2023 Favourites: Film, TV, Music and Product Empties
2023 was a year from hell but I found a few silver linings
It’s been a while since I’ve posted on Substack. Usually, I’d do a song and dance about apologising for my absence, but I’m not going to this time. The last three months have been excruciatingly painful. I’m astonished that I’m still standing, but I guess grief gets easier day by day, even if you are still knee-deep in it.
As monetisable as my current trauma might be, this isn’t a letter to update you on my going-ons or my mental state; I’ll save that for my new therapist (yay, she finally got one!). Instead, you’ll get a run-down of Haaniyah-approved music, TV, films and products of 2023 because if there’s one thing I did this year, it was bury my head in the sands of escapism.
I hope you all enjoy my recommendations and give me your own 2023 favourites in the comments. I finished my Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice watches, so I need more mindless TV for 2024.
FILMS OF 2023
My 2023 watchlist hasn’t been completed, so here are three movies from my current favourites of the year.
Priscilla (2023) dir. Sofia Coppola
I saw Priscilla last week at an Odeon Limitless preview, and it's consumed me ever since. This film has a wonderfully crafted dollhouse effect, where Priscilla is shot within door frames and peering out of windows to signify her inability to escape Graceland. I've seen people criticise the film, stating that it doesn't bring you into the world of Elvis Presley as Elvis (2022) did, but I would argue that Coppola did that on purpose. It's not Elvis's world— it's Priscilla's. Between the fairytale gifts and dressing up is a man lashing out at his teenage bride for being a teenager. She's stuck standing in his shadow and finds herself without a life of her own.
I also adored how Coppola incorporated a chapter-like feeling into the story's progression. Undoubtedly, it's gorgeously shot, and it's such a shame she couldn't have used film as she originally intended. Cailee Spaeny is superb, and I hope she isn't snubbed for the Best Actress nom for the Oscars because, weirdly enough, there's little talk about her (and the film) during this award season.
May December (2023) dir. Todd Haynes
There’s much to say about this film, from its commentary on modern true crime, method acting, and the dynamics of white womanhood—May December is a film I will never rewatch, but I’m glad I saw it. The film revolves around an actress (Natalie Portman) who wants to study a Mary-Kay Letourneau type (Julianne Moore) for a movie about the origins of her inappropriate and infamous relationship with her husband (Charles Melton). Both Moore and Portman are firing on all cylinders. Portman’s transformation into a copy of Moore’s character and the lengths she goes to craft her perfect performance is absolutely terrifying.
BTW I did interview Charles Melton for Dazed, so if you want to read that, you can click here.
Past Lives (2023) dir. Celine Song
Past Lives centres on Nora and Hae Sung, childhood friends torn apart when Nora’s family leaves South Korea for Canada. Twelve years later, they reunite via Facebook, but the distance proves fatal for any chance at a real relationship. Another twelve years pass, and Nora is married. Hae Sung, unhappy in his relationship, visits her in New York for a week.
I’ve heard people say that they think the film’s writing is twee and too on the nose, but maybe that means I’m a fan of twee things because it worked well for me. I’m what people would call a third-culture kid; as cringe-worthy as that moniker can be, it's what fits. My parents are from two different cultures/backgrounds, and I grew up in a country I wasn’t born in. Past Lives resonated with me in a way I don’t think I’ve experienced before. The daydreams of what your life might’ve been like if you stayed in one place, one school, and one house really do stick with you for life.
Killers of the Flower Moon (2023) dir. Martin Scorsese
Bottoms (2023) dir. Emma Seligman
Joy Ride (2023) dir. Adele Lim
Talk to Me (2023) dir. Michael Philippou, Danny Philippou
Oppenheimer (2023) dir. Christopher Nolan
Anatomy of a Fall (2023) dir. Justine Triet
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (2023) dir. Kelly Fremon Craig
FIRST-TIME WATCHES OF 2023
This list won’t include any 2023 releases, as those will be on my 2023 list.
Brooklyn (2015) dir. John Crowley
“You’ll feel so homesick that you’ll want to die and there’s nothing you can do about it apart from endure it. But you will, and it won’t kill you. And one day the sun will come out. You might not even notice straightaway, it’ll be that faint. And then you’ll catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past, someone who’s only yours, and you’ll realize... that this is where your life is.”
I said I wouldn’t talk about trauma, and I won’t, but this quote from Brooklyn had me sobbing at 1 AM. It’s what Saoirse Ronan’s character advises to a fellow Irish girl travelling to New York via sea, but there was something so touching about how all you can do is just endure the pain, and it won’t kill you. The sun will come out one day, and I’ll be okay.
The Age of Innocence (1993) dir. Martin Scorsese
Apparently, I’ve been sleeping on how hot and talented Daniel Day-Lewis is.
God, what a film, a beautiful one at that. Just the costuming, the set decor, the attention to detail. My friend Irene wrote a rather spectacular piece on The Age of Innocence and its use of floriography (the symbolism of flowers), so I’ll let her speak on my behalf:
Scorsese and his creative team’s use of floriography in this film is, without exaggeration, perfection. This era was full of repression, and most people went their whole lives unable to express their heart’s desires for fear of disrupting the status quo. As we see in the film, even the most rebellious individuals bow into submission because of the pressures of societal expectations. A great love, a chance at true happiness, goes unmaterialized, the only trace of it being a flower a man long ago once wore at his chest.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) dir. Anthony Minghella
Watching this back to back with Saltburn (2023) was the definition of whiplash. I’ve never been a massive fan of Matt Damon as an actor, but his performance here? Phenomenal. The thin line between obsession and admiration is something he keeps toying with until it gets too late, and the object of his affection (Jude Law) ruthlessly rejects him from not only his life but from accessing the status of wealth he’d been cosplaying over the summer. Jude Law, Ms Goop and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (RIP) are sooo good in this.
It is the blueprint. It is the moment.
Boyfriends and Girlfriends (1987) dir. by Éric Rohmer
His Girl Friday (1940) dir. Howard Hawks
Rear Window (1954) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
While You Were Sleeping (1995) dir. Jon Turteltaub
The First Wives Club (1996) dir. Hugh Wilson
Thelma & Louise (1991) dir. Ridley Scott
TV I WATCHED IN 2023
This was the year I got back into watching TV, so I’ll give you a list of my favourites from both 2023 releases and first-time watches.
First Time Watch: Sex & The City (1998-2004)
What can I say about SATC that hasn’t already been said? Twenty-five years on SATC has remained steadfast within the cultural zeitgeist. The fashion worn by Carrie Bradshaw, resident sex columnist and the show's protagonist, remains influential with years of attempted recreations of Pat Field’s costuming. The rules and regulations of dating that the women in the show live by have also continued to influence the modern-day dating culture, with a growing amount of young women looking for a Carrie Bradshaw type to lead them to their one true love or at least a relationship.
It’s a marvellous time capsule of a particular type of white womanhood from the late 90s to the mid-noughties that people have tried to recreate or emulate but never got quite right. From hundreds of online quizzes on which SATC character you are—based on stereotypes that actually feel really two-dimensional once you watch the show— to a movie series and a sequel show, SATC has outlived most, if not all, of its “chick-flick” peers.
P.S. I’m definitely a Miranda w/ a little bit of Charlotte.
We do not have enough screwball comedies! I was beyond distraught when I heard that Starstruck was ending this year after gracing our screens for three hilarious years.
Starstruck centres on a woman in her mid to late 20s and her one-night stand with a celebrity on New Year’s Eve (think Chris Evans of the MCU level of fame). After the awkward goodbyes, the pair continue to run into each other and end up in the longest, most confusing situationship of all time. There’s so much will they and won’t they that this show will keep you on your toes and constantly break your heart for being silly enough to believe in true love.
The way it ended is perfect, but I will miss seeing Rose Matafeo on my screen.
First Time Watch: Veep (2012 - 2019)
When I was a teenager, all I knew about Veep was that Julia Louis Dreyfus kept winning Emmy awards for it, and now it all makes sense.
It’s the perfect show; hilarious and witty, it will live on in our cultural memory for a long time.
Honourable mentions of other TV shows I’ve adored this year
Sharp Objects (2018)
Succession (Season 4)
True Detective (Season 1)
The Bear (Season 2)
This Is Going To Hurt (2022)
How I Met Your Father (Season 2)
After Party (Season 1)
iCarly (Season 3)
Private Practice (2007 -2013)
The Other Two (Season 3)
A Different World (1987-1993)
High Fidelity (2020)
ALBUMS OF 2023
Once again, my Spotify Wrapped got my favourite artists, songs and albums 100% wrong. So here I am to correct it and regain my esoteric cool girl points.
Calico (2023) - Ryan Beatty
If, like me, you were embarrassingly into Justin Bieber as a kid, you've more than likely heard the name Ryan Beatty. But if that's too difficult to admit, think back to your love of Brockhampton as a teenager (which is also quite embarrassing) — you more than likely have listened to Ryan Beatty’s music.
Like Bieber, Beatty came up on YouTube through covers and was positioned as the new Justin, as many others before him had been (Cody Simpson and Grayson Chance). However, it became clear that their artistic paths would diverge when Beatty fired his team due to creative differences. It would take Beatty three years before he could release new music. In years since, he’s collaborated with Brockhampton and released three incredible albums. Boy In Jeans (2018)— a pivotal record for my coming of age— Dreaming of David (2019) and Calico (2023).
Calico sees Beatty as his most intimate and stripped back with his songwriting and vocals front and centre. It is my favourite album of his and my favourite album of the year. I still remember pressing play on the first song, Ribbons and experiencing that immediate feeling of being swept away into something bigger than yourself. If this is where Beatty’s artistic journey is taking him, then I cannot wait to be taken along for the ride.
Some of my favourite lyrics from the album include:
And suddenly you're older
Spinning the turnstile over and ovеr
Who's gonna hold you while you sleep? Well
It's brave to bе nothing to no one at all
What stops me from sending the call?
In a midnight paranoia, hey
That's love after all, isn't it?
What stops me from spending it all?
Spinning out, Andromeda
Watching Jupiter come back around again
There's a million ways that this could end
And no horizon's ever promised
So, while I hold my baby in my arms
I'll count on God to wake us up by sunrise
- Bright Red
Going through your jewelry
I smile, but I know you see through me
You knew who I was 'fore I knew me
On the very first day
Now I know what you're onto
You were just looking for someone to talk to
A beautiful life to belong to
- Little Faith
Princess Going Digital (2023) - Amaarae
This would’ve certainly been my #1 album pick if not for Calico. There aren’t enough words to describe how magnificent this project is. Amaarae is a master of her sound—there is nobody like her. I was already in love with the album, but after attending a party this past summer and witnessing how captivating her sound is in the presence of others, it became my most listened-to album of the year. Amaarae (along with Pink Pantheress) shows us what’s possible when borrowing from aesthetics of the noughties and 2010s and using them to inform her unique soundscape rather than producing pale imitations of music from these eras ( I also wrote about this for Dazed).
My favourite songs from the album include Co-Star, Princess Going Digital, Counterfeit, Reckless and Sweet.
Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love (2023) - Kara Jackson
I was foolish for waiting for so long to listen to this because Kara's voice has been playing in my head for the past week. Why Does the Earth is the debut album from former U.S. National Youth Poet Laureate Kara Jackson. The album is soft and overwhelming, with her lyrics and sound clashing in the best way possible. Jackson examines the intricacies of heartbreak, love, loss, friendship, and much more through a diaristic approach to her songs, and as you all know, I love a diary.
Some of my favourite lyrics include:
I'm not a liquidated asset
I'm a sharper than a jewel
What kind of miner does that make you?
When I'm the gold and you're just a fool
When you're good and free
Don't you bother me
When I've cleaned my sheets
Don't come calling to see
I'm not so motherly
I won't kiss your cheek
I'm sure you're someone's baby
But it ain't me
No, it ain't me
Why does the earth give us people to love?
Then give them a sickness that kills?
And why does the earth make us pay for the dirt?
Are you saying the dead pay the bills?
I've buried old and young
I've watched them lower a saint
We're only waiting our turn
Call that living?
- why does the earth give us people to love?
Honourable mentions of albums and artists I’ve adored this year
Desire, I Want to Turn Into You - Caroline Polachek
The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We - Mitski
JAGUAR II - Victoria Monét
Something to Give Each Other - Troye Sivan
GUTS - Olivia Rodrigo
This Is Why - Paramore
The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess - Chappell Roan
Get Up - NewJeans
Heaven knows - PinkPantheress
EMPTIES OF 2023
I rarely talk about purchases on here but given the fact my mum died three months ago I think was due a little retail therapy.
Pureology Hydrate (hair mask and conditioner)
If you have dyed hair, you know the nightmare of getting it back to its soft state once it has been bleached or dyed. That’s where Pureology’s hydrating hair mask and conditioner have come in to help. I promise I’m not trying to write an ad. I’ve bought two bottles of the conditioner since Sept and three bottles of the hair mask because I use it as a leave-in. My bank account cries for help, but I cannot return to regular hair care.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t been waxing lyrical about the Pureology shampoo, that’s because I don’t need a hydrating shampoo; I prefer a detoxing/purifying shampoo to get rid of the gunk in my hair at the end of the week.
Which brings me to my next entry on the empties list.
K18 PEPTIDE PREP Detox Shampoo / OAUI DETOX SHAMPOO
Detox is a word I, unfortunately, associate with fitness influencers trying to peddle celery juice for self-cleansing organs, but I’ve used both of these within the past three months (not at the same time), and they’ve both done wonders to my hair care.
I prefer the Ouai shampoo because I think it’s better smelling, but that’s it— they're both worth the price and very good for cleaning curly hair.
Innisfree - Hyaluronic Acid Watery Sun Gel
I’m due to restock this in January, as I’ve been using this nonstop. All other sunscreens seem to have a unique formulation that hates my skin and eyes - they sting, peel off, or don't sink in. I finally gave in and bought the Innisfree sunscreen after being bombarded with ads from TikTok (see, it does work on everyone).
In short, it's one of the best things I've bought for my skin in years. No white cast, funny smell, or stinging—bonus, it’s SPF 50 +.
So, if you take anything from this list, remember that you NEED TO USE SUNSCREEN EVEN IN THE WINTER!!
I will be back sometime in January with an updated version of an essay I posted here earlier in the year. Until then, have a safe and happy New Year.
Lots of love,
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