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The Horizon

The Student News Site of Westmont College

The Horizon

The Student News Site of Westmont College

The Horizon

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Underrated films of 2023

Abigail Lingel

2023 was an exceptional year for movies. Christopher Nolan and Greta Gerwig released “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie,” respectively, to the tune of about 2.5 billion dollars at the international box office. Martin Scorsese put out his newest masterpiece, “Killer of the Flower Moon,” an incredibly important and under-told sect of our national history, earning him critical acclaim yet again. Even chapter four of the “John Wick” saga was uncommonly lauded for a genre film. But we all know those films and probably even saw them with friends and family in theaters. 

In a year like this one, it’s easy for flashy marketing and eye-watering grosses to cover up other underseen gems. Here’s a list of a few:


1) “Tōtem” (Lila Aviles)

If you only watch one film from this list, let it be this one. Taking place over the course of one day, “Tōtem” follows seven year old Sol as she attends her terminally ill father’s birthday party. You have never seen such an affecting child acting performance as you will from new discovery Naíma Sentíes. We watch as her extended family unravels financially from paying mounting medical bills while simultaneously preparing for the death of a beloved father, brother and son. As upsetting as it sounds, the film is uniquely optimistic. The tender moments we spend with Sol’s father, grandfather, aunts, uncle and mother are lived in and full of real love. “Tōtem” is the most intense fly-on-the-wall experience I’ve had in a theater, and I can’t wait to see it again.


2) “The Zone of Interest” (Jonathan Glazer)

Adapted from the Martin Amis novel, “The Zone of Interest” is the most harrowing film of 2023. It follows Rudolf Höss, the commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Instead of the traditional approach of the war genre, this film depicts only the domestic life of this evil man and his family, never showing the actual atrocities being committed on the other side of his backyard fence. We see women having afternoon tea or young kids splashing in a pool as smoke stacks from the infamous furnaces steadily blow smoke in the background. The movie stares the audience in the face and loudly, albeit uncomfortably, raises questions about complicity and our ability to look the other way. 


3) “Blackberry” (Matt Johnson)

In the vein of other tech biopics like “The Social Network” and “Steve Jobs” with the humor of “The Big Short,” “Blackberry” is something special. Matt Johnson (also a supporting actor in the film) charts the company’s journey from a failed startup pitch to the most popular phone brand in the world to its death at the hands of the iPhone. Handheld, almost documentarian shots and venomously delivered comedy at the hands of Glenn Howerton set this film apart from the many stale biopics we’re used to. “Blackberry” is not one to miss.


4) “Memory” (Michel Franco)

Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard lead the film as Sylvia and Saul, an improbable duo of strangers brought together through an even more unlikely scenario. Sylvia is a mother and daytime employee at a home for those with special needs. She’s also in the midst of overcoming an alcohol addiction and sexual abuse from past partners. Saul is a well-meaning man with early-onset dementia who followed her home after a high school reunion. From there, Sylvia and Saul’s lives intertwined further and further in ways one could hardly predict. Such an unconventional love story between two vastly different characters could have been handled poorly or in bad taste, but both so genuinely deserve the love that develops between the pair that we can’t help but root for them despite any questions of feasibility. Bring your tissues for this one.

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