10 Best Films 2023: Joseph Wade

8. The Whale

The Whale Review

Director Darren Aronofsky holds a deep desire to tell stories about about our collective anxieties, about the darkness that humanity is capable of, about the trials and tribulations we seem to put ourselves through. Across the span of his 25-year career, he has philosophically evaluated that we are all victims to the passing of time, he has observed obsession and its links to self-fulfilment, analysed the relationship between addiction and capitalism, between aspiration and nationalism. In his latest film The Whale, a depiction of one man’s struggle to find self-worth whilst battling a binge-eating disorder, many assumed that Aronofsky’s goal was to tell of gluttony, both in the realm of the individual and as a by-product of our world of convenience and consumption, but this film isn’t about that at all. Instead, The Whale tells of one man’s lack of self-worth and the connection between our contemporary living spaces, our society and its expectations, and the seemingly bottomless pits that our self-esteem can plummet down.

Led by a phenomenally vulnerable performance from Brendan Fraser – whose shining eyes pop through extensive makeup, and whose line delivery and pitch work is the backbone of an utterly devastating depiction – and propelled by the drones of Phil Simonsen’s year-topping empathy-first score, The Whale is not only sympathetic and philosophical like Aronofsky’s other work but it is wholly empathetic too.

Few films released in the 2020s have captured darkness, dejection and utter sadness quite like The Whale. Through a year-topping performance, a moving and memorable score, a semi-autobiographical screenplay by Samuel D. Hunter filled with the kind of empathy you would expect from someone who has lived through such experiences, and the same philosophical and risky approach to tone and theme as is present in all of Darren Aronofsky’s feature films, The Whale is a unique, empathetic, contemporarily relevant feature that captured something true in many of us and highlighted some of the trials of living in our contemporary culture.

Recommended for you: Darren Aronofsky Films Ranked

7. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse Review

When Sony Pictures Animation arrived out of nowhere with Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse in 2018, they evolved the superhero genre and changed animation forever. With Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, they arguably topped it, taking their beloved hero Miles Morales across the multiverse of Spider-people while never losing sight of what made his story so unique and relatable.

The audio-visual presentation of Miles’ journey to understanding his place as an anomaly in the multiverse is staggeringly complex. The animation style is elevated even from the great heights of the first film, some characters presented with animation changes every frame, others every two frames, and new Spider-Punk Hobie Brown presented in his own unique style that combines twos, threes and fours, depending on the context of the scene and the part of his body that is being animated. Together with possibly the best soundtrack of 2023 – an emotive mix of threatening tones in Daniel Pemberton’s score and uplifting hip-hop songs from the likes of Metro Boomin and A$AP Rocky – and a specificity in its cultural observations that became universal in their appeal, there was nothing in animation or superhero cinema on the level of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse in 2023.

As a middle entry in a trilogy, Across the Spider-Verse is likely to be compared with The Empire Strikes Back and The Two Towers as one of the greatest of all time, especially if Sony stick the landing in the franchise’s conclusive release. Until then, we can rest assured that being ourselves – no matter how different we may be, no matter how many people may tell us we’re wrong or unnatural – is powerful… Spider-Man says so.

Recommended for you: Spider-Man Movies Ranked

6. May December

May December Review

Depictions of abuse on the big (and small) screen rarely approach their topic with any kind of sensitivity, often highlighting the depths of such situations as if morbidly obsessed with human suffering, gleefully recreating brutal circumstances to satiate our collective fascination with the horrors humanity holds within it. May December doesn’t do that. Instead, this 2023 release from Carol director Todd Haynes, points the lens in on itself – on the industry that recreates tragedy and sells it as an asset – to deconstruct the role that cinema (and other media) plays in the continuing suffering of abuse victims.

Oscar winner and almost certain 2024 Oscar nominee Natalie Portman plays an actress visiting the home of Julianne Moore’s cake-maker and her much younger husband, played by Charles Melton. She is there to delve deeper into the character she’ll be playing in a small independent movie, a woman who was arrested and sent to jail for raping a 12-year-old boy she later married. Portman, Moore and Melton offer performances you can’t keep your eyes off, Portman’s slow transformation into Moore’s uniquely presented character fascinatingly perverted and Melton’s film-stealing portrayal childlike in its vulnerability. Melton’s performance is one that embodies the skeletal fear of a survivor; the way his body tightens in moments of confrontation is simply heartbreaking. His is an unforgettable gift to an extraordinary film.

This is a feature about quiet brutality; how pain can be caused, reworked, remoulded and reapplied. It highlights the suffering, but doesn’t unravel it until we’ve already been dragged in by more typical tragedy-porn elements, putting us on trial for wanting to delve deeper, eventually teaching us that no recreation of abuse is as simple as voyeuristic pleasure and that the real people beneath it all are tragically tied to their story forever. It’s a beautiful film from a technical standpoint – a melodrama highlighted by colourful domestic spaces and fantastic camera work that wouldn’t be amiss in the great films of Douglas Sirk, and it features a score (by Marcelo Zarvos) that is as invasive as our fascination with these types of tragedies – but more than that it is a deeply moving film about an important topic at a time when tragedy is monetised quicker and by more people than ever. It could be, and should be, a lesson learned.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Leave a Comment