2023 Year Film Review

This year my entertainment choices were very different from previous years. After succumbing to the lure of Korean dramas in the last half of 2022. I ran with that addiction and continued my binge-watching streak to the exclusion of just about everything else. Which would explain why my overall count of 197 titles is much lower in 2023, because instead of watching two hour long films, I am watching series that often run at least sixteen hours each. Past years title counts have ranged in the 300-500 range.

Another explanation could be that I’ve finally learned to quit shows that for whatever reason just aren’t working for me. And of course the busy-ness of life also interfered with my screen-watching time due to travel and other events.

Film Classics: 6 Total

As a classic film fanatic, this number is embarrassing! It’s always been in the hundred range.  The only two new to me films I watched were So Ends Our Night and Stablemates. With a great cast including, Fredric March, Margaret Sullavan, Glenn Ford and others, my hopes were very high going into So Ends Our Night, which is a rather obscure film. Sadly, I found it rather slow and uninteresting. Stablemates was more entertaining, thanks to the efforts of Mickey Rooney and Wallace Beery playing a pseudo father and son who bond over horses.

The other four titles were actually re-watches; Parent Trap, The Palm Beach Story, The Ex-Mrs. Bradford and It Happened on Fifth Avenue

***hangs head in shame***

Documentaries & Silents

In past years, this section was not combined. However, I only saw one documentary and didn’t watch any silent films at all. I’m a little mad at myself over this one, especially since TCM honored Marion Davies as star of the month this year. I fell hard for her talent in 2022 and my wish for access to more of her silents was granted. I had them recorded, but didn’t get to them and now I’m kicking myself.

The Automat – Anyone who has ever watched classic films would be familiar with the automat as the cool place where people of all social classes could select a variety of food items to eat inexpensively by putting change in a slot where a little door would open allowing them access to what they wanted. They were often used to great effect as settings in comedic films. So, I found the history of the automats, pioneered by the company of Horn & Hardart, very fascinating. To learn the role they played in developing mass supply chains as well as being a place that defied socio-economic classifications was so eye-opening. I also always wondered why they don’t exist anymore and now I have that answer.

Foreign Films and Series -126

Though Korean programs continued to dominate my entertainment choices I wasn’t completely faithful to them. Last year I started branching out into Chinese dramas but with a few exceptions, I wasn’t overly impressed. However,  in 2023 that all changed. I don’t know if I just made better choices this year or if the quality improved, but several of them were amongst my favorites of the year! And despite my spotty track record with Japanese titles up until now, all four I watched, I actually liked.

A Private Affair

Rounding out my foreign viewing experiences this year was the Spanish drama historical series A Private Affair featuring a wealthy woman whose desires to play amateur detective run up against her family’s disapproval. Make Me Believe, a Turkish film on Netflix was a fairly enjoyable if lightweight rom-com about two meddling grandmothers trying to fix up their grandchildren who can’t stand each other after a misunderstanding years ago. And finally, I re-watched the French film Romantics Anonymous which I still find adorable.

Television Series: 19 Total

Most of this year’s non-foreign series viewings were new seasons of shows I’ve been watching for a while such as Call the Midwife, All Creatures Great and Small, Miss Scarlet and the Duke, Madame Blanc Mysteries, The Chosen, Brokenwood Mysteries, Endeavour, Father Brown, Sweet Magnolias and Virgin River. I was very sad to say goodbye to Endeavour after nine seasons and was grateful that the writers wrapped up all the plot points well and gave it a fitting farewell.

I had better luck than last year in finding new series to enjoy. My mom and I binged all three seasons of Only Murders in the Building. Who would have thought that adding Selena Gomez to the comedy team of Steve Martin and Martin Short would work so well? Hallmark’s The Way Home was a pleasant surprise in that it felt very un-Hallmark like and presented a riveting time travelling mystery fused with family drama. Then there was Beyond Paradise, a spin-off of Death in Paradise. It’s a cozy mystery series but with a modern setting that won me over. I also really enjoyed the older legal drama Harry’s Law starring Kathy Bates as well as the the new Jane Seymour vehicle Harry Wild in which she plays a retired literature professor who teams up with a teenager to solve crimes. Finally, I discovered Royal Flying Doctor Service with its’ unique story about medical professionals who treat people in remote parts of Australia. It’s such an interesting premise, but also a show that can be a nail biter due to the medical issues encountered as well as the personal drama of the characters.

Last but not least are this year’s series re-watches including  Mum, Frasier, and The Doctor Blake Mysteries. I think this is my third time with Doctor Blake and despite the scandals surrounding its’ star, I still enjoy it. But my biggest pleasure has been revisiting Frasier after many years. I had forgotten how truly funny this show is. It makes me laugh often and I would rank it up there with I Love Lucy as one of the best television comedies ever made.

New Releases

I still have not returned to my pre-Covid levels of attendance at the theater. At this point I don’t know that I ever will. Which makes me sad, as I used to LOVE seeing movies on the big screen and would be in the theater every weekend. Most of the movies being made now just don’t interest me, although there were a few I wanted to see that I missed. (I’m looking at you My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 and A Haunting in Venice). For the sake of this category, I included those that aired on streaming platforms as well.

  • Jesus Revolution
  • A Tourist’s Guide to Love – Netflix
  • Fisherman’s Friends: One and All
  • Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning
  • The Miracle Club
  • Love is In the Air (2023) -Netflix
Favorites

This category is always a tough one for me to narrow down, because there are so many that I loved. Also, it can be a challenge to define what makes it a favorite. Some are so engaging that they stay in my thoughts and I find myself regularly re-watching clips. Others feature stories or characters that impact me greatly, but do not tempt me to revisit later. Then there are those whose plots may have faltered or disappointed, but the characters’ relationships won me over big time.

One thing that surprised me about my favorites list this year is how many Chinese dramas are on it. Looking closer, three of these titles even star the same actress (Zhao Lusi). I promise it was not intentional! Another surprise is that many of these include strong and/or independent female characters.  Again, this is not a deliberate choice on my part. Perhaps it is my subconscious speaking. But I do appreciate these types of women when they are written well and these attributes are balanced well with other character traits.

Love Between Fairy and Devil (China) – Not being a fan of the fantasy genre, I didn’t expect that this series would end up being tied for first with Love Like the Galaxy for my favorite drama of the year. I’ve seen it several times. I’m a huge fan of romances where one character falls for another against their will. This one does that very well, with an invincible devil lord falling under the power of an innocent little fairy. Their love story is pretty epic and includes some great individual character development as well. The writing remains consistent throughout with seemingly inconsequential scenes or dialogue being repeated or referenced in later episodes for more effect.  I also thought the CGI was pretty beautiful.

Love Like the Galaxy (China) – The settings and cinematography are a work of of art and really helped place me in into ancient China and this story of the adopted son of the emperor who falls irrevocably in love with the independent, clever but uneducated daughter of a minor household. The push and pull between these two kept me entertained through fifty six episodes. Some really great side characters (including the emperor and his two wives) also kept thing interesting.

1% of Something (Korea) – This simple little romance is my favorite Korean drama of the year. The contract relationship is a trope I have learned to appreciate and the two leads do a wonderful job showing the growth of their relationship from antipathy to trust and love.

Hospital Playlist (Korea) – I’d heard lots of buzz about this but still hesitated because medical dramas are not a genre I usually enjoy. But for once all the accolades are well earned! I think this is because the heart of this show is all about the long-standing friendship shared by the five main characters. These relationships are expertly woven in with the medical issues explored in each episode. Outside of the five friends, there is a rather large cast who all get good character development. It’s also great that other hospital and medical staff get their moment to shine along with the doctors, because it gives a broader picture of how a hospital really functions.

School 2017 (Korea) -I thought I was past the age to appreciate a school drama, but this one proved me wrong! I fell in love with the heroine who was just an average girl, but who was also so likable. The way the male lead looks at her melted me into a puddle of goo. The bullying that is prevalent in so many Korean school dramas was not as prominent here. And I love that it also featured a vigilante (lite) story line.

Lighter and Princess (China) – If you’ve ever wondered how to turn an anti-hero into a viable love interest, look no further than this series. Though the male lead isn’t quite an anti-hero, he’s pretty close; arrogant, blunt and slightly anti-social. The heroine is not blind to his nature, but supports him while also holding him accountable. It’s rather fascinating how the two learn to accept each other’s imperfections and weaknesses without expecting the other to change. They remain flawed individuals throughout but are better together balancing each other out. I find myself continually drawn back to their story on an almost weekly basis.

Encounter (Korea) – This one received mixed reviews, but I fell in love with the way the hero patiently and unconditionally loves the older heroine. Even more than the slowly developed romance, I really appreciated the heroine’s journey towards independence and freedom. It was so touching and at times sad seeing how she had accepted a life she didn’t want. Through the support of the male lead she learns to value herself and take steps to take back her life. The cinematography and settings were also stunning and memorable.

Dating in the Kitchen (China) – I’m not a big fan of age gap romances but this one was handled extremely well even with the added challenge of the two being in very different socio-economic classes. Somehow it was believable that the male lead who was a very successful, wealthy businessman would fall hard for a poor young cook, especially since they bonded over their love of food. Despite not being a foodie myself, all the food scenes were so beautiful, interesting and tied in well to the plot. This drama was not without it’s flaws, but I was easily able to overlook those.

Hidden Love (China) – One of the three dramas starring Zhao Lusi (the other two being Dating in the Kitchen and Love Like the Galaxy) that I binged this year, featuring a romance between a young girl and her older brother’s best friend. It’s just adorable all the way around. Their interactions are so sweet and supportive and they have one of the healthiest relationships I’ve seen onscreen this year. It was also delightful to see the wholesome family dynamics with her parents and brother. The heroine’s bickering but loving interactions with her brother were so entertaining and almost outshined the romance!

Sh**ting Stars (Korea) – Despite receiving mixed reviews I fell hard for this romantic comedy set at an entertainment agency. Witnessing the workplace setting of those working behind the scenes for celebrities was rather interesting. But what really captured me was the bickering chemistry between the two main leads who have a complicated history. I was especially tickled  by the way the hero is portrayed as a hot film star but is in reality a big dork.

A Tree With Deep Roots (Korea) – Wow! This is the perfect example of a well-executed series. I wasn’t bored for a single minute. Though I liked the characters, the premise of the story and the unfolding of the plot captivated me completely. As a lover of words, it was fascinating to see the considerations, challenges and concerns in creating a written language. I’ve always believed that language can be a tool or a weapon and this show really highlights this truth as the characters debate the value of language and even find themselves in life or death situations.

The Red Sleeve (Korea) – A more slow and somber series, this one features the love story between a king and a court lady that is based on actual historical figures. Though I’m a sucker for a good romance, what I found most compelling was the heroine’s main conflict in choosing between love and independence. It’s rare to see such a struggle accurately depicted. The fact that she tried to deny one part of her heart so as not to lose her sense of self was the most heart-breaking and compelling plot point of this series.

The Package (Korea) – It’s like this show read my heart and focused on my favorite things; travel and the complexities of human relationships. It was eye-opening to see the other side of tourism through the challenges a tour guide faces as she manages a disparate group of people. I felt like I was part of the group and loved seeing the sights of France that I’ve never seen before. I also really appreciated how this show highlighted how travel challenges and changes you, how it expands your perspectives.

Daily Dose of Sunshine (Korea) – Honestly despite the fact that this stars my favorite Korean actress, this was a difficult watch. It really delves into and explores mental illness; what it is like for those experiencing it and how it affects their loved ones and the medical professionals who help them. I will never forget how it depicted some of these illnesses in a pictorial way that helped me understand and relate to those suffering. Park Bo Young is fantastic as the compassionate and kind nurse whose job eventually takes a toll on her own health. It’s not one that I will watch again, but definitely one that has changed my perspective and that I won’t soon forget

Just Between Lovers (Korea) – I’ve rarely seen a better depiction of how grief and trauma alter and afflict people than this show depicts. The emotions portrayed by the main characters as they re-visit the tragedy that changed their lives are just so raw and pulsating, that I couldn’t help but feel everything they were experiencing. Above it all was the yearning; the yearning to heal, the yearning for understanding and the yearning to love. The main characters go through so much emotional pain and yet through their connection and the support they provide each other, they find hope and peace.

Chief Kim/Good Manager (Korea) – I always gravitate towards stories with a romance and this office drama had none! But what it did have was a fantastic bromance which starts off very antagonistic, before the two men finally join forces to expose corporate corruption. I was also very tickled by the fact that the male lead becomes an unwitting hero, despite his own past history of operating in the gray. This was one of the funniest shows I watched this year and it had me in stitches many times.

The Trillion Game (Japan) – The most recent watch on my list, I didn’t expect to enjoy this Netflix business drama so much. Despite some flaws, it is fast-paced, unpredictable and so much fun! I’ve never cheered more for amoral characters to succeed in their schemes. Nor have I ever approved more that despite sizzling chemistry, the hero and heroine do not become a couple.

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