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Sunday, December 31, 2023

Films of 2023

I didn't watch that many 2023 movies this year, particularly through October. However, I did sign up for Letterboxd and have been writing brief reviews there. It obviously serves to log all the films I've seen, not merely those released in 2023. It appears I watched 86 films in 2023; thus, the list of new films below reflects only a small portion of my total movie viewing. 

As longtime readers know, this is an annual list and here is a link to last year's post if you want to work backwards through my viewing experiences. 

Films from this first set will probably receive award nominations, or at least deserve strong consideration.

Leave the World Behind
May December
Master Gardener
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
Showing Up

I doubt Leave the World Behind is the best picture of 2023, but I think it is outstanding and am certain to see it again -- and will strongly consider it for viewing in my class on Global Politics Through Film. Amidst all the paranoia are some interesting reactions to uncertainty, threats, cyber-terror, and ecological catastrophe. 

May December is an interesting film with strong acting performances and both subtle and unsubtle messages. At least the filmmaker had something of potential importance to say.

Scrapper is sort of a British version of The Florida Project, though I think the young girl lead actor is older in this film. The story is interesting, there are some funny moments, and the human connections seem real. 

Master Gardener was one of the stranger movies I've seen in awhile and the romantic connection that the title character ultimately forms is unpredictable, but believable.  Joel Egerton is a talented actor that I also saw this year in The Stranger. He plays very complex characters in both films. 

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (based on the Judy Blume book) was entertaining, despite the fact that I was likely not the target audience. Kathy Bates steals her scenes, which are often hilarious. 

Showing Up is a character study with a thin plot and terrific acting performances. The artists in the film are friends and family who inspire and infuriate one another, depending upon the moment. In the end they seem to be able to live with that dichotomy even if some are particularly gifted and have talent that "shows up" others. My spouse and I are big fans of director Kelly Reichardt. Check out her other films, perhaps beginning with First Cow or Wendy and Lucy. We saw Certain Women a few weeks prior to seeing Showing Up.  

These films were quite good and might receive award consideration:

The Killer
They Cloned Tyrone
The Pez Outlaw (documentary)

Sharper is a pretty good crime film with con-man (woman) vibes. The Killer is well-executed, but ultimately the story is a basic revenge plot for an unsympathetic character. It lacks heft. They Cloned Tyrone isn't really a comedy, despite Jamie Foxx's performance, but it is entertaining and fairly clever at times. 

Reality was interesting and based on a true story, but the true story felt a little thin for a feature film. 

Everyone saw Barbie, right? I liked it, more or less, but there are significant shortcomings inherent in the source material. This film's success proves that Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling have enough star power (and talent), and Greta Gerwig sufficient directing skill, to make an entertaining film out of almost nothing substantial.  

I would have liked to see those 3 remake something like The Pez Outlaw as a feature film, rather than a small documentary. Bet that would be interesting. It's a fun tale on its own. 

These were less interesting to me:

Asteroid City
No Hard Feelings
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Asteroid City is an interesting visual experience, but Wes Anderson's mannered style becomes a bit tedious in this mediocre film. In all honesty, I didn't think that much of Wes Anderson's previous film, The French Dispatch, and wonder if he's trying a bit too hard to be quirky at the expense of story-telling. Keep in mind that I loved Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel. I also saw his short The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar this fall and found it merely OK. 

Jennifer Lawrence is always worth watching, and there's much of her to see in No Hard Feelings (you probably read about the beach scene even if you didn't see the movie), but this is not a particularly funny comedy. Maybe it would have been better in a theater. 

Nothing in Indiana Jones seemed particularly novel, but I guess it was worth using the IP for one last payday. I kind of wish the character Jones had been handled more like James Bond, with younger actors portraying him after a few films with more frequent releases. An adventuresome archaeologist is a great premise, but they could have used more creativity reflecting on the world. 

I'm obviously missing a large number of highly rated films from 2023 and plan to see them through 2024 (and beyond). I used to provide a list (and I still might) of top-rated films that I have not yet seen, but I didn't do it last year and no one complained. 

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Saturday, December 30, 2023

Books of 2023

This is my annual post listing books I read in the most recent year. It seems kind of hard to believe, but I have produced such a post since 2005. This ia link to the 2022 list if blog readers want to work backwards.

Also, I posted short reviews of most of these books at Goodreads


Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement; Climate Change and the Unthinkable

Samara Klar and Yanna Krupnikov, Independent Politics: How American Disdain for Parties Leads to Political Inaction

David Maraniss, Clemente; The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero

Satchell Paige, Maybe I'll Pitch Forever

Bill James, Bill James Handbook, Walk-Off Edition

Sean Forman, The Negro Leagues are Major Leagues

Anne Jewell, Baseball In Louisville

Jeff Silverman, The Greatest Baseball Stories Ever Told: Thirty Unforgettable Tales from the Diamond

Buzz Bissinger, Three Nights in August; Strategy, Heartbreak, and Joy Inside the Mind of a Manager

Robert D. Kaplan, The Tragic Mind; Fear, Fate, and the Burden of Power

I read several books about climate change this year, but Ghosh's book is the only one that is not fiction. Ghosh writes a great deal about the need for artists to create content about climate change and he emphasizes the importance of imagining some of the catastrophic potential outcomes.  

The Klar and Krupnikov book I got via ILL and read it for a project I'm working on with a colleague. The Maraniss and Paige bio and autobiography are definitely worth your time. I was inspired to read about Clemente after attending a Pirates game in Pittsburgh. 

I've purchased just about every book Bill James has written about baseball, including the annual Handbook (he is a contributor), but this book was disappointing. I realize the publisher is ending the run of this book because the stats are virtually all available on the internet, but I like to have them all together in one book that I can read at my leisure in my living room without a computer or device. This book does not include very many of the stats long associated with the book. The essays are fine, but the product is below the standard set by the prior editions.

The Silverman edited volume has some great pieces, but I'd previously read most of the best ones. Some of the entries are not that great. 

Literature and Genre Fiction

Larry McMurtry, Terms of Endearment

Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

Nick Hornby, Just Like You

John Updike, Bech is Back

Jenny Offill, Weather

Yevgeny Zamyatin, We

I don't know why I've only recently read Terms of Endearment. I read the prior book in the Houston series decades ago. And I saw the movie with Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson soon after it appeared. Oh well.

Anne Tyler and Nick Hornby are always worth reading and I enjoyed both these books a great deal. 

The Bech book is really a set of short stories. It's OK, but uneven for this reason.  

The Offill book didn't really click with me, though it occasionally mentions climate change. Zamyatin's We is a classic, but it seemed to fall short of my expectations for dystopian fiction. 

Genre fiction:

James Kestrel, Five Decembers

Kurt Anderson, True Believers 

Colson Whitehead, Crook Manifesto

Walter Mosley, Bad Boy Brawly Brown

Michael Connelly, Trunk Music

Jason Matthews, Palace of Treason

Derek Raymond, He Died With His Eyes Open

I'd say these books were the cream of the crop. Kestrel's book is excellent and I urge everyone to read it. Kestrel, Anderson, and Matthews have all written books featuring spies and espionage so it was another good year for reading that sort of fiction.

Whitehead, Mosley, Connelly, and Raymond work in the crime genre and these are captivating examples. 

Ward Just, Exiles in the Garden

M is for Malice, Sue Grafton

Joe Gores, Hammett

R.D. Rosen, Dead Ball

Richard McGuire, Here

Ian Fleming, On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Donald Westlake, Brothers Keepers

Donald Hamilton, Death of a Citizen

Richard Stark (Donald Westlake), Slayground

David Goodis, The Wounded and the Slain

Charles Willeford, The Burnt Orange Heresy

Robert B. Parker, Taming a Sea Horse

Loren Estleman, Angel Eyes

Ross McDonald, Sleeping Beauty

Donald Westlake, The Hook

Claudia Davila, Luz Sees the Light

Carl Hiaasen, Star Island

Christopher Buckley, Make Russia Great Again

Jack Handey, The Stench of Honolulu

Many, actually most, of the other authors are familiar from past iterations of this summary report. You'll find books here from the Kinsey Milhone, Easy Rawlins, Spencer, and Lew Archer detective series, which I'm generally reading in order. 

There are a couple of graphic novels about climate change on this list. Here is an interesting concept as the artist has drawn the changes over time to a single plot of land. The Luz book is for children, which means it is a quick read. 

Many of these books were OK, but most were so-so and had some serious flaws. I'm not going to be detailing all of those here, but you can probably find out on my Goodreads account. 

Buckley and Handey prove that it can be difficult to be funny. 

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