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From the Bottom to the Heart: Bern’s Top 10 Films of 2023






This past year was driven by equilibrium. Throughout the pandemic and lockdown, when we were all at a loss for new entertainment, seemingly everyone got back to nature. I know I did. I got out in the yard, I sat weeding for hours, I actually started listening to podcasts, and I rededicated myself to running, a hobby I had been in and out of since high school. And then life resumed, and we all got back to busy schedules, filling our time with concerts, movies, trivia nights, and good old-fashioned social calls. But sometimes it felt like I had swung back to my pre-pandemic lifestyle too swiftly, too heartily, and a little too greedily. While I consider myself to be a social person, I really enjoyed the stillness of the lockdown (a selfish comfort in the midst of an undeniable tragedy for so many). So, in an attempt to find this equilibrium this past year, I did both more and less; I ran three half-marathons, got pregnant, and started a new job…but I watched far fewer films than in previous years.



Out of the films I did see this past year, these 10 are the ones that I had the best time watching. I do think 2023 lacked the excitement of the previous two years overall (I mean, I’m still thinking about After Yang, RRR, and Annette…to name only a few), but I do appreciate 2023 for proving that comedies are back, baby!



(Light Spoilers for the films ahead…)




10) Bottoms


Emma Seligman’s follow-up to 2020’s Shiva Baby did not disappoint. Starring Ayo Edebiri and Rachel Sennott (who co-wrote the film with Seligman), Bottoms follows high-school lesbians, Josie and PJ, as they try to lose their virginity before graduation…by starting a female fight club masquerading as an after-school self-defense club. Already a bonkers premise, Bottoms kicks it up a level by satirizing the high school film genre and leaning into the hierarchy of the very real high school clique system. There were definitely films that I watched this past year that may have been technically more sound than Bottoms (anticipate some strange, big-budget-shaped gaps in the list ahead, dear reader), but when it comes down to enjoyment level, Bottoms was an absolute riot. The high school film genre is a strange one that continues to persevere, to varying levels of success, but Bottoms solidified itself as a staple in my book. Kudos to Seligman and Sennott for finding a fresh take on the absurdity of high school.



9) Barbie


Ten, twenty years down the line, Oppenheimer will just be another great film in Christopher Nolan’s filmography, that also happened to reap the benefits of being attached to Barbenheimer. But Barbie was a moment. Let’s be real, there’s no Oppenheimer cosplay without Barbie cosplay, and I don’t think people would have gone in groups to see a film like Oppenheimer without the prerequisite of that same group seeing Barbie. That’s not to diminish the success of these films, both together and separately, on the merit of their actual execution as art; they are both stunning in different ways. But no matter how much Fat Man and Little Boy stuck with me since watching it in high school chemistry class, I was societally predisposed to be delighted by the build-up to, and subsequent admiration for, Barbie. Not only is the film consistently funny, but it also lands the more heartfelt scenes as Barbie and her cohort begin to question their one-dimensional purposes in search of meaning. I don’t know what the future holds for our patriarchal society, but a film like Barbie existing certainly doesn’t hurt in a long series of steps to changing the tide. Thanks, Barbie!



8) Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse


These Sony Pictures Animations Spider-Man movies just keep on slamming, don’t they? The stakes were high for Across the Spider-Verse to meet the excitement and fun that 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse (God, was that really five years ago?) completely nailed, but it managed to bring the heat and then some. Picking up where Into the Spider-Verse left off, Miles, Gwen, and the rest of the Spideys become entangled in an even more inescapable web as the film leans more heavily into destiny and fighting fate. The Spider-Man franchise has always been neck and neck with the Batman franchise for me, but it’s been a real treat to watch these recent Spider-Man animated films soar in creative new ways while also shining a light on characters from the Spider-Verse that have yet to be featured in the film franchise. After venturing Into and Across, I can’t wait to go Beyond.



7) Past Lives


Sometimes I think the phrase “a special movie” can come across as a little condescending, but it’s exactly how I feel about Celine Song’s debut, Past Lives. What Song (alongside actors Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, and John Magaro) accomplishes in a tight 106 minutes is both beautiful and heartbreaking as Lee’s Nora Moon navigates an emotional minefield of growth, nostalgia, and acceptance. It’s rare that a romantic film comes along that realistically depicts “the one that got away” with any real sense of responsibility, but Song’s story of two childhood sweethearts whose relationship gets cut short by no fault of its own feels exceptionally honest. Sometimes two people are just not meant to walk through life together, despite their best efforts; the world is too big, the path too unpredictable, and the story too demanding. Through Past Lives, Song reassures us to find peace and comfort in this reality, in both the film and in our own lives.



6) May December


There’s no way anybody can mentally prepare for just how funny Todd Haynes’ May December turned out to be. I’m eternally grateful to both Haynes and Samy Burch, the screenwriter, for approaching May December in this humorous manner because to approach it in any other way would only feel…icky? But perhaps there is no “right” way to approach a “loosely inspired” story about Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau. Regardless, I’m glad they did. This news story, which spanned from 1996 all the way to 2020 with Letourneau’s death, was truly THE news story from my childhood. Outside of 9/11 and Princess Diana’s death, these events are the most memorable, and the story kept evolving throughout my childhood into my teens, and later into my adult life. It just never quite went away. And now it came back, yet again, in the form of May December. If the film wasn’t so downright playful, I might have had a difficult time enjoying a film that does, to a certain degree, exploit Vili and his family, but gosh darn it, this movie’s great (with standout turns from Julianne Moore, Natalie Portman, and a riveting Charles Melton). Regardless of your connection to the real-world events, May December just proves again what a chameleon Haynes is in his interpretation of reality. 



5) Dicks: The Musical


Watching Dicks: The Musical might have been my favorite movie-viewing experience of last year. I had feebly attempted to meet up with fellow Story Screener Scotty Arnold to see it in a theater, but when that didn’t work out, I threw it on at home, months later, while my husband, Heath, passively watched while playing Baldur’s Gate 3. Needless to say, he didn’t accomplish much gaming as Dicks: The Musical demands your attention. Written by UCB alumni Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp, the two star as business rivals who “discover” they’re identical twins and hatch a Parent Trap situation to get their divorced parents (Megan Mullally and Nathan Lane) back together. That’s pretty much all you need to know to get your foot in the door because the rest of the film is an absolute treat to walk into blind. Dicks: The Musical is a tight hour and a half of laughs, gags, and the music ain’t half bad either. If stupid, alternative comedies are your bag, don’t sleep on Dicks.



4) The Boy and the Heron


The remainder of this list is a testament to auteurs in 2023. Coming in at number four, Hayao Miyazaki stuns again with The Boy and the Heron, a whimsical tale of loss, maturity, and family. Focusing on young Mahito as he wrestles with the death of his mother, The Boy and the Heron steps through worlds and time with the greatest of ease, weaving a masterclass in storytelling. In some respects, the film is boldly grounded for a Miyazaki film, but when it takes its turn into different worlds and philosophical concepts, it really leans in. That being said, I also think it might just be the most skilled of his filmography to appeal to both children and adults, but its ability to bridge that gap is nothing new for a Miyazaki story. In a year of great animation, The Boy and the Heron soars.


(In my viewing I had the pleasure of watching the subtitled Japanese version, but I can’t wait to revisit it with Robert Pattinson’s titular heron.) 



3) Asteroid City


Leave it to me to find a nice comfy home for the latest Wes Anderson film. Asteroid City, Anderson’s 11th installment in his filmography falls in perfect alignment with his other works, exploring a retro-futuristic 1950s Americana desert through the lens of storytelling and nostalgia. Anderson’s come a long way since 1996’s Bottle Rocket, but while his style continues to become more refined, he still manages to capture the vulnerability in the human condition. In Asteroid City, a group of young geniuses converge in the fictional city to be honored in the Junior Stargazer convention, during which the city experiences an alien encounter. The base premise is already peak Anderson, but the crux of the film is that Asteroid City happens to be a play being told in the greater context of Asteroid City the film. This metatextual framing, of which Anderson is fond, helps take Asteroid City to the next level. Anderson’s storytelling is always something I look forward to and I was pleased to find that even though Asteroid City could have rested on the entertaining premise of an alien touchdown, it chose to dig even further by delving into the extremely touching alien nature of human interaction.



2) Poor Things


Speaking of human interaction, Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest cinematic feat also explores what it means to be human in a sea of inhumane depravity. Marrying the stylized cinematography of 2018’s The Favourite to the heady rule-bending worlds of his earlier work like The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Poor Things channels a lifetime’s worth of self-discovery into his heroine, Bella Baxter (exuberantly portrayed by Emma Stone). Bella is a woman who, through an ordeal I won’t describe here, is learning how the world is meant to operate, and her place in it. It postulates how nice it would be to exist in the magic of the world without being burdened by any of the societal pressures or restrictions we all face as we age into adulthood. Bella is a character that has to rapidly come to terms with the world’s understanding of her, but without the proper time to learn self-doubt and insecurity, she rebels against the weight of society’s acceptance. Bella accepts herself, nearly wholeheartedly, which is a beautiful process to watch. And did I mention that Poor Things also happens to be one of the funniest films of the year? Yes, Poor Things will certainly be a film I revisit enthusiastically and often. 



1) The Venture Bros.: Radiant is the Blood of the Baboon Heart


As I have been known to say regarding many of my top picks over the years, there just couldn’t have been another film to take this title. If you know anything about me, you most likely know of my deep love and admiration for The Venture Bros., the [adultswim] animated series that premiered all the way back in 2003. Over the course of its seven-season run, the Venture family (amidst a cast of other amazing characters) grew and developed into the very best of what you expect in a television comedy; fully realized characters who haven’t lost any of the hilarious flaws that make them human. Now, do I wish Poor Things could have risen to the top this year in an alternate reality where The Venture Bros. didn’t have their eighth season canceled and condensed into this finale of a film? Absolutely. But we live in a world where, regrettably, The Venture Bros.: Radiant is the Blood of the Baboon Heart is going to be the last piece of Venture media we will be blessed with. But boy, does it deliver on that blessing. So long as you’re of a sane and rational mind, the Venture Bros. film delivers on its promise to answer the most important burning questions, all the while setting up some fun, undercurrent mysteries for those of us who fashion The Venture Bros. to be their Roman Empire. That’s all I can say for this film, as to delve into anything more would be to rob the uninitiated of The Venture Bros. journey. If you value my opinion at all, give yourself a little treat by digging into The Venture Bros. You won’t regret it and will be welcomed into one of the most loving fandoms on this here planet Earth.



“Hench For Life,” “Love Never Blows Up and Gets Killed,” but most importantly, “Go Team Venture!”




 



Bernadette Gorman-White

Bernadette graduated from DePauw University in 2011 with a Film Studies degree she’s not currently using. She constantly consumes television, film, and all things pop culture and will never be full. She doesn’t tweet much, but give her a follow @BeaGorman and see if that changes.


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