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  • Writer's pictureSaxon Whitehead

Top Ten Films of 2023

2023 has to be one of the best years for film of the past decade, if not all time. This year saw an explosion of great films from legendary filmmakers and newcomers alike, and saw a bit of a sea change in the types of films that audiences were hungry for. It truly feels like 2023 might be a bit of a turning point for cinema, and it will be fascinating to see how we all look back on this year in the future. Looking back on it at this moment, it is stunning to consider the immense quality of the films that were released this past year, as there were so many films that completely blew me away. I saw 123 new releases prior to making this list, and the ones that I liked the most will likely rank among some of the best films of the 2020s for me. It took me longer than ever to settle on a top 10 list for the year, as I could have been happy with several permutations of this list. After a lot of thought and consideration, I have decided on my list of top 10 films for 2023. This was tough, as there are so many more films beyond this list that I would highly recommend. However, the films below represent the best of the best in my opinion, and are the ones that spoke to me the most.

Before we get into the main list, here are some honorable mentions I would like to shout out:

  • The Color Purple- One of the best stage-to-screen adaptations of the past several years, and one of the most moving films I watched this year.

  • Godzilla Minus One- Maybe the biggest surprise of 2023 for me. Features some killer visual effects, and some compelling storytelling.

  • Ferrari- Michael Mann's return to cinema did not disappoint, as it is as a moody portrait of masculinity, and features some of the most incredibly shot sequences of the year.

  • You Hurt My Feelings- My pick for the year's most underrated film. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tobias Menzies are a great pair, and Nicole Holofcener once again proves that she is one of the best screenwriters working today.

  • Rye Lane- A nice little rom-com that features some of my favorite direction of the year. Also, one of the most visually striking films of 2023.

  • Bottoms- The type of film you have to be on its exact wavelength to enjoy, and I was right on it from the get-go. One of the funniest films of the year, and features excellent performances from Ayo Edebiri and Marshawn Lynch.

  • Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.- Kelly Fremon Craig maintains the charm and honesty of the classic Judy Blume novel, and delivers one of the most heartwarming films of the year in the process.

  • A Thousand and One- Another underrated gem, and a promising debut from writer/director A.V. Rockwell. Worth watching for Teyana Taylor's phenomenal performance alone.

  • John Wick: Chapter 4- A great ending to one of the best action franchises of the past several years, and possibly the best in the series. The stairs sequence is easily among one of my favorite moments of the year in any film for me.

  • Perfect Days- A quietly affecting film that took me by surprise. Koji Yakusho gives one of the year's best performances here.

  • American Fiction- One of the sharpest satires of recent years, and a promising debut for writer/director Cord Jefferson.

  • Barbie- One of the most fun films I saw this year. An absolute delight from start to finish.

  • Past Lives- A great Linklater-esque drama, and an exciting debut feature from writer/director Celine Song.

  • The Killer- David Fincher returns with a meta-narrative about his career, and subverts expectations in an excellently.

  • May December- A film that just barely missed my top ten, but one that I have thought of so much since I saw it. A fascinating and thought provoking text, and one of Todd Haynes's best works.

  • Beau is Afraid- A polarizing film for sure, but as a fan of Ari Aster, I was more than pleased. Joaquin Phoenix is incredible in the lead role, but the supporting cast is what truly makes the film.

And now for my official top 10:

10. Maestro

Starting things off with a bit of a controversial pick, Maestro is a film that worked for me far more than it did for most people. Bradley Cooper's sophomore directorial feature sees him taking the potential he showed with 2018's A Star is Born and fully delivering on it. Aided by Matthew Libatique's beautiful cinematography, he makes this one of the most visually arresting films of the year. But beyond the surface, the film is a beautiful depiction of Leonard Bernstein's life and his relationship with Felicia Montealegre. Cooper is excellent as Bernstein himself, but Carey Mulligan is the true MVP as Montealegre. The film isn't your typical biopic, which will rub some the wrong way, but that is one of the reasons why I love this film. It takes a unique approach to one of the most iconic musical figures of the 20th century, and gets into who he was as a person. It ends up being one of the more intriguing biopics I've seen in a long time, and connected with me far deeper than I would have ever guessed.

9. The Iron Claw

One of the most devastating films of the year, The Iron Claw tells the tragic real life story of the Von Erich family with sensibility and honesty. It is so deeply affecting, not shying away from the numerous hardships that the Von Erichs experienced amidst the peak of their wrestling fame. The entire cast is doing some incredible work here, but the real star of the show is Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich. This is easily his best performance, and he nails every scene he is in. On top of that, Sean Durkin's direction is superb, and the film as a whole is a beautiful, yet tough watch that is sure to leave an impact. This film knocked me out so many times with how unflinching and raw it gets at times, and has several smaller touches that really stood out to me. It may be a tough watch at times, but it is also one of the most awe-inspiring films of the year.

8. The Holdovers

Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, The Holdovers is such a rewarding cinematic experience. It may not be as acidic as most of Alexander Payne's other films, but it still has some of his distinct voice, which gives the film an interesting tone. It also features some of the year's sharpest dialogue, and a great trio of performances from Paul Giamatti, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, and newcomer Dominic Sessa. It is the type of film that I can see myself watching repeatedly, and is one of Payne's stronger films to boot. It is such a warm, comforting film that had me from the get-go, and it only gets better as it goes along. Definitely one of the year's best comedies, and feels destined to become a classic.

7. The Zone of Interest

A film unlike anything I've seen before, The Zone of Interest tells the story of a German family attempting to live their dream life while living next door to Auschwitz. It never actually shows any of the horrors that took place during the Holocaust, but it uses sound to depict the atrocities going on right next door to what we see in the film. There is something so simple about this film on the surface, but there is so much that it has to say about evil and the complicity of those on the edges of it. I struggle to put into words just how incredible this film truly is, as it is almost indescribable. This is a film that absolutely must be experienced, and is one of the most unforgettable films I've ever seen.

6. All of Us Strangers

One of the year's biggest surprises for me was Andrew Haigh's latest film, All of Us Strangers. While I have enjoyed Haigh's other films, this one completely bowled me over. Andrew Scott's performance is astonishing, and the story the film tells is so tender and moving. This film haunted me for days after I watched it, and its themes of love and loss are so potent. This is a film that I didn't know I needed, but it really spoke to me on a deep level. It may look like a quiet drama on the surface, but once it begins to reveal itself, you can feel the depths that it goes to over the course of its runtime. It is one of the saddest films of the year, but it also has a light that shines through it that helps it feel somewhat uplifting. It is such a beautiful film from start to finish, and has such a strong message of finding love within yourself that resonates so strongly.

5. Asteroid City

A new Wes Anderson film is always cause for celebration for me, but he truly outdid himself with his latest, Asteroid City. It is arguably his most personal film yet, as he deconstructs art and how we respond to it, all through his distinct visual style. The layers of the film make this one of his most thought-provoking works, and the detailed world that Anderson brings to life is so charming and well crafted. In addition, it boasts one of the strongest ensembles of the year, with everyone involved doing tremendous work. There are a couple of sequences in this film that I would consider some of the best of Anderson's career, as they are both visually and intellectually impressive. It manages to feel sprawling yet contained, and has only grown on me more and more as time has gone by.

4. Killers of the Flower Moon

Martin Scorsese once again proves why he is one of our finest living filmmakers with Killers of the Flower Moon. It is difficult territory for him considering that he is a white man directing a story about Indigenous people, but he handles it as respectfully as possible, and tells the true story of the Reign of Terror that the Osage Nation experienced in the 1920s. Epic in scale, the film does not shy away from the evil and greed that was perpetrated by white men. It is difficult to watch at times, but it does a phenomenal job of shining a light on a part of history most people might be unaware of. It has a stacked cast, with standout performances from Tantoo Cardinal, Cara Jade Myers, Jason Isbell, Jesse Plemons, and Robert De Niro, to name a few. However, the whole film hinges on Lily Gladstone's tour de force performance which is so subtle, yet so powerful. The whole film is a staggering experience, and is yet another late-career masterpiece from Scorsese.

3. The Boy and the Heron

Hayao Miyazaki's first film in 10 years, The Boy and the Heron, is a great summation of his entire career, and perhaps one of the best films of his illustrious career. He is a true master of animation, and this film sees him doing so much of what he does best. The fantasy world that much of the film takes place in is so alluring, as are the various creatures we meet along the way. It is pure Miyazaki magic through and through, and has a strong emotional core that really connected with me. Grief is a major part of this film, and it deals with it so tenderly and honestly that it floored me. Both the original Japanese voice cast and the star-studded English language dub cast are incredible, and the film as a whole encapsulates the imagination, the humanity, and the beauty that Miyazaki brings to his work in a massive way. I hope that Miyazaki continues to make movies for as long as he can, but if this ends up being his final film, this is an amazing note to end on.

2. Oppenheimer

It always feels like a major event when a new Christopher Nolan film is released, and Oppenheimer is undoubtedly one of the biggest and most exciting films to come out in 2023. While Nolan has made several spectacular films over the years, there is something about this film that feels so much deeper and more seismic than some of his most recent work. It is such a full study of J. Robert Oppenheimer as a person, getting into his mind as he deals with the excitement of creating the atomic bomb, and the complicated feelings he has after successfully doing so. Cillian Murphy's turn as the man himself is so perfectly calibrated, and he is the linchpin of the entire film. The film itself is such a sprawling epic that has some serious weight to it, while also allowing Nolan to craft some of the most stunning visuals of his entire filmography. It is an incredible achievement through and through, and a true wonder to behold.

1. Poor Things

Of all the films I saw this year, none of them connected with me on as many levels as Poor Things. Considering that I am a huge fan of director Yorgos Lanthimos, I had no doubt that I would enjoy this film, but I was blown away by just how incredible it truly is. It is an admittedly strange film, but every choice in this film feels so intentional and ultimately serves its overarching narrative. This is a film about finding oneself and understanding the good and the bad of the world, all filtered through Lanthimos's trademark style. Add in a riotous screenplay from Tony McNamara, a unique score from Jerskin Fendrix, and an immaculate performance from Emma Stone and you have an magnificent, life-affirming odyssey that worked for me on every conceivable level. I cannot stop thinking about almost every aspect of this film, as it is such a beautifully created film through and through, and easily my favorite film of 2023.

And that does it for my top ten of 2023! There were so many amazing films that came out this year that I had a hard time narrowing it down to ten. What were some of your favorites from this year? Let me know in the comments below, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!

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