July 18th, 2023. Coincidentally, my 36th birthday. More importantly, this was the weekend of “Barbieheimer”, shortly after the beginning of the SAG-AFTRA strike that kicked off while the WGA strike was well underway.
That summer day — almost exactly in the middle of the year — split the cinematic year in twain. There is a crystal-clear divide in 2023 between “Before Barbieheimer” and “After Barbieheimer”. It was a day, a weekend, a whole season that changed the course of the remaining year, of the next year, and of the cinema industry as a whole for years to come. Granted, the two halves of any year are notably different, but this was something else. This year, it’s like Barbie, Taylor Swift, and Beyonce papered over the entire months of August, September, and October.
The strikes dominated headlines, the studios pushed out their most quality films to stretch out everything they had into 2024, and theaters kept on screening Barbie to fill the vacuum. That’s not to say multiplexes were a total void in all that time, but it was still a good time for this blog to go on hiatus. That whole stretch was so all-encompassing that 2023 Before Barbieheimer feels a lifetime ago.
Still, there were some incredible films in the first seven months of the year. And they’ve sadly been lost in the year-end discussion because of all the other craziness that happened. So we’re moving ahead with a year in review, even though the hiatus is going to mess with things a little bit.
For those unfamiliar with how we do things around here, the 2023 review will be separated into three lists.
- The Masterpieces. This is for the awards contenders. The films that inspire thought and intelligent conversation, the ones that make a sincere effort and notable accomplishments in advancing the medium of film. These are my choices for the movies most likely to be taught about in college courses.
- The Disappointments. This is NOT to be confused with a “worst of” list, because I make a genuine effort not to bother with a film when I know there’s no chance it could possibly be good. Instead, this is a list of wasted potential, the movies that could have and should have been so much better than the end result.
- The Wild Rides. This is for the movies that were just plain fun. They won’t be winning any Oscars (except for maybe the technical categories), but these are the action romps, the comedies, the horror films, and anything else that was just a damn good time at the movies. These are my favorites of the year.
Importantly, none of these are Top Ten lists and their entries are ranked in no particular order. Instead, films are grouped into loosely-defined categories and then I pick a “winner” from each one. So instead of ranking a film as number three or five or whatever, I can declare it the year’s “Best Action Film” or “Best Mindfuck” or something like that.
All of the lists and categories have their own little quirks and criteria, but they all adhere to the following rules.
1. Only movies that I’ve seen will be considered. This is where the hiatus is going to mess with things. I did see a handful of movies — most notably Dicks: The Musical, Bottoms, A Haunting in Venice, Dumb Money, The Creator, Five Nights at Freddy’s, and Killers of the Flower Moon — while my blog was on hiatus in solidarity with the striking unions. Also, I had other shit to do and I didn’t want to take time away from other projects to watch films I had no interest in. Consider this my opportunity to address them.
In any case, of course I didn’t get around to seeing every movie that came out this year — nobody did. I didn’t want to dignify Sound of Freedom, and Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is a concert film outside my purview. Streaming films are still a prominent blind spot for me, and I wish I could’ve seen more foreign films. For varying reasons, I didn’t get around to seeing 80 for Brady, Magic Mike’s Last Dance, The Last Voyage of the Demeter, The Equalizer 3, Murder Mystery 2, The Pope’s Exorcist, Mafia Mamma, Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant, Knights of the Zodiac (2023), The Machine, Theater Camp, The Beanie Bubble, Strays, Gran Turismo, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, Expendables 4, Saw X, The Exorcist: Believer, The Marsh King’s Daughter, The Hunger Games: A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Trolls Band Together, Leave the World Behind, Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget, Migration, and that’s not even a comprehensive list of all the movies that might’ve made my lists if I had bothered to see them.
2a. Only movies released in 2023 will be considered. This sadly means that Women Talking won’t be eligible, due to an awards-qualifying limited run in the closing days of 2022. Smoking Causes Coughing, The Quiet Girl, Emily, The Pale Blue Eye, and Suzume were all released overseas in 2022, so those are out as well.
2b. Festival premiere dates don’t count. Because movies have been known to change in post between festival screenings and public release, I don’t consider a movie to be truly completed while it’s on the festival circuit. I don’t care if Moon Garden technically made its premiere at the 2022 Dances with Films Festival, the filmmakers still had every option to edit the film as they pleased (and likely did) up until the film made its public debut in May 2023. This is also why Skinamarink is in contention, and you’d better fucking believe we’ll get to that one.
In the past, I’ve typically omitted shoestring locally-made indie pictures off the year-end lists. But seeing as Mother of Color made it to Amazon Prime this year (*HINT HINT*), I’m counting it.
3. Only one award per film, and one award per category. I don’t want a situation in which one movie wins everything, and I don’t want to call any ties. That would be too easy, and frankly boring.
The Masterpieces list will be online shortly. Stay tuned!