Written by: Matt Patti | December 30th, 2023
2023 is almost at a close, and as usual I’m always excited to reflect on the best films of the year. This was a very busy year in my personal life, so I had a lot of catching up to do near the end of it to make sure I was able to watch films that could be in contention for this list. I’m very glad I was able to complete my year-end binge, as half of the entries here I only watched for the first time in December.
In a year that is likely to be remembered most for the “Barbenheimer” craze, there were a few other gems released that didn’t quite garner as much buzz but are worthy of note. At the same time, there were many disappointments that did not live up to expectations. Before I get into the top 10, I would like to shout out my favorite documentary of the year, Pay or Die, a fascinating exploration of the insulin industry and everyday struggles that diabetics face. I also want to note Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, which I surprisingly enjoyed much more than I thought I would. It felt difficult to attempt to rank these two films amongst the narrative films in the list below, but I wanted to give them a mention in my intro as they are both extremely intriguing experiences.
Nevertheless, below are my top ten films of 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. Scream VI (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin/Tyler Gillett)
2. Godzilla: Minus One (Takashi Yamazaki): The surprise hit of the year that wasn’t even on my radar takes the number 2 spot on my list (and, frankly, it’s only number 2 because of my admittedly biased perspective as a Scream franchise superfan). Succeeding where the American Godzilla films fail, Toho’s latest and greatest creation introduces layered, compelling human characters that carry the film on their shoulders and keep the viewer invested even in the absence of our favorite radioactive kaiju. The fleshed-out characters, along with an impressive creature design, palpable suspense, and a fitting post-World War 2 backdrop create the perfect coda to the greatest Godzilla film ever made.
3. John Wick: Chapter 4 (Chad Stahelski): John Wick: Chapter 4 has all the incredible action and extraordinary set pieces one would expect from a John Wick film. It also undeniably features the best cinematography of any entry in the franchise, but it is the supporting characters and the connection that John Wick has with each of them that truly make this fourth movie stand out above the other sequels. Bill Skarsgård plays the franchise’s best villain, but he’s not the only threat Mr. Wick faces as the film spans many breathtaking locations in New York, Osaka, Paris, and more. Easily the best John Wick film since the original, John Wick: Chapter 4 is a fitting conclusion (supposedly) to Wick’s story and the franchise as a whole.
4. Oppenheimer (Christopher Nolan): Christopher Nolan’s three-hour epic centered around the father of the atomic bomb may finally grant him his first “Best Director” nod at the Oscars, and it would be deservedly so and quite overdue. Though I tend to prefer Nolan’s high-concept sci-fi ventures, the esteemed filmmaker hit it out of the park with Oppenheimer. Nolan’s storytelling prowess is on full display as he presents a non-linear story in both color and black-and-white. Not once in the three-hour runtime is there a single moment of boredom, with the audience entranced by both Oppenheimer and the events surrounding him that take place both on and off screen. The film contains stellar performances across the board, especially from Cillian Murphy and Robert Downey Jr., who may both be up for Oscars, themselves, too.
5. Talk to Me (Danny Philippou/Michael Philippou)
6. The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Francis Lawrence)
7. Strange Darling (JT Mollner)
8. The Equalizer 3 (Antoine Fuqua): Denzel Washington turns in another impressive performance as Robert McCall. Taking in the beauty of both the location and people of Sicily, he finds they’re all living in fear of a local group of gangsters. Fuqua expertly weaves a large scope crisis into a small-town conflict with a touch of mystery while showing the brutality and ruthlessness of true Italian mobsters. The best part of the film, as always, though, is seeing Washington’s McCall completely and utterly dismantle every person in his way in order to help save the ones he cares about.
9. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Joaquim Dos Santos/Kemp Powers/Justin K. Thompson): Though not as fun or as fresh as 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the next installment in Miles Morales’ spider-verse story offers much to love. Building on the multiverse introduced in the original, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse introduces the audience to many more universes with a plethora of unique variations of Spider-Man. It is Morales’ and Spider-Gwen’s character growths that really shine here, though, while a third-act cliffhanger perfectly sets up the next installment in the franchise.
10. Thanksgiving (Eli Roth): A unique and refreshing slasher released around the one holiday without a well-known horror film entry, Thanksgiving impresses on several fronts. While Eli Roth is known for stuffing his films with loads of blood and gore (and there’s plenty here, for sure), the film’s main focus is on a small town scarred by a horrible Black Friday incident and a mysterious citizen thirsty for revenge. Smart, suspenseful, and surprisingly humorous, horror fans now finally have a definitive go-to for a Turkey-Day terror film.