This is a live list where I rank the movies of 2023. If something isn’t on the list, I haven’t seen it. Leave your comments and we’ll talk. I give a lot of weight to scope, scale, and depth. If a movie is higher than you expect, it probably did one or all of those things very well. If it’s lower, well, it probably frustrated me.
Rankings: updated 4/18/23
- Beau is Afraid
- Scream 6
- Creed III
- Cocaine Bear
- Knock at the Cabin
- Infinity Pool
- The Pale Blue Eye
- Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
- You People
Not For Me
Really Not For Me
BEAU IS AFRAID
Beau is Afraid will be pretty divisive. Even walking out of the advanced screening to my car, I heard people praising it and others enraged by it and even more simply befuddled into apathy. Me? Chris is impressed.
I love Brazil by Terry Gilliam. A Kafkaesque future dystopia where one guy ends up crushed by the system. I love Weekend by Jean-Luc Godard. An insane French New Wave film that gets into the thin morality of civilization and how easy it is for decorum to cease to exist. I love Mulholland Drive by David Lynch. Another outrageous film. It tears apart the idea of the Hollywood dream and shows how ruinous it can be for someone’s mind, body, and soul.
I feel like Ari Aster also has to love these movies and that Beau is Afraid is the closest thing American cinema has had to Brazil, Weekend, and Mulholland Drive in decades. Except Beau is Afraid is grander than all of them. More audacious. And maybe slightly more flawed? But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I’m actually really happy Aster went with something this ambitious. Hereditary was daring but ultimately a pretty small movie. Midsommar scaled up a bit but was still quite contained in terms of locations, cast, events, etc. Both are genre films that cleave close to expected narrative beats. Beau is Afraid is Aster leaving the safety of genre and getting into the endless jungle of multi-dimensional fiction. It’s intense. It’s hilarious. Scary. Confounding. Long. But such an immense commentary on modern society and guilt and grief.
Beau‘s 3-hour runtime has me thinking about Babylon (also 3 hours) and Damien Chazelle’s focus on capturing what was. The distant but still relevant past of Hollywood. An era that’s shaped so much of our modern world. At the end, Chazelle does bridge the gap between then and now. Which finally adds a timeless quality to what we saw. It becomes a pattern that Hollywood will repeat rather than simply a history lesson. Even then, though, it’s still about back then. There’s a very different energy to Beau is Afraid. Instead of “then” and specifically Hollywood. It’s now and the entire world. A bleak and terrifying world. Beau has good reason to be afraid. And Aster suggests, quite emphatically, that maybe we all do.
You can view that as demoralizing or cynical. But I actually think there’s something quite beautiful about it? In the sense that by being able to identify with Beau, we might not feel so alone or scared? Because his journey is so hyperbolic and exaggerated, it makes the regular world feel a bit less dramatic in comparison. It reminds us there’s still hope. We’re not as weighted down as Beau. Not as frazzled, hopeless, or damaged. We still have a chance to be okay. To row, row, row our boat through the storm.
I had no idea what to expect. This is the last weekend Scream 6 is in theaters and I haven’t heard anyone say anything about it. Good or bad. No news seemed like bad news so my expectations were very very low. In preparation for Scream 6, I spent the last week watching every Scream. I saw the first one when I was kid, after it came out on VHS. Yeah, VHS. 1997. I never saw the others because they looked kind of cheap? Schlocky? But I’ve thought highly of the original Scream since day one. Now that I’ve gone through the whole franchise…yeah. I mean, I loved Scream 2 more than Scream. So that was nice to find out. But 3, 4, and 5 left me kind of sad. They all had good ideas and strong moments. It just didn’t feel like they ever came together.
But Scream 6. Wow. The subversion! The opening scene was awesome. There were some serious set pieces in this. A much stronger sense of micro-narrative and how powerful it is to chain them together. The opening date. The scene back at the apartment. The convenience store. The second apartment showdown. The Gale sequence. Stellar micro-narrative after stellar micro-narrative.
Cast was great. Visuals were great. The idea of turning Scream into a full-blown bigger budget franchise…worked. Like, it really worked. It’s a long way from a small-time horror film. But there are so many of those these days. What we don’t have is a lot of big budget terrifiers. This was creative, cool, thrilling. I was into everything it was doing.
The only issue I kind of had was the logic of the Ghostfaces. Like…that’s a lot of suspension of disbelief lol. All of them are murderous psychos? To be fair, though, that’s kind of the theme of Sam’s story. How much does family influence you? Do you have to be like them? Or can you be independent? Which also ties in with the drama between Sam and Tara. Okay. I’m talking myself into it.
I’m excitedly looking forward to Scream VII.
I wanted to be the biggest fan of 65. Dinosaur movies are awesome and we don’t get enough of them. You would think after Jurassic Park that there would be a run of dinosaur movies like the 2000s run of zombie movies. Alas. So here I’ve just been waiting DECADES for another competent dinosaur film. So when the trailer for 65 came out, I was overjoyed.
Unfortunately, 65 did not win me over. It did not come close to winning me over. It’s a strange amalgamation of Gravity, Predator, Jurassic Park, and Big Daddy. One second, Adam Driver and Ariana Greenblatt are running for their lives from marauding, carnivorous dinosaurs. The next, they’re in the middle of a 90s family dramedy. I wish 65 would have picked a lane and really committed. Like you don’t get the emotional journey of Gravity, you get a mention of grief. Predator gives you a game of cat and mouse. 65 is just a series of hollow moments with throwaway dinosaurs. Jurassic Park makes the dinosaurs feel like a spectacle. In 65 they’re merely obstacles (though if you want to make an argument they symbolize grief, go ahead). Big Daddy gives you room for the parent-child dynamic to develop and become meaningful over a period of time. 65 is less than a day.
It was just a very awkward movie. Some good ideas. Some great CGI. But a lot of narrative decisions that should have never made it through the editing process.
My wait for the next great dinosaur movies continues.
I love the Creed franchise. The first film had such a high hurdle to clear and did so. Then the second Creed had to live up to the hype of the first one. And, once again, did. So I went in to Creed III in a bit of a forgiving mood. Just entertain me. That’s all I wanted. Thankfully, I was very entertained. I appreciated the flourish that Michael B. Jordan brought as a director. There were subtle things with blocking and longer shots and, of course, the much-discussed anime inspiration for the fights. They added some vitality to the film and prevented it from falling into stale, efficiency filmmaking. That made me happy.
But the real star of the show was Jonathan Majors. Dude is on another level. He made everyone in Quantumania seem silly and stole every scene. Jordan and Tessa Thompson hold their own with Majors, but Majors is just so incredibly charismatic. I haven’t been this excited about the potential of an actor for a number of years. Maybe since I saw Thompson in Dear White People at Sundance in 2014.
I do think Creed III was missing one other gear. It was patient and thorough for the first two acts and really built up the character dynamics. But the last act felt rushed. The decision to fight. The training. The fight itself. Some of the breakthroughs Adonis had also came off a little less earned than the previous films. Also, the characterization for Dame fell off. I think the better version of Creed III spends more time with a post-championship Dame and how he’s adjusting and really leans into the mess of emotions he had to be feeling. There’s some 2.5 hour cut of this film that’s amazing. As is, it’s just pretty good. I could even see a version of the story where Dame beats Adonis and the 4th movie is Adonis figuring out what it takes to beat Dame.
Regardless, a strong entry into the franchise. Even a fitting end, if it is the end.
Cocaine Bear is exactly what you think it will be. No more. No less. It’s of a much higher quality than Sharknado. So the floor here is pretty good. I’d say I liked it better than Snakes on a Plane? Really, Cocaine Bear is the exact experience I wanted from M3GAN but didn’t get. So it was nice to finally have some campy, ridiculous fun. Weirdly, I keep thinking about Cocaine Bear as kind of a Bullet Train-lite. Broad cast of characters stuck in the same location and forced to interact with some stylization and a wild conceit. It’s just not as bombastic or dynamic as Bullet Train. For better and for worse. Better in the sense that Cocaine Bear isn’t overreaching. It’s a lot more efficient. Worse in that you have the sense it could have done a bit more. Cocaine Bear kind of peaks with the Margo Martindale subplot. It’s never quite as creative or interesting after that finishes.
One reason I liked this movie is that I could just imagine Elizabeth Banks laughing loudly at a bunch of different moments. Cocaine Bear feels very on brand for her. Alden Ehrenreich definitely needs to be in more things. He’s very watchable. It’s always nice to see O’Shea Jackson Jr., too. As much as Cocaine Bear wants us to care about Keri Russell and her daughter, O’Shea’s kind of the heart of the film. Oh, and Brooklyn Prince seems extremely talented. Her and Christian Convery were scene stealers.
It was a bit strange that by the end of the movie we’re supposed to root for the bear. I mean, I did. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just kind of like if at the end of Jaws suddenly the shark were the hero. A bit of a tonal clash. But Cocaine Bear is weird enough that it kind of works. Especially because it’s such a Popeye moment.
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA
I liked Quantumania better than Thor: Love and Thunder and maybe better than Multiverse of Madness? But those are two very low bars. Honestly, if Quantumania was just Jonathan Majors talking for 2 hours, it would be the best movie of 2023. But since it’s not just Jonathan Majors talking, it’s not the best movie of 2023.
Majors was in an entirely different movie than everyone else. It was funny. Because in Infinity War, I felt like Thanos had such “I’m him” energy that all the other characters were small in comparison. It was awesome. Exactly what you want from the big bad. With Quantumania, it’s not that Kang is so much more intimidating than everyone else. It’s that Jonathan Majors out-acts the rest of the cast. Don’t get me wrong—they were all great. But they didn’t have that it-factor Majors brought to his scenes.
So I had fun with the characters. Even poor Corey Stoll as M.O.D.O.K. But f***ing hell. The writing was so bad. There’s no gravity to anything. The plot just rolls out like it’s on an assembly line. Things happen when they need to happen and sometimes bizarre things happen for no real reason other than to add a sense of flavor. It’s less a story than it is a collection of distractions that amount to almost nothing. The only semblance of character journey is Cassie having a coming of age subplot. Hank gets to hang out with ants. Janet reveals she has a lot of guilt. Hope energy blasts. Scott loves his daughter. What a story…
I genuinely loved the MCU from Iron Man through Endgame. It wasn’t always perfect. It had missteps. Bad movies. But there was a stretch where I really thought they had figured out the perfect tone of mostly serious with some fun thrown in and some thoughtful stories. But Phase 4 was like watching the Titanic hit the iceberg. There’s been such a shift to “Let’s have fun and not worry too much about what’s happening and why!” that I legitimately am shaking my head thinking about how dumb the MCU has become. Phase 5 isn’t starting any better. Hopefully Guardians Vol. 3 is less painful.
OH! JUST LET PEOPLE WEAR HELMETS AND MASKS. My god. If you take a drink every time someone puts their mask/helmet on then takes it off within 20 seconds, you’d be in the hospital. It’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever witnessed. If it’s supposed to be meta humor, it didn’t land that way. And if it wasn’t supposed to be meta humor, is there no one to say: “Hey, maybe this happens a bit too much?” I’ll do it. Kevin Feige, hire me. I’ll be the one to say, “No. Stop that. Do better.”
It’s crazy that this was the 15th M. Night Shyamalan movie. I’ve seen 9.5 of the 15. Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, The Visit, Split, Glass, Old, Knock at the Cabin. And enough of The Last Airbender to last me a lifetime. M. Night is, in terms of quality, such a Magic 8 Ball. You shake the ball, flip it over, and the answer you get will be good, bad, or “reply hazy, try again later”. I still remember watching Unbreakable for the first time and being so absolutely floored with the craftsmanship. Especially during the early sequence on the train. Some of the camera movement was just so exquisite. All these years later, that still feels like the peak. Sometimes there are moments that recall that potential and bravado. Other times, I’m completely flabbergasted by how safe everything is.
Knock at the Cabin lands in a solid mid-to-upper tier for M. Night movies. For me. I’d put Unbreakable, The Visit, and Split in the upper tier. Then Knock at the Cabin and Sixth Sense in tier 2. Then Glass, Signs, Old, and The Village all in the tier of things that disappointed me.
With Cabin, there were a lot of great performances. It was great seeing Bautista have that kind of character and performance. Jonathan Groff is so endearing. I’m ready for Rupert Grint’s second chapter. Kristen Cui is probably getting calls from Marvel for two decades worth of movies. Everyone involved really impressed me. And M. Night was definitely being creative with the camera work and cinematography. So on a scene by scene basis, I was interested, engaged, and appreciative. I cared about the characters and their choices.
But the story left me wanting. It’s not that what we got was bad. It wasn’t. I wanted more. Everything happening at the cabin had a stage play vibe to it. Which isn’t inherently bad, though it is kind of limiting. Especially when I just believed Leonard and his horsemen from the beginning. At that point, you’re waiting around for Eric and Andrew to accept things. That drags the energy down a lot because it makes the entire middle portion nothing more than killing time. The twist on the four horsemen was nice, I thought. And I liked that it was a home invasion movie where the invaders weren’t bad or evil people and only harmed one another. There was something very humanizing about their struggle.
In so far as improvements, I think you need a secondary plot that’s more interesting than flashbacks. Or what we saw should have been cut down to the first half of the movie. The second half could explore the aftermath of the choice. There are a lot of interesting places to take it. You could go down the vision path a bit more by having Wen and/or Andrew start receiving visions. There’s also the fact that in this world there is some higher power that was going to destroy humanity. What are the implications of that? There could have been an opposing group who wanted humanity to end so was chasing down the family to eradicate them. One of them could still be hunting Andrew and Wen. Or even starting the movie with the four horsemen having their visions and coming together and all the cabin stuff being the second portion of the film. I think that version is potentially far more dynamic.
So. I’m happy that Knock at the Cabin was as interesting as it was, but it frustrates me because I think it had the potential to be much better. I’ll forever point to Cabin in the Woods as a movie that absolutely understood how escalation works and three acts and just taking things as far as you can. I wish more movies did that.
Infinity Pool is almost there. I just thought it was a little shallow. There are feints at themes around identity and self-empowerment. But I don’t think the character journey is very rewarding or cathartic. I keep thinking about Infinity Pool versus something like Neon Demon or even Brandon Cronenberg’s father’s Crimes of the Future. I think those films have similar styles but say what they want with a bit more conviction and confidence. Don’t get me wrong. I love subtext and subtly. So this isn’t a case of “I want things spelled out.” It’s that I don’t think there’s enough meat on the bone. It felt more like an hour-long episode of Black Mirror that got stretched to two hours and didn’t earn that runtime. Infinity Pool is one of many movies that I think is missing its third act.
For example, “Only through blood can you release your past” is something that’s told to James Foster a number of times. And we crescendo with him finally confronting himself. But to what end? What does releasing the past mean for him? What does he gain from it? Who does he become after doing it? Is it actually beneficial or a lie? The last few minutes of Infinity Pool just seek refuge in the implication of something meaningful. The story isn’t told. It would be like if Star Wars: A New Hope ended with the Rebel forces leaving to attack the Death Star. Or if 2001: a Space Odyssey ended with Dave shutting down HAL then seeing the alien monolith in the distance. It’s not enough. But that’s the hardest thing to do in storytelling. To go the last mile when you’ve already gone so far. That last mile is what makes all the difference.
With that said. There are really interesting concepts. And Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgård are terrific. The filmmaking aesthetic also stood out to me. I got a strong sense of identity and voice. Something I don’t feel like I get enough of these days. So that was good. It just was a tad bit indulgent. The prose-like camera was really interesting for the first hour. Then grew a bit superficial/repetitive in the second hour. B roll footage presented as meaningful.
Infinity Pool gives me hope that Brandon will deliver something special. But this felt too much like someone still figuring it out.
I’m a big fan of romantic comedies. But I feel like it’s been years and years since we’ve gotten a good one. The last that really impressed me was Set It Up from 2018. That’s 5 years since I’ve seen a new romcom I truly enjoyed. So I had high hopes for You People. Alas. I mean…there are good things there. The core dynamic between Jonah Hill and Laura London is fantastic. For the first 30 minutes of the movie, I was charmed and invested and happy. Then it just becomes a series of awkward, negative encounters that kind of rush by without any real consequence until the very end. I didn’t feel like I was getting a story that relied on the characters. Rather, it was like the characters were in service to a string of gags and commentary. Eddie Murphy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus have such an enormous bearing on the plot but barely have any development.
So the story ends up in this weird place where it’s not really about Amira and Ezra anymore but about what Shelley and Akbar do to Ezra and Amira. When you finally get the breakthrough, it’s not something the main characters figure out. Akbar changes because his brother, EJ, lectures him. Shelley at least evolves because of what Amira said to her, but the evolution is entirely off screen and within the last 5 minutes. We go from her at her worst to a 3 month break to suddenly Shelley being normal after an entire movie where she was anything but.
Despite all of that, I was still going to put You People in the neutral category. Until the wedding. Amira and Ezra don’t see each other for 3 months. Shelley and Akbar trick them into showing up at the same place at the same time. We get the big apology/breakthrough. Clearly Ezra and Amira still love each other. We assume they’ll pick up where they left off. Seems like an okay place to end. But then the doors open and it’s all their friends and family gathered for a wedding. Imam and Rabbi are there. Look at that!
I’d expect something that ridiculous from a Hallmark movie. But from Jonah and Kenya Barris? It blew me away. Like…I get it. It’s a movie. It’s heightened. It was never about utter realism. The wedding is fun and captures the energy of the moment. It just reads to me like a choice made completely out of a desire for efficiency. “Oh, we want to have the wedding. Except we kind of wrote ourselves into a corner. We could go back to the drawing board with the entire third act and set this up better. But what if we just have the parents surprise reconnect them at a surprise wedding and hope no one thinks too critically about the plot construction?”
It will probably be a completely fine choice for some people. Not for me though. And that’s my big thing with You People. It doesn’t feel like I’m watching a story, so much as witnessing a bunch of story beats.
THE PALE BLUE EYE
What a weird movie. I knew absolutely nothing about it. So imagine my surprise when Edgar Allan Poe is a main character. There could be a cool factor to that? But it rattled me. I couldn’t take anything that happened seriously. Especially once Poe started reciting poetry to people. It’s an idea that maybe could work? But I wasn’t a fan, for similar reasons, of the 2012 movie The Raven. Maybe one day someone will get it right and I’ll applaud them for making me appreciate the use of Edgar Allan Poe. Don’t get me wrong, I love EAP. Movies based on his work? I’m in. But movies that blend his work and him? Eh.
Pale Blue Eye has some style. I could appreciate its use of setting. The chill of winter that permeates the cinematography. Christian Bale is always fascinating. But the story left me wanting. It’s a more traditional whodunit than Glass Onion, which I kind of appreciated. From the beginning, though, I was kind of rolling my eyes at the use of exposition and dialogue. It’s one of those movies that I’m sure will hit the mark for some people and have its cult followers. A few right moves away from being good yet unique enough to surprise and carve out a niche. I guess that’s probably where I see the most value? Is that it does feel stylistically apart from the average 2020s film. I respect that.
I really liked the premise of M3gan and went in rooting for it to be something special. As a horror, thriller, slasher film, it’s aggressively average. As a meditation on grief and the relationship between people and technology—there’s a lot to like. But the film never really lets loose. The goofiest it gets is the hallway dance that was featured in every trailer. So you’re not getting cult movie bedlam that’s over the top like, say, Cabin in the Woods or Barbarian or Tusk.
M3gan is more serious than those. More in the vein of 2020’s The Invisible Man. Except Invisible Man fully leaned into the uniqueness of its premise and had some awesome scenes that were only possible given its “monster”. M3gan is essentially bland in how it utilizes the Megan character in terms of horror. Her confrontation with the neighbor? Generic horror kill. The confrontation with a child bully? Involves a creepy run but nothing else. The confrontation with Funki CEO David? It’s the dance then a generic “blade through the chest”. At the very end, in the final confrontation with Gemma (Allison Williams), more of the robotic element comes into play. But there’s nothing unique that Megan does that a generic movie monster couldn’t. The final robotic elements are just flashy aesthetic moments that check some horror-trope boxes.
“Okay, Chris. Give us an example of leaning into the premise.” Sure!
The movie often has Megan controlling electronic equipment. She casually turns off the Funki HQs security system. She drives a car by manipulating its computer. She hacks Gemma’s home AI. She intercepts cell phone calls. Having this kind of power over computers/electronics could have been utilized in a way that’s dynamic and interesting when it comes to the horror aspect. But it’s never explored. There’s so much potential left on the table that the climax was, for me, totally lackluster. There’s potential for the sequel to find its groove. But this first one is succeeding on concept alone. To be fair, it’s a great concept and I hope the filmmakers figure it out.
I will once again shout out the thematic work. I do think it’s making a poignant statement on the need for human interaction.