To me, cinema is not just a slice of life, but a good piece of pie, so said dear old Alfred Hitchcock, whose appetite we could guess from his iconic pot-bellied silhouette and equal passion he had for movies, although I don’t know how he would judge the entertaining business today in 2023.
In the multifaceted landscape of modern cinema, the contrast between auteur and mere entertainment flicks is a constant dialogue between two seemingly distant worlds, yet forced into cohabitation because the big box office of the latter allows the big budgets to produce the former.
So how do we reconcile what we call art with its capacity to stimulate critical thinking and nourish the intellect and the soul with mere entertainment that slakes our natural thirst for evasion from everyday bullshit?
With the rise of streaming and binge-watching (marathons in which you watch multiple hours of programs), the various services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ needed to adapt their strategy and now reason in terms of sequences and series, rather than single stories beginning and ending, also bringing this model to theaters in long multi-episode sagas such as the famous Avengers superhero universe.
Having said that, however, after all, cinema is still cinema. There are always actors, a camera, and a story to tell. Everything else is up to the imagination of those who create it and the open-mindedness of us who watch it.
Because as Led Zeppelin sang, There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west, and my spirit is crying for leaving; meaning many times the journey matters more than the destination, so get ready to board the entertaining train with some of the most enjoyable movies of 2023.
Directed by Elizabeth Banks
Let’s start with an extremely trashy movie but likewise loaded with entertaining energy, welcomed warmly by all horror enthusiasts in early 2023.
What happens when you put a gang of drug dealers, some kids on the run from their mom, and a cocaine-addled bear in the same woods?
Simply a lot of healthy laughter and murder of all kinds since the cocaine in question is thrown out of an airplane at the beginning of the story, and it is this giant brown bear who finds it, gulping it down with relish all in one gulp.
The incident causes the behemoth an immediate addiction, so he sets off at full speed, searching for more bundles of white powder, mercilessly slaughtering anyone who crosses his path.
Unfortunately, two children choose that very day to skip school and go into the same woods, but it is not long before the mother of one discovers them and sets out on their trail.
Of course, every pound of cocaine in this world has a dealer waiting to get his hands on it, so in comes a boss’s henchmen who discover their courier has crashed his plane.
The merry brigade is joined by a nosy detective and the Ranger woman from the national forest, setting the stage for this crazy tale of human and animal greed.
Incredibly, director Elizabeth Banks bases this movie on a true story, we don’t know how faithfully, but with a high entertaining rate for the 2023 horror crowd.
Do I really need to keep talking, or have you not yet been convinced to watch it?
Directed by Robert Rodriguez
We definitely switch between genres to an entertaining movie from 2023 by Robert Rodriguez, already the director of the underrated sci-fi action masterpiece Alita: Battle Angel a few years earlier.
It all begins with lonely Danny Rourke, a cop whose resume includes the routine tragedy of a daughter who disappeared and was never found.
Still reeling from the episode many years later, he investigates a series of robberies behind which is Lev Dellrayne, a man who mysteriously appears at every crime scene, whispering a few words to ordinary citizens, suddenly turning them into ruthless criminals or suicide attackers.
Fortunately, comes to help him the beautiful Diana Cruz, a seemingly small-time psychic medium actually with enormous suggestive mental power, instantly hypnotizing anyone she wants.
She and Dellrayne were former colleagues in a secret agency called The Division, a hypnotist army searching for a myth called Domino, a supposed weapon of total control that would make them rule humanity.
Initially, I found the action scenes in this movie ridiculous and improbable, but be patient: it all makes perfect sense leading up to the second half of the story, where all the cards on the table are finally revealed.
Rodriguez handles the show with style by paying homage to some cult favorites such as Inception or Paycheck, another underrated sci-fi action by the brilliant John Woo that still had Ben Affleck as the lead.
Lots of action, plenty of special effects, and a no-nonsense plot that turns around (for the better) halfway through, so it doesn’t need to hypnotize to entice you to watch.
Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Let’s stay with the intriguing topic, yet with another much cooler and relaxed 2023 movie directed by the exhilarating Guy Ritchie, staging the usual mess of plot and characters but always highly entertaining.
It all begins when the British Secret Service summons the reclusive Orson Fortune, a bizarre agent specialized in impossible missions and binge-drinking high-priced wine at taxpayers’ expense.
To recover a mysterious artifact called The Handle, his boss assembles a team consisting of analyst Sarah Fidel and soldier J.J. Davies, but that’s not enough.
Indeed, to get into the entourage of billionaire smuggler Greg Simmonds, they need another partner: movie star Danny Francesco, of whom the criminal is a die-hard fan.
Unfortunately, crippling their every move are the unpredictable colleagues led by Mike Hook, a mercenary with an obsession to screw Fortune at any cost.
Let’s face it: when Guy Ritchie is involved, the plot is the last thing we care about, because we know the British director punctually takes us on his merry-go-round of unbridled fun.
As usual, the granitic Jason Statham does the heavy work in the action scenes, while we have the gorgeous Aubrey Plaza as the modern Bond girl who is undoubtedly the best revelation in this movie, beautiful, bright, and with razor-sharp irony.
Equally funny is the girl-beloved star Josh Hartnett, here playing the neurotic coward actor we’ll see almost all the time alongside the dashing and histrionic Hugh Grant as a villain who, in the end, isn’t so bad.
It may not be the most innovative movie in cinema history, but the two hours spent watching it fly by in a flash will leave you with a satisfied smile on your lips.
Directed by Chris McKay
Let’s go back to the horror side of cinema with one of the genre’s most illustrious exponents, Count Dracula, although in this case, the protagonist is, as the title suggests, his much less famous personal assistant/slave, the poor Renfield.
Their relationship drags on for decades to the present day, with the servant scrambling to find new victims to feed his intransigent master fresh blood.
Indeed, Dracula draws strength from the pureness of what he drinks, so the vein juice of thugs and criminals fails to heal him completely after the attack of the last surviving vampire hunters.
Now exhausted, Renfield hunts for innocent souls by following a small support group for psychological abuse, hoping to find the pure blood his master so desperately craves.
But coincidentally, he finds his way into the personal warfare of Rebecca Quincy, a young policewoman battling a dangerous criminal gang whose pockets hold all his corrupt colleagues and unrestrainedly swashbuckling through the city.
Increasingly disappointed in his slave, Dracula decides to take matters into his own hands and ally with the criminals for a larger scheme, world domination.
Director Chris McKay does an excellent job introducing the situation and the various characters, with some amusing montages where he alternates between the hallucinated Dracula, played by Nicolas Cage, and the old movies featuring the legendary Bela Lugosi.
Unfortunately, the second half lingers too much in superhero action losing sight of the irony, although young Nicholas Hoult handles the role quite well as the clumsy right-hand man of the Prince of Darkness.
Regardless, it remains a distinctly original retro-flavored entertainment, albeit in a 2013 movie, so it is definitely worth the ticket price.
The Wrath of Becky
Directed by Matt Angel, Suzanne Coote
I want to end with a double movie recommendation, as The Wrath of Becky is a sequel to a little-known 2020 movie, Becky.
In the previous chapter, the 13-year-old protagonist managed to single-handedly take out a gang of Nazis who broke into the lake house where she was on vacation, unfortunately without being able to save her father.
After also losing her mother to illness, she returns to this movie now 16 years old and living under a false identity in a small hamlet in the southern United States.
Once again, her fate is to cross paths with the worst scum of humanity when a trio of thugs shows up at the diner where she works.
After spilling coffee on one of them, they retaliate by breaking into the old lady’s home hosting her, killing her when she slung a shotgun, and fleeing, taking her beloved dog Diego with them.
Becky thus regains her thirst for revenge and sets out for the cabin where these boys are, part of a radical group of terrorists called the Noble Men, engaged in establishing the superiority of men over women.
Now skilled in handling weapons, building traps, and hand-to-hand combat, the little girl will show them all that women are not as helpless as they thought.
Directors Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote give continuity to this little action/horror/comedy saga, albeit dutifully introducing the protagonist to those who missed the first movie, further developing the character.
Equally good is Lulu Wilson, who has grown from a child into a young woman without losing an ounce of her character’s irony and innocent brutality.
For those who remember her face, playing the villain is an unusually villainous Seann William Scott, the eternally horny Stifler from American Pie.