Tuesday, December 26, 2023

The Ten Best Movies Of 2023

Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver
It’s that time of year again. 2023 has wound down, the holidays, whatever that looks like for you, are here, and this is the natural moment to look back at the last 12 months and talk about the best movies of the year.


As always, there are people moaning this was a terrible year for movies. And, as always, those people are so horribly, horribly wrong and either don’t know where to look or simply didn’t. Because 2023 was another fantastic year for movies big and small. With that in mind, here are my ten best movies of 2023. (Actually it’s 12 movies, two series, and a few dozen honorable mentions, but a round number sounds better.)

[Related Reading: The 15 Best Movies of 2022]


For clarity, I use the term best here in a subjective way. Art isn’t a competition, ranking movies is silly, and saying one or the other is objectively better than another is a futile exercise. (No matter what anyone claims, these lists entirely boil down to personal preference.) So, when I say best, I really mean favorite. These are the films that moved me, spoke to me, or otherwise tickled my fancy in one way or another throughout 2023. Make of them what you will.

[Related Reading: The 10 Best Movies of 2021]


Also as usual, I suck at the whole ranking thing, so the order is dictated in large part by when a particular title occurred to me. If you want, you can probably look at the first three and think of them as my one, two, three for the year. After that, however, things become even more arbitrary.

[Related Reading: The 10 Best Movies of 2020]


Without further ado, here we go.

how to blow up a pipeline
How to Blow Up a Pipeline


If you imagined a movie titled How to Blow Up a Pipeline is about a group of people blowing up an oil pipeline, congratulations, that’s the plot in a nutshell. If you also imagined this film has a specific political stance, you would again be correct. But Cam director Daniel Goldhaber’s latest avoids being a blunt, bludgeon-you-over-the-head political screed. In my review I call it “a propulsive ticking-clock potboiler” and “a character-driven eco-thriller.” At times it plays like a heist movie, like a direct-action Oceans movie. This is powerful, urgent, pissed off filmmaking.

jeffrey wright in american fiction
American Fiction


Positioned as a pointed satire on writing, the publishing industry, race, and more, American Fiction uses that framework to deliver a deeply moving portrait of a fractured family in crisis and a drama about damaged children watching a loved one sink into dementia. A deft balance of funny and weighty, this is a hell of a feature debut from writer/director Cord Jefferson as he juxtaposes wild cackles of laughter against punch-you-in-the-gut emotion. The cast is phenomenal—I nominated Jeffrey Wright, Sterling K. Brown, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Myra Lucretia Taylor for various acting awards—and the result is a movie I haven’t stopped thinking about.

Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri


“Yeah, Hazel, let’s do terrorism.” I saw someone (and can’t for the life of me remember who) describe Emma Seligman’s teen comedy farce Bottoms as if Not Another Teen Movie was filmed like an ‘80s slasher. And that somehow perfectly captures the tone in my opinion. Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri play high school lesbians who, in a hyper-exaggerated reality, start an after-school fight club to pick up girls. It’s rowdy, raucous, foul-mouthed, and hilarious. Witty and wry, it also features an MVP performance from Marshawn Lynch.

Keanu Reeves in a desert
John Wick: Chapter 4


Everyone’s favorite dog-loving assassin is thinking he’s back again. Considering every other film in this series has landed on one of my best-of lists, it’s no shocker that John Wick: Chapter 4 also has a home here. Is it drastically overlong, needlessly convoluted, overly reliant on tactical sartorial arts, and frequently bogged down by its own mythology? Yes. But the gun-fu action, as expected, totally rips in director Chad Stahelski’s hands. And when you add genre luminaries like Donnie Yen (who plays a character named Caine who has a cane!), Scott Adkins, Clancy Brown, Rina Sawayama, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Marko Zaror, damn do you have my attention and affection. Seriously, Donnie Yen calmly eating a bowl of noodles mid-shootout and pausing to tie his shoe before dismantling dudes is perhaps the most badass cinematic moment of 2023.

lily gladstone in a diner
The Unknown Country


I’m going to pretend all the, incredibly well deserved, praise Lily Gladstone has garnered for Killers of the Flower Moon this year is for The Unknown Country instead. She has a gravity to her on screen that can’t be denied. She plays a young woman on a road trip reconnecting with her past and immersing herself in americana. A dreamy, impressionistic, existential journey through personal histories and the American west, she pauses to explore the people and places you encounter along the way. Quietly affecting, Morrisa Maltz’s film borders on documentary—it often feels like the camera is filming a real road trip and intercutting the captured footage with staged moments, which they did to some degree.

wes anderson's the swan
The Swan


Here’s an odd one to include, a short film. In addition to Asteroid City, Wes Anderson adapted four Roald Dahl short stories for Netflix this year. Most of them are fine. It takes a lot for me to truly love a short, but holy hell The Swan destroyed me. Harrowing, emotionally devastating, inventive, strange, and funny, this is, in my opinion, the best thing Anderson has done since at least Moonrise Kingdom, probably longer. My biggest issue with his recent output is generally that, while his movies have all the stylistic and aesthetic quirks he’s so known for, they lack the emotional heft I find in the likes of Royal Tenenbaums and Life Aquatic. The Swan certainly has all those affectations, but it hits like the director’s best.

margot robbie as barbie


Really? They made a movie about Barbie? And it made a billion-and-a-half dollars? And it’s great? I’m sure someone somewhere expected that, but it wasn’t me. And I’ve rarely been happier to be proven wrong. Greta Gerwig’s imagining of the iconic doll is a clever romp that manages to be both fluffy, candy-colored spectacle at the same time it’s a sharp, insightful examination of gender dynamics, capitalism, American society, and more. Margot Robbie absolutely kills as the title character, Ryan Gosling delivers as Ken, and the stellar supporting cast nails it across the board. The result is so, so fun, and bonus points for causing a world-wide shortage of pink paint.

chris hemsworth
Extraction 2

I feel like people are going to read this and be all, “Extraction 2? Really?” And probably with good reason. This is big, dumb, lunkheaded action in a style and on a scale we don’t often see these days. It also scratches a very particular action itch, and I loved every second of it. Fronted by beefy hunk Chris Hemsworth, we once again find Tyler Rake tear-assing his way through nameless baddies, assisted by his ride-or-die homie Nik (Golshifteh Farahani). I know people love to hate on these movies, but damn, if Netflix wants to continue pumping these out every few years (more of this and The Mother, less of Red Notice and Heart of Stone), I’ll keep tuning in. And in all seriousness, Hollywood, please continue to let former stunt performers direct action movies. 

tom cruise on a motorcycle
Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning Part One


And speaking of slick, big-budget action franchises, no one currently does it bigger or better than Mission: Impossible, back with this latest mouthful of a title. Does Dead Reckoning deliver anything you don’t expect? No. But giant set pieces, twisting intrigue, high-tech espionage, and ludicrous practical stunts is more than enough to satisfy. The key core cast does what they do, and Hayley Atwell is a strong new addition. It’s hard to go wrong with this formula and Christopher McQuarrie and company do not miss. And I know I say this every time, and I mean it every time, I firmly believe Tom Cruise, if he can die, will die filming one of these movies. That’s dedication to entertainment and I salute him for that. I don’t even care that the AI-based plot is total nonsense, that’s how rad these movies are.



There are few cinematic pleasures greater than watching Nazis get blown up, shot in the face, or otherwise brutally eviscerated. And in 2023 nowhere was that as front and center as in Finnish import Sisu. There are just so, so many Nazis blowing up, which easily makes this the feel-good movie of the year. This is how I described it in my review: “If John Wick was a sparse Finnish spaghetti western, one full of brutal, graphic carnage and a grizzled, silent protagonist absolutely eviscerating Nazis, it might look quite a bit like writer/director Jalmari Helander’s Sisu.” I stand by that assessment.

mad cats movie
Mad Cats


I’ve gone back and forth about including this on my list but finally decided to pull the trigger on Reiki Tsuno’s Mad Cats because I’ve been consistently drawn back to it since I first watched it in January. This saga of a layabout slacker, a missing brother, and a pack of anthropomorphized cats on a revenge kick (fueled by “forbidden catnip from ancient times”) is a wild encounter. It’s a puzzling, odd, singular viewing experience that mixes heightened reality, an absurd central premise, and some of the best fight choreography of the year. It’s hard to explain, but it’s an absolute bonkers, off-the-wall blast.

godzilla swims laps
Godzilla Minus One


Between this and Monarch, the King of the Monsters had a hell of a year. The latest installment from Toho takes the franchise back to its OG anti-war roots. It also pulls off something so many of these movies fail to do by delivering compelling, intriguing, emotionally involving human characters. And I love that, even with modern special effects, Godzilla’s general appearance still stays true to his classic guy-in-a-rubber-suit aesthetic. I don’t adore this one, especially as much as many others seem to, but it’s hard to leave a super fun giant monster movie off my list. 

natasha lyonne in poker face
Poker Face


Okay, yeah, this is TV, but I’m going to include Poker Face anyway. It’s my list, I can do what I want. A case-of-the-week mystery series fronted by an unassuming, continually underestimated gumshoe, Rian Johnson and Natasha Leone’s team up may be best described as millennial Columbo. This is like catnip, and I’d happily watch like 15 seasons of Charlie Cale road-tripping across the U.S., meeting colorful characters, and getting embroiled in one mystery after another. With a who’s who of guest stars, this might be the most fun I had watching anything all year.

emma corrin
A Murder at the End of the World


And if Poker Face is millennial Columbo, Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s A Murder at the End of the World may be Gen Z Agatha Christie. Using the And Then There Were None set up of a bunch of strangers mysteriously drawn to a remote location, who begin to die one by one, the team behind The East and Sound of My Voice create an enthralling mystery, intriguing protagonist, and a tech-noir plot that touches on climate change, over reliance on technology, and the debts and loyalties we owe to each other. While it feels like a one-off, I’d love to watch more Darby Hart (Emma Corrin) mysteries, but if this is all we get, I can live with that. 




As happens every year, there are dozens of movies I could easily include on this list. Honestly, if I tried to make it tomorrow, it would likely look very different. And because I’m indecisive at my core and can’t choose just a few movies, here are some honorable mentions. 


These are movies I keep thinking about, coming back to, and can’t quite shake. Most of them could probably replace some of the above titles without much of a stretch. If nothing else, this illustrates how great 2023 was for movies.

unhinged mia goth
There’s a lot to get behind in Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things, which plays something like a Wes Anderson nightmare Frankenstein, though there are a few elements that keep hanging me up. Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool may be the one I ultimately most regret leaving off my main list. I don’t know that it entirely works, but give me unhinged Mia Goth all day. I can’t quite get Todd Haynes’ May December out of my head, but I also haven’t quite fully embraced it. Still, there’s a ton to unpack about how we view celebrity, tabloid voyeurism, control, and much more all viewed through Haynes’ Douglas Sirk-esque lens.

chris pine
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves was an especially pleasant surprise this year, driven by sweeping adventure and the unstoppable charm of its cast. Speaking of delightful surprises, there’s Wonka, a full-on musical that’s a warm hug thanks to Paddington 2 helmer Paul King. (Except for that fat suit shit, which is super cringe and distinctly at odds with the humor and heart of what surrounds it.) Fans of musicals, and quality motion pictures in general, should check out The Color Purple from Burial of Kojo director Blitz Bazawule, which is deeply affecting and a damn fine time. 

Monica came perilously close to making this list thanks primarily to Trace Lysette’s mesmerizing central performance as a trans woman who returns to her hometown to care for her ailing mother, an also excellent Patricia Clarkson. It’s easily my favorite performance this year. A Haunting in Venice finally delivers on the promise of Kenneth Branagh’s late run of Poirot movies. Both creepy and a terrific mystery, if he wants to keep turning out these slick adaptations every few years, count me very much in. Dream Scenario, about Nicolas Cage as a completely unremarkable man who shows up in everyone’s dreams, doesn’t always hold up, especially through the final act. But it’s a strange, intriguing premise and Cage is fantastic.

turtles eating pizza
It’s somewhat rare for me to have an animated movie here, let alone two, but here we are. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is an utter blast with a crazy voice cast, awesome soundtrack, and even better score, and takes the property in fun new directions while still staying true to the heart and soul of the characters. While I like TMNT a bit more on a pure enjoyment level, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a remarkable achievement. The sheer spectacle of the design and animation is truly something special to behold. 

silent night john woo
We’ve already talked about big, glossy action movies, but it was also a banner year for the low-down and dirty corners of the genre. Legend John Woo returned to theaters with Silent Night, a wordless revenge film that feels very much like the iconic director working in the DTV realm. And I am here for that. Speaking of DTV, tactical action hounds got a double dose of William Kaufman this year with The Channel and Shrapnel. Marko Zaror kicks a ton of people in the face in Fist of the Condor, Jesse V. Johnson gets medieval with Boudica: Queen of War, and since watching Ma Dong-seok truck dudes never gets old, The Roundup: No Way Out whips all kinds of ass. We also got Gerald Butler on a plane (partially) in Plane, and if Gerry makes some throwback action trash, you better believe I am watching and loving it.

a child and a dog
As usual, 2023 was also a banger year for horror. And again, people who claim otherwise simply aren’t trying. Ted Geoghegan’s Brooklyn 45 plays like a contained chamber piece about the lingering effects of trauma, strained shared histories, and the ghosts of war. And maybe actual ghosts. Where Evil Lurks may be the most bleak, brutal, and unsettling horror movie of the year. I had both on my list at various times and they probably should have stayed there. (If I’m being honest, part of it is I’m lazy and don’t want to write any longer entries. I know, I’m a bad person.)

Evil Dead Rise transports Deadites from remote rural environs into a ramshackle urban tenement, with gnarly results. Seriously, fuck cheese graters, man. We’ve also got Birth/Rebirth, Huesera: The Bone Woman, Influencer, Talk to Me, The Angry Black Girl and her Monster, and Cobweb, among many others. They Cloned Tyrone gives us an inventive, unusual horror-tinged sci-fi. As does No One Will Save You, Brian Duffield’s near-wordless alien home invasion horror fronted by a wonderful Kaitlyn Dever.


This list could go on forever. (I haven’t even touched on documentaries yet, like the harrowing escape from North Korea doc, Beyond Utopia, or sports docs like Bye Bye Barry and Stephen Curry: Underrated, that both hit a sweet spot for me.) But as it is, this has already spooled out too long, so I’m going to call it here. 


If you feel so inclined, drop your favorite movies of 2023 in the comments below or hit me up on social media. You can also yell at me for my choices if the spirit moves you.

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