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Arts + CultureMoviesOscar who, again? Ficks’ Picks fave flicks from last...

Oscar who, again? Ficks’ Picks fave flicks from last year, part two

Japan's rampaging reptile shares space with 'Rotting in the Sun'—and our critic's pick for 2023's most unfairly maligned movie.

Let’s be frank—the grand-daddy of Hollywood’s awards season doesn’t hit all its cues. Here, 48hills film festival critic Jesse Hawthorne Ficks offers up his yearly refutation of the Oscars with special focus on the superlative films and music videos that won’t be taking home a statuette on Sunday. Just don’t ask him to pick his favorites too finely—all of his top spots were ties. Read part one here.

11. Poor Things (Yorgos Lanthimos, Ireland/UK/US) 

This subversive screwball comedy is also hilariously raunchy and an unofficial mainstream remake of Frank Hennenlotter’s Frankenhooker (1990). With unforgettable performances by Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo, repeat screenings are highly recommended! Film4 distributes and it is streaming to rent on many major sites.

… tied with Rotting in the Sun (Sebastián Silva, US/Mexico)

What starts out as a clunky, self indulgent sex comedy (featuring the cinematic debut of Instagram hunk-influencer Jordan Firstman) subtly shifts into one of the most gut-wrenching dramas of the year. Featuring an absolutely mesmerizing performance by Catalina Saavedra of Sebastián Silva’s 2009 gem The Maid. Streaming free on MUBi.

… tied with Weyes Blood’s “God Turn Me Into a Flower” (Adam Curtis, UK)

Legendary UK documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis channels his breathtaking style (known as “hyper-normalization”) into Natalie Laura Mering’s latest video for her band Weyes Blood. These six minutes of found footage are as devastatingly epic as Curtis’ game-changing 2009 essay film It Felt Like a Kiss (2009) and perhaps will convince some of you to seek out Weyes Blood’s haunting 2022 album, And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow.

14. Oppenheimer (Chistopher Nolan, US) 

It’s fascinating to see so many people feeling the need to push back on the sheer brilliance of Christopher Nolan’s cinematic skills. There’s no one who deserves more Oscars this Sunday. Remember, he started at the Slamdance Film Festival with Following (1999) and then Memento (2000) premiered the next year at the Sundance Film Festival. Universal distributes the film and will be releasing for streaming later on in 2024.

… tied with Godzilla Minus-One (Yamazaki Takashi, Japan) 

Not only did director Yamazaki Takashi make the most spectacular Godzilla (Gojira) film since the 1954 original, he also made the perfect co-feature for anyone who did not understand why Christopher Nolan purposefully omitted the side effects of the bombs on Japan. This movie also contains the most jaw-dropping VFX of the year (which Yamazaki also spearheaded!) Toho Studios distributes the movie and will be it later on in 2024.

16. The Zone of Interest (Jonathan Glazer, UK/Poland/US)

Subtle, haunting, and uncomfortably relatable. This film’s sound design alone has lodged its way into my inner core. Jonathan Glazer is a certified genius. Be sure to track down his brilliant films Birth (2004), Under the Skin (2013), and Sexy Beast (2000) if you haven’t already. A24 distributes the film and it is streaming to rent on many major sites.

… tied with The Killers of the Flower Moon (Martin Scorsese, US/Osage Nation)

Martin Scorsese has outdone himself with this endurance test of revisionist American history. From the opening Osage Nation history lesson, to the Phil Solomon-esque experimental fire sequence, to the infamous spanking scene, to Robbie Robertson (RIP)’s bewitching soundtrack, to the downright brilliantly conceived conclusion, I find myself constantly contemplating this 206-minute magnum opus. Not to mention, its exceptional performances by Cara Jade Myers, who plays Mollie’s fierce first sister, the charismatic connection between Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone’s self-destructive characters and the scene-stealing William Belleau, who completely inhabits Mollie’s devastatingly melancholic first husband. I predict that people will return to this movie in the years to come. Apple Original Films distributes the film and it is streaming to rent on many major sites.

18. Drift (Anthony Chen, France/Greece/UK)

Singaporean director Anthony Chen (whose 2013 debut feature Ilo Ilo haunts me to this day) follows a completely penniless Liberian refugee who has self-exiled to a Greek island. Cynthia Erivo delivers yet another revelatory performance—see her in HBO’s mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider (2020)as a character who sells massages to wealthy tourists. Once they form a curious friendship with an aimless tour guide, empathetically played by the always-welcoming Alia Shawkat, brace yourself for one of the year’s most overlooked and poetically profound films. Utopia has acquired US distribution rights to the film, and will be releasing the movie later on in 2024.

… tied with Fuzzy Head (Wendy McColm, US)

Wendy McColm wrote, directed, and starred in this psychedelic whirlwind, which burrows into the tortured mind of Marla, an insomnia-ridden woman who is on the run after the murder of her mother and spiraling into an unreliable universe. Much like her, we the audience must confront the “everlasting void” as we attempt to decipher what’s really happening in the film. Alicia Witt, one of David Lynch’s lifelong muses and who debuted at the age of seven as Alia (Paul’s young sister) in Dune (1984), gives a spectacular performance as Marla’s mother. McColm’s remarkable achievement feels like an amalgamation of Harmony Korine’s Gummo (1997), Mary Herron’s American Psycho (2000), the photography of Daniel Keys, and the films of John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands. Gravitas Ventures acquired U.S. distribution rights to the film, so keep your eyes peeled for a hopeful release in 2024.

… tied with Lucy Dacus’ “Night Shift” (Jane Schoenbrun, US)

Director Jane Schoenbrun, the mastermind behind the hauntingly lo-fi We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (2022), delivers an electrifyingly ethereal music video for Lucy Dacus’ haunting song “Night Shift”. These seven minutes are every bit as special as Schoenbrun’s full-length films and will immensely help in tiding you over for the group’s upcoming mind-bending sensation I Saw the TV Glow (2024), which A24 will be releasing on May 3rd, 2024.

21. The Flash (Andy Muschietti, US) 

Every year an undeserving movie gets universally panned by moviegoers and movie critics alike. These unfairly maligned flicks are the bread and butter for a film series entitled MOViES FOR MANiACS (formally known as MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS), which I created just over 20 years ago. Celebrating these underrated, overlooked, and dismissed films in a neo-sincere manner quite often makes my closest peers question my taste. In 2022, I chose Damien Chazelle’s Babylon.

My pick for 2023 was Andy Muschietti’s The Flash. Scripted by Christina Hodson, who penned the surprisingly allegorical Bumblebee (2018), it showcases not one, not two, but three staggeringly symphonic performances by Ezra Miller. I would argue that The Flash is just as emotionally complex as the Daniels’ Oscar winning Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022). While most of the negative reviews I read seemed to harp on the film as a VFX fiasco, I found the film’s many different CG styles a purposeful choice that mirrors the multiple time periods through which Barry Allen travels.

More importantly, I found the film to be both non-stop hilarious and deeply moving, especially when it focuses on Barry’s awkward loneliness and the side effects of missing his mother, played by the extraordinary Maribel Verdú of Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También (2001) and Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). Give the film a chance one of these late nights. You may find yourself forming an opinion that doesn’t align with anyone’s but your own. Warner Brothers distributes the film and it is streaming on many major sites.

… tied with Beau is Afraid (Ari Aster, US)

Unrelenting, unending, outrageously pretentious, and perhaps the most realistic reflection of this past few years that I have ever seen. Watch it in segments so that you can start uncovering all of Ari Aster’s hidden secrets. This movie has more Easter eggs in it than all of Stanley Kubrick’s films combined, and Joaquin Phoenix gives yet another performance of a lifetime. A24 distributes and it is streaming on many major sites.

… tied with Tyler, the Creator’s “Sorry Not Sorry” (Tyler Okonma, US)

Confronting each of his different personas from his previous six full length albums, Tyler Okonma continues to push his boundaries lyrically and musically, as well as cinematically. This breathtaking video for “Sorry Not Sorry” is for an exclusive song from the The Estate Sale deluxe version on his sixth studio album Call Me If You Get Lost (2021).

24. Afire (Christian Petzold, Germany)

Streaming on the Criterion Channel.

… tied with American Fiction (Cord Jefferson, US)

Streaming on Amazon.

26. Priscilla (Sofia Coppola, US)

A24 distributes the film and it is streaming on MAX.

… tied with Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani (Karan Johar, India)

This instant classic is an epic romantic throwback that re-teams Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt from Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy (2019). It is streaming on Amazon Prime.

28. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (James Mangold, US)

Walt Disney distributes and the film is streaming on many major sites.

… tied with Jawan: Extended Cut (Atlee and S. Ramanagirivasan, India)

Streaming on Netflix.

30. Passages (Ira Sachs, US)

Streaming on MUBi.

… tied with Showing Up (Kelly Reichardt, US)

A24 distributes and it is streaming on Amazon Prime.

32. All of Us Strangers (Andrew Haigh, UK)

Streaming on many major platforms.

… tied with Past Lives (Celine Song, US)

Streaming on many major platforms.

34. Talk to Me (Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou, Australia)

A24 distributes and it is streaming on many major sites.

… tied with Thanksgiving (Eli Roth, US)

Streaming for free on Netflix.

36. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, The SwanThe Rat Catcher, and Poison (Wes Anderson, US) 

Make sure to put the subtitles on! And watch the 1982 BBC short film “Roald Dahl on Pebble Mill at One” before you dive into this quartest of Dahl quickies, for it will give you all of the historical context that inspired Wes Anderson.

All four films are streaming on Netflix.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Jesse Hawthorne Ficks
Jesse Hawthorne Ficks
Jesse Hawthorne Ficks is the film history coordinator at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and is part of the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle. He curates and hosts “MOViES FOR MANiACS,” a film series celebrating underrated and overlooked cinema, in a neo-sincere manner.

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