10. Asteroid City
No one else could do this. That’s not to say other filmmakers can’t deliver similar works, but as a writer and director, Wes Anderson continues to develop and deliver films that uniquely bear his stamp. This time around, he moves away from his usual autumnal settings and into a retrofuturistic 1950s story (told alongside the making of this story), leading to a humorous farce where UFOs and atomic testing play as background activity for a large group of characters attending a youth astronomy convention. As one hopes, Anderson’s large ensemble cast delivers the goods, with Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Edward Norton, and many others falling into the correct rhythm to take on the ambitious screenplay. With Anderson again finding ways to use his style to open new doors for exploring various themes and techniques, the comedy is matched with some somber and reflective aspects, all while placed within a smashing-looking film.
9. American Fiction
Part of the joy of wanting to celebrate a debut filmmaker is appreciating the assuredness seen in their work. When I first saw American Fiction, one of my reactions was that I could watch this film forever. By that, I mean that Cord Jefferson has done such an excellent job assembling a solid ensemble and placing them within a story that reflected a certain reality that I wasn’t even too concerned with the high concept premise forming the story’s central conceit. Yes, the plight of Jeffrey Wright’s Monk Ellison dealing with the fallout of writing a book as a joke that turns into a bestseller calls for some hilarious satire that the film is more than happy to deliver on. However, I was equally wrapped up in the family drama, which serves as a clever reflection of how to portray complicated Black stories without pushing them into over-the-top directions. It is not hurting to see Wright delivering some of his best work as a performer, with a supporting cast more than willing to match his energy. Having seen the film twice, this is “Black” entertainment done right.
8. The Killer
I think the key to really embracing director David Fincher’s darkly comedic assassin thriller is realizing how much of a schmuck Michael Fassbender’s hitman character is. He may buy into his own code, and all his sardonic musings heard through constant narration certainly have us believing he holds himself in high esteem. Still, given how the events of this film unfold, he’s either gotten very lucky throughout his career or is having a terrible week. Regardless, being an unreliable narrator means there’s plenty of “movie” for us to enjoy. We watch the meticulous craft that is Fincher’s attention to detail (and one can easily match up this film to his take on making movies), which leads us into a series of thrilling events that explore the world of this Killer and how he operates. It’s far less glamourous than what the John Wick universe presents, instead showing how cutthroat tactics make a difference in a movie, both commenting on the gig economy and showing how even a contract killer can feel as though he’s stuck in a boring office job.
7. A Thousand and One
Initially premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, A Thousand and One gets credit for sticking with me the longest in 2023. It’s a story of mothers and sons, with the gentrification of New York informing some of the turns taking place. Given how the film is set during the 90s and 00s, it is certainly interesting to see how of-the-moment it all feels, but that is easily by design, speaking to the influences debut director A.V. Rockwell has in Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese. Only adding to what’s unfolding on screen are a set of performances to show adolescent Terry at different ages in his life and, more importantly, the out-of-nowhere outstanding performance by Teyana Taylor in the lead role of Inez. It’s a performance informed by the character’s strength that would no doubt earn higher plaudits if the movie had a greater reach (though others have defied those odds recently as well). Whatever the case, it’s an excellent showcase in a superb film. Plus, not for nothing, but Gary Gunn’s terrific score for this film is my favorite of the year.
6. Anatomy of a Fall
Winner of the Palme d’Or (and the Palm Dog) at the Cannes Film Festival, here’s a movie so incredibly compelling that France decided not to submit it for the Academy Awards for whatever reason. Cinematic politics aside, Anatomy of a Fall is a wonderfully conceived film deftly directed by co-writer Justine Triet. Sandra Hüller gives one of the best performances of the year as a wife and mother pushed into an impossible scenario where she must fight for her innocence amid so much judgment from everyone around her, including her son (an outstanding Milo Machado Graner). Wisely, the film is told from an outside perspective, with the filmmakers working on letting the viewers formalize their own opinions, with a more profound examination going toward the nature of how we perceive truths based on what we hear and how it is being told to us. It means the courtroom trial is almost beside the point. Still, it is no less stirring to watch both sides attempt to make their points, further blurring the lines of reality until a conclusion is reached. Even then, it will leave the viewer with stimulating conversations to have.
5. John Wick: Chapter 4
John Wick: Chapter 4 is a well-oiled machine that goes above and beyond being simply a drive-in action flick, as director Chad Stahelski and star Keanu Reeves pushed for bigger and greater levels of evolution to deliver the best entry in the series, let alone one of the best mainstream American action films this century. Much like Wick himself, it’s all about execution, and the stunts witnessed are incredible. Dan Laustsen’s cinematography is gorgeous, as he imbues every scene with color and makes every shot look interesting. The lengthy picture is also loaded with striking characters and exciting details to further sketch out this world. So many of the various fights and set pieces stand out, and yet it’s all balanced by a story committed to setting things straight for an assassin who wants to end it all. Oh, and the final third of this movie serves as a mini-remake of The Warriors, which is a great thing in and of itself. Trust me boppers, this movie rules.
4. Killers of the Flower Moon
Killers of the Flower Moon is a film full of sorrow and tragedy concerning how Native Americans and their land was and still is corrupted by powerful white men from the outside looking to capitalize on oil and anything else that could make them rich. At the center of this true-to-life story framed as a wounding western, are three mesmerizing performances from Scorsese regulars Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, as well as Lily Gladstone, who is on the path to breakout as more than just an indie darling. Working with Scorsese means working with the best, so it’s no surprise that everything from the production design to the cinematography to the music by the late Robbie Robertson is top-notch. True to form, the choice to angle so much of the narrative around the evil causing so much disarray means the film invites its viewers to be more probing, and respecting them enough to know whether something is being glorified. Differentiating the movie from other Scorsese films is emphasizing the Osage people, with their presence looming over the wicked ones going after them. The director doesn’t overstep; he knows his limitations in capturing pure authenticity, and the intentions only become more evident with his all-timer of a closing epilogue. A deliberately paced epic that’s rewarding thanks to the master at the helm.
3. Godzilla Minus One
As a massive Godzilla fan, it’s a thrill to not only see Toho delivering another exciting entry in a series that has spanned 70 years, but knowing that it far exceeds what the expectation may be for those not as inclined to see a giant Kaiju flick. Godzilla Minus One settles for nothing less than excellence across the board. Writer/director/visual effects artist Takashi Yamazaki may have moved away from the skewering of modern government bureaucracy as seen in the previous (also brilliant) entry, Shin Godzilla, but this entirely standalone entry has its own ideas to work with. Setting the film in immediate post-WWII Japan is a great touch, as it allows for a very reflective tale that can provide commentary regarding a particular time while still communicating resonating themes of today. On top of that, the film angles for a more dedicated focus on character than ever before. An appropriate amount of melodrama only adds to how exciting this is, with numerous supporting characters having you almost forget you’re watching a movie about a radioactive beast that must be dealt with. And with that in mind, Godzilla is genuinely terrifying this time around. Not fighting other monsters or being treated as a tragic figure, Big G may still represent the fear of the bomb in the Nuclear Age (among other things), but it’s also a real mean bastard with a seemingly endless desire to destroy, and one hell of a heat ray. On top of all this are the emotionally engaging aspects that dare to have the audience holding back tears as they watch how this plays out. Seeing this film become a word-of-mouth hit in America is delightful. Getting the same emotional highs from the multiple times I’ve seen Godzilla Minus One thus far only speaks to how assuredly this film will remain one of the best in the franchise.
Oppenheimer is the best kind of spectacle. It’s a focused biopic interested in revealing insights on this specific point in history using the largest canvas possible and featuring the efforts of terrific performers. For writer/director Christopher Nolan, that means finding more innovative ways to utilize IMAX cameras and maximizing his blend of analog and digital visual effects to convey what it is for a theoretical physicist to grapple with being the “father of the atomic bomb.”
1. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is just everything to me. It’s an incredible sequel that matches, if not surpasses, the first by delving even further into the limitless possibilities that come with animation. Beyond just being an excuse to delve into comic lore and find excuses for action, there’s a nuanced story commenting on fan culture, the growth into adulthood, a continued exploration of various clashes of cultures, and it’s all happening through the eyes of a character who, frankly, looks like me. Bursting with life, color, and wit, Across the Spider-Verse is a boundary-defying feature that looks incredible, provides so much entertainment, and relies on proper emotional stakes, putting it toe-to-toe with whatever else I would consider the “best” of the superhero genre. It is a blast to watch, and seeing so much imagination on display shows how much fun it is to see so many do whatever a spider can and so much more.