THE year is almost over and, with Christmas now terrifyingly close, many of us will now be reflecting on what – if anything – we actually managed to achieve this year while thinking of ways to entertain/escape our families in the coming days.
Gathering together in front of the television or, for the super-rich and infinitely patient, embarking on a mass excursion to an actual cinema to watch a good or even just plain adequate film has long been one of the best ways for relatives to be able to emerge bleary eyed on the other side of the so-called festive period and say “look, we actually spent a decent chunk of time together” without really needing to engage in the often perilous and emotionally stressful art of communication.
With that in mind, it’s time to look back at some of films released over the past 12 months which you may want to catch up on in the company of your nearest and dearest (and your racist Uncle Frankie), or perhaps escape to in the company of an entire tub of your favourite festive chocs once ‘the fam’ have finally done your head in.
BEST ACTION BLOCKBUSTER
THE official reason for the release date of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One being pushed back from 2022 to this year was a disagreement over money, with the production ‘paused’ while Tom Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie awaited their eye-wateringly expensive demands being met by studio bean counters.
Oddly enough, 2022 also saw Hollywood’s pint-sized saviour back on the big screen with the unexpectedly fantastic Top Gun: Maverick, so dropping another TC-led blockbuster on our heads mere weeks afterwards would probably have ‘hurt’ both movies in the long-run.
Whatever the real reason behind the delay, Cruise and McQuarrie ended up delivering the best action film of the year – sorry Extraction 2, Equalizer 3, John Wick 4 and Fast X – and also probably the best M:I entry of the entire franchise.
Even though it clocks in at almost three-hours, it’s never less than wildly entertaining fare.
Where to watch: Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One is currently available to rent/buy digitally via services including Apple TV+, Prime Video, YouTube Movies and Sky Store
BEST LONG MOVIE
WHILE we’re on the subject of running times, I believe it was (consults Google) the late great movie critic Roger Ebert who proclaimed that “no good movie is too long, and no bad movie is short enough”.
Thankfully, while 2023 was the year which saw three-hour-plus cinema running times trending, the actual films in question were pretty much all quality items.
Christopher Nolan’s 181-minute long Oppenheimer was one of the first flicks of the year to spark the ‘how long is too long?’ debate.
For those who enjoyed Nolan’s sobering biopic of the atomic bomb’s big brained baby daddy (raises hand), three-ish hours was just dandy. In fact, that utterly hilarious sex scene between Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh could have been extended, imo.
I would also have happily sat through a longer cut of the surprisingly excellent Barbie, though maybe not back to back: the ‘Barbenheimer’ experience is enough of an emotional rollercoaster as-is.
Auld Marvel-hating Martin Scorsese also gave us a cheek-chapping cinema experience this year in the form of Flowers of The Killer Moon, almost three-and-a-half hours of slow-burning murder and intrigue starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert DeNiro and Lily Gladstone.
I’m waiting to watch this one at home, mostly due to logistics: factoring-in commuting time and the inevitable trailers and adverts, you’re looking at blocking off approximately five hours of your day to see one film. Sorry, Marty, but the middle-aged just don’t have that kind of time left.
On the other hand, Ridley Scott’s fact-bending epic Napoleon at least offers spectacular practical action and stunts-packed recreations of three major historical battles throughout its admittedly uneven 158-minutes – and you’re pretty much used to Joaquin Phoenix’s Californian twang by the time the Battle of Austerlitz arrives.
Hopefully, the four-hour-plus ‘director’s cut’ coming to Apple TV+ next month will be even more epic and lavish, while also fixing some of the issues with the film’s rather muddled first act.
Where to watch: Oppenheimer, Barbie and Killers of The Flower Moon are currently available to rent/buy digitally via services including Apple TV+, Prime Video, YouTube Movies and Google Play Movies. Napoleon is in cinemas now.
BEST SOCIALLY-CONSCIOUS DRAMA
KEN Loach’s third film focusing on 21st century broken Britain, The Old Oak is a heart-wrenching/warming tale of a publican, TJ, (Dave Turner) who’s forced to put his already fragile livelihood on the line in order to do what’s right, thus bearing the brunt of his local community’s racism towards an unexpected influx of Syrian refugees, including aspiring photojournalist Yara (excellent newcomer Ebla Mari).
In 50 years’ time, historians will surely be using I, Daniel Blake, Sorry We Missed You and The Old Oak as study aids to help explain how the Tories systematically destroyed England and the UK.
Where to watch: The Old Oak is available to rent via services including Apple TV+, Google Play Movies, Prime Video and Sky Store
BEST HORROR FILM
TIME-bending teen slasher pic Totally Killer and homicidal AI doll caper M3GAN offered decent takes on tried-and-tested formulas this year. Meanwhile, Scream VI was probably better than it had any right to be (sorry, Neve Campbell) and the gonzo comedy-horror joys of Cocaine Bear were literally laugh-out-loud enjoyable.
However, Aussie teen horror Talk To Me is hands-down (a wee in-joke there) the best chiller of 2023. A hugely entertaining mix of psychological and supernatural horror centred on millennials messing with demonic possession, it boasts some truly eye-watering practical effects.
Yes, Talk To Me is genuinely disturbing - and not just because it’s an excellent movie made by a pair of YouTubers: take a bow Danny and Michael Philippou.
Where to watch: Talk To Me is available to stream via Netflix and to rent/buy via services including Apple TV+, Google Play Movies, Prime Video and Sky Store. Totally Killer is available to stream via Prime Video. M3GAN is available to stream via NOW and to rent/buy via services including Apple TV+, Google Play Movies, YouTube Movies and Sky Store. Cocaine Bear is available to stream via NOW and to buy via services including Apple TV+, Google Play Movies and Prime Video.
BEST UNEXPECTEDLY GREAT ACTION-ADVENTURE SEQUEL STARRING AN 80-YEAR-OLD
OK, SO Harrison Ford was technically just about still in his 70s when they were making the fourth Indiana Jones movie (we no longer speak of Indiana Jones & T** C****** S****), but somehow the cranky star managed to appear more vital and engaged in Indiana Jones & The Dial of Destiny than in the Blade Runner and Star Wars sequels from a few years ago – and not just in the scenes where he was digitally de-aged.
While some of the other CGI in this belated Indy entry is a little suspect, it’s actually a fantastically entertaining family film which got an very unfair reception from critics. And, best of all (spoiler alert), unlike Han Solo, Dr Jones doesn’t get killed off.
No doubt this means Ford’s second most iconic character will be back for yet another whip-cracking adventure at some point in the future, perhaps – if Hollywood studio bosses have their way - in AI form, long after the Indiana Jones man has literally returned to the stars.