Written by: Adam Vaughn | December 29th, 2023
What a tremendous year for cinema! As opposed to the past few years’ abundance of sequels, reboots, and continuations of already established franchises, in 2023 the most impactful storytelling was found in original adaptations. Towards the top of my list are renditions of powerful literature and historical figures, and towards the end are the numerous reboots and sequels that either met or exceeded my expectations. Here is my Top 10 for 2023. Where I have previously reviewed the film, the title is hyperlinked to that review. Where I have not, I have written a short description of the movie to help explain why I chose it.
1. Oppenheimer (Christopher Nolan)
2. Godzilla Minus One (Takashi Yamazaki): Immediately after seeing the preview, I knew right away that Toho and Japan were on to something extraordinary and genuine. Director Takashi Yamazaki creates an amazingly crafted Godzilla story that returns the King of the Monsters to his roots, with a narrative set against the ghastly circumstances of post-WWII Japan. Featuring a tremendous array of main and supporting characters, a chillingly beautiful CGI-rendition of “Gojira” himself, some crisp cinematography, and a delightful mixture of original score and favorable throwbacks, Godzilla Minus One not only met expectation for future Godzilla films, but sets the bar incredibly high for them to follow.
3. Killers of the Flower Moon (Martin Scorsese): This is a film that Scorsese himself has claimed is his most personal work. And while the film runs a lengthy amount of time, it fills that three-and-half-hour space with powerful storytelling, as well as effective performances from Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert DeNiro, and Lily Gladstone. On top of that, the film has a slew of authentic supporting performances from Native American cast members which, mixed with costume and set design, fully paint the picture of the real-life turn-of-the-century Oklahoma conflict. While its runtime calls for a stamina boost, the compelling message is worth it.
4. The Creator (Gareth Edwards): I remember being initially disappointed with Gareth Edwards’ original sci-fi piece, as its overall story premise of “rebels versus the powers that be” has been told dozens of times before. Yet The Creator has grown on me thanks to its crisp art direction. Edwards may fall short on originality but he succeeds in giving us one of the most aesthetically pleasing works of science fiction in recent film history, and certainly the most intriguing one of 2023.
5. Creed III (Michael B. Jordan): There is always the fear that as a film franchise continues with its chapters, the quality of the content will falter. Such is not the case with Creed III. Michael B. Jordan not only star in the film but also directs, which means the third Creed movie takes a much more original and fresh approach, unlike the previous installment and much like the first Creed. While certain stylistic choices toward the climax lose the viewer, overall Creed III is an exciting and powerful conclusion to Adonis Creed’s trilogy.
6. The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Francis Lawrence): Much is at stake with Suzanne Collins’ latest Hunger Games novel’s cinematic adaptation. Without the beloved Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, it was unclear whether this prequel to the original trilogy would thrive or fall short. However, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, while it may not be as impactful as the main trilogy, succeeds tremendously in expanding the world of Panem, delivering vivid art direction, brand new and effective characters, such as Rachel Zegler’s Lucy Gray Baird and Tom Blyth’s Coriolanus Snow, and a solid story telling the origins of Snow’s rise and fall as he heads towards his fate to become the tyrannical president of Panem.
7. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Joaquim Dos Santos/Kemp Powers/Justin K. Thompson): What a time to be a Spider-Man fan! Following the overall success of Into the Spider-Verse, this year’s sequel does equally great of a job fascinating the viewer with stylish animation, a huge splash of pop-culture Spider-Man references, and a powerful continuation to Miles Morales’ character arc (leading to an immensely wild, cliff-hanging ending that beautifully sets up the next installment). It is true, however, that Across the Spider-Verse rides on slamming the viewer with as many multiverse variations of Spider-Man as possible, and there is more visual wonder than narrative achievement. Yet take away the thousands of Spider-Man variants and there is still a decent and effective plot, even if this time it does not feel quite as fresh as the original Into the Spider-Verse.
8. The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster (Bomani J. Story)
9. John Wick 4 (Chad Stahelski)
10. The Super Mario Bros. Movie (Aaron Horvath/Michael Jelenic)