From actor strikes to double features, 2023 was a monumental year for the film industry. It marked the return of the raunchy summer comedy, re-sparked interest in brooding biopics and introduced a whole new roster of rising stars.
As awards season picks up (with Academy Award nominations set to be announced Jan. 23), here are my top 10 films of 2023.
Centering around an AI robot doll turned evil, “M3GAN” is perhaps the most surprising movie of the year. Directed by Gerard Johnstone, known for his work in both comedy and horror, the movie starring Amie Donald and Allison Williams is an absolute thrill from start to finish. M3GAN sings “Titanium” by David Guetta. Gemma gets into a physical altercation with the doll. And, of course, M3GAN dances in the hallway and does the snake.
Not only is “M3GAN” incredibly entertaining, it was also a popular culture moment in 2023 internet culture. Those who watched the film bonded over the multiple shocking scenes and hilarious lines. And those who hadn’t definitely heard about it, as the insane nature of the film made it impossible to avoid. Either way, M3GAN made herself a prominent figure who refused to be ignored by both the characters and audiences alike, giving the film a spot on this list.
9. “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”
Based on Judy Blume’s 1970 bestselling novel of the same name, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” is a touching and poignant coming-of-age story. The plot centers around 11-year-old Margaret, played by Abby Ryder Fortson, as she embarks on her middle school years, and tackles adolescent themes such as boys, religion and, of course, puberty.
From the perspective of a pre-teen girl, the audience is completely immersed in the complexity and confusion that comes with growing up. It’s heartfelt, timeless and, most of all, real. The film perfectly translates the bildungsroman novel into movie format, capturing every small detail. If you’re looking to feel strangely nostalgic for your middle school years, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” is the film for you.
8. “No Hard Feelings”
Jennifer Lawrence fights teenagers on a beach while nude. Andrew Barth Feldman plays piano and uses pepper spray. Both jump on the hood of a car at some point during the film.
If those plot points alone didn’t convince you to watch it, hopefully this opinion does: Gene Stupnitsky’s “No Hard Feelings” is the funniest movie of 2023. It’s an incredibly raunchy and surprisingly sincere sex comedy, filled with hilarious dialogue and zany characters. Lawrence is a marvel, reaffirming her movie star status as she embodies the insane role of Maddie. And, Feldman shines as well, proving that his Broadway talent translates perfectly to the big screen. Despite the over-the-top ridiculous premise, it manages to tell a sentimental coming-of-age story of emotional immaturity and the impending pressures of adulthood.
7. “Asteroid City”
In his most Wes Anderson-y film yet, director Wes Anderson weaves a complex tale of a television program of a live production of a documentary about a play titled “Asteroid City.” Confusing, right?
With an ensemble cast starring regular Anderson players, such as Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Bryan Cranston and Tilda Swinton, along with first-time collaborators Tom Hanks, Margot Robbie and Steve Carell, “Asteroid City” is a joy to watch. It’s visually stunning as well, taking on a 1950s, retro-futuristic tone and set design. Characters are framed front and center to the camera, allowing viewers to try and understand the complex vulnerability captured in Anderson’s storytelling.
6. “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”
When Miles Morales (aka Spider-Man) is reunited with Gwen Stacy (aka Spider-Gwen), Morales is transported from Brooklyn to the Multiverse. The pair encounter multiple variations of Spider-People, which results in conflict and chaos that Morales is tasked with handling, while also dealing with issues of his own.
Audiences had high expectations going into “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” Its predecessor was a box office hit and critical darling, winning the 2018 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and generating a large fan base. I’m happy to report that the sequel lives up to the hype. There is not a dull moment in the film, from the fast-paced dialogue to the incredible soundtrack. The animation is spectacular as well, its unique style setting it apart from other animated films. As someone who dislikes superhero movies, my words hold much significance when I say “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is a cinematic feat.
Set in the seemingly perfect Barbie Land, “Barbie” stars Margot Robbie as the titular character in the most spot-on casting of Hollywood history. Barbie has a great day every day (words eloquently spoken by narrator Helen Mirren), and spends her time hanging out with fellow Barbies, throwing extravagant dance parties and tolerating her boyfriend Ken, played by Ryan Gosling. Yet, as she begins to experience darker thoughts and mysterious happenings, Barbie and Ken venture into the real world to solve her problems. There, they experience the true nature of humanity and make life-altering discoveries.
“Barbie” is hilarious and unexpectedly surreal, cementing it as Greta Gerwig’s best work yet. Audiences are drawn into Barbie Land with a visually stunning set, charismatic cast and loads of pink, and leave with a profound understanding of and appreciation for the human experience. And “Dance The Night” by Dua Lipa stuck in their head.
Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” follows the life of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, known as the “father of the atomic bomb.” Dark and brooding, the biopic dissects Oppenheimer’s global impact and examines the relationship between man, science and war.
Cillian Murphy delivers the performance of the year and is transformed into Oppenheimer, perfectly portraying the tortured genius cursed with his own creation. And Nolan’s writing elevates the film from a typical biopic to a study of human behavior; one could argue that it is his magnum opus. While the three-hour runtime may seem daunting (I found myself wishing for an intermission halfway through), “Oppenheimer” is truly a masterpiece.
It also served as the other half of the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon, being released on the same day as Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie.” If you’re feeling up for a double feature, the two movies go together like an atomic bomb and a plastic doll: not well at all, but sort of a funny concept?
3. “The Holdovers”
Starring Paul Giamatti in the best role of his career, “The Holdovers” takes place at a New England boarding school in 1970. Giamatti plays Mr. Hunham, a history teacher tasked with chaperoning a small group of students with nowhere to go during Christmas break. Ill-tempered and chronically grumpy, Mr. Hunham butts heads with Angus (Dominic Sessa), one of the students left behind. Along with the school’s head cook (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the odd trio form an unlikely friendship as they brave the lonely holiday season.
Don’t be fooled by the Christmas-y tone. “The Holdovers” surpasses any cheesy cliches and tells a story of emotional fragility and the power of human connection. Through director Alexander Payne’s lens, the film examines each main character, exploring themes such as depression, loss and anger. Additionally, “The Holdovers” is shot and designed in spot-on ’70s style, making the audience feel like they too are students at an empty boarding school in the ’70s. It’s a truly transformative watch.
2. “Past Lives”
Celine Song’s directorial debut is a heartwrenching masterpiece, starring Greta Lee as Na Young/Nora Moon and her connection with Hae Sung (played by Teo Yoo). Both of each other’s school crushes, Na Young’s family immigrated from Korea to Toronto and the pair were separated at age 12. The film follows their relationship over the next 24 years, a bond complicated by their self-growth and romantic partners.
“Past Lives” is a stunning tale of lost, long love and intimate connection, making it an incredibly human film. The plot is based on the commonly-asked question “What if?” and builds it into a beautiful story. It boasts an award-worthy performance from Lee. She’s captivating on-screen as a woman caught between her past and present, unsure of what she wants for her future. “Past Lives” is also a tearjerker. I cried multiple times throughout the film, and I still tear up whenever I think about it (in fact, I’m crying a little as I write this).
1. “May December”
Todd Haynes’ “May December” is a haunting tale, centering around themes of predatory invasion and post-traumatic dysfunction. The film stars Natalie Portman as Elizabeth, an actress researching her upcoming role, and Julianne Moore as Gracie, the subject being researched.
On the surface, Gracie lives a nice Southern life with her husband Joe and three children; she and Joe have a seemingly peaceful relationship. Yet, the true story is much more sinister. The two were the subject of intense media scrutiny due to the inappropriate nature of their relationship 20 years prior: Gracie was 36 when she met and began being intimate with Joe, who was 13.
It’s an uncomfortable watch. Portman’s Elizabeth begins as a vessel for the audience. Her shock aligns with the audience’s — confused and uncomfortable with the situation. As the film goes on, Elizabeth morphs into a copycat of Gracie. She’s a parasite in the complex family as she tries to better understand the reason behind Gracie’s actions. Yet, Moore perfectly curates the sweetly vicious Gracie through exaggerated girlish innocence and manipulation, making it difficult for Elizabeth to learn the truth.
Despite sharing the screen with two seasoned actresses, the most powerful performance is Charles Melton’s portrayal of Joe. Melton perfectly plays a manchild coming to terms with his victimhood, unlocking memories and past trauma as Elizabeth peels through his past.
With witty and sardonic dialogue, the film is almost comedic (but any laughter will probably be from discomfort rather than amusement) and excruciatingly biting. And the over-the-top soundtrack completes the melodramatic tone of the film, capturing the ridiculous yet disturbing premise. “May December” will implant itself in your mind with its multifaceted meaning. Writing from personal experience, you won’t be able to shake it even weeks after watching.