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Top 20 Films of 2023


This is, without a doubt, the hardest yearly top 20 list I have ever made. I genuinely believe that every single movie on this list is subject to change spots. But the fact that “The Iron Claw” can’t even break the top 20 is a testament to how truly great 2023 was for movies (that movie rocks). Usually, these lists don’t really get to the movies I actually love until about #11 ish. However, I can confidently say I’m truly passionate about every single movie here. Now, even as I’ve been largely absent from writing about movies, I’ve still been watching as much as I can. That being said, for this list, I tried to find the middle ground between the craftsmanship of the film and the rewatchability of it. Things inevitably get dicey as we get further into it as the list changes in my head every other day, but I think at the very least, my top 4 are locked in.

Before we start, I just want to mention that I have a list on Letterboxd that will evolve as I catch up on the stuff I missed. Additionally, if you still think I’m missing a movie, here’s the list of everything I saw in 2023.

Now, after carefully checking over my list of the 2023-released movies I saw this past year, I present to you; The Best Films of 2023. 

#20: Theater Camp by Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman 

If this is the last movie on the list, then we’re operating on a very high level here. I’ve only seen this movie once back when it premiered in January but it’s stayed in my mind ever since. First of all, it features an insane cast of “Booksmart” alums, young actors on the rise, modern musical theater superstars, and of course my beloved Ayo Edebiri of “The Bear”. If that didn’t get me hyped up, the concept of workplace comedy centered around a dying theater camp(kudos for the name, “AdirondACTS”) poking fun at the beautiful yet obscenely odd scene of theater kids. What I expected was a really cool new comedy from actors I enjoyed, and I got that, but I found myself really taken with an ending I actually got a little emotional over. A true must-watch for theater kids…but also a pretty solid movie for people who hate them. It pokes fun at the ridiculousness while also relishing in the oddity of it all. A truly lovely movie.   

#19: Pricilla by Sofia Coppola

Jacob Elordi, I apologize, I was not familiar with your game. An absolute pitch-perfect story for Sofia Coppola to tackle and she knocks it right out of the park. A lavish, lush, and deeply lonely look at the Presley ecosystem and what it’s like to be caught up in it. As beautiful as it is empty, as classy as it is cringy, “Pricilla” is wonderful. I had a lot, and I mean A LOT of apprehensive friend’s opinions about this movie usually involving, “I get the idea, I don’t need to see it.” I find that opinion largely dismissive of one of our most important women directors telling women’s stories far more eloquently than a majority of her contemporaries (barring Greta Gerwig). This film is a true example of how far a great director can take what seems like a simple story and elevate it into the stratosphere. That Chanel Number 5 payoff? Who thinks of that! 

#18: The Killer by David Fincher

This movie might be the best comedy of the year (if you’re a pretentious sicko like myself). David Fincher has returned with what at first seems like a rock-solid, clean action thriller about a hitman on the run after a job gone bad. What we got instead was a scathing self-own on Fincher’s part on his legendary perfectionism on film sets. I’d liken the film to Matt Reeves’ take on “The Batman” in the way that both films are neo-noirs that feature a protagonist that is unbelievably self-serious to the point of parody, narration that seems straight of a 14-year-old boy’s edgy Reddit post, think themselves to be lone-wolves despite a clear yearning for human connection and are not that good at their jobs. Where Bruce Wayne listens to Nirvana’s Something in the Way after a long night, The Killer listens to The Smiths EXCLUSIVELY throughout the film (eleven songs, all The Smiths). Even Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ earwormy synth grunge-pop adjacent beats are traded in for bass-boosted and muffled sound effects instead of songs. All The Killer even does when he’s not being terrible at killing people is eat McDonald’s egg McMuffins (he takes the muffin off, of course) and gas station hard-boiled eggs. Even his literal mantra he constantly repeats is false, “Stick to your plan. Anticipate, don’t improvise. Trust no one. Never yield an advantage. Fight only the battle you’re paid to fight.” Every single sentence is proven wrong in the movie multiple times, incredible stuff. 

#17: Mutt by Vuk-Lungulov Klotz

The only one I’ve actually written about on this list is “Mutt“. Therefore, I won’t be saying too much, but here’s the gist of it: “Mutt” is an unbelievably intimate indie about 24 hours in the life of a Trans-man in NYC. Where a weaker film might be more about coming to terms with what being trans actually is, the film is far more concerned with how this warps our protagonists’ relationships. Sexual, familial, romantic, and social relationships are all deftly tackled in a deeply personal and occasionally comedic way. But most importantly, it’s all very real and true.

#16: May December by Todd Haynes

“May December” is a lot. I’m not even sure where to start. It’s about an actress (Natalie Portman) studying a woman named Gracie (Julianne Moore), who, 23 years ago, had an affair and children with a 13-year-old. What ensues is a film that mocks the very idea of actors, how they overstep, and how pervasive vanity is in the art form. The true star of the film (especially in a truly astounding final act) is Charles Melton as Joe, the young man who is now the same age as when Gracie came on to him. Joe is a father, husband and an emotionally stilted child all while battling two women who only speak in lies and double meanings. You watch as Joe truly realizes that most of his entire life was never his own, his own development as a human being forever in limbo at 13. As fascinating as it is truly horrifying, “May December” is a must-watch.

#15: Blackberry by Matt Johnson

“Blackberry” is my most surprising film of the year. I went in with no knowledge of Matt Johnson’s work and only with a vague knowledge of the Blackberry cellphone and a love of Glenn Howerton’s work on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”. The film blew me away. The amateur handheld camera style filmmaking, a script far more clever and engaging than it ever needed to be, and a show-stopping performance from Howerton. Not only is he absolutely hilarious as a narcissistic, loud, and slightly sociopathic businessman, but once he cements himself into the company, he gives out a staggering amount of energy that catapults the film forward at a breakneck pace until the film’s poignant final shot. 

#14: Rye Lane by Raine Allen-Miller

Rom-coms have been left in the dust in recent years. If one is actually greenlit, it’s not good, is devoid of any style, and thrown directly into the depths of Netflix’s catalog. Or, you get a movie like “Rye Lane”. A film whose heart is as wide as the lenses they shot it on and as short as it is sweet at a breezy 81 minutes. It’s a classic setup: two people meet each other in the wake of their respective breakups, maybe…a new love is in store? However, the film is gorgeously surreal in its presentation of London. The landscape is full of vibrant greens and pinks, when our lovers tell tales of love gone by, they walk through staged reenactments of the story they’re telling. It’s all funny and weird and a much-needed breath of fresh air to a vital genre that really, really needed it. 

#13: The Holdovers by Alexander Payne

“The Holdovers” is a new bonafide Christmas classic. Truly one of the films here that will have real, tangible lasting power over future holiday seasons. With good reason too! Paul Giamatti is delightful as a curmudgeonly, lonely and grumpy Ancient Civ professor. Dominic Sessa, a total newcomer to acting as a whole, comes rocketing through like a seasoned pro, I’d even call him the real heavyweight of the film’s drama. And of course, Da’Vine Joy Randolph is the secret sauce of the movie, tying the whole thing together with unparalleled depth and a specific hard-nosed charm. So much to love here, best watched on cold nights and under a blanket with a bowl of soup (and maybe some Jim Beam for good measure). 

#12: John Wick: Chapter 4 by Chad Stahelski

This movie, however, is best watched with the biggest tub of the most buttery popcorn. It needs a rewatch, but I’m very ready to induct it into the Modern Action Movie Hall of Fame along with “Mad Max: Fury Road”. I’ve always had a love for the previous films, Chapter 2 is probably my favorite one. But this one, my lord. This is easily the most massive the franchise has ever felt and brings an entire world together for a gorgeous bullet ballet that balances the absurdity the films have been leaning into with the tactile approach of the first one. The ridiculousness they’ve approached has been a turn-off for some, but I really think they completely nailed it on this one. The side characters have so many moments to shine that listing my favorites seems like a futile gesture to how they perfectly weave in and out of John’s story. I’m not even sure how to go in-depth about it, there’s simply too much to talk about. A must-see for someone even remotely interested in action filmmaking. 

#11: Spider-man: Across the Spider-verse by Joaquim Dos Santos, Justin K. Thompson, Kemp Powers

Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. In a world where superhero films have turned their back on quality (and in turn, I turned my back on them), Miles Morales pulls me right back in. In the sequel to easily one of the most stylistically influential movies of the 21st century, folks, they did it again. Admittedly, this is a great movie if you’re the type of guy to laugh and point at the screen when they reference IP (me, unfortunately). But, it can balance that with small, delicate scenes of characters just talking. In a movie full of color, alternating art styles, traveling to different universes, fights, chases and more…I think my favorite scenes were Miles and Gwen swinging and catching up with each other and chatting. I love when a movie knows when to shut up and let a moment sit with itself and take in a lovely little moment…because it makes the craziness that much more insane. Anyway, this movie ends with a cliffhanger, and if they do anything else to hurt my son, Miles Morales, I will hurt someone. I will be a danger (Spider) to myself and others. 

#10: Barbie by Greta Gerwig

*insert Kenergy joke here* Easily the most exciting theater experience all year, “Barbie” is a delight. Yes, the theater experience was special because of Barbenhiemer and how packed the theater was compared to every other time I’ve been there in the past few years, but it was something more than that. It wasn’t the amount of people, it was the kinds of people I saw. I saw men and women, children and the elderly. I saw people of every race, community, and culture, people flying solo, people in groups, I saw whole families and I saw a group of friends. I saw every single person I could see, all different in their own beautiful ways. The only thing I saw that connected all of them was the same smile and of course, a ticket to “Barbie”. That’s what this movie is all about, isn’t it? Bringing everyone together in an effort to love more and hate less. Our differences make us all the same, but they also make you, well, you! And you are perfect.

#9: Killers of the Flower Moon by Martin Scorsese

Did someone say togetherness and love? Maybe someone did, but certainly not here. My main man Marty is back with another staggering dissertation on the original sin of American greed. This time, he’s honing in on the Osage murders in Oklahoma. It’s one of those movies that felt 3000 times smarter than me but I never felt talked down to about the subject matter. The story is remarkably simple in writing, but in presentation, it’s just too much to cram in one paragraph. For one, I love how simply the violence is shown. Marty and his longtime editing partner, Thelma Schoonmaker, trade in his signature, anxiety-ridden quick cuts for just holding on a wide of someone committing crimes that spawned America as we know it. And he holds you there, and holds…and holds. He holds you captive to show how clear these crimes are, quite literally in broad daylight sometimes. He quietly leaves you with the thought, “Oh god, no one will help them, no one is going to help these people.” This thought occurs practically immediately and continues to build like a pit in your stomach for the next few hours. A grueling watch, but intentionally so. You slowly realize that in the face of true evil, complicity is an evil in itself. As told in my favorite final scene of any movie this year, Martin Scorsese is complicit too, and so are you. 

#8: Poor Things by Yorgos Lanthimos 

I’ve had a crush on Emma Stone since…I think “The Amazing Spider-Man”? I’m not sure when, exactly, but that’s all to say that my long and storied parasocial relationship with one of my favorite working actors continues and is arguably even stronger after “Poor Things”. Stone plays Bella Baxter, whose unborn child’s brain was transplanted into her own, therefore making her a newborn inside the body of a fully grown woman. If you’re a Yorgos fan you’d know that this is light fare in terms of conceptual insanity, but this is arguably the best movie he’s ever made. The film is dreamy and uncomfortably surreal in a way that’s overwhelming but not nearly enough that you can’t get emotionally wrapped up in it. It’s heady nature in the screenplay brought into your soul through the best ensemble of actors possible. Bella Baxter is easily one of the most fascinating protagonists of this year. Watching a human grow into her own body and find her place among “normal” people provides a mirror into our own lives that I never really anticipated. A liberating film about what it is to be a woman, yes, but really, a movie about the fragility of the human experience in the most intimate way possible. If you are emotionally unstable and did not think “Barbie” was a good enough representation of the female experience, you’ll love this. I certainly did.  

#7: Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One by Christopher McQuarrie 

My taste in things is pretty good, I think. I try to have an educated opinion on art and its commentary on the human condition. But, really, at my core, I’m just secretly a 12-year-old who wants to see people fight each other with swords and guns and do car chases and crash trains and have the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen in my life be really cool and fight bad guys. Therefore, “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” worked absolute wonders. Haley Atwell delivers a top-tier action blockbuster performance. Tom Cruise jumps off a cliff. Vanessa Kirby has a certain moment in act three that just…it’s so good. Tom Cruise jumps off a cliff. Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust is still the best character in the franchise. Tom Cruise jumps off a cliff. Pom Klementieff. Anti-AI! TOM CRUISE JUMPS OFF A CLIFF. Not normal about this movie.

#6: Godzilla: Minus One by Takashi Yamazaki

I think everyone’s real surprise of the year was this one. Now, I wouldn’t call myself a Godzilla expert, but I know why this story is culturally important beyond the iconography of a big lizard destroying Tokyo again. I love the og 54’ Godzilla but can’t bring myself to remotely care for the rest of it (haven’t seen Shin Godzilla yet). But this, this is what I’m talking about. The human characters we make fun of in American Godzilla attempts are actually the best part of this movie. It’s all about a malevolent force out of the average person’s hands and what we do in the face of it. It’s about not dying for a cause, but living for the future. Nothing outweighs the cost of human lives, and this movie is a testament to that. In this movie, there is a time to laugh, a time to be scared, a time to gaze upon the screen in awe, a time to think, and yes, most definitely a time to cry. It’s blockbuster filmmaking exactly the way you want it. The PERFECT Godzilla entry point for people the world over. It’s now the highest-grossing Japanese live-action film in the US of all time, and numbers certainly don’t sell it short. Don’t miss out.

#5: Anatomy of a Fall by Justine Triet

A wife is accused of murdering her husband in a picturesque chalet in the French Alps, the only witness is her blind son. If you were a studio executive, how do you not greenlight that immediately? Where most court/investigation dramas would have a solid conclusion by the end, Anatomy is different, you have zero idea whether or not the wife committed the crime. The movie gives you all the angles, all the perspectives, all the stories, all the evidence that is available to the court, there’s a verdict…and then it’s left to you. Did she do it? The subjectivity of the movie is the thing though. Some characters, like the son, have a motive to lie, he wants to save his mom…but also does he even know what he only heard? Is he in denial? Is it easier to live with a murderer if it means he gets to keep his only remaining family? Fascinating text where a character will say a single line and your entire view completely flips. There’s only one right answer obviously, and the movie gives you every option, but it doesn’t make the choice for you. That’s all up to you. The best script of the year.

#4: How to Blow Up a Pipeline by Daniel Goldhaber

An incendiary, angry, deeply wounded movie that was made with so much passion that will fully radicalize you by the end. “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is an indie film that is adapted from a Nonfiction manifesto of the same name detailing non-violent eco-terrorism against large corporations contributing to carbon emissions. Daniel Goldhaber picked it up and turned it into an “Ocean’s Eleven”-type, heist-style movie about a group of eight people setting out to…well…blow up an oil pipeline in West Texas. The movie does not stop moving, it begins with the team beginning the operation and you are tasked with picking up the details along the way. It keeps this going until one fiery finale. Don’t be mistaken that it doesn’t take character for granted as it’s one of the shining points of the film. As we go along, we receive flashbacks on each member of the team’s backstory, some more noble than others, some more down with the cause than others…and some might be FBI moles from the start. Unlike what some right-wing articles might make you believe, it’s less teaching you how to actually blow up a pipeline, and more lighting the sparks for a conversion that we need to all start having as climate change gets even worse. Then again, if I was a conservative politician and I saw this movie? I too would have an alert made from the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate.

#3: The Boy and the Heron by Hayao Miyazaki

Talk to literally anyone, and I truly mean anyone in the animation community and ask them who the GOAT of animation is? They will tell you, without hesitation, that it is Hayao Miyazaki. There is not a shadow of a doubt. The Shakespeare of his medium, the DaVinci of his medium, the Beethoven of his medium. Can not overstate how monumental his impact is. In his 12 feature film career, he hasn’t missed, and “The Boy and the Heron” is no exception. The film is about a boy who loses his mother in the attacks on Tokyo during World War II and is forced to move to the countryside… but happens upon a mysterious bird who says he can get his mother back. “The Boy and the Heron” is a deeply rich text on the mythology built around Miyazaki, survivor’s guilt, legacy, family, choosing art over love(or love over art?) and about 300 other things. But like literally every other Miyazaki movie, the biggest creative intent is that the movie is what you want to get out of it, nothing more, nothing less.  

#2: Oppenheimer by Christopher Nolan 

Not even sure where to start, let me just count the ways. It’s the technical achievement of the year by far. This is Christopher Nolan’s best movie by far (but I don’t say that lightly). I’ve seen it twice in IMAX, once in my living room, and played it over 300 times in my mind. The fastest 3 hours I’ve ever had at the movies. Cillian Murphy is a revelation, Damon just rocks, Blunt kicks the door down, RDJ is better than ever, and Josh Hartnett is just a lovely little lad. The script is airtight and the direction is as virtuosic as Nolan has ever been. I didn’t know he had it in him to dip into surrealism, but here we are. Nolan is still having a little trouble writing women and I’ll hold him to it but this isn’t new ground here. His trademark, matter-of-fact dialogue is always very masculine in a way I can’t really put my finger on exactly so I’ll chalk it up to that. Honestly, I just can’t believe how rewatchable a movie like this is, it shouldn’t be, on paper, it just should not. But here we are. Oppenheimer. Wow. I wish I could be as eloquent as the other things I’ve said but much like every time I’ve seen it, I’m thinking of everything, but I’m left virtually speechless beyond just listing things. My #1 however…

#1: Past Lives by Celine Song

I’ll keep this brief, I really will try. I’ll start with a Letterboxd review that hit particularly home for me; “”In another life” type narratives are literally psychological warfare” Yeah, yeah they really are. This movie knocked me out. Maybe it’s because romance is a little more conceptual than reality at the moment (call me). Maybe it’s because this story is so universal by virtue of it being extremely specific. Maybe I’m just the yearnin’ type. But I think it’s because, like a lot of the movies here, you get from it what you want to. This story is special because of its ultra-specificity and that makes little pieces you can relate to so much stronger. Even if you can’t, even if you’ve just been in love before, this is for you. I don’t really want to say anything about the story but just know that it’s short (less than two hours). Set aside a little time, by yourself, and give it a watch. This is Celine Song’s very first movie and I genuinely have zero idea how an artist can tap into this much depth at such a young age. I’ve heard so many stories about the people that walk out of this movie, some have broken up with their partners, some call them immediately to tell them how much they mean to them. Some say they wanted to call that person they’ve had feelings for. Some decided that they deserve someone better, and they’re more willing to be patient for that special someone to come along. Just watch this movie, fall in love with how fragile human connection is in a low stakes, yet HIGH execution film about love and time. If you’re reading this, we have some inyun.

There you have it. Now I usually use my yearly Top 20 Films article as a thank you note as well…but I’m saving it for the final words I publish at Quinnipiac University. This is my 48th article I’ve published, so it seems fitting to end it at 50. Here’s to two more.

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About the Contributor
Will Teare
Will Teare, Film Beat Reporter

Will Teare is a BFA Film major from Duxbury, Massachusetts. He is a general member of #THAT, a Comic Sans cast member and President of the Quinnipiac Film Society. He also regularly writes, acts, and directs films.

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