X-Press Magazine’s Top Ten Films of 2023
From the prestige films earlier in the year, to nightmarish satires, biopics and fake biopics, 2023 offered up a real variety of different perspectives of the world we live in. Although it was a year of many big-budget flops, many smaller and more original films with bold visions were the ones that ended up making the money and garnering the cultural attention. To wrap up 2023, Film and TV Editor DAVID MORGAN-BROWN is joined by writers MELISSA MANN and DAVID O’CONNELL to recap the very best of this year.
Tár is a whirlwind of a film, sneakily commentating on many very modern elements of the brittle world of the arts. Yet it was not the film to make any firm proclamations, but instead, kept many of its judgements and perspectives a deep secret with itself. What comes across is a shattered and distorted view of Lydia Tár at this point in her life in this world, navigating her way through the controversy and gossip that clearly takes a toll on her psychologically. Tár is not only a unique film, but an expertly crafted one as well, never taking easy paths or clear answers with its intoxicating portrayal of modern celebritydom.
A sport film with no sport? Air is the 1984 story of Nike signing high-school basketballer Michael Jordan. With a focus on agents, product design, pitch, and corporate negotiations, Air is reminiscent of Moneyball where sports are adjacent, not central, to the story. The team’s key players are Sonny Vaccario (Matt Damon), a failing contract negotiator betting on Jordan, CEO Philip Knight (Director Ben Affleck) feeling pressured to play safe despite Nike’s high-reward mottos, and strong wise matriarch Deloris Jordan (the unbeatable Viola Davis). A top non-fiction sport narrative, that is more of a seat at the board table than a peek in the locker room.
Beau is Afraid
After the double hitter with the A24 horrors Hereditary and Midsommar, Ari Aster delved deep into something much more personal, crafting a film that is so wild and alive with how it always audaciously (and often humorously) presents itself. Beau is Afraid is flawed, and the flaws aren’t small. It’s a bloated production, with some scenes towards the end that no longer shock or surprise, but make you roll your eyes. But this is how this mess of a film is to be taken, an unruly and often offensive film that revels in its bad taste, yet still ultimately lands with a defiant point about this great family we call humanity.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
How do you follow up an animation classic? By topping it. This sequel to 2015’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse goes further with both its dips into experimental art styles and solid world building. Definitely the middle film in the trilogy, this is also a great character study of both Miles and Gwen that leaves us eager for the next film. Honestly, that’s more than can be said for the live action Marvel multiverse.
You Hurt My Feelings
There really should be a genre of film called ‘New York’, which refers to comedy-dramas that are light on conflict, but heavy on characterisation, detailing the little nuances that make up the relationships of these overly-sensitive New Yorkers. Certain films of Woody Allen’s and Noah Baumbach’s have excelled in this genre, as does You Hurt My Feelings, an incredibly astute and constantly amusing examination of how couples navigate conversations and the effects they have on each other’s feelings.
By including diversity, equality, and consent, director Emma Seligman (Shiva Baby) successfully updates the teen sex comedy genre to the modern era. A raucous film that throws everything into the mix, Bottoms is held together by two great central performances from Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri. There’s such raw energy here that Bottoms has cult classic potential built into its DNA.
Sick of Myself
Our current age of living online (or at least bringing the online into real life) is explored in such a uniquely funny way, that’s both a scathing portrayal of narcissism and attention-seeking, yet also a considerate and humanising exploration into these kinds of people. Norwegian writer-director Kristoffer Borgli is a new-comer, yet has really put himself on the map with two of the most brilliant satires of this year.
Whereas Sick of Myself has a revolting sensibility to it, Dream Scenario has less graphic self-destructive gore on screen—yet it is even more hectic in how it shows the crazed world we live in. We’re cheating slightly here, as Dream Scenario will be released in Australian cinemas on the first day of 2024, but it’s worth coupling it with Borgli’s other film of the year, as they share the same deeply-observed, yet light-hearted satire of modern times: how sickening contemporary life can make us, how we are judged for that, and how we try to find an escape from our own self-destructive world.
One of the two films that defined 2023, Barbie is pure joy. It’s also the one that brings the best on-screen polemic since Network. Gerwig creates a colourful camp plastic postmodern utopia that would make John Waters envious. However, it’s Margot Robbie that truly brings the titular doll to life with a smart, funny, and poignant performance. Certainly good Kenough.
And on the other side of Barbie, there’s Oppenheimer. With pretty much no pink to be seen in this three hour meditation on the mechanics, politics, and ethics of creating the first nuclear weapon, this is quite the intense and highly-focused look at the irony of Mr Oppenheimer’s career, where he reveals America’s excellence before revealing America’s guilt. The ‘Barbenheimer’ phenomenon was originally a jokey meme, but became legitimised through how much each film brought to film culture this year, both of which celebrated life in their own way.