Denis Villeneuve's Grand and Gorgeous Epic is as Insightful about Sincerity and Strategy as it is Engaging on the Broad Levels of a Big-Budget Studio Blockbuster.


Matthew Vaughn has Officially become a Director of Diminishing Returns with this Overstuffed and Laughably Corny Slog of a Spy Caper.


This Trip back to North Shore High Justifies itself by still being Sharp in its Observations of Vacuousness.


Writer/Director Cord Jefferson’s Feature Debut Splits the Difference Between Searing Satire and Emotional Family Drama Coming out a Winner in Both Respects.


Emma Stone is Daring and Mark Ruffalo is Hilarious in this Surreal Fever Dream of Philosophy and Attempting to Understand our Nature through Unorthodox Methods.

TOP 10 OF 2023

This year has been a bit of a transition period to say the least. 2022 marked the first full calendar year in which I produced a weekly video review of the biggest release on my own. It was a lot of fun but a lot of work and producing those reviews at a level of quality with which I was satisfied in a consistent manner did end up hindering my viewing habits (I saw almost a hundred more movies this year than I did in 2022). While the video format of reviewing movies was an experience I largely enjoyed it’s one I had already planned to cut back on this year. And so, when the theater chain I partnered with to produce said movie reviews saw a change of management in early May and no longer wanted to accommodate our shooting in their locations it felt like something of a mixed blessing. I didn't know where exactly I'd go with my film criticism as I'd poured the entirety of my efforts into the YouTube channel and while I still don't plan to post as obsessively or consistently as I did six or seven years ago, my Letterboxd reviews were simply becoming too long and taking up too much bandwidth in my brain for me to leave them off of this site I originally started out of college. All of that to say, I have no idea where 2024 will take me, if I'll still be posting here in a year's time, or if some new opportunity or avenue will present itself. Whatever the case, I am sure of one thing though and that is the fact you can likely count on me to post my favorite films of the year here no matter what other plans or obstacles the year throws at me (just look at last year), but without further ado, here are my ten favorite films of 2023…


After a single viewing I know that despite my disappointments with The Iron Claw they are not because of what the film delivers or how it delivers it, but simply because I wanted more of what it was already delivering. Familiar with the story of and myth surrounding the Von Erich family and always willing to be nostalgic for any kind of professional wrestling pre-1997 or so, I must admit to being rather anxious walking into the latest from Sean Durkin. Though the writer/director has only made two features prior to this (Martha Marcy May Marlene being one of my favorite films of 2011), his ability to capture tone and a sense of place is an exceptional quality when done with sincerity and those qualities serve him and this story tremendously. That said, it wasn’t Durkin, the cast, or anything glaring about this production that made me anxious - in fact, the more details that came out about the film the more excited I was to see what they might do with this epic story of tragedy and triumph - and therein lies the cause for such anxiety: could this story, this epic of the Von Erich’s, be both contained and done proper justice in this format? My fear was that this would be the rare case where the material would be better served by a ten-episode season of television than the two-hour feature we’ve been delivered and while that still may be true there is no denying the soul of this film and, appropriately so, the strength of it. 

Beginning with an introduction to the patriarch and innovator of the titular move, Jack AKA Fritz Von Erich (an electric Holt McCallany) changed the family name from Adkisson to his mother's maiden, German name (who was also apparently “plagued with bad luck”) in Von Erich as a gimmick for his wrestling persona that aided him in portraying a Nazi-like heel in the ring. The monicker stuck as all five of Fritz's sons, four of which are portrayed in the film, entered the world of professional wrestling under the Von Erich name. While this opening sequence conveys a number of critical items most important is the contrast between how Fritz and his wife, Doris (an emotionally suppressed, but blisteringly conflicted Maura Tierney), approach life, Fritz through his appearance and reputation and Doris through her faith. It is this kind of contrasting system of ideas and ideals that create the policies by which their sons live and the theories they intellectually adhere to. It makes sense then that after setting the stage as such that the remainder of the first act sees Durkin (who also wrote the screenplay) introducing each of the four boys included in his version of these events while concurrently suggesting how the nurturing of a force like Fritz and a presence like Doris imbued upon and molded them into the men they became and the fate they met. Beginning with Kevin (Zac Efron) we immediately understand that this oldest, living Von Erich brother is also the most resolute and resilient of the bunch. Efron's first scene sees him waking up in the early morning hours and going for a run against the Denton, Texas sunrise. He invites his younger brother, David (Harris Dickinson), to join him, but David elects to remain in bed. Again, Durkin knows he has a limited amount of time to tell this gigantic story and doesn't sacrifice a second of screentime as every moment tells us something about a character that will shape their story. We see Kevin, already heavily embroiled in this world through events at the Dallas Sportatorium, become the Texas Heavyweight Champion early on; only elevating the family's local fame as well as their visibility to execs in the National Wrestling Association (NWA), which was the ultimate goal.


The irony of Zack Snyder's latest sci-fi epic releasing on Netflix essentially the same day as what will be the final relic of his orchestration at Warner Bros. with regards to the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is undoubtedly significant in some somber, unfortunate way yet I can't quite put my finger on why this congregation of Snyder's new and old universes feels sad on both accounts. It's paradoxical, sure, but I guess in the broader sense it simply seems like despite the DCEU not going his way that he has recovered by making a two-part, $166 million Star Wars rip-off for the biggest streaming service in the world and yet, it doesn't feel like a recovery at all; somehow it feels like a failure on two fronts which is what makes Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom all the more depressing. 

Remember when Willem Dafoe was in an Aquaman movie? Doesn't that feel like a lifetime ago and a universe away? Unfortunately, thanks to the pandemic and James Gunn both things are by and large true. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is the end of an era, the last of a dying breed, and though certainly not how Snyder saw things ending, the movie itself is not the worst note the current iteration of the DCEU could have gone out on (that would have been The Flash). It's not good, don't get me wrong, but there is a certain charm that director James Wan and, of course, star Jason Momoa bring to what are already absurd proceedings. Likely not the better movie of the two, but because I went into this much-delayed and much-maligned sequel five years after having been conditioned to certain expectations, this was a better overall experience because of the (much) lower anticipation level. All things considered, Wan is still very much a world-class filmmaker who knows how to mount a handsomely constructed action-adventure romp and when hung on the back of a comically over the top lead it couldn't be more perfect for feeding every Saturday morning desire of every nine-year-old out there.


When I was in high school in the early aughts it was the peak of "emo" culture as the wave of pop-punk music and hairstyles had fully enveloped the youth. Punk rock had completely overtaken the music scene that had previously belonged to the pure pop acts at the turn of the millennium. A good portion of what would have previously been categorized as the "mainstream" crowd was now more than happy to sport t-shirts from Hot Topic toasting their favorite bands; the more undiscovered, the better. At seventeen and eighteen this was more than enough to pique my interest in the shifting allegiances and blurred lines of high school cliques in the real world yet the bigger revelation that came out of this was an examination of the "goth" community. Beyond their shared interests in (again) music, I began to question what it was that motivated them to dress so distinctly and so differently. Furthermore, why the need to take it to such an extreme? My initial thought was simply that: to be different. Maybe that's exactly what it was or maybe it served as a signal to those who also dressed that way that they were of like minds. While this was certainly a probable explanation the overarching intent of the intensity of their look was seemingly to stand out and stand apart. This naturally led to internal inquiries of what is exactly different about you if what you're doing to be different is solely for that reason. And then, if there is this whole group of people who dress the same solely to be different then aren't they just another clique themselves? Of course, these social circles are formed due to similar interests, participation in the same activities, churches, tax brackets, and so on but as someone who likes to think of themselves as moderate in every facet of life the difference in "goths" and every other clique went back to the question of intent. Was there meaning behind the mohawks and dark make-up? 

While I never fleshed these questions and ideas out with anyone, this was the beginning seeds of understanding the rather broad (and simple) lesson that how you present yourself physically wasn't the aspect that would ultimately determine what makes you different from someone else. This isn't a slight against the goth crowd either, but more an observation and kind of affirmation that such exterior effort shouldn't be necessary in order to feel seen and valued. There's no shame in wanting to feel singular and validated - high school today must be a thousand times more complicated in these regards with what a mess social media has made in not only feeling the need to stand out in your bubble, but against the entirety of the internet - but if there is nothing beyond the desire to be different than simply being different that is when we enter the territory of someone's entire personality consisting only of being non-conforming because that's what they do. When considering all of this through the lens of high school circles, weird for the sake of weird began to feel as hollow as the goths no doubt assumed most of the jock's heads were. Weird for the sake of being weird is what brings me to Poor Things and whether or not the way it presents itself was simply to set itself apart or if the attempts to subvert and push the envelope were in fact to serve a bigger, more well-rounded series of ideas. That, or at least be in service of lampooning some very specific, but recognizable facet of the world in which viewers could relate to the point their opinion of the film might transcend the intentionally strange, possibly superficial surface.


I wrestled with whether or not I should finally see Steven Spielberg's 1985 adaptation of The Color Purple, the 1982 novel written by Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker in the form of letters between Celie - a poor African-American girl in the early 1900s - and God, as it has remained one of the bigger holes in my attempts at completing Spielberg's filmography. Given Blitz Bazawule's new film was based on the 2005 theatrical production that turned Walker's work into a full-fledged musical though, I decided I'd write about this new film from that perspective, which is to say, one's first encounter with the material in any form. To this extent, Bazawule's film is both what I expected it to be given the context clues around the story while also being rather surprising in who its targets are and where its objectives lie. I will be interested to see how this latest adaptation differs from Spielberg's not only due to the fact it is sprinkled with musical numbers and is generally of a lighter tone than is maybe suitable for the material, but largely (mostly) for the perspective from which it is presented and told. There has of course been much discussion over the last few years as to whether Spielberg, a Jewish white male, was the right person to best depict the lives of African American women in rural Georgia during this time period to which the answer is obviously no, but with the introduction of Bazawule's vision into the fold the ways in which these iterations compare and contrast will certainly make for an interesting case study.


There is a scene late in Maestro where Bradley Cooper’s Leonard Bernstein is instructing a student on the instincts of conducting and in that moment, I realized this single portion was more the film I expected from Cooper given the precedent he’d set with A Star is Born than the one we ultimately got. A Star is Born was a movie that truly appreciated the process around crafting a song and/or piece of music and stood apart for its consideration of such. As much as a biopic about the late, great Bernstein felt like a natural next step in Cooper’s directing career Maestro simply never digs into its subject’s process and headspace in the way his previous film did; in a way that never allows the viewer to feel they really understand this man at his core – what exactly was it that made him so great? Is the film visually stunning and sonically overwhelming to the point it can't help but be impressive? Absolutely. And yet, even as I sat marveling at the ways in which Cooper had grown as a storyteller, an actor, and even an "artist" - as pompous as that may sound - I was still left with an empty, hollow feeling in that I could feel the intent and understand the meaning of as much, but never sensed the significance. Like a conductor on his podium who is supposed to be allowing the audience to experience the music, Cooper instead uses his filmmaking as a way of exerting his hard work and dedication over those who may not be as committed. Cooper is proud of himself (as he should be), but instead of allowing the text to do the talking as he did in his debut feature, we see this hubris show through the craft this time around. Not enlightening his audience to a notable figure's creative process through an exploration of the creative process, but instead shoving said intent down their throats.


What is immediately striking about Cord Jefferson's directorial debut, based on Percival Everett’s 2001 award-winning novel Erasure, is how it balances the two different movies that it is and how these two movies work together to re-enforce the overall point of the film rather than competing against one another for more prominence or importance. The truth is, both could exist on their own and still be engaging, but the ways in which they lean on and feed in and out of one another elevate the heart and intelligence of both. From one angle, American Fiction is a burning satire, a total takedown of every stereotype the entertainment industry and by association, our culture at large, has ascribed to the African American individual and experience. From the opposite angle, Jefferson's film tells the story of a Black family in America that upends every single one of those stereotypes; painting not a perfect picture of a family to prove a point, but rather what is still a flawed yet funny and successful yet sad portrait of a life not typically seen embodied by people with pigment. 

Whether you see American Fiction as a conventional story told unconventionally or vice versa will depend on what walk of life you're approaching the film from, but the point is that by the time the credits roll the interpretation of the film's melding objectives are all on the same page. Jeffrey Wright's Thelonious 'Monk' Ellison is a writer who faces the challenge all introverted writers do in that he purports to understand and possess insight around the human condition without having spent any actual time in the wild, among people outside his academic circles in some time. Monk is distrusting of the individual student or person he encounters who does not think on the same wavelength as he while optimistic to the point he believes those same people that make up a culture of book readers will appreciate his high-brow literature enough to allow him to make a living off it. As a white male, this idea of knowing the truth deep down but still masking it in hopes that everything will be okay in the grander scheme of things leads to an interesting facet of the film, at least to viewers who look/think like me. It would seem there is a collective/unspoken desire for things to remain uninterrupted in the ways of the world even if we outwardly express a desire for truth and innovation; in other words, progress is fine as long as it is guided by the same kind of structure we’ve always adhered to. I’m not saying I agree with this, but I am saying I recognize the truth of the statement as suggested in the film. Of course, change is scary for most, but this is how American Fiction challenges a viewer of my persuasion as it asks the question, “what has shaped my perspective of black individuals and culture?” Do I take what I have been fed at face value or do I know my own truth via the work I have put into growing real relationships?


When going into a movie with a premise as interesting as Dream Scenario there is always a mix of anticipation and anxiety. Anticipation in seeing what story the screenwriter chooses to tell through this unique premise while the anxiety centers around whether the film is able to see the full potential of said premise through to fruition. In terms of this very aesthetically indie third feature from writer/director Kristoffer Borgli the hook is that an average, everyday family man in the form of Nicolas Cage suddenly begins to show up in the dreams of both strangers and acquaintances. With no explanation as to why this is happening Cage's Paul Matthews comes to something of a fork in the road around how to deal with and/or take advantage of his newfound fame that naturally descends into notoriety. Another layer to Borgli's script in particular is that, given the premise, literally any moment in the film could either be a dream or reality leaving the audience guessing as to if what we're seeing is truly happening to our protagonist or not. 

Borgli unfortunately doesn't take as much advantage of this second layer as is available to him, but what is maybe more interesting is where the filmmaker ultimately decides to take the premise for the sake of the story he is telling. Much of the film frames Paul as a man or person searching for other people to impress and who are impressed by him, yet he constantly finds himself surrounded by those who have no interest in appeasing this desire. Whether it be his students, his children (Lily Bird and Jessica Clement), former colleagues (Dylan Baker) and girlfriends (Marnie McPhail) or even his current wife (Julianne Nicholson) in certain, critical moments – they all seem rather unbothered and unimpressed by Paul. Because of this, Paul is always searching for the insult whenever speaking with someone about himself and even when this phenomenon of him showing up in other people's dreams begins his instinct is not to wonder why this happening in the first place, but rather why his presence is only as a bystander. Still, as someone described as a "remarkable nobody" he enjoys the sudden shift in attention and isn't great at hiding it or remaining humble about it even if he remains average within this exceptional occurrence. Even when repercussions of this newfound fame begin to impact his real, personal life Paul has no sense of how to actually deal with things he otherwise imagines he would tackle head on; he’s helpless.