Once again, we have almost finished our long journey around the Sun, and another year is drawing to a close, so it is time to see the best movies along the way this 2023.
I had already anticipated some titles that I particularly enjoyed in one way or another, offering some food for thought to fill your evenings with pure and simple entertainment.
Now, however, I want to talk about what is the most valuable cinema (at least among the movies I have seen) of 2023 that has been full of productions of all kinds at every latitude and longitude on the planet.
I have already read reviews and opinions around that mercilessly crush some of the suggestions I am about to give you, so as usual, you must figure out for yourself whether these kinds of stories, direction, and characters might be of interest to you or don’t waste your time any further.
Very humbly, I’ll put on my excellent goggles as a more refined film critic, and let’s see how much cinematic quality we can milk from these movies, always counting that there’s still a month to go before the end of 2023 and a few more surprises might still come out.
We begin with one of the most original directors of the last 30 years, Wes Anderson, who once again takes us with his well-known retro-flavored color palette inside a crazy drama/comedy in the heart of the American desert.
It is precisely in the remote town of Asteroid City that, for one reason or another, a series of bizarre characters converge: disillusioned photojournalists, half-awake military personnel, demoralized actresses, an entire grieving family, and a caravan of kids who want to enter a science contest.
Amid these houses, all looking the same against the cardboard backdrop of the distant mountains, is the primary local attraction, a vast crater within which is a single stone, all that remains of an asteroid that crashed many years earlier from which the town takes its name.
This strange vacation proceeds through ups and downs for all the characters until an alien lands in the crater one night to take back the fragment and then flies away.
At that point, the military completely seals off the area, and no one can leave or enter anymore, forcing everyone into a prolonged and exasperating forced cohabitation.
Anderson places a stellar cast on a deliberately and poorly disguised movie set, leaving it up to the screenwriter (an entertaining Edward Norton) to introduce the story’s various chapters.
Needless to say, the love for staging is genuinely apt for each of the narrative layers, blending film and theater in cinematography that varies from the usual garish colors to the more refined black and white of old-time television.
What more can you ask for the usual Anderson-style escape from reality?
Beau Is Afraid
Let’s continue the journey through this strange 2023 with another brilliant director who has come to the general public with only a few highly hard-hitting movies in recent years.
We are talking about Ari Aster, one of the brightest minds behind the new modern horror with the impressive Hereditary and Midsommar.
In this case, everything rests on the broad shoulders of the formidable talent of Joaquin Phoenix in the role of this bizarre journey into the soul and darkness of Mr. Beau Wassermann.
Beau is a man afraid of everything and, in a way, with good reason, too, since he lives in a very violent neighborhood where there seem to be no rules or controls left.
His days all flow the same between fear of walking out the door and futile sessions at the psychologist until he must leave to go to the funeral of his mother, who died in an absurd and tragic domestic accident.
After leaving his ravaged home in the hands of a pack of vagrants, Beau embarks on a crazy odyssey where, before finding his mother, he will find the part of his soul that he has been hiding even from himself, and this discovery will not please him at all.
Ari Aster mistreats the poor (but not so innocent) protagonist along with us viewers, leaving us lost without reference points in a story that constantly changes stage and cinematic genre.
With an outstanding performance, Joaquin Phoenix outlines one of his best actor experiences, spanning his delirious voyage from an almost post-apocalyptic metropolis to a prison situation with a mad family to a horrifying return under his mother’s roof.
Aster revels in continually surprising and shocking the viewer, perfectly concluding the first trilogy of what is so far an absolutely flawless filmography.
Knock at the Cabin
M. Night Shyamalan
Directing the next movie is the controversial M. Night Shyamalan, who divides opinion between those who love him and those who have derided his art for years, as this strange pre-apocalyptic thriller from 2023 is no exception.
Beginning like a fairy tale, we find ourselves in a small house in the middle of the forest where Eric and Andrew live, a young gay couple who, after a brutal assault years earlier in a bar, live far from the city with their adopted daughter Wen.
Everything seems to flow peacefully until four strange individuals, two men and two women, led by the gigantic and seemingly kind-hearted Leonard, show up at their door.
After breaking into the house and tied to a chair, the uninvited guests explain their reason for the unexpected visit: the end of the world is near, and to save humanity, one of them will have to sacrifice and kill a family member.
Of course, Eric and Andrew refuse to obey and believe this madness, but when the guests start killing each other and strange incidents appear all over the world on their television screens, all the beliefs ingrained in the souls of these two men are put under the ultimate test.
Shyamalan may have missed with The Happening, The Last Airbender, or After Earth, but it must be acknowledged that he has not missed a beat from The Visit onward, returning to his more intimate and personal low-budget projects.
Knock at the Cabin is a splendid black fable with an almost theatrical construction, without neglecting all the love of filmmaking of a director who always knows how to ratchet up the tension and at what moment is best to place his unfailing twists.
Besides, who wants to avoid seeing the huge Dave Bautista leading this apocalypse team?
We change entirely genres under another relatively recent talent, Gareth Edwards, director of the best of many Star Wars saga movies since the distant 1980s, Rogue One.
Staying with the sci-fi theme, Edwards transports us to this alternate future where robots and artificial intelligence are part of our everyday reality.
Unfortunately, in the aftermath of a devastating nuclear explosion with countless casualties on American soil, all the Western governments engaged in a war to ferret out and destroy these artificial beings, finding an unexpected enemy in faraway Asia that instead welcomes and protects these mechanical refugees.
The protagonist of this story is soldier Joshua Taylor, who survived an attack on a group of robot rebels he had infiltrated; he must now return to the field and find the leader and creator of the new AIs, the mysterious and elusive Nirmata.
With the support of the military, Joshua infiltrates the enemy’s base and discovers plans for its secret weapon, the so-called Alpha O, which he finds is actually a child capable of remotely commanding and shutting down any electronic device.
Unable to accept the insane extermination intentions of a country that has exploited and betrayed him, Joshua ends up becoming the protector of the little girl with whom he aspires to destroy the devastating NOMAD, the flying station that has been mercilessly exterminating fugitive robot villages for years.
Edwards carves a ruthless poem about the will to survive, with an excellent lead performance for John David Washington, who confirms himself after Christopher Nolan‘s controversial Tenet, this time in a less confusing movie where we reason about the lights and shadows of controversial human nature.
Lots of spectacle, action, within engaging and clever writing… do you really need more?
Like Sheep Among Wolves
We conclude by recommending this excellent crime noir, Lyda Patitucci‘s debut movie, which brings some Italian pride back to theaters toward the end of 2023.
A brutal story rooted in the hidden reality Italians don’t want to see around them, starring an equally cold and lonely woman, Vera, a driver and handyman helper for a ruthless gang of Serbian criminals.
She has been estranged from her family for some time, losing her partner, while she finally gains the gang’s trust and has a chance to talk to the big boss himself on the eve of a lavish heist of an armored car.
They are joined by two Italian thugs, among whom, with chilling surprise, Vera recognizes her brother Bruno, a petty criminal whom she has not seen in many years.
Indeed, the woman is actually an undercover cop assigned to infiltrate this platoon of former Serbian soldiers who have now abandoned the uniform to devote themselves entirely to criminal life.
At that point, Vera must conclude her mission while trying to keep her brother out of trouble, lest her sweet niece end up with her father locked up in jail or worse.
The best aspect of Patitucci’s direction is undoubtedly simplicity, bringing Filippo Gravino‘s solid screenplay to the stage without exaggerating with unnecessary camera virtuosity but restricting the narrative of this complex web of friendships and personal relationships to the essentials.
Excellent is the performance of the entire cast, on top of which we place the splendid Isabella Ragonese, an antiheroine quintessential to a story in which good and evil merge in the wonderful undefined nuance of noir.
Equally good is the young Andrea Arcangeli, a lost soul at the mercy of a hysterical wife and a little girl to save.