Best and Worst of 2023

2023… It has been a difficult year for me personally, and I welcomed the increase in cinema this year since the pandemic as it was a means of escapism and distraction.

But it has also been a difficult year for cinema! The start of the year (in the lead up to award season) saw several directors writing love letters to the cinema going experience; with streaming services ever present and people opting to watch films at home… the magic has died somewhat, since lockdown.
I will still believe that the big screen is the way to watch and enjoy movies. There is a certain allure to spending uninterrupted time to become embraced in someone’s creative vision, as well as the sensation of hundreds of other people enraptured in the same way. Or not.

The future of cinema has not been this uncertain. Hollywood has all but imploded this year, with the golden goose of comic book adaptations stumbling hard, and Disney Studios having their worst year to date. Lessons can be learned from 2023, with certain movies rising up from nothing in the box office, suggesting people are still interested! Just not in what has been peddled to them over the last two decades.

Here is my list for 2023: the top ten, the mid-fielders, and then the bottom ten. There are a lot I missed, I think. Sorry if your favourite isn’t here!

The best:

1. The Fabelmans

The start of 2023 was only the beginning of the cinema industry turbulence, and we saw many film-makers create movies about movies. The significance of cinema, and the near religious significance that going to the cinema represents for many of us.
Of course, Steven Spielberg making a heart-wrenching movie about his own life would be at the top of this list. The Fabelmans is a darn near perfect movie; the only objective issue was that the lead character’s eyes change colour between actors playing him.

It might be a sentimental vote for film of the year, but Spielberg has had some ropey moments recently and it is great to see him back on form again. For himself, but also for what feels like a dying cultural experience… Hopefully this is not true, but things are not looking favourable.

Read the full review here

2. The Creator

This film is such a visual marvel.
Director Gareth Edwards moves from strength to strength in the realms of science fiction writing and world building with The Creator. Such a delight to see a well realized futurescape, with tried and true ethical quandaries being given a new lease of life and lick of paint.

The film has such confidence in its story and its characters, you cannot help but be carried away by it. While it is thoroughly an action movie, it does know when to slow down and breath. The only gripes would be some oddly placed comedy and some emotional through lines that don’t quite land.

Gorgeous movie, though.

Read the full review here

3. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning: Part 1

Cumbersomely titled, and the seventh movie in a movie series running since 1996, Dead Reckoning: Part 1 has no right to be as good as it is.

In this first part of a two part finale to Tom Cruise’s leading role as Ethan Hunt, directed by series’ resuscitator Christopher McQuarrie, the stakes have never been higher. Nor sillier.
Your mileage may vary in this regard, and the series might have been worn out long ago. But for a classic action adventure, Mr Cruise seems to always have his finger on the pulse. Grounded but with lofty ambitions. Humour, as well as some emotional weight for the characters, when this series ends we will probably miss it more than we think.

Read the full review here

4. Barbie (2023)

(how is this in my top 10? I still don’t fully understand)

“Barbenheimer” was the cinematic takeaway from 2023, and what was more surreal was that the bubble gum pink Barbie rolled easily [over Christopher Nolan’s biopic Oppenheimer. Perhaps saying more about an audience deprived of representation, or an audience pining for happier, lighter experiences.

That said, it is a film where perfect plastic Barbie learns what death is.

It is a weird one, but it is a lot of fun! The whole audience enjoyed this one, in a nearly packed cinema screen. For Mattel being directly involved, it has a surprisingly satirical bent to their representation.

Read the full review here

5. The Whale

We come crashing back down to reality with this one.
Perhaps the most uncomfortable movie on this top ten to watch… Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale adaptation shook the cinema world when it released, showcasing funny man Brendan Fraser like we’ve never seen him before.

The rawness of emotions in the movie are second to none this year. We see a person in a desperate decline of mental and physical health, practically filling the screen in unpleasant claustrophobia, while the other characters either help or hinder him. A film about honesty and self-reflection.

Just don’t watch it if you have a heart condition…

Read the full review here

6. Empire of Light

Another of the sentimental movies about movies, this time by director Sam Mendes. Empire of Light is many things, and some times they don’t all gel together. But what it does right is show a very stark slice of British culture in the 1980s, as well as a very grounded, lived-in view of working in a cinema.

Oh, it is also horny as hell.

Addressing race issues of 1980s Thatcher-governed Britain, mental health issues, and equality, it is no easy watch. But it is ultimately a peaceful, morose, and brilliant movie about movies.

Read the full review here

7. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

Perhaps the “most Marvel” movie to get anywhere close to the top of the list, Dungeons & Dragons was just a good, fun time!
It is a light, entertaining film through-and-through, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have emotional heart. In fact, it really does; more than any Marvel movie this year.
It doesn’t take itself seriously, despite the film traveling across this fantasy world at pace, it doesn’t feel laborious or tedious like other franchises. It also has a wonderful use of practical effects. You know, those things that are better than CGI?
The only drawbacks are that it is predictable, and the fight choreography could have been better.

Read the full review here

8. Sisu

Don’t piss off this particular Finnish man!
Sisu is a movie from the past; a simple premise, gritty visuals, retro vibe. A war veteran wanders the scrublands of Finland in search for gold, and despite the second world war coming to an end, Nazis still roam and terrorize the locals. What happens when they encounter this lone man… is unbelievable.

Gory, violent, yet tranquil at times, and with a dark sense of humour, Sisu was one of the more memorable and effective action movies in recent years.

Read the full review here

9. Godzilla: Minus One

Funny to have two movies that are set post-WW2 next to each other. Godzilla: Minus One isn’t your “typical” monster movie. Following a disgraced Japanese kamikaze pilot living with survivor’s guilt, he not only finds himself a family amid the wreckage of the war, but also at the forefront of a monstrous creature’s attack on Japan.

An emotionally weighty experience, with a monster more akin to its original 1950’s interpretation; a force of nature, an allegory of war and nuclear destruction. An American Godzilla film, this is soundly not.

Read the full review here

10. Wonka

This last spot in the top ten has been contentious, but considering levels of expectations before and feelings after watching… Wonka was the most surprising.
Who wants another story (a prequel, no less) based off Willy Wonka? With “The Roald Dahl Co.” logo at the start, suggesting more to come? Yet… the end result is a surprisingly fun, entertaining, and resoundingly British affair.

Sure, it goes quite hard into “Wonka starting a business”, and the villains are businessmen, and there’s talk of small print… so not every child is going to go for it. But Dahl stories have a quirkiness that does follow through here, so adults can enjoy it just as much if not more.

Read the full review here

The mid-fielders:

John Wick – Chapter 4
Dream Scenario
Rye Lane
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
The Super Mario Bros Movie
Gran Turismo
Killers of the Flower Moon
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
TMNT: Mutant Mayhem
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts
Asteroid City
Cocaine Bear

And now, the worst:

10. Evil Dead Rise

Probably the last of the top ten worst that isn’t actually bad, Evil Dead Rise struggles with some minor issues.
Visually, the film is fantastic. Good performances where the material allows, good production value, good make-up work. But placing the action in a city apartment block asks a lot of suspension of disbelief, and for a movie about a family being torn apart (quite literally as well) it is surprisingly devoid of chemistry between characters. The characters themselves operating as set dressing to be liberally thrown into a meat grinder.

But for debut director Lee Cronin, it could have been much worse. We should expect good things from them in the future.

Read the full review here

9. Blue Beetle

Now, to be fair, Blue Beetle isn’t entirely at fault for being as maligned as it is. Releasing the moment that the DCEU was confirmed dead, and promoted as “part of James Gunn’s new DCU” but not having any narrative uniqueness beyond the first Iron Man film… Blue Beetle had no real identity.
Although it does have an identity. The hero and his family have good chemistry, it has a good villain henchman. The film’s Mexican trappings are refreshing in this stagnant comic book movie atmosphere.

It is unfortunate that the film is so predictable. It is easy to see why it couldn’t stand on its own today. If it had released 15 years ago, its reception would have been very different.

Read the full review here

8. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

The first film in the mainline series to not involve Steven Spielberg or George Lucas, and it shows. With an 80-year old Harrison Ford still being asked to take part in the same action adventures he did in the 1980s, the film is wrongfooted immediately.
Disgracing the character, again, and installing an unlikeable, acidic ally beside him, the film goes on with over-long action sequences and moments of narrative disbelief.

You wonder what the purpose of the film was, or what audience it was for. A goofy finale, James Mangold directing his best Spielberg, and some great set designs are not enough to warrant its existence.

Read the full review here

7. Hypnotic

Hypnotic is a strange one. Its trailer suggests a Nolan-esque mind-bending experience, but director Robert Rodriguez cannot cut writing or shooting such an movie. It was disappointing to see what should have been an excellent, original screenplay slump so hard into forgettable sameness. We need more original movies, but not like this.

Its main issue is pacing; with the film showing its hand far too early that audiences will see the twist coming from ten miles away. Until the twist happens, the film is just spinning its wheels, but by then it is already too late.

Read the full review here

6. Elemental

What if toys had feelings? What if feelings had feelings? What if elements had feelings?
Pixar’s latest offering proves to be emptier than usual, behaving more like a tech demo for elemental effects than a compelling story. With plot conveniences and illogical character decisions to push the story along (why did a man made of fire, who hates water people, keep a massive amount of water pipes in his shop?)

While there are fun visuals occasionally; fire folk Ember in a dark cinema, for example, the film doesn’t tug on any heart strings. Its attempt at being allegory for racial segregation and family tradition vs modern sensibilities is half-hearted.

Read the full review here

5. Rebel Moon: Part One – A Child of Fire

It is genuinely painful to put Rebel Moon so low on this list. We need more original screenplays and less adaptation, but this is not the way to get there. A film that borrows from other franchises wholesale, a two parter that virtually achieves nothing in its first two hours.
It is commedable in its well-meaningness, its attempts at world building and even myth creation, but they are only attempts. Empty characters and such well-worn paths of execution that they are now fissures.

If you haven’t seen Star Wars, then maybe this is for you??

Read the full review here

4. Talk to Me

This movie may be critically too low on this list for some people, but like a lot of horror movies: it is subjective.
Talk to Me is so generic in the teen horror movie genre it becomes a bore. Unlikeable, unthinking characters – check. A easy-to-replicate spooky object – check. Spooky words you need to say – check.
But good production values cannot save convenient loopholes (the police just… not getting involved as much as they should) and intelligent characters suddenly being stupid so the plot can continue. Sorry, but Talk 2 Me (Or Talk to Me Too) is a sequel not work my time.

Read the full review here

3. The Flash

And so begins the slow death of comic book movies on this list.
It is remarkable that The Flash was released: with Bat Girl being canned for questionable reasons by Warner Brothers, with lead star Ezra Miller being in and out of prison, the film is a treated like a bizarre swan song for the misguided DCEU.

Relying, once again, on a Batman (Michael Keaton returning since the 1990s) to draw crowds, the DC universe never acquired the emotional weight that the MCU had in its heyday. Being in development hell for over ten years, The Flash does have some fun moments, but the overall experience is unpolished and leaves the audience with more questions than answers.

Read the full review here

2. Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania

Genuinely headache inducing, Ant-Man 3 somehow sucks all the charisma out of a series led by Paul Rudd. The movie defines an overemphasis on CGI visuals with our characters enteringthe Quantum Realm, a place with the narrative structure of a child’s toybox.
With its only reason for existing being the introduction of the MCU’s new bad guy Kang the Conqueror, yet actor Jonathan Majors disgraced and fired from Disney… this cacophony of visual clatter means nothing.

Read the full review here

1. The Marvels

Disney’s terrible 100th year peaked with The Marvels. Directed by an absent Dia DeCosta, delayed five times for extensive reshoots and edits, being renamed a couple of times, costing $300million to make, with the final result being intensely amateurish.
Brie Larson’s character is incredibly short-changed in terms of development, while the other two characters (as good as Iman Vellani’s energy is) from Disney+ shows provide no chemistry or intrigue. This disaster was the first entry to encourage and promote the watching of both MCU movies and MCU television shows, yet achieved neither.

This is the definition that comic book movie detractors have always talked about: a mindless, directionless light show.

Read the full review here

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