These are the best movies and series I watched in 2023, in no particular order.
Five stars: the best of the best
This overlooked thriller is as taut and suspenseful as it gets. Zoë Kravitz is brilliant as the agoraphobic tech worker who must face her fear in order to bring a crime to light. But the real star is a screenplay (David Koepp) and direction (Steven Soderbergh) that doesn't waste a word or a single frame.
A powerful story about women collectively liberating themselves from an oppressive, authoritarian religious community. Sarah Polley wrote and directed this film based on the Miriam Toews novel of the same name, which itself was a fictional account of documented events. Based on a true story, and true stories that are all around us. See it.
I Lost My Body (2019)
This intense, inventive animated film will haunt me for years to come. It is suffused with existential heartache: the pain of mortality, loneliness, and regret. I haven't seen anything like it since BoJack Horseman -- but this one comes without comic relief. (Interesting that these two works that I found so meaningful are both animated.) I Lost My Body is one of the very best things we saw in 2023, and/but it was almost too painful to watch.
I'm a Virgo S1
What would happen to a 13-foot-tall Black man in 21st Century America? Boots Riley, the genius behind Sorry to Bother You (2018), again finds a way to reflect and skewer our world through fantasy comedy. This series is absolutely astonishing, with layers upon layers of meaning. I can't wait to see where it goes.
|I Lost My Body: the loneliness of the human condition
In 2019, the wreckage of the ship Clotilda was found in Alabama's Mobile River: it was the last known ship to bring kidnapped, enslaved African people to America, legally. Filmmaker Margaret Brown spent four years with the community of Africatown -- where many residents are descendants from the people held captive on that ship -- exploring how the discovery impacted their lives.
Everything Everywhere All At Once
Add my voice to the chorus proclaiming the wonders of this movie.
Shining Girls re-watch (S1, full series)
Last year, I wrote this about Shining Girls:
This genre-blending thriller/mystery/sci-fi series is mind-blowing, and features yet another insanely good performance by Elisabeth Moss. I'm planning on re-watching: now that I know the outcome, I can concentrate on clues and how it all fits together.
I did that, and I loved the series again, possibly even more than I did the first time.
Bicycle Thieves (1948)
Kanopy streaming service -- available free through your library -- is great for exploring classics that you haven't seen, or perhaps saw long ago. This story of a working-class man trying to eke out a living in the bleak, starving world of post-war Italy, his young son in tow, is gripping, heartbreaking, and masterful.
Hunters S1-2 (S1 re-watch + full series)
I don't know why Hunters is so under-recognized and under-rated. A conspiracy thriller with a good dose of comedy, it benefits from great acting by Al Pacino (finally doing television!), Lena Olin, and Dylan Baker, among others. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Operation Paperclip. I gave S1 a 4 out of 5, but after seeing both seasons in succession, I moved it to the top category. Not for the violence-averse.
Chinatown is what all noir movies aspire to. It's one of the best movies from an era of great moviemaking. Yes, it was directed by a rapist and pedophile, but it's a great movie. If you see it, you are not condoning the director's crimes. I promise.
The Sting (1973)
The Sting is one of the all-time great con movies. Pure joy. Plus Paul Newman! This movie is so good, it almost made me like Robert Redford. (Not really, but that's how good it is.)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
See above. When I was a kid, this was one of my favourite movies, and watching it now brought me that same kind of uncritical joy. The movie inspired a (probably bad) TV show called Alias Smith and Jones, which I also watched avidly, back in the day.
Would we have thought this movie was great if we didn't know the crazy backstory, if we weren't already fascinated by Werner Herzog, if we didn't know Mick Jagger was originally cast in it, if there hadn't been a blood feud between Herzog and Klaus Kinski? That's a question with no answer, but we did thoroughly enjoy the film. We also watched My Best Fiend, Werner Herzog's ode to his relationship with Klaus Kinski, and Burden of Dreams, Les Blank's 1982 documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo.
|Unpregnant: teenage abortion without apology
Now that people are finally making honest movies about abortion, I plan to see them all. This one did everything right -- humour, honesty, authentic teen relationships, and just the right amount of political context. Thanks to the horrific US anti-abortion laws, a new subgenre is developing: the abortion road trip.
Reservation Dogs S3
Season 3 of this stellar show included more of what we might call magical realism, but what an Indigenous worldview would embrace as simply part of the web of life, some of which is unseen, and occasionally revealed. The episode dealing with the death of an elder must be the best piece of Indigenous culture ever seen by a mainstream audience. I also found the boarding school / residential school episode pretty much perfect. Through the whole series, the young actors are so good.
Never Have I Ever S4
I didn't think they could do it, but Devi Vishwakumar's coming-of-age stayed brilliant through four seasons. Funny, sad, sweet, and authentic. Nearly perfect.
Triangle: Remembering the Fire
This HBO documentary is a great, concise overview of an important piece of women's/labour/New York City/American history. Even if you know all about the Triangle fire, you'll be glad you saw this. For the full story, see if you can get your hands on a copy of Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David Von Drehle.
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
This documentary about the artist and activist Nan Goldin is notable for the brutal honesty with which Goldin bares her life -- a stark and welcome contrast to the typical sanitized biopic. Although Goldin's activism exposing the Sackler family's culpability in the opioid crisis is one of the film's central themes, the film is not about the Sacklers or the drug crisis. It's about Nan Goldin. It's fascinating, gripping, and at times a bit grueling.
|"Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."
Re-watching ER for the first time since it originally aired reminded me of what a great show it is -- at least for the first five seasons. I'm currently slogging through the rest of the series, as original cast members fall away and the show becomes a soap opera set in a hospital. Which is not to say it's not entertaining.
Four stars: highly recommended
Rita S1-S5, full series
I'm so glad I went back to this. Rita is such a refreshing protagonist -- smart, sexy, iconoclastic, utterly independent, often wrong, always fierce. If her free spirit is partly a mask over the pain of early trauma, that doesn't make her any less free. A joyous and sometimes sad show that deepened with every season.
Outside In (2017)
A man gets out of prison, having served 20 years for a crime he didn't commit. The emotional fallout impacts many lives in a small Pacific Northwest town. Really well done.
Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker
Art, AIDS, and activism in 1980s New York. A moving portrait of a pioneer. Coincidentally, the subject matter intersects with All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, above.
The Old Man S1
Jeff Bridges plays a Vietnam veteran and former spy, and John Lithgow plays his former handler. Also, there are dogs. The first season was a credible and exciting thriller. We've been waiting for S2.
I really enjoyed this smart, funny, and sad show, a comedy about grief, loss, therapy, honesty, and reclaiming joy. Add another title to the list of smart adult drama-sitcoms, which for me includes Episodes, Silicon Valley, Hacks, and a few others.
A strange and exciting sci-fi thriller about -- at bottom -- labour and capitalism. Related to Sorry to Bother You, but without the humour. Definitely waiting for S2.
Perry Mason S1-2 (full series so far)
We were happy to see the return of this smart, stylish, retro noir, an origin story and prequel to the old Perry Mason TV show. I hope it continues.
American Experience: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
A short, factual look at the daring and charismatic outlaws who inspired the 1969 movie. American Experience documentaries are consistently excellent. I'm glad several of them have made it onto Kanopy, Prime, and occasionally Netflix.
Succession S1-4 (full series)
Although this series sometimes felt repetitive, it was utterly addictive. I've heard people question the value of a show about rich assholes. To me, interesting characters, complex relationships, good writing, and great acting are the elements of a great series. The backdrop hardly matters. Plus, any really good series will peel back the assholic behaviour to reveal the pain and trauma that drives it.
Unknown: Cave of Bones
When Allan and I can't agree on what to watch, we can always reach for some nature, anthropology, or archeology doc. This is a fascinating look at new research on early hominids, and the likelihood that they were more advanced than previously thought.
The Killing (1956)
This early Stanley Kubrick film, which Kubrick co-wrote with the seminal hardboiled crime writer Jim Thompson, is classic noir. You know the heist is doomed to fail, but how many lives will be lost or wrecked in the process, and whether or not anyone will get away clean, are always open questions.
C'est comme ça que je t'aime (Happily Married) S1-2 (full series)
A crime comedy by the makers of Series Noire? Say no more! This series belongs to the "what lurks beneath the quiet suburbs" tradition -- taken to an extreme. Of course, like most crime films, it requires a certain suspension of disbelief. But it's funny, insightful, and super twisty.
Our Flag Means Death S1-2, full series so far
Love, loss, discovery, and revenge on the high seas. A fun -- and sometimes sad -- dark comedy, full of LGBTQ love. Thoroughly enjoyable.
Vjeran Tomic: The Spider-Man of Paris
A documentary, told in the first person, by the man who pulled off the greatest art heist in the history of Paris.
Lupin S1-2 rewatch + S3 (full series)
More Parisian art heists! Despite some twists that were simply not credible, even in the world of criminal fantasy, Lupin S3 was still great. The anti-racist, anti-capitalist, and literary angles add depth, and Paris adds sparkle.
The Banshees of Inisherin
This story's descent into tragic darkness somehow feels both shocking and inevitable. It's very, very sad, and more than a little strange, with an all-star Irish pedigree.
The Sound of Metal
A drummer in a metal-punk duo is losing his hearing, and with it, his identity. What kind of future he will choose, what new self will emerge, is what he and the audience must discover. A moving exploration of disability, identity, and recovery.
Slap Shot (1977)
Paul Newman always said that Slap Shot was his favourite of his own films, and that it was the most fun to make. With George Roy Hill's light touch, and a hilarious screenplay by Nancy Dowd, this sweet comedy has a loose-jointed feel that draws you in, warm and welcoming. The following year, Dowd won the Oscar for Best Screenplay for Coming Home. With The Sting and Butch Cassidy, Slap Shot makes three George Roy Hill movies this year, and each a gem.
Honourable mentions: worth seeing
Jospeh Campbell and the Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers
We watched this when it first aired on PBS in 1988. I bought the book and became a huge fan. All these years later -- and knowing the standard criticisms of Campbell's ideas -- I am still interested and impressed.
A documentary about a font? Sure, why not? It missed a few obvious opportunities that would have greatly improved it, but solid and worth seeing.
Bill Russell: Legend
An incredible athlete, an outspoken civil rights activist, and a prickly, cantankerous man. This two-part bio-doc is not perfect, but it is excellent.
I'm Thinking of Ending Things
Charlie Kaufman's movies are always challenging to parse and invariably provoke good post-watch discussions. Which is not the same thing as saying I like them. But I do continue to see them. Sad note: in the role played by Jesse Plemons, I kept imagining Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Previous "we move to canada" awards
- Canadian musicians and comedians (2006-07 and 2007-08)
- my beverage of choice (2008-09)
- famous people who died during the past year (2009-10)
- where I'd like to be (2010-11)
- vegetables (2011-12)
- big life events in a year full of Big Life Changes (2012-13)
- cheese (2013-14)
- types of travels (2014-15)
- famous people who died plus famous people who died, part 2 (2015-16)
- the picket line (2016-17)
- movies (2017-18)
2018-19: 1-5 ☮s
2019-20: 1-5 💉s
2020-21: 1-5 😷s (without the tear!)
2021: best of 2021 april to december
2022: best of 2022