The Year We Went Back To The Movies

Barbie dancing at the point in the movie where she says do you guys ever think about dying

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 2023 was a wonderful year. 

When the plague was raging, people kept saying fun things like “Get in the bin 2020” and “I’ll be happy to see the back of 2021” and “I’d like to murder 2022”. No one liked those years – and it showed in movie attendance. From March 2020 to November 2022, not one single person saw a movie in a theatre. Most theatres were closed and many others were turned into pumpkin spice smashburger restaurants. And if you did get to a theatre, you were probably treated to an exclusive screening of You’ve Got Covid. 

After the great scourge, cultural critics, me included, wondered if the film industry would rebound from the $0 it made during that period. Many of us were wondering right up until the beginning of January, when the clock ticked from 2 to 3, to read 2032. Which was wrong. They had done the clock thing wrong. It wasn’t 2032, it was 2023. That little New Year’s error did not instil confidence in cultural critics. Me included. 

But after those first few exhilaratingly confusing days of January, we were all ready to go back to the movies. And 2023 did not disappoint.

This was the year of Barbenheimmer, when we learned that we could watch two movies that were very different. We had never done that before. No one had ever liked two completely different kinds of movies before. 2023 changed all that. We had Screampoleon, Cocaine B-Air, and The Hunger Mario Bros Movie.

It was, of course, also the year this cultural critic was forced to move to a neighbourhood besieged by construction work. Of course, this was also the year that a young upstart filmmaker named Taylor Swift (sp?) played some music and filmed it so that fans could pay a little less than the $75,000 her concert tickets were going for.

And of course, this was the year that A24 kept making movies, from The Iron Claw to Priscilla. Some cultural critics, me included, wondered if they could change up the colour palette once in a while. Other cultural critics stayed silent. And this was the year that Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny taught us that some franchises still have plenty of life in them as long as we have robots.

And we saw films by Martin Scorcese and Alexander Payne, Yorgos Lanthimos, Sofia Coppola, Nicole Holofcener, Kelly Reichardt and Wes Anderson and Wim Wenders, Todd Haynes, great directors, masters of their craft. And while they may not be master engineers, this cultural critic is sure they’d be much quieter than the construction workers shouting at each other at all hours of the day and night while building an edificial monstrosity across the street. 

Of course, this was the year we drove fast with Ferrari and wicked away our troubles with John Wick: Chapter 4. Of course, not all our troubles. There was still the construction work, which, at many points, felt like torture. Yet we rarely talked about it.

Like other films before it, BlackBerry reminded us that some of us, this cultural critic included, used to use BlackBerries. It was a heady time, free of construction work, which can, at a certain point in the day, be properly categorised as noise pollution if not outright noise assault. Of course, there were also a few hundred superhero movies, which continued to teach us how to laugh and sing.

And of course, this was the year that we were reminded of what cocaine does to a bear, but it was also a new era in accent work, with Napoleon showing us that the French spoke with British accents and Ferrari featured a wild variety of fake Italian accents reminding us, in a fake Italian accent, that Ferrari makes cars no one can afford.

But 2023 wasn’t a completely radical shift in how we watch movies. As with every year in the past 10, I have not seen most of the movies that people claim were out this year. No one has. It’s as if we all lived through the year, paying attention to movies, then, at the end of the year, everyone made up a different list of movies and said these were the movies that came out and we have seen none of them.

After all, this was the year that a movie called Boudica, Queen of War came out. So did movies called Fallen Leaves, About Dry Grasses, Happer’s Comet, The Deepest Breath and Blue Jean.

Of course, the Decade of the Elvis Movie continued. After last year’s Elvis caused such a stir, this year’s Priscilla (coming out in Jan 2024 in Aus) also caused a stir, and next year’s Lisa Marie promises to be stir-causing, as does 2025’s Elvis’s Cousin and 2026’s I Was Elvis’s Loud Neighbour.

This was also the year I found out that you can’t “make up your own rules” at the zoo, which is not in fact a “free pet store”. In retrospect, it was ludicrous of me to think I could take one of those orangutans home with me. My defence, in court, was that I had been inspired by so many ape films that I felt it was expected that I would befriend this primate. And when I began to speak with him, I could have sworn he said my name, followed by “friend”. And so, at the time, it felt like destiny that we would be companions.

This was the year that I discovered “clinical madness due to excessive construction work” was not a viable legal defence. Was I accountable for my orangutan-related offences? Perhaps. But how much culpability did society hold? Was there not an agreement? A social contract, between us and the people conducting construction work, to restrict their work to the daytime? Since when was it okay to make that kind of noise so early in the morning and so late at night? Surely that would evoke – perhaps even require – a response from the concerned, blighted citizenry.

Of course, this was the year that I would not win that court battle. But 2024 is right around the corner. And this cultural critic couldn’t be more excited.

Nick Bhasin is the Managing Editor of Junkee. His debut novel, I Look Forward to Hearing from You, published by Penguin Random House Australia, is out now. Follow him on Instagram or Twitter (he’s not calling it X).

Image: Barbie, Warner Bros.