Tuesday, June 18, 2024

List: Jaylan Salah’s Top 10 Overlooked Movies of 2023

What’s an overlooked movie? There are things with no solid definition, but an overlooked movie in an already too crammed a season is one that went unseen and forgotten, swept under the rug, or took a somewhat repulsive discourse that turned people off until further notice. Some people might have seen it but it didn’t garner that much hype or get the attention it deserved. For movies, 2023 was a spectacular year, balancing the perfect mix of the mainstream and art-house. Even with all the critical acclaim and box office successes, some movies were made with love and hope to find the right audience at the right time. I was the right audience for all the ones mentioned below, so bear (or enjoy) with me as I fawn over them.

10. Passages directed by Ira Sachs

If this movie doesn’t redefine the modern love triangle, then I don’t know what would. We’re in a new era, new times, and new definitions for everything pop out every minute. What’s a husband, a wife, a lover, a man, or a woman? These are all rigid concepts that need to be knocked to the ground. Passages reconstructs what it means to be chic, to be loved, to be unfaithful, to be the boy dancing in the club, to be the girl stealing someone’s husband, to be a husband, to be the center of a love triangle, and to be truly loved. Franz Rogowski is magnetic, dancing his way swiftly between genders and emotions. The scene when Adèle Exarchopoulos sings to him is sensual and beautiful, with a sublime connection to Mia Hansen-Løve’s or Claire Denis’s cinema.

9. Reality directed by Tina Satter

A claustrophobic, intense piece of realist cinema, Tina Satter derived her movie from the actual transcript of an FBI interrogation with Reality Winner, a 26-year-old former Air Force linguist and intelligence contractor who leaked top-secret government information. Sydney Sweeney played Reality with such masterful emotional and muscle control. Throughout the movie, Satter confined the audience to an empty, unused bedroom in Reality’s house, enduring the pauses, the muscle twitches, and the casual, filler conversations between the FBI agents and the young girl. The movie is one rollercoaster ride of a film. It will trap viewers in one sitting, never letting them go. The film is a masterclass in psychological analysis of how an interrogation goes, as well as the work that Sweeney put into having her face in front of a camera throughout the runtime, with every visible and invisible emotion drawn on it.

8. Theater Camp directed by Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman

I love theater kids and that spirit of people coming together to create art. Theater Camp had a cozy, feel-good-movie vibe I hadn’t witnessed in any film last year. Yes, the directing wasn’t perfect, and it felt a bit rushed, and a bit chunky at times, but the loveliness of Ayo Edebiri, Molly Gordon, Amy Sedaris, Owen Thiele, and Jimmy Tatro made up for all the shortcomings. We need more films like that, making people feel like they belong. Movies like Dead Poets Society and Pride don’t exist anymore, but Theater Camp came and reignited that feeling of having a fictional group of friends and supporters. It’s a great film on a rainy day.

7. Priscilla directed by Sofia Coppola

Like many films directed by and about women, this movie has taken a strange discourse, one that buried its ulterior motive underneath tons and tons of misinterpretations or manipulating the narrative to be around the men. Priscilla has garnered multiple reviews, analytical videos, and think pieces, but the main conversation centered around comparing Sofia Coppola’s Elvis to Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis. Coppola’s anti-fairytale was doused in perfume and pink wallpaper to zoom in on a woman at the heart of manipulation, gaslighting, grooming, and possessive love. But it works, a great companion piece to Coppola’s filmography of trying to understand the transition from girlhood to womanhood. I know this movie had its share of exposure last year, but something deep inside me tells me it’s been dismissed at a certain point, forgotten like a sad Christmas light.

6. Bottoms directed by Emma Seligman

Every single woman I knew has been dying to watch something like Bottoms. Yes, the movie is primarily directed at a much younger female audience, but seriously a fight club for girls started by two outcast lesbians? I’m in! Everything about Bottoms is en pointe, from the funny, tongue-in-cheek dialogue, to the cast of some of Gen Z Hollywood powerhouse names (Edebiri, Gerber, Galitzine, and Sennott) not to mention Seligman’s deliberate and catchy directing style, taking us into a world of young girls not just fighting each other, but jumping and grinding at each other. The result is a sexy, awkward, enjoyable mess.

5. Showing Up by Kelly Reichardt

Some movies feel made for a particular person. Showing Up was made for me. It’s a small movie about people living small lives. Yes, they are artists with vivid imaginations and eccentricities but they’re going with the flow, like traveling pollens. Michelle Williams plays a scowling, reclusive artist while Hong Chau breathes air into her role as the fun and quirky artist, always hopping in and out of the arts community like the pigeon she saves. The movie is slow-paced, and nothing much happens on screen, but if someone wants to see a bond blossom between two completely different women in the most tangible of ways, this is their movie.

4. Monster directed by Kore-eda Hirokazu

When I want to watch something that encapsulates the heart of the real world, with a touch of tenderness, I run to a Kore-eda Hirokazu movie. He made some of the best films of the 2010s, such as After the Storm, Shoplifters, Our Little Sister, and Like Father, Like Son. He mixed his empathetic gaze with the minute details of the everyday lives of Japanese people, their struggles, and their familial interactions. Monster is a mother’s journey to uncover the insides of her son, and why his torment is so palpable. It’s a great movie about sexual awakening, coming-of-age, and how confusing the feelings between children could seem in the eyes of adults. It is a brilliant script by Yuji Sakamoto with great performances from the child actors.

3. Scrapper directed by Charlotte Regan

After the success of Aftersun, the father-daughter pairing of a hot twentysomething dude and a smarty pants girl is becoming a sensation. Harris Dickinson is a new face that attracts attention wherever he goes. His screen presence is dominant and grounded in both mystery and cool. Here, Dickinson teams with child actress Lola Campbell to play a father and daughter duo grappling with grief and acceptance of their presence in each other’s lives. Scrapper is kitschy in bubble-gum hues and weird camera work, but it mainly works for Dickinson and Campbell. Indeed, the Xavier Dolan-esque jump cuts and the intersecting video game sequences are a (satisfying) distraction from the heart of the film, but they are still enjoyable to watch.

2. Io Capitano directed by Matteo Garrone

Io Capitano has that color palette that would make Sean Baker proud, and that active mise-en-scène very distinctive of Italian cinema, a frame brimming with color and movement, the perfect actor blocking and scene composition. There are many points that the film misses about the reality of situations for migrants in European countries, but what matters is this modern retelling of a hero’s journey, through the eyes of two riveting characters, ones that audiences find easy to root for and care about. A film for the senses and a story to tell around the fire, even if the ending is too beautiful a fairytale to believe.

1. Asteroid City directed by Wes Anderson

The internal beauty of Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City made me fall in love with it. I loved it more when I found it on some Worst of the Year lists. A certain flaw made it shine. Anderson made it for someone who can handle the heat and the strong 1950s pastel palette, while still reveling in the performances. One that sparkled like a diamond was Scarlett Johansson’s Midge Campbell, a glamorous lonely movie star self-obsessed and faux-poetic. Jason Schwartzman was a delight to watch, and his three girls were an insane girl power magnet that stole all the scenes they were in. Asteroid City is a poetic, bright-colored mess, but it’s a mess that attracts people like me, and that’s sufficient.

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