Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Finally, Film Babble Blog’s Movies of 2023!

As s it’s almost February, and the Oscar noms have been announced (and I finally got around to watching PLEASE DON’T DESTROY: THE TREASURE OF FOGGY MOUNTAIN), I’m finally posting my 10 Top movies (and some spillover) from 2023.

This has been a much better year for film than any of the last several, since before the Pandemic actually, so it was an easier time making these picks. Like a number of my choices, the first one was a movie that surprised me with how much I liked it. 


1. DREAM SCENARIO (Dir. Kristoffer Borgli) Nicholas Cage’s 11,875th film is one of his best, featuring an timely, inventive premise in which Cage’s schlubby college professor starts showing up in many people’s dreams, giving a new layer to going viral. It’s a profoundly cringy experience that I bet will stay with me longer than most of the other movies on this list. Read my review: When Nicholas Cage Dreams Become Nicholas Cage Nightmares (11/30/23).

2 KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON (Dir. Martin Scorsese) 

Master movie-maker Marty made a corker of a three and a half-hour thriller about the Osage Reign of Terror in early 1920’s Oklahoma set to the late, great Robbie Robertson’s superbly subtle, bluesy score, which should get him a posthumous Oscar (I'm not going to predict anything yet though). And the powerful film features a career best Leonardo DiCaprio, and a more invested than he has been lately, Robert De Niro together again, for the very first time (they worked together before in A BOY’S LIFE, but this is their first film under Scorsese’s direction together (DiCaprio has been in six Scorsese films; De Niro’s tally is 10). Read the Film Blog Review (10/19/23).


3. OPPENHEIMER (Dir. David Nolan)

Nolan’s epic biopic of nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, played by Cillian Murphywowed the world in the wake of the crazy BARBENHEIMER movement by being a three-hour biopic about a scientist that grossed $955. Robert Downey Jr. is a lock for his portrayal of a political rival of our rail thin lead is a lock for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, but with 13 noms, this film has a good chance of sweeping. Read my review: Christopher Nolan's OPPENHEIMER Is Kind Of A Big Deal (7/19/23)


4. THE HOLDOVERS (Dir. Alexander Payne)

Payne rebounds from the disappointing DOWNSIZING, with this charming, and very amusing early ‘70s-set dramedy with Paul Giamatti (for his second collaboration with Paybe after the superb SIDEWAYS) as a classics professor at a New England boarding school that has to baby-sit a few students (mostly the talented newcomer Dominic Sessa) who are stuck on campus during the holidays. Da’vine Joy Randolph definitely deserves her Supporting Actress nom for work here as school’s head cook, who’s grieving over son who just died in Vietnam, and the other four noms are worthy too, so this is one I hope more people seek out.


5. ANATOMY OF A FALL (Dir. Justine Triet)

The DVD screener of the first film I watched on New Year's Day, 2024

Oscar Best Acrtress nominee Sandra Hüller did double duty this last year in two majorly recognized films as she’s in this French courtroom drama, and Jonathan Glazer’s excellent THE ZONE OF INTEREST. Here she nails her role as a stressed writer trying to prove her innocence in her husband’s death, and the screenplay by Triet, and Arthur Harari keeps us guessing as it goes through gripping court proceedings. Like #4, this also got five Oscar noms, and shouldn’t be missed.


6. GODZILLA MINUS ONE (Dir. Takashi Yamazaki)

Now this was a complete surprise as the prospect of another Godzilla movie was not the most enticing prospect, but the 37th entry in the series that started 70 years ago, is an amazing, gripping action adventure motion picture that won me over early on with its engaging drama about Japan recovering from World War II, and having to band together to fight this nuclear-radiation created reptilian monster that is more convincingly depicted (thanks to state-of-the-art CGI) than ever before. I certainly agree with Keven Smith that it’s the best Godzilla movie ever. 

7. MAY DECEMBER (Dir. Todd Haynes)

This immaculately-made duel of a drama between Julianne Moore, as a woman who did time for the second-degree rape of a 13-year old, but 20 years later is married to the man who was that boy; and Natalie Portman as an actress who is visiting the couple at their lavish Savannah, Georgia home, for research for a film where she’ll play Moore’s character. The compelling narrative, with its tasty twists and all, helps it stand with Haynes finest work including VELVERT GOLDMINE, I’M NOT THERE, and CAROL.

8. PAST LIVES (Dir. Celine Song)

Another surprise here as a Oscar Best Picture contender, and as a movie that I liked enough to make the list, as this a small movie about a relationship between two childhood friends from South Korean who contain their spark, mostly online as they live far away from each other into adulthood. It’s a of unrequited love with naturalistic performances by Greta Lee, and Teo Yoo, with John Magaro putting in a nicely sensitive side character to the couple as Lee’s understanding husband. However, I doubt this will win anything Oscar-wise other than many viewers hearts.


9. BEAU IS AFRAID (Dir. Ari Aster) 

My placing of this weird ass A24 surrealist tragicomedy horror film (that’s what Wikipedia’s calling it so let’s go with that) shouldn’t be read as a recommendation or a warning or well, anything but that I couldn’t deny its hold on my troubled soul. It’s a grotesque, stressful, and just plain f-ed up story about Joaquinn Phoenix of a man living a hellish existence, who is going on a trip to his mother’s, but chaotic circumstances make his journey a nightmare. If you’re only going to see one Joaquin Phoenix 2023 movie, make sure it’s this and not NAPOLEON.



The life, and career of one of my all-time comedians, Albert Brooks, is explored over lunch with his best friend, Rob Reiner in this HBO biodoc that is so packed with great footage of Brooks’ legendary variety, and talk show appearances from the late ‘60s-‘70s that it should be mandatory viewing for aspiring comics. Brook’s classic comedies (like REAL LIFE, MODERN ROMANCE, and LOST IN AMERICA) are insightfully given discussion, with one of its best segments being about the film that inspired this film’s title, DEFENDING YOUR LIFE . A stand out moment, is when Brook's wife since 1997, Kimberly, says of her first wanting to meet him because of that movie, “This man, wrote, directed, and starred in this? That’s the kid of guy I want to marry. I swear to God I said that.” Touching stuff indeed.


THE ZONE OF INTEREST (Dir. Jonathan Glaser)

AMERICAN FICTION (Dir. Cord Jefferson)

TALK TO ME (Dirs. Danny and Michael Philippou)

Some franchise films I thought were better than okay:

SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE (Dirs. Joaquim Dos Santos,Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson)

JOHN WICK 4 (Dir. Chad Stahelski) 

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART ONE (Dir. Christopher McQuarrie) This film's title really needs a colon.

And finally, yes, it’s far from a great movie, but it’s still one of the most notable, and memorable films of 2023:

BARBIE (Dir. Greta Gerwig)

Okay, I’m done. 

More later...

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Great Moments In Fourth Wall Breakage: SUPERMAN Edition

In this latest entry in the ongoing series, Great Moments in Fourth Wall Breakage, that salutes those meta moments in movies when a character makes an aside to the audience, we’re going to look at the SUPERMAN series. That is, the one that began with SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, continued, with diminishing returns, through II, III, and IV in the ‘80s then reviving in the 2000s with SUPERMAN RETURNS.

At the end of Richard Donner’s classic 1978 original (a personal vote for best superhero movie ever), Christopher Reeve’s Superman soars high above the earth, while John Williams’ triumphant score sweeps, after defeating Lex Luthor’s plan to nuke California, surveying the status of our big blue globe, then looks directly into the camera, and smiles. It’s a warm, ‘don’t worry, I got this,’ grin, and this footage, with slight variations from outtakes from the shoot (sometimes his right arm goes up when he flies off; sometimes not) is used to end the film’s three sequels.

Bryan Singer’s attempt to reboot the series in 2006 with SUPERMAN RETURNS also did its take on the ending flyby, but in this version, Brandon Routh (pretty much a Reeve clone) looks knowingly, with a slight, sly smile, at the camera but doesn’t show any teeth before he flies off.

This was the last time for the concluding fourth wall breakage in series, as Henry Cavill’s Superman in MAN OF STEEL, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, and JUSTICE LEAGUE (all of which are awful) hasn’t been shown friendly acknowledging the audience, and it’s one of the many reasons this most recent version of the character has been embraced like Reeve’s was (and still is). I’m not saying that not having the final smiling flyby is like a James Bond movie without the gun barrel intro, but it’s close.

So Superman is such a mighty being that he even knows he’s a movie star, and his end of adventure smile for us always put an appealing cap on the caper. I wonder if we’ll see a Superman movie with that moment in it again.

Now here's a YouTube compilation of all of the flyby endings from SUPERMAN to SUPERMAN RETURNS:

More later...

Saturday, December 30, 2023

That Time Orson Welles Ended His Career (And Life) On An Episode of Moonlighting

Last October, the ‘80s comedy detective series, Moonlighting, began streaming for the first time ever. The ABC show was a huge must-see TV hit in the mid ‘80s, but because of its absence, it has been largely forgotten until this event. Now viewers can see Bruce Willis - now non-verbal, and retired due to dementia - at his most verbal as the wise-cracking gumshoe David Addison, trading quips with the softly-lit Cybill Shepherd as former model Maddie Hayes in all their 67-episode run on Hulu, and all of our pop culture worlds are better for it.

At least mine is, as I was a kid when it aired in the ‘80s, and it brought back a lot of memories, and one I was delighted to be reminded of was that Orson Welles made his last appearance on the program. The film-making legend, and personal favorite, passed away a week after shooting his introduction for the season 2 episode, “The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice,” (aired: Oct. 15, 1985) capping off his incredible career in a much better, way more classy way than his last film appearance, the voice of Unicron in the animated 1986 flop, TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE (I kid you not).


According to Moonlighting writer, Debra Frank, Welles shot his bit, an intro in which he warned viewers that much of the night’s episode would be in black and white, on October 4, 1985, remembering that because it was her mother’s birthday.

After Welles passed on October 10th, they added this to precede his intro:

From the same 2005 Moonlighting DVD bonus featurette that revealed that, “Inside the Blue Moon Detective Agency, the Story of Moonlighting, Part 2,” Moonlighting creator Glenn Gordon Caron told the story of how they got Welles for the gig:


“They (the network) felt that, like THE WIZARD OF OZ, which was a movie that was shown in this country every year, and every year they went to great lengths to explain to people that the first part is in black and white, the second part is in color – there’s nothing wrong with your television set, ABC thought it was important to offer that kind of assurance to the audience. 


So we thought, well, who should do this? I don’t know, again, it just cracked me up, Orson Welles. You know, here’s the man who probably made the most beautiful black and white film, you know, ever. So I wrote this thing, which he ultimately said, you know, about which he ultimately said, ‘a very special monochromatic, blah blah blah blah, Moonlighting, so get Grandma and the kids and lock them in the basement…” A pretty funny thing, so I called him up, and said, ‘Would you be interested in doing this thing, and to my amazement he said, ‘Well, send it over,’ so I sent it over, and he called back and said, ‘I think it’s funny.’”


Caron misquoted his own writing so here is Welles’ opening intro to “The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice” (and you can watch a YouTube clip of it below):


“Good evening, I’m Orson Welles. Tonight, broadcasting takes a giant leap backward. In this age of living color, and stereophonic sound, the television show, Moonlighting, is daring to be different, and share with you a monochromatic, monophonic hour of entertainment. Approximately 12 minutes into this evening’s episode, the picture on your television screen will change to black and white. Nothing is wrong with your set, I repeat, *nothing is wrong with your set*, tonight’s episode is an experiment, one we hope you’ll enjoy, so, gather the kids, the dog, grandma, and lock them in another room, and then sit back and enjoy this very special episode of Moonlighting.”

It’s quite something to think that this was the grand man’s last appearance before he shuffled off of this mortal coil. It’s not surprising after years of hard living, which his girth, and trademark cigar smoking (though it does look cool) in this short video does give ample evidence, that he died at age 70, but it’s a fitting testament that, a week before he died, he could put in such a witty, wise, and even warm cameo in what was then one of the hottest programs on, and go out on such a hip, and humorous final note.


It's also funny that there’s the Cybill Shepherd connection in that Welles used to stay in the guest room of her house with Peter Bogdanovich in the ‘70s, but that’s a whole ‘nuther blogpost.

More later...