And there ends 2023. Quite a busy year. Letterboxd tells me my tally for the year will be north of 420, when all is said and done. That will be close to a record, and sounds about right. I’ve been aiming to do six a week here – Sundays off – plus about five a fortnight on GirlsWithGuns.org. Though cinema going became very much a specialized activity in 2023. I doubt we paid to go to the movies (so excluding preview screenings) more than half a dozen times this year. But the hit rate was excellent: three of them appear in the top five. Not nearly as much on the action heroine front though: just one entry is the lowest in the top ten for a long time. Maybe 2024 will be better: I’m holding out high hopes for Furiosa., even without Charlize Theron.
Usual rules apply, in that I have a fairly loose definition of what counts as “this year.” As long as it showed up on my radar this year, be that through a theatrical release, streaming debut, etc. then that’s good enough for me. Honourable mentions, in no particular order: Disquiet, The Barn Part II, Sisu, Mickey Hardaway, Talk to Me, Screwdriver, Nix, Malicious, Extraction II and Queen of Cocaine.
Another Netflix original movie? While there’s no doubt the streaming service released plenty of crap, there were some gems to be found. This did not achieve anything like the same level of viral success (read: memes) as the original, but I think it’s a better movie. It builds on the mythology, probably makes more sense, and looks great. What we said: ” The Pastors have taken what they learned from The Last Days, added a Netflix-sized budget and really delivered an urban landscape from hell.”
9. Silent Night
Necessitating a last-minute rewrite of the kist, this one snuck under the wire after a December 26th viewing. John Woo returns to Western cinema after two decades away, and the results went a long way to washing away the taste of his lacklustre previous efforts here. What we said: “It’s all arguably mad as a hatter in many ways, yet I found it unquestionably entertaining, and certainly unique.”
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. While I reckon David Cronenberg hasn’t made anything of real note since eXistenZ, his son Brandon seems to have taken up the mantle of genuinely disturbing horror movies. Here, it’s allowing and witnessing the execution of your clone, as punishment for your own sins. That’ll screw you up. What we said: “That the wealthy can get away with anything should not exactly be news. However, rarely has it ever been depicted in such an in-your-face manner.”
One of the more unexpected hits of the year delivers the best Lovecraftian horror, despite not particularly being based on Lovecraft. It rides the rail particularly well between atmosphere and gnarly imagery, things spiralling out of control for the lead character. And just when you think things can’t get any worse for him, they do. Much worse. What we said: “A super-creepy concept, and for sheer, committed lunacy, the sect here is right up with the one in The Void.”
Bulgaria makes the best films in the world. Well, based on my sample size of one. I can’t think of any other country whose first (and, so far, sole) movie I’ve seen has been so effective. I was expecting an action flick, instead being delivered something considerably more thoughtful, which became more engrossing the deeper in the heart we went. What we said: “By the end, you feel genuinely invested in the outcome for everyone, and it’s very much a bitter-sweet resolution.”
This was sadly overlooked at the cinema box-office in favour of Barbenheimer, and that’s a shame, as I suspect it’s considerably more theatrical than either (not that I’ve seen them, admittedly). This was one on which we spent full price, and absolutely did not feel short-changed. CGI can never match Tom Cruise genuinely riding off an Alp (below). What we said: “This is top-tier action film-making, with everyone involved fully committed to the craft.”
The only action heroine film to make the list, this delivers a tense experience, focused on one police officer, trying to defend her station from attackers who are trying to get inside, for reasons initially unknown. It’s a simple idea, and if obviously not original, the results demonstrate that it’s sometimes less about what you say, than how you say it. What we said: “Does a great deal without the need for stars or big production values. Story, performance and crisp execution are all on point instead, and the results are all the better for it.”
South Korea continues to deliver films that defy expectations, and push the envelope in ways you will rarely see out of Hollywood. This is a great example, easily winning the 2023 Film Blitz award for Gratuitous and Excessive Gore. There’s enough blood here to sink a battleship. And it very nearly does here. What we said: “A glorious, insane mash-up of Con Air, Flesh for Frankenstein and Brain Dead. Those are not three movies I ever expected to see thrown into a cinematic blender.”
I mentioned the rule of diminishing return for sequels above. However, the John Wick franchise has managed to reverse the process, each installment improving on its predecessor. We reach its pinnacle in what appears to be the last (at least in this particular story), which delivers a feast of action, while also delivering unexpected emotional resonance. What we said: “Drops an exclamation point on the end of the sentence – as well as a few asterisks, a square bracket and whatever this § character is supposed to be.”
You expected, perhaps…? Yeah. It became a rare subtitled film to top the US box office on a number of days in December, and over the past decade trails only Oscar winner Parasite. The stunning success of this film is entirely justified. It works on every level, from the visceral on up. While I enjoyed Godzilla: King of the Monsters greatly, this shows how it should be done. What we said: “I finally get to see a Godzilla movie on the big screen. You never forget your first time, and what an experience it was.”