Top 10 Films of 2023

The year 2023 has been officially over for a couple of months now, so that means it is that time of the year to list my top ten films. I like to wait a couple of months into the new year so I actually have a chance to see most of what came out in December plus any great picture I might have missed. This has been a hard year for me to settle on just 10. Only my top 3 feel like they are cemented down and locked in.  I like to give honorable mentions as well, but these films on my honorable mention list at one time recently were in my top ten. There are films like The Teachers’ Lounge, which is in my honorable mentions, but could skyrocket up to number 4 on any given day. Only my top 3 feel locked in. So I highly recommend seeing the honorable mentions. I select my top 10 movies based on a combination of my enjoyment of watching them, how much they moved or impacted me, how well they are made, and how often I have thought about them after seeing them. There are still films I haven’t seen, so who knows what could’ve changed if I had, but these lists need to be made. So without further ado:

Honorable Mentions 

The Teachers’ Lounge, Dream Scenario, A Thousand and One, Nyad, Beau Is Afraid, Air, Poor Things, Saltburn

Top 10 Films of 2023

10. Talk to Me - Link

This Australian film actually released in 2022, but didn’t hit the United States until summer of 2023. So I am going to count it for purposes of this list. The film follows teenager Mia who is still grieving the loss of her mother. She goes to a party with friends where host Hayley pulls out what looks like an amputated hand in plaster. You are supposed to hold onto the hand and then say, “Talk to me.” Immediately upon saying it, the person holding the hand sees a spirit across from them. They become possessed while the other party goers laugh, video and interrogate the spirit. These are just fun party tricks until Mia’s mother appears. Mia now finds herself wanting more so she can talk to her mom. The film is to drugs as It Follows is to sex. 

9. The Boy and the Heron - Link

Hayao Miyazaki retired in 1997 after Princess Mononoke. And again in 2001 after Spirited Away. And again in 2013 after the animated bio pic The Wind Rises. Fortunately, he once again has broken retirement to give us another animated classic, The Boy and the Heron, formerly titled “How to Live.” The film follows young Mahito after his mother dies in a Tokyo bombing during World War II. His father moves them both to the countryside where he has married Mahito’s mother’s younger sister. She is with child. Mahito finds himself consumed with rage and then stumbles upon a magical world that might hold his new stepmother’s life in the balance. A beautiful film. Here’s to Miyazaki never retiring. 

8. Barbie - Link

This film has been gestating for quite a while (not unlike doll Midge’s unborn). Notably, it had Amy Schumer attached as the title role at one time. But it was Greta Gerwig who pushed this film to the finish line. Her vision for the film never falters. From a script she wrote with Noah Baumbach, to her knowing direction with actors, it is clear that Gerwig knows exactly what she wants to say and how to say it. Not many directors would be able to do a film grounded in realism acting like Ladybird, then move to a form of period acting in Little Women, then to the stylized comedy of Barbie. Gerwig’s knowledge of being an actress can be seen in her direction of actors, similar to Clint Eastwood. And Ryan Gosling’s supporting role as Ken is the best scene-stealing performance since Ledger’s turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight.

7. The Zone of Interest - Link

Sandra Hüller’s second film on this list is about the compromises a marriage goes through to achieve desired goals. However, this film follows the Hoss family. The patriarch Rudolph is a Nazi commandant of Auschwitz, and his family’s backyard fence shares a wall with the concentration camp grounds. Rudolf and his wife Hedwig were teenagers who dreamed of a nice house and other luxuries. This isn’t a film that is sympathetic towards them. The documentary style of filming keeps you as an observer, not an empathizer. This is a cold look at how people have compromised their morality for a living and what that realistically looks like. 

6. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse - Link

Most of us might be tired of the multiverse at this point. It is overplayed, and usually involves lazy writing more reliant on cameo gimmicks to please an audience instead of clever dialogue or interesting plotting. This film, however, is the sequel to the great film that made the masses talk about multiverses in the first place. Across the Spider-Verse is a rare American animated film that was conceived first as “How to make this a good film,” instead of “How to make a kid’s cartoon sequel.” This shouldn’t be surprising because the first film felt like it had the same process. When a sequel goes into production, you laughably always hear the director (and writers and producers) talk about how they are going more Empire Strikes Back and Godfather Part II on it, but they inevitably churn out Thor: The Dark World. This film delivers on every front, and it is because of its focus on character. You care about Miles and Gwen because the film wants them to grow instead of staying stagnant to be picked up in the same place for the sequel. Studios, unfortunately, sometimes see character growth as a risk instead of the reason why an audience watches in the first place.

5. The Deepest Breath - Link

This Netflix documentary feels like the spiritual sequel to Free Solo. The film follows Alessia Zecchini and Stephen Keenan as their paths cross in the professional free diving world. Free diving is the sport of holding your breath and diving down as far as you can, while also making it back up without going into some sort of seizure or drowning. The film is a true delight from a visual perspective. The one-takes of divers diving from above water, to the light blues of the ocean, to the complete blacks are truly haunting and beautiful. You can’t help but hold your breath with them, adding to the real tension as to whether or not this diver is going to make it as they surpass your lung capacity a long time ago.

4. Killers of the Flower Moon - Link

Martin Scorsese continues his legendary output of not just quantity but quality. Killers of the Flower Moon joins his other recent films The Irishman and Silence as some of his most critically praised films. I would like to call attention to the other part of a long Martin Scorsese collaboration, Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s frequent editor way back to 1967 with Who’s That Knocking at My Door. These films, along with Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Casino, The Departed and so many more, would not be the same films without her. This is one of cinema history’s greatest partnerships, and we should take a moment to admire the greatness of these two. 

3. Infinity Pool - Link 

Brandon Cronenberg’s second film (after the underappreciated Possesor) cements the fact that he is a confident and more-than-capable storyteller. Infinity Pool is perhaps the most biting horror film to recently come out on the themes of privilege and morality. But it’s also about art and self-worth, sex and the things we want and truly desire. It’s a film that really leaves you guessing where it is going and thinking “What am I seeing?”

2. Anatomy of a Fall - Link

How well can we know anyone? How well can you know your spouse? Your parents? Justine Triet’s film on paper may seem like a film analysis of a marriage that you have seen before, but I assure you it is not. The element of dissecting a marriage through murder trial proceedings brings a very clinical look that wisely keeps any melodrama at bay. The extensive court scenes are novel to cinema, and I struggle to immediately think of a film with a longer extended court sequence, let alone multiple ones. Missing this film would also mean missing the best performance of the year from Sandra Hüller. 

1. Oppenheimer - Link

Christopher Nolan’s new film is so good that it brings hope to the state of Hollywood in general. A three hour bio pic about nuclear physicists talking about, you guessed it, nuclear physics captivated audiences everywhere. Hollywood previously used IMAX cameras only for epic action sequences or huge vistas. Nolan has now used them for closeups of his lead actor in moments of silence, bringing an intimacy never before seen in such a grand cinema ratio. An actual reason to be in the theatre instead of streaming on your phone. I’m not one who believes box office numbers mean anything of quality, but to see this kind of film dominate the box office in such a way (without a multiverse in sight) shows that an audience cares for smart filmmaking and good writing. And that the Hollywood system should be more trustful of real directing auteurs and the audience. 

Thomas Leverton
Thomas Leverton