The Best and Worst Movies of 2023

2023 was a truly great year for cinema, the best since 2019. We got so many gifts, even if those weren’t reflected in the top-grossing movies of the year. Read on as I celebrate my favorites.

10. Past Lives (dir. Celine Song)
A beautiful movie that refuses to make its characters heroes or villains. The paths we take unfold in different ways. Wondering if a different path – in the past or the future – could be better (or just different) is all too human. But few movies have ever captured such inexpressible feelings. It might have the ending of the year, too. (Though it faces stiff competition from my top two films.)

9. All of Us Strangers (dir. Andrew Haigh) 
The first film in several years that made me cry big, ugly tears. Andrew Scott finally gets a lead role worthy of his talents as Adam, a writer still grappling with his parents’ deaths. A new love (Paul Mescal) brings some light into his melancholy existence, but the lines between reality, fiction and hallucination begin to blur, and Adam must grab onto what’s real. Of all the new movies I wish I could have talked about with my late uncle – who passed away in 2020 – this is easily No. 1.

8. How to Blow Up a Pipeline (dir. Daniel Goldhaber)
Once you accept the reality that fossil fuel companies commit crimes against all of us every single day, any crimes committed against them are absolutely justified. This sort of radical thinking might be completely foreign to most people, but it’s in the bones of the ragtag group of saboteurs in this thrilling adaptation of a philosophical manifesto. It’s rare for a scripted American movie with politics this far left to ever see the light of day. That would be cause for celebration on its own, but the movie also Trojan horses its POV inside a crackerjack heist movie. You could easily show this to a relative and get a good discussion going.

7. Godzilla Minus One (dir. Takashi Yamazaki)
The year’s best blockbuster came not from Hollywood, but from Japan. While U.S. audiences mostly rejected the slate of hideous, flat comic book adaptations, they embraced this astonishingly good prequel. Everything missing from our big tentpoles could be found here: a compelling story, characters we care about, and thoughtfully deployed VFX. Hopefully the filmmakers working on the next batch of big movies takes note.

6. Oppenheimer (dir. Christopher Nolan)
When you give a director like Nolan carte blanche to make a historical film, he’s going to go all out. No boring History Channel storytelling. He’s going to take inspiration from Oliver Stone’s JFK and make three hours go by in a snap. Similar to that epic, exacting accuracy is not the goal but dramatic heft and narrative movement. Hopping back and forth in time, he gives us a portrait of one of the most important yet unknowable figures of the 20th Century. Or at least as complete a portrait as possible.

5. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (dirs. Joaqium Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson)
Finds a way to take everything dazzling and innovative about the first movie and kick it up a notch. Take as much time as you need for the sequel, fellas!

4. Asteroid City (dir. Wes Anderson)
Yet another Wes Anderson magic trick: He presents us with another perfectly composed world with a stellar cast, making us think with its brief running time and big laughs that it’s just a silly trifle. Wrong. There’s so much rich subtext – about death, fear, performance, control and faith – that immediately puts this among the director’s greatest films.

3. Anatomy of a Fall (dir. Justin Triet)
The thorniest legal drama since Reversal of Fortune, which raises more questions than answers (namely “What the hell is going on in the French court system?”). Sandra Huller – who also starred in my No. 1 movie of the year – never tips her hand about what actually happened the day her husband died. Instead, she forces us to sit with an incredible range of emotions over the course of the film.

2. Killers of the Flower Moon (dir. Martin Scorsese)
While some of Scorsese’s past movies could have been accused of glorifying their criminal protagonists’ misdeeds, there’s absolutely no mistaking who the villains are here. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkhart may be pushed to do evil by his uncle (Robert De Niro), but he’s complicit in his own downfall, destroying his family and marriage in the process. But the movie rightfully belongs to Lily Gladstone as the strong-willed Mollie, who perseveres through unspeakable atrocities. The movie’s divisive ending is an admission from Scorsese that he’s an imperfect vessel for the story of the Osage, but he still magnifies their voices as best he can.

1. The Zone of Interest (dir. Jonathan Glazer)
A Holocaust drama that’s all the more horrifying because of what it doesn’t show. Glazer’s bold adaptation of Martin Amis’s novel makes your stomach churn without any extremism. A woman trying on a fur coat, a family having a birthday party, even a quiet smoke break. All of these simple moments stand in sharp contrast to what’s happening literally on the other side of the wall. The ending pulls no punches yet does so without emotion, a rare feat few filmmakers could pull off.

American Fiction (dir. Cord Jefferson)
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (dir. Kelly Fremon Craig)
Barbie (dir. Greta Gerwig)
Beau Is Afraid (dir. Ari Aster)
The Holdovers (dir. Alexander Payne)
John Wick: Chapter 4 (dir. Chad Stahelski)
The Killer (dir. David Fincher)
Kokomo City (dir. D. Smith)
Leave the World Behind (dir. Sam Esmail) | Knock at the Cabin (dir. M. Night Shyamalan)
May December (dir. Todd Haynes)
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (dir. Christopher McQuarrie)
Poor Things (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
Saltburn (dir. Emerald Fennell)
Showing Up (dir. Kelly Reichardt)
Skinamarink (dir. Kyle Edward Ball)

Afire (dir. Christian Petzold)
BlackBerry (dir. Matt Johnson)
The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (dir. William Friedkin)
El Conde (dir. Pablo Larraín)
Enys Men (dir. Mark Jenkin)
Ferrari (dir. Michael Mann)
Lynch/Oz (dir. Alexandre O. Philippe)
Napoleon (dir. Ridley Scott)
Passages (dir. Ira Sachs)
The Royal Hotel (dir. Kitty Green)

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (dir. Peyton Reed)
Haunted Mansion (dir. Justin Simien)
The Last Voyage of the Demeter (dir. André Øvedal)
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 (dir. Nia Vardalos)
Yelling Fire in an Empty Theater (dir. Justin Zuckerman)

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