Excessive grumbles about Damien Chazelle’s Babylon at the start of the year balanced by excessive ecstasy over Killers of the Flower Moon at the end of the year. But excess always makes film commentary jump the tracks. Brendan Fraser was in Killers for five minutes and the nearest thing to flamboyance that Martin Scorsese was minded to go for. Fraser was just acting the part of a flamboyant man employed in the correct career, but sure enough he was dragged as the film’s perplexing lapse of sober concentration. Acting and how actors do that voodoo is still an opaque art to most reviewers. If it wasn’t, Margot Robbie in Babylon would be a question in film criticism courses: so how would you describe her doing all of that?
Lists are completely pointless if not actively counterproductive. My votes in the Sight and Sound Films of 2023 poll were for:
Babylon: An excessive film about excessive things, art and drugs and ruthless ambition among them. A cottage industry of odd responses flourished.
Tár: Leaning forward in my chair wondering just how far Lydia Tár was going to venture into the speech patterns of Leonard Bernstein while teaching Bach at the piano. (“♪ Or Schroeder…playing for Lucy… ♪”)
The Five Devils: A mini-trend in films for children trying to understand their parents, the past pressing into the present and proving that the future is making people anxious. A rare recent straight dramatic leading role for Adèle Exarchopoulos, if you don’t count Zero Fucks Given.
Oppenheimer: Some were unhappy he wasn’t thrown in jail by the Avengers, but moral clarity would have been pointless in this of all places. Skates over Oppenheimer’s disturbed or homicidal attempted poisoning of Patrick Blackett, when it could have diverted into an Errol Morris film for an hour or two at that point.
BlackBerry: Carry On Again Capitalism.
Smoking Causes Coughing: Adèle Exarchopoulos again, droll and terrorised by a zombie in a welder’s helmet. Very Dada, so very much further Left than the average.
They Cloned Tyrone: Lurking on Netflix or abandoned there. Characters raid a hidden underground facility of clones and bodies in tanks and find it bathed in the Michael Crichton purple light of Coma’s Jefferson Institute, or maybe the pink rays that blew Philip K Dick sideways.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance: Steven Soderbergh’s an Anglophile and makes London thin and fragile and stifled by admin and worry and the joy-less jobsworths of Westminster Council, a Britain as square and flat and uninteresting as the average planning enquiry. And then a bunch of colonial types rock up to dance at it. As critical of modern Britain as a Ken Loach project, if he was on psychedelics.
Guy Richie’s The Covenant: Not sure there’s much point denying a Guy Ritchie renaissance if he’s now got the possessive credit going on.
The Menu: Anya Taylor-Joy, final girl diner, invited to a closed event by mistake and then assuming agency and pushing back against maniacs intent on murdering her with a clear class element while everyone else falls to pieces. Which is exactly what happened to Betty Gilpin in The Hunt too.
Adèle Exarchopoulos had an even better year than Margot Robbie, great in Passages and Wingwomen on top of the two in this list. Wingwomen, also gathering dust on Netflix, can’t match the sexy violence of the source French comic; but anyone who read it immediately reckoned Exarchopoulos was on the creators’ minds and now here she is.