As usual, here we go again; another year is leaving, and all that is left for us movie fans is to wonder what was really good about this 2023 release in theaters.
I must say that it has been quite an exciting year, at least as far as I am concerned, which I hope coincides with that of many of you reading.
It is no coincidence that I have already released several articles about some of the movies that best impressed me in 2023, some more dedicated to people looking for pure entertainment and others aimed at a more discerning audience who enjoy digging deep into the many facets of cinema.
However, among the many recommendations, something always escapes, and it’s from this lack that this other article was born, hoping to sift through the background of these little gems from the big screen that I still need to mention.
So, are we ready to put the final touches on this cinematic year before starting fresh in 2024?
Table of contents
He is a director who always creates atmospheres suggestive similar to his father’s narratives, while distinguishing by originality with his own unique and recognizable style.
In this case, we follow the strange adventure of the aspiring writer James Foster on vacation in a luxurious resort with his beautiful (and rich) wife, Em.
As James and his wife will discover at their expense, against the affluence and pleasures of this tourist spot stands the stark and brutal poverty outside.
When they go out beyond the resort’s boundaries along with another couple they just met, the mysterious Alban and his young companion Gabi, they unintentionally kill a native by running him over with their car.
The harsh local law is ruthless: not only do they sentence all of them to death, but they must brutally die by the victim’s own family members.
There is always a loophole, however, if you are rich enough; so they can pay to create completely identical clones who will suffer the sentence in their place.
Initially terrified, James begins to relish in the impunity of killing and committing crimes of all kinds without consequence, moving further away from his wife and becoming increasingly close to the perverse Gabi, Alban, and their wealthy friends.
As previously stated, Brandon Cronenberg appropriates several themes from his father David, like the human mutation related to technological advancement, adapting a high-intensity horror and erotic thriller on the broad shoulders of Alexander Skarsgård, along with the disturbing appeal of the young Mia Goth.
A movie that is not easy and perhaps not for everyone, yet undoubtedly one of the most original released in 2023.
We continue with an even more alienating story featuring a movie with virtually one and only protagonist, the immensely talented and irreplaceable Willem Dafoe.
This great actor keeps up his extraordinary filmography after either being Christ to Martin Scorsese or playing the green role of Goblin against Spider-Man in Sam Raimi‘s distant 2002 movie; this time playing old Nemo, a lonely apartment thief and collector of rare works of art.
In this case, he tries to rob the wrong apartment, the luxurious penthouse of a wealthy New York merchant, triggering the alarm that traps him in an almost supernatural catch.
Indeed, after hours and days spent in solitude, Nemo realizes the police are not coming to arrest him and no one will rescue him; thus trying to survive on the few food and water supplies he finds in the apartment.
Almost intending to make him suffer for the intrusion, the air conditioning randomly freaks out by going from the hottest heat to the most intense frost, further exhausting the man, already exasperated by the extreme isolation.
Tired and alone, Nemo must reckon with the selfish and wrong choices that brought him to that point and, of course, hope he still has a future outside that godforsaken place.
Vasilis Katsoupis makes his directorial debut with a work certainly flawed, with a tight or stretched timeframe over and above a minimal plot, squeezing the best out of his leading man’s talent.
However, if you love the strange and various art world, in its many silly or ingenious facets, and especially love the mighty Willem Dafoe, this movie, quietly released in 2023, is the one for you.
This actor’s wrinkle-scarred face and monologue, indeed, are alone worth the price of the ticket beyond any other possible shortcomings.
Leave the World Behind
Still remaining on the subject of people trapped inside a house, we expand our focus from the previous story’s single protagonist to an apocalypse involving the entire world instead, or at least the United States.
It all starts under the best premises for Amanda Sandford, a woman hardened by experience and distrust of humankind, who rents a mansion for a quiet weekend away from chaotic New York with her husband Clay and children Archie and Rose.
However, by early afternoon, things go awry when an out-of-control oil tanker runs aground on the beach where the family is sunbathing; it only gets worse when, in the middle of the night, the house’s owners, the wealthy and elegant Scott, along with his daughter Ruth, show up.
The two seek help and shelter because a power outage in town has brought everything to a halt, and chaos ensues, desperately searching for a safe place to wait out the crisis.
But soon, they all realize the crisis will hardly pass, as frightening unexplained phenomena happen, and they no longer have any way to communicate with the outside world or receive information from the Internet or the media.
Director Sam Esmail continues the psychological thriller vein after the interesting Mockingbird, this time with two veteran leads like Ethan Hawke and Julia Roberts, the latter even more noticeable in the most cynical and hateful role of her career.
There is a lot of mystery and few answers (other than Kevin Bacon‘s amusing conspiracy theories) for a storyline that leaves us with many questions about ourselves and modern society for one of the most bizarre movies released on Netflix in 2023.
After much suspense and darkness, we switch to a demented comedy about the stupid exploits of François Sentinelle, the local police boss on the tiny tropical island of La Réunion.
His idiocy knows no bounds, making one mess after another in town as he pursues and shoots criminals as much as innocent civilians without distinction, being more interested in his singing career than his police job.
Despite everything, Sentinelle always gets away with it because he’s protected at every opportunity by Mayor Florence Cazeaux-Rocher, a rich, powerful woman and sole heir to the eponymous dynasty running every business on the island.
However, as new elections approach, a revolutionary group called “Red Arm” kidnaps her husband, demanding she step aside and accusing her family of exploiting the poor local population for nearly a century.
Of course, the clueless Sentinelle does not even know where to begin investigating, but luckily, he will be assisted by the young and much brighter Captain Rémi Morisset, who can look beyond the mere appearances of this kidnapping.
The excellent pair Hugo Benamozig and David Caviglioli do splendid work together as director and screenplay team, giving us an hour and a half of pure entertainment where the old-fashioned detective story gives way to the (not always) elegant French comedy.
Absolutely perfect is the insane lead actor Jonathan Cohen, just as inept as a policeman as unlistenable as a singer, this bumbling police captain will try his best (willingly and unwillingly) to get in the way of his colleague Raphaël Quenard, already from the first scene shot and left bleeding, while Sentinelle walks at the beach shooting a video clip.
It is one of the most unknown movies of 2023, which may deserve some theatrical screenings instead of just releases only for streaming services like Amazon Prime.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
I admit to never having been a big fan of the friendly little spider from New York, but in 2018 it was Into the Spider-Verse that changed my mind, eagerly awaiting this sequel released in 2023.
In that little gem of animation, we witnessed the transition of the Spider-Man status between Peter Parker and Miles Morales, at least regarding the cinematic realm, since in the comics, it has happened several times over the decades.
At the same time, a whole host of alternate Spider-Men arrive from as many parallel universes to help Miles in his first superhero steps, and it is from here that we pick up the adventure.
Miles is now unquestionably the new justice champion, yet he misses his old friends tremendously, especially Gwen, the spider-woman with whom he had bonded most.
It is precisely Gwen who once again returns, as a member of a Spider-hero coalition led by the relentless Miguel, resolute in defending the immutability of different space-time lines.
However, when Miles realizes this will mean helplessly witnessing his father’s death, he rebels in a mad fight against all the other Spider-Men to change his fate.
Fortunately, the style remains true to the comic-like, colorful uber-pop look of the first movie, although the original directing trio is entirely replaced by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson.
The story is further expanded with the original antagonist Miguel and elusive The Spot, at first just an amusing but gradually becoming disturbing and dangerous.
The only downside is having to wait for the release of the third and final chapter, Beyond the Spider-Verse, originally planned for 2024 but then postponed to a date yet unknown.
Isn’t it annoying having to go to the cinema as if we were watching TV series?
The Last Voyage of the Demeter
We finish with the latest effort by André Øvredal, a Norwegian director who releases in 2023 what could be the first chapter of a new Dracula movie saga.
Precisely as in Bram Stoker‘s old novel, the coffin with the insatiable Transylvanian bloodsucker is loaded onto the merchant ship Demeter, whose crew is unaware of its dangerous cargo.
Soon, Captain Elliot and the newly arrived Dr. Clemens realize something is amiss, especially when opening one of the crates in the hold, they find young Anna, a prisoner/sacrificial victim meant to feed the vampire during the long voyage.
Night after night, every sailor in the crew is brutally killed and bled to death in the dark as Dracula grows stronger and more unstoppable, fully regaining his supernatural power.
Thus, although we already know the grim fate of this ship, the crew engages in a desperate struggle to survive until the English shores, but of course, it is clear from the opening scene that it will be an unequal fight for our heroes.
On the strength of a sound budget of $45 million, Øvredal succeeds in the miracle of keeping interesting a story that horror viewers know by heart, modernizing the look of this genre totem by returning to the origins of 1922 Murnau‘s monstrous Nosferatu.
So forget the glamorous night lords of movies like Twilight or The Vampire Chronicles: the monster played by Javier Botet is glabrous and pale as a ghost, displaying a smile of monstrous sharp teeth always half-hidden in the darkness.
At times, the director overdoes the special effects, especially in the ravaging climax, yet pacing and suspense stay just as good as ever without giving too much importance to any of the characters except for the one we really care about, the immortal Mister D.