Home Arts & Leisure List of 2023

List of 2023

Critic After Dark

NOT everything I’d seen for the year but everything that I think deserves to be noted, for good or bad. More mainstream than I’d like but — life happens. I do try to note films available but not newly released in 2023, and why I thought them worth talking about.


The Boy and the Heron — perhaps Miyazaki’s final film, done with economy and passion and a surfeit of fabulous imagery.

LEONARDO DICAPRIO and Lily Gladstone in a scene from Killers of the Flower Moon. —IMDB.COM

Killers of the Flower Moon — Less a depiction of the Native American victims (which I suspect Scorsese couldn’t presume to speak up for) than a blackly comic takedown of the thugs that preyed on them. At its emotional heart: the strange strangely moving Judas-Jesus relationship between Ernest Burkhart (a deftly dimwitted Leonardo DiCaprio) and his Osage wife Mollie (an understated Lily Gladstone).

Essential Truths of the Lake — Lav Diaz’s first-ever prequel follows the early adventures of Hermes Papauran, the “Philippines’ greatest investigator” — basically a detective with a philosophical bent and a gift for guilt-wracked obsessive brooding. He never lets go and neither does Diaz, in this latest meditation on the Marcos dictatorship.

May December — Todd Haynes’ unsettling look at tabloid narratives (in this case the Mary Kay Letourneau story) and the secrets they may or may not contain.

Asteroid City — Wes Anderson doesn’t indulge in the usual film bro cliches — guns and assassins and fast cars — but takes off in a trajectory all his own. The immersion in 1950s Space Age paraphernalia makes this a perfect double feature with Richard Linklater’s Apollo 10 ½

Infinity Pool — Brandon Cronenberg eschews his father’s clean pornographic style to do a more baroque version of John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, the true source of horror less the fleshy onscreen mutilations and more Mia Goth’s mesmerizing hold over Alexander Skarsgard.

Past Lives — Celine Song’s debut feature is quiet but graceful; the finale, an extended tracking shot along an East Village sidewalk, is unexpectedly potent.

The Holdovers — Alexander Payne and Paul Giamatti’s latest isn’t visually distinctive but does evoke lowkey emotional magic, and delivers the occasional sting.

The Killer — David Fincher at his more elliptical, more a sterile exercise of style and stylish performances than anything. Not quite Jean-Pierre Melville, master of the genre, but not bad either.

Silent Night — Man loses his son and his voice, takes a year to prepare for payback. Grimmer less stylish John Woo that nevertheless retains his spark.

Anatomy of a Fall — Justine Triet’s legal drama with the help of Sandra Huller slowly carefully compellingly assembles the portrait of a marriage that has slid sideways, throws enough uncertainty into the process that like a juror you’re not sure what verdict to deliver.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 — James Gunn’s darkest entry of the franchise, yet still manages to be laugh out loud funny. Gunn has a gift for depicting damaged characters, makes good use of that skill here.

Godzilla Minus One — Back and badder than ever, only the humans swarming at its feet are depicted with more care than usual. Arguably the best since Hideaki Anno’s majestic 2016 incarnation, Gareth Edwards’s coyer 2014 version, and the still unmatched 1954 original. Not a fan, alas, of the have-your-cake-and-eat-it ending.

The Exorcist Believer — David Gordon Green doing to The Exorcist what he did to Halloween, picking up a well-loved horror classic and subverting its assumptions. If you’re not a fan of the William Friedkin original (which I’m not) this is for you. Easily the best of the franchise since Exorcist 2: The Heretic.

The Creator — Derivative (of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Blade Runner, and Platoon) and illogical (Why develop a floating weapons platform so vast anyone can take a potshot? And why build a counter weapon that has to grow gradually into full power?) but the core narrative — of a haunted man’s developing affection for a foundling child — is effective.

Meg 2: The Trench — The first hour is trapped underwater and dimly lit; when the movie surfaces and hits land it morphs into goofy fun, a cross between Jurassic Park and Free Fire.

Napoleon — More sumptuous and expensive looking than elegant, the movie emphasizes Napoleon the lovestruck buffoon over the brilliant strategist and innovative statesman, which leads one to ask: couldn’t they depict the strategist and leader and then demonstrate why he’s still a buffoon? Not as passionate or endlessly creative as Abel Gance’s prodigious classic.

Barbie — The first 20 minutes is a witty parody of Barbie and her neon pink world; the remaining runtime is a satire on male entitlement and corporate mismanagement with the fangs pulled, a neat-as-any demonstration of The Golden Rule: he who makes the gold (in this case Mattel, who financed) makes the rules.

CILLIAN MURPHY in Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer — Historical testimony, biographical study, investigative noir; drop in a blender and hit “puree.” Christopher Nolan is consistent — when it comes to the money shot (a leap across an abyss, a stage trick involving magic cabinets, the detonating of the first-ever nuclear fission device) he cuts away to a different angle. A mess, and not in a good way.

HARRISON FORD in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny — Another I liked more for the what might have been than what is — if you liked Indy, this is a passable capstone; if you like crisp and inventive action sequences, you miss the Spielberg touch.

The Flash — Better than expected, mostly for the melancholic presence of Michael Keaton and his air of What Might Have Been. Otherwise disposable.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse — everyone talks about how revolutionary it is to digitally animate on 2s (12 drawings or “frames” per second) as opposed to the standard-issue 1s (24 frames per second) — in effect moving away from the smooth and photorealistic — and how difficult this is to do with computers when the Japanese (including Shinkai, warts and all) have been and still do this all the time, largely by hand and in far better films. Miles Morales is a groundbreaking character — at least on the comic book page — but his film incarnation feels too wholesome, like a Disney princess in drag (mind you I’d welcome a Disney princess in drag, just lose the 2% lowfat wholesomeness).

Suzume — Makoto Shinkai continues to ape Miyazaki’s images, characters, and concepts, everything from Spirited Away (protagonist’s beloved cursed into taking another form, if not pigs then a nursery chair) to Howl’s Moving Castle (portals that open into different locations or the past), troweling rough edges smooth with a thick serving of sentimentality. Emotionally stunted work, fixated on fantasy encounters between boy and girl at the expense of all else.

Films I’ve found interesting:

Dust Devil (1992) — Richard Stanley’s hallucinatory film — about a serial killer demon, the woman he’s fated to meet, and the Namibian police officer hunting him — seems less affected by supernatural forces than by heat haze and highway hypnosis. Fascinatingly unhinged.

Experiment Perilous (1944) — Jacques Tourneur’s take on George Cukor’s Gaslight is hobbled by a smaller budget and an ostensibly less-than-stellar cast but does feature Tourneur’s inimitably insinuating visual style and a simmering pas de deux between George Brent and twinkle-eyed Paul Lukas.

The Suspect (1944) — Robert Siodmak’s camera stalks Charles Laughton as he spirals into mayhem and murder in this sumptuously produced Edwardian noir.

 The Furies (1950) — Walter Huston as a carnivorous King Lear and Barbara Stanwyck as his libidinous Cordelia dominate this larger-than-life psychodrama set against the backdrop of Anthony Mann’s West — a landscape of vast plains and craggy heights that reflect the characters’ emotional landscape.

Could not with much regret keep up with the always vital Filipino independent filmmaking scene — that’s my fault — but thanks to a recent project on Filipino-Asian collaborations have been able to catch the following:

Dawn of Freedom (Ano Hata O Ute, 1944) — Yutaka Abe and Gerardo de Leon’s handsomely produced propaganda film employs Manila like a gigantic studio set, yet details the tentative at times mistrustful relationship between Filipinos and their Japanese occupiers with surprising delicacy.

Shiniuma (Dead Horse, 2016) — Brillante Mendoza’s haiku depicting an undocumented Filipino worker’s life in Hokkaido, his capture by immigrant officers, and his eventual Manila homecoming. With an indelible performance by Lou Veloso.

Gensan Punch — Brillante Mendoza’s biopic of “Nao” Tsuchiyama depicts a one-legged boxing champion full of grit and spirit and a startling sweetness.

 A Hard Day — Law Fajardo’s remake of the Kim Seong-hun original, about a corrupt cop trying to fix his fractured life, is a fascinating study on what can translate from Korean to Filipino setting, and what can’t.

Kintsugi — Law Fajardo’s romance between a Filipino immigrant worker and the daughter of his Japanese boss is both a showcase for the charms of Saga prefecture (and its renowned ceramicware) and a quietly poignant romance.

Imbisibol (Invisible) — Arguably Fajardo’s best work, from a one-act play by Herlyn Alegre, an observant and ultimately devastating look at Filipino migrants, documented and undocumented, in bleak wintertime Japan.