Top 10 Films of 2023 and Key Film and TV Events this Year

My top ten films of 2023 and key events I attended are listed below. It’s been a great year for film as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this year. The writer’s and actor’s strike did affect talent appearing at film festivals and press events, although the quality of films this year speak for themselves.

My Top 10 Films

1. “Killers of the Flower Moon”

2. “Barbie”

3. “Oppenheimer”

4. “Air”

5. “Maestro”

6. “The Color Purple”

7. “American Fiction”

8. “Wonka”

9. “Flamin’ Hot”

10. “Origin”

Honorable mention: “Past Lives,” “The Holdovers,” “The Zone of Interest,” “Poor Things,” “Saltburn”

Major Film and TV Events 2023

What a great year this has been for me in viewing films, especially leading off in January by attending the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. I screened 30 films and was able to interview the filmmakers of the documentary film “Still: The Michael J. Fox Story,” among others.

I reported for Roger Ebert’s website for the Critics Choice Awards in Century City, California. The Red Carpet interviews included the singer, musician, songwriter, record producer, actor, and author Weird Al Yankovic, best known for his accordion playing and creating comedy songs that joke about pop culture; they are often parody specific songs by present-day musicians. he spoke with me about his new ‘exaggerated’ biopic film, “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.” He talked about his fake downward spiral in the film and his big comeback. He said, “About every ten years, we need a farce biopic like ‘Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,’ or ‘This is Spinal Tap,’ or ‘Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,’ to remind us how utterly stupid biopics really are.” I also met Jude Hill, from Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast.” He said he’s cast in ‘A Haunting of Venice’, which opened September 15 this year.

After leaving the Red Carpet, I walked downstairs to the Ballroom—to say the atmosphere was electric would be an understatement; the DJ played pre-party tunes while talent and guests mingled before the show. Everywhere you turned, talent was either sipping, chatting, or swaying to the music. My table near the front of the room was considered the FX channel table, with the cast of the hit show “The Bear.” A fitting table, as the TV series is in Chicago, which is very close to my hometown. Actors Jeremy Allen White, Ayo Edebiri, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Matty Matheson, Lionel Boyce, and Liza Colón-Zayas from the series chatted with me throughout the evening. At one point, I was seated next to White, who plays a chef in the show, and at the exact moment, he won Best Actor in a Television Comedy. I took a quick video of him hugging his cast and walking to the stage. Afterward, I asked him if he’d like to see the video; he liked it so much that he sent it to himself from my phone. It was fun chatting with White as I’d seen every Season of “Shameless” also filmed in Chicago, of which he was a member of the cast. He started on that show just after he graduated from High School.

I also met Viola Davis, Paul Dano, Austin Butler, Jennifer Coolidge, Cate Blanchett, Ana Taylor Joy, Thuso Mbedu, Jeff Bridges, Madelyn Cline, Andrew Garfield, and Zoe Kazan. Overall, the 28th annual Critics Choice Awards felt like a celebration of talent as the atmosphere was heightened by excitement, gratitude, and enthusiasm.

For Roger Ebert’s Women Writers Week in March, I decided to write about “Killers of the Flower Moon,” the Martin Scorsese movie that would be released in the Fall. My article was titled “The Stories Behind Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon,” it contained interviews with former Osage chief Jim Gray and Osage Nation and Shannon Shaw Duty, the editor of the Osage News and member of The Osage Nation. She wrote articles about Grann’s book and filming in Oklahoma; she, her husband, and her three children were extras in the film. I wrote the article as a preparation for people planning to see the film.

I was invited to attend the Roger Ebert Film Festival in April, and I have always enjoyed the experience. This year marks the 10th anniversary of Roger Ebert’s death; the 2023 program reflects his guiding principle of empathy, said Chaz Ebert, who co-founded and hosted Ebertfest. While driving to Ebertfest, from near Chicago, I’m always filled with an assortment of emotions, from anticipation to nostalgia. You see, my father and mother—Richard and Kathrine Knight—lived on the University of Illinois campus while attending college. I was born in my father’s first year of college, 2nd semester, to be exact. My life began in an apartment on Green Street, right down from the exact Street (Green Street) where Roger Ebert grew up. I have fond memories of the University of Illinois campus as I’ve visited there several times with my parents. However, I’m always excited about attending the festival as I know that the festival will broaden my scope of excellent films and the enjoyment of meeting the talent associated with the films.

The highlights were viewing “Forest Gump” on the big screen, followed by Chaz Ebert and Nate presenting actor Mykelti Williamson, the shrimp-loving character and friend of Forest Gump’s in the movie, with a golden thumb. Williamson has also starred in the Academy Award-nominated film Fences and “Con Air,” as well as the TV series “Law & Order: Organized Crime” and “Chicago P.D.,” among other movies and TV shows. He has also recently directed episodes of “Sweet Magnolias,” “Chicago Med,” and “Chicago P.D.”

Listening to a discussion with Matt Fagerholm with Emmy Award-winning Frank Oz, who’s known for creating and performing many beloved characters on “The Muppet Show” (Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal) and Sesame Street (Cookie Monster, Bert, Grover), as well as bringing to life Yoda in the “Star Wars” series was incredible! Oz has directed numerous films over the past four decades, including “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “What About Bob?,” and “The Stepford Wives.”

Lastly, Marian Anderson: The Whole World in Her Hands” is directed by Peabody and Emmy Award-winner Rita Coburn. The film explores the life of the African American singer and civil rights pioneer, who died in 1993 at 96. The film highlights Anderson’s career, art, and legacy as a Black classical singer with a breathtaking and rare vocal range and her work to further civil rights. The film allows viewers to hear Anderson’s own voice and point of view through archival interview recordings, photographs, and personal correspondence with family and friends, including Martin Luther King Jr., Josephine Baker, and Langston Hughes. “Marian Anderson: The Whole World in Her Hands” was a treat for me as I had not heard of this remarkable classical singer. The excellent film paints a portrait of the times while showcasing a determined woman who paved her way despite racial obstacles.

In May, I was asked to meet and interview Wendi McLendon-Covey for her role in the new PIXAR animated movie, “Elemental,” in which she stars as the voice of “Gale.” In reading the film’s ‘Press Notes” of the film, director Peter Sohn says it’s easy to imagine the wind having attitude or fire being angry or a happy bunch of flowers brightening the day of a lonely pot of dirt. Also, water might be calm and collected one day and in a big hurry the next. “What if the elements we all know were alive?” Sohn also noted that Ember is a second-generation immigrant—only her parents emigrated from Fireland to Element City, where Ember was born and raised. “She goes on a journey of understanding her own identity and,” says the director, “with that, the meaning of what her parents have given her.”

During my interview with McLendon-Covey I asked her to tell me about Gail, her character. She said,” Gale is a pink fluffy cloud. You would think that she’s just a sweet, cuddly thing. Although, she is kind of a bad boss bitch. She holds an office in the city. When you have a building code violation or something similar, you pay your citation to her. She could be benevolent and tear it up or make you pay and fix it. She’s not a villain, but she is a businesswoman. She has a job to do. She’s more of an obstacle. She does take the time to give the two lovers their special little moment and, you know, really facilitates that. She’s also very loud. However, that’s what the wind will do. The wind is sometimes very loud.”

On a side note, when I was in California, not far from PIXAR’s Emeryville studio, I viewed the movie “Elemental” again with my two grandchildren, George, age seven, and Frank, age five, along with my son and his wife. I told them about all the people involved in making a movie. They stayed and watched all of the ending credits. Yes, I was proud of them.

In August, I scored an interview with David Grann, the author of “Killers of a Flower Moon.” Having read the source material twice, for the movie “Killers of the Flower Moon,” I began pondering the idea of interviewing the book’s author, David Grann. Many questions have churned in my mind about his why, his process, the struggles, the breakthrough moments, and how it felt to see characters from his book on the big screen. With fate on my side, I met Grann in my hometown of Naperville, IL, when he spoke at Andersons Bookshop in May this year. During my signing of his latest book, The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny, and Murder, he agreed to an interview.
Here’s an excerpt of his way: “The research really told me this was a deeper sense of the story in this history was that it was about a culture of complicity. It was about the guardians who were complicit. There were law enforcement officers and a sheriff; there were prosecutors who were complicit, sometimes directly, in the murders or covering up the murders. Some morticians would cover up bullet wounds. Doctors had administered poisons; they were complicit in their silence.” The interview is posted to Roger

The 50th Telluride Film Festival began August 31, and I attended in person while also reporting for Roger Reporting for carries considerable weight due to the importance of his legacy, as he is well renowned in Telluride; it was one of his favorite film festivals. Telluride’s 50th Anniversary online program includes his quote in which he says the fest is “… like Cannes died and went to heaven.”

My fellow film critic attendees gave similar positive answers to why they enjoy Telluride. In speaking with Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times, he said, “The first few days here are as crazy and frenzied as they are at most film festivals, but at a certain point, it is the type of place where you feel you can relax, take things in, as it does move at a much saner pace than most festivals.” In a quick conversation with Clayton Davis of Variety, he replied, “Telluride has the best movies and best location, ah yes, location, location, location.” Director Steve McQueen said of the festival, “Telluride is unique and wonderful. It’s a filmmaker’s paradise.” McQueen was in Telluride to promote his documentary, “Occupied City.”

Jeff Nichols of “Bikeriders,” who wrote the script and directed the movie that takes place near Chicago it tells the beginning of a group of motorcycle friends who form a gang named the Vandals. Austin Butler is a wild child and has several scrimmages with violence at the beginning of the film to set up his character. He and Jodie Comer marry, navigating their lives according to the roadmap that leader Tom Hardy has set out. The performances are noteworthy, along with the authentic period dialogue that sets the tone. In speaking with Jeff Nichols after his Q&A and immediately telling him that I was writing for, he exclaimed, “I love that guy! I owe Roger everything for helping me in my career as he changed my life when he put my film, ‘Shotgun Stories’ (2007), in his Top 10 list! It was like, wow, I couldn’t believe it!”

I asked Nichols what he thinks about Telluride; he said enthusiastically, “It’s about cinema and filmmakers, and that’s it. There are no awards. Everybody wins!”
In September, I attended the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada. Attending the Toronto International Film Festival in person is always a treat, and this year is no different—in fact, this may have been one of my most memorable events due to an outdoor ‘Street Fest Concert’ we attended.

Canada’s beloved rock band ‘Nickelback’ gave a live performance on the center stage during the festival to celebrate the opening of their new documentary, “Hate to Love: Nickelback,” which premiered at the festival. Scoring a table at a restaurant with a patio on the right side facing the stage, we were lucky to view one of our favorite bands in an hour concert on Friday evening.
The films were great as usual, “North Star,” “Knox Goes Away,” “Woman of the Hour,” “One Life,” “Dumb Money,” “Poolman,” and” American Fiction.”

In October, I was invited to attend a Zoom press conference with Martin Scorsese for the film “Killers of the Flower Moon.” My reaction to listening to Martin Scorsese was that he does care about the Osage Nation and their story. He changed his script and listened to how they wanted to be portrayed. Mollie and Ernest’s love story is the story’s focal point. I also enjoyed hearing his reflections on working with Robert Di Niro.

Introduction To Press: I just wanted to say welcome to the global press conference for Killers of the Flower Moon. And we are extraordinarily lucky and honored to have you with us here today, a man who really does not need presentation, as he’s one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, who has co-written, directed, and produced what, in my opinion, is a masterpiece.
Martin Scorsese [laughs]

Question: Mr. Scorsese, thank you from all over the world. Personally, it blew me away. I was unfamiliar with the story, and now I can’t stop thinking about it and the movie. Congratulations once more.

MARTIN: Thank you so much.

Q: What steps did you or the production team take to ensure the Osage community felt accurately represented?

MARTIN: Well, at first, it was very important for me as soon as I saw the book, and I said, “Well, if you want me to be involved with anything that has to do with indigenous people and Native Americans,” I said, “I had an experience in the ’70s where I began to become aware of the nature of what their situation was, and is, still is.” I had been blithely unaware of that. I was too young. I was in my 20s. I didn’t know. And it’s taken me years, and I’m fascinated by how do you really deal with that culture in a respectful way, and also is not hagiographic? It doesn’t fall into, I think, Rousseau-like, the noble native, that sort of thing.

November brought me to Los Angeles as a critic for the Netflix event “Maestro,” which we viewed the film in the luxuriously decorated Netflix Tudum Theater; the velvet scarlet seating brought back savored memories of the Steve Jobs Theater at PIXAR studios in Emeryville. Stars that appear to twinkle cover the ceiling are also similar, mainly because PIXAR’s is much smaller. Life-size costumes from the film and “Maestro” photos were displayed in the lobby. for the Netflix event “Maestro.”

While viewing “Maestro,” one becomes immersed in the world of the musical genius Leonard Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) as well as the love story between him and his wife, Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan). Having a background in teaching gifted students, writing gifted curriculum, and knowledge of the characteristics of a gifted person, I appreciated the script’s depth in terms of the subtle nuances in the film that show us Leonard’s genius. For this time in history, from the 50s through the 70s, it was remarkable that he could balance a family life and seek solace in his love of males. He led a dual life, which, surprisingly, Felicia approved if he kept his affairs a secret.
Through Cooper’s study of his subject and his knowledge of visual story-telling, the scenes are filled with conflict, resolution, and love. The scene in which each sits back to back in a beautiful park filled with trees in an overhead shot is another one of my favorites. They are simply breathing in and out, taking in all the gifts they have to share, yet knowing they need each other to be complete. It’s a gorgeous scene and bound to be an iconic one attached to the film forever.

December brought The Critics Choice Association’s Celebration of Cinema and Television honoring Black, Latino, and AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) achievements occurring at the Fairmont Century Plaza on December 4, 2023, in Los Angeles, California. The celebration is typically a lively and joyous occasion, and this year was especially so due to combining several celebrations. There were smiles aplenty on the Red Carpet as presenters and honorees talked with journalists about their projects and appreciation for the event.

Colman Domingo, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Edward James Olmos, Lenny Kravitz, Eva Longoria, Jeffery Wright, America Ferrera, Charles D. King, Greta Lee, Allen Hughes, Ruth Carter, Kemp Powers, Makoto Shinkai, Damson Idris, Jessica Williams, Oscar Montoya, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Charles Melton and more attended this illustrious event. The cast of “The Color Purple,” which included Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks, Fantasia Barrino, H.E.R., Halle Bailey, Phylicia Pearl Mpasi, Colman Domingo, and Corey Hawkins, received the Ensemble Award for their performances in the upcoming musical based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Alice Walker.

It was hosted by Nicco Annan, an actor, dancer, and choreographer known for the hit show “P-Valley.” His comedic wit and energic personality kept the show flowing on an upbeat note. When I met him after the show, I complimented his enthusiasm and told him he should host next year. He smiled with a huge grin and thanked me profusely. Meeting so many stars on the Red Carpet and chatting with them during dinner and between viewings of the awards show was truly remarkable.

One of the reasons I enjoy interviewing on the Red Carpet for events and movie premieres is because of the relaxed and celebratory atmosphere. Also, as a journalist, I often observe interactions between the talent walking the press line. I can report that such a surprising encounter happened as Colman was speaking about his excitement in being presented his award for Best Actor by Lenny Kravitz. As he looked to his left, Lenny Kravitz stood next to him and said, again, “Lenny gives me an award tonight and laughs. Lenny begins to walk over and smiles at me and Colman while giving him a peck on his cheek, and Coleman says, “Aww, thank you, brother; Colman laughs and says to me, “Isn’t he handsome?”

Speaking of Lenny Kravitz and the film “Rustin,” I attended a press conference earlier in the day for his new song, “Road to Freedom,” in which he answered my question concerning his favorite moment in the film. Lenny said, “He loved so many moments it is hard to choose, although he said, in the end, as an artist, if you can step back from the recognition and remove your ego from the work. Just be confident enough in what you do that it is good. It is a great lesson for all of us.”

Sarah Knight Adamson© January 1, 2024