Paolo’s Groove: Paolo’s Ten Best Films of 2023

Posted in Blog by - December 31, 2023
Paolo’s Groove: Paolo’s Ten Best Films of 2023

This year has been one of the worst years of my life but of course, there are two silver linings. First, is that other people have it worse – seriously, here’s one way to make other people’s lives better. Second, is that we still have movies, movies that either help viewers escape or ones that helps us reframe and have empathy for others. Television works the same way.

Anyway, yes, even if this year was rough, I also have access to great films. So much so that I wrote about at least five movies that ended up on my actual top ten. I’m starting this piece even if there are thirteen movies left that I have yet to watch from this year. Oh well, let’s begin.

10. Beyond Utopia

I already reviewed this, but I don’t remember writing about how well it contextualizes recent Korean history and connecting it with what’s happening today, and the documentary deserves credit for doing that.

9. Oppenheimer.

Being loyal, as well as being all kind of virtuous, pays off, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. Yes, Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer whitewashes America. But he also shows that that whitewashed world is full of contradictions. Its sweeping score hints at discovery. Nolan also fills that world with characters, some of whom are good but most of whom are at each other’s necks. And of course, we should hold out patiently until our virtue pays off. But just like the ‘real world’, the characters around J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) find it convenient – for lack of a better or even kinder world – to betray him to save themselves. It’s a great examination of people living with sins for which they can’t atone.

8. John Wick: Chapter 4.

The John Wick franchise has always been my jam because of the way it depicts Euro culture and music which takes me back to my former Catholic school days. But, and I’ll probably say this about the other films on this list –  it’s deeper than that. What makes the franchise, and thus, this installment, great is that its titular character (Keanu Reeves) is an imperfect man both outside and in. He can still kick ass, but he’s also a man who makes as many emotional judgment calls as he does logical ones. He also falls a lot. This franchise is one of the rare ones where newer installments are better than the ones that precede it. It may have reached its ceiling here, yes. But it still knows how to balance gravitas while showing us a heterosexual version of camp.

7. Spiderman: Across the Spiderverse

I am, more directly, begging for a cop-free or a cop-light Spiderman film, but the best I can do is probably an A03 that I’ll never read. But maybe there’s a point to the cops in Spiderverse, including Miles Morales’ (Shameik Moore’s voice ) dad (Brian Tyree Henry). Fellow Spiderman Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac) hints on this – that there are certain elements that make the Spider people who they are. They have an instinct to save each other but that might interfere with them having to suffer in similar ways. It’s a fatalist moral perspective, cliffhanger and all and yes, it uses the cliffhanger the way Marvel texts do. But it at least looks cool while doing so. Spiderman: Across the Spiderverse did not invent pop art but it makes it fresh for Gen-Z eyes.

6. All of Us Strangers.

This piece may come out before or after my full length review for All of Us Strangers comes out. There, I write about how director Andrew Haigh makes a lot of what I assume are purposeful anachronisms that give this film its texture. And yet, it felt awkward for me to introduce an element of the film that may count as an anachronism. Or at least, I may have hinted at it. It’s that this film’s main couple, Adam and Harry (Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal) are technically two generational cohorts apart and yet they look the same age.

Off the top of my head there are many reasons why the casting and characters work they way the do here. It’s nonetheless a moot nitpick for a movie where Adam’s Mum and Dad (Claire Foy and Jamie Bell) also appear like they’re Adam’s age. It’s inherently strange to see one’s parents like this but it humanizes them. The decisions here work well for a film about humanity. And one about reaching out to others.

5. Anatomy of a Fall – full length review here.

Writing this piece reminds me of that Letterboxd review for Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall that said that Sandra Huller gives the best Nicole Kidman performance, which feels reductive even if the camerawork and the long takes may make the comparison valid. Milo-Machado Gernier and Swann Arlaud also provides great supporting work as characters who search for the truth. Also, I love how I didn’t like anything from this year until this film arrived.

4. Mountains

Already reviewed it. The few people who watched it at TIFF loved it although not as much as I did. I also feel a certain dismay when I see Monica Sorelle’s film go to other festivals both in America and Europe and for those viewers not to get the film. I don’t know if it’s anti-Blackness or maybe its cluttered aesthetic – compliment – wasn’t everyone’s cup. Either way, I am begging for festivals audiences to do two things. First – I get that watching the big movies is good for online traffic but please deep cut it. You can watch the big movies later. Second, and I say this while emulating Michael Sheen in the Twilight Saga, get some better taste.

3. In The Rearview – original TIFF capsule review here.

I checked and I’ve only seen 4 films about the second wave of the Russo-Ukrainian war this year, even if it feels more than that. I put this at the top of the pack though, higher than 20 Days in Mariupol. I’m sure Mariupol has its moments of visual dynamism but those moments here stand out more, even if most of Maciek Hamela In The Rearview takes place inside a car. It also shows the different kind of people who reluctantly have to leave their homeland because of an invasive force. And yes, I belong in a circle of people who are sick of the Ukraine. Yes their past and present is complex, yes their white privilege put them to the forefront in comparison to the six or so other ethnic groups facing armed aggression. As I write all of that, no, they don’t deserve armed aggression.

2. Lost Ladies 

Kiran Rao’s Lost Ladies is a film that grew on me, a film where I let my emotions get the better of me. My original review did acknowledge the film’s contrivances. A Hindie – Bollywood Indie – still works within Bollywood’s filmic language the same way some American filmmaker using an iPhone is still using Western storytelling structures. As I say this, it mixes charm and gravitas.

Lost Ladies is, after all, a dramedy where a cop (Ravi Kishan) tries to look for a man’s (Sparsh Srivastav) bride (Nitanshi Goel). It also has a cynical food vendor (Chhya Kadam), which I was in a past life. This is also the nth time that I’m begging for justice in the world, and part of that justice involves Goel and Prabitha Ranta becoming Bollywood stars within the next five years. Coming to Indian cinemas on March 2024 and I can’t wait for it to come back to theatres here too.

1. Renaissance: A Film by Beyonce

Beyonce is a consummate filmmaker, capable of making monumental cinema. I’ve always grappled with the idea of ‘Renaissance’ but both the album and the documentary does speak to how that era looks at time in a three dimensional way. One standout scene I remember is her asking one of her crew members about fisheye lenses. That scene in particular makes her sound like an entire issue of American Cinematographer. If she was more open, she might end up on an issue of that magazine or in one of those THR roundtables. That scene also reminds me of a scathing review of the film. There, the reviewer claims that Beyonce doesn’t prove that she receives pushback all the time as a Black woman. That reviewer should know what other Black women go through. What they have in the bank helps but only for so much.

Haters aside, I feel like Renaissance: A Film By Beyonce exists for interconnected reasons. Viewers can see two of those reasons in another behind the scenes segment. She talks to one of her arrangers about how she wants to perform “Cuff It”. Then, she points to the camera, thanking the operator for capturing that footage because she’ll forget about that arrangement. All of these ideas could have been in her Notes App. I’m just happy she’s sharing all of this with us. And besides, someone as interdisciplinary as her deserves to make something that future cinephiles will remember for a long time. Beyonce is literally mother.

This post was written by
While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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