Thursday, January 11, 2024

2023 In Review - Movies

Along with TV shows, this year was a pretty good year for me with movies. I have a lifetime of all-time classics that I've never seen, and I managed to cross a few of those movies off my list this year. Here's every movie that I (can remember that I) watched in 2023, ranked!

#1 - Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

I waited a while to watch this movie, making sure I found just the right time and place, and the payoff was tremendous. Chris Pine was exactly the right stereotypical snarky party leader that you find in all the best D&D groups, and each other character fit their role to a T. The villains were dastardly, the side characters were fun, the action was tense, and the story made sense. My one note would be that in the Dungeons & Dragons movie, I would've liked the dragon to be a little more terrifying, but that's a small note. I loved, loved, loved this movie.

#2 - The Fifth Element

What the hell took me so long to watch this movie? It's sci-fi and Bruce Willis, what more could you want. The themes are great, the action is great, and the comedy is top-tier. But Mila Jovovich as Leeloo was easily the highlight of the film. So many memorable quotes, large and small, and with an insane combination of cuteness and sexiness. This was definitely one of the highlights of my classic catch-up efforts. "Moooolti-pass."

#3 - Dune

The first half of this movie was absolutely mesmerizing. The grand scale, the machinations of different great houses as they vie for power in this distant corner of space. Politics, intrigue, violence, Oscar Isaac, I loved it so much. The last hour or so was a little more focused on characters I was less interested in, and a story that was a little more spiritual, and didn't really resonate the same. But overall, still a tremendous movie.

#4 - The Nice Guys

I saw a clip from this movie a dozen times on Netflix before I finally watched it, and I loved the clip every single time. I don't know why it takes me so long to decide to watch movies. Just a time commitment thing I guess. Anyways, this movie was a lot of fun! Russell Crowe is fantastic, and Ryan Gosling complements him perfectly (although he gets added to the long list of actors who can't really portray a drunk person). The end of the movie got freaking insane, and lost me a bit, but the characters were great, and I would definitely recommend this film to anyone.

#5 - Blade Runner 2049

I imagine I had a pretty rare experience with these two movies, watching 2049 just a few months after watching the original Blade Runner for the first time. You can really see the differences in picture quality, but they do a good job of recapturing the essence of the original film. I hemmed and hawed between these two films; I liked them both, but I think the supporting cast and story are stronger in 2049, so this one gets the nod above the original."

#6 - Blade Runner

Seriously, this was the first time I ever saw Blade Runner. There are a few all-time classics that I still haven't seen, but we can chalk this one off the list. I liked it a lot, but I think even more than the actual movie, I absolutely loved the idea of the movie. The setting, the concepts, the moral questions, it was all just awesome to think about. The actual journey of Decker as he tracks down replicants was great as well, though I thought the antagonist was a little more murdery than he needed to be; I like when a villain pushes you to question, are they really a villain?

#7 - Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

SPOILER ALERT. I can't really talk about my feelings about this movie without giving some mild spoilers. I loved the time they spent on Spider-Gwen, though Miles' story didn't really grab me the same way. Far too much of the movie was spent on an extended chase scene that led into the final scene. That final scene was fantastic, and I was super excited by the cliffhanger...right up until I realized it was a cliffhanger. It's disappointing to watch a fun movie and find out you were only watching half of a fun movie.

#8 - Violent Night

This movie was sold to me as ""Die Hard with Santa."" That is a fully correct description of the movie. It's got a full complement of over-the-top action lines and ridiculous holiday-themed fights, and David Harbour does a fantastic job portraying jolly old Saint Nicholas. John Leguizamo as a villain was a little too silly for me, which says something when it's a movie with Santa literally fighting kidnappers. But it was fun, entertaining, and self-aware.

#9 - Bullet Train

Bullet Train was an odd little movie. I enjoyed the brother assassins, and their creative use of Thomas the Tank Engine as a way to classify people. And Brad Pitt's semi-hapless character was a fun protagonist. The final 'bad guy' was a little too over the top (which is saying a lot, coming from me), but the many confrontations on the train itself were interesting, and the action was good. Overall a fun time.

#10 - Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3

It was a perfectly fine movie. It had a lot of solid jokes, good action, and decent music (though a cut below the previous two iterations in all of those regards). But the biggest problem I had with this movie was that it felt soooo heavy-handed with the emotional beats. After the fifth fake-out almost death, you begin to feel kind of manipulated. And Adam Warlock was a wholly unnecessary character, despite it being a fine performance.

#11 - Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Jonathan Majors absolutely owned this movie, and it's a shame (but completely understandable) that his off-screen behavior is going to prevent him from being in any future Marvel properties. I liked the zany quantum realm characters, though I feel like the movie suffered a bit from spreading its story too thin. The Wasp could've been completely removed from this movie and you wouldn't notice a difference. Hopefully future Ant-Man stories zoom back in on the fun characters and smaller scale stories that made the first movie one of my favorite superhero films.

#12 - John Wick

I finally caught John Wick on a random Thursday night this year (it might not have been a Thursday, it was you know, a metaphor or whatever, a 'royal' Thursday). The movie was about what I expected: big time violent, tons of guns, a whole mess of bad guys getting their just desserts. I don't know that it hit me the way that it seemed to hit a lot of other people, though. Taken was much more of a revelation for me when it comes to hyper-violent action movies. But hey, maybe the John Wick sequels will be less of a disaster than the Taken sequels were.

#13 - Starship Troopers

This felt like two different movies. Half of it was a cheesy, over-the-top action movie, with appropriate surprise deaths and swarming monsters. The other half was a scathing indictment of blind patriotism and government/military overreach. I did really enjoy having to wrestle with the uncomfortable dynamic of fighting a ruthless enemy, and how the protagonists used unspeakable tactics to fight them. It really leans on that idea that there's no such thing as an honorable war. It's just war.

#14 - Terminal

This is a tough movie to rank. Margot Robbie does a phenomenal job portraying her character, an ambitious femme fatale assassin, and Simon Pegg is brilliant as well, playing a man with a mysterious terminal illness. The other characters are decent; Mike Myers as a weirdo janitor is kind of charming. I really enjoyed so so much of the movie, but the ending was just all over the place. It was going for something dramatic and shocking, and I guess it was both of those things, but personally it just kind of landed with a thud. But damn, can Margot Robbie act.

#15 - The Thing

Nick has been pestering me to watch this movie for decades (he hasn't been pestering me, he just mentioned it a few times), so this year I finally gave it a go. The special effects are...well, you don't have to worry about being freaked out about a realistic looking monster. But the story itself was good, the acting was good, and the tension is very real. I wouldn't put it on the same level as Alien, Jaws, or Jurassic Park, but it's a solid thriller.

#16 - Jurassic World: Dominion

Look, nobody is going to confuse Dominion for the original Jurassic Park. Honestly, none of the sequels come close to the original, and that's okay. This one continued to stretch the bounds of incredulity, but it did so with a full embrace of nostalgia, bringing back a bunch of the original cast. And the movie knew what it was. It only took itself as seriously as was reasonable, and embraced its role as a kooky adventure movie for longtime Jurassic Park fans. It wasn't anything special or amazing, but it was a good little capstone to the Jurassic Park experience.

#17 - Nobody

I wasn't sure that Bob Odenkirk was leading man material until I saw Better Call Saul, but he was fucking tremendous in that show, which to me was even better than Breaking Bad. I know that's sacreligious to say, but a guy gets to have opinions. This movie was no Better Call Saul, though it had some fun action, good gags, and the guys you wanted to die for the most part did die. In a year where I watched John Wick for the first time, this one falls a few slots behind that, but it was still good.

#18 - The Marvels

I went into this movie hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. It had some problems, and I still don't know if they know how to write for Captain Marvel, but there were a lot of fun moments, the action was pretty good, and I left the theater feeling pleased at the experience overall. That's not a sure thing these days with Marvel, so I'll take it.

#19 - Dragonslayer

I was expecting the movie to be a lot cheesier than it was, but it was actually fairly mature and thoughtful. It's got some great dramatic dialogue, which is always a plus in my book, and while a lot of the dragon effects were very dated, the movie didn't rely so much on the actual dragon; much more of it was focused on the *threat* of the dragon, the anticipation, the expectation. The protagonist was kind of a whiny little shit, so that docks it a few points, but it was a fun watch, a nice classic adventure movie.

#20 - Venom: Let There Be Carnage

From the first time I ever saw Venom as a kid, on TV or in a comic book or most likely as an action figure, he was just the coolest-looking character around. The first Tom Hardy Venom movie was a lot of fun; the symbiote looked cool, the internal monologue was a funny device, the fights were exciting, and the bad guy made sense. This one was a little bit more of a mess, both visually and narratively. I'll tell you what though: Michelle Williams in a Venom suit was an absolute win.

#21 - Super Mario Brothers: The Movie

This movie was...fine. It wasn't offensive, it wasn't poorly made, it wasn't poorly voiced. But I just could not bring myself to care about any character. The best moment in the whole movie was the opening battle between the penguin kingdom and Bowser's army.

#22 - Black Panther 2

This movie had maybe an impossible job. It was charged with saying goodbye to both T'Challa and Chadwick Boseman. It also had to follow up on one of the most lauded superhero movies of all time and elevate a new Black Panther, and do all of this in an environment that's becoming less and less patient for superhero movies. I think the movie sort of collapsed under the weight of itself, between all those responsibilities, and the various characters it tried to give space for. It was too long, too wide, and not deep enough.

#23 - The Host

One of the previews for this movie cited Jaws as an inspiration or comparison, and for those of you who know me, you know Jaws is one of my favorite all-time movies. This not Jaws. It's a fine enough monster movie, with some surprises and thrills. Nothing special, though, not worth a recommendation.

#24 - 21

I started this movie sometime in like 2015, back when I liked gambling and had illusions of figuring out ways to 'beat the system.' It didn't grab me at all back then, but eventually I saw it on Netflix and gave it another go. And...well, it didn't really grab me this time either, but I did finally watch it. I found I didn't really sympathize with the protagonist, which made me not really invested in his plight. And Kevin Spacey's character is just kind of a butt. Cross it off the list though.

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