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The Top Pictures Of 2023: Highlighting Successes in Another Challenging Year for Los Angeles, From “Air” To “Maestro”

In year-end lists, critics usually highlight the good; but, let’s put optimism aside, 2023 hadn’t been a particularly successful year for popular movies, either artistically or financially.

While a number of highly anticipated movies fell short of the hype, others (like “Killers of the Flower Moon“) struggled to find an end, which was more of an issue in theaters than at home where audiences could cut, chop, and pause as much as they pleased. Still, streaming services helped finance a number of big-budget movies.

Put simply, Hollywood has yet to discover the ideal balance between art and business, high-profile films and mass-market releases. This has long been an issue, but it may have been exacerbated by streaming services’ emphasis on hiding box office disappointments while simultaneously reaping the rewards of critical and award recognition.

Naturally, the entertainment industry cannot survive just on award shows, and there have been unsettling business trends, such as the nearly universal box office fall of superhero films, which were formerly a very consistent category. The rapid decline in moviegoing has reinforced the perception that it hasn’t entirely recovered—and may never fully recover—from the epidemic and streaming.

However, even though some of the films may not have made this list (which takes the freedom of a few combination entries) in a year with more obvious decisions the films that did stand out symbolizes an eclectic roster in respect to subject matter and genres (with some conscious effort to reflect that range).

Air” (Amazon Prime Video): Matt Damon and Viola Davis give outstanding performances in director Ben Affleck’s fact-based account of how Nike signed Michael Jordan, which is a monument to admiring excellence. Above all, though, it’s a lot of fun—a quality that felt far too uncommon among the films in this year’s schedule.

American Fiction” is a clever and perceptive adaptation of a novel about a writer/literature professor (Jeffrey Wright) who spontaneously writes a joke book mocking “Black trauma porn,” only to have it become popular with the White intelligentsia. Writer-director Cord Jefferson makes an impressive debut in this film.

God, are you there? Coming-of-age films abound, but Judy Blume’s novel is shown in this adaptation of herself, Margaret, with Abby Ryder Fortson playing the young girl adjusting to a new school, new friends, and issues that are all too familiar.

The Color Purple“: Director Blitz Bazawule opened up the musical numbers and choreography in the best possible ways, bringing the musical to the big screen while maintaining the impact of Alice Walker’s decades-spanning tale of loss and resiliency. The result was a fantastic performance by the cast.

Elemental  This Pixar animated romance broke with Disney’s bad year-long trend by not only showing how people from different backgrounds—in this case, literally fire and water—can overcome their differences, but also by overcoming a dreadful start to demonstrate that word-of-mouth—however quaint and outdated that notion may sound—can still produce an organic theatrical hit.

The Holdovers  Reuniting director Alexander Payne with his “Sideways” star Paul Giamatti, this comedy-drama about misfits left behind at a New England prep school in 1970 – and the unlikely bonds they form over a few weeks – shined with wit, warmth and heart, with a hard-to-top supporting performance by Da’Vine Joy Randolph as a grieving mother whose son died in Vietnam.

Get Away From It AllWriter-director Sam Esmail’s apocalyptic thriller, which surpassed the last Netflix release to elicit a similar reaction, is one of the year’s most thought-provoking movies. It stars Mahershala Ali and Julia Roberts as strangers brought together by a series of bewildering events as society starts to fall apart.

In this biography of conductor Leonard Bernstein, Maestro Bradley Cooper carried on the conversation he started about art and the cost of loving artists. Carey Mulligan played Cooper’s wife Felicia, whose patience and loyalty Bernstein repeatedly tried. Cooper gave a stunning lead performance.

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