As s it’s almost February, and the Oscar noms have been announced (and I finally got around to watching PLEASE DON’T DESTROY: THE TREASURE OF FOGGY MOUNTAIN), I’m finally posting my 10 Top movies (and some spillover) from 2023.
This has been a much better year for film than any of the last several, since before the Pandemic actually, so it was an easier time making these picks. Like a number of my choices, the first one was a movie that surprised me with how much I liked it.
1. DREAM SCENARIO (Dir. Kristoffer Borgli) Nicholas Cage’s 11,875th film is one of his best, featuring an timely, inventive premise in which Cage’s schlubby college professor starts showing up in many people’s dreams, giving a new layer to going viral. It’s a profoundly cringy experience that I bet will stay with me longer than most of the other movies on this list. Read my review: When Nicholas Cage Dreams Become Nicholas Cage Nightmares (11/30/23).
2 KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON (Dir. Martin Scorsese)
Master movie-maker Marty made a corker of a three and a half-hour thriller about the Osage Reign of Terror in early 1920’s Oklahoma set to the late, great Robbie Robertson’s superbly subtle, bluesy score, which should get him a posthumous Oscar (I'm not going to predict anything yet though). And the powerful film features a career best Leonardo DiCaprio, and a more invested than he has been lately, Robert De Niro together again, for the very first time (they worked together before in A BOY’S LIFE, but this is their first film under Scorsese’s direction together (DiCaprio has been in six Scorsese films; De Niro’s tally is 10). Read the Film Blog Review (10/19/23).
3. OPPENHEIMER (Dir. David Nolan)
Nolan’s epic biopic of nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, played by Cillian Murphy, wowed the world in the wake of the crazy BARBENHEIMER movement by being a three-hour biopic about a scientist that grossed $955. Robert Downey Jr. is a lock for his portrayal of a political rival of our rail thin lead is a lock for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, but with 13 noms, this film has a good chance of sweeping. Read my review: Christopher Nolan's OPPENHEIMER Is Kind Of A Big Deal (7/19/23)
4. THE HOLDOVERS (Dir. Alexander Payne)
Payne rebounds from the disappointing DOWNSIZING, with this charming, and very amusing early ‘70s-set dramedy with Paul Giamatti (for his second collaboration with Paybe after the superb SIDEWAYS) as a classics professor at a New England boarding school that has to baby-sit a few students (mostly the talented newcomer Dominic Sessa) who are stuck on campus during the holidays. Da’vine Joy Randolph definitely deserves her Supporting Actress nom for work here as school’s head cook, who’s grieving over son who just died in Vietnam, and the other four noms are worthy too, so this is one I hope more people seek out.
5. ANATOMY OF A FALL (Dir. Justine Triet)
|The DVD screener of the first film I watched on New Year's Day, 2024
Oscar Best Acrtress nominee Sandra Hüller did double duty this last year in two majorly recognized films as she’s in this French courtroom drama, and Jonathan Glazer’s excellent THE ZONE OF INTEREST. Here she nails her role as a stressed writer trying to prove her innocence in her husband’s death, and the screenplay by Triet, and Arthur Harari keeps us guessing as it goes through gripping court proceedings. Like #4, this also got five Oscar noms, and shouldn’t be missed.
6. GODZILLA MINUS ONE (Dir. Takashi Yamazaki)
Now this was a complete surprise as the prospect of another Godzilla movie was not the most enticing prospect, but the 37th entry in the series that started 70 years ago, is an amazing, gripping action adventure motion picture that won me over early on with its engaging drama about Japan recovering from World War II, and having to band together to fight this nuclear-radiation created reptilian monster that is more convincingly depicted (thanks to state-of-the-art CGI) than ever before. I certainly agree with Keven Smith that it’s the best Godzilla movie ever.
7. MAY DECEMBER (Dir. Todd Haynes)
This immaculately-made duel of a drama between Julianne Moore, as a woman who did time for the second-degree rape of a 13-year old, but 20 years later is married to the man who was that boy; and Natalie Portman as an actress who is visiting the couple at their lavish Savannah, Georgia home, for research for a film where she’ll play Moore’s character. The compelling narrative, with its tasty twists and all, helps it stand with Haynes finest work including VELVERT GOLDMINE, I’M NOT THERE, and CAROL.
8. PAST LIVES (Dir. Celine Song)
Another surprise here as a Oscar Best Picture contender, and as a movie that I liked enough to make the list, as this a small movie about a relationship between two childhood friends from South Korean who contain their spark, mostly online as they live far away from each other into adulthood. It’s a of unrequited love with naturalistic performances by Greta Lee, and Teo Yoo, with John Magaro putting in a nicely sensitive side character to the couple as Lee’s understanding husband. However, I doubt this will win anything Oscar-wise other than many viewers hearts.
9. BEAU IS AFRAID (Dir. Ari Aster)
My placing of this weird ass A24 surrealist tragicomedy horror film (that’s what Wikipedia’s calling it so let’s go with that) shouldn’t be read as a recommendation or a warning or well, anything but that I couldn’t deny its hold on my troubled soul. It’s a grotesque, stressful, and just plain f-ed up story about Joaquinn Phoenix of a man living a hellish existence, who is going on a trip to his mother’s, but chaotic circumstances make his journey a nightmare. If you’re only going to see one Joaquin Phoenix 2023 movie, make sure it’s this and not NAPOLEON.
10. ALBERT BROOKS: DEFENDING MY LIFE (Dir. Rob Reiner)
The life, and career of one of my all-time comedians, Albert Brooks, is explored over lunch with his best friend, Rob Reiner in this HBO biodoc that is so packed with great footage of Brooks’ legendary variety, and talk show appearances from the late ‘60s-‘70s that it should be mandatory viewing for aspiring comics. Brook’s classic comedies (like REAL LIFE, MODERN ROMANCE, and LOST IN AMERICA) are insightfully given discussion, with one of its best segments being about the film that inspired this film’s title, DEFENDING YOUR LIFE . A stand out moment, is when Brook's wife since 1997, Kimberly, says of her first wanting to meet him because of that movie,
THE ZONE OF INTEREST (Dir. Jonathan Glaser)
AMERICAN FICTION (Dir. Cord Jefferson)
TALK TO ME (Dirs. Danny and Michael Philippou)
Some franchise films I thought were better than okay:
SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE (Dirs. Joaquim Dos Santos,Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson)
JOHN WICK 4 (Dir. Chad Stahelski)
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART ONE (Dir. Christopher McQuarrie) This film's title really needs a colon.
And finally, yes, it’s far from a great movie, but it’s still one of the most notable, and memorable films of 2023:
BARBIE (Dir. Greta Gerwig)
Okay, I’m done.