2023 Recap – Introduction

by - January 1st, 2024 - Features


Best of 2023: From “Barbenheimer” to the return of Godzilla, 2023 was full of surprises

There were any number of cinematic events in 2023 worth celebrating. It was a year in which Barbie dominated, Oppenheimer went nuclear with ticket-buying audiences, and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 did their respective franchises proud (while every other superhero installment did a massive face-plant into the cement).

M3GAN (2023) | PHOTO: Universal Pictures

It saw M3GAN start things off for Universal and Blumhouse with a dollified bang and Five Nights at Freddy’s end them for the collaborating studios with an animatronic cannon shot straight into the stratosphere. As for the concert documentary Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, the pop superstar showed that the world continues to be her oyster, what with the self-financed and self-distributed film breaking several box office records.

But it wasn’t all wine and roses. Animated films outside of The Super Mario Bros. Movie and Elemental had trouble attracting audiences. Tried-and-true favorites (Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Fast X) faltered even though they made hundreds of millions and played to full houses, primarily due to extreme production costs brought on by COVID delays. Vaunted veteran filmmakers Ridley Scott (Napoleon) and Zack Snyder (Rebel Moon: Part One – A Child of Fire) delivered purposefully unfinished films for Apple TV and Netflix, respectively, with much longer (and already completed) director’s cuts for 2024 announced months before either of their shorter counterparts had even been released.

Horror remained the hot ticket, if a producer wanted to turn an almost certain profit. Hits outnumbered the misfires by a wide margin. Outside of the aforementioned Universal/Blumhouse successes, Evil Dead Rise, Scream VI, The Nun II, and Saw X reinvigorated each of their long-running franchises; the Aussie import Talk to Me had audiences buzzing; The Boogeyman led to more than its fair share of nightmares; and Thanksgiving was anything but a turkey. Even a CG-generated, drug-addicted black bear got in on the act, as director Elizabeth Banks showcased her darkly comedic, limb-severing credentials with the gorily rambunctious Cocaine Bear.

Women got to express their sexual agency in a big way. Outside of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, heroines triumphantly stood their ground in pictures as diverse in tone and representation as Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla, Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things, Andrea Pallaoro’s Monica, Emma Seligman’s Bottoms, Adele Lim’s Joy Ride, Will Gluck’s Anyone But You, Kitty Green’s The Royal Hotel, William Oldroyd’s Eileen, Joe Lynch’s Suitable Flesh, and, yes, even Kelly Fremon Craig’s tween coming-of-age spellbinder Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Martin Scorsese showed everyone how an old master can still get it done, with pizazz, style, and introspective urgency to burn, with the stellar Killers of the Flower Moon, while up-and-coming maestros like Andrew Haigh (All of Us Strangers), Justine Triet (Anatomy of a Fall), Kelly Reichardt (Showing Up), Goran Stolevski (Of an Age), Ava DuVernay (Origin), Jonathan Glazer (The Zone of Interest), Demián Rugna (When Evil Lurks), and Sean Durkin (The Iron Claw) memorably did the same with their own idiosyncratically devastating dramas.

Newcomers Celine Song (Past Lives), Cord Jefferson (American Fiction), Michelle Garza Cervera (Huesera: The Bone Woman), Stephen Williams (Chevalier), and Savanah Leaf (Earth Mama) also made their marks, their feature-length debuts being some of the finest films 2023 had to offer.

There’s plenty more worth talking about, including the exhilaratingly exhausting action acrobatics of Chad Stahelski’s John Wick: Chapter 4, the hysterically astute observations of Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers, and the visual majesty of Gareth Edwards’s criminally undervalued The Creator.

The Color Purple (2023) | PHOTO: Warner Bros.

Warner Bros. produced a pair of unlikely hit musicals (Wonka, The Color Purple) that it inexplicably refused to market as actual musicals, while director Francis Lawrence and author Suzanne Collins journeyed back to Panem for The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes and produced one of the year’s most surprisingly entertaining hits. Master animator Hayao Miyazaki returned for what may be the final time with The Boy and the Heron and delivered his biggest international smash since 2001’s Oscar-winning Spirited Away.

Then there’s Toho’s Godzilla Minus One. Originally slated to hit domestic theaters in the US for a weeklong special engagement, director Takashi Yamazaki’s post-WWII kaiju epic managed the unthinkable: it packed houses from New York to Seattle to all points in between, forcing the studio to rethink its entire release strategy. More than that, it actually made Godzilla scary again, while also offering up an emotionally complex human story that’s equal to the iconic title character’s colossal status around the globe. If there was any cinematic event I simply did not see coming, this had to be it.

Without further ado, the following pages contain my picks for the best films of 2023, along with several other tidbits I hope interested viewers take note of. Enjoy!

– Portions of this feature reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle

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