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The 10 Best Films of 2023

It’s time to take a look at the best films of 2023. I managed to view over 120 new releases this year and there was a lot to love.

Despite the Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild striking this year, there was a wide array of movies to choose from. The true impact from those strikes will not likely be felt until next year, although the box office of several releases this year were likely less than they could have been due to a lack of promotion.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the overall business – 8 feature films crossed the $200 million mark in ticket sales and ‘Barbie’ ended up grossing over $636 million domestically.

The films below weren’t necessarily the biggest hits, but they are the ones that have lingered the most in my mind.

Emma Stone stars in ‘Poor Things,’ one of the best films of 2023.

#1 – Poor Things

Over the course of his career, Yorgos Lanthimos has made many daring and surreal films that push the boundaries of good taste. In his latest, which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, he puts a uniquely bizarre twist on the Frankenstein tale with Willem Dafoe starring as the wickedly mad scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter. Emma Stone gives a truly go-for-broke performance as Bella Baxter, a woman whose brain is underdeveloped compared to her body thanks to a wacky surgery from the great doc, who she refers to as “God.” Mark Ruffalo and Ramy Youssef round out the core of the immensely talented cast and everybody appears to be having a grand ole time. This is wickedly weird and far more sexually graphic than most viewers might expect. A wild ride, to be sure.

(Now playing in theaters nationwide; streaming on Hulu in early 2024)

#2 – Saltburn

Emerald Fennell won the Academy Award for the Best Original Screenplay on 2020’s ‘Promising Young Woman.” That was a film that I appreciated more than enjoyed, feeling that it fell apart in the final act. Some may argue that she repeats that error with her second film, but all I can say is that everything about this one worked for me.

Set in 2006, ‘Saltburn’ takes place at Oxford University. Barry Keoghan stars as Oliver, a student there on scholarship who just doesn’t mesh well with all of the rich kids he’s there with. He’s an outsider until Felix (Jacob Elordi) befriends him and takes him back to his family’s country estate for the summer. What follows is an oft-shocking and darkly comic masterpiece.

(Available now on Prime Video)

#3 – Past Lives

This is the first feature film from Korean-Canadian playwright and director Celine Song. It’s a story so intensely personal and lived-in, that it doesn’t seem possible that it is her first movie.

‘Past Lives’ tells the story of Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) – two childhood friends from South Korea who fell out of touch when Nora’s family immigrated to Canada. We follow as they reconnect at different points in their adult lives. There is a quiet brilliance in Song’s storytelling and the casting only enhances it. Both leads are remarkable, but Teo Yoo is a revelation. He somehow expresses the desperation of longing and all the conflict of a lost love with a simple glance. His posture and anxious body language tell his story in ways the dialogue can only hint at. It’s one of the finest debut films in recent memory.

(Available now on Blu-ray, DVD and digital; streaming on Showtime in February)

#4 – The Holdovers

It feels really good to have Alexander Payne back. His last film, 2017’s ‘Downsizing,’ was an unequivocal dud. A full decade after his last great film (‘Nebraska’), Payne brings us a new holiday classic. Set in December 1970, we’re introduced to a grumpy professor named Paul (played by Paul Giamatti) at a private boarding school in New England. Much to his dismay and discomfort, he is forced by the school’s administration to supervise the handful of students who are left on campus during the holiday break.

Newcomer Dominic Sessa plays Angus, a teen left behind by his mother and her new boyfriend. He’s less than enthused about sticking around, especially with an old stick-in-the-mud. The cast is uniformly excellent, but Da’Vine Joy Randolph is the MVP here playing Mary, the school’s head chef who also happens to be a grieving mother. Her son has just died during the Vietnam War and she’s about to spend her first holiday without him. Combined, the three are a genuinely motley crew.

(Now playing in theaters nationwide, streaming on Peacock)

#5 – All Of Us Strangers

Four knockout performances await you in the latest effort from British director Andrew Haigh. It’s a tale of family that also happens to be about grief. It’s a romance, but also a ghost story. Haigh is a gifted storyteller and he brings out the best in his cast (Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Claire Foy, and Jamie Bell). Filled with nostalgic music syncs and gorgeous art direction, ‘All Of Us Strangers’ is an unforgettable story of love and loss.

(Now playing in select theaters, expanding in January; streaming on Hulu in early 2024)

#6 – The Taste of Things

Tran Anh Hung’s first film, 1993’s ‘The Scent of Green Papaya,’ was the very first Vietnamese film to be nominated for an Academy Award. He won Best Director this year at the Cannes Film Festival for this exquisite French period drama about the 20 year friendship and eventual love affair between a cook and the gourmet chef she works for. Set in 1885, this is one you shouldn’t watch on an empty stomach. Juliette Binoche unsurprisingly delivers another beautiful performance as Eugénie. There is a lot of competition this year for the acting categories at the Oscars, but it would be nice to see her be recognized for this. ‘The Taste of Things’ is subtle, sensual, and truly sublime.

(IFC did a qualifying release in NYC and LA for awards season, it will expand starting February 9, 2024)

#7 – May December

Todd Haynes knows melodrama well. Modern audiences may not. I’ve seen this one divide friends and colleagues, but the tale (inspired by the story of Mary Kay Letourneau) is whip smart and darkly comic. Samy Burch’s screenplay is not subtle, but it is certainly fun if you can surrender to it. There was never any question that Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman would deliver, but the film’s big surprise is ‘Riverdale’ hunk Charles Melton, graduating from the CW right into a proper camp masterpiece. Haynes pulls inspiration from Bergman to serve us something uncomfortably revelatory.

(Available now on Netflix)

#8 – Anatomy of a Fall

The better of Sandra Hüller’s two strong performances this year is found in this French film from Justine Triet. (Am sorry to report that the other film, ‘The Zone of Interest,’ is nowhere near my best films of 2023 list). It begins as a bewildering mystery and morphs into an incredibly strong courtroom drama in the final act. From start to finish, it leaves you guessing – this shouldn’t be a shock from a movie promoting itself with a website of didshedoit.com.

(Available now to buy or rent from all digital services)

#9 – Barbie

Studios are stuck on exploiting existing intellectual property, but occasionally we manage to luck out with their choices. It’s shocking to have such a big budget movie about a toy franchise turn out to be as funny and smart as ‘Barbie.’ Director Greta Gerwig and co-writer Noah Baumbach have managed to mesh subversive themes and ideas into what could have been a banal blip on the radar. From the score and soundtrack placements down to the heavily detailed art direction and styling, the film’s technical merits alone are impressive. Add in a cast of people like Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling who are putting everything they’ve got into their performances with a truly funny script and you’ve got the year’s most surprising blockbuster.

(Available now on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and digital; streaming on Max)

#10 – A Thousand and One

The distinctive voice of director A.V. Rockwell’s debut feature is nothing short of astonishing. ‘A Thousand and One’ is not an easy watch, but it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year and that alone should find you intrigued. Teyana Taylor, better known to many as a singer and dancer, gives a heartbreaking performance as Inez, a hairdresser who gets released from Rikers Island prison in 1994. Back on the street for the first time in years, she goes on the hunt for her son Terry, who has been living in foster care. Inez wants the best for him, but her methods complicate both of their lives. This is a film that is raw, powerful and unforgettable, recalling the best in 1990s independent film in a moment that has more or less stopped supporting these kinds of stories.

(Available now on Blu-ray, DVD and digital; streaming on Prime Video)

Just outside the Top 10 in my Best Films of 2023:

Oppenheimer, Killers of the Flower Moon, Polite Society, Asteroid City, Priscilla, and Lakota Nation Vs. United States

What are your best films of 2023? Let us know in the comments!

Looking for more to watch? Check out our December streaming preview here.

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