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Recent news suggests Microsoft will shift Xbox to a multiplatform release strategy; existing and future first party games, including Starfield, Indiana Jones, and Gears of War will be ported to PS5 and Nintendo Switch. While we won’t know the whole story until a “business update” next week, I expect the change to be extensive, with many if not most top tier titles available soon on PSN and the Nintendo Store. In the face of lagging sales and stalled Game Pass subscriptions, the corporation is making a big bet that will attempt to thread a needle: keep an Xbox ecosystem sustainable – digital purchases on the Microsoft Store, lively Xbox Live network, Game Pass subscribers – while going multiplatform with in house studio games to generate additional revenue.
It’s a risk; no gaming company has succeeded as such an extensive third party publisher and simultaneous platform holder. Executed poorly, the plan could push the Xbox ecosystem into an eventual death spiral: gamers shift away from Xbox with its lack of exclusives, the install base drops, so other publishers stop porting games to Xbox, which leads to fewer players, until eventually Microsoft pulls the plug. Xbox hardware and accessories are dead, the digital library goes kaput, and Microsoft becomes a pure third party publisher like Sega.
I have mixed feelings about 4K Blu-rays after plowing a lot of time and money into the technology. The format has significant hurdles for everyday TV watchers that make me question its longevity. Yet the upgrades have been substantial, at times incredible, even with a dated home theater setup.
That upgrade stems from Blu-ray’s unimpeachable picture and sound quality. In an era where most movies on streaming sites are compressed 1080p, where 4K streams may not even be an option unless you’re on a premium monthly plan, a 4K Blu-ray’s rock solid 4K HDR image looks sensational. The detail can be astonishing. In Blade Runner, as a character reads a newspaper, I can make out the text on individual articles. 4K Blu-rays also preserve the original film grain for movies shot on film stock, given the high quality scan. It’s a subtle effect that adds character, especially for older, classic films.
In fairness, you can purchase and rent many streaming movies in 4K. It’s also a commonplace resolution for streaming originals on services like Netflix and Apple TV Plus. However, because the data transfer rate on streaming is a third to a quarter of that on Blu-ray (streams top out at 40mbps, while Blu-ray maxes to 128mbps), the former relies on compression and other algorithmic tricks to deliver video.
To become a better film watcher, go beyond collecting favorites. Ask yourself why some of your favorite movies are the way they are. Favorites are idiosyncratic, personal, and influenced by forces beyond what’s on the screen. The more you understand your tastes, the better you’ll be able to find movies to watch in the future. And just as life can influence how we appreciate film, looking back on what we enjoyed can help us reflect on our lives.
This is an opinion borne out in my personal best of 2023. Four out of my top five pointedly reject the traditional “Hollywood narrative” approach to genre.
Killers of the Flower Moon is an epic western that explores systematic racism and unbridled capitalism without redemption, hero, or savior. The Zone of Interest is a Holocaust movie that engages with its horrors sonically but not visually. It “humanizes” the banal desires of its Nazi protagonists, which makes their actions all the more chilling. Past Lives is a romance that rejects an easy love triangle for a more mature vision where one can lose a soul mate and still live a fulfilling life. Anatomy of a Fall is a courtroom drama that avoids dramatic swings, explosive climaxes, and tidy resolutions.
Many professional critics consider 2023 one of the best years in gaming we’ve had in a long time. OpenCritic underlines this opinion; more games than average this year landed a coveted score of 85 or higher. But I was left mildly underwhelmed by what I played.
“Keeping up” as a modern console gamer is a challenge, with time available as my main hurdle. Many of the most acclaimed games this year – Baldur’s Gate 3, Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty – are massive action adventure RPGs. They demand at least thirty-plus hours of my time to complete and are challenging to dip in and out of casually. Multiplayer experiences like Call of Duty or Halo Infinite still have a steep learning curve to play competitively. I never felt like I had the focus (or reflexes) to play matches without being repeatedly ripped apart.
The big budget games I did invest time into this year almost universally underperformed. Forza Motorsport is excellent when I’m racing on the track, but the overall single player experience lacks personality, and I’ve encountered many game breaking bugs and crashes. Starfield has gorgeous production and audio design, and I had a blast running through the game’s many faction quests. But eventually, character progression felt meaningless, with exploration that felt like a total afterthought. Diablo IV, as I’ve written about previously, had a great gameplay hook but suffered from a lack of variety and forgettable narrative. Call of Duty: Warzone’s DMZ mode was a mid-year multiplayer favorite, but Activision effectively killed it off.
Stumbles aside, my favorite game experiences this year, as in 2022, remained shorter. You can easily wrap up three of the five listed here in twelve hours or less. Another has daily puzzles that routinely take me under five minutes to complete. All have been a blast to play and are accessible enough to recommend to almost anyone.
The holidays are the prime season for new TVs. You may have bought one on sale. Or you’re encountering a “new” set because you’re visiting friends or family or taking an extended stay in a hotel or Airbnb. The ugly truth is that most TVs, even great ones, are left at their factory default settings, which are often flawed. They suffer from unnaturally smooth motion, garish colors, washed-out blacks, or parts of the image clipped out of existence.
We get bad defaults because manufacturers make a consensus choice across many tastes, TV content, and lighting conditions. That setup isn’t for you if you care at all about mirroring the creators’ artistic intent on a movie or TV show.
Better days are ahead for that TV with a few minutes in the system menus. If you have the extra time, you can calibrate brightness and contrast in under an hour to make the picture even better.
Of the many films I’ve seen this year, nothing has shaken me the way Killers of the Flower Moon has. Director Martin Scorsese subverts film archetypes and genre conventions to deliver a bleak, indelible story on evil and capitalism rooted in America’s past.
(Spoilers ahead for Killers, which you should watch.)
Most of Killers centers on WWI vet Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), his uncle William Hale (Robert De Niro), and other white settlers as they scheme against the Osage in 1920s Oklahoma. The Indigenous tribe became wealthy from oil rights. Hale and his crew lie, steal, and murder Osage to secure their wealth.
Most of the screen time is from the white characters’ perspective, which I found occasionally frustrating. With his gullibility and unquestioning criminal mindset, DiCaprio as Burkhart is a less compelling character to watch than the supporting players around him. Lily Gladstone, who plays Ernest’s wife, Mollie, delivers a quietly devastating, pitch-perfect performance but disappears from large stretches of the film. One could point to Scorsese’s long history with gangster crime stories and playing into his comfort zone.
Every mainstream entertainment hit – from Marvel to Call of Duty, to prestige TV – is at more risk of a rapid decline in popularity than ever. Fueled by the internet and on-demand media, alternative options are compelling and diversified. So when the audience sees a weak spot in their entertainment library, many bail to new possibilities, even across different forms of media, and don’t look back. Let’s call it Niche Consumption Theory (NCT).
NCT is an underrated contributor to The Marvels bombing. While many factors sunk the box office, from middling reviews to superhero fatigue, it’s exacerbated by having so many great leisure substitutes to swap in. TikTok, PS5, mobile gaming, Netflix reality TV, VR, and other alternatives can look very appealing against a mid-tier MCU film. They won’t match the spectacle of a $300 million movie, but they don’t have to.
As streaming services continue to raise prices and make questionable quality control decisions (unwanted filler, canceling shows, stripping perks), it’s crucial to take charge.
Pare down to the essentials, and treat everything else with a temporary “jump in, jump out” mindset. It’s a straightforward approach to follow, and along the way, you’ll save money and improve your watching patterns by paring down to what matters most.
Start with an audit of your interests and viewing habits. While a few rare types skip across many subscriptions evenly, it’s more likely that only one or two services dominate your time. Many would pick Netflix, with its abundant back catalog, or Disney Plus for family viewing. I’m a huge foreign and indie movie fan, so Mubi or The Criterion Channel are my go-tos. Limit this list to just one or two services, and consider them essentials. Subscribe and don’t look back.
The 2015 comedy-drama Mississippi Grind – the movie’s release alongside the build up and aftermath of its principal cast and crew – tells you everything you need to know about the dire state of today’s big budget movies. Grind is an underseen road trip, buddy comedy, and character study of two struggling gamblers played by Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn.
Everything about Reynolds, Mendelsohn, and the film’s directors, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, before their intersection on Grind chart a familiar path for budding Hollywood talent.
Reynolds had a traditional leading man trajectory. He started his career in Canadian soap operas before decamping to Hollywood and landing supporting parts in a few studio comedies. Success led him into other genres (Blade Trinity) and a few breakthrough leading roles in bigger budget fare like Green Lantern and the rom-com The Proposal. By 2010, he was rich, famous, and a movie star. Around this time, he mixed in some more eclectic work with small indie directors, including Atom Egoyan (The Captive) and Persopolis director Marjane Satrapi (The Voices).
I learned a lot at TIFF 23, ending the festival with a more informed strategy for approaching future years. The sheer time on the ground helped; it was my first year as a volunteer and my first as a more devoted attendee, bumping up from three screenings in 2022 to eighteen this year.
You may be reading this and have never been to any film festival, but you’re considering watching a movie or two at TIFF 24. Or you’ve been doing this for many years and will happily pre-pay for thirty-plus films, sight unseen. Regardless of experience or interest, I have advice to make the most of your time at the festival.