Once again it is that time of year when we start to reflect; on what we’ve achieved, what we’ve not gotten around to and importantly, what we have watched. This year as with every year has felt incredibly quick but when I have looked back at the films I have watched, those in the beginning months feel so long ago. I found my top 5 were very easy to place as they stood head and shoulders above the rest, though I am also aware that there are a number of films I haven’t got to, as usual not enough hours in the day. I am going to briefly list my 10-6 films before going into more depth with the top 5.
At number 10 is a very new release; Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget. This was just a fun ride from beginning to end, I am always rather weary of sequels made so long after the original, but Aardman handled this superbly; everything the fans would have wanted was there with enough new additions to enjoy. The comedy was just right, it never felt like it was trying too hard and it was the perfect length with a really well-thought-out story.
At number 9 is a surprise, The Pope’s Exorcist, I watched this during the spooky season with my partner and I’ll be honest we did not go into this with high expectations. However this was great fun, the foreign setting in a dilapidated old building was just right, Russell Crowe hammed it up just the right amount and looked like he was thoroughly enjoying himself and so were we. It’s not going to break the mould in the horror genre but definitely one to check out.
At number 8 another recent release, Ridley Scott’s Napoleon. This has not been rated very highly which is quite a surprise to me. It is fairly long and yes I will agree is not completely historically accurate which is maybe where some people have issue. However, I thought as a window into Napoleon’s life for those who are new to the subject this is a great starting point. Everything on screen is epic, which is no surprise as it is what we have come to expect from Ridley Scott and honestly seeing this and knowing he completed filming in 63 days I was in awe of the accomplishment. If nothing else see this for the performances, though many may not agree I was impressed by both Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby, the latter being one to watch she is going to carry on to even greater heights I’m sure of it.
At number 7 is Maestro Bradley Cooper’s latest directorial effort with him pulling double duty again also starring in the film as the legendary American conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein. The film focuses on the relationship between him and his actress wife Felicia Montealegre played superbly by Carey Mulligan, and its complexities given his tendency to be drawn to other men. I had very high expectations for this film and though it was beautifully shot with fantastic performances I was put off slightly by the narrative as it did flit, often jumping several years without warning. Still highly recommend viewing, it is currently streaming on Netflix.
At number 6 is Steven Spielberg’s semi-auto-biographical film The Fablemans. This was everything I expected from a Spielberg film, beautifully shot wonderfully cast, the standout being Michelle Williams playing the mother. I think what really drew me into this film was the complete love of film that ran through it from beginning to end. Now that I can strongly relate to, and it was fascinating to learn more about Spielberg’s early life.
So as previously mentioned my top 5 were very clear standouts and I didn’t struggle to rank them, at number 5 is Paul King’s Wonka starring Timothee Chalamet in the prequel to the 70s classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory based on Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book. I’ll be honest I have not been on the Timothee Chalamet bandwagon, I was not a fan and was firmly under the impression that he was just being cast in everything because he is so popular. However after a (I must begrudgingly admit) great performance in Little Woman and now Wonka I think I’ll have to become a Chalamet supporter. I am always extremely sceptical when Hollywood decides to make a remake sequel or prequel to a beloved classic many years after the original, and I definitely felt the same here and entered the cinema with low expectations. I was pleasantly surprised, this was a colourful, funny, whimsical film that left me feeling lighter and I left with a smile on my face. King hit all the right notes with this one, it had a great cast, hammy villains (Olivia Colman is fabulously mean) and a hero with a wonderful whimsy and naivety that you instantly warm to. Chalamet was perfect in the role, he has that quirkiness and magic that Wonka has in droves and a surprisingly good singing voice. This is a great one for all the family.
I just managed to squeeze this in before the end of the year, at number 4 we have Saltburn. After her debut in 2020 with Carey Mulligan starring; Promising Young Woman and winning the Best Original Screenplay Oscar I was eagerly awaiting Emerald Fennell’s next film. Again she has directed, produced and written the film, I was expecting a complex but entertaining and very dark psychological study, and boy is that what I got. Firstly this has an outstanding cast, Mulligan pops up for a cameo and we get great performances from all, but the standout is by far our lead played by Barry Keoghan, who I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see earn his second consecutive acting nomination for the role. Oliver is an outcast at Oxford University who doesn’t fit in with the rich society that surrounds him until a door opens in the form of Jacob Elordi’s Felix who appears to welcome Oliver into his world. From the very beginning, it is clear there is something about Oliver that is held back, some secret we are not privy to. Fennell studies class in great detail here and the film has a lot to say, I was also in love with the setting of Saltburn which is Felix’s home. From the moment Oliver steps foot in this otherworldly old English mansion we see it through his eyes, a stranger who will never truly fit into this world, and as expected this film has a big end reveal, you may think you know what has been going on through the film but Fennell provides a dark twist which is truly shocking. Highly recommend, this film is superb from beginning to end.
At number 3 is the highly anticipated sequel Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse, there is no denying that this is truly a piece of art on screen. Again there are multiple different animation styles appearing and it is a dazzling colourful experience. However there is no denying that it does not matter how beautiful a film is there must be substance, if the story is no good then it makes no difference. Luckily for Spider-Man fans, this sequel has just as strong a script as the first if not better, again Phil Lord and Chris Miller were on writing duties and they have taken us deeper into the spider-verse world. This time we see our young Spider-Man Miles Morales struggling to keep up the appearance of a normal life, going to school and being there for his family alongside his web-slinging duties. After making new friends in the first movie, people who could understand his burden, he is struggling on his own, until the spider-verse comes rushing back into his orbit in a major way. We discover in this sequel that there are an infinite amount of different spider-mans in their own universes and they all communicate together in one world in one of the greatest animated sequences put to screen. This sequel is as exciting and action-packed as the original with tons of heart, it is impossible not to support Miles and his plight. I defy anyone to watch this film and not be in awe of its achievement, amazed by the animation and thoroughly entertained by this action-packed, witty sequel.
At number 2 is Martin Scorsese’s latest release Killers of the Flower Moon. This was one of my most anticipated films of the year and I couldn’t wait to see it. It really is the best film Scorsese has made in many years, Flower Moon sees him reunited with his 2 greatest muses, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro who haven’t been seen on screen together since the 90s. As with many of his recent films, this is a long one….. a very long one, coming in at 3 hours 20 minutes. But I really did not feel the length of it, Scorsese’s film is epic in scale telling the story of the Osage people who found oil in the 1920s making them very rich, and the serial killings that followed this discovery. The film follows Dicaprio’s Ernest Burkhart who is persuaded by his uncle (De Niro) to infiltrate the Osage people by marrying into a family, allowing him access to money and land on the deaths of his new kin. This may be the greatest performance of DiCaprio’s career, all the way through the film I really couldn’t quite pin his character down. Was he naïve and easy to manipulate by his scheming Uncle, not truly comfortable with what he is doing but feeling forced or was he fully aware of his deeds and as bad as the rest. A new discovery for me is Lily Gladstone who plays Ernest’s wife, Mollie, Gladstone gives a standout performance which I am certain will reap large rewards for the actress. It is not a loud, big performance but a quiet yet hugely impactful one and I couldn’t take my eyes off her when she was on screen.
This is also one of Scorsese’s most beautiful films, the cinematography here is marvellous as are all other aspects of the filmmaking. I would say this is one of the most well-rounded films the director has produced with all aspects being of a supremely high quality. Not only that but this is a hugely important story to tell, highlighting a culture that has long been misrepresented and oppressed, I found the subject matter fascinating and tragic. It is definitely must-see viewing.
And finally at number one my favourite film of 2023; Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. This was the film I was most looking forward to in 2023 and it did not disappoint. I was so hoping it would be the film that brought Nolan back up in my esteem, I have not enjoyed his last 2 releases Tenet and Dunkirk which made me so sad because I have truly loved so many of his previous works. I am pleased to say Oppenheimer has cemented Nolan back in his rightful place, it seems everyone was excited for this release. Nolan has become synonymous with high-quality visuals, enormous casts and deeply complex narratives which feel like they should be in a much smaller budgeted film yet have that box office appeal of any of the largest blockbuster releases out there. Oppenheimer has all those things, here we have possibly his biggest cast yet which includes the likes of Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Junior, Matt Damon, Kenneth Branagh, Florence Pugh and I could go on and on. As the title suggests the film is about J. Robert Oppenheimer; the American scientist who had a huge role in the development of the atomic bomb. As with all his other films you can clearly see that Nolan has thought about every single shot and nothing is in the film by accident, it is both grand in scale but covers the most intricate and insular moments of Oppenheimer’s experiences during the years he developed the bomb. The cinematography is nothing short of epic, we are shown great wide-shot vistas and the most exposing close-ups. What was fascinating here was Nolan’s use of black and white not for the past scenes but for the scenes of the movie where we see the psychological consequences of his involvement and possible communist links in the murky McCarthy era of the 1950s. Like all the top films on my list, I think all separate elements of filmmaking are of the highest quality here leading to one of the greatest films in years and Nolan’s biggest hit. Cillian Murphy is perfect as Oppenheimer, losing weight and truly inhabiting the role, I think it is his greatest performance and he should win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his work. Another pleasant surprise was Robert Downey Junior who plays against type in a career-best performance which critics are predicting will win him at the very least award nominations.
This was a fascinating look at a period of history I knew nothing about and yet considering the consequences of the creation is not taught or discussed widely even to this day. I would highly recommend this as an epic character study and a chance to see one of the best filmmaking achievements of the year, I can’t wait to see this one again.
It has been a great year of film watching and re-watching and I am looking forward to what is to come in 2024, my goals are to tick off more from my backlist and see even more new movies at the cinema. One of my stand-out backlist watches is Cinema Paradiso, a recommendation that proved to be just right. This Italian coming-of-age tale is full of the power of cinema and was an instant favourite. Also hitting just the right spot was Chocolat, this had everything I wanted in a movie, a great cast, a cosy story and setting and I must say is perfect to watch with a nice bar of chocolate. Lastly Ex-Machina, a highly topical and thought-provoking story about AI with great performances which left me discussing it for many hours after it had finished.
I hope you had as fun a movie year as I did and are as excited for 2024 and what it will bring. Have a fantastic New Year, happy watching!