There was not a lot of truly great stuff in 2023. I’m not sure if this is just spillover from covid when every studio and streaming service were just thumping out any content to keep people engaged, so much bilgewater made it into production, or simply the fact that a lot of material seemed highly derivative of other shows, but 2023 had a lot of things to watch, but very little quality. While there were some gems in amongst the sea glass, they felt few. Let’s hope for more quality in 2024 though, and that the writer’s strike ended up honing rather than increasing pablum.
Bleak. If this is what we get before the year the writer’s strike hits release schedules, we may be in trouble. Big budget films were re-hashes or had serious creative and script problems and despite me expecting some great indie films due to people having had time to develop things over covid, there just seemed to be a lack of great, new, interesting films this year rather than studios pumping out spin-offs or sequels to things that had already made them bank. Safe money. These were worth the watches, I felt.
Talk to Me
Great first-time feature from a pair of Aussie YouTuber brothers. This was intense, scary, and had a monkey paw twist at the end (even if you saw it coming). Really enjoyed this, but not a film should watch alone at night. Kept at least one friend awake with the lights on all night, that I recommended it to.
I hate to admit it, but this making-fun-of-itself film on Barbie, patriarchy, and toxic masculinity was actually really good. Cleverly scripted and even took on the negative effect Barbie has had on feminist culture, it almost felt like a weird form of greenwashing by Mattel having them fund and produce it. How in the hell did this script get past the corporate PR department there? Weirdly enjoyable and kinda fun, and I say this as one of the people that thinks Barbie set women back decades.
Top Gun: Maverick
I loathed the first Top Gun; this horrible and unnecessary tale of toxic masculinity and 80s schlock that every woman I knew back then fawned over. It was, and still is, awful. Weirdly, though? This sequel was surprisingly great. Tense action and a much more believable and human story of the implications of Goose’s death and its effect not just on Cruise but on Goose’s family, kid, careers, and lives. I felt the entire thing really held together well and made a great movie that ended up being vastly better than the first film.
Strangely (and I think this has been something that’s been changing since Buffy changed the game on long arc storytelling), there was a lot better stuff on the Series side than almost any movie I saw in 2023. In fact, I’m not sure I’d say any movie I saw in 2023 was a must watch. Series though: some seriously great stuff.
Top of my list has to be this quirky, bittersweet, comedy that critics rush to say has an all native cast and crew. It was different than every other thing I’ve seen the past year and came out as both quirky and tragic and bittersweet but very funny at times. I kinda loved it though not everyone I mentioned it to felt the same way. Also, something I deeply respected was that it told a story and then ended. It did not drag on for countless seasons compromising a good tale. TV has become a lot of sludge of late, but I found this show both daring and important. Taika Waititi, the Kiwi director/actor, has his name attached to it.
With its slight Lost-like twist quality to almost every episode, but this taken-to-the-extreme examination of the different people we are privately and at work and corporate alienation there, well… resonates. Really liked it even though I’m not sure how likable I find all the main characters. Really interesting watching though. Fair warning: I found friends who have never worked in an office environment didn’t connect really connect with it (which makes total sense) but I am a little disappointed it’s probably going to be 2025 with the writer’s strike till we see some more from this.
The Last of Us
This was a fairly shocking and heart-wrenching adaptation of the critically acclaimed zombie-apocalypse video game, and thought it was very well done. One and done. The story telling is emotional, tight, tense, and sucks you in. Literally watched every episode as it was coming out rather than binge watching the completed series, which is unusual for me.
I was surprised I liked this. A friend tried to sell it to me with a “it’s got pirates. You’ll love it.” though that’s a bit of a stretch, even though technically true. It’s quirky and silly, but charming, and surprisingly watchable. A live action rendition of (what I was surprised to find out) is the best selling manga of all time, it’s a goofy tale of the aspiring greatest pirate in the world and the crew he puts together. Very watchable.
Tight, quick, and terse, this drama about a michelin starred chef coming back home to take over the family restaurant left to him after his brother’s suicide is at times great, and harrowing. Surprised I like this one, but especially big on the fact the episodes are tightly scripted, half-hour vignettes and strangely the supporting characters are perhaps even better than the lead, though its the dynamics of the family and the situation that are the most interesting. Some emotionally brutal episodes like the Christmas dinner are just so well done, but so horrifying, you can’t not watch.
The Star Wars franchise (much like Star Trek and Marvel) has been ruined by Big Studio, but the first season of Andor was gritty, anti-hero, and kinda raw in a not focused-grouped to death, pablum-scripted to cater to wide and inclusive demographics kinda way. A flawed and questionable hero who somehow, we know from a future film, nobly sacrifices himself for a greater cause, in a foundational contribution to eventual Rebel victory. This series is his backstory and prequel. Looking forward to the second season to see where it goes. I feel it’ll be hard for Disney, whose quality across its franchises is suffering horribly, to not ruin or crossover this like they did Fett or Ahsoka, but it stands on its own as a parallel story in the SWU that should not be corrupted by studio wonks. Hope it stays the course.
Great premise about a woman who can tell when people are lying and is on the run from a run-in with the Mob gone wrong. Problem was, the crime-solving aspect of the series didn’t have legs for a season and I felt this could have a much more abbreviated series down to the starting and the very ending story arcs (which were excellent) while removing much of what was in-between. Kinda cool and had this strange Colombo, Nomadland, edge-of-society vibe which was interesting in of itself as the heroine drove across America on-the-run. Not for everyone I imagine, but enjoyed it.
Sadly, even though I had set myself a goal (which I utterly failed at) to play a game of some type one night a week, I spent a good deal of my game playing time zoning out to games from the past I’ve liked. There was only one notable one I’d say is a must try: FrostPunk. Other than that, I was lukewarm on most of the other games I tried, and skewed towards old favourites from my past like FTL, Age of Empires, and Sid Meier’s Pirates!
The only mobiles game I played with anything not self-hatred or needing a brain-break was the excellent puzzle/rhythm game ELOH (though I did spend quite a bit of time playing the carved-down Civ clone Polytopia, looking for some game mechanic ideas for one of my own game project).
There was one shining recommendation I have though:
There’s just so many things to lurv about this game. The alternative Steampunk-esque freezing tundra setting and trying to save the last of humanity as the “captain” of the last outpost of humanity. The deceptively simple, yet cruelly engaging mechanic of trying to keep the heat going so your people don’t freeze in the dark. And perhaps the thing that made it all the more interesting, was the moral component of having to make hard ethical choices and then living with the consequences of those in terms of the benefits and drawbacks that they gave. There are so many ways to lose in this game and towards the end, I swear it feels like the game is cheating to try to defeat you, but I seem to only really like hard games (see FTL above) and slightly obsessed on playing this till I could beat it.
About my only real critique on this game was the fact that it felt you were “nudged” in the direction of certain moral choices, rather than those simply having clear benefits and drawbacks that you could somehow deal with. For example, if you’d gone with a more authoritarian model that seemed to keep people fed, warm, and healthy but oppressed freedoms it felt lik the game punished you, but a question was how long term viable something like that could be until there was rebellion.
Great game though. Looking forward to FP 2 coming out shortly and have to say this game gave me loads of fodder for my own game idea.
Theatre, Arts, Music, and Exhibits
More for me referring back to this year, in the future, this year was not a great one for me and the Arts. Besides hitting places with fewer exhibits and museums than most, I didn’t run across much of anything great this year despite hitting more than a few museums of note (though shoutout to the excellent Korean National Museum in Seoul and its fun Renaissance exhibit which made me decide to re-visit Firenze again in 2024.).
I should also point out this was not for lack of trying to find cultural pursuits. I feel a lot of places are still re-constituting themselves after covid and touring companies are still working on schedules, but was pretty surprised on moving to Hong Kong that it was near-impossible to find theatre (esp Shakespeare), ballet, opera, or even exhibits (that weren’t somewhat propaganda-ish out of Beijing.).
That said, I did manage to finally see The Nutcracker this year which, much to even my dismay, I had never seen before (though it was not a professional company’s production.)
Key point. I am going to explicitly be a lot better on this front in 2024. Already lining up ballet, and arts and culture outings.