In 2023, we saw over 230 movies and shorts, and of those, we’ve come up with around 40, split into two parts, you should check out.
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In this horror movie, a 9-year-old orphan being raised by her aunt is given a personal robot as a best friend. The problem is that the robot becomes possessive to the point of betraying its creator and becoming a danger to the young girl she imprints on.
From its marketing campaign to being one of the most iconic talking dolls since the OG, Chucky, M3Gan gave birth to a new horror icon fitting for their times.
Little Richard: I Am Everything
From his early days to his final years, “Little Richard: I Am Everything” follows in the footsteps of “Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James” in terms of giving you everything and all of a music and cultural icon, but with a special focus on him not only being a pioneer of rock and roll but as a, sometimes, out gay man.
Nearly every year, between Sundance and the Tribeca Film Festival, we get these excellent documentaries about Black icons. For 2023, that was “Little Richard: I Am Everything.”
What you get in this documentary is the full scope of who inspired and came before Little Richard, where he picked up the baton, and then his struggles between being out and proud and how faith and circumstances led to him seemingly going in and out of the closet.
It feels deeply personal and vulnerable to the point of feeling like you’re reading his journal. I can only hope we may get the same with the upcoming Luther Vandross documentary.
Available Via: Amazon
At one time, a couple working in finance were blissful as the male half seemed geared towards a major promotion. However, with his partner getting that, the dynamics shift, and he goes from the love of her life to the envious demon trying to ruin her life.
“Fair Play” is the type of movie that gets you so engaged that it could raise your blood pressure. You get initially hooked with the romance and chemistry, but as the male lead, Luke, switches things up on Emily, you not only want to yell at the screen but you become so engrossed you forget Phoebe Dynevor was in Bridgerton and see this as her breakout role. It’s almost like Bridgerton was her in a Disney Channel show, and this is her entering adulthood on screen.
Watch on Netflix
After more than a year after publicly transitioning to being a trans-man, Dena’s life has mostly settled. But, with unresolved issues with their ex John, their little sister Zoe showing up and father on their way for a visit, there is hope.
LGBTQIA+ films are exiting a transition period. Coming out stories and waves of trauma have had their moment, but now it seems things are about life past that, after the dust has settled, and Mutt is a prime example. For as it explores life post transition, especially in terms of not just you settling into your truth but others as well, it gives a realistic means of living vicariously or understanding the sacrifice that comes with living honestly.
Add in it is rare to see trans men stories, and this especially deserves to be on your radar.
A Thousand And One
Abandoned by her family and tossed out by the foster care system, Inez sees Terry as someone she has to give what she never knew, and while she struggles with raising him and trying to love a man named Lucky, Inez, with her New York hustle and attitude, takes care of her boy even as so much could tear them apart.
One of the things we have increasingly appreciated is that when it comes to urban dramas, even if, like “A Thousand And One,” they have grown beyond poverty porn. They feel rooted in real experiences, not embellished for critical acclaim or to allow the privileged to feel good about what little they may do for the underprivileged.
In Teyana Taylor’s performance specifically, you get a real deal around the way girl. One who may have a lot of attitude, but that’s because she grew up learning the best defense is an active offense.
Yet, there is still that desire to be soft, and between their partner and their children, they hope to show that side and be that person. They want to be who they didn’t have, and from Taylor’s performance, a feeling that you get a real sense of an urban community, to a notable twist? Unless “A Thousand And One” is mentioned, I don’t think any 2023 best-of list is legitimate.
Maybe I Do
Allen and Michelle are a couple at that point in their relationship where marriage and what they are doing is a necessary conversation. However, as they think about the value of marriage, they don’t know their parents are courting, in a relationship, if not sleeping with each other, behind their significant other’s back.
There really aren’t enough quality films about life, relationships, and especially marriage beyond your 20s and 30s. So “Maybe I Do,” even if it depicts emotional, if not physical cheating, fills a void.
What especially helps is who is cast for between Richard Gere and Diane Keaton’s relationship to the hilarious one between William H. Macy and Susan Sarandon? Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey might be front and center, but believe me when I say they are trojan horses for a hilarious and sometimes touching film about enduring love – in all the ways you can use the word “endure.”
Margot, a college sophomore, desires a social life that includes dating. Enter Robert, who is 13 years older than Margot, works at a local theater, and is able to charm her enough to get her number.
But, what begins as a cute relationship quickly devolves as Margot exits the stage of seeing Robert with rose-colored glasses and begins to imagine the worst-case scenario as she realizes Robert is a bit weird.
To me, “Cat Person” helps you understand the fear many women have about dating and why, even if the person is hot and successful, you name it – each time she is taking a chance. Yes, there is a chance things will turn out well, and she could meet the love of her life, but there is also the chance she’ll hook up with a stalker, abuser, or someone who may kill her.
The way this film plays it out is like a horror film rooted in reality, and even as a guy, it is easy to understand why heterosexual relationships for women, maybe relationships in general, can be so frightening.
16-year-old Suzume long could sense things not of this world, likely stemming from a past traumatic event. But, this ability doesn’t come to massive use until a man named Souta comes to her town, talks about visiting ruins, and she follows him. This leads to her finding the door to what Souta refers to as “The Ever After” and a spirit being freed.
Because of that spirit, things drastically change in Suzume’s life. Never mind her becoming something called a “Closer,” which keeps the door to “The Ever After” closed, but she also finds herself having to join up with Souta to keep a worm demon from destroying a nearby city.
While their art styles and stories differ, Makoto Shinkai is his generation’s Hayao Miyazaki in many ways. His films are undeniably beautiful, often focused on young ladies or have them on equal footing with the male lead and give them these notable journeys. “Suzume” is no different.
From an emotional story dealing with Suzume losing her mom and her aunt being challenged with raising her to Souta dealing with his own loss, the potential for tears is there.
But alongside that, there is Daijin, who isn’t just this cute entity made for merchandising but also has their own thing going on that makes them a figure that doesn’t easily fit into the role of being a villain, despite all the trouble they cause.
Together, it makes for a great experience and allows Makoto Shinkai to continue to be seen as one of the most consistent writer/directors, live-action or otherwise.
The Magic Flute
Tim is attending the Mozart Academy of Music, and no sooner than he steps foot on campus, he finds himself dealing with the politics of whose father is who and favoritism. But luckily for Tim, between fairies that take him to another world to play a prince and a girl named Sophie, he has a means to escape.
However, whether in the fantasy world or real world, Tim’s roommate Paolo and others ask more and more of him, and there is a need to ask whether everyone can have some form of a happy ending as it goes from stable to worse for many.
So much of “The Magic Flute” goes right that it’s a bit shocking that it went under the radar. Tim’s chemistry with Sophie and Paolo is undeniable. It makes you want to see a live version of “The Magic Flute,” and while the fantasy world sometimes leads to a bit of a side eye, as you get used to what’s going on there and the operatics, you’ll find yourself with a film that may not only garner repeat viewing but following the actors and checking for the soundtrack.
Lonely Castle In The Mirror
For seven kids, they are all dealing with issues that make their home or school life something to avoid. So when they are able to escape to this magical castle in the sky, they bond with one another. But this magical place isn’t a place they can go without expectations. Each is expected to find, within a year, a key and room that can grant a wish.
Alongside this expectation are a few rules, and when a rule gets broken, the refuge the kids found becomes yet another dangerous place for them to be.
I have this weird belief that a movie, show, or live performance is good if I cry. Mainly because I’m lowkey dead inside. That aside, because everyone has sad backgrounds, which include being bullied or harmed by the adults in their lives, and you are pushed more and more to build such deep connections with the characters, this becomes a go-to tearjerker.
Bea is turning 18 soon and has parents who need extra time and care. Because of this, she struggles with trying to give them room to fail versus enabling them, but she is coming to the point where it might be now or never if she wants to live independently and experience normal things in life.
Diversity means we need to see a slew of different lives, and while we’ve seen that regarding race and culture, sexuality, and gender, there are still so many perspectives that are rarely depicted. For example, in this feel, we have Sharon and Derrick, who are people who need extra time and care to do things, and there is a notable push of how, due to people enabling them and having low expectations, they created a self-fulfilling prophecy regarding what the two are capable of.
Yet, rather than squarely focusing on Sharon and Derrick and pushing any specific narrative, positive or negative, it makes it clear that people like them can exist and be part of a film without being the focal point. Bea has her own life outside of her parents, from friends and a boyfriend to a bully.
On top of that, you can see how her grandmother influences her. We also learn about her paternal grandmother having a bunch of missed opportunities, and this is just probably one of the first movies I’ve seen that has shown an underserved type of person as just part of a family and society as a whole, rather than make them out to be a unicorn.
Larry is getting married to Jamie, and Larry’s friends have planned a bachelor weekend for him at a haunted house where a woman allegedly killed her son – and this is a horror comedy.
“Summoning Sylvia,” between the familiar face of Travis Coles from “David Makes Man,” Michael Urie from “Ugly Betty” and then Frankie Grande, let me tell you, thus far, we really only had one film that qualifies as a comedy, since I’m usually stone-faced at comedies, but this was hilarious.
Now, note it is campy funny, with Frankie Grande being a straight-up scene stealer with his one-liners and really playing up being a flamboyant gay person. However, Reggie was also hilarious, and the horror element, regarding Sylvia, led to jump scares and, honestly, “Summoning Sylvia” was just one of the rare times I can think of a horror comedy that could balance both elements of each genre and execute it well.
Kristin is rightfully in need of a midlife crisis. She hates her job filled with misogynistic men; her husband is a loser, and the one good male in her life, her son, is off to college. So when her grandfather dies, and she inherits a mafia family and business, she goes from a suburban mom working in marketing to the head of a major crime family, which is on the brink of war.
I feel that Toni Collette is similar to Meryl Streep, where the movie can have the worst description and make you question how it got financing and her performance justifies it. This is definitely one of those cases for watching Collette adjust to Italy, her mob family, the violence, and the opportunity for sex; it is like reading or listening if you are into audiobooks, the type of novels that people who genuinely love to read would find.
Also, this film is good because it doesn’t push towards being two hours and has a quick pace and violence to keep you entertained, even when the comedy gets a bit corny.
On Our Way
Henry and David have been trying to get Henry’s first film, “The Lost Boys of South Fork,” based on Henry’s life, made for over six years. With David’s dad being willing to finance, it has made traction, and then with Henry meeting Rosemary, who stars in it, it seems like this will finally become all the duo dreamed of.
However, with David’s dad trying to assert creative control and some of Henry’s repressed memories being dug up, what started as a joyful adventure may push Henry into some dark and destructive places.
What really put this on the list is that Rosemary and Henry’s relationship has actual chemistry. I’m talking secondhand butterflies, a little dose of envy type of chemistry where the two actors, as they are playful and just hanging out, create something which doesn’t feel like a pedestal-level romance but something obtainable and real.
Then, on top of that, while Henry has issues, he is written and performed on such a tightrope that you will be surprised that he never becomes draining or frustrating to watch. Especially because this has the look and feel of an artsy film, with its indie or alternative pop, yet it never veers towards being boring or pretentious. It is just a hidden gem that, hopefully, our mentioning of it may lead to at least one additional person seeing it.
In many ways, it seems Hae Sung and Nora Moon (formerly Na Young) are soul mates who, in their current life, just keep having bad timing. But, after a 12-year absence, Hae Sung visits Nora, who is married at this point, and as they reconnect and Nora remembers everything Hae Sung represents, there is the question of whether this will once again be a moment of bad timing or will she throw away the life she has built up to remodel the one she keeps leaving behind?
Past Lives presents a really complicated romance, but rather than the cycle existing because of something toxic or because of proximity, it’s about connection. Nora and Hae Sung hold space for one another. Hae Sung is Nora’s connection to Korea, and Nora is Hae Sung’s trigger to remember there was a time in life when he wasn’t on autopilot.
The combination presents a very different kind of romance, and while Nora’s husband Arthur complicates things, there is no denying that Nora and Hae Sung can set a precedent in your mind on what love is.
Josie and PJ are lesbians bound for college, and before they graduate high school, they want to hook up with their crushes. The problem is that they are not popular on the social spectrum, and their crushes are some of the hottest people in school. One is even off and on dating the quarterback. But, by starting a fight club, they hope to attract hot girls whom they can wrestle and touch alongside their crushes.
Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri are the type of comic duo you will badly hope are constantly reconnecting and working with one another. As individuals, you know Sennott loves to play chaotic characters who are scene stealers, and who better to balance someone like that than Ayo, who gives nervous energy that somehow feels grounding?
And in terms of “Bottoms,” I think it’s the type of queer comedy that isn’t trying to be a female version of “Superbad” or try to excuse what does happen by talking about what men could get away with; it completely carves its own lane, and it is such a shame between the actors and writers strike, we didn’t get to see this promoted as it deserved to be.
Ria has aspirations to be a stunt woman, and while her older sister Lena has paused pursuing being an artist, her deciding to be something out of the norm in their desi family was the inspiration Ria needed. However, as Lena seems to resign herself to marrying someone, Ria gets jealous and suspicious and even discovers something nefarious is going on.
I genuinely thought “Polite Society” could have been a sleeper hit. It’s a comedy with minor sci-fi elements and a lead who has notable charisma, and honestly, it seemed like something I could imagine Netflix snatching up and making a huge hit. Never mind, between the sister dynamic in Ria and Lena, the action scenes, how much it presents Pakistani Muslim culture, and how Raheela, Lena’s future mother-in-law, was performed and written? It had everything one could want.
For Juneteenth, a group of friends who met in college go to a cabin out in the woods to reconnect, only to find themselves hunted by a serial killer who forces them to play a game that challenges and questions how Black everyone on that trip is.
First and foremost, we appreciate that there is logic when it comes to its horror elements. Is a noise or weird thing happening over there? Someone may grab a weapon, but they are not investigating. That, on its own, makes this notable regarding the horror element. But the comedy is where “The Blackening” really hits it out of the park.
Beyond just making it clear the Black experience isn’t a monolith, it’s also the poking and prodding of what it means to be Black, what some find acceptable, and then there are the jabs everyone throws at each other. It truly feels like a friend group reunited, and everyone came for a good time.
You’ll Never Find Me
On a dark and stormy night, a young woman somehow finds her way into a gated trailer park community and decides to knock on Patrick’s door. Out of courtesy, he lets her in, but there comes a question in time: after the storm is over, who may come out?
I feel like build and tension aren’t utilized enough in horror or thriller-type movies. It has become so much about gore and shock value, sometimes in the form of jump scares or campy comedy, that actually instilling prolonged fear and making the audience feel uncomfortable has become forgotten. “You’ll Never Find Me” taps into the stoic pool and, in this two-person film, reminds you of why stranger danger was taught to so many and how your own prejudice, your gut, while sometimes unreliable, shouldn’t be ignored.
According to ComingSoon.net, this will premiere on Shudder sometime this year (2024)
“Beth” is a peer crisis hotline worker who plans to take a sabbatical. She has been doing the job for a few years, and the pandemic really put a strain on her mental health. What viewers watch is her last shift featuring a cop, a veteran, a newly unemployed teacher, and a few others.
When it comes to most films, casting feels important not just because of the talent of the performers but also because of name and face recognition towards ticket sales, rentals, and streaming. That’s why, even with someone as recognizable as Tessa Thompson and Steve Buscemi directing, “The Listener” is a risk. But it is one that immensely pays off for Thompson as both a medium and as Beth delivers one of the best performances of the year.
Which is why it sucks that this still doesn’t have distribution, despite initially premiering at the 2022 Venice Film Festival, though we’re counting it as a 2023 film since we saw it at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2023.
This Isn’t Publicly Available, And I’m Unsure When It Could Be
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