Tinseltown's 2023 offerings had bright spots amid mediocrity - Catholic Courier
Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio star in a scene from the movie “Killers of the Flower Moon.” The OSV News classification is A-III - adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (OSV News photo/Melinda Sue Gordon, courtesy Apple)

Tinseltown’s 2023 offerings had bright spots amid mediocrity

(OSV News) — While still on the rebound from the pandemic, Hollywood faced a further challenge in 2023 in the form of months-long, overlapping strikes by the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Although this affected Tinseltown’s output, it had significantly less impact than the COVID crisis.

Overall, the year just past was not an outstanding one for the movie industry in terms of quality, and it saw the release of only a handful of really memorable films. Still, there were enough bright spots amid the mediocrity to make up a reasonable list of favorites.

Following, in alphabetical order, are capsule reviews of the Top 10 films of 2023 as selected by the media reviewing service of OSV News. Unless otherwise noted, the OSV News classification of each movie is A-III — adults and the Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

‘Air’

Set in 1984, the forceful fact-based drama “Air” (Amazon) charts the efforts of a marketing executive (Matt Damon) to rescue the failing basketball division of Nike by signing rookie Michael Jordan and creating the Air Jordan brand. After winning over the company’s initially skeptical CEO (Ben Affleck), he teams with the head of his department (Jason Bateman) and a co-worker (Chris Tucker) to foster the project. Affleck, who also directed, manages to build suspense despite the obviously well-known outcome of his story. Viewers will be cheering his protagonist on as the visionary businessman uses ingenuity, innovative thinking and persistence to overcome long odds.

‘America Fiction’

In writer-director Cord Jefferson’s impressive feature debut “American Fiction” (Amazon MGM), adapted from a 2001 novel, wry social satire is blended with the tale of an emotionally isolated novelist (Jeffrey Wright) and his troubled family (Sterling K. Brown plays his gay brother, Leslie Uggams his mom). Disgusted by sensationalist but bestselling portrayals of Black life (typified by the work of author Issa Rae), he produces an outrageous parody of the genre. But his practical joke has unexpected results that eventually threaten to derail his newfound romance with a neighbor (Erika Alexander). Uproariously funny moments alternate with realistic and sometimes insightful ones in this deft dramedy, though flawed values and often salty dialogue combine to taint an otherwise tasty treat.

‘Creed III’

Actor Michael B. Jordan made his directorial debut with “Creed III” (United Artists), the second sequel to the 2015 reboot of the storied “Rocky” franchise in which he also reprised his role as the champion pugilist of the title. Now retired from the ring, he’s enjoying a prosperous life with his hearing-impaired singer-turned-producer wife (Tessa Thompson) and their deaf daughter (Mila Davis-Kent). But his tranquility is shattered when a childhood friend (Jonathan Majors) re-enters his life after serving a long prison term. Morally shaded characters add complexity and depth as the plot moves toward a pair of trademark showdowns. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves’

The lavish odyssey tale “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” (Paramount) follows an ex-spy-turned-imprisoned-thief (Chris Pine) as he makes his escape and battles a smarmy villain (Hugh Grant) for possession of a totem he believes has the power to bring his deceased wife back to life. Under the direction of Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, this reworking of lore from the well-known role-playing fantasy game finds everyone having a rollicking time and love and family values triumphing in the end. (PG-13)

‘The Holdovers’

“The Holdovers” (Focus) is a moving comedy-tinged drama set at a New England boarding school during the Christmas vacation of 1970-71. Director Alexander Payne’s emotionally pitch-perfect film focuses on the interaction of three individuals stranded on campus over the holidays: a mean-spirited and universally disliked history teacher (Paul Giamatti), a promising but troubled student (Dominic Sessa) and the academy’s bereaved head cook (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) whose son was recently killed in the Vietnam War. Warm in tone and rich in insight, the movie delves into the personal complexities lying below the surface and charts the formation of an unlikely but firm friendship among the central trio.

‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

Epic yet intimate, “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Paramount/Apple TV+) is a dramatization of real-life events in 1920s Oklahoma as the discovery of oil on their land brings prosperity to the indigenous Osage Nation but excites violent greed among the area’s whites. Director and co-writer Martin Scorsese’s masterful adaptation of David Grann’s 2017 bestseller recounts the effects of a string of initially uninvestigated deaths on the lives of a returning World War I veteran (Leonardo DiCaprio), the Native American woman (Lily Gladstone) he romances and eventually marries, his cattle rancher uncle (Robert De Niro), a local bigwig, and the Federal agent (Jesse Plemons) who investigates the mystery.

‘M3GAN’

In the wickedly funny send-up of the devil doll subgenre of horror films “M3GAN” (Universal), a career-focused, emotionally repressed electronic toy developer (Allison Williams) tentatively tries to become a caregiver to her recently orphaned 8-year-old niece (Violet McGraw). But when the researcher employs one of her latest creations, the highly advanced young-girl android of the title, as a friend, full-time babysitter and substitute parent for her new charge, the robot takes the responsibility of protecting the lass to fatal extremes. Those with a taste for sardonic wit will relish the mechanical observer’s deadpan take on human foibles and social trends. But director Gerard Johnstone’s wild satire is too highly-spiced for kids. (PG-13)

‘Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’

Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his band of plausibly deniable espionage collaborators (principally Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg) have a slick, vibrant seventh big-screen adventure in “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” (Paramount). This time out, they’re not only up against human villains (Esai Morales, Vanessa Kirby) but an experimental Artificial Intelligence project gone rogue as well. Director and co-writer Christopher McQuarrie’s script makes brief references to various morally worthy goals. But the real agenda, of course, consists of spectacular stunts, hair-raising chases and suave trickery. The OSV News classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. (PG-13)

‘Oppenheimer’

“Oppenheimer” (Universal) is an impressive but uneven portrait of the famed theoretical physicist (Cillian Murphy in a complex portrayal) who died in 1967, aged 62. Writer-director Christopher Nolan compellingly depicts both the scientist’s collaboration with a hard-driving Army general (Matt Damon) in the race to develop the atomic bomb and his far more complicated relationship with a former patron-turned-critic (Robert Downey Jr.). Offsetting the film’s potential educational value is the inclusion of needlessly frank scenes of the protagonist’s womanizing.

‘Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse’

After downbeat opening scenes involving a teen angst-ridden Spider-Woman (voice of Hailee Steinfeld), the animated sequel “Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony) hits its stride with witty dialogue enlivening the further adventures of the Brooklyn-based hero (voice of Shameik Moore) as he tangles with a mutant mad scientist (voice of Jason Schwartzman). Co-directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson, the Marvel Comics-derived proceedings feature rapid-fire action and plot developments pitting personal happiness against the greater good. Possibly acceptable for mature adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
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John Mulderig is media reviewer for OSV News. Follow him on Twitter @JohnMulderig1.

Tags: Movie Review
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