This is a live list where I rank the movies of 2023. If something isn’t on the list, I haven’t seen it. Leave your comments and we’ll talk. I give a lot of weight to scope, scale, and depth. If a movie is higher than you expect, it probably did one or all of those things very well. If it’s lower, well, it probably frustrated me.
Rankings: updated 1/29/23
Infinity Pool is almost there. I just thought it was a little shallow. There are feints at themes around identity and self-empowerment. But I don’t think the character journey is very rewarding or cathartic. I keep thinking about Infinity Pool versus something like Neon Demon or even Brandon Cronenberg’s father’s Crimes of the Future. I think those films have similar styles but say what they want with a bit more conviction and confidence. Don’t get me wrong. I love subtext and subtly. So this isn’t a case of “I want things spelled out.” It’s that I don’t think there’s enough meat on the bone. It felt more like an hour-long episode of Black Mirror that got stretched to two hours and didn’t earn that runtime. Infinity Pool is one of many movies that I think is missing its third act.
For example, “Only through blood can you release your past” is something that’s told to James Foster a number of times. And we crescendo with him finally confronting himself. But to what end? What does releasing the past mean for him? What does he gain from it? Who does he become after doing it? Is it actually beneficial or a lie? The last few minutes of Infinity Pool just seek refuge in the implication of something meaningful. The story isn’t told. It would be like if Star Wars: A New Hope ended with the Rebel forces leaving to attack the Death Star. Or if 2001: a Space Odyssey ended with Dave shutting down HAL then seeing the alien monolith in the distance. It’s not enough. But that’s the hardest thing to do in storytelling. To go the last mile when you’ve already gone so far. That last mile is what makes all the difference.
With that said. There are really interesting concepts. And Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgård are terrific. The filmmaking aesthetic also stood out to me. I got a strong sense of identity and voice. Something I don’t feel like I get enough of these days. So that was good. It just was a tad bit indulgent. The prose-like camera was really interesting for the first hour. Then grew a bit superficial/repetitive in the second hour. B roll footage presented as meaningful.
Infinity Pool gives me hope that Brandon will deliver something special. But this felt too much like someone still figuring it out.Watch on:
I’m a big fan of romantic comedies. But I feel like it’s been years and years since we’ve gotten a good one. The last that really impressed me was Set It Up from 2018. That’s 5 years since I’ve seen a new romcom I truly enjoyed. So I had high hopes for You People. Alas. I mean…there are good things there. The core dynamic between Jonah Hill and Laura London is fantastic. For the first 30 minutes of the movie, I was charmed and invested and happy. Then it just becomes a series of awkward, negative encounters that kind of rush by without any real consequence until the very end. I didn’t feel like I was getting a story that relied on the characters. Rather, it was like the characters were in service to a string of gags and commentary. Eddie Murphy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus have such an enormous bearing on the plot but barely have any development.
So the story ends up in this weird place where it’s not really about Amira and Ezra anymore but about what Shelley and Akbar do to Ezra and Amira. When you finally get the breakthrough, it’s not something the main characters figure out. Akbar changes because his brother, EJ, lectures him. Shelley at least evolves because of what Amira said to her, but the evolution is entirely off screen and within the last 5 minutes. We go from her at her worst to a 3 month break to suddenly Shelley being normal after an entire movie where she was anything but.
Despite all of that, I was still going to put You People in the neutral category. Until the wedding. Amira and Ezra don’t see each other for 3 months. Shelley and Akbar trick them into showing up at the same place at the same time. We get the big apology/breakthrough. Clearly Ezra and Amira still love each other. We assume they’ll pick up where they left off. Seems like an okay place to end. But then the doors open and it’s all their friends and family gathered for a wedding. Imam and Rabbi are there. Look at that!
I’d expect something that ridiculous from a Hallmark movie. But from Jonah and Kenya Barris? It blew me away. Like…I get it. It’s a movie. It’s heightened. It was never about utter realism. The wedding is fun and captures the energy of the moment. It just reads to me like a choice made completely out of a desire for efficiency. “Oh, we want to have the wedding. Except we kind of wrote ourselves into a corner. We could go back to the drawing board with the entire third act and set this up better. But what if we just have the parents surprise reconnect them at a surprise wedding and hope no one thinks too critically about the plot construction?”
It will probably be a completely fine choice for some people. Not for me though. And that’s my big thing with You People. It doesn’t feel like I’m watching a story, so much as witnessing a bunch of story beats.Watch on:
THE PALE BLUE EYE
What a weird movie. I knew absolutely nothing about it. So imagine my surprise when Edgar Allan Poe is a main character. There could be a cool factor to that? But it rattled me. I couldn’t take anything that happened seriously. Especially once Poe started reciting poetry to people. It’s an idea that maybe could work? But I wasn’t a fan, for similar reasons, of the 2012 movie The Raven. Maybe one day someone will get it right and I’ll applaud them for making me appreciate the use of Edgar Allan Poe. Don’t get me wrong, I love EAP. Movies based on his work? I’m in. But movies that blend his work and him? Eh.
Pale Blue Eye has some style. I could appreciate its use of setting. The chill of winter that permeates the cinematography. Christian Bale is always fascinating. But the story left me wanting. It’s a more traditional whodunit than Glass Onion, which I kind of appreciated. From the beginning, though, I was kind of rolling my eyes at the use of exposition and dialogue. It’s one of those movies that I’m sure will hit the mark for some people and have its cult followers. A few right moves away from being good yet unique enough to surprise and carve out a niche. I guess that’s probably where I see the most value? Is that it does feel stylistically apart from the average 2020s film. I respect that.Watch on:
I really liked the premise of M3gan and went in rooting for it to be something special. As a horror, thriller, slasher film, it’s aggressively average. As a meditation on grief and the relationship between people and technology—there’s a lot to like. But the film never really lets loose. The goofiest it gets is the hallway dance that was featured in every trailer. So you’re not getting cult movie bedlam that’s over the top like, say, Cabin in the Woods or Barbarian or Tusk.
M3gan is more serious than those. More in the vein of 2020’s The Invisible Man. Except Invisible Man fully leaned into the uniqueness of its premise and had some awesome scenes that were only possible given its “monster”. M3gan is essentially bland in how it utilizes the Megan character in terms of horror. Her confrontation with the neighbor? Generic horror kill. The confrontation with a child bully? Involves a creepy run but nothing else. The confrontation with Funki CEO David? It’s the dance then a generic “blade through the chest”. At the very end, in the final confrontation with Gemma (Allison Williams), more of the robotic element comes into play. But there’s nothing unique that Megan does that a generic movie monster couldn’t. The final robotic elements are just flashy aesthetic moments that check some horror-trope boxes.
“Okay, Chris. Give us an example of leaning into the premise.” Sure!
The movie often has Megan controlling electronic equipment. She casually turns off the Funki HQs security system. She drives a car by manipulating its computer. She hacks Gemma’s home AI. She intercepts cell phone calls. Having this kind of power over computers/electronics could have been utilized in a way that’s dynamic and interesting when it comes to the horror aspect. But it’s never explored. There’s so much potential left on the table that the climax was, for me, totally lackluster. There’s potential for the sequel to find its groove. But this first one is succeeding on concept alone. To be fair, it’s a great concept and I hope the filmmakers figure it out.
I will once again shout out the thematic work. I do think it’s making a poignant statement on the need for human interaction.Watch on: