By Santiago Brion | February 5, 2023
Photo Credit: Freepik
2023 was a transformative of movies, between monthly event movies, indie films made by female filmmakers, and movies being released during the biggest entertainment industry strike in history. These were some of the movies that had a lot to offer.
10. Poor Things
Director Yorgos Lanthimos comes out with arguably his most ambitious work and arguably his magnum opus, his most important work of his career. The movie is a feminist take on Frankenstein’s monster.
When a woman is brought back to life by a mad scientist using the brain of the woman’s unborn fetus, Bella Baxter mentally develops over the course of the movie. She runs off with a sleazy lawyer and grows steadfast in her pursuit for equality and liberation. “Poor Things” features production design that feels almost Tim Burton-esque, exceptional fish-eye cinematography, a great lead performance from Emma Stone, and a consistent Lanthimos tone of humor which is weird dark humor in a postmodern setting. Bella Baxter is an icon and she is the moment.
9. Anatomy of a Fall
This movie took home the Palme d’Or at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, its highest festival prize. It’s a French legal drama thriller about a woman who is accused of killing her husband, who was found dead after seemingly falling from the attic. This film is equal parts an engaging courtroom drama and a dissection of marital power dynamics in the country of France. Through Sandra Huller’s captivating performance and Justine Triet’s direction, “Anatomy of a Fall” is a riveting watch from beginning to end.
8. May December
Another favorite from last year’s Cannes Film Festival is “May December,” a drama by auteur Todd Haynes. The film follows an actress who visits North Carolina to do research for a role that she’s playing: a woman who has a relationship with a man 20 years younger than her. The film has stunning cinematography, a compelling script from Samy Burch and a deep thematic structure of how true crime is presented and consumed by the media.
7. John Wick: Chapter 4
As though the unexpectedly popular “John Wick” franchise couldn’t reach new heights, this fourth installment is not only its best installment yet but is in contention for being one of the greatest action movies of all time. Former hitman John Wick is considered “excommunicado” and the organization that he used to be a part of is “out of commission,” leaving him and his associates with targets on their backs. What makes it an action masterpiece is its stunning production design, cinematography, and fantastic stunt work/coordination. Every brilliantly choreographed action sequence is a highlight.
6. The Holdovers
Acclaimed director Alexander Payne makes a new Christmas classic in the form of “The Holdovers.” The film takes place during Christmas 1970 at an all-boys prep school where a cranky history teacher stays on campus during Christmas break looking after a student with nowhere else to go. The film brings a very warm and cozy charm, making it a future Christmas classic. Paul Giamatti gives probably the best performance of his career, while Dominic Sessa and Da’Vine Joy Randolph also stand out, the latter being the likely Oscar contender for Best Supporting Actress. This movie is in fact the “feel-good” movie of the year.
5. The Boy and the Heron
This is Hayao Miyazaki’s first movie in almost a decade. The film encapsulates everything that Miyazaki has built towards, including anti-war themes surrounding WWII, the living connected with the spiritual, environmentalism, pacifism, and old age. It’s a movie that was meant to be Miyazaki’s final project, and for a final movie of a director’s career, it succeeds in tying the bow on Miyazaki’s work.
The film follows a young boy named Mahito who recently lost his mother in a hospital fire. Mahito encounters a gray heron that leads him to the afterlife where he learns to move on from the loss of his mother and learn to grow up in post-WWII Japan. With stunning animation, a great voice cast, and common themes that you would find in a Studio Ghibli movie, “The Boy and the Heron” is masterful.
4. Godzilla Minus One
In the endless amounts of Godzilla movies, lies the one new movie that might stand as the best Godzilla movie since the original from 1954. “Godzilla Minus One” is both a human drama and a visually stunning Kaiju movie. The film follows a Kamikaze pilot named Koichi Shikishima whose home is destroyed because of American troops. Following WWII, a giant sea lizard called Godzilla, created from a nuclear bomb test, decimates Ginza killing thousands of people. Koichi and the fellow Japanese all come together to stop the lizard.
“Godzilla Minus One” is a movie that puts the MonsterVerse movies from Warner Bros. to shame. What some of the WB/Hollywood movies with Godzilla lack is a core message on Japan’s and the rest of the world’s constant struggle to rebuild following the environmental disaster, and the government’s response with a lack of resources for post-disaster reform. For example, the WB MonsterVerse films involve a MacGuffin plot, a talented cast of A-List celebrities and overblown CGI. Godzilla movies from Japan tap into the deep and dark depths of humanity and how one’s own actions can come at the cost of lives.
3. Killers of the Flower Moon
After the legendary comeback that was “The Irishman,” Martin Scorsese once again directed another masterpiece in the form of a period piece set in 1920s Oklahoma during the Osage murders. The film follows the murder of several prominent members of the Osage tribe in an effort to seize their oil rights. Not only is the movie a dark and twisted tale of generational grief and white violence amongst natives, the film is a commentary on the American peoples complacency regarding the settlement of native land and how the dark history of the birth of America is barely told. This film is a painstaking reminder on the cycle of violence and how it can unfortunately go unpunished.
Released at the height of the “Barbenheimer” hype, a phenomenon in which Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer" were released on the same day of July 21, 2023. Oppenheimer follows the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a nuclear physicist who was in charge of creating the atomic bomb. The film dives deep into the complexity of a complicated man who was seemingly responsible for the lives lost in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a bombing that ended WWII. It begs the question on America being just as bad the “enemies” they the country defend against. Do the ends of bombing innocents justify the means of ending a brutal conflict?
Before you look at the number one spot, here are some honorable mentions of more great movies that came out in 2023.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
The Zone of Interest
All of Us Strangers
How to Blow Up a Pipeline
Return to Seoul
The Iron Claw
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
1. Past Lives
This is Celine’s Song’s first movie of her career. The film follows these two people who reconnect after they both went their separate ways when they were kids. Nora had a life in America, where she lives in New York City with her husband, and Hae Sung stayed in South Korea where he had a life of his own. Sometimes that person from your childhood who you envision to be with won’t be a part of your life, and you can only imagine the type of life that they have while you have another life of your own.
The movie is less of a romance movie, but more of a reconnection movie. It’s all about the importance of being your own person and having another life of your own, whether it’s being in a different relationship or being on your own, and the ending of “Past Lives” will stay with you. “Past Lives” is the masterpiece of last year.