Home Entertainment Beneath the Best Films of 2023

Beneath the Best Films of 2023

By Ed Boitano

The point is not to direct someone, but to direct oneself. – Robert Bresson

1Killers of the Flower Moon was Robbie Robertson’s final soundtrack for director Martin Scorsese. The founding member, main composer and lead guitarist of the rock group, The Band, scored the film shortly before his death, and Scorsese dedicated the film to him. Killers of the Flower Moon closed with the Osage song, Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People), composed by Osage Nation Tribal Members, Scott George, Kenny Bighorse, and Vann Bighorse. Roberston felt that the music of the Osage is the best display of their extraordinary quest for survival. Robertson, who is both a tribal member of the Cayuga and Mohawk Nations and a Canadian of Jewish ancestry, was the music producer on over ten earlier Martin Scorsese films. Rest in peace, Robbie. You gave us the history of many forgotten artists, some dead and gone, and endowed us through your own songs and music in understanding the roots of rock and roll.

Dominic Sessa, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Paul Giamatti in Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers.

2 Paul Giamatti’s lazy eye in Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers was an artificial one, a blinding contact lense worn throughout the film. His portrayal of a despised classics teacher at a small New England boarding school with a distracting case of amblyopia, a type of poor vision that usually happens in just one eye, was intended to represent his low self-esteem, alienation and desire for solitude. Later, in the film, Giamatti’s teacher is instructed to chaperone the only student, an unruly one (breakout star, Dominic Sessa) left at the school during a lonely, snow-covered Christmas break. Neither are fond of one another, but eventually the lazy eye begins to illustrate the positive development of their relationship, when the student asks which eye he should look at when they are speaking, symbolizing a sign of respect between the two.

3 Past Lives is the directorial debut of South Korean-Canadian-American film director, playwright, and screenwriter, Celine Song. Song wrote the screenplay for Past Lives about two childhood friends with puppylove feelings for one another in Seoul, South Korea, who reunite 24 years later in New York. The reunion becomes complicated and soul searching when the now adult man realizes his former South Korean girlfriend has an American husband. Song based the film on her own life experiences when her South Korean family moved to Ontario, Canada when she was 12-years-old. Past Lives was selected as best picture of 2023 by The National Society of Film Critics.

Alma Pöysti and ‎Jussi Vatanen meet, but not particularly cute, in Aki Kaurismäki’s Fallen Leaves.
Behind them is a movie poster of David Lean’s Brief Encounter.

4 After too long of an absence, Finland’s Aki Kaurismäki, returned to the cinema with Fallen Leaves, his 20th full-length film and a continuation of his Proletariat series. Highly influenced by Robert Bresson, Kaurismäki is best known for his minimalistic style, with an unblinking camera that seldom moves, rock and roll and characters without displays of emotion; who are usually left alone, facing tragedies and setbacks, yet never give up and eventually survive. Kaurismäki’s visual theme continues in Fallen Leaves, where a Helsinki single woman is fired from her zero-hour contract supermarket job for distributing expired food items still on the shelves to the poor. She meets an equally lonely and depressed manual laborer who is frequently fired for drinking on the job. Fallen Leaves is billed as a dramatic rom-com, but it’s important to note that it is a Finnish dramatic rom-com of the Kaurismäki kind.

5 In Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros, the patient camera of 93-year-old documentary film director, Frederick Wiseman, photographs a passionate debate between head chefs at a three Michelin stars French restaurant, a restaurant which has been run by the same family for four generations. It is an important debate, for it’s about the truth in the texture, color and depth of flavor in food. In another moment, an heir apparent son is emotionally shaken when his chef father changes a sauce which he’d spent three weeks creating. Later, Wiseman’s three-person documentary team visits a cold storage cave, and finds that each of the stored cheese has its own moment of truth.

6 The year 2023 proved to be a stellar one for German female actor, Sandra Hüller, where she appeared in two very different films, playing two very different characters. In The Zone of Interest, she was the wife of Nazi commandant Rudolf Höss, who lived with her family in a cottage and palatial grounds on the other side of the wall from the Auschwitz concentration camp; and in Anatomy of a Fall, another kind of wife, on trial for murdering her husband. Her body language in both is profound: In Zone, lumbering, almost vulgar, without any form of ambiguity; and in Anatomy, initially wounded, then strong, outraged and upright with conviction.

Emma Stone as Bella in Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things.

7 In Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos’ high-concept, absurdist black comedy, Poor Things, the narrative follows Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), a young woman in Victorian London who is reborn through a brain transplant and embarks on an odyssey of self-discovery. A veteran of Lanthimos’ 2018 film, The Favourite, Stone’s body language is nothing less than remarkable, where she whirls and twirls throughout the film, a combination of a ballerina and a contortionist. But the sound of her smoky voice required little acting; as an infant, Stone suffered from infantile colic – defined as episodes of crying for more than three hours a day, for more than three days a week, after three weeks in an otherwise healthy child – and consequently developed nodules and calluses on her vocal cords.

8 British Director Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest is his first feature film in ten years, following Under the Skin (2013), Birth (2004) and Sexy Beast (2000). Cautious, cerebal and always in control, Glazer is an auteur whose films are unmistakenly his own. In The Zone of Interest there are two different narratives, a dialectical collision of image and sound. Glazer leaves it to us to find meaning, and, in a sense, invites us to join him as the architect of the film. Film director, critic and theorist Jean-Luc Godard once commented about his own films: You listen to the images and watch the sound.

9 It was not necessary for director Todd Haines to reminds us in interviews that he was influenced by Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and Winter Light in making May December. The film’s visual design had explained that, but it was the literary content by screenwriter Samy Burch, about actress Elizabeth Berry (Natale Portman), researching a role about the still controversial Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Julianne Moore), which helped us understand Haines’ cinematic journey of grief, adultery and ambiguity, with few options for second changes. The narrative is based on the real life, Mary Kay Letourneau, who, at the age of 36, was sent to prison for having sex with 13-year-old Joe Yoo, later giving birth to their first child in confinement. In the film, after Joe, now an adult (in a landmark performance by Charles Melton) and actress Elizabeth have sexual intimacy, Joe abruptly leaves the room when she refers to his experiences as a story, replying that the story is his real life.

Adèle Exarchopoulos and Franz Rogowski take the floor in Ira Sachs’  Passages.

In the opening scene of Ira Sachs’ Passages, German actor Franz Rogowski plays Tomas, an egotistical film director who brazenly controls, frustrates and embarrasses an actor in front of the cast and crew, dictating, over and over again, how to play a simple scene. Later, in Tomas’ own personal life, he becomes frustrated and loses his own emotional control when his husband will not follow his directions on how they should live their life together, after informing him he had a rare sexual liaison with a woman, which evoked hidden feelings inside him. Tomas takes on Shakespearian proportions, filled with doubt, self-loathing and violence.

No doubt, I missed many key performances in 2023; so, T-Boy readers, feel free to send in your favorite list of the best films and performances of 2023, to Ed****@Tr**********.com

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7 Comments

  1. Jerry of Tacoma, in the other Washington

    March 7, 2024 at 5:18 pm

    Happy to see a mention of Paul Giamatti’s performance in The Holdovers. He should have received an Oscar years ago. Also, I’m a big fan of your cartoons. They’re consistently LOLS, and can be thought-provoking.

    Reply

  2. Big Bill

    March 7, 2024 at 5:54 pm

    I’m a pretty big fan of the LOL
    cartoons too. They’re consistently funny, but noticed you guys don’t do political ones. I know that can look like cheap, easy to laugh humor so I respect that. Sorry if there’s a few typos, I’ve been eating a Trump sandwich… stale white bread, baloney and a small pickle for $399… damn, just spilled on my made in China Trump t short.

    Reply

  3. Melinda

    March 7, 2024 at 5:59 pm

    Very funny, Big Bill. Though that’s probably not your real name. We’ll remember what you said when President becomes president again and maga. Don’t forget to lock your door.

    Reply

  4. Ed

    March 7, 2024 at 6:07 pm

    Hey, readers – We very much appreciate all of your comment, regardless if they’re positive or negative. In a sense, it is those comments, which can be rare, that inspires our team to do more. BTW: I currently
    have a T-boy hat on sale for $398.

    Reply

  5. Melinda

    March 7, 2024 at 6:10 pm

    Very funny. Oh, I just forgot to cancel my subscription.

    Reply

  6. Ed

    March 7, 2024 at 6:25 pm

    Thanks as always for your comments, Melinda. And, yes, please keep ’em comin’.

    Ed

    Reply

  7. Raoul

    May 10, 2024 at 8:14 am

    I just watched Holdovers. What a great film. Great cast. Great acting. Great story.

    Excellent 70s setting that reminded me of my younger days.

    I want a sequel!

    Thanks for your suggestion. Otherwise, I might have skipped this.

    Reply

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