Movies Watched, November 2023

Movies Watched, November 2023

If you’re the kind of person who’s always on the lookout for a new Christmas movie to watch over and over, year after year, allow me to recommend “The Holdovers” from director Alexander Payne, which crept into theaters—in a practically furtive limited release—early last month. You might still be able to catch it too, if you hurry, but if not it’s already available for rent from the usual sources. To be clear, I’m not the kind of person who’s in the market for new Christmas movies; I find most of them—well, bah humbug. But this one struck a nerve with me.

To begin with, it’s a lovingly realized recreation of the early 1970s aesthetic of post-New Hollywood films, from the baritone voice-over in the trailer to the paperback-style typography of its posters and opening credits. This kind of superficial nostalgia may or may not be your thing, but the film itself is a home run, too. It sports a superbly prickly performance by Paul Giamatti, illuminating a finely tuned, classically structured Hal Ashby-style plot full of perfectly timed reversals and comedic surprises. The story centers on an antagonistic teacher-student dynamic in a New England boarding school where nearly everyone else has gone home for the holidays, so inevitably tears flow and heartwarming lessons are learned—but I didn’t let that bother me! I adored this movie, and I’ll probably watch it every Christmas for years to come.

Here are the other seventeen flicks I watched in November.

  1. Panic Room” (2002) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Solid, Hitchcockian, bottle-style thriller from David Fincher, who is at his best when his movies are smallest.
  2. A Haunting in Venice” (2023) ★½
    Kenneth Branagh as Poirot seemed like a good idea at one time, but this overly serious, unscary scary movie argues that that time has come and gone.
  3. The Pigeon Tunnel” (2023) ★★★
    A hit or miss documentary about the career of David “John Le Carré” Cornwall that’s entertaining but confusing in its mix of sober inquiry and cable TV-style dramatizations.
  4. Brigsby Bear” (2017) ★½
    Sold as a quirky, even transgressive indie comedy, perhaps in the vein of “Dogtooth,” but fully caves in to cheap sentimentality.
  5. The Holdovers” (2023) ★★★★
    A magnificent holiday fable.
  6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2011) ★★½
    Rewatched. David Fincher tries to elevate this from its trashy, beach read source material but gets tripped up in all the little details.
  7. The Man with the Golden Gun” (1974) ★
    Rewatched. Even excusing its offensive orientalism, just a terrible outing for a Bond franchise that had really no idea where to go next.
  8. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (2023) ★★★★
    Rewatched. I wish I could go through it frame by frame and run high-resolution prints of the dozens—hundreds—of gorgeous images that I want to just pore over for hours.
  9. State of Siege” (1972) ★★★½
    Star Yves Montand in another lefty thriller from Costas-Gravas. Delicious.
  10. The Kid” (1921) ★★★★
    Chaplin’s masterpiece. His treacly, sentimental masterpiece.
  11. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” (2020) ★★★
    Rewatched. Not fully successful but lots of good stuff here that it deserves credit for. Also, better than “Barbie.”
  12. The Killer” (2023) ★★★★
    A terrific, focused deconstruction of the hitman myth by David Fincher, working in a Soderbergh-ian mode.
  13. Robin Hood: Men in Tights” (1993) ★
    Fell asleep pretty early but I saw enough.
  14. Catch Me If You Can” (2002) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Generally good fun, with Spielberg at his lightest and least overbearing.
  15. The Boy and the Heron” (2023) ★★
    Fantastic visual spectacle. Boring story.
  16. War of the Worlds” (2005) ★★★½
    Rewatched. A manic, desperate post-9/11 crisis movie that’s mostly excellent until the pat ending.
  17. Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (1987) ★★★½
    Rewatched. A relatively slight work in its day that now seems like a classic of the form.
  18. Afire” (2023) ★★½
    Director Christian Petzold can set a mood like no one else, but in this minor outing he doesn’t do the character work necessary to make this one really hold together.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in October, in September, in August, in July, in June, in May, in April, in March, in February, in January, in 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.