Movies Watched in 2023: 1-25

Photo by Gaspar Uhas on Unsplash

I like films for loads of reasons, but mainly I like them because they take you into someone else’s head. They stop you from endlessly ruminating on your own ruminations, from stewing in your own existential juices and you get to root around in someone else’s mind instead. Spend enough time with Bergman, or Yasujiro Ozu, or Rainer Werner Fassbinder, or Eric Rohmer, or Woody Allen, or Albert Brooks, or Agnes Varda, or Andrei Tarkovsky, or Mike Leigh, or Robert Altman, or Hitchcock, or Truffaut, or Kurosawa, or Wim Wenders, or Chantal Akerman, or Brian De Palma (etc etc etc etc), and you’re not just getting a film, you’re getting a lifetime of someone else trying to figure it all out.

Anyway, these days my viewing is less fervent than it was during the ole pandemic (remember that?), less rampant and rabid, but the aim is still to get through at least ten films each month, with an overall goal of around 150 each year. So here’s the first batch from 2023, reviewed, ranked from best to worst (so far), and judged using the world famous Interestment Covid Rating – 19 being phenomenal, 1 being turdballs.

Secrets & Lies (1996)

Directed by Mike Leigh
Starring: Brenda Blethyn, Timothy Spall

Much of 2023 has been spent going through Mike Leigh’s back catalogue, from the bigger movies to the littler TV ones, and the consensus is that they’re excellent – all of them, excellent (for the most part). All predominantly centred around ordinary people living relatively ordinary lives, but with a sharpened focus on the scars we try to hide, making for funny mirror morality tales, though with the Holy Grail of never feeling preachy. In that sense, Mike Leigh might be the closest thing we’ve got to the master craftsman Yasujiro Ozu, and that’s no small praise.
Covid Rating: 18

Peeping Tom (1960)

Directed by Michael Powell
Starring: Karlheinz Böhm, Anna Massey

A twisted tale, a slasher flick about a loner making his own snuff movies, which seems crazy when you consider that it’s directed by one half of Powell and Pressburger, who gave us such romantic treats as A Matter of Life and Death and The Red Shoes. You suspect that audiences were rendered equally bewildered for precisely that reason, hence it was mercilessly panned by the critics, axe murdering Michael Powell’s career as it went. It’s a shame really, because it’s a brilliant film. Screen killer Karlheinz Böhm didn’t suffer such ignominy, and went on to do some great work with New German Cinema legend Rainer Werner Fassbinder a little further down life’s autobahn.   
Covid Rating: 17

Tampopo (1985)

Directed by Jûzô Itami
Starring: Nobuko Miyamoto, Tsutomu Yamazaki

In real life, director Jûzô Itami came a very curious cropper in extremely fishy circumstances, ‘jumping’ from a rooftop and leaving behind a particularly sterile suicide note that couldn’t possibly come from the poetic mind of one of Japan’s finest. Whatever really went down that day on the roof, whether there was some kind of mob involvement or not, the world lost a great film maker. And an inventive one too. In this, his “noodle western” – one from the pantheon of great movies about food – his real-life wife Nobuko Miyamoto plays a humble cook embarking on a quest to make the greatest ramen the world has ever seen.
Covid Rating: 17

Wanda (1970)

Directed by Barbara Loden
Starring: Barbara Loden, Michael Higgins

An exploration of apathy. A woman walks out on her family to roam around, mostly aimlessly, before she unwittingly finds herself on the run with a bank robber. Even then she remains mostly blank, or as the legendary critic Pauline Kael would have it “dumb”, but that feels like the whole point of it. An existential numbness, an exploration of what it’s like to be empty. With added potency when you consider that the director/star Barbara Foden’s husband was the great Elia Kazan, who made movies densely packed with driven protagonists striving towards specific goals (On the Waterfront, East of Eden). Yet this is the total antithesis of that, her yin to his yang.
Covid Rating: 16

A Nos Amours (1983)

Directed by Maurice Pialat
Starring: Sandrine Bonnaire, Maurice Pialat

Another one to file with the great ‘coming of age’ dramas, here finding a teenage girl looking to find real human connection, mainly between the sheets, and mainly to escape the suffocating grip of an abusive home life. Sandrine Bonnaire was just a year or so away from her turn in Agnes Varda’s Vagabond, and this almost feels like its prequel, though even better than what came next, you could argue.
Covid Rating: 16

Bad Lieutenant (1992)

Directed by Abel Ferrara
Starring: Harvey Keitel

If we’re talking singular performances in movies, this has to be somewhere near the top of the pile. In the wrong hands, a cop with gambling, drug, and sex addictions could have become tiresome and cartoonish, and that the part was initially intended for Christopher Walken does make you wonder what might have been, and perhaps not in a good way. But Keitel weaves some spell, he’s a muscular, conflicted monster and you can feel his self-hatred. It’s a performance that even his great peer De Niro probably wouldn’t be able to pull off. And yes, for those who know, pun very much intended.
Covid Rating: 16

Meantime (1983)

Directed by Mike Leigh
Starring: Tim Roth, Phil Daniels

Made for telly (Channel 4, specifically) in the early 80s, and featuring three of the most lauded British actors of their generation in Tim Roth, Alfred Molina, and Gary Oldman – with Oldman, in particular, playing the most believable skinhead I’ve seen on screen. But even so, the whole thing belongs to Phil Daniels, who with this, Scum, and Quadrophenia was arguably the best of the bunch, and yet superstardom somehow eluded him. Now more famous for his role in an annoying Blur song.
Covid Rating: 15

L’Argent (1983)

Directed by Robert Bresson
Starring: Christian Patey, Sylvie Van den Elsen

The destructive power of money in a fable tracking forged notes going from one hand to the next, before landing an innocent man in jail and turning him into a killer. It’s based on a Tolstoy novella called The Forged Coupon, but where that gets a second chapter heady with redemption, this yanks you out abruptly when the going is about as bad as it can get.
Covid Rating: 15

Teorema (1968)

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Starring: Silvana Mangano, Terence Stamp

Each member of a wealthy family – from the maid, to the mum, the son, the daughter, and the dad – are systematically seduced by an elusive visitor played by General Zod (Terence Stamp), before undergoing epiphanies from different areas on the spectrum of enlightenment/sanity. The message, as the patriarch of this bourgeois lot sheds his clothes and heads screaming through the wilderness, appears to be that our belongings won’t bring us happiness. That we hide our discontent behind totems of status. A few years later Pasolini famously gave us Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, which was full of rather more feral visual metaphors.
Covid Rating: 15

News from Home (1976)

Directed by Chantal Akerman
Starring: Chantal Akerman

Long-lens footage of 1970s New York set to letter recitals – real actual letters that director Chantal Akerman received from her mum when she lived in NYC. Its pace is similarly languid to her smash hit (and Sight and Sound’s Greatest Movie of All Time, no less) Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, but its message is much less stark and unsettling. If anything, it’s one of hope, reminding you that every crowded city is made up of people with their own stories, their own lives playing out in the background, and their own families hoping they’re okay away from the bosom of home.  
Covid Rating: 15

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

Directed by Norman Jewison
Starring: Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway

Not the most celebrated movie of the 1960s, mainly on account of there being a huge gap where a story should be. But when the surrounding ingredients are this spellbinding – McQueen, Dunaway, a jazz soundtrack from the same guy who scored The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort – who honestly gives a shit about the plot?
Covid Rating:  15

The Color of Pomegranates (1969)

Directed by Sergei Parajanov
Starring: Sofiko Chiaureli, Melkon Alekyan

Visual poetry, literally. It’s a Soviet Armenian art film (no, I have no idea who I am anymore either) recounting the life of the poet and musician, Sayat-Nova, but really you just need look at it, and then keep looking at it. Every frame is a work of art.
Covid Rating: 14

Lady Snowblood (1973)

Directed by Toshiya Fujita
Starring: Meiko Kaji, Toshio Kurosawa

The movie that inspired Kill Bill, and it shows. Though here, Uma Thurman’s Bride is replaced by Meiko Kaji’s Daughter (aka Lady Snowblood) who is out to avenge the death of her parents, marking their books and taking down various motherfuckers one by one. And like Kill Bill, there’s plenty of gorgeous scenery juxtaposed with blood gushing from punctured limbs like spray paint.
Covid Rating: 14

Cape Fear (1991)

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte

Immortalised in 1993 by The Simpsons ‘Cape Feare’ episode, which found Krusty’s old pal Sideshow Bob taking the De Niro role as the terrifying ex-con seeking to destroy the man he blames for getting him sent down – in that case the young whippersnapper Bart, in this case, shoddy defense lawyer Nick Nolte. There’s also a 1962 version starring Robert Mitchum as Sideshow Bob (De Niro) and Gregory Peck as Bart (Nolte). The good news is that this one’s the best of the three, with Scorsese aping his old pal Brian De Palma, and doing it really well.
Covid Rating: 14

Straw Dogs (1971)

Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Susan George

Hoffman as an out-of-towner trying to start a new life in Cornwall. Put like that, and it’s almost a comedy pitch. But then you notice Sam Peckinpah at the wheel, staring maniacally at you. That’ll be less a romp in the countryside then, more a doom-laden slow burn that ends with a beta-male erupting into violence, lunging for elusive alpha status after having his patience eroded and his manhood tested by a litany of sneering locals. Its famous rape scene, which was considered either deliberately ambiguous or wildly misogynistic depending on your viewpoint, is still jarring.
Covid Rating: 14

A Room with a View (1985)

Directed by James Ivory
Starring: Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith

Adapted from an EM Forster novel. Those familiar with Forster will attest to him being a champion of contrarianism and individuality, a keen humanist, and an equally keen taker-downer of buttoned-up society. Anyway, here, it’s all about a posh lass (Helena Bonham Carter) having her head turned by the kind of defiant Edwardian punk (Julian Sands) who dares to go in for kisses without doing all of the necessary paperwork first.
Covid Rating: 13

Rye Lane (2023)

Directed by Raine Allen-Miller
Starring: David Jonsson, Vivian Oparah

There’s often talk of a dearth of romantic comedies (or rom-coms to their friends), but they’re always out there somewhere, doing their thing, following the prescriptive format: [INTROVERT] can’t stomach [EXTROVERT], no way will they get together, but then guess fucking what? And here it is again, dotting the usual dots, but this time set in the dizzying surrounds of wonderful South London.
Covid Rating: 13

The Romance of Astrea & Celadon (2007)

Directed by Eric Rohmer
Starring: Andy Gillet, Stéphanie Crayencour

For some pretentious reason, the emergence of the coronavirus caused a spike in my adoration of sexy French films, and there are few cinematic canons sexier than Eric Rohmer’s canon. This one, a costume drama about a 5th century shepherd trying to win back his beautiful ex-girlfriend, might’ve looked a little ropy on paper, but as ever with Rohmer, it’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon when you really should be working.
Covid Rating: 13

Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre (2023)

Directed by Guy Ritchie
Starring: Jason Statham, Aubrey Plaza

Something appears to be happening to Guy Ritchie. Not a huge metamorphosis necessarily, not an overhaul, he’s not getting exponentially better artistically (though he might be), but you do get a glimmer of a small epiphany going on in the backwaters. A sense that he’s relaxed his shoulders, accepted his strengths, acknowledged his weaknesses, and he’s found his spot churning out above-average action movies that do the job. And with Hugh Grant having an absolute blast, and everyone else having a throwaway time in a throwaway film, (whisper it) I’d take it over the bloated Mission Impossibles any day.
Covid Rating: 13

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw

The movie that both Spielberg and Lucas have washed their hands of, with talk of regret, of it being too dark, too mean-spirited. There’s even a suggestion that its venom and rage was a result of their rocky personal lives bleeding into their work. And yet, to certain young 8-year-old cinema goers (at the time!!), this was about as good as life got, with chilled monkey brains, beating hearts being yanked from chests, a wise-cracking kid, and some hot piece of ass. In fact, if you can get past the wildly broad brush strokes applied to Indian culture, you could even make an argument for this being the best of the whole franchise.
Covid Rating: 12

Magic Mike (2012)

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer

They often talk about Steven Soderbergh being a ‘one for me/one for them’ director, the kind who can offset the intensity of Traffic with the breeziness of Oceans 11, or the intellectualising of Solaris with the shit-for-brains of Oceans 12, and it’s pretty clear where this one lands – it’s a ‘one for them’ though the ‘them’ in this case is a braying mob of hen nights itching to see Channing Tatum air fucking on stage. He’s an absolute force of nature. Matthew McConaughey doing ‘sleazy’, on the other hand, is borderline unwatchable.
Covid Rating: 12

White Men Can’t Jump (1992)

Directed by Ron Shelton
Starring: Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson

The plus side: the three main leads, both the fellas and Rosie Perez, have what you might call ‘chemistry’. There’s also a certain amount of 90s nostalgia to be enjoyed. But beyond that, it’s threadbare, low stakes, and by the time they’ve painted the numbers to give you the ending you knew was coming (aside from the failed romance), you’re free to get on with your life completely unchanged.
Covid Rating: 10

Air (2023)

Directed by Ben Affleck
Starring: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck

Affleck and Damon back together again. And like their most popular collaboration Good Will Hunting, this tells the story of the extraordinary existing in a world of the ordinary, though in this case it’s not a person, it’s a shoe. A fucking shoe. That’s where we’ve got to, assembling some of Hollywood’s finest to do biopics about a shoe.
Covid Rating: 7

Baby Boom (1987)

Directed by Charles Shyer
Starring: Diane Keaton, Sam Shepard

Diane Keaton plays a yuppie businesswoman who wants it all, and definitely, specifically doesn’t want kids. But in a cruel twist, she gets a baby by default – long story, watch the film (or don’t) – and her life becomes complete. Is this empowering? It doesn’t feel empowering. It feels like it might be the opposite of empowering.
Covid Rating: 6

White Men Can’t Jump (2023)

Directed by Calmatic
Starring: Sinqua Walls, Jack Harlow

A cool music video director at the helm and a hot white rapper in the Woody Harrelson role, in a film presumably intended to bypass cinema screens on its way to streaming devices. In contrast to what’s supposedly happening onscreen, no one is genuinely striving for greatness here, they’re not aiming for the last-second dunk.
Covid Rating: 3

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