Top 15 Films of 2023 – Allen’s Picks
2023 was marked by two historic labor strikes from the writers (WGA) and actors guilds (SAG-AFTRA). The strikes put a halt on American film and television work for months, as the two unions battled with studios over wages, streaming compensation, health benefits, likeness rights, artificial intelligence, and a host of other issues. Films amid production were stopped dead in their tracks, while others slated for release were delayed. Thankfully, the strikes ended late in the year, with the industry getting back on its feet. What will come because of the stoppage is yet to be seen – let’s hope the unions got what they wanted and that members will receive the payment and benefits they so rightly deserve.
Despite the labor strikes, 2023 offered an abundance of excellent films, domestically and from around the world. In fact, the year showed us a wealth of international output. I can’t recall a year that had such great art coming from so many different countries outside of the U.S. From dramatic character studies to thrillers and big blockbuster epics, the foreign market seemed to pick up the slack in tremendous fashion. One could easily make a “Best of 2023” list composed entirely of Non-English films; it was that good of a year. Don’t let reading subtitles dissuade you – there are great stories out there waiting to be experienced, take a chance on them and you may be surprised at what you find.
Once again, before jumping into the main list, I’ll start off by listing my Honorable Mentions. These are the films I liked throughout the year but didn’t quite make it into the starting rotation. But that doesn’t mean they are any less worthy of your time. So here goes:
The Promised Land, The Killer, Infinity Pool, M3gan, Sick, Rye Lane, Skinamarink, Hidden Blade, Sharper, Knock at the Cabin, The Strays, Boston Strangler, Missing, John Wick: Chapter 4, How to Blow Up a Pipeline, Creed III, Inside, Air, Evil Dead Rise, Peter Pan & Wendy, R.M.N., Renfield, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Sisu , Polite Society, Influencer, Blood & Gold, Reality, Master Gardener, Stan Lee, Beau is Afraid, No Hard Feelings, Nimona, Sanctuary, Asteroid City, Sympathy for the Devil, Joy Ride, You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, Perpetrator, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, Talk to Me, Theater Camp, El Conde, A Haunting in Venice, No One Will Save You, Flora and Son, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, Totally Killer, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, Fair Play, Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, When Evil Lurks, Nyad, Richland, You Hurt My Feelings, Blackberry, Fallen Leaves, 20 Days in Mariupol, Afire, The Peasants, Dumb Money, The Missing, The Taste of Things, The Teacher’s Lounge, American Fiction, Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, The Color Purple, Dream Scenario, Priscilla, Robot Dreams, Beyond Utopia, Menus-Plaisirs – Les Troisgros, American Symphony, Wonka.
The Honorable Mentions list gets bigger and bigger every year. Why do I bother adding them? Because movies are awesome, and I want to talk about as many as I possibly can.
With that said, let’s get into my Top 15 Films of 2023:
A movie that took audiences by storm, not just for the return of the big, city-destroying monster, but for the legitimate human story it tells. Don’t get me wrong, the set pieces and visual effects are breathtaking. However, what puts this into my list – as well as one of the best Godzilla films I’ve ever seen – is the character work. Here is one of the few instances where I became equally invested with the people and their fates. It’s refreshing to see a giant monster flick that puts as much effort into hope and redemption rather than just death, destruction, and chaos. It’s not often we watch a Godzilla movie and get choked up with emotion by the end.
14) May December
Director Todd Haynes toes a fine line with May December. Tackling themes of childhood trauma, guilt, grief, and unspoken animosity, Haynes presents a disturbing premise – involving a sexual relationship between an adult and a child – and expands it into a dark and strange study of broken people. But the film is never lurid or grotesque. In fact, there are instances where the narrative approaches camp. Haynes juggles the various tones with a deft hand, allowing his actors – Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, and Charles Melton – the room to flesh out their characters. This is one of those films where every element must work perfectly in sync or else the entire thing could fall apart. Luckily, it does exactly that.
Coming of age stories are a dime a dozen, but Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret stuck with me ever since I saw it. Abby Ryder Fortson stars as the titular Margaret, an 11-year-old girl going through the ups and downs of adolescence. Not only does she have to navigate family, friendships, and a changing body, but also her conflicted feelings about religion, God, and the existential meaning behind it all. Backed by a strong supporting cast (including an outstanding performance from Rachel McAdams), Are You There God?never makes a false or insincere step. Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig follows up The Edge of Seventeen(2016) with yet another penetrating look at what it means to be young, to have questions that don’t always have answers, and to realize that is totally ok.
On paper, Anatomy of a Fall seems as dry as can be – set around a woman on trial for supposedly killing her husband. But as we learn more about the characters and the marriage at the center of the case, the more devastating things become. Director Justine Triet (who also cowrites with Arthur Harari) peels away at the mystery layer by layer, slowly providing information along the way. With each revelation, the dramatic tension builds. We listen to recorded conversations that should only be heard behind closed doors. The exchanges are raw and painful, like an infected wound. This isn’t just a murder trial, but the story of a marriage falling apart. Above all else, this is a showcase for Sandra Hüller, who delivers a powerhouse performance. Her character stands alone against a sea of accusations and gossip, and she must find the willpower to defend herself against dwindling odds. The film works because its themes extend far beyond what we witness inside of the courtroom.
Here is a story of brotherhood, family, friendship, parents and children, legacy, and finding our own slice of happiness in this crazy world. The Eight Mountains is about life itself – about the highs and lows and the quiet moments in between. It’s about joy and hardships and coming to terms with who you are as a person. The direction (Felix van Groeningen, Charlotte Vandermeersch) and cinematography (Ruben Impens) paint the Italian Alps as a big, hulking metaphor. It represents the relationship of the two central protagonists – always changing, but ever present. This is not a movie you can rush through – it takes its time, providing sequences of deep contemplation. Everything is tied to an emotional core, to the point where it felt like a spiritual experience. Each scene built upon the next, so that by the end it felt like we went along the journey with the characters, step by step.