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Linda’s Best of 2023

Our Rating

What a strange year! Hollywood had a most unexpected high, where crowds flocked to theaters for the unlikely blockbuster double-feature of Barbie and Oppenheimer, that was almost immediately followed by a months-long screenwriters and SAG-AFTRA strikes that had movie production and promotion screeching to a halt. While some big films got punted to 2024 (I’m looking at you, Dune 2), a slew of films poured into theaters at the end of the year as soon as the ink dried on the new contracts and folks got back to work. It’s been interesting to see that year-end critics awards don’t have consensus, which means there were a lot of great movies and performances this year. So let’s get to it!

MY TWO FAVORITES

All of Us Strangers – A gorgeous, heartbreaking fantasy, this film had me sobbing into my sweatshirt. Andrew Scott is outstanding as Adam, a lonely screenwriter with writer’s block, who starts up a relationship with seemingly the only other resident of his London apartment tower (the lovely Paul Mescal). The romance counters with Adam revisiting his past, as he shows up at his childhood home to find his parents (Claire Foy and Jamie Bell) alive and well, frozen in time at the age where they died in a car crash when Adam was 12. Did you ever wish you could have a new conversation with someone you lost? To let them meet the you that you became? This film is so lovely, and it absolutely wrung me out. (In theaters)

The Zone of Interest – It is the lack of emotion that is so shocking in this stunning film (as in, this movie left me stunned). A family lives in a nice house with a nice yard, and is the picture of domesticity. The husband puts on his uniform and walks out of the garden gate each morning to go to work, while the wife runs the house with the nanny and the other household help scuttling around, keeping their kids out of trouble. But there is a constant background industrial hum throughout the film. Just on the other side of the garden wall is Auschwitz, and the husband and wife are commandant Rudolf Höss and his wife Hedwig. Everything that this film doesn’t show somehow sears itself into your brain… but it is the sound that will haunt you most. (In theaters)

The Zone of Interest (2023)
The Zone of Interest

Plus some more movies I really liked

The Unknown Country – Lily Gladstone is rightly getting accolades for a certain Scorsese film, but it was this indie film about a woman’s solo road trip that really stuck with me. Gladstone plays Tana, a woman grieving her grandmother for whom she was the sole caretaker. To reconnect with her Oglala Lakota family and to learn more about her grandmother, Tana goes on a journey that takes her from Minnesota to the Dakotas to Texas. The cinematography is gorgeous, as are the documentary-like stories of people that she meets along the way. Truly a lovely film. (Streaming)

The Unknown Country (2023)
The Unknown Country

Barbie – If there was a smackdown between Margot Robbie’s Barbie and a certain haunted-looking physicist, the clear winner for me was the perfect (plastic) woman who suddenly had thoughts about death and the patriarchy. Way more clever and funny than it had any right to be, Barbie was the crowd-pleaser that pleasingly smashed all sorts of box office records. You bet that Hollywood’s Kens are scrambling to try to figure out why this film was such a piece of magic. (Streaming)

The Iron Claw – When Hulk-like wrestler Kevin (a sweet Zac Efron) says his family is cursed, he ain’t kidding. The Von Erich brothers were a real-life iconic family of 80s superstar wrestlers… whom I had never heard of. So when tragic things start happening to the brothers one by one, it’s an unexpected flying kick to the gut. The ensemble cast that also features Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, Stanley Simons, and Holt McCallany is all-around perfect. Let’s just say, this was the other film that made me sob into my sweatshirt this year. (In theaters)

May December – You’d think that a story loosely based on the 30-something female schoolteacher that had an affair with her 12-year-old male student (then later married him when he came of age) would be lurid. But director Todd Haynes profiles the long-married couple (Julianne Moore and Charles Melton, in a star-making turn) as decent folks keeping their heads down, while it’s the visiting actress (Natalie Portman) researching them and their community for a movie role that comes across as the unbalanced creeper. It’s fascinating, disturbing, and sad. (Streaming)

Killers of the Flower Moon – You are not going to feel good watching this devastating drama portraying white men’s greed over the 1920’s Osage Nation’s sudden riches striking oil on their land. But you are also not going to check your watch over the three-plus hours, as Leonardo DiCaprio, under the terrifying thumb of his uncle Robert DeNiro, slowly poisons his lovely Osage wife (Lily Gladstone) to take control of her family’s land rights. (Streaming)

Godland – As strange as it is gorgeous, this film follows a hapless and arrogant Danish priest as he stumbles his way across late 1800s Iceland to establish a new church in a remote area, all the while hauling along cumbersome photography equipment. The film introduces itself by saying it’s inspired by the 7 earliest photos of the region. Whether true or not (it’s not!), it brings to life what-if stories behind the staid, stern-seeming characters in old photos. (Streaming)

Godland (2023)
Godland

Monster / The Teacher’s Lounge – Though the former film is Japanese and the latter German, these two thought-provoking and emotionally-charged films have similar settings: a public school. Upsetting rumors and accusations cause students, teachers, and parents to become rightfully upset about goings-on… but what is the truth? The schools and their immediate orbits are like a physical manifestation of the worst of social media, where clickbait headlines spin out of control destroying lives and reputations, regardless of whether the source is reliable. (In theaters)

Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret? / Judy Blume Forever – Finally, the 12-year-old girl in so many of us can rejoice! After all this time, the classic YA novel of an awkward tween girl getting her period and trying to grow boobs finally came to the big screen, and luckily the result was a sweet as the refreshingly age-appropriate cast! If you want to make a perfect double-feature, also check out the Judy Blume documentary that is so charming that you’ll want the famed author to become your new best friend (like she did in real life to many struggling kids over the decades). (Streaming)

Some other things I loved…

Barbenheimer!
If you squint your eyes and take a half step back, it’s a bit offensive, really, making a movie-going event around a double-feature of a cotton candy movie based on a girls’ toy and a physicist who became Death, the destroyer of worlds. It’s in such bad taste that it was brilliant, really, making Barbenheimer the movie date of the summer. I loved the earnest discussion of which movie to see first (have your sobering, important meal of Oppenheimer first, take a break to think about the destructive forces of mankind, then follow it with the sugary, but surprisingly empowering feminism of Barbie). I loved that the studios leaned into it. I loved the cosplay. I loved the memes. And I loved that crowds made both films explosive (no pun intended) summer smashes.

Barbenheimer!
Barbenheimer!

SIFF taking over the Cinerama in Seattle!
I wasn’t there in person to hear the announcement at the Opening Night of the Seattle International Film Festival in the spring, but I’m sure I probably would have cried with happiness. The iconic Cinerama theater had been shuttered for years, as generic high rises and developments sprung up around it, so it was a glorious, glorious thing when the most obvious (and most hoped for) thing happened: SIFF, along with funding from the city and county, took over the beloved theater and reopened it in December as SIFF Cinema Downtown. The crowds attending Wonka over opening weekend were sooo happy to be there, smiles all around, and chocolate popcorn was again on the menu! Hoorah! Let’s just say, I know I’m not the only one still calling it the Cinerama…. SIFF-erama, anyone?

SIFF Cinema Downtown
SIFF Cinema Downtown and the amazing chocolate popcorn!

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  1. Just glad I know you.

    OK, ridiculous rating, but I’ve come to rely on you for movies to watch. Nothing more than that. Thanks.

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