KEEP AN EYE OUT
Film gems of 2023 and glittering releases in 2024
With 2023 coming to a close, we look back at some of the year’s best films and series you might have missed, and a few of the big titles to look forward to next year.
Gems of the 2023 film festival circuits
Anatomy of a Fall
The Palme d’Or winner at Cannes this year was Justine Triet’s psychological courtroom drama starring Sandra Hüller, whose performance was among the best of the year. Somehow, this three-hour psychological odyssey has not a single dull moment — it’s an autopsy of a marriage, uncharacteristic of its genre. Director Triet refuses to satiate viewers’ myopic obsession with solving the whodunnit, focusing instead on innumerable interpersonal ambiguities and micro-manipulations.
Set just before South Sudan seceded from what was the largest nation in Africa, Mohamed Kordofani’s restrained drama about two women from different sides of the country demystifies the racism that still divides it. Kordofani has spoken publicly about the extent to which his politics has evolved since South Sudan seceded. It’s notable that the first depiction of the cultural conflict is from the perspective of a privileged Northern couple. The first Sudanese film ever shown at Cannes, the value of such a potent exploration of prejudice should not be understated.
If you had internet access in 2023, you witnessed the craze that was Barbenheimer. What started as a meme evolved into a mutualistic self-perpetuating goldmine. Together the films grossed more than half a billion dollars and smashed box office records across the board.
Christopher Nolan’s bombastic, dread-inducing epic Oppenheimer will convince you that the Father of the Atomic Bomb was the most influential person in history. That’s not to say that he should necessarily be admired for it — the ethics of deifying someone responsible to some extent for so much death and destruction has been a frequent topic of debate this year. Either way, only Nolan could make three hours of military personnel, politicians and scientists talking in rooms so consistently entertaining
Greta Gerwig became the first woman ever to have the sole director credit on a film that grossed over a billion dollars — just one of the records obliterated by this cultural sensation. Leaning into the woke backlash against body shaming and gender norms, Barbie could so easily have swung the other way and flopped spectacularly. But perfect casting, a combination of well-considered production design and cinematography, and an inordinate amount of hype sent the film farther than anyone imagined.
Daniel Roher’s CNN documentary of Alexei Navalny’s opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the attempt on his life is a tragic and inspiring display of bravery with the terrifying intrigue of a spy thriller. The film won Best Documentary Feature at the 2023 Academy Awards and received high praise from critics, but as Russia’s war on Ukraine has been all but overshadowed by the conflict in the Middle East, international pressure has not been strong enough to force Putin’s hand and Navalny is still incarcerated.
The Secrets of Hillsong
Disney+ has been slowly expanding its repertoire past kids’ films and popcorn superhero flicks. One of its better investments was Stacey Lee’s thoughtful and empathetic four-part documentary series about the fall of one of the world’s largest megachurches, powered by Vanity Fair’s reporting on the scandal that tarnished its reputation, and interviews with the church’s former pastor, Carl Lentz, and his wife, Laura, in their first appearance since being exiled.
Series we couldn’t get enough of
This show was just too damn fun. Starring Steven Yeun and Ali Wong, A24’s Asian American Netflix road rage series joyrides through dark comedy, spicy drama and itchy thriller in an erratic pattern. It could be pitched as a fable of the stupidity and pointlessness of road rage and any other kind of rage at a stranger, but it also digs masterfully into several bigger and more universal themes.
The collision of two people who are worlds apart despite both being Asian Americans in their thirties in Los Angeles unearths brilliant commentary on class-clashing, and by investigating their mutual cynicism and depression we’re lured into a shockingly relatable discussion about burnout and toxic positivity. The writing is so hilarious and the performances so impeccable that the great strides it made in Asian American representation were merely a footnote on its list of successes.
Cunk on Earth
Fearless comedian Diane Morgan presents a five-part series on human history as the deadpan Philomena Cunk, who gets away with asking experts mirthfully shocking and subversive questions under the guise of a total lack of intellect. A modern mockumentary with off-the-wall insanity and irreverence reminiscent of Monty Python, this series saw Cunk become a social media meme and drastically increase her global following.
The Last of Us
Adapting a film or series from a video game is a pretty surefire way to create an action-based B-grade blockbuster. Yet HBO’s first video-game adaption has been lauded by viewers and critics alike as one of the best ever, which probably has a lot to do with the eccentricities of the game it’s built on, which prioritised storytelling. Released while the world was still navigating the aftermath of an actual pandemic, the tension built around misinformation and mistrust of authorities and medical professionals hit home. The relatability of this post-apocalyptic drama’s exceptional lead characters improved on a formula which had already been seemingly perfected in the early seasons of The Walking Dead.
Coming in 2024
All of Us Strangers: 26 January in cinemas
Andrew Scott (Moriarty in Sherlock and the “hot priest” in Fleabag) and Paul Mescal (Normal People) star in a supernatural romantic drama by indie director Andrew Haigh. With a mysterious and surreal premise taken from Taichi Yamada’s novel Strangers, it investigates similar themes to Haigh’s first film, Weekend.
One night in his near-empty tower block in contemporary London, Adam (Scott) has a chance encounter with a mysterious neighbour Harry (Mescal), which punctures the rhythm of his everyday life. As a relationship develops between them, Adam is preoccupied with memories of the past and finds himself drawn back to the suburban town where he grew up, and the childhood home where his parents (Claire Foy and Jamie Bell), appear to be living, just as they were on the day they died, 30 years before.
Sometimes I Think About Dying: release TBC
This low-key but brutally dark comedy-drama by director Rachel Lambert debuted at Sundance 2023, where it received a lot of love from audiences. Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) plays a quiet, whimsical woman living a cookie-cutter life … who likes to daydream about death. When she half-heartedly begins romancing a colleague, she finds it difficult to share her contemplations. Relatable, poignant and basted in a charming melancholy, the film seems a better showcase of Ridley’s talent than Star Wars could ever be.
Drive-Away Dolls: February
Prolific directorial duo the Coen brothers haven’t released a film since The Ballad of Buster Scruggs in 2018, and who knows when they’ll release another, but one half of the two, Ethan Coen, directs this road-trip comedy about a quirky pair of girls (Margaret Qualley from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Geraldine Viswanathan, star of Miracle Workers) whose impromptu journey to Tallahassee finds them entangled with a group of inept criminals. The supporting cast has some big names, including Pedro Pascal and Matt Damon, but it will be fun to see Coen work with some fresh faces in lead roles. The film was scheduled to be released in September 2023, but delayed because of the SAG-Aftra strike.
Dune: Part Two: 15 March in cinemas
Denis Villeneuve’s cast of stars returns for the highly anticipated sequel to the 2021 sci-fi epic based on Frank Herbert’s celebrated novel. Despite its box office success and six Academy Awards, many fans were left wanting more from the film, which covers about two-thirds of the book. This second instalment sees Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) team up with Chani (Zendaya) and the Fremen in search of vengeance, and has Paul grapple with that classic hero’s dilemma of saving the love of his life or the known universe.
The sequel has been delayed, but not as much as the first film, which didn’t seem badly affected considering that it grossed more than $400-million. The sequel is expected to be almost as popular, and Villeneuve has already expressed his desire to make a third film based on Herbert’s second book in the series, Dune: Messiah.
Mickey 17: 29 March in cinemas
Bong Joon-ho returns to both science fiction and English-language storytelling for the first time since Parasite won four Academy Awards in 2020. Robert Pattinson plays an “expendable” — a clone whose purpose is to assist an expedition to colonise an ice planet far away from Earth. If the clone dies, a new iteration is synthesised with memories intact, a concept based on Edward Ashton’s novel Mickey7. At the time of writing, little was known about how Bong has adapted the story and no previews have yet been supplied, but given his body of work, it would be fair to expect the unexpected and a healthy, sardonic dose of social commentary.
Joker: Folie à Deux : 4 October in cinemas
Many people didn’t get the memo before watching The Joker in 2019 and went in expecting a supervillain movie. What a thrilling and nasty surprise that must have been. Joaquin Phoenix took on the role of the famous Batman villain (a courageous choice given the looming shadow of Heath Ledger’s version in The Dark Knight) with more aching empathy than any iteration has previously allowed, winning himself an Academy Award for Best Actor. Joining him in his clown makeup for the sequel is Lady Gaga, who hopes to do the same for Harley Quinn. Just to make sure that the sequel also catches audiences off-guard, director Todd Phillips has confirmed that it will be a musical, with the score once again written by Hildur Guðnadóttir.
Beetlejuice 2: September in cinemas
This sequel to Tim Burton’s 1988 absurdist Gothic comedy has been in the making for far too long. Warner Brothers are yet to release a synopsis, but Burton is directing once again, and Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara and Michael Keaton reprise their iconic roles. They’re joined by new leading lady Jenna Ortega, (who proved she’s got the Gothic sensibility with her stellar performance in Wednesday) Monica Bellucci, Willem Dafoe and Justin Theroux. DM
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