When I was filling out my paperwork for press credentials there was probably little to no doubt that I would receive an email that was titled "emphatically no."
However, reading that acceptance email, to be granted press credentials to the very first film festival I've ever gone to let alone for this beautiful site that I love to work for, was beyond words. I remember calling Hopster and almost fainting after he told me that he too, almost fainted. That may be hyperbole but we're very emotionally conscious men so it tracks. But I'll just kick this final wrap up of my SIFF journey in 2023 by saying thank you to the wonderful workers that allowed me the privilege of participating in this capacity, I won't soon forget it!
Now onto the juicy bits.
Kicking off the festival was the wonderful opening night party that made me feel not only swanky but connected to the ever growing movie-goer community. Our late night film preceding drinks and partying was the new A24 sensation Past Lives by Celine Song. While I can't technically get into a review of the film out of hold reviews and what not (had to learn what that meant by the way, what a thrill) I'll say that the night was exquisite. Writer/Director Song even joined on stage after the film for Q&A and delivered such phenomenal answers that deepened my love of the film, her style, and the touching performances of Greta Lee and Teo Yoo.
After the film and subsequent Q&A there was a party outside where I enjoyed some delightful Reuben's Brews Pilsners, which are some serious crispy boys. Light, flavorful, and refreshing even on a cooler night it was the perfect way to cap off the evening!
Oh and how could I forget the biggest piece of news?! The SIFF purchased the old Cinerama in Seattle! For those outside of Seattle, the Cinerama is an old theater in the city that was built in 1963, renovated multiple times including adding state of the art sound systems and being able to show three-panel Cinerama film, eventually purchased by the late Paul Allen. It unfortunately closed due to COVID-19 and had been awaiting whatever fate was headed its way for the past 3 years. I've been lucky enough to see some wonderful films in the theater prior to its closure and it is a treat. Not only is the environment fantastic with no bad seats, they also sell a chocolate popcorn that you can get mixed with regular popcorn. While this may sound a bit odd to the plebeians out there, it is actually fire. I'm excited to get my ass back in those seats and get that popcorn in and around my mouth.
But why go day by day when I can give my definitive ranking of films I watched during SIFF 2023?? This list will be updated as I continue to catch up on screeners and as review holds expire so continue to stay tuned!
8. The Mattachine Family My full review of The Mattachine Family paints a picture full of potential but mired with issues of bloated story, poor direction choices, and inconsistent tones. Overall, it was a great introduction into the festival but unfortunately not my favorite.
7. Year of the Fox Another film where the full review is available! I really enjoyed Sarah Jeffery's performance here, which was subtle in the beginning but grew into something much bigger as the film carried on. Although the narration is a bit better than The Mattachine Family it still is a crutch of a plot vehicle and I think there are more creative ways to push the narrative forward.
6. Chile '76 It hurts to put Chile '76 in the bottom half of this list because I really enjoyed this film. Manuella Martelli's written and directed film is a slow burn thriller that is stylistically pleasing and wonderfully acted. Aline Küppenheim puts together a nuanced performance of Carmen's paranoia in the face of unseen possible peril.
5. Bottle Conditioned One of three documentaries I caught as a part of SIFF and the margins of the rankings of these is miniscule at best. I have to have some sort of journalistic integrity and can't say it's a threeway tie for second place so unfortunately I have Bottle Conditioned here by the slimmest of margins. Academy Award nominated director Jerry Franck has constructed a wonderful documentary here on the traditions of lambic brewing, the emergence of new directions and the human desire to create something to be proud of. I raved about Bottle Conditioned and Franck's work, which honestly will probably be better on a second watch where, like a lambic, I can further understand and appreciate it.
4. Stephen Curry: Underrated Steph Curry's documentary outlining his journey to the NBA and ascension to superstar status is as good a sports documentary as any. Although it can be bloated and unfocused at times, the film wraps up nicely and gives you more appreciation for what Curry has done for the game of basketball. Also being an A24 and Apple TV combo certainly helps make this an accessible and well put together film!
3. 20 Days in Mariupol In my review of 20 Days in Mariupol I mentioned that it was one of the hardest movies to watch that I've ever seen. Of course I'm referring to the subject material, not the quality of the film. That's due to Mstyslav Chernov's editing team, the film he was able to acquire, and of course Jordan Dykstra's ominous score. I absolutely stand by what I said about this being one of the most important films to be seen this year, and it's astonishing how good it is.
2. Past Lives Celine Song's debut feature film is a certified smash hit. Past Lives balances a beautiful line between romantic hopefulness and tearjerking realism. Greta Lee and Teo Yoo are as charismatic and magnetic as one could hope for and all of Song's writing and directing choices amplify the inate quality of the film. In theaters now, Past Lives is a movie that needs to be seen!!
1. Opponent I couldn't help but gush about Milad Alami's written and directed Opponent and am thinking about it to this day. A wonderfully created dramatic thriller that is paced to perfection and displays a phenomenal performance from Payman Maadi. Full of moody motif, stunning scenery, and an edge-of-your-seat script, Opponent packs a punch and lingers your mind long after you've finished your viewing. I think this was the third film I saw at the festival and I knew immediately it would be up near the top of my list.
In the end, I had a phenomenal time at SIFF this year. I saw movies that I never would've seen otherwise, and was in awe of all of the wonderful volunteers that worked throughout the festivities! Thank you to everyone that handled my litany of questions as a rookie festival goer and I can't wait to come back next year for even more movieverse fun!
Of course, if they let me back in.