Comfortable and Furious

My Year in Movies – 2023 Edition

This never gets old…

As we approach the end of 2023, I debated on which topic to discuss at length here. The biggest story was the dual strikes by the Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild. The strikes went on for months, grinding production to a halt on everything. Several movie releases were delayed and many of the films that opened during the strike saw their box office numbers impacted, especially those that opened after the summer season. The good news is the strikes were successful in improving the working conditions and compensation for writers and actors, particularly the 99.9% of them that aren’t Tom Cruise or Scarlett Johansson. They also secured protections against the use of AI by studios. The bad news is the new bargaining agreement is only for three years and AI will be running all of the studios by then.

Speaking of the summer season, Barbenheimer almost broke the world. I was as skeptical as anyone about Barbie and very confused by the memes combining Barbie and Oppenheimer. Opening on the same date, the two movies took in nearly $2.4 billion. And Barbie outgrossed Oppie by $500 million. After I finally saw both of them, I understood. Except for the memes. I get it, but I don’t get it.

Barbie

On the flip side, Marvel experienced its worst box office of the MCU with The Marvels grossing just $204 million. The previous low was fifteen years ago when The Incredible Hulk pulled in $260 million and being behind the Hulk for any reason is never a good thing. Don’t worry about Marvel though. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3 raked in $845 million and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania finished at $476 million. To date, MCU films have grossed nearly $30 billion while spending less than $7 billion. They can afford to eat more than a couple box office bombs.

This brings me to our main topic – superhero fatigue. People have been complaining about too many superhero movies for years and this year it got its own branding. Google “superhero fatigue” and you’ll see that it’s been talked about by NPR, Variety, Collider, Fortune, and many others. I skimmed some of those pieces and they all get to essentially the same conclusion – superhero fatigue is not really a thing.

First, there aren’t as many superhero movies as you think there are. 2023 saw nine theatrical releases, ten if we count Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie (and I don’t). Now guess how many horror movies were released in 2023? You’re way too low. Nope, still too low. Higher. Hi-i-i-gher. According to IMDb, it’s eighty-four horror movies in 2023. Screenrant listed seventy-seven that had been released as of October 3. To be fair, that includes streaming movies, but even if we include Loki Season 2 and Secret Invasion as part of the superhero movies, that only adds the equivalent runtime of six movies, bringing the superhero total to fifteen. Yet, nobody is complaining about horror movie fatigue.

But, there is nearly endless marketing of superhero films. Disney and Warner Bros. spend $200-$300 million to produce each superhero movie. They are going to spend as much as it takes to make sure everyone knows about these films and even more money reminding us over and over (and over) to ensure they recoup their investment. Conversely, horror movies cost an average of $20 million to make – many of them a fraction of that – so it isn’t necessary to inundate the planet with ads for several months to convince you to watch M3gan.

And don’t forget discussions about superhero flicks. Superhero movies are somewhat unique in that they aren’t standalone movies, but episodes in a larger story. Ordinarily, movie discussion ends a couple of weeks after its release, a couple of months if it’s lucky. The Marvel conversation and rehash has been going on for fifteen years. Nobody cares what’s next for Five Nights at Freddy’s after watching it, but everyone leaves a Marvel movie wondering what that mid-credit scene means for the next three movies slated to come out. For the record, nobody is wondering about that after a DC movie, because everyone is still trying to get the taste of vomit out of their mouths.

Another factor is the superhero genre is no longer the shiny new thing. Superhero movies have been around for decades, but they were novelties until 2008, when The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and The Incredible Hulk were released, along with revealing the grand plan for The Avengers. Suddenly, there was this new, exciting thing at the theater, and one that wove several movies into one big finale. Like anything we spend enough time with, the novelty wears off. Now, the superhero genre is just another genre, like every other genre. Except musicals. I get them, but I don’t get them.

So, what are people really saying when they say they’re tired of superhero movies? The surface answer is they are tired of hearing about them. That’s completely understandable, so I promise I won’t spend eight paragraphs listing solutions to Marvel’s Jonathan Majors problem. Another thing audiences are really saying is they are frustrated at mediocre and bad superhero movies. DC has addressed that problem by hiring James Gunn to reboot the entire franchise. Marvel has recognized that quality has suffered from pushing out too much MCU content recently and they are dialing it back a bit. I believe Marvel’s recent lower quality is mostly due to spreading their writers too thin and they weren’t able to check each other’s work like before. DC’s quality suffered the moment they hired Zack Snyder to run the franchise.

Perhaps the biggest thing people are subconsciously saying is they just don’t want to commit to another decade-long story. Avengers: Endgame might be the most satisfying conclusion to a story ever. It’s not that people don’t want to watch another superhero movie. It’s that the MCU story ended in everybody’s minds and several of the most popular characters died during the story (or tragically in real life). People don’t need much motivation to watch a single movie, but they need a lot of motivation to start another multi-dozen-film saga that won’t end until sometime in the next decade.

But as much as people complain about “too many superhero movies,” they secretly want more and just need a good reason. And that is my really, really long way of saying you know you can’t wait to watch Deadpool 3. Now, let’s look back at the movies I watched throughout 2023.

Best of the best of the best, sir!

This might be the toughest top five I’ve chosen of all the years I’ve been reviewing movies. Not because there were a lot of great movies, but because there weren’t.

  • Barbie – I had no idea what it could possibly be about, especially after seeing the previews mimicking 2001: A Space Odyssey. Combining a fantasy doll world with a biting commentary on the patriarchy was the last thing I expected. Barbie was easily the best movie of the year.
  • Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse This film was the second most-anticipated film of the year for me behind Dune Part 2 (which was delayed until 2024). And it did not disappoint. Like the first movie, it does an excellent job of diving into Miles and Gwen, evoking emotional responses that most films can only dream of.
  • Dumb MoneyYou know a film is really good when it keeps you fully engaged despite the fact that you know the major plot points in advance. If you aren’t aware of the GameStop stock saga, definitely watch this movie to learn about it.
  • American Fiction – Like Barbie, American Fiction focuses on an aspect of society that really sucks and turns into a very poignant and entertaining film. Jeffrey Wright is fantastic as a writer whose intentional joke of a book becomes the very thing he was protesting when he wrote it. The film is exceptionally well-written, just as Wright’s character would want.
  • Air I wasn’t quite old enough to be part of the initial Air Jordan shoes craze, so I had no idea just how big a social phenomenon they were. I also had no idea how small Nike was prior to making the Air Jordans. I’m so glad to have learned about through this film, its fantastic actors (especially Viola Davis) and great storytelling.

You Almost Made It

Given how tough it was to come up with a top five, this category was even tougher. If you named any of these next few movies as being in your top movies of the year list, I would just nod at you. The difference between these and my top five is very little. Well, except Barbie. Nothing is close to Barbie.

  • Oppenheimer – While a very good film, I found it a tiny bit overrated. The acting was good and I learned a lot about Robert Oppenheimer’s life outside of the Manhattan Project. But the film took far too long to reveal what it was actually about – revenge by a failed Secretary of Commerce nominee in the form of private hearings to revoke Oppenheimer’s security clearance.
  • The Boogeyman I’m so used to Stephen King adaptations ranging from meh to yikes (not the scary yikes), that I was caught completely off guard by how good The Boogeyman turned out to be. Especially since it was adapted from a twelve-page short story. It was genuinely scary, building up the tension in the way all great horror movies do. I propose we get more adaptations of King’s short stories (of which there are more than a hundred).
  • Blackberry – The third of the real-life business movies this year and nearly as good as Air and Dumb Money. The characters weren’t quite as interesting in Blackberry as they were in the other two films, but the story was just as engaging. It’s also the only one with a bit of a sad ending, though not too sad. A touchscreen keyboard on our phones is far better than one with actual keys.
  • Dream Scenario – The concept of the film and its opening scene grabs you right away. I was hooked for nearly the entire running time, simultaneously sympathizing with the main character (portrayed by Nicolas Cage) and rooting against him. The film’s only flaw is they muffed the landing. In a worse movie, I’d reveal how they muffed it, but you’ll have to just watch for yourself.
  • Gran Turismo Apparently, I was really into movies depicting real-life events this year. I fully expected Gran Turismo to be another bad video game adaptation, but it turned out to be an engrossing racing film about a video gamer who became a legitimate racecar driver. It also helps that David Harbour kills it in this film.

The Squirmers

These movies were very good, but every one of them is tough to watch for one reason or another. Re-watchability played a big factor in my rankings here. Parts of each of these would be really difficult to sit through more than once. So, they get a separate category so you don’t accidentally watch them on date night.

  • Saltburn – Just one squirmer this year, because the others films that might have qualified were not good movies. Saltburn is very Hand That Rocks the Cradle, but doesn’t impale itself on a picket fence. It is by no means a flawless movie – relegating one of its main characters (Felix) to almost a background character – but it is a beautifully shot movie with great performances from Barry Keoghan and Rosamund Pike. And there are a couple of scenes you won’t be able to unsee.

Surprisingly Decent

It is almost impossible to go into a movie without some sort of expectations. Usually, it’s from something you saw in a trailer, actors who are in the movie, or what you already know about the director. Other times, it’s because they are based on thirty-six-year-old movies your parents won’t shut up about.

  • Plane – Any movie featuring Gerard Butler that doesn’t make you want to quit movies forever is a success. It’s a simple action movie that goes directly from point A to point B with no side tracks. More movies like this and Butler will take over January/February from Liam Neeson.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves There is a ton of potential and a built-in audience for Dungeons & Dragons, so it was imperative that Honor Among Thieves didn’t stink up the theaters the way the last one did (in 2000). While the box office didn’t reflect it, Honor was a very entertaining and non-stinky movie.
  • Haunted Mansion Like Honor Among Thieves, Haunted Mansion’s main goal was to erase the stench from its predecessor (in 2003). Given the source material is one of the oldest rides at Disney, it’s a tougher bar to clear than it seems. And, just like Honor Among Thieves, the new iteration of Haunted Mansion was far better than the box office total.
  • Wonka I was afraid Wonka would follow in the mediocre footsteps of films like Maleficent and Oz: The Great and Powerful. Instead, it followed in the footsteps of the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Timothee Chalamet is delightful, subtly reminding us of Gene Wilder while not trying to just recreate Wilder. Though, a memorable song or two might have been nice.
  • The Covenant – There are no British guys quipping. No intricate plans. No heists. Just Jake Gyllenhaal trying to get an interpreter and his family out of Afghanistan before they are killed. It’s a decent film, but not the kind of movie we want or expect from Guy Ritchie.

Movies for Me

Movies for Me are my guilty pleasures. Whether or not they’re objectively good doesn’t matter. All that matters is they did the thing I wanted them to do – entertain me.

  • Renfield Right out of the gate, the one that should lose me my card.
  • The Super Mario Bros. Movie – The only movie besides Barbie to gross more than $1 billion, but mostly out of pure nostalgia. That’s why I liked it. Though I really could have done without Jack Black’s annoying singing to remind us that he is indeed still Jack Black.
  • Sisu It scratches the action itch while not shying away from the inherent gruesomeness of killing. Doesn’t hurt that people being killed are Nazis either.
  • The Marvels – The box office was inexplicably brutal to some movies this year, none more so than The Marvels. It falls somewhere in between the movies in my later categories “We’re Really Only in it for the Money” and “We Decided We Weren’t Just in it for the Money” and this one lands somewhere in between.
  • Extraction 2 – I like Chris Hemsworth. Doesn’t everybody?
  • Talk to Me – It managed to creep out my son enough that he left the room at about the forty-five minute mark. It also had an end that was unexpected. If not for a bunch of scenes that tend to meander, it would have been higher up in my list.
  • Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour – I may not be a tweenaged girl, but I do like many of Taylor Swift’s songs. The film itself is just the Los Angeles concert from her tour, but for a fraction of the actual concert price, you get to see her up close rather than as a blurry dot off in the distance.

Meh…(or Movies Not for Me)

Flip a coin on these films. These movies were okay and also were movies. None of them spoke to me in any way, but maybe they spoke to you.

  • Wish – Disney played Wish incredibly safe. It’s a benign movie that takes no chances, content to reference as many other Disney movies as possible. It’s a movie you’ll forget before you leave the theater parking lot.
  • Migration – I enjoyed Migration more than Wish, but it was also a really safe movie. So safe that I couldn’t come up with a non-boring way to write a full review of it. You’re welcome.
  • The Burial – Jamie Foxx is trying to carry this movie while Tommy Lee Jones might not be aware he is in a movie. Between the two of them – and the lack of a big gotcha courtroom moment – we get a courtroom drama that is missing any semblance of drama.
  • Elemental – It’s quite a bit heavy-handed on the social issue it’s covering, but I appreciate the symbolism. Still, it’s just unremarkable, a problem that seems to have infected nearly all of Disney’s film and television properties.
  • Hypnotic – This film should have been better and could have been worse. Its premise is based on pseudoscience, but doesn’t really embrace the pseudo part.

Intermission

Last year’s intermission was far too long and very irrelevant to movies, so I’m tightening things up.

  • Secret Invasion – A generic story that treats Nick Fury like an incapable weakling. It is no wonder people generally hated this show. Nobody puts Nick Fury in a corner.
  • Loki Season 2 – Luckily for Marvel, the Loki writers treated Loki with the respect that he deserves. Loki remains the best Marvel series by a wide margin and (probably) won’t get a season 3 to risk that status.
  • Reacher Season 2 – Reacher is such a satisfying series to watch. Anyone who is a fan of the book series will tell you that Alan Ritchson was born to play Jack Reacher.

We’re Really Only in it for the Money

Nothing provides studios more inspiration than easy money. Nothing provides studios more fear than expiring IP rights. That’s how we continually get an annual plethora of lackluster uninspired sequels, remakes, and franchise entries.

  • Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny Literally the definition of doing it for the money, Dial of Destiny was the fifth Indiana Jones film of a five-film contract signed in way back in the late 1970s. Makes you wonder what penalty was listed in the contract if this film (and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) had never been made.
  • Trolls Band Together While it was better than the ghastly Trolls World Tour, it was still quite bland. Some movies just shouldn’t have sequels. Ever.
  • Scream VI I said, ever!
  • The Little Mermaid Are we done remaking classic animated films into soulless live-action money grabs yet, Disney? Oh, right. I guess $569 million means you’re not.
  • Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom – You could hear the indifference oozing from the screen.

We Decided We Weren’t Just in it for the Money

These movies are no less money grabs than the films you just read about, but they actually tried to provide some solid entertainment for your money. This might be the weakest crop of this type of movie in years, but they were all much better than everything in the previous category.

  • The Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes Wonka wasn’t the only prequel I was worried about this year. I’m not a big fan of villains getting back stories that make them sympathetic, but Ballad does a good job of showing us future President Snow’s motivations to be less than honorable, but not immediately evil. I really wouldn’t mind a second Ballad film to show us his full rise to power and the evolution of the Hunger Games into what Katniss would eventually compete in.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 A very good ending to arguably everyone’s favorite Marvel characters. I know we’re going to see more of the new Guardians, but it won’t be the same without Star-Lord.
  • Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 Unlike the Fast and Furious and John Wick franchises, Mission: Impossible hasn’t become a complete caricature of itself. In fact, M:I continues to put decently smart action flicks that you watch because you want to, not out of sheer inertia.
  • Creed IIIIt really is a shame about Jonathan Majors. Such a gifted actor and the reason I finally enjoyed a Creed movie. Plus, I wasn’t annoyed by Michael B. Jordan for the first time ever.

The Letdowns

The second category where expectations are key. Lazy screenplays and disappointing films will always exist.

  • M3GAN – A couple of curse words and more than a spot of blood is the difference between a PG-13 rating and an R rating. Considering the filmmakers behind M3GAN decided not to include any horror in their horror film, the least they could have done was loaded up their slasher flick with bloody killings. Instead, they went for an awkward dance. Cool.
  • Infinity Pool – The film had interesting premise and Alexander Skarsgard delivering a fantastic performance. Unfortunately, it didn’t know how to wrap up its story and the director (Brandon Cronenberg) didn’t seem to notice Mia Goth overacting every scene. By the end she was literally screaming every line of dialogue, ruining an otherwise interesting movie.
  • 65 – This was the science fiction surprise I was hoping for and it turned out to be a fairly mundane action flick. The dinosaurs looked cool though.
  • Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania – Note to filmmakers: Don’t split up your two title characters for the majority of their film. We wanted another Ant-Man and Wasp adventure, not a father-daughter road trip filled with inane family bickering. It’s not fun.
  • The Flash – At this point in time, no DCEU movie should ever be a letdown because expectations for them are set to negative one hundred. But they promised us Michael Keaton. If there was ever a time to get a DCEU movie right, it’s the one where Keaton comes back as Batman. And the scenes featuring Keaton were indeed entertaining and decent. But there were too many other parts that would make first-year film students scoff in derision.

TL;DR

At least ‘The Letdowns’ contained some entertainment value. These next films were all very boring, not the least bit entertaining, and lacked any plot beyond the initial premise. They are the very definition of “two hours of your life you will never get back.”

  • Maestro – I made it less than halfway through before I started wondering if I was in actually in a coma. A movie about a famous composer/conductor featuring barely any music? That would have been like Cocaine Bear featuring barely any bear maulings.
  • Cocaine Bear What did I just say?
  • Asteroid City – I have yet to watch a Wes Anderson movie and understand what the appeal is? Asteroid City has one scene that piqued my interest (the alien scene in the middle of the film). The rest had me wondering why nearly every line from every character is spoken with all the emotion of Ben Stein on Xanax.
  • Killers of the Flower Moon – Ok, so I didn’t actually watch this movie, but for good reason – it’s two hundred six minutes long and directed by Martin Scorsese. I lost seventeen hours of my life to Scorsese’s The Irishman (which is two hundred nine minutes) and had no desire to repeat that mistake. I’m sure the book it’s based on is a much more engaging experience.
  • Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom – If Superhero fatigue is real with people, this is the film that officially kills the genre for them. Do not give Aquaman your two hours.

Not the Worst, But You Sure Tried Hard

The challenge with this category is convincing you of the one redeeming quality for each of these films that kept them out of the cellar. Good luck to me, right?

  • The Last Voyage of the Demeter A by-the-numbers slasher movie that was written by people who clearly do not understand Dracula. Redeeming quality – mildly entertaining as a slasher flick.
  • Bottoms – I was hoping for a few laughs, but this attempt at comedy landed zero of its punches. Redeeming quality – the fight scene at the end was the kind of absurdity I always enjoy.
  • Knock at the Cabin – The film follows the book (The Cabin at the End of the World) closely and makes just as little sense. The premise is that a family must willingly kill one of their members to prevent the apocalypse. And to motivate the family, a quartet of strangers methodically kills one of themselves. It’s exactly the type of story that M. Night Shyamalan would be drawn to. Redeeming quality – Dave Bautista shows some real range in his acting.
  • Five Nights at Freddy’s Scooby Dooby Doo, where are you? You should have been in this movie. Scooby Dooby Doo, where are you? You had the right idea. Redeeming quality – the animatronics looked very creepy.
  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 This movie is the epitome of movies that should never have sequels. It’s bland, repetitive, and stomps all over jokes from the original film that were amusing exactly one time. Redeeming quality – the twelve seconds we actually see of Greece were pretty.
  • Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom – It was painfully obvious throughout the entire movie that everyone working on this film gave up on it well before they were done making it. And not just because the DCEU has been a dead-franchise-walking for several films now. It’s because they brought back the same villain (Black Manta) and Aquaman’s brother Orm (this time to help Aquaman). Seriously, zero shits given. Redeeming quality – Jason Mamoa embracing the death throes of the franchise and giving a performance best described as “sure, why not?”

Pooping on the Silver Screen

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for – the five worst movies of the year. Unlike with my top five, these terrible films were easy to identify.

  • Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre – Woof. Maybe Guy Ritchie was on to something when he ventured into making war dramas. This lifeless action flick included zero drama and Aubrey Plaza wildly out of her depth. Nothing about this film worked on any level.
  • No Hard Feelings The premise of the film puts it in a hole before it even begins and the movie just keeps digging. Jennifer Lawrence goes fully nude in an attempt to distract us from this humorless travesty, but that particular scene only serves to make the film more cringe-worthy.
  • Quasi It would have been nice if this movie were even quasi-funny. Yeah, that pun beats every joke in the film. 
  • Shotgun Wedding Given a choice between going through with this film or eating the bullet instead, take the bullet. It’s less painful.
  • Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom – I didn’t think it was possible to make a worse movie than the first Aquaman, but DC Films proved that if you focus on all of the worst aspects of a film, you can repeat them. Bad special effects, atrocious dialogue, and actors who know the dialogue is atrocious – those are just the tip of the spear. This time, they plagiarized other superhero movies, particularly Black Panther and the press conference scene at the end of Ironman, made Aquaman ride a seahorse in an embarrassingly unfunny nod to the comics, and featured dozens of whales sinking a super-submarine with the power of sonar. It’s so much worse than it sounds.

Pooping on the Silver Screen: The Sequel

This is the bonus category for movies that were made as sheer money grabs, but were also terrible movies in general. They are the shitty sequels, prequels, remakes, and franchise entries that keep getting made because you won’t stop watching them.

  • Transformers: Rise of the Beasts – My head hurts.
  • Shazam! Fury of the Gods – Helen Mirren should be ashamed of herself.
  • Blue Beetle – And Helen Mirren should be ashamed of Susan Sarandon. You both are actual actors.
  • John Wick: Chapter 4 As the John Wick films continue to get more expensive to make, the audience continues to spend more money. Just like the Fast and Furious franchise, the audience is going for a very specific reason and it has nothing to do with good writing. Some people just don’t need more than way-too-long fight scenes or John blocking bullets with a loose jacket to be entertained.
  • Fast X – There aren’t even fumes left in the tank of this franchise. Just like Aquaman, Fast X recycles plotlines and characters from its previous films. And nothing is lazier than a revenge plot by the son of a wronged villain. I couldn’t even finish watching this junk heap.
  • Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom – Jason Mamoa gets urinated into his mouth three(!) different times. The very last scene features Patrick Wilson enjoying a burger topped with a giant cockroach. If this doesn’t sum up the DCEU as a whole, nothing does. Zero. Shits. Given.

Well, we made it. In general, 2023 was a pretty lousy movie year. I’m very happy for the writers and actors securing better compensation and job security, but I really wanted to see Dune Part 2 this year. As for superhero fatigue, if you really are tired of superhero movies, you’re getting a reprieve next year. The DCEU is being completely rebooted and we won’t see anything from that until 2025 at the earliest. Sony is vomiting out three more likely bad movies from their Spider-Man property that you can ignore (Kraven the Hunter, Venom 3, and Madame Web). And Marvel is releasing just one MCU movie and it’s Deadpool 3, and that alone gives me hope for 2024.


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One response to “My Year in Movies – 2023 Edition”

  1. Goat Avatar
    Goat

    Kevin, as usual, fantastic job. You always come through for Ruthless.

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