Movies Watched, December 2023

Still from “Dream Scenario,” directed by Kristoffer Borgli

December was crazy as always but still I tried to watch as many movies as I could, especially the critical contenders that studios like to unleash at the end of the year. There were a lot of them. Far too many for me to stand a chance of watching even just the ones I wanted to. It’s crazy that so many releases converged on the final weeks of the year like this. I know that this is a well-worn strategy meant to capitalize on holiday moviegoing and to get a jump on awards season, but in my opinion there are too many films of similar stripe—essentially more complex, “grown up” fare—seeking basically the same audience in too short of a time.

Inevitably of course, some movies will get lost in the shuffle. One that might be in danger of that this year is “Dream Scenario,” a very strange and darkly realized comedy directed by Kristoffer Borgli. It stars Nicolas Cage in a typically expressive performance as a milquetoast college professor who, inexplicably, starts appearing in the dreams of countless people all over the globe. Many reviewers interpreted this film as a commentary on the slippery nature of viral fame, but I see it more as an exploration of the vagaries of middle age. Either way, it’s side-splitting and disturbing all at once, and somehow, despite it being basically fantastical in its premise, still feels very true. It came and went in theaters in a matter of weeks (I feel fortunate to have caught a matinee screening just before it disappeared) but you can now rent it online, which of course I recommend.

“Dream Scenario” will almost certainly make it onto my best-of-the-year list which, by the way, I’m working on a best-of-the-year list. Several of the other movies I saw in December will likely be on it too, including: Todd Haynes’s “May December,” Celine Song’s “Past Lives,” Cristian Mungiu’s “R.M.N.,” and Justine Triet’s “Anatomy of a Fall”—all of them, and especially that last one, are terrific. I hope to have the list done and posted here within a few weeks, so stay tuned. In the meantime, go and watch some of them for yourself.

Here is the full list of twenty-one movies I saw in December.

  1. Wayne's World” (1992) ★★
    Rewatched. Extremely shaggy, sometimes bordering on the inept, but truly shines when Dana Carvey takes center stage.
  2. Tommy Boy” (1995) ★★★
    Rewatched. Not much of a film except for the white hot brilliance of Chris Farley, here paired perfectly with David Spade.
  3. May December” (2023) ★★★★
    A masterfully constructed reimagining of tabloid trash that doesn’t judge the trash, with a heartbreaking performance by Charles Melton.
  4. Godzilla Minus One” (2023) ★★★½
    Terrific revisionist take on Godzilla that delivers heartbreak alongside genuinely great kaiju destruction.
  5. Rubber” (2010) ★★★
    A jokey B-movie about jokey B-movies that somehow manages to live up to—and down to—everything you would expect from a story about a serial killing rubber tire.
  6. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” (2023) ★★★★
    Rewatched. As pure filmmaking, this relentlessly entertaining sequence of amazing set pieces is pristine and ingenious.
  7. Tokyo Godfathers” (2003) ★★★½
    An uncommonly sincere, comic animated fable that deliberately embraces cheap narrative coincidences to advance a heavy-handed plot—but that somehow still comes across featherlight.
  8. Shaolin Soccer” (2001) ★★★½
    Bizarre, not altogether coherent fever dream of a fantasy-comedy that’s also incurably genial.
  9. BlackBerry” (2023) ★★
    This has gotten a lot of praise, but it’s little more than an above-average made-for-TV movie.
  10. Showing Up” (2022) ★★★½
    Kelly Reichardt has a knack for nuanced character studies lit alive with pitch perfect details, but in this one she blows it with a strikeout ending.
  11. Dream Scenario” (2023) ★★★½
    Kaufman-esque nightmare about going viral, yes, but also a meditation about being middle-aged.
  12. How to Blow Up a Pipeline” (2022) ★★★
    A moderately provocative political manifesto wrapped up in a fairly standard caper flick.
  13. Holiday” (1938) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. We try to watch this every Christmas—it’s the perfect Christmas movie if you don’t like Christmas movies—and it’s always a revelation.
  14. Poor Things” (2023) ★★
    Visually stunning but Burton-esque in how it prioritizes fantastical sets over nuts and bolts storytelling. I found its talky, pedantic politics kind of boring.
  15. A Thousand and One” (2023) ★★★½
    Brilliant debut feature about a single mother trying to survive in New York City as it veers into the 21st Century.
  16. Double Indemnity” (1944) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. Snarling, duplicitous good fun.
  17. Anatomy of a Fall” (2023) ★★★★½
    Astonishingly sharp courtroom drama that’s both exactly what you want—superb legal jousting—and something else altogether—a powerfully incisive examination of what constitutes the truth between two life partners.
  18. R.M.N.” (2022) ★★★½
    A devastatingly intimate portrayal of the how globalization feeds like a cancer on a small village in Romania. Contains a town hall meeting that’s among the ugliest things I’ve ever seen.
  19. Past Lives” (2023) ★★★★
    I tried to resist the formally conservative structure of this indie romantic drama but it’s so genuinely, irresistibly moving that I couldn’t hold out.
  20. Back to the Future” (1985) ★★★★
    Rewatched. With each viewing its Reagan-era cynicism looks less and less becoming, but its Hollywood-style perfection is still undeniable.
  21. The Royal Hotel” (2023) ★★★½
    Horrific story of two young women backpacking through rural Australia, made even more complex by their inability to be there for one another.

This is the last monthly roundup of my movie consumption for 2024—a wrap-up of the year will come soon. You can also see what I previously watched in November, 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.