November 2023 In Review

As we near Christmas and the end of another year, it is a time to reflect upon how we spent 2023. So, of course, here is another post highlighting the films I watched this past November.

Anatomy of a Fall (2023) - 5/5 - After her husband is found dead in the snow, Sandra is suspected of her husband's murder. She maintains that she did not push her husband off their third floor home, but is told by her lawyer that is not the point. This effectively sets up the drama that is to come, as a courtroom thriller unfolds which sees the widower put through the wringer to prove her innocence, while the many sides of her real life are torn apart by a prosecution intent on undermining her and painting her as monstrous. At the center of this is Daniel, Sandra's visually impaired son who faces a moral dilemma as the sole witness, left with conflicting feelings as he hears the case details. Co-writing the screenplay with Arthur Harari, director Justine Triet masterfully crafts a compelling tale that captures how real-life cases can be treated as entertainment firstly, with little regard for the actual people affected by the tragedies as their testimony is dissected, and the outcome theorized as though it is a TV show's season finale. Key to it all are the phenomenal performances, from Sandra Hüller's magnificent lead role, to Milo Machado-Graner's conflicted portrayal, and even the exceptional canine performance by Messi. If this does not make my top films of 2023, I will be VERY surprised. A masterful showcase for the phenomenal power of cinema.

Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990) - 3/5 - Both a sequel and a prequel which closes the book in interesting ways.

Rye Lane (2023) - 4.5/5 - For her feature debut, director Raine Allen-Miller crafts vibrantly shot and impressive film adapted from a screenplay by Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia. After meeting at an art exhibition, 20-somethings Dom and Yas connect over the course of a day while reeling from their bad break-ups. What has been delivered is a heartwarming and hilarious tale as two-strangers bond while helping each other over a day, as they deal with their exes and restore their faith in romance. Phenomenally bringing these characters alive are David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah, capturing these heartbroken souls in South London who discover what is important in their lives, including the proper etiquette for waving at boats. I cannot wait to see more from all involved, and I am glad to have taken a chance on this film.

One False Move (1992) - 4.5/5 - A compelling crime film which deserves to be seen more widely.

Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed (2004) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - An interesting follow-up which uses lycanthropy as an allegory for mental illness.

Best film of the month, Best film seen in cinemas,
and Best film watched for the first time: Anatomy of a Fall (2023)

Booger (2023) - 3/5 - Captures the psychological and physical toll of grief.

Passing (2021) - 3.5/5 -  A gently paced tale about people trying to disguise themselves as something entirely different from who they are

Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004) [rewatch] - 2.5/5 - A direct-to-DVD prequel which looks at the horrendous institutions that allows men to spread misery and suffering

Commando (1985) - 3.5/5 - The past returns with a fury for John Matrix, a former colonel whose daughter is kidnapped by those he previously wronged. What unfolds is a mission of revenge that unfolds in ridiculous, gruesome, and impressive ways which make for a fun watch. While the set-pieces are entertaining, they feel flimsily held together by a tenuous plot and thin characterisation, while never finding a way to ramp up the excitement or make tension felt throughout the picture. It's a film responsible for some of Arnie'a best quips, but it's not a great work from this iconic movie star.

Shortcomings (2023) - 4/5 - Based on the graphic novel by Adrian Tomine (who also wrote the screenplay), Randall Park makes his feature directorial debut with this tale of a bitter cinephile who explores bachelor life when his girlfriend leaves for New York on a 3-month long internship. The film opens with a screening of a fake film that is also a clear nod to <em>Crazy Rich Asians</em>, a milestone for Asian representation which also paved the way for films such as this. Ben (Justin H. Min) leaves the film criticizing how it lacks messy and flawed characters, something inhabiting this film from the film nerd lead who neglects his Asian girlfriend, while seemingly interested in white girls, and acts horrible for much of the runtime. In the wrong hands, following such a character could have been a slog, yet Min's performance ensures that Ben is a compelling figure while the other characters refuse to let this hypocritical and self-centred figure off the hook. The messy and flawed characters continue with Sherry Cola providing effective support as Ben's best friend, and Ally Maki terrifically portraying Ben's long-suffering girlfriend. They all make up this interesting work which offers discussions about fetishism and assimilation, while delivering genuine humour throughout. This Asian centred work feels in the vein of early Kevin Smith, and is a promising start to Park's directorial career.

Best film rewatched: A Nightmare On
Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Butcher's Crossing (2023) - 3.5/5 - An often-compelling look at man’s bloodthirstiness for profit, regardless of how much of a population it must destroy for such gain.

The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker (2023) - 1.5/5 - Focusing on a viral star from about a decade ago, this Netflix documentary details a hitchhiker's ascent to viral stardom after he stops a potential killer by attacking him with a hatchet. There are many interesting avenues which director Colette Camden could have taken, particularly involving the disposal way potential reality stars are treated, but the end result charts a familiar course of showing a nice guy who actually wasn't nice. It's particularly insulting when the main interview subject is a gatekeeping journalist that wanted exclusivity with the hitchhiker, and his point-of-view that feels unchallenged is the idea of regretting not capitalising on the guy some more. There are stylish elements to it, but the handling of the subject feels distasteful.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - An iconic slice of horror that capitalizes on its phenomenal presence exceptionally, brought alive with a creeping dread and the exceptional imagination of Wes Craven. Let's not forget the exceptional pair of Robert Englund and Heather Langenkamp bringing alive the iconic serial killer and final girl. The rating has gone down for me courtesy of the ending, yet that does not dampen this iconic and inventive piece of horror.

Dream Scenario (2023) - 4/5 - In a year where seven separate films include Nicolas Cage, this is easily his best of the bunch. Unassuming family man Paul Matthews finds his life changed when he suddenly makes cameo appearances in millions of peoples dreams, ranging from his students to countless strangers. What unfolds is a compelling tale of overnight fame, as this hapless man who many ignored are suddenly paying attention to him in ways he could not prepare for. The story does not stop there, as Paul's dreamtime appearances turns dark and is visualised in chilling ways. Director Kristoffer Borgli brings this tale alive in a darkly comedic way that tackles modern fame thoughtfully and hilariously, with Paul's hopes to capitalize on his fame by writing a book turning into offers to go on alt-right shows when public opinion turns on him. Key to it all is Cage himself, who captures the glee of the dismissed man who suddenly finds himself in the public eye, and his disbelief as his fortune worsens. The ending may be a bit too on the nose with its message, although it does not hurt the effective film which came before it.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - My favourite of the Elm Street franchise, capturing the perfect blend of Freddy terror and humour amidst an inventive array of nightmares brought alive with exceptional visuals. Also, that Dokken song is an absolute banger.

Biggest Surprise:
Hot Potato: The Story of The Wiggles (2023)

Hollywood Dreams & Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story (2023) - 3.5/5 - A documentary which paints a lovely portrait of the big hearted man behind the glove

The Exorcist: Believer (2023) - 1.5/5 - Having liked most of what David Gordon Green did with his Halloween trilogy, I went into this legacy sequel hoping for the best. The end result felt like any artistic integrity and tension were exorcised in favour of studio notes, callbacks to the original, and ill-fitting dialogue that feels very par for the course regarding DGG (The whole thing about "little piggies" felt too out of place to ever be cutsie). Leslie Odom Jr. deserves better than this unengaging work which shoe-horns in the power of "community" and tiresome monologues over giving Ellen Burstyn something substantial to do.

Hot Potato: The Story of The Wiggles (2023) - 4.5/5 - By the end, it feels like viewers have been on a journey with The Wiggles and are  left rooting for this Australian group to persevere.

Flashback (2023) - 3/5 - A decent short which carries the potential for a feature-length film.

The Killer (2023) - 3.5/5 - David Fincher returns with a tale of a methodical assassin who walks through life while listening to The Smiths and providing the film's narration. When his job results in a near-miss, the assassin finds himself on his own globetrotting mission. Within this slickly crafted thriller is a fun undermining of the lead, as his musings of being the best and not caring are interrupted by evidence proving the opposite. The cold misery of the assassins life is brought alive in engaging fashion, aided by Michael Fassbender's terrific lead performance, although it can feel slight and difficult to emotionally engage with. The way the killer's home life enters into the plot can feel tacked onto the film to try and include an emotional element, and the voiceover can grate at times. It's lesser Fincher, but that's still preferable to some director's stronger works.

Biggest Disappointment and Worst
film of the month: The Exorcist: Believer

Next Goal Wins (2014) - 4.5/5 -  An infectiously joyous documentary which makes a niche story resonate so phenomenally.

Saltburn (2023 - 4/5 - After delivering the exceptional Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell uses a 2006 setting to bring alive a delicious ride of alluring opulence. Through the perspective of university student Oliver, a darkly comedic and visually enticing tale is crafted around one summer at an eccentric family's estate. It especially feels pointed with how scenes can resemble a perfume advert, capturing how this family's lives are a gorgeously rendered yet performative show that hold an emptiness within. While the plot may get messy, particularly when the last act can feel less than the sum of its parts, what remains consistent is the magnetic presence of Barry Keoghan within an exceptional cast, including a winning Rosamund Pike who gets all of the best lines.

Brian and Charles (2022) - 4/5 - Director Jim Archer crafts a charming tale centered around an odd-couple friendship, as a lonely inventor in rural Wales builds a robot with a mannequin's head and a washing machine for a stomach. While there's a subplot involving a local bully which feels taken from an entirely different film, what's brought alive here is a heartfelt and humorous tale aided by another great Daniel Pemberton score. Absolutely lovely stuff.

Anima (2019) - 4/5 - A beautifully made mood piece set to Thom Yorke’s songs.

The Last Picture Show (1971) - 4.5/5 - A saddening portrait of lonely people lacking direction.

Femme (2023) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - A heartfelt white-knuckle ride which refuses to let up as it commands the viewers attention.

Best film of the month: Anatomy of a Fall (2023)
Best film seen in cinemas:  Anatomy of a Fall (2023)
Best film watched for the first time:  Anatomy of a Fall (2023)
Best film rewatched: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Biggest Disappointment: The Exorcist: Believer (2023)
Biggest Surprise: Hot Potato: The Story of The Wiggles (2023)
Worst film of the month: The Exorcist: Believer (2023)

Number of films watched: 26