2023 in media (2/3) — watching

This is the hefty one of the three, of course!

My only real movie plan for this year is to make a concerted effort to get myself out of the house for exciting rep screenings and to see far fewer new releases — certainly as a percentage, but preferably numerically too. (I will practice saying no to press screenings for movies that look bad, even if there might be celebrities there.) I'm also considering more Ferrara, more Tony Scott, more westerns, my last few big Hitchcocks, and possibly (finally!) completing Scorsese. Maybe another spin of The Wire, too…


New releases

See here for my full ranked list.

How Do You Live? (The Boy and the Heron)

Set me off thinking about what it was that grabbed me so much about Alice in Wonderland when i was a child — all the usual thrills of the language and the inventiveness, I'm sure, but I think something else as well, the almost nihilistic melancholy of it, Alice reframing the odd, often mean adults in her life as fantastical creatures in an imaginary landscape. How Do You Live has a similar frame, a boy grappling with the ways adults (and fate) foster change on you in childhood, escaping into a fantasy world in order to process what has happened to his family and to him. His grief is so great and so impossible to articulate that he can't even accept kindness — all he can do is inflict damage, lashing out wildly, injuring himself and the people trying to help him. But — eventually — he comes to something more peaceful, an acceptance devoid of denial, an ability to make a choice, not the easy one but the hard one, and to return to his world and himself with something approaching understanding.

Killers of the Flower Moon

Cinema’s great chronicler of American masculinity turns his lens towards his most despicable and most American figure yet — a man so totally convinced of his own righteousness and the righteousness of his friends that even the genuine love he feels for his wife is not enough to save her. We understand Ernest completely — he's stupid, he's feckless, he's under his uncle’s spell — but that understanding does not lead to forgiveness, only to more depths for our horror. It's the best Leo has ever been and he's still acted completely off the screen (consciously and purposefully, I think) by the stunning Lily Gladstone.

Poor Things

Had me googling ‘symptoms of autism in women and girls’. Sorry to the haters but this is the first “coming-of-age” film I have ever seen that actually represents how it felt to me — a child in a woman’s body, enslaved to desires that outstrip your ability to respond to the consequences of acting on them, exploited and exploiting, creating selves over and over until you eventually land with who you always were, just more now, more for all the mistakes and all the people and all the wonder.[1]

Asteroid City

The first and so far only actually elegant cinematic take on the trauma we’ve all faced so far this decade. Wes lets the audience know what he’s trying to say here with such an open and earnest heart it makes me feel insane to hear people say it’s stilted or pretentious or alienating (ha). We can’t get past the crippling despair of watching our planet die unless we decide to go on regardless — go on talking, go on discovering, go on making — pressing forward with hope and belief that it’ll come out in the end. “It's all worthwhile, in your lifetime.” / “If you wanted to live a nice, quiet, peaceful life, you chose the wrong time to get born.”

May December

Much has been said about Charles Melton in this, and all the praise is true — he's perfect, wearing his big adult body like he's a little kid in his dad’s old t-shirt — but I want to talk about Natalie. She's one of our most cynical actresses, always five steps ahead of everyone and amused by it too, holding a little arch in her brow to let us know she’s so much smarter than us, and she’s phenomenally deployed here, oozing tiny drops of acid onto everything around her. The other day Instagram served me a clip of her at the F1 in about 2012 giving Michael Fassbender the most incredible Look and I'm not sure I've ever loved a woman more.

Fallen Leaves

Every Kaurismäki film I've seen (admittedly only two) has reminded me almost unbearably of Paul Schrader, which I think actually means that they both remind me of Bresson and Ozu. They both reach for an almost unbearable and yet completely ordinary kind of loneliness, one populated by repetitive work, alcohol, news-induced despair, and tiny moments of escapist aberrant behaviour. And I think both, with age, have landed on that gorgeous line Schrader said a few times this year, “I used to be an artist who never wanted to leave this world without saying fuck you, and now I’m an artist who never wants to leave this world without saying I love you.”


Certainly Nolan’s most artistically accomplished work, but the politics here are almost painful — every gesture towards the horror this man wrought is almost abortive, half-rendered and then immediately brushed off. And hey, that’s probably at least partly on purpose! It has a myopic focus on Oppenheimer himself that’s so effective in places, especially as an attempt to engage with the madness he always seems to be at the edge of, but if we do accept such close framing then the entire section with Downey Jr is a mistake — it breaks us out of that view and alienates us from Oppenheimer at exactly the moment our empathy should be at a crescendo.

This piece about The Day After Trinity and this profile of Oppenheimer are both very worthwhile supplementary material. And someday soon I'll sit down and properly engage with John Hersey’s Hiroshima.

Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One

Made me feel how I felt seeing The Last Jedi for the first time, i.e. delighted, tickled, desperate for more. For the first hour or so they shoot Esai Morales like he’s either a ghost or the actual physical form of the Entity and it is just the most thrilling thing — something Gibson-esque about it, AI riding humans through the flesh world, technology closer to magic than science. McQuarrie is in total control of the filmmaking here, often willing to let language fall by the wayside so image and music can take hold — other than, of course, when Shea Whigham delivers the necessary line comparing Ethan Hunt to a god.


The really great thing about seeing this was getting to bring my friend and her dad — I rarely invite anyone to screenings other than my long-suffering film-industry-employed flatmate, so it's easy to forget what a cool thing that part of my job is. There are some phenomenal scenes here — generally either involving brutal car crashes or Adam Driver and Penelope Cruz's brutal arguments — and the same understanding of how history must feel for the men making it as Mann wields so wonderfully in Public Enemies[2]. This and Spielberg’s gorgeous The Fabelmans both feature perfect moments in which an engineer explains the poetry of some machine to his son, acting as their directors’ proxy to explain the poetry of cinema to the audience. I can't wait to see this again and watch it grow in my estimation on every rewatch over the next decade.

The Killer

Fincher was my most-watched director this year, in large part because I was following along with the Blank Check miniseries on him, and I can't recommend highly enough going back through the filmography of the first director you ever latched onto as an auteur figure. I've become sort of obsessed with how modern he is, not just at the beginning of his career when he was a young man in a young man’s climate but still now, even though the world has changed so much in those three decades. For the past few years I've lived culturally almost entirely in the middle of the last century — certainly an act of avoidance that comes from feeling “part of history” for most of my conscious life — and while I think that making an attempt to engage with and understand the past is (overall) good, there's perhaps even more to be gained from taking a clear-eyed, generous, fair view of what the world is like now, at this exact moment, to present contemporary life without pathologising or preaching, to know that people are perverts and to love them anyway, which is what Fincher has done for his entire career, more than perhaps any other director alive.[3]

Hit Man

This doesn't even have a release date yet but trust me, when it finally does come out no one will talk about Anyone But You ever again. Glen Powell wears about fifty different wigs in this and at one point he puts on a cunty black bob and starts talking in a Russian accent and it is — unfortunately — the most attracted to him I've ever been (possibly because he looks a bit like Mark Strong in Stardust). Anyway — great movie, so sexy, so much fun, Powell and Linklater are such a lovely match for each other.

Beau is Afraid / Napoleon

Joaquin's year of mummy issues!

I'm here to stand up as the world’s lone female Beau is Afraid defender (I'm sure that's not true). The first act of this insane stupid movie is near-perfect, a good director perfecting the kind of urban terror that was done so poorly with the same lead actor in Joker a few years ago. If you don't jump completely on board with this very early on you're likely to have a horrible time, and it lost me in places too — giant cock and balls, anyone? — but the animated sequence is one of the most moving things I saw all year, and as a child of a difficult mother, well, let's just say I understand why he's like that.

I don't think Napoleon is particularly successful overall — certainly not in comparison to Ridley's last masterpiece, The Last Duel — but the sequence at Austerlitz makes it all worthwhile, and it's fun to imagine the big man turning in his grave as the new defining version of the story of his life is sent into the world by an Englishman who finds him fundamentally ridiculous. One for the dads, and on all levels except physical I am a dad.

Also good

Saint Omer, Godland, The Eight Mountains, Eileen, Air, The Eternal Daughter, Evil Does Not Exist, Monster, Magic Mike's Last Dance, In Restless Dreams.

Still to see

Past Lives, Anatomy of a Fall, The Holdovers, Rotting in the Sun, A Thousand and One, Perfect Days, Rye Lane, Passages, You Hurt My Feelings, The Iron Claw, The Zone of Interest, All of Us Strangers, American Fiction, How to Blow Up a Pipeline, Afire, Pacifiction.

2022 catch-up

The Fabelmans

Not going to be able to do better than my Letterboxd review of this, so here it is…

When Spielberg's grandmother dies, he watches the pulse in her neck stop; his father, removed, watches the beeps stop on the heart monitor; his mother, too close, sees her eyes open and thinks she's woken up. He sits there, at the midpoint between his parents, between art and science, in that little spot where cinema is found.


Almost gone from my mind now except for a few images — Colin Morgan on his knees, cream dolloped into coffee, Vicky Krieps’ cold laugh, the cinematographer, the jump from the ship. I love this review from one of my brilliant Letterboxd mutuals.

Old releases

Ran out of time/energy/will to write about these so, with apologies, here’s a little best-of list. A Matter of Life and Death, Party Girl, JFK, Summer of Sam, Exotica, Strange Days, Matinee, Natural Born Killers, Days of Heaven, Local Hero, Public Enemies, Breathless (1983), Morvern Callar, Straw Dogs, Only Angels Have Wings, All About Eve, Bull Durham, The Blackout, Ginger Snaps, Journey to Italy, Ill Met by Moonlight, Stereo, Remember the Night.

And the award for best cinema trip of the year is jointly awarded to the 35mm screening of Master and Commander I went to alone the day after my birthday at the best cinema in the world (Glasgow Film Theatre) and the Spike Lee intro-d screening of Summer of Sam at the second best cinema in the world (the BFI). Runners-up include Nashville at the BFI, Local Hero and Dont Look Back at the Garden Cinema, and the three days in a row I spent at the BFI seeing Miller’s Crossing, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Night of the Hunter.


Semi-chronological; not ranked. The best TV I saw this year was The Wire — see March and April posts.

The Terror, S1

I watched this horrible, gorgeous show twice this year — for the first time in January and again in September for “Septerror”, which is a newly-founded annual holiday in which you watch The Terror in September. It's sort of impossible to describe this show in a way that makes it sound appealing to anyone who isn't obsessed with Jared Harris or Tobias Menzies (I am) or men who risk their lives needlessly in search of glory (I am) or the type of insanity that is experienced by people so chronically disciplined and so full of blinding belief they can no longer understand sense when it's being spoken to them (I am). If the world is just we'll eventually look back on this show as one of the more perfect productions of the era we seem to be calling ‘peak TV’.

Taskmaster, S15 & S16

A perfect show, no one needs me to say that. However, I have been workshopping a theory about Taskmaster boyfriends, i.e. the one guy every season aged between 20 and 40 who could be described as a “kind and thin nerd” and spends the show by turns panicking, yelling, and being gently (sometimes not-so-gently) parented by Greg Davies. This tweet from Ivo Graham is the platonic ideal of Taskmaster boyfriend behaviour: nerdy, self-effacing, very funny, and a little bit competitive. Sam Campbell broke the mold slightly by being both insane and extremely competent, which is why I'm asking for his hand in marriage.


Perfect viewing for someone who moved to London kind of by accident and mostly hates it but sometimes has an interaction with a stranger that makes it all feel better. NOT perfect viewing for someone who went on maybe two promising dates all year. Happy to skip the celebrity boyfriend part of her narrative if I can go straight to the kind & handsome Scotsman, btw!!!!!

The Morning Show

Like a missive from 2013. Poster’s disease: the show. Some of the world’s worst botox faces. However! Billy Crudup plays Cory Ellison like he’s Elinor Dashwood on coke and it’s one of the most glorious things ever.

Slow Horses

Part of a long tradition — of course — of stories about rumpled, incompetent British spies. The BBC One energy is off the charts here, especially in the first season, which is — to me — very comforting. Its overarching plotlines are all idiotic but I love to watch little (6’1”) Jack Lowden desperately and incompetently sprinting around the ugliest parts of London. Probably the most I’ve liked Gary Oldman this century, too.

A Murder at the End of the World

I’m a bit bored by the mystery/true crime elements here, but I like pretty much everything else — the concept of a hacker sleuth, the claustrophobia of the Icelandic scenes vs the wide open American landscapes, Clive Owen and Harris Dickinson as emblematic icons of (British) masculinity from their respective generations. Speaks to how compellingly made this is that at least once an episode I was like ‘no one with a tech background and a remotely left-wing attitude would ever trust (e.g.) a holographic AI presented to them by a billionaire’ or ‘Brit Marling is such a terrible actress’ and yet I still came away from the show as a whole with almost entirely positive feelings. Smash the machines, etc.

The Curse

With respect to the Fielder heads, this is maybe the maximum amount of him I can take, and it’s only because he’s not wielding his schtick against real people here. Makes me feel genuinely queasy every episode but the total precision it has is so wonderful — that Safdies thing of presenting a place top to bottom, in its entirety, no flinching. Emma Stone actress of the year perhaps!!

  1. Unfortunately, none of my mistakes involved Mark Ruffalo and pastéis de natas… ↩︎

  2. I watched Public Enemies this year too and it is phenomenal — a study of fame and infamy and capital, this gang of dead men animated in the wires and on the screen. ↩︎

  3. I realise this may seem like the antithesis of my resolution to see fewer new releases, and I suppose it is, but maybe my point here is that even new releases rarely feel as modern as The Killer does. And I think modernity is also part of what makes 1970s movies in particular so visceral and so sticky, something about the specificity you can grasp when you're working to represent your own time. ↩︎

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