Last year was a great year for both the big and the small screen. As you may know, I am all about the story. Pretty pictures might be all good and well, but a bad story usually leaves me disgruntled (here’s looking at you Way of Water).
Note that this is based on my personal preference (I can be very picky, sorry everyone). Also, I only consider things that I have watched (obviously). Please let me know if you agree or not in the comments.
I’ll try to keep it brief with five items per category (plus some honorable/dishonorable mentions).
Top Five Movies of 2023
First, to the big screen! These are the movies that I enjoyed the most last year. Note that some may have first screened the year before (2022), but I count them as I only got around to watching them in 2023.
5 – Killers of the Flower Moon
Truly an epic of the kind they don’t make any more. Yes, the movie felt (slightly) too long for me too, but this did not diminish the moments of cinematic brilliance, narrative tension, and the overall theme of injustice. Truly one of Scorsese’s best!
4 – Asteroid City
I am a big Wes Anderson fan! This is truly one of his greats. The film is a surrealist contemplation of the time we spent in Lock Down. There is a lot in this movie to love with a depth of meaning that I thoroughly enjoy. It is a shame that it was not recognized more during award season.
3 – Wonka
The Gene Wilder version of the Dahl classic is a movie that is close to my heart. It is also one of the first times that I remember reading the book just before seeing it. As such, I was wary of a prequel (as a rule, I am wary of all prequels, actually), but I was pleasantly surprised. This not only does justice to the classic, it enhances it. This story builds towards a portrait of the lonely man that eventually accepts Charlie Bucket. The acting, the production design, and the brilliant songs add up to a must-see experience!
2 – Oppenheimer
I might be a big Wes Anderson fan, but there are few directors whose work I enjoy more than Christopher Nolan. To me, the man is a genius. This is on full display in this film. It avoids the tried and tested tropes of biopics and paints a portrait of a complicated man. The narrative illustrates the birth of a true dread that is still with us today. Truly a masterpiece. Cillian Murphy is a profoundly talented actor – with anyone else, this movie might have failed.
1 – Living
Yes, I know this is a 2022 movie, but it only got to us last year. It is one that will stay with me for a long time – especially that ending. It is a quiet contemplation of what it means to live. It is all about tiny moments in the light. Here we meet a dull, uncaring man stuck in his ways who – eventually – comes to do some good. The good will not last and his actions will not fully redeem him, but in that moment, he lived. Perhaps this is what living is.
This was by far my favorite movie experience of last year.
There are some movies that don’t quite fit in the countdown, but I still want to mention them anyway.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
I am a fan of D&D (I run a game every Friday), but I had low expectations for this movie. D&D adaptations have always been – shall we say – janky, so I had low expectations going into it. I was pleasantly surprised! Well worth a watch, certainly if you want something fun.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
Wes Anderson and Dahl are a beautiful combination. This along with the other Dahl shorts (The Swan, The Rat Catcher, and Poison) this is a truly remarkable story presented in Anderson’s one of a kind style. It truly is a great story. I must mention that the story of Poison is a particularly stunning contemplation of “the dangerous other”. Also, The Swan made me sad in a way I cannot properly articulate. All of these are great achievements in short films.
Bottom Five Movies of 2023
These are the ones I did not like. For some reason they did not connect for me. This is solely my opinion and I do not mean it as an attack on the creators of these works.
5 – Napoleon
Ridley Scott is one of my favorite directors. He made two of my favorite movies of all time, namely Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven (perhaps I should make a list at some point). As such, I thought that this historical biopic would be a sure win with me. Unfortunately, it was not. I can excuse most of the historical inaccuracies (trust me, I usually do not) because the rest of the movie was so dull. The Battle of Austerlitz and the Battle of Waterloo were truly epic – don’t get me wrong. It was everything else that pulled the movie down into a dull waste of time. Mr Phoenix gave a great performance, but I often felt that he had no one to act “off of” – he was alone for most of the movie. It is not until he meets Everett’s Duke of Wellington that I felt he had something to work with. Why could the movie not have been framed by Waterloo interspersed with flashbacks or something?
Unfortunately, this did not do it for me.
4 – The Creator
The visuals were stunning. It felt as if you were living in an amazing series of concept art. However, the story was so alien. Everything was fuzzy and it felt as if it was a bland blend of everything we have seen before. Many of the plot elements jump out of nowhere without the slightest bit of foreshadowing (e.g. the bomb the one team member had in an early mission that places them in danger for no reason). It felt as if this was something regurgitated by an AI – something that none of us should accept. This movie killed a few braincells.
3 – Renfield
This could have been great. The casting was interesting. Frankly, I think that Cage’s Dracula was too good for this silly movie. It is very gory. In fact, the gore is often presented as a punchline to the dude-bro humor. I am sure there are people who find that kind of thing funny, but I am not one of them. This was disappointing and upsetting from start to finish.
2 – A Haunting In Venice
I adore Agatha Christie! I adore Hercule Poirot! To me, he is the greatest literary detective. Also to me, David Suchet’s version of the great detective is by far the best. As such, I did not enjoy Kenneth Branagh’s first two outings as the Belgian sleuth – from his Jacques Torres impression to his overacting moustache, I felt he was taking away from the source material. That being said, I went into this movie with an open mind (i.e. don’t see it as a Poirot, just enjoy it as a murder mystery). Enjoy it, I did not. This is by far the worst entry of Branagh’s franchise. From the flaccid mystery to the misjudged casting of Tina Fey as (British) crime author Ariadne Oliver, nothing worked. This is supposedly “inspired” by A Halloween Party, but little of the source material’s genius makes it into the finished product.
Seriously, find the David Suchet version of A Halloween Party, it still holds up today. It has an actual mystery in it. Also, there is a lot of acting.
1 – Ferrari
This should have been an easy win with me: Ferrari, biopic, cars… But this was worse than a Ferrari pitstop. Most of the movie takes place in under-lit spaces where the actors go to stare at the middle distance. Take it from someone who lives in a country with regular power cuts, this does not add drama, it is just a Tuesday. Someone realized that Driver looks like Mr Ferrari when he is wearing sunglasses (I will give them that, he does), so they decide to make him wear his sunglasses as much as possible – even at night. It feels as if the movie was a spoof of itself (e.g. the crashes were so janky – what were they thinking?). There are also strange anachronisms and historical inaccuracies that serve only to make the experience less enjoyable. I also found this to be the most unbearable role Driver has ever taken, for his Italian accent waxes and wanes along with his comic timing. Perhaps there was nothing for him to work with script-wise. Worst of all, the final scene feels slightly grotesque – what are we meant to feel? Should we feel touched by the fact that he is taking his illegitimate son to go see the grave of the son he will replace? What are we supposed to think?
This was truly the worst movie of 2023 for me.
Bottom TV of 2023
Now for the small screen. Let’s stay with the negativity for a bit (I want to end on a positive note).
5 – Murder at the End of the World
This also should have been an easy win for me. A murder mystery were the rich and powerful are possible culprits – yes please. But, I don’t know, this felt very off. This was a strange, corporate understanding of Gen Z, where everyone is a hacker, social justice warrior, blogger, and yet somehow does not care about the environment… That last one bugged me a little. It also contains a limp asparagus of a romance sub-plot. I love a good murder mystery with sub-themes of social awareness, but this was not that. I get that it was trying to do what Glass Onion did.
4 – Criminal Record
I love the two main actors and I have enjoyed their previous projects (i.e. Devil’s Hour and Deadwater Fell), so I figured that this would be good. I figured wrong. The plot, unfortunately, is rather obvious and the twists and turns are annoying rather than dramatic. There was not enough here to enjoy.
3 – The Mandalorian (Season 3)
I enjoyed the Wild West feel of the first two seasons. I seldom enjoy procedural series nowadays, but there was a lot to say for the “adventure of the week” structure of the first two seasons. Season 3 seemed to forget this. The show lost everything that made it great – so much so that it felt as if our hero was nothing more than a side character. Furthermore, the adventures were (frankly) silly and childish. I highly doubt that I will be coming back for more.
2 – The Witcher (Season 3)
It seems that it is season 3 that is cursed for most of these old favorites. There is a trope that I have spotted that seems to be an omen for a doomed show (please let me know if you’ve noticed it too): in the first few seasons, travel is a big deal, then suddenly, travel happens instantly off-screen. Hear me out: getting from point A to point B is a struggle at first, it might be an important plot element and so forth. Then, when the source material is left behind, we can travel instantly! This happened in the penultimate season of Game of Thrones (look how that ended) and it happened in the first episode of this season of the Witcher.
We get rid of the inconvenience of travel, so now we need new conflict. Hmm. They are in hiding, everyone is fine. Hmm. Conflict… conflict… I know! The tomboyish princess will have a sudden need to go to a masquerade party where the masks are optional! This foreshows the badly manufactured moments of conflict that follow. Sadly, the Witcher peaked in Season 1, Episode 1.
1 – All the Light We Cannot See
The pitch for this story is something that appealed to me. As a fan The Book Thief, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and other such stories, I thought that this would be a perfect fit for me. Sadly, this is an odd show that never lands the tone of its setting properly. A lot of it feels empty and – unfortunately – the plot boils down to a tried-and-tested Macguffin Chase. Sadly, it is wholly predictable and emotionally flat.
Top TV of 2023
Again, this is limited to what I could watch. There were some amazing series last year!
5 – Blue Eye Samurai
As someone who is cautiously anticipating the second season of Arcane, I looked for a show that would fill the animation void in my life. Luckily, there was this show! Stunningly animated and beautifully told, this tale of revenge enchanted me. I enjoyed every minute of it! There are many characters to like and the feminist message is masterfully communicated.
I need more!
4 – The Long Shadow
This is a proper crime drama. Detailing the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, this is a show that takes a fresh approach. Unlike other shows of this nature that follow the killer, this show is about the victims, their circumstances, and the broken system that denied them justice. The killer himself is but a minor part of the narrative. Instead, this is a show about male violence in various forms. The script is masterfully written as it makes us care about the victims in a way that few other shows have managed.
This had a profound impact on me, so much so that I will forever reevaluate my own depictions of violence in prose. Well worth a watch!
3 – Poker Face
As the rest of this post has shown, I like a good whodunit! This show is exactly that. Taking strong inspiration (and paying homage to) classics like Columbo, entertains from start to finish. It is hilarious when it should be and serious when it should be. This show is pure perfection and I enjoyed every single minute of it.
2 – The Last of Us
Of course this is on the list. I adored the game. Video game adaptations often fail and that worried me. However, The Last of Us was something special. I believe that this is down to the showrunners understanding the heart of the story. This is magnificent storytelling that touches you on a deep level. I don’t know of anyone who can get through episode 3 without feeling something.
1 – Slow Horses
The Last of Us would have been my number 1 series of the year if it was not for this show. I have always admired Gary Oldman – he is, in my opinion, one of the most under appreciated actors out there. His role as Jackson Lamb in this show is perhaps his best performance to date. He goes beyond being a wise-cracking grouch – there is great nuance in his performance. Furthermore, this is a fantastic spy thriller that cares about its characters and never underestimates its audience. The show manages pacing and suspense perfectly.
I include all three seasons here as I binged them all towards the end of last year. It is by far the most enjoyable tv experiences of last year.
I liked it so much that I want to pick up all of Mick Herron’s books. A must-watch!
There were many great shows last year. Here are a couple I could not fit into the list.
Good Omens (Season 2)
Excellent continuation to the Pratchett-Gaiman classic of the same name. The series is fun and full of wisdom, just as STP would have wanted it.
I only discovered this gem last year. It is a wonderful comedy series with a lot of heart and clever social commentary. More of this please!
A great post-apocalypse-are-we-being-told-the-truth kind of story. I felt that the first two episodes were the strongest of the series. After that the tension overstays its welcome a tad. Plus, I was slightly disappointed by the fact that I guessed the ending ahead of time. Lots to like about it though.
There we have it. These are the things I loved and hated last year. Do you agree? Are there things I missed? Let me know below.