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20 Best Movies of 2023

From historical tragedies to raucous raunch-coms, Oppenheimer to Barbie — these were the films that made us think the movies are alive, well, and possibly better than ever

Best movies of 2023

Illustration by Matthew Cooley. Dale Robinette/Warner Bros.; Jon Peck/A24; Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures; Melinda Sue Gordon/Apple TV+; ORION Pictures Inc.

HAD YOU TOLD us at the beginning of 2023 that an internet joke about summer-movie counterprogramming would give birth to a major pop-cultural phenomenon; that both a lo-fi Canadian horror flick and a $200 million epic from the greatest living American filmmaker would provide twin poles of cinematic ingenuity; that Marvel Studios would run into what’s possibly its own endgame in terms of keeping its successful cinematic universe afloat; that dual strikes from both the WGA and the Screen Actors Guild would nearly crater Hollywood entertainment as we know it; and that Taylor Swift would be the one to save the motion picture industry (not to mention the music industry, the NFL, and Western civilization as a whole), we might have questioned whether your crystal ball was on the fritz.

At the end of a long, unpredictable and thoroughly upended year at the movies, however, we know now that the double mantras for 2023 were: anything goes; and there is no such thing as a sure thing. This was a year in which disruption seemed to be the only constant, streamers continued to terraform the landscape of theatrical distribution (though they aren’t so stable either), and salvation seemed to come from some unlikely places. To go from “Barbenheimer? Seriously?” to “Barbenheimer! Seriously!!!” was a journey and then some. The hope is that even though the industry was reluctantly forced to recognize that, I dunno, people should be properly paid for their work and having software programs substituting for real people would be problematic (understatement alert!), the long, stalled summer of ’23 and the slightly delayed awards season will lead to genuine progress. Business as usual is no longer an option.

Not that all this sturm und drang and the feeling that things are very much still in a transactional phase stopped great movies from coming out. Both big studios and hipper, scrappier distributors hit the equivalent of home runs, critically and commercially. Festivals like Sundance, Cannes, and Venice delivered more than their share of spirit-raising, faith-restoring highlights. There were movies that harkened back to that ol’ time religion feel of Hollywood in its heyday, and those that reminded you that sometimes all you need is a phone, some actors, and a vision to make it work. Our top 20 movies for 2023 run the gamut in terms of genre, scope, running time, and subject matter. The only thing all of these have in common is that they reminded us of how thrilling it is to feel a sense of communion between the artists who make films and those of us who watch them. The circle remains unbroken in that respect.

(A quick note: We’re going by official theatrical release dates and not qualifying runs, which is why you will see titles like The Quiet Girl and Return to Seoul here, and will not see, say, Perfect Days and The Taste of Things— two great movies that officially bow in the first half of 2024 and will likely be on next year’s best-of list. Also, some additional 2023 shout-outs go out to: American Symphony, Earth Mama, Infinity Pool, May December, Menus-Plaisirs — Les Troisgos, Reality, R.M.N., Smoking Causes Coughing, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, A Thousand and One.)

From Rolling Stone US


‘Poor Things’

Or: Frankenstein, but make it funnier, racier, and more feminist. Yorgos Lanthimos’ take on the Prometheus myth imagines a young woman named Bella Baxter — take a bow, Emma Stone — who’s resurrected from the dead by Willem Dafoe’s scarred scientist. Given the brain of a baby, Bella is forced to relearn everything from speaking to social graces. Then she discovers the joys of sex, and what follows is both a harsh education and well-earned empowerment. Reteaming with The Favourite screenwriter Tony McNamara, Lanthimos and his star gin up a throwback comedy of manners that revolves around a particularly repressive era’s attitudes toward women. The fairer sex may be married, imprisoned, fetishized, objectified, forced into motherhood, and treated like property. But they mustn’t feel physical pleasure. That way lies madness… for men. And thanks to Stone, we watch as the fallen angel stands up, dusts herself off and spreads her wings wide on her own sexed-up, pro-science terms. We’re all the richer for it.


‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

Yes, the word “masterpiece” is overused a lot. But what else can you call a work that finds our greatest living American filmmaker Martin Scorsese turning a sprawling, three-and-a-half-hour drama involving power, corruption and our nation’s toxic past into an intimate story, without sacrificing its depth or scope? Less a straight adaptation of David Grann’s nonfiction bestseller than a complement to it, this throwback drama about a murder epidemic in the oil-rich Osage Nation circa the early 1920s narrows its focus on the love story between Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his wife Mollie (the extraordinary Lily Gladstone). She’s watched her mother and sisters perish via both a mysterious “wasting illness” and outright murder; the fear is that her husband and his big-shot uncle (Robert De Niro) are after her family’s wealth and land rights, and she’s next. It’s the closest thing Scorsese has made to a Western, and the extra emphasis on the clash between Jazz Age modernity and traditional Osage culture — as well as the threat of 20th century white supremacy — makes this a partial corrective to decades of movie mythology. Stunning, on every level. Read our full review here.


‘The Zone of Interest’

Jonathan Glazer‘s take on Martin Amis’s 2014 novel is a portrait of hell from the periphery. An S.S. officer (Christian Friedel) and his family live in the housing area surrounding Auschwitz; they throw pool parties and take afternoon tea with friends while chimneys belch black smoke in the distance. Glazer strips away the imagery we now associate with Holocaust dramas and puts his high-formalism style to perfect use, presenting an absolutely chilling look at how normalization works — at some point, you simply stop hearing the barking dogs, gunshots, and human suffering happening right outside your own backyard. This is what the banality around the banality of evil looks like. And Sandra Hüller, playing the officer’s raging wife, once again convinces you that she’s one of the most fearless international actors working today.


‘Past Lives’

Once upon a time in Seoul, two kids — Na Young and Hae Sung — were the best of friends. Then her family immigrated to Canada, so whatever mutual childhood crush they harbored for each other is cut short. Years later, the now-grown Na Young (Greta Lee), who goes by Nora, reconnects with Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) over social media. She lives in New York. He’s still in South Korea. Eventually, communication stops. Life goes on. Nora gets married to a fellow writer (John Magaro). And then Hae finally makes good on his promise to come visit America. She offers to play tour guide. Every sightseeing excursion and catch-up exchange feels loaded. The feelings haven’t gone away. Neither of them know what’s going to happen next.A playwright with a genuine feel for nuance and crafting characters so achingly real and recognizable that you feel like you’ve known them forever, writer-director Celine Song has a talent for letting things be left unsaid, and letting this central trio express themselves through unfinished sentences, casual asides, and glances; every hesitation and pause suggest short stories unto themselves. And with her first movie (drawn from her own autobiographical experiences), she already proves she can make the sort of intimate, character-driven romantic drama that never overplays its hand yet will gladly lubricate your tear ducts. It also makes you realize that Lee has been chronically underused as an actor — she’s never been given a chance like this to display her chops before, and takes full advantage of exploring this very complicated woman’s conflicted feelings. Most importantly, Past Lives takes what appears to be a simple story of unrequited love and gives it the depth, the feeling, and the emotional scope of something that feels so much larger than just a film. When we first saw this minor-key masterpiece back in January, we felt like we’d already seen the best movie of the year. All these months later, that feeling still remains. Read our full review here.