Stream & Dream Lounge highlights, flash points and turn-ons for another difficult year, 2023. An abundance of cinematic pleasures, magic moments, and roving correspondences in these challenging times calls for an abundance of year-end best-ofs. A simple Top Ten just won’t do.
With Asteroid City and four short films based on Roald Dahl stories, Anderson & company were arguably half of a Top Ten all by themselves.
And Do Not Detonate, an anthology of “inspirations for Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City,” strikes me as one of the year’s very best books about film.
Lakota Nation vs. United States, directed by Jesse Short Bull and Laura Tomaselli, is one of the very best and most urgent films of the year. Other outstanding documentaries include The League, a history of Negro League baseball, and Underrated, a surprisingly incisive and moving portrait of NBA superstar Steph Curry, as well as a handful of feature-length films about artists, musicians and writers—All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (photographer Nan Goldin); Little Richard: I Am Everything; The Stones and Brian Jones; The Super 8 Years (novelist Annie Ernaux); Vjeran Tomic: the Spider-Man of Paris.
1923; C. B. Strike; Dark Winds; Fargo, season 5; Lawman: Bass Reeves; Perry Mason, season 2; Poker Face; Reservation Dogs; Slow Horses. The last three titles on that list are particular favorites of mine, as are performances by Gary Oldman (Slow Horses), Natasha Lyonne (Poker Face) and Jon Hamm (Fargo).
Short stuff stands tall
Anderson’s Roald Dahl adaptations—The Swan, Poison, The Rat Catcher and The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar; Alice Rohrwacher’s Oscar-nominated Le Pupille; Agnés Varda’s beautifully restored O Saisons, O Chateux and much else in the Icarus Films box set, Early Short Films of the French New Wave; They Die By Dawn, Jeymes Samuel’s stylized 51-minute western from 2013; a half dozen two-reel comedies from the silent movie era, featuring the combined comic ingenuity of Fatty Arbuckle, Buster Keaton and; a host of early Our Gang comedies, including especially Your Own Back Yard (1925) and A Tough Winter (1930), both of which boldly bring racial issues into the kids’ characteristically comic stories.
Questions of character
The slippery, shifting dynamics of relationships and personal identity is a powerful ingredient in many of the year’s most impressive dramas. That’s writ large with power and finesse in Martin Scorsese’s grand adaptation of Killers of the Flower Moon, but it’s also richly present in the more intimate and shrewdly nuanced portrayals of Todd Haynes’ May December and Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla. It’s present in somewhat more ferocious form in the German film Afire, and in the brusque psycho sexuality of Ira Sachs’ Passages.
And two very fine French films, Alice Winocour’s Revoir Paris and Dominik Moll’s The Night of the 12th, start off as conventional crime films but soon evolve into character drama that is both compelling and incisive.
Once upon a time in the western
I’m okay with the notion that Killers of the Flower Moon is what a western looks like when it’s a Scorsese movie. But my western pleasures for 2023 lean more toward the role of Bass Reeves. The Lawman: Bass Reeves TV series with David Oyelowo in the title role gets my vote for the year’s second best venture into the genre. (The best, from where I sat, was Surrounded, which has a black protagonist, but no Bass Reeves.) Celebrated as the first black American to be deputized as a U. S. Marshall, Reeves figures in a number of recent westerns with black stars—Delroy Lindo plays him in the remarkable The Harder They Fall (2021), David Gyasi in the intriguing Hell on the Border (2019), and Isaiah Washington in the somewhat disappointing Corsicana (2022).
The Old Way, with Nicolas Cage as an old but not quite reformed outlaw, has the feel of a project rushed into production before it ever had a chance to become something of real interest. The Furnace (2020), which has an Afghan cameleer fleeing across the Australian Outback, is a hybrid “western” that is much more to my liking.
It seems to me it was a very good year for motion pictures with Native American characters and issues. Lakota Nation vs. United States, Reservation Dogs, War Pony, The Unknown Country, Killers of the Flower Moon.