2023 in lists: Movies

Movies (seen in the cinema)

  • Avatar: The Way of Water: I can barely remember the first one, though I saw it and I remember some of the controversy over whether people liked the computer animation or not. I liked a lot about the film, the images, the world building, but could have done without all the violent battle scenes, and the story and characterisations were really basic and juvenile. It didn’t appeal to me.
  • Triangle of Sadness: Damn it. WTF? Winning the Cannes best film award and the bonkers trailer, we thought this would be amusing. But it was chaotic and shallow, and whenever hinting at some depth of commentary or thinking, it veered away. Too nonsensical to be entertaining and the criticism of the wealthy was as shallow as it portrayed the characters to be. 
  • Oklahoma (1999). This version of Oklahoma played in London, just after I’d left London and had arrived in Australia. So I was always curious about it, and particularly Hugh Jackman’s much lauded performance. They screened this in 800 theatres around the world to coincide with the musical’s 80th anniversary. And while it is boasted that the musical is timeless, how strange to see it in today’s light. The songs, many of them, are glorious and soaring and memorable. And some of them are ridiculous and hard to make work in any context. Jackman’s charisma is amazing and he injects such life into the work. But little can be done about the wet rag character of Laurie. And Ado Annie! It’s shocking that they’ve written a brainless nymphomaniac as a main character in 1943! While we’re obviously meant to laugh AT her, I mainly thought: whut??? The viewing was 3.5 hours! A long stretch. I’m glad I saw it though.
  • Joy Ride: I loved this film. Clearly meant to entertain but with lots of inside jokes for Asian-Americans along the way. It was groundbreaking without trying very hard, and I thought it was very, very funny. 
  • Barbie: I wasn’t the target audience, and while I found Margot and Ryan engaging and charismatic, I didn’t like the film as much as I’d hoped to. On the other hand, there is something very subversive about exposing so many young girls to the concept of the patriarchy and toxic masculinity.
  • Oppenheimer: Thankfully, we did not see this at the same time as Barbie. While I thought it was a little long (and that the last part of the movie almost felt like a different film), I was really entranced by the storytelling and love that a film dealing with such big moral questions in a smart, intelligent way is being seen by so many. I think it might be raising the average IQ of the world. One of the best films I’ve seen in the last few years. 
  • Theatre Camp: The reviews were good. And we loved Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen. But this film made us realise that we are not the show queens we thought we were. It wasn’t terrible, but it was just so underwhelming and not funny, like an inside joke, one critic said. 
  • A Little Life: A filmed version of the English-language production of the Dutch theatrical adaptation of the book, A Little Life. Absolutely amazing acting, but condensing a huge novel to about 3.5 hours focused the entire story on the principal traumatic story and in the end, it was all a little too much (while also making me question the book, which I had been very impressed with. But is all that trauma justified in the name of art, especially when coopting the subjects of child abuse and paedophilia? The book was more exploitative than I realised while reading it).  
  • Sick of Myself: Some absolutely GREAT moments of film-making, and a funny, scary, contemporary vision of narcissism, but it was so good (and the acting, and the make-up!) that it was a disappointment that the director seemed to lose steam and there wasn’t a great ending. 
  • Stop Making Sense, remastered: How I loved this album and Talking Heads as a teenager, and I remembered liking this film, so it was fun to revisit it. David Byrne is even more charismatic and energetic a performer than I remember, and also, what a hot nerd. He wouldn’t have been my type as a teenager. I was surprised that I was really unengaged with the songs that I don’t remember, and guess I thought were filler, but hearing the big hits was magic. 
  • Napoleon: Always interesting when a movie gets such mixed reviews. I thought it was surprisingly engaging for the whole 2.5 hours where I was interested in the performances (loved Vanessa Kirby as Josephine) and impressed with the spectacle, both of war and the wealthy and powerful. It didn’t touch me, or enlighten me, but I found it enjoyable. 

Movies (seen on TV, probably on a streaming service, or on an airplane)

  • Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery: What I liked about this was how purely entertaining it was. It had no pretensions except to be enjoyable, and we did.
  • Amsterdam: The star power was incredible and I really enjoyed Christian Bale. But it was weird. When Mike Myers was on-screen, it became a Mike Myers film, and then when Robert De Niro was on-screen, it was a Robert De Niro film. The story seemed an excuse to put everyone together.
  • The Menu: Apropo of the news that the restaurant Noma is closing comes a movie that combines TV shows like Iron Chef and the Chef’s Table, the excesses of fine dining taken to a new level and combined with a dark horror show: this movie was absolutely bonkers and I loved it. 
  • Matilda, the Musical: We saw the musical in NYC one year and were interested to see how they expanded the musical into a movie. Love, love, love the music. Love everything about Emma Thompson’s performance. It’s a dark story, as bequeathed by Roald Dahl, and a lot of fun. 
  • The Big Sick: Having watched Kumail Nanjiani in Welcome to Chippendales, I wanted to see his breakthrough movie. It is superb. A story about a girlfriend in a coma, stand-up comedy and Muslim family life, it also happens to be a rom-com. Really. The writing is so smart and funny.
  • See How They Run: An amusing romp with fun actors, and probably more amusing if I’d seen ‘The Mousetrap’. 
  • Emily the Criminal: I was engaged by this, but such a dark film and a dark character: I didn’t love it. 
  • Good luck to you, Leo Grande: How can you not love Emma Thompson? But Daryl McCormack is a revelation, holding his own, in this engaging, charming, sex-positive story.
  • Don’t Worry Darling. I had heard this was good, but must have misremembered because the poor reviews align with my view. It was very pretty to look at, but it was surprisingly uninteresting and unoriginal.
  • Red, White and Royal Blue. My head is still spinning. When I was a teenager, I was starved to see gay men and gay relationships in the media. You could find them in arthouse foreign films, sometimes. No Hollywood actors were openly gay. Gay characters were usually unhappy, had bad endings, or eventually became sidekicks and snappy best friends. That the world has changed so that movies on streaming services get as much attention as those in cinemas. And that a film, much watched, can be released that is as gay and romantic as can be. With two straight actors who are not worried about playing gay roles, but just want to be ‘authentic’. The film itself was fine: silly, unchallenging and positive with attractive leads. My head is still spinning. In a good way.
  • The Banshees of Inisherin. I didn’t expect it to be so comic for much of the film, nor as dark as it got. Incredible performances. I’m glad I saw this. 
  • Cassandro. Gael García Bernal is wonderful and the subject is fascinating with great ambience. But then it doesn’t go anywhere. Not much story or character development. I’m glad I watched it but wish it was better. 
  • Erskineville Kings. Known for early performances of Hugh Jackman and Joel Edgerton, this 1998 low-budget Aussie film is a look into Aussie masculinity. It’s got a real vibe and sense of place (a bleak one) yet there’s not a lot of story to it. Interesting from a cultural viewpoint, but perhaps not a great film.
  • 10 Things I Hate About You. OK. I admit we watched the first half an hour and the last 20 minutes, and it was good to see Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt so young! But it’s a young person’s film, and was mostly kind of stupid. 
  • Big Lebowski. Saw this because of the great reviews and it was pretty enjoyable. And silly. 
  • Reservoir Dogs. I remember this, vaguely, and I think I saw it at the time. But why was it so popular? I could see that the storytelling was innovative for its time, it had great dialogue and acting and a lot of attitude, so not your regular heist film. Still, a film entirely of men, who are mostly racist and misogynist, it showed its age. 1992!
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: The in-laws were watching this on Blu-Ray (which is a strange effect that I’m not used to), so I watched most of it too. But I’m not a Monty Python fan. And while I was interested to see Heath Ledger, I didn’t find anything to hang onto it. It was all very hectic and the storytelling very loose.
  • Quiz Lady: What I hated the most was the wasted potential. One-dimensional cliché characters and dumb jokes. What I complain about probably once a year, that it’s very lazy writing to have the protagonist of a movie accidentally take drugs. That such a luminous, wise actor Holland Taylor is made into a complaining small-minded old woman. Also, that they didn’t show the gambling mother who escaped to Macao, perhaps giving her to Michelle Yeo to play. But I love Awkwafina and Sandra Oh, so, I’m glad I saw it, but regretful for what might have been.
  • Past Lives: I thought this was a quiet, beautiful movie, with less dialogue than I thought it would have (I think it cribbed most of the major speeches for the trailer). A lovely meditation on memory and becoming and longing. I liked it very much. 
  • The Whale: I couldn’t help but be impressed by Brendan Fraser’s performance, for which he won an Oscar. Just like putting Nicole Kidman in a prosthetic nose, or making Charlize Theron ugly, the Academy loves a transformation. But the film felt so stagey, a play turned into a movie but without additions to make it work. You can have super dramatic and one dimensional characters on stage, and simply admire the acting. It’s clear that it is a *story* that is working to have an affect on you. But movies for the most part aim for the same authenticity that Fraser’s character exhorts his students to strive for. And the lack of honesty in the characters (except for Hong Chau’s caretaker/nurse/friend) didn’t work for me. 
  • Aftersun: Watching the Whale and Aftersun on Hawaiian Airlines, it was weird but evident they were bleeping out profanities, but I didn’t realise until a day later that they cut out any sex scenes too. I wonder if this also affected my watching of Aftersun, which has rave reviews, yet is possibly not an airplane movie. I loved the natural performances of the two leads. But I found myself wondering if this was a first film (it was) and I missed understanding the main repeated trope: that the adult version of Alice is watching her father dancing in a nightclub (at the same age as the memory of the Turkish trip). The quality of the screen in the back of the airplane seat just wasn’t high enough to see what was happening. And I kept missing the dialogue: phrases said quickly and tossed away, in Scottish accents. 

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