able to tell in Andrew Haigh’s latest iteration of the same narrative. Listless screenwriter Adam discovers his parents (Claire Foy and Jamie Bell) are living in his childhood home, un-aged from the day of their death thirty years prior. Being able to spend time with them, able to have the important conversations in life he missed, encourages him to seek out romance with fellow loner Harry (Paul Mescal.) Haigh takes the supernatural and seismic and crystallises it down through his beautifully understated style; the wealth of emotional wavelengths hidden in minimalistic presentation. A ghost story where the haunting is unexpected, uplifting, devastating; often all at once.



The Zone of Interest (Dir: Jonathan Glazer)


After a lean yet menacing 100 minutes, witnessed in reverent silence, the audience rose from their seats and left. A friend and I tried to talk about the film when we were outside on the street, but stringing words together proved difficult. By the next day, Jonathan Glazer’s anti-film was all we could think about. Zone of Interest feels like an instrument, playing an amalgam of every subversive cinematic trick Glazer knows to sound an alarm that, much like the Höss family living their mundanely blissful lives on the outskirts of Auschwitz, our wilful ignorance to the horrors of the world is complicity, is evil. The feeling we are left with isn’t comfortable, yet it is necessary.



Monster (Dir: Kore-Eda Hirokazu)


What is the Monster in Kore-Eda Hirokazu’s mystery? For Ando Sakura’s put-upon single mother Mugino, it is teacher Hori (Nagayama Eita) whose purported abusive behaviour may be causing strange effects in her son Minato (Kurokawa Soya). For Hori, it is Minato’s apparent bullying of another young boy at the school, Yori (Hinato Hiraga). And for the boys, the monster may be something much more oppressive and abstract. Kore-Eda and screenwriter Sakamoto Yuji don’t provide easy answers, and leave gaps in the narrative that only imagination can fill; and the end result may be the stealthiest film from an auteur whose immense body of work leaves little room for highlights. Thrilling, surprising, and eventually so delicate and heart rending that it defies its own title. I mentioned in my top film of the year that a character and performance was insurmountable… Well, Hinato as Yori runs him close.

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