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Rory’s 2023: Movies (part two)

My initial plans for this post were big (for me). I assembled a list of every movie I watched in 2023 and carefully ranked it on Letterboxd, with four basic tiers and multiple drafts of reviews of each movie. The list was getting a bit unwieldy with time, but it wasn’t a dealbreaker. I looked over the movies in mid-February, readying myself to carefully rerank and reevaluate in time for early March.

And then I realized most of them were solidly mid and not worth the effort.

This is part of a greater crisis, honestly. I always spend the beginning of a calendar year playing catch-up with the films from the year prior; the way a bunch of movies are dumped at the end of the year means you have to if you’re like me (unable to go to theaters much and no access to screeners). I have never had such a miserable time catching-up as I did this year.

I know Hollywood execs would love to blame the strikes for a weird 2023 in film, but the creative labor on the ground read the writing on the wall and were trying to help. I’m glad they got most of what they asked for. It’s probably not enough to fix real structural problems. (Also not labor’s fault.)

Currently, I’m not up to the task of doing a full Hollywood accounting, so we’re going lowkey for these posts. For my general recap of 2023 movies, I’ll cover some highs, some lows, and my general favorites. I’m including some Oscar nominees here because they don’t really fit in the structure of the bigger Oscar post.

A selection of 2023 movies I want to see and haven’t (as of writing these posts)

Priscilla, The Iron Claw, Godzilla Minus One, The Boy and the Heron, Dream Scenario, Joy Ride, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, Napoleon, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, Wish, Beyonce’s Renaissance, Dicks: The Musical


Saltburn: A major cultural zeitgeist that stole from better movies without saying something unique. Definitely the work of someone posh addressing class, and that’s not a compliment. At least I got to hear Murder on the Dancefloor for the first time. But I don’t begrudge younger audiences enjoying it! Every generation should have a Cruel Intentions, you know? I hope it inspires them to look up movies in a similar vein.

Renfield: Do you know how hard it is for me to dislike a vampire movie, much less a Dracula movie? I think saying “Awkwafina is a cop” conveys some of my difficulties with it, but also the movie was trying to be four or five movies at the same time without a good ending. But also: I enjoyed watching it at the time, but every time I think back, I feel exasperated. Sigh.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse: I’m probably one of the few people on the planet who would put this as a “low”, and I’m at peace with that. I didn’t see this theatrically, which meant that I not only had my enjoyment of the first movie to contend with, but the enormous hype the second release engendered. That it also is only half a story is a big part of the problem here; maybe I’ll reevaluate this once I have the next part, and I know how everything lands. But it was too long and overstuffed, which was a direct reflection of its terrible working conditions. Can’t say I’ll make the sequel a theatrical priority unless changes are made.


Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny: Most of this movie is what you’d expect of Disney zombifying old, beloved properties. Despite that, I loved the end in a way that I still reflect upon fondly? I can’t talk about it without spoiling the whole thing (whatever that’s worth), so check my Letterboxd review for the details.

The Marvels and Blue Beetle: I skipped a lot of superhero media this year, but both DC and Marvel pulled off great stories with BIPOC families as superhero support systems recently. I also loved Blue Beetle’s placement in a fictional version of Miami, with an added neon flare and use of 90s aesthetics as a contrast to the modern day. I wish the Khan family had been a bigger part of The Marvels, but it was a nice sequel to the Ms. Marvel show that didn’t feel too tonally different.

Gran Turismo: As far as commercials with a thin veneer of cinema went in 2023, this was one of my favorites. A racing movie that’s mostly guys having chemistry together (with the occasional woman for Diversity Win! or We’re Straight I Swear) is very 2005, but sometimes it’s fun to imagine Ad Exec Legolas and Racing Daddy Hopper smooching.

The Little Mermaid: Halle Bailey is as Disney princess as they come. I liked her so much, I’m tempted to watch this again (although I’d probably just watch the second half).

Five Nights at Freddy’s: I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the franchise, but I definitely enjoyed watching this in the theater. I also liked that I got a second viewing in at home right away because of its simultaneous release on Peacock. I doubt most movies will do anything like this in the future, but I wish they would.

Top ten

10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

Considering the trailer they had in front of Barbie, I almost didn’t see this one. It felt like they were toeing the line between “girls stink” and “counter-programming” and landing more on the former than the latter in that pass? But it was a good year for Ayo Edibiri, and the thought of her as April O’Neil was too good to pass up.

I could say a lot of the reason this works for me is nostalgia bait, but that’s only part of the story. I played with Barbies and had multiple Mario experiences as a kid; neither 2023 movie adaptation was more than casually watchable for me. In my childhood, TMNT was exclusively the 1990 movie that I vaguely tolerated because Sara rewatched it over and over again. I can’t tell you which turtle’s which. I always mix up the names Splinter and Shredder! (I had to double-checked the names when I wrote this.) Mostly, I just really liked that this iteration of Turtles felt like teens I know today. I always thought the ‘90s Turtles seemed older than teens to me, although my solidly-childhood age might have shaped that view. Either way, I definitely believe 2023’s Turtles are middle schoolers, and charmingly so.

Also, I thought the animation style was pleasantly grungy and tactile. Not an easy feat in 3D animation, or for someone who gets easily queasy when looking at animation broadly! (Studio Ghibli makes me queasy. It’s tragic.) That, combined with a lovable overall cast and solid story, made this a good family watch.

I should also add that I watched with a nine-year-old who happily bounced during the action sequences. That’s five stars in his book!

9. Polite Society

The funny thing about my inclusion of Polite Society is that I came away more frustrated than anything when I watched, but not because the film or any of the creatives did anything wrong; I saw a trailer months in advance that spoiled the whole movie. I never would have known about the movie if it hadn’t been for the trailer! But it spoiled all the major twists and turns, which is not good when two-thirds of the movie is centered around a bit of a mystery.

But Polite Society’s here because it was a fun movie, and I think back on it fondly. I’m a sucker for female-led action, especially when the lead is scrappy and a bit rough around the edges. It’s one of the reasons The Marvels is a high for me this year; just watching women getting to lead anything feels like a breath of fresh air. That Polite Society is also British-Pakistani gives it a cultural perspective I don’t see very much, as a white person based in the US. But mostly, it’s the energy of the film that made me a fan. This is what a good popcorn movie should look like!

8. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

I’m different than a lot of my circle, both in-person and online, in that my direct experiences with DND are brief at best. I haven’t played more than a trial run or two, I find Baldur’s Gate 3 a bit overwhelming (although it is a 2024 goal to get to an ending), and I haven’t watched any of the popular shows like Critical Role or Dimension 20 or listened to any podcasts or what have you. I say this because I heard from multiple sources that people liked DND:HAT because it felt like a DND game without the table parts. That meant very little to me, and I can’t comment on their use of classes or locations or whatever feels like a failed roll.

But I liked DND:HAT anyway! It’s a fun fantasy romp with a good cast and a lot of sequences that had delightful shots. That the core emotional story is centered around a fridged Black woman is the main reason this isn’t higher on the list; I honestly wasn’t sure I liked the movie on first watch because I hated that choice so much. That I have rewatched two or three times since and added it high on my list of movies for the year speaks to the overall quality of the rest of the movie (and yes, the inconsistent quality of films overall, but what can you do about that). I hope they make a couple silly sequels and give more actors a chance to play with the material.

7. May December

Honestly, this was top two or three on my list when I first watched it. I love Todd Haynes movies; he’s a director that understands film history and pop culture, and he made possibly my all-time favorite movie, Velvet Goldmine. Charles Melton’s performance is still in my top two or three for year and was far more worthy of awards recognition than a lot of names that got nominated.

So why is it at number seven? Because I found out after the movie how directly they lifted from actual Mary Kay Letourneau interviews, and I read this interview with survivor Vili Fualaau and found out he wasn’t consulted for the movie. It feels like both the movie’s existence and press tour around it probably compounded Fualaau’s trauma, and they didn’t even talk to him about it? This is not the way you want art to reflect life, and vice versa.

(Also, that link made me realize that Fualaau is only a couple years older than I am, which was a shock and a half. It definitely put the real-life events into clearer perspective.)

But the movie still spoke to me. I was around abusive adults as a kid, especially ones who used the arts as a shield or to facilitate their abuse, and saw other kids around me preyed upon. May December is one of the few films I’ve seen that covers the topic in a way that’s more complicated than the usual media depictions of toxic stage parents or what have you.

Anyway, its inclusion and position here is a reflection of my mixed feelings. Yes, I got a lot out of it, and I think a lot of the craft involved was very good. No, I’m not sure it’s worth making a real person’s life worse, and Hollywood is structured terribly in regard to ethics, trauma, and children. I don’t think reaching out to the real man involved was too much to ask, bare minimum.

6. The Holdovers

Since this is a Best Picture nominee, see that post for more.

5. Past Lives

Another Best Picture nominee that gets more later!

4. A Thousand and One

I’m so glad I prioritized A Thousand and One even though it didn’t get any Oscar noms. I’ve done this catch-up period stuff enough to know that the Oscars covers some ground, but there are always major omissions, and works by marginalized voices are far more likely to fall by the wayside. I watched this the second I saw it on Prime Video. Along with Past Lives, it was a very good year for debut filmmakers!

One of the things this list conveys is that I like character-centric dramas, and A Thousand and One definitely qualifies. Teyana Taylor was the movie’s heart in a small ensemble, and I can think of several Oscar nominees I would have bumped to give her a nod. I can’t talk too much about the story itself because experiencing the movie was one of my favorite parts, but the ideas of family and racial gentrification were developed in interesting and complicated ways. The production design was fantastic, too; it’s not easy to show changes over time, especially in a smaller-budget movie, but they pulled it off beautifully.

Mostly, I hope this movie’s success at Sundance will give director A.V. Rockwell more opportunities. This is a filmmaker I want to see more from.

3. Beau is Afraid

My first reaction when I watched Beau is Afraid was “cool movie, having a major panic attack, will never watch it again”. When I calmed down, I found I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I have never seen a movie that captured my daily internal experience so well. (If you’ve seen the movie too: yes, I’ve done a lot of therapy, don’t worry.) I can replay most of the movie vividly in my head, which is no easy feat for something so intense and so long. But it’s also really funny? Beau is Afraid didn’t miss that the best comedy is found from distortion and exaggeration, and what’s intrusive thinking if not exaggeration?

Beau is Afraid also takes generational trauma in relation to all of this very seriously. The generational trauma I inherited comes from a different source: a combination of “general US poverty”, “untreated mental whatever”, and “Irish diaspora”, versus this film’s “Jewish diaspora” and “parental abandonment” and whatever else. Probably no one wants to find common ground in this particular way. But since I have, I’m super grateful this movie exists. I might even buy a physical copy to keep as part of a “break glass when I’m too stuck in my head” toolkit. I don’t know that there’s any better way to have perspective on how silly your brain can be than having someone else show so many of the same pitfalls and kind of hold your hand about it.

2. Bottoms

Year of Ayo Edibiri continues! I’ve only logged Bottoms twice on my Letterboxd, but I’m reasonably sure I’ve watched it three or four times at this point. I admit, there’s a bit right before the climax where the movie loses steam and a bit of a grasp on its zany tone, so I skip around sometimes. But that’s one flaw in an otherwise fantastic comedy, where queer people get to be ugly and untalented and still beat the crap out of people.

There isn’t much to say beyond that! Fun build to the ending, charming cast (with a surprisingly good Marshawn Lynch?), super queer in a way that I don’t get to see enough of. Everyone’s firing on all cylinders in this one.

1. Nimona

Most of what I could say here, I said in two different Letterboxd reviews. “kill the cop in your head: the movie” is the most succinct, but I think my second review also covers important ground:

my favorite movie of 2023! it’s one of the few films i saw in the last year that has the courage to meet the moment where it is in terms of narrative and themes, and it does it with a fun frankness well-suited to its family vibe. a toxic system only survives by creating monsters to look away from the rot within, and when we teach children fear, the rot survives. children can be just as dangerous behind a sword as anyone. but we all have the chance to learn, and if we want to survive, growth and love aren’t soft or meaningless. it’s all we have.

nimona’s survival story is also emblematic of the greater dysfunction in hollywood and the us’s economic systems, in that disney ate and destroyed its original production company, and only netflix buying it meant the hard work of nimona’s artists got to be seen. how many industries are being destroyed for the sake of a handful of people who are already wealthy? how much labor has been discarded, and will continue to be discarded, in the name of tax breaks? how many people in marginalized groups will have a hand extended when the world’s eyes are there, only for the hand to be retracted the second backs are turned or there’s a hint of pressure?

this is all connected to nimona’s narrative, too: queerness is a big reason why disney didn’t keep the movie. they reportedly objected to the surface-level inclusion of ballister/goldenloin kissing, which was probably their excuse for how queer the whole film is in every way, for the ways the model minority myth is explored, for the directness of walls getting torn down. people are losing their rights and dying in real life, but gay kissing between cartoon characters is still too much, somehow.

i could go on, but as angry as i am about everything right now, nimona gives me hope. it validates how i see the world, and it’s a good reminder that a lot of people want everything to be better, and that’s what i ultimately take away from the movie when i watch this. we can do this. i know we can.

What else I can add is this: I watched Nimona grow since its inception. I started following comic-creator (and film producer) ND Stevenson on Tumblr back when he was posting Lord of the Rings comics. Not only did I witness pages post, extras come to being, and a full book get published, I saw his journey as a creative blossom when he started working in animation, and I saw his autobiographical comics depict his ongoing queer experience.

I would have loved Nimona the movie on its own; I have no doubt of that. But it’s also representative of a core part of my identity, which you could call “Tumblr queer” if you want to strip the whole thing of nuance. It’s finding community and expressing queer identity in online spaces, through creative endeavors. I was doing this a good decade before Tumblr’s existence, but Tumblr is one of the places this part of me lives on today.

Queer expression in online spaces is under a lot of threat right now, from proposed/enacted legislations, from unchecked and unexamined bigotries, and from the gross mismanagement of online social spaces. I don’t think someone like Nate would have ever had it easy, but I’ve watched a lot of the mechanisms that supported him and others like him crumble or get destroyed in real time. That’s not to say all hope is gone! I know we’re already seeing some creatives come from places like TikTok. But it would be naive to say that things aren’t bad right now.

Still, like I said in the above review, Nimona the movie gives us hope and potential answers, and it’s a rare success in a time and place where that’s hard to come by. It’s why I treasure it so much! And after a year like 2023, I’m glad it exists.

Coming in the next couple days

My Oscars recap! I watched all the Best Picture nominees and a smattering of contenders from other categories. See you then!

Rory Hume is a rainbow gay, cat whisperer, and concert swag addict.


  • Sara Reine

    I enjoyed reading this! Was surprised to see Little Mermaid and Indiana Jones on your highs, but I guess they weren’t exactly lows either so it makes sense. Halle Bailey is so freakin adorable I love her. I also keep thinking I kinda wanna rewatch May/December, but when I realized that one specific scene was SO directly lifted from Letourneau/Fualaau, it really did ruin it for me a lot. I don’t think I can do it yet. I accept the exploitativeness of true crime *generally* (it is never done in a way that respects the survivors) but this guy is still around, not very old, and they really directly copied a publicly visible instance of abuse. Also the lisp turning out to be a real Letourneau tick. y i k e s it just BOTHERS ME NOW

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