The Best Films of 2023

If the whole point of sharing lists of favourite films and artworks is to present a sort of mosaicked personal biography, then the list below absolutely and completely does not do that. It in no way reflects the entirely unclassifiable 2023 that I… I want to say “enjoyed”, but that’s not entirely accurate. Let’s say experienced. When I track the films I watched over the moments I lived, I find zero correlation. No pattern. A dearth of parallels. And I don’t really want to get into the personal, so telling you about the films I saw is the preferable route.

Speaking of routes, I spent much of this year visiting the world’s largest movie theme park – America – and over the course of about six months visited every state in the union, beginning with Hawaii and finishing with Alaska, and driving 21,000 miles (or 33,600 kilometres) around the remaining forty-eight states. Plus a bit of Canada.

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The Best Films of 2022

It’s possible I watched too many films this year. I’m really not sure how I managed that, given there were no enforced lockdowns and I left the house quite a bit. Yet somehow, I came pretty close to watching the same number of films as I did in both 2020 and 2021 combined.

A lot of that might be due to Paul Anthony Nelson roping me into bespoke games of Screen Drafts. You don’t need to know what that is; the only relevant information is that I have an obsessive personality and spent most of the year watching almost every film released in 1982, 1979 and 1976. (I am, by the way, now absolutely convinced there is no better way to engage with cinema. Forget focussing on a genre, following sequels, completing directorial canons: just pick a calendar year and go nuts. It’s revelatory.)

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Who is the Real Villain of Bedford Falls?

Bedford Falls. A town so idyllic, the FBI thought it might be Communist propaganda.

Christmas just isn’t Christmas without Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), the story of a good man who loses hope and has to be shown the true value he has brought to the world. George Bailey (James Stewart), who loves his town of camaraderie and kindness, is nevertheless frustrated that it’s too small to contain his dreams.

We follow George over the course of a lifetime, see him overcome adversity, and watch as he’s slowly eroded by despair; how every chance he has to get ahead is thwarted either by misfortune or the machinations of local business mogul Henry F Potter. It’s a life of hard work and dashed dreams that eventually robs him of the will to live.

In many ways, it’s the quintessential yuletide tale, which is why it gets a spin in this household every single Christmas. But it’s been an awful lot of Christmases at this point, and after many, many viewings, I think I’ve stopped being able to watch the film in the way I used to. At some point, I crashed through the film’s façade and began to see the meaning that had been hiding under the surface this whole time, the narrative base code if you will, a secret message so diabolical and terrifying it would have given J Edgar Hoover night terrors for the remainder of his paranoid days.

It’s been a few years since I discovered this secret meaning, and I’ve spent a long time debating whether it is ethically responsible to reveal it to the world. Because once you know it, you will be unable to ever un-know it; it will be impossible to ever see the film in the same way again.

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The only upside to all the recent Twitter drama (for me) is the fact that I can finally archive this poorly-aged longform performance art, which was significantly more enjoyable as a slow-drip than in the aggregate. Over two-and-a-half years of this – and with no real baseline on how to react to the deranged interior monologue of grown-up Peaksville, Ohio resident Anthony Fremont (google it) – I decided the best use of my time was to reverse-Parklife the senseless staccato screams of the most powerful person on the planet. When it began, I was worried I wouldn’t have enough material to do the whole song. A few months in, I was worried I would.

Something called Indy100 wrote it up when I was halfway through and spelled my name wrong, which somehow feels appropriate.

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The Father of Invention

Back when video rental epoch was at its peak – moments before the DVD revolution would burn briefly as a gold standard of home cinema until becoming a punchline of technological obsolescence – each VHS hire came laden with a litany of previews that would play before (and occasionally after) the feature presentation.

Impatient fools with no lust or capacity for the breadth of experiences that life has to offer would fast-forward through these trailers, but those of us who understood the natural rhythms of visual entertainment were as committed to them as we were the film that was about to play. These were mini-features, entire works delivered with the speed of a Matrix upload; a glimpse into what could have been if we’d just lingered a little longer in the THRILLER or FOREIGN sections.

Some of these trailers seemed to be ubiquitous. No matter which film you’d just borrowed, be it a PG romantic comedy or an R rated gore-fest, they all seemed to open with the same run of previews; only the running order changed. In the late 1990s, no matter which genre you had opted for, the movie gods were certain that you would want to know all about 1996’s Fly Away Home.

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