What does it really mean to say a film is among the best of the year?
Some of my best movie watches in 2023 were retros of actors or directors who passed away: Prince of the City for Treat Williams; To Live and Die in L.A. for Friedkin; Get to Know Your Rabbit for Tom Smothers.
There’s a recent Friedkin doc made by Nicolas Refn in the style of a conversation not unlike Friedkin’s sit-down-and-talk doc he made in the mid-70s profiling Fritz Lang.
Friedkin mocks Refn, turning to the camera and saying “Call a doctor this guy needs help!” after Refn proclaims his 2011 neo-noir Drive a masterpiece. Friedkin countered that a film masterpiece only achieves said status after decades, like Citizen Kane.
Yeah, I got more pleasure this year out of watching Ishtar, Three Days of the Condor, The Big Lebowski for the umpteenth time as opposed to the list of film that follows this screed.
If you make a top ten list are those films that you want to drag somebody to a theater to see time after time? Can a supposedly self-important film also be a comfort film?
There were films I saw the first time this year that blew me away as much as my top 2023 choices. That would include films as diverse as 10 Rillington Place (1971) a chilling serial killer thriller based on a true story and shot at the actual location; Birds of Prey, an early-70s TV movie with David Janssen as a helicopter pilot, it’s basically Duel with whirlybirds; Peter Watkin’s 1967 political satire Privilege; a ‘70s television movie about Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of War of the World titled The Night That Panicked America.
If you think Saltburn breaks some kind of societal taboo what do you think of Liz Taylor in Zee and Company?
Then there’s The Counterfeit Traitor (1962), about Eric “Red” Erickson an actual spy who as an oil executive in Sweden gave crucial information to British intelligence confirming bombing sites. Sweden was neutral and doing business with both the Allies and the Nazis. Bill Holden brings star power to Erickson but the film downplays the action adventure angle for a more pedestrian view of undercover assignments. The biggest surprise was discovering Erickson was on the television panel show To Tell the Truth in 1958 and watching the ep on Youtube trying to guess which one he was out of the trio of imposters.
We haven’t even gotten half-way through the goodies. There’s You Never Can Tell (1951) where a millionaire dog was poisoned and Dick Powell plays the German Shepard turned detective who is reincarnated to find the killer. Or, The Questor Tapes, a 1974 pilot from Gene Roddenberry about a cyborg that used music that later provided the theme for Night Stalker.
The series of Wes Anderson short films based on Roald Dahl stories that aired in September on Netflix (Poison, The Rat Catcher, The Swan, The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar) form a joyous feature length omnibus yet it received no accolades while Anderson’s piddling Asteroid City got all the love.
And then there’s the 1944 Michael Curtis WWII actioner Passage to Marseille. I’d never seen Humphrey Bogart die in a film where he was the good guy.
Can any modern film compete with such camp sci-fi romps of the 1950s as Project Moon Base or Devil Girl From Mars? I think not baby puppy.
I want a best film list of 2023 filled with movies that down the road when they pop up at a random repertory screening or late night television streaming you can’t say no.
Don’t look for Academy predictions because in my cosmology Zac Efron (Iron Claw) eclipses Paul Giamatti (The Holdovers) and Rachel McAdams (It’s Me Margaret) aces Da’Vine Joy Randolph (The Holdovers).
My favorite thing in retrospect about Oppenheimer was how they lost the location for the Oval Office set and had to reconstruct it in a few days with round-the-clock crews.
Top 2024 films
- The Holdovers
- Poor Things
- The Killer
- Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
- Talk To Me
- A Haunting in Venice
- Killers of the Flower Moon
Top Foreign Language Films
- Society of the Snow
- The Taste of Things
- When Evil Lurks
- Perfect Days
- Godzilla Minus One
Top Documentary Films
- Squaring the Circle: The Story of Hipgnosis
- The Pigeon Tunnel
- The Stones and Brian Jones
- Joan Baez: I Am Noise
- A Disturbance in the Force