The Top 10 Films of 2023
A look back at a most excellent year of films.
Sure, 2023 was a real kick in the teeth. But despite literally everything that happened last year, it was an amazing year for movies, television, and video games — basically every form of entertainment media saw some all-time great titles released.
As usual, I cap each year off by identifying my 10 favorite movies. Creating a top 10 list is necessarily a reductive exercise but as time has gone on, what I enjoy about it is curating a list that attempts to represents the totality of what I watched that year. That’s what I feel I’ve done with the list below. Each movie on the list does something just a little bit different. Together, they do a pretty good job of encompassing the wide variety of films that we’re all fortunate enough to be able to experience.
Here are my top 10 films of 2023:
10. Beau Is Afraid
Imagine every negative thought and neurosis you’ve ever had about yourself, your family, the strangers around you, the neighborhood you live in, your future, your talents, the universe, everything. Now imagine all those negative thoughts manifested and became real […] An endless dream from which you cannot wake.
That’s basically what it’s like to watch Beau Is Afraid. It’s three excruciating hours inside of one man’s anxiety, guilt, and neuroses. And while most people will probably find this incomprehensible nonsense, I thought it was a masterpiece. Because out of all the movies that came out this year, it probably made me feel most seen.
Let’s not ask any follow-up questions for this one.
9. All of Us Strangers
This movie puts forward an extremely compelling premise: What if you could speak with a past version of your parents when they were the age that you are right now? How would those conversations go? What would you say, how would they respond to the person you are now, from back then?
It’s a really compelling idea and rendered beautifully in this film with subtle performances by Andrew Scott, Jamie Bell, and Claire Foy. Plus, Paul Mescal plays Andrew Scott’s love interest and their relationship has a tenderness to it that is poignant and profound.
8. How To Blow Up a Pipeline
How To Blow Up a Pipeline is one of the most culturally and politically relevant movies that was released last year. Taken as simply a thriller, it gets the job done. It’s structured like a heist film where a crew is assembled and a “heist” is attempted as you slowly learn everyone’s backstories.
But the reason it’s so thematically resonant is that this is a movie about what happens when people feel like they have no recourse for the direction our society is heading in. When I spend time on social media, one thing I often hear is a kind of hopelessness about what our politics and capitalistic society has wrought — so many people hate the decisions that are being made on our behalf, yet feel like they can’t do anything to stop them.
This movie is about that hopelessness and what form it might take.
7. Dream Scenario
In Dream Scenario, Nicolas Cage plays Paul Matthews, a man who randomly starts appearing in people’s dreams — just as a normal dude, not doing anything cool or terrible. But while he initially is excited by this development, he soon realizes that this bizarre phenomenon comes with a few downsides.
Dream Scenario is about an outlandish scenario but it’s also about the nature of fame, how we desire it, and how we cope with the downsides of it. It’s the perfect movie for today’s internet age, where the lust for fame is ubiquitous and more than half of Gen Z just want to be influencers. It’s smart, it’s funny, and it has a classic Nic Cage performance. What more could you want in a movie?
[Side note: This movie also does a really good job of depicting what actual dreams feel like. The dream sequences are evocative and delightful. Eat your heart out, Christopher Nolan.]
6. John Wick: Chapter 4
It’s not going to win any awards for screenwriting (after all, its protagonist only speaks 308 lines). But for my money, John Wick: Chapter 4 was one of the best times I had in a theater all year. For me, this movie defines the concept of generous filmmaking. The people behind the film have stated that they wouldn’t have wanted to make a sequel unless they could show us something new. And sure, while there is some repetition with previous John Wick movies, there are some amazing action concepts that are executed breathtakingly in this movie.
The staircase sequence is a delight, the Arc de Triomphe scene is dazzling, and there’s an overhead shootout that made me cackle with glee in the theater. There’s talk of a possible fifth John Wick movie but there’s something to be said about going out at the top of your game.
5. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
There are a few things going against Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. There’ve been reports that the workers who created the film were not treated well. It’s also only half a movie and my guess is we’re probably not going to see the next one until late 2024 earliest, maybe 2025.
But despite all this, I have to acknowledge that this movie has some of the most innovative animation I’ve ever seen. You have characters of wildly different designs, sometimes with different frame rates, having meaningful interactions with each other but somehow it all feels seamless and beautiful.
We’ve seen so many 2D and 3D animated films at this point that it’s become hard to be surprised. The Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks/Illumination house styles are capable of telling some wonderful stories but it can sometimes feel a bit samey.
Watching Across the Spider-Verse filled me once again with a sense of raw wonder at the potential of the artform. It’s nice to be surprised by what animation can do sometimes.
4. Poor Things
Poor Things is boldly original and it has my favorite performance of the year: Emma Stone plays Bella Baxter and she does it with so much fearlessness and humor that it’s irresistible. Poor Things is about how Bella is able to continue to flummox the frequently-horrible men around her just by being herself, learning about the world, and going through the odd adventure or two. It’s funny, it’s creative, and it’s consistently full of surprises.
I wouldn’t watch it with your parents or kids, though.
3. Godzilla Minus One
There are many things I expect from Godzilla movies. I probably expect a sense of scale, some spectacular city destruction, and a really cool creature design for Godzilla himself.
What I don’t expect is a superbly acted, powerfully emotional movie about sacrifice and found family. Godzilla Minus One has some of the most thrilling action scenes of the year, a great final act, and an emotional core that makes this the best Godzilla movie I’ve personally ever seen.
See it on the biggest screen and the best sound possible.
2. Past Lives
Celine Song’s movie about an immigrant woman named Nora reconnecting with a former friend is filled with longing and regret. But it’s also about a different slice of the immigrant experience. It’s not just about what happens to the people who leave. It’s equally about what happens with the people who stay, and all the stories that don’t get to happen because their stories are interrupted.
It’s a beautiful film with soulful performances. And it will make you reconsider the connections that you have in your life, and all the ones you may have missed.
1. Anatomy of a Fall
In Anatomy of a Fall, Samuel and Sandra are an artistic couple living a seemingly idyllic life in the mountains of Grenoble, when Samuel abruptly falls and dies. Justine Triet’s film examines what happens in the aftermath, as this single incident becomes the defining event of this entire family’s lives.
Beyond just following what happens with Sandra and the recriminations and investigations that come, the film is about how we know things, and how we think we know things. So many of us think we know what someone else’s marriage or relationship is like. But in reality we’re just looking at a map through a straw. We only see a tiny part of the whole picture, and it’s only the people inside the thing that know what’s actually going on.
Anatomy of a Fall is thrilling, meticulous, thought-provoking, and features some of the best performances I’ve seen this year (including some incredible dog acting that’s so impressive I still don’t know how it was accomplished). It’s a monumental achievement.
There were so many films that I wanted to put on my top 10 list, several of which were on it until the very final moments before publication. Here are a bunch that barely didn’t make it, in no particular order (it was a fantastic year for movies!):
The Teacher’s Lounge
The First Slam Dunk
The Taste of Things
The Eternal Memory
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
Killers of The Flower Moon
Talk To Me
What were your favorite films of 2023? Let me know in the comments!
Other Stuff David Chen Has Made
If you’re not already, I’d recommend you subscribe to the Decoding TV podcast. We’re wrapping up our coverage of The Curse this week (which I predict will result in a memorable discussion) and announcing a new exciting format for the show. Check it out!
On The Filmcast this week, my co-hosts and I run down our top 10 films of the year. It’s my list above, but in audio form!