In what was one of the hottest summers on record – temperature-wise – almost everybody knows the best place to beat the heat was your local multiplex. Drink a cool beverage, eat a bucket of popcorn, and watch a movie. There was no shortage of summer movies in 2023, and the following is a list of my five favorites.
I like to think I’m unpredictable (I am a Gemini, after all), but Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” (Warner Brothers) was the best movie of the summer of 2023, and not just because of Ken’s job being “beach” or Ryan Gosling’s abs. The screenplay, by Gerwig and Noah Baumbach was funny and smart, a rare combination these days. Out actor Kate McKinnon stole every scene in which she appeared, and both America Ferrera and Margot Robbie turned in career-high performances.
On a far more serious note, “Blue Jean” (Magnolia), the feature-length debut by writer/director Georgia Oakley, stars Rosy McEwan (who was awarded best lead performance at the 2022 British Independent Film Awards), as Jean, a secondary school P.E. teacher living her best queer life in 1988 England. Just as Tin Lady Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative leadership was advancing Clause (or Section) 28, prohibiting the "promoting the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship," in schools, which no doubt sounded eerily familiar to those of us currently living in Florida.
One of the most original and moving gay movies of the year, director and co-screenwriter Daishi Matsunaga’s “Egoist” (Strand), based on the autobiographical novel by Makoto Takayama, was slightly reminiscent of Hong Khaou’s 2014 “Lilting” (starring out actor Ben Whishaw). The similarity is that of a mother and her son’s male lover bond following a calamity. The depiction of the relationship between hot, gay, single magazine editor Kosuke (Ryôhei Suzuki), and attractive, young, gay personal trainer Ryuta (Hio Miyazawa), manages to feel both erotically-charged and authentic.
An overview such as this wouldn’t be complete without a documentary, and “Kokomo City” (Magnolia) belongs here. Trans filmmaker D. Smith did something incredible with her first film; she gave voice to black, trans sex workers, a segment of the population that has something to say after remaining silent for too long. Focusing on four individuals – Liyah Mitchell, Dominique Silver, Daniella Carter, and the late Koko Da Doll (who was murdered in April 2023) – Smith offered us insight into both the trans and sex worker communities in equal measure.
Taking a page (or perhaps an entire chapter) from the friends-trip-gone-wrong handbook (from “Deliverance” to “The Hangover” to “Girls Trip”), “Joy Ride” (Lionsgate), the directorial debut of co-screenplay writer Adele Lim (who also co-wrote the “Crazy Rich Asians” screenplay) shocked us, cracked us up, and even touched us in unexpected ways (and places). Starring out actors Sherry Cola (who was also delightful in “Shortcomings”) and out, Oscar-nominee Stephanie Hsu (from “Everything Everywhere All At Once”), as well as non-binary actor Sabrina Wu, some of the joy of “Joy Ride” came from how unexpectedly queer it was. Watching the BFFs survive family drama, trips to Beijing and Seoul, stolen luggage, hilarious sexual escapades, and potentially catastrophic episodes, and still maintain their friendship was indeed a joy.