Sunday, December 31, 2023

Movies for Music Lovers: 2023 Edition

Click here for the 2022 edition. 

There are films on my runners-up list that should be in my top 10, but I had to draw the line somewhere, and I decided to call out some of the smaller films I saw this year over the bigger ones, like Oppenheimer. I loved it, and I don't always love Christopher Nolan's work. A lot of people felt the same way, but I loved Rye Lane, too, which offered everything I want--and rarely get--from a romantic comedy, a genre that has fallen on hard times as of late, so there's a glimpse into my reasoning. 

Rye Lane is also a cautionary tale about the so-called streaming revolution. After premiering at Sundance in January and playing theatrically in the UK, it landed on Hulu, which has nearly 50 million subscribers. That's great in theory, except a proper theatrical release allows a film to stand out from the crowd, to qualify for post-festival awards, and to draw viewers to streaming through theatrical play. 

Raine Allen-Miller's directorial debut features two virtual unknowns of substantial charm, David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah--all British people of color--and despite critical acclaim, it didn't benefit from the advantages listed above. Nor has it been part of the end-of-the-year conversation in the US about 2023's best and most award-worthy films. That said, both the UK and Canada have recognized it in various ways. 

Ben Affleck knew all of this when he insisted on a theatrical release for his sneaker saga Air, which he made for Prime Video, and cast with top names, like Matt Damon and Viola Davis (it's fine). He was right, but not everyone has his clout or their name recognition, and it's better for Rye Lane to be seen by way of Hulu than to languish without any distribution at all, but it's always a shame to see good films get overlooked (for those who care about such things, it has an impressive 98% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes). 

Review links: Letterboxd, Seattle Film Blog, Rock and Roll Globe, and Video Librarian.

Top 10 
1. Showing Up (Kelly Reichardt) 
2. Fallen Leaves (Aki Kaurismäki) 
3. Afire (Christian Petzold) 
4. A Thousand and One (A.V. Rockwell) 
5. The Holdovers (Alexander Payne) 
6. May December (Todd Haynes) 
7. Enys Men (Mark Jenkin) 
8. Rye Lane (Raine Allen-Miller) 
9. The Five Devils (Léa Mysius) 
10. Fremont (Babak Jalali) 

Note: If I believed in ties, Showing Up and Fallen Leaves would be tied for first. I've seen most every feature these directors have made, and these are among their very best. Also, Teyana Taylor is astounding in A.V. Rockwell's directorial debut. I can't stress this enough. 

11. Killers of the Flower Moon (Martin Scorsese) 
12. Oppenheimer (Christopher Nolan) 
13. Priscilla (Sofia Coppola) 
14. Barbie (Greta Gerwig) 
15. Asteroid City (Wes Anderson) 
16. Past Lives (Celine Song)
17. The Killer (David Fincher) 
18. All of Us Strangers (Andrew Haigh) 
19. Anatomy of a Fall (Justine Triet) 
20. Return to Seoul (Davy Chou) 

Note: In a different year, Killers of the Flower Moon would have made my top 10, and maybe I'll regret its omission in the future, but I feel I need to see it again to say for sure. I didn't love it the way I wanted or expected to, but I'm not sure my expectations were completely realistic. For what it's worth, David Grann's source book was one of the best I read all year next to the expanded edition of Kier-La Janisse's House of  Psychotic Women. Also, I never had a film review go viral before until Barbie, an experience I'm unlikely to have again. It just goes to show what kind of reach music writer Ann Powers has, because her championing gave it legs that wouldn't quit.  

21. You Hurt My Feelings (Nicole Holofcener) 
22. Eileen (William Oldroyd) 
23. Dreamin' Wild (Bill Pohlad) 
24. Riddle of Fire (Weston Razooli)
25. Piaffe (Ann Oren) 
26. The Night of the 12th (Dominick Moll) 
27. Poor Things (Yorgos Lanthimos) 
28. Monster (Hirokazu Kore-eda) 
       (Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeer) 
30. The Taste of Things (Tranh Anh Hung) 

Note: You Hurt My Feelings would be in my top 10, except...the ending gnawed at me. It's otherwise a near-perfect film, if such a thing can be said to exist. Where Nicole Holofcener tends to lose me is in her thoughts about middle-aged male and female vanity alike (see also: Brenda Blethyn's overly-pathetic character in Lovely and Amazing). Eileen represents one of two stellar Marin Ireland performances this year, including Birth/Rebirth. She had a role in Justified: City Primeval, too, but it didn't give her the chance to show what she can do, and she can do a lot. I vacillated about placing Piaffe in my top 10. It sounds ridiculous if you were to describe it--which I do in my review--but the execution is another story. Ann Oren is a filmmaker to watch. It's a bummer that Oscilloscope Laboratories didn't send out any end-of-the-year screeners. Props to Jim Brunzell for placing it on his top 10 without the prompt.

Aloners (Hong Sung-eun) 
32. RATS! (Maxwell Navelansky and Carl Fry)
33. Trenque Lauquen Pt 1 (Laura Citarella) 
34. Fancy Dance (Erica Tremblay) 
35. BlackBerry (Matt Johnson) 
36. R.M.N. (Cristian Mungui)  
37. Other People’s Children (Rebecca Zlotowski) 
38. Birth/Rebirth (Laura Moss) 
39. Reality (Tina Satter)  
40. The Unknown Country (Morissa Maltz) 

Note: I haven't had time to watch Trenque Lauquen Pt 2 yet, namely because it took awhile to secure a screener (thanks, Pat!), but it's something to look forward to in 2024. I'm also yet to catch up with About Dry Grasses, The Delinquents, and the new Radu Jude. I've been in touch with Max, one of the filmmakers behind RATS!, which I saw at Cucalorus. Really hoping he's able to bring it to Seattle. It's a pitch-perfect midnighter; totally over-the-top and lots of fun. Fancy Dance and The Unknown Country gave me the chance to see Lily Gladstone in person twice, an honor and a privilege I may not get to enjoy again any time soon after she receives her richly-deserved Oscar nomination--I'm also predicting a win.

41. Infinity Pool (Brandon Cronenberg) 
42. One Fine Morning (Mia Hansen-Love) 
43. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One 
       (Christopher McQuarrie) 
44. The Teachers' Lounge (Ilker Çatak) 
45. Tótem (Lila Avilés) 
46. The Iron Claw (Sean Durkin)   
47. Godzilla Minus One (Takashi Yamazaki)   
48. Master Gardener (Paul Schrader)  
49. Perpetrator (Jennifer Reeder)  
50. Monica (Andrea Pallaoro) 

Top Documentaries 
1. Even Hell Has Its Heroes (Clyde Petersen) 
2. Sam Now (Reed Harkness) 
3. Menus-Plaisirs - Les Troisgros (Frederick Wiseman) 
4. SCALA!!! (Ali Catterall and Jane Giles) 
     (Nancy Buirski) 
6. Casa Susanna (Sébastien Lifshitz) 
8. The Disappearance of Shere Hite (Nicole Newnham) 
     (Ben Shapiro and Sam Pollard) 
10. We Were Famous, You Don't Remember: The Embarrassment 
       (Daniel Fetherston and Danny Szlauderbach) 

Note: Rest in peace to Nancy Buirski who went out with one of her best films.  

Documentary Runners-up  
11. In the Court of the Crimson King (Toby Amies) 
12. Love to Love You, Donna Summer 
       (Brooklyn Sudano and Roger Ross Williams) 
13. Youth (Spring) (Wang Bing)  
14. Rewind & Play (Alain Gomis)  
15. For Nick, From Dad (Nick Damore) 
17. Playland (Georden West) 
18. Kim's Video (David Redmon and Ashley Sabin) 
19. Our Body (Claire Simon)
20. Let the Little Light Shine (Kevin Shaw)

Note: I caught For Nick, Playland, and Kim's Video at Cucalorus. Thanks to Aaron Hillis for encouraging me to attend the Wilmington, NC film festival (Aaron, wearing a mask, appears in the latter film). Three documentaries I haven't seen yet, but for which I have screeners and/or streaming access: American SymphonyBeyond Utopia, and The Pigeon Tunnel.

The rest of 2023 (in alphabetical order): 
Air, All Dirt Roads Taste of SaltAmerican FictionAre You There, God? It's Me, MargaretBeau Is Afraid, Before, Now & Then, Being Mary Tyler Moore, Blue Jean, Booger, Boston Strangler, Bottoms, Chevalier, Circus of the Scars - The Insider Odyssey of the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow (I get a shoutout in the credits), Cocaine Bear, The Color PurpleCypherA Disturbance in the Force, Dream ScenarioEl Conde, Fair PlayFantasy A Gets a MattressFerrari, How to Blow Up a PipelineHuesera: The Bone Woman, I Like Movies, Immediate FamilyJudy Blume Forever, King CoalLa ChimeraThe Lost Weekend: A Love Story, MaestroM3GAN, Missing, Money Shot: The Pornhub Story, My Love Affair with MarriageNapoleon, No One Will Save YouNo Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics, OriginOutta the Muck, PacifictionPassages, Perfect Days, Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game, Polite Society, Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields, Quiz Lady, A Radiant GirlRobertaThe Royal Hotel, RustinRuth Stone's Vast Library of the Female Mind, ScrapperShe Is ConannSick, Silent Night, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-VerseSummer SolsticeTetris, Theater CampThey Cloned TyroneWham!, When Evil Lurks, Wild Life, With Love and a Major Organ, Wonka, and The Zone of Interest

Pre-2023 films (alphabetical): 1970, Air DollAll Light, Everywhere, All My Sons, Anguish/Angustia, Backtrack/Catchfire, Beautiful Beings/BerdreymiBellissima, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Big Time Gambling Boss, Born in Flames, The Burning Hell, The Case of the Vanishing Gods, The Cassandra Cat/When the Cat Comes, Class of 1999, Cry of the City, Dance Me Outside, Death Game, Divine InterventionDownsizing, Entre Nous, Evening PrimroseFoxfire, Fresh Kill, The Getaway, Giant, The Glass ShieldGoodbye First Love, Haywire, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, HeartstoneHit the RoadAlberta Hunter: My Castle's Rockin'If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?, The Innkeepers, The Iron Prefect, The Killers (1946), The Killers (1964), Kiss the Blood off My Hands, Lady Killer/Guele D'Amour, The Liberation of L.B. Jones, The LineThe Lodge, The Mafu Cage, Margin Call, The Masque of the Red Death, Moi, Un Noir, A Moment of RomanceNelson Algren: The End Is Nothing, The Road Is AllThe Night Stalker, The Night Strangler, Night Tide, Nobody's Daughter Haewon, Noroît, Not Fade Away, Nothing But a Man, The Novelist's Film, Oki's Movie, Old, Our Sunhi, Pale Flower, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Passion, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Perfume, Peppermint Soda, Peter Von Kant, Phantom Project/Proyecto FantasmaLa Pirate, Play It As It LaysPossession, The Pirate, Prescription for Murder, Prisoners of the Land/Prisioneros de la Tierra, A Question of Silence, Ransom for a Dead Man, Red Sun/Rote Sonne, Remember My Name, The Ritz, The River, The Roost, Rosa La Rose, the Public Girl, The RoseSarah T. - Portrait of a Teenage AlcoholicThe Savage Eye, Screamplay, Season of the Witch, Secret DefenseShe-Man: A Story of Fixation, ShoeshineSibylSleep, My Love, The Slender ThreadSo Evil My Love, Sour Grapes, Something WildThe Spiritualist, Star 80The Sunday Woman, Time of Roses, Tokyo Pop, Trigger Man, The Tripper, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Unman, Wittering and Zigo, Wake of the Red Witch, Walk Up, The Watermelon Man, White Dog, Who Am I This Time?Working Girls, and Yakuza Graveyard

Note: I finally saw Possession this year, and on the big screen no less--thanks, Beacon Cinema! Many of these screenings were thanks to Aaron Hillis's film series Playtime and The Film Foundation's film restoration series. While Playtime abides, Martin Scorsese and Co. pulled the plug on their series. It will be missed.  

TV/Streaming (in alphabetical order):
1. All Creatures Great and Small S3
2. American Experience: The Adventures of Saul Bellow
3. American Experience: James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket
4. American Experience: Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie 
5. American Experience: Groucho & Cavett
6. American Experience: Zora Neale Hurston - Claiming a Space
7. Andor
8. Annicka S2
9. Bad Sisters
10. Barry S3
11. The Bear S2
12. Beef
13. Black Bird
14. Bodies
15. Bosch: Legacy S2
16. Columbo S1-10
17. The Crown S4-5
18. The Curse
19. Doc Martin S8-9
20. D.I. Ray
21. Endeavour S9
22. Fellow Travelers
23. Fight the Power: How Hip Hop Changed the World
24. Finding Your Roots S9
25. Frankie Drake Mysteries S1

26. Grantchester S8
27. Hope Street
28. Hotel Portofino S2
29. Justified: City Primeval 
30. Last Call: When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York
31. Law & Order S21
32. Law & Order: SVU S23
33. Liaison
34. Marie Antoinette S1
35. Marriage
36. Mossback's Northwest S1-2
37. Murder in Boston: Roots, Rampage, and Reckoning
38. Nature: Dogs in the Wild
39. Our House
40. Pain Hustlers
41. Paul T. Goldman
42. Perry Mason S2
43. Poker Face 
44. Professor T S2
45. Reservation Dogs S3
46. River
47. Succession S4
48. The Super Models
49. Van der Valk S3
50. Vienna Blood S3
51. What to Do When Someone Dies

Note: I work at a PBS member station, so you'll always find a number of PBS/ BBC/ ITV dramas on my list. I also watched  stray episodes of Atlanta, The Good Place, and Dead Ringers, with plans to finish all three before I die. Or they disappear.

Endnote: I worked hard this year for very little reward. Did it make a difference? I would like to think so. Highlights: moderating a panel on Ti West at Crypticon with my pal, Tony Kay, and others (I really wish we had recorded it!), chatting with David Schmader about his lively guide to Pacific Northwest cinema, Filmlandia!, at Town Hall Seattle (listen here), interviewing Icelandic writer-director Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson about his film, Beautiful Beings, at Ark Lodge Cinemas, and introducing the Seattle Film Critics Society's first inaugural John Hartl Pacific Northwest Spotlight Award at the Uptown. 

Images: Austin Film Society (Michelle William in Showing Up), the IMDb (David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah in Rye Lane), Warner Bros / Parade (Margot Robbie in Barbie), Liquid Marmalade (Julia Louis Dreyfus and Tobias Menzies in You Hurt My Feelings), Succulent Pictures / The Guardian (Robert Fripp in In the Court of the Crimson King), Kinorium (Seymour Cassel, Colleen Camp, and Sondra Locke in Death Game), and Outreach (Matt Bomer and Jonathan Bailey in Fellow Travelers, which, like Godzilla Minus One, made me cry).

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