Big Daddy: Cillian Murphy in ‘Oppenheimer’: Film of the Year. Easily.
It doesn’t take a genius or even a low-flying cineaste to work out that 2023 was not exactly a banner year for cinema.
Here’s a quick, deeply subjective, not-at-all comprehensive overview of what went down as seen through the prism of 10 choice cuts.
1. Barbie – Criticize its muddled messaging and question its narrative coherence all you like, but at the end of the day this fluffy Day-Glo pink musical comedy based on the iconic doll toy line hit some sort of nerve, ultimately taking in a staggering $US1.44 billion.
Hailed by some as a unifying clarion call for a new breed of feminist (ill-defined as it is in the story), the film’s detractors were far and wide.
Many felt the film unsuitable for the children it was being marketed to while some cynics lauded the now-famous speech by America Ferrera as a deeply ironic railing against a patriarchy that doesn’t actually exist.
Whatever the case, the film’s unprecedented success ensures Margot Robbie – reported by Variety to have made around $US77 million (pre-tax, of course) – will continue making Barbie films for as long as she remains beautiful enough for Helen Mirren to joke about.
Rumours that the sequel’s working title is Barbie Goes To Afghanistan remain unverified.
2. Sound of Freedom – This modest rescue thriller about an ex-FBI agent (Jim Caviezel) who rescues children from sex slaves proved a giant hit, taking $250m against a puny budget of $14.5 million. With minimal marketing, the film proved the power of word-of-mouth, especially given the pseudo-controversies swirling around it beaten up by a hostile media, one of which was an alleged and baseless link to the Qanon conspiracy group.
Thanks to the success of this film, any filmmaker from this point on who tries blaming the failure of their movie on a lack of marketing support will be sent to the naughty corner. No supper.
3. Oppenheimer – Christopher Nolan’s biopic about the inventor of the atomic bomb was a compelling cinematic triumph demonstrating that the public’s taste for intelligent, adult drama remains undiminished despite the onslaught of expensive throwaway fantasy fodder. Easily the best film of the year.
4. The Dive – Let’s be honest, five minutes of this small-scale, tightly directed survival thriller about one girl trying to save her sister trapped underwater was more entertaining that all three and a half hours of Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, a two-part AppleTV+ telemovie if ever there was one. More white-knucklers like The Dive, please.
5. The Marvels – The monumental flopping of Disney’s latest discharge of superhero mulch suggests audiences are tired of the genre in general, and of films being used to push faddish agendas in particular. The film ticked some major woke boxes – black female director; female lead cast; etc – but nobody cared about that. What they did care about was that the performances were bland, the direction clumsy and the story all-but-incomprehensible. So much for Girl Power, worthless without the quality narrative to back it up.
6. Snow White – Even though Disney’s live-action revisit of the 1937 classic won’t now come out until 2025, it nonetheless became one of the most talked about films of the year, thanks to actress Rachel Zegler’s disparaging comments about the original being dated and insufficiently feminist.
The social media backlash she ignited was of thermonuclear proportions, casting her as the most hated actress in Hollywood and charging the film with negative box-office appeal.
As a result the film has been extensively retooled, dropping its woke trappings and replacing the “diversity seven” with the original seven dwarfs, all roughly rendered for a hastily convened publicity still.
Zegler also tried walking back her words via a Variety video chat with Halle Bailey (from The Little Mermaid), declaring how cherished the film was.
One can only speculate as to how many nights of good sleep her management team have enjoyed throughout the year.
7. Talk to Me – Capping off another horror year for Australian cinema, this nifty horror film turned out to be the highest grossing local film of 2023, its take of $2.8m ranking it at #32 in the year’s list of top performers (according to Box Office Mojo).
The next one at #51 was the eco-kids film Blueback ($1.5m).
Other Australian films with mildly notable audience imprints included: The New Boy ($645K); Of An Age ($770K); Run Rabbit Run ($268K); Shayda ($224K); The Royal Hotel ($260K); and The Lost City of Melbourne ($375K).
These films were marginal enough, but way too many films barely made any impression at all: Bring Him To Me;The Cost; Love is in the Air; True Spirit; Petrol; The Big Dog; Mercy Road; Time Addicts; Damage; Scant.
If Australian cinema needs a mission statement to get its act together, how about recognizing the glaring fact that Australian filmgoers just don’t get excited about Australian films – and rectifying it.
8. Tar – Not just the most overrated film of the year, but Cate Blanchett’s acceptance speech for her worthless Critic’s Choice award produced the stupidest possible comment about awards and how:
“I would love it if we would just change this whole f***ing structure…It’s this patriarchal pyramid where someone stands up here. Why don’t we just say ‘there is a whole raft of female performances that are in concert and in dialogue with one another’ and stop the televised horse race of it all[?].”
What a berk. No wonder she didn’t win the Oscar.
9. Saw X – Ten films in, horror franchise movies aren’t supposed to be this good. The genre continues to surprise and delight with its fresh ideas and approaches, along with requisite amounts of crimson spillage.
10. John Farnham: Finding the Voice – This very good doco about the singing icon won audiences, taking $3m. What we need now is a biopic – a proper one for the big screen, not one of those TV jobs where they cram all the research into the dialogue.