Things I enjoyed in 2023
I loved movies when I was younger, but did not have the time and resources to learn about the history of film or dive into older movies. Over the years, the stress of work and the world deprived me of the time and attention to even enjoy watching films. During my sabbatical last year, I finally had time, and I used it to educate myself about the art form and watch a ton of movies.
I was employed this year, so I did not have as much free time, but I remembered the lesson from my break. Film is my favorite art form, it brings me joy, and I absolutely should make time and space to feel joy in these difficult times.
One of my favorite lessons from The Film Experience course was the idea that films are in conversation with those that came before them. It's a relatively intuitive concept that applies to many art forms, but it did not fully click for me until I started watching older movies. I had this wonderful aha moment when I watched Lady Snowblood (1973) and loudly exclaimed "oh, that's where Tarantino got the inspiration for Kill Bill: Vol 1!"
I had a similar moment this year with Barbie. I wasn't that engaged by the plot or the 101-level feminism, but it was so beautiful to look at and quite funny in parts. I was really struck by the aesthetic of the lower level of the Mattel offices with the cubicles. A month later, I watched PlayTime (1967) and had this great "ohhhh, that's what Greta Gerwig was paying homage to" moment. I really want to finish going through her recommended watchlist of inspirations.
P.S. I loved the Barbie soundtrack and listened to the album a bunch. That Billie Eilish song was created in a lab to make you want to cry, and I'm not even mad about it.
Despite my lack of film education, I've appreciated Criterion since I was a teenager. I own about a dozen physical Criterion films, but had put off signing up for their streaming service because I already had too many of those. The combination of a friend's nudging and wanting to see The Heroic Trio finally convinced me to give it a try. It's a great resource for engaging with older, arty, and more niche films. They have a solid rotating selection every month that often includes films I can't find elsewhere.
Suspiria (1977), in particular, knocked my socks off. I love horror, but my knowledge of the genre is rooted in a particular couple of decades in the US market with a little bit of Japanese horror scattered throughout. I really need to invest more time in older horror films from other countries.
I am not just into arty and older films these days. I love a good action movie. Unfortunately, the average Hollywood action films of the last decade or so bore me to tears. Thankfully, this year brought me two action films that kept my full attention.
Polite Society had me smiling and laughing from start to finish. It's got female friendships, teenage girls kicking ass, and some Edgar Wright inspired editing that really worked for me. Nida Manzoor did an amazing job for a feature debut, and I can't wait to see what she does next.
I slept on the John Wick films for ages because of the aforementioned disinterest in modern American action films. I'm so glad I finally gave them a try because they are a good example of what I love in an action film. They have fantastic choreography and set pieces that are functionally a beautiful, albeit violent, dance. I was worried they might lose steam, but the fourth (and final, as far as I'm concerned) film continued to live up to expectations.
I used to be an avid reader as a child. Similar to film, laboring under capitalism ground down my ability to read for fun. I've had less success at jump-starting my love of reading, but I'm trying. This year, I mostly focused on shorter, easier reads by known authors in genres I tend to enjoy, so it didn't feel like work. T. Kingfisher and Sarah Gailey were the largest contributors to that category and kept me reading throughout the year. Previously, I mostly read T. Kingfisher's lighter fantasy novels, so the horror snuck up on me, but I had a good time with it once I knew what genre I was in.
P.S. I just read All Systems Red (Murderbot Diaries #1), and I think that series will be a good continuation of this approach to reading next year.
Two great new albums from two very different artists. Olivia Rodrigo's sophomore album is a banger that I had in the rotation a lot this year. It took me longer to warm up to Mitski's most recent album, but once I got in the right headspace, it really worked for me.
I'm super bummed this was their final album, but at least they went out on a good one.
This wasn't a particularly gaming-heavy year for me, but I spent a lot of time with Tears of the Kingdom. I was hesitant at first because I slid off of Breath of the Wild after too many game mechanics frustrated me. I'm glad I gave it a try despite my reservations because I had so much fun exploring this world.
I was in the market for a new silly D&D podcast after losing interest in The Adventure Zone, and Rude Tales of Magic perfectly filled that niche. I added This Ends at Prom into the rotation of movie podcasts after enjoying the hosts on an episode of American Hysteria.