Monday, January 29, 2024

Top 10 Films of 2023


In my 2022 round-up, I tentatively asked if movies were back. In 2023, movies were back in a way I never saw coming. Last year, my favorite movie of the year was a film I think only 16 people have seen. This year, for the first time in my life, my favorite film is the frontrunner to win the Best Picture Oscar. How in the world did we get here?

10. The Zone of Interest
Directed by Jonathan Glazer
I’ve been following the Oscars for the better part of three decades, and The Zone of Interest is the most experimental/arthouse/avant garde movie to ever be nominated for Best Picture. When I saw this film in a packed theater the weekend it opened in New York City, I never expected it to be embraced by an institution as mainstream as the Oscars. In fact, I didn’t even like the movie when I left that theater. But more so than any film this year, The Zone of Interest had a haunting staying power that forced me to change my opinion on it. I’m seeing it again this week; cautiously, though I’ll certainly be paying attention.

9. Master Gardener
Directed by Paul Schrader
If you liked First Reformed and The Card Counter, you must finish Paul Schrader’s modern Lonely Man Trilogy. The pacing, tone, sound design, and camera work of all three movies help create a consistently bleak vision of world. But the smart casting choices allow the audience to latch on to some semblance of hope, however clouded it may be.

8. May December
Directed by Todd Haynes
A fun movie to watch, but an absolute ball of a movie to rewatch. Once I knew where the film was going, it allowed me to relax a bit and really enjoy the hospitably macabre sentiments of damn near every character in this film. Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore gave two of the best performances of their respective careers here. I truly think only Todd Hanyes could’ve pulled this off.

7. Godzilla Minus One
Directed by (Takashi Yamazaki)
Fantastically enjoyable, arguably the biggest movie surprise of the year. How in the world does a movie that cost $15 million have better computer graphics than movies with $200+ million budgets? If nothing else, Godzilla Minus One has completely ruined the notion of me accepting horrible CGI in modern films, simply because, “Well, it just all looks bad.” It doesn’t have to. And that’s just one thing I loved about this movie. So excited to see it in black and white in a few days.

6. Fair Play
Directed by Chloe Domont
My favorite feature film debut of the year. Chloe Domont’s Fair Play is the kind of movie I complain that they don’t make anymore. But here it is, an unflinching look at a modern-day romance, and all the love, sex, fighting, backstabbing, and vicious behavior that can come with it. Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich do an incredibly rare thing in this movie, they convince us that these two people absolutely adore each other, and utterly detest one another. Occasionally at the same time.

5. Poor Things
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
For the past 15 years, Lanthimos has quietly emerged as one of our best living filmmakers. All of his movies feel like they were made by the same person, but I still have never seen anything like them. The man is a genre in and of himself. Poor Things makes for a fantastic double feature with Lanthimos’ breakout film (and still my favorite of his work), Dogtooth. Both movies are about growing up, discovering independence, rejecting the system, and exploring sexuality. But while Dogtooth was confined by a small budget, and therefore limited in its scope, Poor Things soars as high as his imagination will allow. Emma Stone may have given the best performance of 2023 in this film. 

4. Anatomy of a Fall
Directed by Justine Triet
While I was watching Anatomy of a Fall, I couldn’t wait to get home and research the case the movie was based on. Surely there were documentaries, TV shows, podcasts and books detailing this bizarre trial that happened France. Imagine my surprise when I realized that the entire film is a work of fiction, drafted from the minds of life partners Justine Triet and Arthur Harari. Everything matters in this film. Songs playing in the background, words being said, languages being spoken – it all must be accounted for. The attention to detail that went into crafting this original script, and executing it so brilliantly on screen, are just a few reasons why Anatomy of a Fall is deserving of every single Academy Award nomination it received. Period.

3. Killers of the Flower Moon
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Another Marty masterpiece. I loved the film. I loved what it taught me, because I simply had never heard anything about this story. I loved that it reintroduced me to Lily Gladstone, who should certainly be a major force in cinema now. I loved that it gave Robert De Niro a chance to dig into a character to play a complete and utter monster. I loved the mother’s death scene in the film. I think it’s one of the most quietly profound things Scorsese has ever put on film. And, of course, I loved that in a year full of great movie endings, the gently simplicity of Killers of the Flower Moon won the day.
  

2. The Killer
Directed by David Fincher
One of the coolest films David Fincher has ever made, and currently my fourth favorite Fincher film. I saw this movie three weeks in a row in the theater, and then two weeks in a row on Netflix. Se7en will always be the Fincher film I’ve seen the most, but The Killer is definitely going to creep up. Michael Fassbender, welcome back, I’ve missed you greatly.
  

1. Oppenheimer
Directed by Christopher Nolan
For the first time in my adult life, my favorite film of the year is the current front runner to win the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. This has never happened to me. I’ve been in love with movies for my whole life. Because of this, the Oscars are a constant let down that I cannot turn my back on. They are ridiculous, but I am undeniably drawn to them. In my eye, the Oscars almost always get it wrong, so believe me when I say we are in the middle of the strangest Oscar season of my life.

I’m sure people disagree with me, I’m sure plenty of people do not consider Christopher Nolan’s film to be the century-defining cinematic masterpiece that I do. That’s fine. I’m always you. I’m always the person who loves the movie that never has a chance at winning any awards. I still cannot believe that Oppenheimer’s Oscar chances are as locked as many pundits seem to believe, but regardless of the Academy Awards, I have spent two entire days of my life watching this film in the theater. And I regret nothing.



Honorable Mentions
The Artifice Girl (Franklin Ritch)
Beau is Afraid (Ari Aster)
Eileen (William Oldroyd)
Full Time (Eric Gravel, US release)
John Wick 4 (Chad Stahelski)
Magic Mike’s Last Dance (Steven Soderbergh)
Napoleon (Ridley Scott)
Passages (Ira Sachs)
Scream VI (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett)
To Catch a Killer (Damián Szifron)

4 comments:

  1. So far, I've only seen 2 films from your list as my list so far is underwhelming as I missed out on a lot of films while I'm having issues with Netflix over its password sharing as I'm now considering getting my own account from now on just for myself and my mother.

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  2. Alex, thrilled to see you writing again man! Keep it going, miss ya.

    Great list, I haven’t seen KotFM yet, and probably would have ranked Poor Things higher (maybe my movie-of-the-year honestly).

    Let me know if you’re in San Diego anytime soon!

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  3. Great list and a great year for movies. Glad to see you post, too bad blogger isn't what it used to be.

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  4. Happy to see Oppenheimer as your film of the year!

    Mine:
    1. Oppenheimer
    2. Killers of the Flower Moon
    3. Poor Things
    4. May December
    5. The Holdovers
    6. Past Lives
    7. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
    8. The Zone of Interst
    9. Godzilla Minus One
    10. Knock At the Cabin
    7.
    8.
    9.
    10.

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