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The Student News Site of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

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Top 10 Films of 2023: A Critic’s Guide

Graphic+by+Angelina+Clark
Graphic by Angelina Clark

Honorable Mentions: Infinity Pool, War Pony, Anatomy of a Fall, Robot Dreams, American
Fiction, Under the Light, Strange Way of Life, Beau is Afraid, A Better Tomorrow, Asteroid
City, Bloodhound, Strange Way of Life.

Oppenheimer/Barbie tie

Yes, I know, it’s a cheat, but hear me out. With so much franchise fatigue, extended universes,
sequels, prequels, and de-quels, the very notion that Greta Gerwig and Christopher Nolan
would unite audiences from all walks of life, ages, and genders for two completely
incompatible films: the Barbie movie and Oppenheimer. These two titles eschewed the
inherent liability of living in the shadow of the usual glut of summer movie crap,
transcending the pitfalls of being a crappy meme, transforming in an uncanny fusion that in itself is something of a story worth telling. At the very least, the pairing of Barbie and
Oppenheimer is a story in itself, a cultural novelty worth telling. That’s more than I can say
for Flamin’ Hot

For the first time in a long time, the demand for original, artful cinematic filmmaking
prevailed; casual moviegoers, cineastes, and hardliners of the moving image made the exodus
experience a phenomenon that was the event of 2023. I’m using this opportunity to articulate
the feeling of victory coursing through our cultural climate. I’m not saying that Barbie and
Oppenheimer are going to solve the virulent, traumatizing stress we’ve endured the past four
years, but the fact that two unlikely movies invigorated and inspired masses of people rather
than dividing them is a change for the positive. Feminism, mansplaining, 70mm black and
white cinematography, Stallone’s fur coat phase, Robert Downey Jr. playing a normal person,
atomic genocide, the bubblegum artifice of MGM Musicals & Jacques Demy, nuclear
physics, and quantum theory were a dominant presence in our theaters. I think that’s a mite
bit more interesting than most years.

Is either movie perfect? No, but I don’t believe in perfect movies; a perfect movie is a
product, and we’ve had enough of those.

Priscilla

Sofia Coppola was one of the earliest directors to hone in on the value of liminality in
modern cinema, the notion that film can be constructed around the moments between the big touchstones of life. In a positive sense, this is the antithesis to Luhrman’s Elvis film from last
year. Priscilla is about Priscilla; it’s as simple as that, but of course, the narrative, their
relationship, how it was cultivated, and how it was maintained is anything but. The minutiae
of life is the standard of quality that Coppola attains, and her latest is one of the best
examples of her distinctive direction capturing the climate of a moment, realizing the weight
of time or the measure of a person, and all of that is magnified by her emphasis on unique
touchstones wholly reliant on character rather than structure.

The Holdovers

Alexander Payne knows how to sustain the tonal appeal of his characters (he’s also unafraid
to push them off the deep end), and The Holdovers is a thoroughly enjoyable resurgence of his carefully observed and deftly handled comedy and drama. There’s room to move around, space to watch people grow, withdraw, fall apart, and regroup; and most importantly, he reminds us of the simple fact that we’re always learning, especially when it’s time to hold
ourselves accountable for the things we pull on ourselves and those around us. We’ve all seen
the (what Leonard Maltin’s refers to as) “unhappy child/crusty adult genre” movie; and this isn’t a novel treatment, but it’s done with the discipline and tact bolstered by a handful of
dynamic and talented players who are all equally accountable for the work they’ve given us.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline

Among all the things going on with Daniel Goldhaber’s dynamic and suspenseful political
thriller, I couldn’t get over how the pasty and sagebrush cinematography gave the film this
archival patina that emphasizes the urgency and import of its polyvalent architecture. Once I
figured out that it was shot on 16mm, I realized that How to Blow up a Pipeline is one of
many revolutionary movements. The obvious political ones, the activist/eco-political oratory
aside, Tehilla De Castro’s subtle, insistent photography is part of this ‘recent’ 16mm
renaissance. Martin Eden, Red Rocket, Legua, Godland, Enys Men, (to name a few of many)
are shot on the run-and-gun format indicating a pushback on the reliance on digital cinematography. All the photo jargon aside, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is one of the most
riveting and exciting movies in recent years, and it’s unlikely its power will wane.

Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret?

Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? is quite possibly the most sincere and honest film of
the year, maybe the past few years, the decade perhaps, and while it’s the subject of critical
praise, Kelly Fremon Craig’s adaptation of Judy Blume’s endeared and revered novel of the
same name feels like it somehow missed the generation of people raised on the book and
ended up in the embrace of waxing gen-xers and millennials, maybe they were all watching
Maestro instead?

Director Craig and her deep bench of talent make room for each other to build something
truly special; Rachel McAdams is tasked with the unfortunate burden of playing a character
whose arch differs from the novel and pulls it off with aplomb, making it one of the film’s
many highlights. Benny Safdie (don’t we all love how much this guy works?) perfectly
embodies adorable seventies (sixties?) nerd dad vibes, Kathy Bates is effortlessly glorious,
the cast of youngsters is illuminating but Abby Ryder Forston has the energy and charisma to
carry the picture which she does from opening to closing credits.

Killers of the Flower Moon

Martin Scorsese knows where to put his energy, and he knows how to spend his money; what
comes out is the uncontrolled and unpredictable title in question, and for the most part, we’re
almost always all the better for it. In 2019, it was The Irishman, and in 2023 we got Killers of
the Flower Moon (let’s not forget Pretend it’s a City & Personality Crisis: One Night Only),
and after the near-four hour runtime, when the lights went up, and I made the mad dash to the
restroom I was delighted, shocked, and a little tired and with a few months, one re-watch
removed, I still say Martin Scorsese is as vital as ever. America’s history of violence and
deception has never felt so visceral, brutal, and honest, and somehow, Scorsese navigates this
fraught narrative with respect. As an indigenous person of the Wampanoag nation, representation has always been a sensitive topic. That was my liability entering the film, but
the resonant symptoms of colony and postcolony simultaneously reflect mainline themes of
Scorsese’s movies: the enterprising colonial American mindset, male chauvinism, greed, and
the inherent privilege of whiteness. An intimate cinematic epic with echoes of revisionist
westerns, Killers Of the Flower Moon is a touchstone in the long career of a maverick
filmmaker. Which streaming service/studio network will Martin Scorsese cuckold next? An
MGM Release of a MUBI Original?

Monster

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s abiding interest in the beautiful and painful arena of dreamy
bildungsroman has taken many directions but always aligns with salient sincerity and potent
dramatic expression. Monster is a little different; time, intention, perspective, and motive
obscure and complicate the narrative, and the resonant effect is a powerful embellishing agent
in his already recognizable humanism. The pains of maturation and the vexing nature of the
outside world is coded in the rearrangement of narrative by way of character development
and realization. It’s messy and confusing but revelatory in the same way that life is
unorganized and complicated. Monster is, connotatively, a challenging escalation in
Kore-eda’s body of work; while never shy to confront and explore demanding territories, his
recent titles (Broker, black market adoption, Shoplifters, kidnapping, petty crime, poverty)
flex the binaries of morality clauses that audiences today are far too reliant.

May December

There’s nothing better than going to a movie and all the while you feel like someone is
playing a trick on you; May December is the movie of 2023 I probably think about the most,
and despite all my musing and mulling, I still feel like I don’t truly understand the power of
what Todd Haynes is communicating; but I love the energy that courses through me when his
movie is on my mind. The layers of density are obscured and enhanced by an almost surreal
wake of comedic inflection but the gravity is always present. I love the confusion, the cribbed
Michel Legrand score (officially, it’s from Joseph Losey’s The Go-Between but for me, it will
be Chan is Missing), the southern atmosphere, the clumsiness of erotic, gorgeous people, but
mostly I love sifting through the liminal auguries that makes Haynes’ vision such an indelible
enigma. There’s a weird texture that you can touch, feel, smell, and observe, but to truly
comprehend May December would be impossible; it is for me, anyway.

The Boy and the Heron

Apparently imagination and coming of age are the big themes of 2023 and The Boy and the
Heron is the apex of this aesthetic collision. The most winning summit of Miyazaki’s latest
achievement is the uncanny representation of the fantastic and the mundane; a tin of canned
meat takes on the likely iconography of an anthropomorphic bird, and in making this
dynamic attenuation, the film captures every conceivable ounce of Miyazaki’s artistic
bravura. Whether Mahito is dealing with the shades of war, grieving his mother’s death, or
contending with the illustrious and excitable otherworld, every scene rings with plural
sincerity. Maturity surges with fantastical grandeur, and it’s one of the most vigorous and
visually engaging films in recent memory.

Samsara

I’m not a spiritual or religious person, but there’s something spiritual about this movie,
experiential. Like Apichatpong Weerasathkul coupled with the documentary work of Tsai
Ming-Liang, this slathering layer of sunny emulsion and semiotic mind fuzz projected
enough hypnotic energy to make you wonder how director Lois Patiño can capture luminous
transcendentalism, spiritual transference or whatever you want to call it, with such deft
vibrancy. I guess you could simply say it’s his art, but something feels different by the end, a
darkness with light, and no sense of finality.

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