Sunday, June 23, 2024

List: Shadan Larki’s Top Ten of 2023

When you watch hundreds of films a year, things inevitably blur together. What stands out about each title I chose is how vividly memorable they are. Whether it was a scene that continues to replay in my mind, a performance I’m still finding nuances in, the theatrical experience, or simply how the film made me feel, I constructed my favorites based on the movies I just can’t stop thinking about. Or talking about. Or recommending.

Some years, I struggle to fill out a list like this. But 2023 spoiled me rotten with choices. The order of this list of favorites has changed quite a bit, as have my sentiments about these films. Still, I know these are titles I’ll look back on in five or ten years with exceptional fondness. 
I’d be remiss not to include a few honorable mentions: Still: A Michael J Fox Movie— My favorite documentary of the year, an honest and hopeful portrait of an icon. Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour— This glitter-filled celebration of Taylor Swift had me dancing, singing, and swinging my friendship bracelet-arms all through my local theater. The most fun I’ve had at the movies all year. Joy Ride—No movie made me laugh harder than this outrageously funny comedy about a girls’ trip gone array. Elemental— This Pixar animated movie about water and fire falling for each other is so sweetly charming. Killers of the Flower Moon— Don’t let the three-and-a-half-hour runtime intimidate you. Martin Scorsese’s epic about a series of murders in the Osage nation is one of his very best. Lily Gladstone’s revelatory performance makes this a must-see.

10. Saltburn

Unlike Origin and Oppenheimer, Saltburn is very much a movie I would hesitate to recommend. It’s bizarre and, honestly, kind of gross. But I loved nearly every minute of it. Oscar-winner Emerald Fennell’s sophomore effort centers on Barry Keoghan, a college student who becomes enamored with a classmate (Jacob Elordi) and spends the summer with his new friend’s exorbitantly wealthy, morally corrupt, eccentric family. Think of Saltburn as a modern, twisted take on The Great Gatsby. (The lush party sequences would make Mr. Gatsby Emerald with jealousy). Every twist is crazier than the last, and Rosamund Pike steals the film with a delicious performance. Sure, Saltburn isn’t going to leave you feeling warm and fuzzy, but sometimes, I prefer to feel horrified and giggling to avoid my own discomfort. Buckle up for some fun.

9. Oppenheimer

After being bitterly disappointed by both Dunkirk and Tenet, I went into the second half of my Barbenheimer double-feature somewhat begrudgingly. While I do think the thin writing and character development are worthy of criticism, Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer is undeniably an otherwise finely crafted cinematic achievement with visuals that will, no pun intended, blow you away. But, the main reason I hold Oppenheimer in such high esteem and don’t hesitate to recommend it is Cillian Murphy’s enigmatic performance as the father of the atomic bomb. I have adored Murphy’s work for nearly 20 years. He is one of our finest character actors, and he has never been better, commanding nearly every frame of this three-hour drama. Yes, the movie boasts an absolutely stacked cast of A-listers, but the film suffers when Murphy is not on screen. He draws you in and keeps you invested, and keeps you guessing. Oppenheimer is ultimately a cautionary tale about ego, politics, and power, a true, modern epic.

8. American Fiction

The third directorial debut on my list, American Fiction introduced us to the film-making prowess of Cord Jefferson in a strikingly funny satire about the commodification of marginalized voices. Jeffrey Wright gives a career-defining performance as a long-overlooked author who finally gets the praise he’s been looking for. But only after conceiving of a book that leans into every Black stereotype he can think up during a drink-fueled late-night writing binge. Sterling K. Brown co-stars as Wright’s wayward brother in one of the year’s best ensemble casts.

7. Monster

Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda has long been one of my “I’ll see anything they make filmmakers.” And Monster might be my very favorite work of his to date. An accusation of bullying collides with the worlds of the mother, the teacher, and the communities involved. As always, Kore-eda fills in moral complexities with delicate shades of grey, each stroke adding nuance and complexity to a story and characters we think we have figured out. Then Monster switches to the perspective of the young boys involved in the incident and transforms into something else entirely, even more richly told than the drama that came before. Simply beautiful.

6. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

A wonderfully sweet adaptation of Judy Blume’s classic novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret delves into girlhood—with its epic firsts, discoveries, and lingering magic of childhood wonder—and the horrors of puberty and impending teenage angst. Rachel McAdams gives one of the best performances of the year and her career as a mother doing her best to support her daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson) while making mistakes and finding her own way. I loved how much empathy Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margarethad to offer all of its characters. I so desperately wish this movie was available to me as a lost 12-year-old. But, even as a somewhat put-together twenty-something, Margaret still had a lot to teach me, and for that, I am grateful.

5. Past Lives

Past Lives snuck up on me. The more time passed, the higher it climbed on my favorites list. I just can’t get this movie out of my head. Nora’s (Greta Lee) life in Toronto becomes unsettled when she reconnects with a childhood friend from South Korea (Teo Yoo). John Magaro is excellent as Nora’s sweet, unassuming husband. This trio of actors adds so much depth and warmth to Celine Song’s already rich directorial debut. As the daughter of immigrants, this story of fractured identities, dual cultures, and what-ifs deeply resonated with me. But there’s so much to dig into and relate to, regardless of your background. Past Lives is quietly devastating. 

4. Poor Things

Given that Frankenstein ismy favorite book of all time, it’s no surprise that I ended up loving a movie about an eccentric scientist (Willem Dafoe) who reanimates a corpse (Emma Stone). In keeping with his delightfully weird sensibility, Yorgos Lanthimos has given us a bold cinematic feast of color, sex, and epic costumes. Stone is fabulous as a woman (re)discovering her zest for life, and Mark Ruffalo is a great, wickedly charming villain.

3. A Thousand and One

Teyana Taylor is magnetic as a young mother trying to do what is best for herself and her son against the tide of an increasingly gentrified New York City, many broken systems, and little support. A.V. Rockwell delivers a confident directorial debut; her script is packed with ideas about generational trauma, race, love, and family. A Thousand and One establishes Rockwell as a major film-making talent and serves as a loving ode to the quiet, fierce strength and loyalty of Black women.

2. Anatomy of a Fall

What stands out the most to me about my experience watching Anatomy of a Fall is how deeply engrossed I was, sitting at the edge of my seat, gripping the armrest, afraid to move, afraid to blink for fear that I’d miss a line of dialogue or a micro-expression that would give away a clue to the mystery. ‎Sandra Hüller gives the performance of the year as an author accused of murdering her husband, with much of the trial hinging on the testimony of her young, visually impaired son (Milo Machado Graner). Writer and director Justine Triet brilliantly explores the uncomfortable truths of marriage, motherhood, and sexuality in this riveting drama that you won’t soon forget.

1. Origin

I promised myself I’d only use the word “masterpiece” once throughout this piece, and it’s a word befitting of Origin, Ava DuVernay’s sweeping reimaging of Isabel Wilkerson’s best-seller, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.” I was awe-struck by how DuVernay moves through time to recontextualize our shared history in a deeply empathetic drama. Origin opened my eyes to a new way of storytelling, and to add to that, a film has not so profoundly moved me in a very long time. A cinematic magic trick that I encourage you all to see immediately. 

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