2023 in lists: concerts & shows, theatre, books and movies

A work in progress …

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.


  • Andrew Sean Greer’s Less is Lost. Review here.
  • Kevin Wilson’s Now is Not the Time to Panic. Review here.
  • Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem. Review here.
  • Sharon Old’s Balladz. Review here.
  • Frans Stiene’s The Way of Reiki: The Inner Teachings of Mikao Usui. 

Concerts, Shows, Theatre, Exhibitions & Words

  • Lil Nas X: A We’re not really fans but wanted to see the phenomenon, and it was a phenomenon! A sold-out concert with a very diverse crowd, including children, who all seemed to know all the words to the song. Being at the Hordern Pavilion, I couldn’t see much from where we were; I’d plan better next time to try to grab a seat at the side. All in all, I’m amazed and pleased that a gay black rapper and musician has become so popular and loved. 
  • Sydney Modern: We finally visited the new addition to the Art Gallery of NSW and what a weird place it is. Absolutely loved some of the exhibitions and art, such as the theme of home, and the big primal sci-fi constructions in the oil tank in the basement. And yet there was no much open space and the greenery hasn’t grown. It felt in places like a convention centre. 
  • La Cage Aux Folles, The Concourse, Chatswood: I was surprised at how silly and old-fashioned this musical was, and to find out what a huge success it was at the time. Times change, I guess. 
  • Studio A’s Rainbow, Mermaid, Fireworks: An immersive exhibition by Rosie Deacon and Emily Crockford, these artworks are joyful and colourful. 
  • Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the Capitol Theatre: Listen, the cast are enthusiastic and super-talented, but I think this is a dog of a show.
  • Tick, tick … boom! Lyric Theatre. I was very interested to see this show compared to the Netflix version. Interesting to see Hugh Sheridan, who I think is very talented, try to embody Jonathan Larsen. It’s an odd show with not much story or coherence, though you can hear, see and feel the flashes of brilliance that later made Rent a worldwide phenomenon. The other cast members were great but Elenoa Rokobaro was a sensation.
  • Into the Woods. Belvoir. Bogans behind us talking during the play and songs (I told them to please stop talking at intermission and boy, were they hostile) and someone in front of us fricking texting during the show. Fark! But it wasn’t enough to dim my love for this musical and some sensational performances. It really is one of my all-time favourites. 
  • Ásgeir, City Recital Hall. I always liked this Icelandic singer but didn’t expect him to be even better live. His voice was even more interesting and emotional, the orchestrations were punchy and tight. He sounded both very contemporary and like the first folk pop music that I heard that made my young heart ping with delight.
  • City of Angels. Hayes Theatre. I’ve known the song ‘You’re Nothing Without Me’ for more than 20 years, but have never seen the musical it came from. And what a delight it was. Funny, clever and busy, with dense, witty lyrics and joyous music. The assembled cast, as always at Hayes, is hugely talented and charismatic. 
  • Ottoman Baroque. The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra with the Whirling Dervishes of the Mevlana Foundation. A mix of modern choral music, interpreting Rumi’s ‘This Marriage’, and traditional Ottoman-Turkish music then a religious Mevlevi ceremony. And we saw it here in Sydney instead of Istanbul! A curious evening. 
  • Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, Darlinghurst Theatre. I really, really liked this. The multi-instrumentalist and multitalented cast, the staging, the music. I enjoyed it so much, I was OK with the story, which was sort of meh, and marvelled at how the vibe and talent outweighed it. The musical reminded me a bit of Sunday in the Park with George, where the plot was about art and being an artist, and this was about existing and being alive. 
  • Murder for Two, Hayes Theatre. It felt like this crazy musical was written by a pair of extremely talented friends who were having a ball doing it. What’s surprising was that it could be recreated, and so successfully, considering the talent that it takes to put it on: two actors who can both play piano really well and then act and sing and one of them doing more than a dozen characters. This conceit never faltered, and Gabi and Maverick were so amazing. The audience LOVED it, and so did we.
  • Culture Club with special guests Berlin. My friend Freddy booked these tickets but couldn’t go so I went with his husband. Our seats were a little too far back to feel very engaged but the crowd seemed to love it. 
  • The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Hayes Theatre. I saw a production of this years ago in Sydney, at the Seymour Centre, but when was it? 2015? It feels longer ago than that, but since this musical hit Broadway in 2005, it must have been well after that. No matter. I’d forgotten that it is nearly a perfect musical. It’s very funny and engaging, and moves along at a quick pace. Interestingly, all the songs are in the service of carrying the story forward. They’re tuneful and fun but I’m not sure if any stand on their own outside the musical. The cast was amazing. The only minor quibble is that I didn’t feel as emotionally moved, as with some shows, but it wasn’t really that kind of musical. Really: this was quite perfect. 
  • The Dismissal. Seymour Centre. Very, very impressive to turn a political event into a musical, with amazing songs and performances. Not being so familiar with Gough Whitlam’s Dismissal, I found some of it not aimed at me, as it had the feeling of a big in-joke, and some of the storytelling was unnecessary and faltered (like the video and television montages). But all in all, entertaining and quite amazing. 
  • Taylor Mac’s and Matt Ray’s Bark of Millions, Sydney Opera House. I watched nearly all of this marvelling that I was enjoying myself so much and yet had no idea what was going on. It would have helped to have read something in advance: 54 songs about queer icons, one for every year since Stonewall. Mac describes the show as sort of a trance, and that’s what it was: just giving into the pleasures of amazing artists, varied and beautiful music and song and the most colourful costumes ever.
  • Cécile McLorin Salvant, City Recital Hall. A friend suggested checking her out and I listened to some songs on Spotify and found them interesting. But live was another thing all together. We were completely blown away. Her voice is a magnificent instrument, technically amazing, but never losing its warmth and emotion. Backed by three amazing musicians, this was one of those concerts where I felt grateful and amazed to experience a live performance and become a fan.
  • A Little Night Music, Hayes Theatre. I always love the productions at the Hayes Theatre and this was not an exception. Great casting and performances and staging. I find the material dour (a friend said it’s a bedroom farce, but it’s not light like a farce) but loved seeing a production up close (rather than when I saw Bernadette Peters on Broadway). Seeing Nancy Hayes at the theatre named after her perform (wonderfully) and die on stage was … a highlight. 
  • The Face of Jizo, The Old Fitz. A Japanese play from 2001 about surviving Hiroshima; a friend directed and starred in it. Poignant, in this time of war, and thinking of the bombs coming down on Gaza as the play talked about the bombing of Hiroshima. 
  • Nat Bartsch, Phoenix Central Park. What a great thing to discover a musician you LOVE for the first time. I adore her music: it’s beautiful and melodic and hits me in all the right ways. A talented band. And in such a beautiful space. 
  • Light, Hayes Theatre. I saw Act 1 of a development presentation of a new musical about South Asian Australians. The first time it was presented to an audience but it was really fun: full of talent and charm. I hope it goes further. 
  • If/Then, Neglected Musicals and Hayes Theatre. An on-the-book production of a musical I’ve heard about and was interested (because of Idina, of course). Blown away by talent and how polished the performances were with limited preparation. And as with ‘Next to Normal’, I found the music and vocal arrangements beautiful and stirring … and yet, the songs are always in service to the story. I wish at least one could be made universal and sung outside the show. I think the idea of it all fell apart in the second act. It was too glum, really, two realities ending so badly, with only a moment of hope at the end, and so much New York City neuroses and anxiety. 
  • Monet in Paris, Perth: These big interactive shows have been touring for a while, and I was very curious about them, with most people giving them great reviews (and the photos looking impressive). But I found it strangely unengaging and busy, a big slide show, basically. I’ve seen many of the artworks featured and my experience, when seeing them, is quiet and awe, seeing the exact colour the artist produced, and the exact scale intended. So that I was trying to feel what they saw, and see what they intended, not huge projections and a jaunty period soundtrack and sometimes live images of say, snow or leaves. I somehow did *feel* something with some of the Paris street scenes, and maybe Monet’s images of London’s Big Ben, but generally, I was more confused than engaged.

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