My temporary leave has concluded, and I think that the best way, and only true way to completely formalize my return is to write a comprehensive review of the 10 best movies of 2023. Now, I think it my duty to start by prefacing this article by sharing my opinion on the year of 2023 in terms of new media and filmmaking. It sucked! It was absurdly lackluster. Even events such as Barbenheimer ended up being a let down as neither movie lived up to the absurd hype that memes had given it. So, if you, dear reader, end up coming across a movie that simply has no reason being on any top 7 best movies list, just remember that fact. On to the list.
*The omissions of Oppenheimer and Killers of the Flower Moon were due to the fact that I didn’t have a chance to see either movie. I plan to watch both soon, but I have more pressing things to do, and they’re both over 3 hours long.
7. John Wick Chapter 4
I see the argument against this film, I understand where it’s coming from: it’s a nearly 3 hour movie of one man just taking on wave after wave after wave of faceless, nameless, bulletproof villains. I get why some people would find it tedious or even boring, and how that could be seen as a valid argument against the quality of the film itself. I just don’t care. This is awesome.
The fourth, and possible finale movie in the John Wick saga, is the biggest, most action packed and most poetically executed of the series, by a mile. What started as a simple story in which an ex-assassin kills an entire Russian mob because his dog died (I know, absurd, but still pretty dope) develops in only 4 films into a movie in which every person in the world is a secret assassin, and there is even an ancient secret assassin guild with laws and codes and traditions and a bunch of other mundane “badassaries.” It is, again, absurd, but also, incredibly awesome. This film opens to John Wick having recuperated from his injuries after he got shot and fell off a 70 story skyscraper with nothing but a scratch. Clearly angered by the “flesh wounds” that he endured, he decides to hunt down every member of the council of secret assassins, the “high table.” However, simultaneously, the “high table” has decided to hire their hotel overseer, the Marquis, to hunt down John Wick. What ensues is a chaotic and violent game of cat and mouse as John Wick goes from country to country killing hundreds of people in numerous entertaining and gory ways without suffering so much as a scratch (until he gets thrown out a 12 story window, which is, to him, no biggie), until he, spoiler alert, dies in a duel (maybe).
John Wick Chapter 4 is easily the best in the series, providing more of everything that fans love. I can understand why people didn’t like it; if you weren’t a huge fan of the previous movies, then a movie that triples down on what made those movies unique will probably bore you. However, if you’re like me, and you loved everything about the other films in the chronology, this will exceed expectations in every way. The action choreography is better than it ever has been, and possibly ever will be. It’s as fast paced and entertaining as anyone could want, and even if the story is so-so, and the dialogue even less engaging (one third of John Wick’s dialogue is the word ‘yeah’, delivered in a Batman voice), it’s still a really cool world that the creators have built for these characters to inhabit. Overall, John Wick 4 is a standout in the action genre, and very well may be the best action movie of the decade (which, hot take, isn’t saying a lot). 7.6/10.
I apologize for putting this pick so low.
Barbie was, simply put, one of the most enjoyable movies that has ever been made. Directed by two-time Oscar nominee Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird, Little Women) and starring Margot Robbie and the incomparable Ryan Gosling, Barbie manages to somehow exceed the immense internet hype it had garnered over the past year. The first time I saw a Barbie meme was the summer of 2022, following the release of Minions: The Rise of Gru and the announcement that Ryan Gosling would be starring as Ken, causing the aggregation of sad lonely “sigma male” memers to flood from the aftermath of Minions to continuously claim that Ken is “literally me” as Nightcall from the Drive (2011) soundtrack played in the background. The memes were stupid, fleetingly funny, and despite brief hints of originality here and there, I assumed they would just be lost in the sea of mediocre memes that I like and never think of again. I was so wrong. For the next year leading up to the release, I would probably see at least one Barbie related meme daily, increasing in frequency with every minute that passed. However, despite the immense internet hype, no part of me thought this movie would actually be good.
It exceeded my expectations astronomically. Not only was the movie absurdly enjoyable, funny, and creative, but it was also shockingly well-written. Sure, its themes weren’t exactly subtle, but it still presented them in an entertaining and thoughtful manner. However, not to divert from the themes of the movie, but the icon that inspired so many idiotic memes, not shockingly but mostly ironically, stole the show in every way. The first half of Barbie is fine, following the funny and creative concept of what would happen if a Barbie doll had an existential crisis. It’s fast paced, fun, and a great juxtaposition of how a “super-matriarchy” might look. However, the movie begins to pick up when Barbie has to travel to the real world with Ken (Ryan Gosling). Now, again, not to downplay the importance of Barbie’s story, but every scene following Barbie discovering the patriarchy in the real world is bland. But Ken’s story, on the other hand, is awesome. While Barbie connects with her own femininity, Ken learns that “men and horses rule the world” and that just by being a man, anything is possible. His attempts to take advantage of the patriarchy due end up failing, but only after a series of incredibly enjoyable montages. Upon realizing that he can’t get a job in the real world, Ken decides to bring the ultimate male fantasy to the Barbie world. Truthfully, this was the part of the movie where it actually gets good. What ensues is an overtly feminist fight against the patriarchy, which tackles everything from double standards to male self-importance. And I repeat, Ken steals the show, featuring a dance number, a mojo dojo casa house, and the male urge to have extremely complex weird long distance relationships with people, and now garnering an Oscar nomination for best performance by an actor in a supporting role. Overall, Barbie was a fun movie that, despite lacking the profoundness of previous Greta Gerwig movies such as Lady Bird, managed to stand out among numerous other good movies released over the summer. 7.6/10.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3
Finally, a good MCU movie.
After 3 years of a downward spiral that went from mediocrity (Eternals, Black Widow) to absolute garbage (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Thor: Love and Thunder, The Marvels), Marvel studios finally released a movie that wasn’t painful to sit through. James Gunn is easily the most consistent superhero film director, creating 3 of the best superhero movies ever (The Suicide Squad, Guardians of the Galaxy 1&2) and dare I say it, the best superhero TV show ever, Peacemaker, starring John Cena. This wasn’t as good as those. Nowhere near their level if I’m being honest. But when comparing it to the most recent MCU movies, this is basically Casablanca. It recaptured the magic of the old MCU, creating a funny, bright, heartfelt, and at times outright sad movie about family, love, and purpose.
Guardians 3 begins with the Guardians of the Galaxy at their lowest point: Star-Lord is an alcoholic, Drax is just generally unhappy, Rocket goes from being depressed to on the verge of death, and Gamora had died already, then she came back from the dead, but she doesn’t remember anything; I’m not going to summarize the Infinity Sage right now, but long-story short, Gamora’s out of the picture, kind of. When Adam Warlock (Will Poulter, from We’re The Millers) attacks Rocket, nearly killing him, the Guardians are forced to find Rocket’s creator in order to save Rocket’s life. However, unfortunately for the Guardians, Rocket’s creator, the High Evolutionary, is one of the most despicable and hateful villains ever put to screen. I’m talking Ramsay Bolton, Anton Chigurh level evil. Just awful in every way. Now I don’t want to give away any major spoilers, or explain an annoyingly complicated plot, but simply put, things get really sad, really quickly.
Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy 3 is a great time, and easily the best MCU movie released since Avengers: Endgame. The performances are weirdly superb. The visuals, as always, are as pretty as they are overwhelming. And the story isn’t bad, which is rare for an MCU movie. It wasn’t great, but I wouldn’t mind watching it again. 8.2/10.
So, yes, very technically, Babylon was released in 2022. But when I say technically, I’m referring to the fact that it was released into a limited number of select theaters in late December, 2022, before opening to a wider release in early 2023, before proceeding to flop, massively. No one watched it, and critical reception was more or less lukewarm. However, that does not mean it’s a bad movie, and I’m going to make the argument in the very opposite direction: Babylon is easily the most underrated movie of 2023, the acting and cinematography contained within it could rank among the best in the last 10 years.
Babylon is the 3rd feature film from director Damien Chazelle, best known for Whiplash (2014, generally agreed upon to be one of the greatest films of all time) and La La Land (2016, also a masterpiece), and stars Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, and Diego Calva as three ambitious people working in Hollywood in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. It follows the intertwining lives of these three tragic characters as Hollywood transitions from the golden age of silent films to the brutal and debauched age of talking films, and the ways in which they are left behind by the ever progressing beast that is Hollywood.
The definite standout feature of this film is easily the acting performances. All three of the leads give what I consider to be career best performances (with the possible exception of Brad Pitt, his performance in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood only slightly overshadowing this one), and features what is easily the best performance of the year, Margot Robbie as Nellie LaRoy. Every time she’s on screen, she is absolutely magnetic, overshadowing every other actor on screen. She’s able to switch between frantic emotions within an instant, and the pain that she portrays seems to be truly one that feels real. But what makes her performance so electrifying is the subtle depth that’s hidden within it; there’s so much more to the character that is never fully realized, and that is most definitely due to her performance.
The plot, on the other hand, is possibly where the quality of the film flails a little. The first half of the film is truly excellent, and if it had kept that quality through the second half, it would have easily ended up being the best film of the year, if not the decade. It depicts the absolute chaos and depravity that was commonplace during the 1920’s in Hollywood in one of the most entertaining, finely directed, and original ways I’ve ever seen. However, at nearly exactly the 1 hour and 30 minute mark (the film is 3 hours long), everything simply descends into a mess. I’m not going to go into detail in order to avoid spoilers, but simply put, Chazelle lost any sense of what he was trying to create. The only plot line that is consistent throughout the entire film is that of Brad Pitt, who plays the charming star of the 1920’s silent films who finds his stardom at an end at the end of the silent era, leaving him lost and purposeless.
Overall, the film’s extremely promising start is eventually muddled by its chaotic and messy second half. However, thanks to excellent cinematography, performances, and Brad Pitt’s b-plot, the film still manages to be shockingly good. 8.9/10
3. Past Lives
How some people who have seen this movie consider it to be bad is honestly beyond me. Past Lives, the directorial debut from Celine Song, produced by A24 (the company that brought us basically every good indie film from the last 10 years, and produced 8 of the last 15 Best Picture winners, garnering numerous nominations along the way), is one of the most well-written, brilliantly acted, and emotionally complex films ever created. It exemplifies, epitomizes even, the word masterpiece. It manages to both be profoundly sad and hopeful simultaneously, while still remaining entertaining despite its low concept and slow-progressing plot.
Past Lives follows the lives of two friends and the ways in which they connect throughout their lifetimes. It begins following them as kids and best friends in Korea. Their friendship slowly develops into a “6th-grade romance”, a love of little significance but the effects of which will remain in their minds and hearts forever. However, their relationship at first appears to be tragically short-lived, as the main character, Nora, and her family immigrate to Canada. However, despite the lack of importance of their relationship, this moment still manages to tug on the heartstrings. The second time these characters meet is when they are both in their early 20’s. Hae Sung (the male lead) and Nora have both matured greatly, so when they reconnect online, their relationship picks up right where it left off, just with newer and more prominent nuances. However, tragically yet again, they quickly realize that it would be impossible for either of them to see each other any time soon, so in order to make it easier for themselves, they cut contact. That is until 12 years later, when Hae Sung decides to go to New York for a vacation, where he yet again reconnects with the now married Nora.
This tragic, understated tale of unrequited love, the complexity of human relationships, and the indifference of fate is easily the standout film of the first half of 2023, the significance of which has yet to be fully realized. Hailed as a masterpiece by nearly every critic who reviewed it, achieving a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and nearly as much awards buzz as Everything Everywhere All At Once, I must once again repeat my confusion regarding how someone could dislike this film, or at the very least refuse to acknowledge its quality. Even ignoring the story, the objective aspects of the film were brilliant. The performances, particularly from Greta Lee and John Magaro, were phenomenal. They portrayed emotion and pain brilliantly, adding a shockingly real quality to their characters at all times, and subtlety of both of their performances allow them to rank among the best understated performances ever. Along with this, the cinematography is awesome, which is to be expected of an A24 film. But still, great. Overall, this one of the most beautiful and tragic films I’ve ever seen, and I honestly believe that it will only be viewed in a more positive light as time progresses. 9.2/10.
2. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
I was skeptical when I was going into the theater to see the long-awaited sequel to Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which is, in my opinion, not only the best superhero movie of all time, but one of the best movies of all time. So, naturally, its sequel would probably suck. To provide some context for why I thought this, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse was created by Sony, a company whose track record when it comes to superhero movies is effectively god awful. In the last 7 or so years, Sony has released 5 superhero movies, 4 of which are a few of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. I’m usually rather generous with my ratings (by this, I mean that a mediocre superhero movie would usually get around 6 or 5 out of ten), however, only one of these movies earned a personal rating of above 2/10, that being the first Venom, which I gave a 4/10. So needless to say, the possibility that Sony would potentially stamp out the magic captured in the first Spider-Verse film, and end up relying on gorgeous animation to distract from a mediocre plot and poorly written characters.
I could not have been more wrong. Spider-Man across the Spider-Verse massively exceeded my expectations in almost every possible way. It was, from start to finish, completely and totally brilliant. My main concern was immediately extinguished within minutes, as they managed to recapture the spark of genius in the opening scene. Every moment of the opening 30 minutes is absolutely perfect, telling one of the most enjoyable, profound, and engaging stories about friendship, family, and loss that has ever been told through the medium of superhero movies. It was beautiful.
And then the movie descends into chaos. We’ve seen the multiverse trope a thousand times, but it is almost never done as well as this (with the obvious exception of the masterpiece that is Everything Everywhere All At Once). Canonically connecting every absurd and in many ways purely stupid iteration of Spider-Man in one 2 hour film is without a doubt a foolhardy endeavor, but one that pays off in so many ways. Exploring themes of friendship and meaning in an infinitely chaotic world, this film manages to make a “filler episode” of a film into a true piece of art. So I guess it’s time to address the elephant in the room: this movie is all filler. Its sole purpose is to continue the story of the first and set up a great launching spot for the upcoming third, lacking any true plot substance to keep itself afloat. I understand that that fact directly contradicts all of my previous appraisal of this film, however, I believe that two things can be true at once. While this movie, on the surface, solely exists to connect the two other movies in the trilogy, it still manages to tell a deep and heartfelt story within that context.
Overall, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse was an amazing surprise, that despite leaving me wanting more, managed to be one of the most visually pleasing and thematically complex films of the year. 9.3/10.
I’ll admit, putting Saltburn as my #1 pick for not only my favorite, but the single best movie of the year is without a doubt a controversial opinion. Yes, I’ve already established that 2023 is a rather hit or miss year for films, but even still, Saltburn is easily the most polarizing film of the year, truly exemplifying the term: love it or hate it. And I can definitely see why people hate it (the bathtub scene, the grave scene, the entire second half being derivative, another student referred to it as “bad American parasite”), however, I am unequivocally on the “love it" side of the debate.
To start, the few aspects of the film that are truly objective and quantitative are superb. The cinematography, shot by master cinematographer Linus Sandgren (Babylon, La La Land) is spectacular, providing numerous shots that are as absolutely gorgeous as they are uncomfortable to look at. Every frame of the film is absolutely picturesque, creatively playing with reflection, lighting, and angles to the point where each shot could be put in a museum. Along with this, the symbolism portrayed through certain shots is, while not as truly absorbing as the spectacle of the shots, is still a very engrossing aspect of the film.
The acting is also absurdly good. Featuring an all star cast including Barry Keoghan (nominated for an Oscar for The Banshees of Inisherin), Euphoria star Jacob Elordi (whom I must note, gives a shockingly excellent performance, along with being, not my words, eye candy), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), and Richard E. Grant, along with some lesser known but still talented actors such as Archie Madekwe and Alison Oliver. Barry Keoghan is the obvious standout, masterfully portraying a shy, depraved, manipulative maniac who is somehow able to maintain sizzling chemistry with every member of the cast.
At this point, everything in my review reaches a point of subjectivity where I am forced to give a major disclaimer, especially in regards to this film. TRIGGER WARNING: MY OPINION. Despite its predictability and arguable derivativity (an argument that I heavily disagree with) Saltburn features a story that is simply put one of the most shocking, original, absurd, and well told stories that I have ever come across. Walking the line between movies such as Get Out and Call Me By Your Name, and eventually ending up at a much newer take on The Talented Mr. Ripley, Saltburn blends genres and concepts so seamlessly that it at times feels like it should be classified as a genre of its own. While I can give some credit to the opposing argument that at times certain scenes border on being superfluous (note the aforementioned bathtub scene, grave scene, and the currently mentioned vampire scene), however the disgusting excess is without a doubt tethered down and separated by simply brilliant scenes such as the brunch scene, one that many end up forgetting about. In this brunch scene, it follows a group of characters as they all try to process the death of a character who was quite dear to them by eating brunch together and completely ignore the fact that this character died, which is incredibly psychologically unhealthy to say the least. Everything about this scene is just flawless, from the acting to the dialogue to the odd and unsettling lighting; all sublime.
Overall, despite its polarizing nature, Saltburn manages to not only be the surprise hit of the year, but also the single best movie released in 2023. My personal rating after 4 rewatches is 9.4/10.