Very few highly-anticipated movies appear in January and February, as the bigger releases are timed so they can be considered for the Golden Globes
in January and the Oscars
in late February or early March, so film fans have the advantage of a few weeks after the New Year to collect their thoughts on the year ahead. In other words, I'm not actually late
in outlining below the films I'm most looking forward to in 2023...
No, seriously! If anyone can make a good film about a doll franchise, it's probably Greta Gerwig. Not only was Little Women (2019) more than admirable, the same could be definitely said for Lady Bird (2017). More importantly, I can't help feel she was the real 'Driver' behind Frances Ha (2012), one of the better modern takes on Claudia Weill's revelatory Girlfriends (1978). Still, whenever I remember that Barbie will be a film about a billion-dollar toy and media franchise with a nettlesome history, I recall I rubbished the "Facebook film" that turned into The Social Network (2010). Anyway, the trailer for Barbie is worth watching, if only because it seems like a parody of itself.
It's difficult to overstate just how important the aerial bombing of London during World War II is crucial to understanding the British psyche, despite it being a constructed phenomenon from the outset. Without wishing to underplay the deaths of over 40,000 civilian deaths, Angus Calder pointed out in the 1990s that the modern mythology surrounding the event "did not evolve spontaneously; it was a propaganda construct directed as much at [then neutral] American opinion as at British." It will therefore be interesting to see how British Grenadian Trinidadian director Steve McQueen addresses a topic so essential to the British self-conception. (Remember the controversy in right-wing circles about the sole Indian soldier in Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk (2017)?) McQueen is perhaps best known for his 12 Years a Slave (2013), but he recently directed a six-part film anthology for the BBC which addressed the realities of post-Empire immigration to Britain, and this leads me to suspect he sees the Blitz and its surrounding mythology with a more critical perspective. But any attempt to complicate the story of World War II will be vigorously opposed in a way that will make the recent hullabaloo surrounding The Crown seem tame. All this is to say that the discourse surrounding this release may be as interesting as the film itself.
Dune, Part II
Coming out of the cinema after the first part of Denis Vileneve's adaptation of Dune (2021), I was struck by the conception that it was less of a fresh adaptation of the 1965 novel by Frank Herbert than an attempt to rehabilitate David Lynch's 1984 version and in a broader sense, it was also an attempt to reestablish the primacy of cinema over streaming TV and the myriad of other distractions in our lives. I must admit I'm not a huge fan of the original novel, finding within it a certain prurience regarding hereditary military regimes and writing about them with a certain sense of glee that belies a secret admiration for them... not to mention an eyebrow-raising allegory for the Middle East. Still, Dune, Part II is going to be a fantastic spectacle.
It'll be curious to see how this differs substantially from the recent Ford v Ferrari (2019), but given that Michael Mann's Heat (1995) so effectively re-energised the gangster/heist genre, I'm more than willing to kick the tires of this about the founder of the eponymous car manufacturer. I'm in the minority for preferring Mann's Thief (1981) over Heat, in part because the former deals in more abstract themes, so I'd have perhaps prefered to look forward to a more conceptual film from Mann over a story about one specific guy.
How Do You Live
There are a few directors one can look forward to watching almost without qualification, and Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke Howl's Moving Castle, etc.) is one of them. And this is especially so given that The Wind Rises (2013) was meant to be the last collaboration between Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Let's hope he is able to come out of retirement in another ten years.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Given I had a strong dislike of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), I seriously doubt I will enjoy anything this film has to show me, but with 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark remaining one of my most treasured films (read my brief homage), I still feel a strong sense of obligation towards the Indiana Jones name, despite it feeling like the copper is being pulled out of the walls of this franchise today.
I only know Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland through her Spoor (2017), an adaptation of Olga Tokarczuk's 2009 eco-crime novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. I wasn't an unqualified fan of Spoor (nor the book on which it is based), but I am interested in Holland's take on the life of Czech author Franz Kafka, an author enmeshed with twentieth-century art and philosophy, especially that of central Europe. Holland has mentioned she intends to tell the story "as a kind of collage," and I can hope that it is an adventurous take on the over-furrowed biopic genre. Or perhaps Gregor Samsa will awake from uneasy dreams to find himself transformed in his bed into a huge verminous biopic.
It'll be interesting to see what path David Fincher is taking today, especially after his puzzling and strangely cold Mank (2020) portraying the writing process behind Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941). The Killer is said to be a straight-to-Netflix thriller based on the graphic novel about a hired assassin, which makes me think of Fincher's Zodiac (2007), and, of course, Se7en (1995). I'm not as entranced by Fincher as I used to be, but any film with Michael Fassbender and Tilda Swinton (with a score by Trent Reznor) is always going to get my attention.
Killers of the Flower Moon
In Killers of the Flower Moon, Martin Scorsese directs an adaptation of a book about the FBI's investigation into a conspiracy to murder Osage tribe members in the early years of the twentieth century in order to deprive them of their oil-rich land. (The only thing more quintessentially American than apple pie is a conspiracy combined with a genocide.) Separate from learning more about this disquieting chapter of American history, I'd love to discover what attracted Scorsese to this particular story: he's one of the few top-level directors who have the ability to lucidly articulate their intentions and motivations.
It often strikes me that, despite all of his achievements and fame, it's somehow still possible to claim that Ridley Scott is relatively underrated compared to other directors working at the top level today. Besides that, though, I'm especially interested in this film, not least of all because I just read Tolstoy's War and Peace (read my recent review) and am working my way through the mind-boggling 431-minute Soviet TV adaptation, but also because several auteur filmmakers (including Stanley Kubrick) have tried to make a Napoleon epic and failed.
In a way, a biopic about the scientist responsible for the atomic bomb and the Manhattan Project seems almost perfect material for Christopher Nolan. He can certainly rely on stars to queue up to be in his movies (Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, Kenneth Branagh, etc.), but whilst I'm certain it will be entertaining on many fronts, I fear it will fall into the well-established Nolan mould of yet another single man struggling with obsession, deception and guilt who is trying in vain to balance order and chaos in the world.
The Way of the Wind
Marked by philosophical and spiritual overtones, all of Terrence Malick's films are perfumed with themes of transcendence, nature and the inevitable conflict between instinct and reason. My particular favourite is his stunning Days of Heaven (1978), but The Thin Red Line (1998) and A Hidden Life (2019) also touched me ways difficult to relate, and are one of the few films about the Second World War that don't touch off my sensitivity about them (see my remarks about Blitz above). It is therefore somewhat Malickian that his next film will be a biblical drama about the life of Jesus. Given Malick's filmography, I suspect this will be far more subdued than William Wyler's 1959 Ben-Hur and significantly more equivocal in its conviction compared to Paolo Pasolini's ardently progressive The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964). However, little beyond that can be guessed, and the film may not even appear until 2024 or even 2025.
Zone of Interest
I was mesmerised by Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin (2013), and there is much to admire in his borderline 'revisionist gangster' film Sexy Beast (2000), so I will definitely be on the lookout for this one. The only thing making me hesitate is that Zone of Interest is based on a book by Martin Amis about a romance set inside the Auschwitz concentration camp. I haven't read the book, but Amis has something of a history in his grappling with the history of the twentieth century, and he seems to do it in a way that never sits right with me. But if Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers (1997) proves anything at all, it's all in the adaption.