Monday, April 22, 2024

List: Dave Giannini’s Top 10 Movies of 2023

2023, a real odd, but overall good, year for movies. It feels like every year, the theatrical experience is in a different kind of trouble.  This year, it was a horrific strike that limited even the ability to talk about movies publicly. Without the absolutely insane Barbenheimer event, who knows where we would be.  But this year also contained some legitimate classics of the form and I had a great time at the cinemas throughout the entire calendar. 

This list is, of course, limited to movies I could actually see (Apologies to Origin). 

Honorable mentions include: The Killer, The Holdovers, Barbie, May December, Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse

10. Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani

Yeah, this one might seem out of left field. Or maybe you haven’t heard of it. I don’t consider myself an expert in Indian cinema.  But I am an expert in me having a good time. You like musicals? Romance? Comedy? Family drama and history? This movie has all of that and more. Ranveer Singh is a perfect, lovable, idiot.  He doesn’t know much, but his heart is in the right place. And Alia Bhatt? Perfection and I won’t hear any arguments. This is a long movie, but it never feels like it.  It’s a movie that makes me smile even when thinking about it. Do yourself a favor, find this movie and watch it. Thank me later.

9. Poor Things

I find it interesting that as Yorgos Lanthimos gets more freedom, he becomes more approachable (as long as you’re not a prude about sex). Poor Things being this low on the list just shows you what a great year we had in 2023. Emma Stone deserves all of the praise that she is getting, but I only hope that Mark Ruffalo gets the awards attention, too. He is on a special comedic level here. But also, visually, this is one of the stunners of the year. Lanthimos clearly does not care about realism and uses the fantastical to allow us to just join in on both the wildness and the journey of his characters.

8. Monica

I’m just going to be clear here. Trace Lysette gave the best performance of the year. That’s it. She is absolutely perfect. And as she has been discussing on social media, if a cisgender person gave this performance, it would be a guaranteed nomination, if not win. Barring a huge surprise, this will not happen for Ms. Lysette. But don’t let that dissuade you. Monica was one of my favorite theater experiences of the year. A silent discussion of depression, familial trauma, and small moments of healing. This is what watching independent film in particular, and cinema in general, is all about. I saw this movie early in the year and it has stuck with me, and even improved with time.

7. Oppenheimer

What to say that hasn’t been said. I am a lover of Christopher Nolan films, and this is his true epic. In scale, in story, in pure gall. And yet, unlike many epics, Oppenheimer is an actor’s dream. Obviously, Cillian Murphy is great, and this has been talked to death. But the gigantic cast, they are all just right and serve the movie in ways that supporting characters rarely do. Yet, despite this, Nolan also never loses sight of the bombast necessary to tell this particular story. He manages to do it all; character work, special effects, biopic, and a lesson movie without feeling preachy. Kind of a miracle now that I think of it!

6. Anatomy of a Fall

And here is the second best performance of the year. Sandra Hüller truly makes you forget that she is acting. You can literally pick any moment in the movie from her as her awards clip. And if you know me, you know that I do not appreciate most child performances. But Milo Machado-Graner is different. A truly moving, stunning performance and story. We can argue all day about whether she did it or not (She’s innocent!) but that may be the most uninteresting conversation in the whole film. Anatomy of a Fall is so good and intimate, it almost feels like you shouldn’t be seeing it.

5. Killers of the Flower Moon

I wrote a whole review of this on this site. Scorsese, incredibly, has not lost a step. This movie contains a performance so powerful that it makes you forget that she is acting against titans like DiCaprio and DeNiro. Lily Gladstone will likely be the first Native American person to win an Oscar, and good for her, she deserves it. Martin Scorsese really is a master, he finds a way to teach us both our part in tragedy, and our responsibility as those who devour this media. His choices in the final moments will stick with me for many, many years. 

4. Past Lives

I am an easy mark for this kind of movie. You want Dave to support your movie? Just make it about longing.  This has longing in spades. I am still in disbelief that this was director Celine Song’s first feature. It is assured, calm, and has more depth than many experienced filmmakers. Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, and John Magaro create relationships that seem like peering into both past and future. The possibilities, the way our lives fork, this movie says it all without spoon feeding and saying it out loud. Past Lives is a treasure and will continue to be for many years. 

3. All of Us Strangers

All of Us Strangers is heartbreaking. All of Us Strangers is heart healing. For those of us who have had to come out of the closet, it tells a truth rarely told. Most of the stories are all accepting or all rejecting. But often, life is not like this. The coming out story here is neither, it is performed by people, real humans with faults and struggles. But beyond this, All of Us Strangers is also a beautiful love story, kind of (watch it, you’ll get what I mean). Both Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal are a perfect fit for their roles and for each other. All of Us Strangers is a beautiful, important, painful watch, and worth every second.

2. The Taste of Things

Another film that I was lucky enough to review for InSession Film. Although it was surpassed in my list of best films, this is likely the one I will come back to most. If it’s not the best food movie ever, it is just behind the great Tampopo. Love is food. Food is love. Age and time don’t matter. Love will conquer everything, even if only for a short time. The Taste of Things lives in my heart and probably always will.

1. The Zone of Interest

I will admit, this could be recency bias. It also could be that Jonathan Glazer is exactly on my wavelength. Even more than most movies set during the Holocaust, The Zone of Interest, is truly difficult to watch. But the difficulties come for different reasons. There is almost no violence witnessed on screen, very little suffering besides the background sounds that we hear. Glazer spends the entire run time building to a daring moment in the third act. In this moment, you realized that the accusatory is not pointed solely at the evil Germans, but at humanity in general. This movie shook me to my core, and if you can move past the achingly slow pace, it will for you, too.

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