The Top 11 Films of 2023
The past year has been a time of upheaval and big changes at the movies. Silly, childish characters created strictly for playtime fantasies came to life and struck box office gold in both Barbie and Sound of Freedom, while a collective Kryptonite was found for superheroes in the form of unexpected public apathy. Most of this occurred as movies were in theaters and streaming online while their stars and scribes were on the picket lines.
As the year comes to a close and we head toward 2024, it’s time to present my entirely subjective choices for the Top 11 Films of 2023.
All of Us Strangers
Director: Andrew Haigh
Film 4 and Blueprint Pictures
Poignant, powerful and never manipulative, this mesmerizing fantasy drama may be the most emotional film in recent memory. In contemporary London, a lonely gay man named Adam (Andrew Scott, Sherlock, Fleabag) is struggling to move his life forward when he suddenly decides to revisit his childhood home. Adam arrives to find his mother (Claire Foy, First Man) and father (Jamie Bell, Snowpiercer) existing in a sort of limbo, stuck in time and unchanged from the moment he last saw them three decades ago before they were killed in an accident. Andrew Haigh (Weekend, Lean on Pete) created a modern masterpiece that speaks profoundly on the subjects of grief, love and the things we can’t hold onto as well as those we can’t let go.
Director: Cord Jefferson
T-Street Productions and 3 Arts Entertainment
Fiercely funny and supremely smart, this spot-on satire rests heavily on a masterful lead performance by the great Jeffrey Wright (The Batman, Westworld). Wright plays Thellonious “Monk” Ellison, a novelist who is fed up with being pigeonholed as a Black artist rather than simply an artist. Monk thinks he’s playing a clever little joke on an industry that rewards pandering, writing a deliberately outrageous book under a pen name. The joke is on everyone—including Monk—when the book becomes a bestselling national sensation, and Monk’s world is turned upside down. American Fiction has the audience laughing at it one minute and feeling that the movie is laughing at them the next. It’s an audacious and provocative film that will leave you with a lot to talk about—if you’re not too afraid to do so.
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret
Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
The beloved novel by Judy Blume comes to life in this vibrant, pitch-perfect adaptation from the director of The Edge of Seventeen. Abby Ryder-Fortson (Ant-Man) shines as Margaret, an 11-year-old girl adjusting to her family’s abrupt move out of state, her budding womanhood and questions of faith. Sensitive, humorous and sophisticated, this Margaret is a prayer answered.
Director: Greta Gerwig
Perhaps the most unlikely work of art of the century so far, Greta Gerwig’s existential exploration of gender stereotypes, the expectations they place on us and their impact on self-esteem is as deep and insightful as mainstream entertainment can be. As moving as it is laugh-out-loud hilarious, Barbie may be the most memorable match of director to material that we’re likely to see in a long time.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Director: James Mangold
The intrepid archeologist played by Harrison Ford first pulled me into the world of magic and adventure inside a darkened theater at age seven back in 1981, and this final trip around the world together was deeply personal for both of us. James Mangold‘s funny and touching time-travel tale is both a joyful journey into the past and a melancholy—yet hopeful—commentary on accepting the challenges of the present in order to preserve hope for a brighter future.
Killers of the Flower Moon
Director: Martin Scorsese
Sikkelia Productions and Appian Way Productions
Scorsese’s masterful true crime story shines a light on the monsters lurking in the darkness of capitalism and colonialism, and the film is a towering achievement. The underlying message of both Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone’s characters—that you can’t trust anyone if you’re willing to lie to yourself—has never been expressed more eloquently.
Directors: Amanda McBaine, Jess Moss
Lightbox and Mile End Films
In 2018, American missionary John Allen Chau went on a clandestine mission to introduce Christianity to the isolated Sentinelese people of the Andaman Islands. He never returned, and his body has not been recovered. A riveting documentary feature, The Mission mixes interviews, stock footage and animation to tell a fascinating and tragic story. It’s also a deep dive into the complexities of devotion to faith, the impact of religious colonialism and ultimately the question of what responsibility to our fellow humans really means.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Syncopy, Inc. and Atlas Entertainment
While conventional wisdom tells us that a talky, three-hour biopic budgeted at $100 million that doesn’t feature a rock star should have been the biggest bomb of the summer. Instead, the genius of Christopher Nolan as a storyteller and a promoter made Oppenheimer a film of remarkable significance—and not just at the box office. This timely, cautionary tale about using science and power wisely speaks with urgency and might, and it may have surpassed The Dark Knight as the defining film of a directing career that has left an indelible impact on the medium.
Director: Celine Song
CJ ENM and Killer Films
A haunting exploration of romance, friendship, attachment and the different directions that life takes us in, Celine Song’s story of childhood friends from South Korea reconnecting 24 years later is meticulously shot, beautifully acted and moving beyond words. Past Lives captures the joy and heartbreak of life, love and loss in a way that will stick with me forever.
Director: Pablo Berger
Arcadia Motion Pictures and Noodles Productions
Weird, whimsical and wonderful, this dialogue-free animated film hails from Spain and France and takes place in America, though its charms are universal. A lonely dog, living alone in an apartment in Manhattan, orders a kit through the mail to build his own robot. These two friends bond instantly, dancing their way through life and into our hearts until one night, on a trip to the beach, they become separated and must find a way back to each other. Robot Dreams is deceptively simple and joyfully made, yet its themes of loneliness, longing and the quest for inner peace are surprisingly resonant.
The Zone of Interest
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Fim4 and JW Films
The Höss family finds an idyllic existence in the beautiful dream house afforded by their father’s plum job. The position? Rudolph Höss (Christian Friedel, Babylon Berlin) is the Nazi Commandant of the Auschwitz death camp, and this happy home is set up right next door to hell on Earth. Sandra Hüller (Anatomy of a Fall) is mesmerizing as Hedwig, a wife and mother who truly believes she’s living a well-deserved dream come true and won’t give it up for anything. Lush gardens, blooming flowers and a majestic stream fill the foreground of Glazer’s camera, as the smoke from the furnace and the screams and gunshots remain ever-present in the background. The Zone of Interest is a sobering treatise on the causal nature of evil— an unforgettable experience.