With 2023 officially closed, it is time to look at what we consider to be the best films of the year. Although I will say that this list will be slightly different than most of the stereotypical “Best of…” lists as we weren’t able to see all the films that have received high praise and probably would have been included if we were able to see it before 2023 concluded. Unfortunately excluding films like, Killers of the Flower Moon, Poor Things, Saltburn, etc. but we do hope to watch them and review them for the future when the opportunity presents itself.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
Beautifully animated, and pushing the boundaries of superhero storytelling, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse truly deserves this position on our list. Even though Spider-Man stories have been overdone in the media, they somehow haven’t gotten old. With this being better than the likes of Spider-Man: No Way Home, and The Raimi Trilogy. With impeccable voice acting across the board as well as strong writing, and a diverse cast of characters everyone can identify, Across the Spider-Verse pushes everyone to their limits with what can be gotten away with in a superhero/animated movie. Both in realizing its themes surrounding Spider-Man and setting the stage for the conclusion of the animated Spider-Verse Saga!
Godzilla Minus One
Following “failed” kamikaze pilot Koichi Shikishima, Minus One is set in post WWII Japan, where the country is at its lowest point. Despite being a Godzilla movie, the film centers on powerful themes of survival guilt, PTSD, the sanctity of human life and living for the future. After inadvertently awakening Godzilla who kills his comrades, Shikishima lives with this guilt for a large portion of the movie. Throughout the film, he not only learns to move on from the war, but also to live, not only for himself, but for his adopted infant daughter and friends. Godzilla Minus One does what no other Godzilla movie, save for the 1954 film has done: balance the destructive monster scenes with relatable and highly likable human characters. Not only is every human character distinct, but you genuinely care about every single one of their wellbeings. When I first watched it, I expected a typical monster movie with Godzilla. What I got in return was something so much more. With unique and likable characters, strong themes about the living for future, and gorgeous special effects, Godzilla Minus One easily deserves the number two spot on this list!
It’s no surprise Oppenheimer made it this high on the list, given that it was directed by Christopher Nolan and starred Cillian Murphy and Robert Downey Jr.. But damn is it phenomenal. The head turning performances and epic tale of morality and humanity gives far more weight to the real life events the film is based on, giving me high confidence in Oscar consideration for both Downey Jr. and Murphy. Not to mention Nolan’s direction is as consistent as ever with both his writing and directing. The story of Oppenheimer’s career could have been sleeplily boring and by the numbers if put in the wrong hands, in Nolan’s hands he creates a human look at this controversial figure's career and makes us think introspectively about the world as we see it now.
This half of Barbenheimer easily could’ve been on anyone’s worst films of the year. In the hands of Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie, it was anything but horrible. Being able to tell a heartfelt story on gender stereotypes as well as some perspective on the human condition, they are definitely in the running for Best Original Screenplay. The performances are just as hilarious and heartfelt as the script, with Ryan Gosling owning Ken with his entire being, Margot Robbie as Barbie being spectacular, and America Ferrara being the beating heart of the entire film. Not to mention the addictive nature of the original songs performed in the film don’t make it any less rewatchable or enjoyable.
John Wick: Chapter 4
You’d think the John Wick franchise would run out of steam by its 4th installment, yet it is better than anyone could have imagined. Being continuously inventive in its fight choreography as well as its cinematography it never ceases to amaze me, acting as a character in its own right. Along with the depth of the world building this franchise continues to give as we learn more and more about the rules of this underworld, with the different countries having their own set rules and hierarchies when it comes to consequences. Keanu Reeves remains awesome as John Wick with Donnie Yen and Scott Adkins being welcomed additions to the Wick-verse and Bill Skarsgaard was particularly terrifying as Marquis Vincent Bisset de Gramont. John Wick Chapter 4 should have shown the franchise is running out of ideas by now, but it only proved that this action extravaganza has much more to give than any other franchise out there.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Thank goodness we got this movie when we did! After losing then rehiring James Gunn for writing and directing Volume 3, it seemed we would have a solid end to a beloved franchise trilogy. And we still somehow had our expectations exceeded, with an unexpected amount of heart, the same colorful humor James Gunn is known for, and a delightfully despicable villain. Seriously, The High Evolutionary is the villain the MCU needed after a few of its weaker (if highly entertaining) entries. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was the end of the Guardians Era we deserved, ending on the highest and cathartic of notes.
Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning
It may not be as good as Mission Impossible: Fallout but it certainly is up there in terms of quality, for stories, characters, and stunts. This one definitely ups the ante in terms of spycraft and paranoia, with the villain being a knock-off Ultron. Cruise remains charismatic along with Pegg, Rhames, and Fergeson, along with newcomers Hayley Atwell and Pom Klementieff adding more fun and thrills to the story. The stunts aren’t as insane as the previous films, but they still push the limits of what kind of stunts this franchise has become known for. It also does the difficult task of concluding the first part of this two part narrative conclusively without there being much of a cliffhanger. I may not agree with every creative decision in this film, but you can’t deny the impact they had on the story which helped give Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning - Part One the No. 7 spot.
This one’s possibly the most unexpected film on the list, as Nimona managed to be one of the more creative and progressive stories of the year. Taking hold of its themes with earnestness and compassion along with a hilarious personality to boot. It could be considered as this generation’s Shrek given the history of studio jumping before landing on Netflix, as well as its out of the box animation style. But it's confident, unhinged performances and script keep the audience entertained and on their toes as each scene handles their jokes and emotional cords with grace. Making this the 2nd most unexpected film of the year.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
A highly entertaining prequel about the villainous President Snow and how his ideology came to be about the world and The Hunger Games themselves. It was quite surprising how much this film balanced its themes with spectacle as The Games themselves are much more brutal than the 2012 games along with its raw humanity in most of its characters, even Snow at times. The performances from Tom Blyth, Rachel Zegler, and Viola Davis are what truly drive the film home as one of the best of the year for me. Acting as a tug of war for Snow’s soul as he slowly chooses power and wealth over love. The mockingjay certainly sang loud with this entry in The Hunger Games franchise!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Wonka was a big and delightful surprise for 2023. Being a prequel that can stand with the original is no easy feat, even though it doesn’t surpass the 1974 classic, it certainly knows how to stand side by side with it. Delightfully recaptures the Pure Imagination of the original while standing on its own two feet. Not to mention its optimistic direction along with the joyous performances of Timothee Chalamet and a great supporting cast make the film burn even brighter. Don’t even get me started on the top tapping nature of its songs, which you will either cry your eyes out to or dance right along with.
Co-Written By: Michael Li