MOVIES WATCHED IN 2023: 101-125

Photo by Stephen Monterroso on Unsplash

You always think we’re moving forward but then you watch a tonne of films and you realise that the world’s gone nowhere. It’s barely moved at all. In fact, more than that, it’s possibly been static the whole time, dictated by patterns that never change. The way they say the moon controls the tide with its gravitational pull, similarly a pendulum of power swings from east to west and back again. So almost every occurrence, every scenario has been played out before. Wars follow a pattern, societies follow a pattern, politics follow a pattern. We’re constantly emboldened by new discoveries, but we’re also tied to patterns and statistics that tell us exactly what’s about to go down.

What nearly all the films on this list tell us is that people (normally the main protagonists) just want their lives to be different, to change, but that the elements, or the antagonists, or the situations they find themselves in are stopping them. And the real fantasy (requiring us all to suspend our disbelief) only comes from those patterns changing, because that’s the big impossible dream we all want to achieve. Unfortunately, to do that in real life you probably need to untangle a few centuries of learned behaviour first and then start again from scratch. Bit of a ball ache really.

Anyway, here’s another 25 movies from the years’ viewing, all ranked and rated using the iconic Covid Rating – 19 being marvellous, 1 being the opposite.

A Touch of Zen (1971)

Directed by King Hu
Starring: Hsu Feng, Shih Chun

The one that inspired Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and from a time when enlightened martial arts movies were being barged out of the way by less spiritually taxing Bruce Lee flicks (no bad thing, btw) – here dealing with patriarchal issues long before Barbie got stuck in, while peddling Confucian philosophy alongside balletic forest fights. But perhaps the real feather in its cap is the genius of watching the story play out through the eyes of a secondary character – delightful touch, that.
Covid Rating: 17

Magnolia (1999)

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman

The 1990s saw the emergence of Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson as big-league directors, both of whom appear to deal predominantly in restructuring fairy tales – but where QT veers towards exploitation-style violence, PTA tends to shift further towards melancholia. To making sad fairy tales with unhappy people living broken lives, often searching for meaning or companionship or just hope. And then, in the case of this one, it starts raining frogs. Hallelujah for that.
Covid Rating: 16

Husbands and Wives (1992)

Directed by Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow

Interiors has always been seen as Woody Allen’s most brazen attempt to ape Ingmar Bergman, but this has Scenes from a Marriage written all over it. The story focuses on contrasting marriages, one falling apart at the seams while the other stitches itself back together again. There’s a distinct lack of optimism with everyone coming off as intrinsically selfish, which is interesting when you consider that it was released at the height of the Soon-Yi scandal.
Covid Rating: 16

Moonlight (2016)

Directed by Barry Jenkins
Starring: Trevante Rhodes, Mahershala Ali

A love story that’s just as tragic as Brokeback Mountain, and it’s got a similar sense of a shackled life unlived too – with true sexuality hidden beneath totems of extreme masculinity. It’s also a moving coming-of-age story, a troubled life in three acts, AND the movie behind the most magnificent Oscars fuck up in recent memory.
Covid Rating: 16

Floating Weeds (1959)

Directed by Yasujirō Ozu
Starring: Machiko Kyō, Hiroshi Kawaguchi

A remake of an Ozu film, remade by the man himself. In this version the wonderful Machiko Kyō (who was one third of the curious trio in Rashomon) plays the mistress of a theatre troupe leader, and as with anything touched by the hand of the master craftsman, every scene is a stunner.
Covid Rating: 16

Hardcore (1979)

Directed by Paul Schrader
Starring: George C. Scott, Peter Boyle

A film that pits Christian conservatism against pornography, as a father searches for his missing teenage daughter in the sleazy underbelly of California. George C. Scott is entirely believable and sympathetic as a member of the Dutch Reformation Church battling through his own sense of shame and hopelessness, but what really sets the film apart is its moral apathy. The daughter isn’t prodigal, she’s not been lost nor seduced, she’s chosen a life she wants to lead and it’s one that flies in the face of Christian values, but still adheres to a certain code, a specific kind of doctrine. If anything you could say she was lost in Christianity and found again in porn. And if that’s the case, who’s to say which is the enlightened one?
Covid Rating: 16

Judas and The Black Messiah (2021)

Directed by Shaka King
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield

There’s a rat in the Black Panther party and he’s climbing the ladder – or if we’re going with a rat analogy, perhaps that should be drainpipe? Whatever way, it’s gripping stuff, all based on a true story and one that’s made even more powerful when you learn that William O’Neal eventually killed himself in real life after struggling with the guilt of becoming an FBI informant.
Covid Rating: 15

Nuts in May (1976)

Directed by Mike Leigh
Starring: Roger Sloman, Alison Steadman

Early Mike Leigh, from back when he was doing Play for Today on the BBC, of which this was a feature-length episode – and one that feels like a forerunner for much of today’s comedy. A couple goes to a campsite is the plot, and frankly there’s no better set up in all of British comedy. History can attest to it.
Covid Rating: 15

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson

The one that started the whispers insisting that comedy captivity was keeping Adam Sandler from emerging as a thespian. But impressive though his chops might be, you can’t ignore the fact that it bombed at the box office while the rest of his questionable ‘oeuvre’ tends to do the opposite. What does that tell us? Probably that the world is stupid but there’s nothing new there. Anyway, one thing that shouldn’t be overlooked is that Emily Watson, playing derangement in a lower key, is also fantastic.
Covid Rating: 15

Decision to Leave (2022)

Directed by Park Chan-wook
Starring: Tang Wei, Park Hae-il

If the question is ‘what would a married detective do if he fell for a murder suspect?’, then this might provide a few answers. But there’s a little more weaving and ducking than that, mostly on account of the detective experiencing severe sleep issues and low mood. As the film gets more and more disorientating, you ultimately have to let it wash over you (and if you’ve seen it, yes pun intended).
Covid Rating: 15

All about my Mother (1999)

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes

Almodóvar has the curious skill of making movies that seem like soap operas (only, you know, brilliant ones) but without ever drowning in the melodrama. It’s a big balancing act, an impressive feat, and he somehow always arms the characters with enough depth and humanity to make them real.
Covid Rating: 15

Raging Bull (1980)

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty

The one where Robert De Niro famously muscled-up for the early scenes and then piled it on for the latter ones. The consensus seems to be that this is the Scorsese and De Niro collaboration that hits (ahem) all the right notes, but not so much for this guy (*points at face*). Because this guy prefers De Niro in creepy mode (Taxi Driver, King of Comedy) rather than brutish.
Covid Rating: 15

Morvern Callar (2002)

Directed by Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Samantha Morton, Kathleen McDermott

Key scenes in Aftersun clearly kneel in homage and that’s fine – we borrow great art to make new art, people have been doing that for centuries. Also magnificent is Samantha Morton cashing in on her dead boyfriend’s talent. She’s a marvel.
Covid Rating: 15

The Talented Mr Ripley (1999)

Directed by Anthony Minghella
Starring: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow

More like The Talented Mr Damon because you get the sense that this was the one that cemented his place – that showed a depth of duplicity that you wouldn’t find in Good Will Hunting. Bizarrely the one aspect of his performance that doesn’t quite work is that his body is too good. He’s a beta male with an alpha male’s physique.
Covid Rating: 14

Rolling Thunder (1977)

Directed by John Flynn
Starring: William Devane, Tommy Lee Jones

Quentin Tarantino absolutely adores Rolling Thunder, it’s his favourite movie and the influence it’s had on his work is writ pretty large when you watch it. Particularly the eruption of violence that blood-soaks the end the film.
Covid Rating: 14

Nope (2022)

Directed by Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer

Yep. Actually, kind of yep and nope. The yep bit is that if you wanted a perfect mash-up of Jaws and Close Encounters, you got it. The nope bit comes from the plot contrivance that if you don’t look at the beast in the sky it won’t notice you. It’s a bit like in Predator when it’s revealed that the terrifying alien can’t see through mud, which is equally lazy.
Covid Rating: 14

Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)

Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Starring: Warren Oates, Isela Vega

This has all the ingredients of a half-decent exploitation movie then exceeds expectation due to a little bit of magic in the porridge. And that magic is Warren Oates.
Covid Rating: 13

The Living Daylights (1987)

Directed by John Glen
Starring: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo

Timothy Dalton gives you the reluctant, broodier Bond you never knew you wanted. Coming into the franchise on the back of Roger Moore’s tenure this feels a little bit like Laurence Olivier taking over the Queen Vic.
Covid Rating: 13

Runaway Train (1985)

Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky
Starring: Jon Voight, Eric Roberts

If the 1980s were defined by brainless action flicks, this one boasts a different, unexpected kind of pedigree. For a start it was based on an Akira Kurosawa screenplay and directed by Andrei Konchalovsky, who co-wrote Andrei Rublev with Tarkovsky. Chuck in Oscar winner Jon Voight and you’re bound to have something a cut above the rest. But, truthfully, not by much.
Covid Rating: 13

Dance Craze (1981)

Directed by Joe Massot
Starring: Madness, The Specials

Made in 1981, re-released in 2023, what you’ve got here is essentially the Woodstock documentary but for 2 Tone. Featuring incredible footage of Madness, The Specials, The Selecter, and loads more.
Covid Rating: 13

The New Man (2016)

Directed by Josh Appignanesi, Devorah Baum
Starring: Josh Appignanesi, Devorah Baum

The way men transition during pregnancy can be a wild ride. Some lean into stoicism, accepting that they need to incorporate more responsibility into their lives. While the rest of us regress into childhood, our testicles re-enter our bodies and we become unbelievably needy, profoundly existential in a way that isn’t remotely new, and we begin to drown in a sea of simmering panic that never actually dissipates. Somehow, and props to him for getting there, director Josh Appignanesi manages to encapsulate the entirety of this in a film that’s basically to parenthood what Hearts of Darkness is to Apocalypse Now.
Covid Rating: 12

Triangle of Sadness (2022)

Directed by Ruben Östlund
Starring: Harris Dickinson, Charlbi Dean

The real triangle of sadness here is that Charlbi Dean, the star of the film, died of sepsis before it came out, missing her moment in the limelight. Similarly to White Lotus it sends up the rich, heightening their vulgarity and entitlement, particularly during the greatest vomiting scene in cinema history.
Covid Rating: 12

Kicking and Screaming (1995)

Directed by Noah Baumbach
Starring: Josh Hamilton, Parker Posey

The thing about the 1990s is that everyone learned to embrace slackers, through Linklater and here through Noah Baumbach (with his first movie), who zones in on a very specific way of killing time by thinking big for the future while doing sweet fucking nothing in the present.
Covid Rating: 12

Leave the World Behind (2023)

Directed by Sam Esmail
Starring: Julia Roberts, Ethan Hawke

Set in a near-future apocalypse where the power appears to be dropping out unexpectedly, the whole movie lives or dies by the big reveal that never comes. But SPOILER ALERT, by shrouding the film in ambiguity, it somehow nails the ending. The twist being there’s no twist.
Covid Rating: 11

Empire of Light (2022)

Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring: Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward

A film that pulls way too many punches. It gives you glimpses of the horrific racism that besmirched Britain in the early 80s but doesn’t go all in. It shows some of the terror of suffering with bipolar in the early 80s, but it doesn’t go all in. Basically, if you’re going to go there you’ve got to really go there, it feels like a disservice not to.
Covid Rating: 9

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