The Ten Best Films of 2023
It’s Nolan’s world, we’re just living in it.
CHANGE IS IN THE AIR. For the first time in a very long time—2001, to be exact—three non-sequels sit atop the box office charts. Sure, one of those movies was based on a beloved video game character and one of those movies was based on a beloved toy. (Neither of these movies will be mentioned again in this-here roundup, pardner.) But the third was a three-hour, R-rated historical drama filmed half in black and white with a nine-figure budget and featuring scene after scene after scene of dudes chattin’ with each other. Chattin’ in classrooms, chattin’ in laboratories, chattin’ in Senate hearing rooms. That Oppenheimer exists at all is a minor miracle. That it was a huge hit is a major miracle.
That it’s the best film of the year, and by a fairly wide margin? Well.
That’s just Christopher Nolan for you.
Spoilers, I know. But it’s been a weird year, one in which there’s a very clear best-of-decade candidate and a lot of stuff that’s . . . good. Some of it quite good!
Full disclosure: I’ve yet to see Ferrari or The Zone of Interest; as such, I reserve the right to update this list at some point in the future. I also haven’t seen Aquaman: The Lost Kingdom, but I get the sense I won’t need to make any changes on its behalf.
10. Silent Night
It’s basically John Woo’s Death Wish, an ultra-reactionary lament for civilization in decline, all given the standard Woovian flourishes: fantastic gunplay; a little physical humor; brotherhood in arms; men in crisis. It’s high-concept almost to a fault—our protagonist is shot in the throat following the killing of his son, who gets caught in gangbanger crossfire; neither he, nor almost anyone else speaks as a result—but the concept really emphasizes that this is the logical endpoint of the whole John Woo thing. Balletic violence cocooned within weirdly stark but beautifully gussied-up locations to give viewers the feeling of being sent to some alternate dimension. I didn’t write a full-on review, but we did discuss it on Across the Movie Aisle, and I hope you give the episode a listen. Peter and Alyssa were a little cooler on it than I. But I am right in this, as in all things.
9. Infinity Pool
I’ll be honest: I liked it slightly less on rewatch than I did the first time around. There’s something delightfully . . . chaotic to the comedic underpinnings of Brandon Cronenberg’s look at a life lived without consequences, and some of that delightful chaos is lost on second viewing when we know what’s going to happen. As I mentioned in my review, I think his films feel a bit like the films that average audiences imagine his father, David’s, films to be like, in terms of their absolute visual weirdness. But the visual weirdness complements the moral unease at their heart, so it all works.
8. Talk to Me
There’s something to be said for a pleasingly nasty bit of work, and Talk to Me is unrelentingly mean, to characters primary, secondary, and tertiary. I don’t often flinch from the screen while watching movies, even relatively nasty horror movies, but I flinched a handful of times from what the Philippou brothers were putting up there.
7. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
An unparalleled visual experience, simply in terms of the variety of animated imagery thrown onscreen at the same time.
6. Killers of the Flower Moon
The movie I most expect to move up this list as time goes on and I revisit it once every couple of years. The thing is—and, as I mentioned in my review, this is Scorsese’s intent—that it is deeply repellent, at least in the sense that we have our noses rubbed in the deeply unpleasant nature of the people at the heart of it. Despite all the talk about wanting to “center” the story of the Osage, this is a movie that actually centers their killers and, more importantly, the culture that allowed their murders to take place. Such a story is, by nature and necessity, ugly. And yet. And yet. It is a strikingly, darkly, Coen-esquely funny movie as well. In a way that makes you feel bad even as the guffaws escape your lungs. Capturing that absurd tragicomedy is one of Scorsese’s great gifts.
5. You Hurt My Feelings
I really feel like Tobias Menzies should be getting more love for his turn in this ode to those of us who suffer from debilitating cases of impostor syndrome. The best movie released by A24 this year about female writers living in New York City dealing with marital insecurity! (Ahem.)
4. The Covenant
Of the two movies directed by Guy Ritchie released this year, The Covenant is the best because it is the more profound. It is, unlike most Ritchie pictures, deadly earnest, completely bereft of irony: His story about an Army soldier whose life is saved by an Afghan interpreter and then abandoned to a life of torment at the hands of Taliban thugs is about the debts we owe those who aid us and the damage our failure to repay them does to our very souls, individual and collective.
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3. John Wick Chapter 4
Boy. This is a movie I want to looooove and it is, instead, a movie I only reaaaaaally like. Despite the fact that it has, almost inarguably, the five best action scenes of the year, all in one place. Despite the fact that it’s a fitting philosophical capstone to the series. (Please, I’m begging you Chad Stahelski and Keanu Reeves: Do not make a John Wick 5.) Despite the fact that it has Scott Adkins in a fat suit rocking gold teeth and Donnie Yen playing a blind (again!) swordsman to great effect. I dunno. Everything is like 15 percent too long. A somewhat trimmer version of this movie is vying for best-of-decade status. As it is, it’s just . . . pretty cool. Good for my third-favorite movie of the year! But it feels like there’s a slightly better movie just under the surface.
BlackBerry is a movie that thrives almost entirely on the performance of Glenn Howerton as Jim Balsillie. Howerton is best known as Dennis Reynolds from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and it feels like his whole career on that fantastic FX comedy has been building toward his portrayal of Balsillie: brusque, confident, aggressive, and slightly deranged, the performance has a manic, comic intensity you don’t get without a good decade of training. Of the “produpics” released this year—Air, Tetris, and Flamin’ Hot are also in the mix—BlackBerry is by far the best because it has by far the best character. And I don’t know if that character could have been played by anyone but Howerton.
I’m sorry, I feel like this needs to be repeated: Christopher Nolan made a three-hour, R-rated biopic that’s half in black and white and features nothing but scene after scene of dudes talking to each other and that biopic not only earned enormous critical acclaim but also grossed nearly a billion dollars worldwide. It’s a critical and commercial smash, and for good reason: an intricately written, expertly edited, monumentally scored movie of the first order, the culmination of all the tricks and skills Nolan has amassed over the last two decades combined in one place to devastating effect. It’s by far the best movie of the year and one I’ll be revisiting over and over again.