Written by: Patrick Howard | December 25th, 2023
1. Oppenheimer (Christopher Nolan): What makes this film standout in the biopic genre is its frequent dabble in experimentation. Director Christopher Nolan impressively sidesteps the boring tropes one finds in so many movies about larger-than-life figures or events. He takes the horrific and detrimental effects of the work done by J. Robert Oppenheimer and his Los Alamos team and lets it visually permeate every square inch of the frame.
2. Godzilla Minus One (Takashi Yamazaki): Set in a post-World War Two Japan, the film follows a kamikaze pilot who is forced to face his wartime trauma when Godzilla, a gigantic creature born from atomic power, reaches the nation’s shores and wreaks havoc. I ask the people who say that there is no hope for finding memorable human characters in a Godzilla movie to go out to their local theater and watch this instant classic in the kaiju genre. Director Takashi Yamazaki has cracked the code and crafted a compelling humanist drama that happens to have a giant lizard stomping around. Side note: Godzilla Minus One is a great, unexpected companion piece to Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer.
3. The Holdovers (Alexander Payne): A new Christmas classic that captures more than just the cheeriness of the holiday. Alexander Payne examines the loneliness, frustration, and other complicated emotions that often go unacknowledged or get pushed down deep by ourselves and loved ones during the season of perpetual hope.
4. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Joaquim Dos Santos/Kemp Powers/Justin K. Thompson): One of only two superhero films (the other being Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3) released this year that had emotional human cores that worked from start to finish. It’s a film that is so visually dense and rich that you’ll discover something new with every rewatch, and one of the few sequels that improves on every aspect the first film initially perfected.
5. Past Lives (Celine Song): In this unbelievable first outing from director Celine Song, Greta Lee and Teo Yoo star as childhood friends who find themselves jumping in and out of each other’s lives, never taking the next step in their relationship. Finally, in their thirties, they meet again in New York City and confront notions of love and destiny.
6. John Wick: Chapter 4 (Chad Stahelski): This is the magnum opus of Chad Stahelski, one of the best action directors working today. Stahelski and his team of stunt magicians play it fast and loose with the plot, but they pull off the impossible and present action sequences more unbelievable than in the last one.
7. Barbie (Greta Gerwig): It’s a fascinating film that manages not to fall embarrassingly off the high tightwire of being a soulless toy commercial and a bold and artistically unique take on blockbuster filmmaking. It’s clear that Greta Gerwig wants to direct films on a grander scale; her upcoming Chronicles of Narnia film is evident of that notion. What makes me still on board with Gerwig is her ability to retain her authorial voice in an area of film that often misplaces it all the time.
8. No One Will Save You (Brian Duffield): 2023 has been a strong year for up-and-coming directors who showcase their adept skills in the cinematic medium. Brian Duffield mixes audacious filmmaking with the appeal of The Twilight Zone in a nearly wordless home invasion thriller that has a spiritual kinship to Fire in the Sky and Signs.
9. Talk to Me (Danny Philippou/Michael Philippou): Brothers Danny and Michael Philippou, established stars from the realm of YouTube (as RackaRacka), use the tropes of supernatural horror to comment on viral videos and the place where trauma and addiction can be found in a contemporary time of internet culture. The personal story of the directors of Talk to Me is a satisfying vindication for the democratization of filmmaking.
10. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (John Francis Daley/Jonathan Goldstein): It’s a funny and entertaining fantasy romp that deserved better box-office success. The key to making something as dense as the lore of Dungeons & Dragons work for me is the ragtag team of likeable ruffians and the highly capable actors who bring them to life. The tone is pitch perfect and the plight of the characters never falls victim to the distractions of the dragons, magic, and sorcerers only found in D&D.