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COLUMN: Pruett’s 10 favorite movies of 2023

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Kaitlyn Close

The year 2023 was a great year for movies. With the year closed out and the awards season heating up, looking back on what made movie-going special in 2023 is a tough exercise. There were the great successes of the year, melding the commercial and creative. There were the independent hits that kept people talking. There were amazing animated entries and incredible international stories. The sheer number of wonderful films this year means there are vast opportunities for variety in top ten lists. This is mine. I hope you enjoy catching up on these flicks, or revisiting them if you were lucky enough to catch them in theaters.

 

  1. “Fallen Leaves”

Finland’s submission to the Academy Awards this year is one of the funniest films of 2023. “Fallen Leaves” is an off-beat romance between two awkward introverts. Their love story unfolds against the machinery of industrial blue-collar work and bristles with wit despite the gentle colors of Finnish autumn. At 82 minutes, the movie is a beautiful bite-sized piece of filmmaking. While the flat Finnish humor may not work for everyone, for those who enjoy it it’s impossible not to fall for “Fallen Leaves.”

 

  1. “Bottoms”

If “Mean Girls” and “Fight Club” had a gay daughter, it would be  “Bottoms.” “Bottoms” is Emma Seligman’s follow-up to her tremendous debut, “Shiva Baby,” and her second collaboration with co-writer and star Rachel Sennott. The movie takes no prisoners from beginning to end. The film follows PJ, played by Sennott, and Josie, played by Ayo Edebiri, as two best friends who start a female fight club at their school in order to get closer to the cheerleaders they want to seduce. The preposterous premise is hysterically funny in execution, and Seligman’s script combined with the fearlessness of her performers makes for an audacious satire of Gen Z high school romance.

 

  1. “May December”

“May December” is the streaming service sensation of the year. Quietly released on Netflix in December, “May December” stars Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore and Charles Melton in Todd Haynes’ dramedy, loosely adapted from the real life story of Mary Kay Letourneau. Letourneau was a school teacher who had an affair with her 12-year-old student, eventually marrying him and having his children in prison. “May December” picks up the story two decades later as an actress, portrayed by Portman, visits the family in order to play Haynes’ Letourneau character, Gracie, portrayed by Moore, in a movie. Haynes explores the power dynamics of tabloid sensation, the difference between performance and imitation and the tragedy of a young man’s life in simultaneous subtlety and deep melodrama.

 

  1. “The Boy and the Heron”

Hayao Miyazaki’s latest Studio Ghibli film is as wonderfully creative, fantastical and emotional as any of the “Spirited Away” director’s best works. The film follows Mahito, a young man who moves to the Japanese countryside with his father after his mother is killed in the firebombings of WWII. Mahito is drawn into a gorgeously animated world of talking parakeets, adorable marshmallow-esque spirits and his past and future family after he encounters a strange talking heron. The film is available in the original Japanese and an English dub, the latter of which features names like Christian Bale, Florence Pugh and Robert Pattinson in its star-studded cast. “The Boy and the Heron” is driven less by plot than “My Neighbor Totoro” or “Princess Mononoke,” but fans of Miyazaki’s work or animation in general will find much to admire in the wholly original world the great director created for Mahito to explore.

 

  1. “How to Blow Up a Pipeline”

The most urgent film of 2023 is an independent movie about a group of young people banding together to make radical change. Adapted from the nonfiction book of the same name, “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is a tightly-wound thriller. Its characters are realistic and representative of the many people and the many ways in which the climate crisis is taking its toll. The only solution, in this film’s point of view, is to take an explosive stand against injustice. “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is angry, thrilling and enthralling filmmaking. It’s relevant to the moment, but generates enough exciting action to ensure that its energy will be renewable for years to come.

 

  1. “Past Lives”

The best romance of the year is Celine Song’s directorial debut film “Past Lives.” The A24 film stars Greta Lee as a Korean immigrant, Nora, caught in a love triangle of time between Arthur, her New Yorker husband portrayed by John Magaro, and her Korean childhood sweetheart, Hae Sung, portrayed by Teo Yoo. Nora immigrated first to Canada as a child before moving to New York City to begin her professional life as a writer, where she met Arthur. Hae Sung, meanwhile, remained in Korea until he embarks on a trip to visit Nora in New York. The tension of the movie is not a will-they-won’t-they, but rather a gentle exploration of the way in which lives unfold, and how time, place and decision-making informs the people we become and the children we once were. Heart-wrenching and honest, “Past Lives” is a treatise on the importance of love in this life and the next.

 

  1. “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”

In an old piece I wrote for The Appalachian, I hailed “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” as “the best Spider-Man movie to date.” Its sequel, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” has handily taken that title. “Across the Spider-Verse” is an animated marvel, bursting with innovation, humor and electricity. The film puts every Spider-Man you could possibly think of into a gigantic movie about the multiverse, and yet still feels grounded in the stories of Shameik Moore’s Miles Morales and Hailee Steinfeld’s Gwen Stacy figuring out who they are and learning how to grow up. With great power comes great responsibility, and “Across the Spider-Verse” will have to accept the responsibility of being the best Spider-Man movie until its own sequel comes along.

 

  1. “Priscilla”

“Priscilla” is a movie about a young girl becoming a woman. The young girl just happens to be Priscilla Presley, portrayed by Cailee Spaeney, and her story just happens to involve one of the most famous relationships of 20th-century popular culture. “Priscilla” is a charismatic, colorful depiction of a girl meeting her idol, and a dramatic, cinematic deconstruction of why they say you should never meet your heroes. Jacob Elordi plays Elvis Presley in a vulnerably obnoxious register, while Spaeney carefully renders Priscilla from childhood’s obsession to marriage’s possession to womanhood’s derision. The film features gorgeous sets, people and costumes, and is a perfect encapsulation of what makes Sofia Coppola’s filmmaking so special.

 

  1. “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Martin Scorsese’s epic period piece, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” is a lot to handle. It boasts a three and a half hour runtime, dozens of characters across decades of time and covers some of the most difficult subject matters possible to depict in a film. However, for those willing to surrender to the weight of the story he wants to tell, Scorsese’s latest is a knockout. Lily Gladstone’s performance as Mollie Burkhart outshines Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro every time the three are onscreen, which is a remarkable achievement when the two men are performing at their absolute best as well. The Osage Nation’s tragedy is a complex topic for an Italian-American director to choose to tell, but Scorsese makes a vital, considerate attempt at portraying it with sensitivity and grace.

 

  1. “Barbie”

For a film to be the number one box office hit of the year, a pop culture icon and internet sensation from the moment of its arrival and one of the best movies of its decade is incredibly rare. “Barbie” hits all those boxes and more. While there are films that may outpace Greta Gerwig’s film in terms of weightiness or ingenuity, the earnest likability of “Barbie” makes it the movie of the year. The year 2023 in film will be defined by the Barbenheimer phenomenon. “Barbie” won’t be defined by 2023. From its soundtrack to its costumes to its cast, “Barbie” is iconic entertainment. However, what makes the film so impactful isn’t its humor or hot pink dance numbers. It’s the messages it chooses to spend its cultural capital sharing. Hi Barbie! This movie is fantastic.

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About the Contributors
Pruett Norris, Multimedia Editor
Pruett Norris (he/him) is a senior double majoring in English with a concentration in Film Studies and Electronic Media/Broadcasting. This is his second year with The Appalachian.
Kaitlyn Close, Graphics Editor
Kaitlyn Close (she/her) is a senior Graphic Design major and Digital Marketing minor. This is her second year with The Appalachian.
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    LauraJan 18, 2024 at 9:18 pm

    “ Heart-wrenching and honest, “Past Lives” is a treatise on the importance of love in this life and the next.”
    This is so true.
    Thank you for writing so beautifully about the films I saw in 2023 and writing so well about ones I now need to see!

    Reply