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  • Nate Adams

Let’s go party: TheOnlyCritic picks the top 25 movies of 2023



FROM LTR THE HOLDOVERS, BARBIE, OPPENHEIMER AND POOR THINGS are among TheOnlyCritic's best films of the year.

 

2023 was a massive year for the entertainment industry both in terms of box office prowess and creative freedom. Superhero movies, long thought to be bulletproof, showed serious wear and tear. In fact, this is the first time in recent memory the highest grossing films of the year were not superhero films and, oh boy, what a relief! If this crazy, topsy-turvy year in cinema taught us anything, it’s that audiences will see bold and original movies (It’s still insane that “Oppenheimer,” a three hour biopic, has minted almost a billion dollars globally) and with the right marriage of filmmaker and project (Greta Gerwig and “Barbie”), you can turn any dated IP into something fresh and imaginative. Or, in the case of Ari Aster’s “Beau is Afraid,” you can spin the wheel and see how long audiences will stick around. 


This year marked an inflection point as the writers and actors were on strike fighting for their future. In a way, the movies that got released this year were in the same boat. Could you imagine if people didn’t show up for “Barbie,” or “Killers of the Flower Moon,” where we would be? For the first time in a long time, there is hope the marquees won’t be inundated with sequels, reboots, and rehashes. They will still be there, of course, but not in the same way. Now we just need to do our part and keep showing up for the bizarre and intoxicating films ala “Poor Things” in the same vein we do for “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse.” Otherwise, the future won’t be so bright. 


Make no mistake about it, 2023 was another exceptional year for cinema. 


Without further ado, here are my 25 best films of the year with 5 honorable mentions. 


25. GODZILLA MINUS ONE

Who would’ve thought there was still gas left in the “Godzilla” tank? A late December surprise that rocked my socks off, “Godzilla Minus One” is arguably the best iteration we’ve seen of the gigantic lizard. In part because the mayhem and destruction certainly lives up to the canon, but there’s also a human element in this narrative that’s hard to ignore. (In theaters) 


24. PAST LIVES

Man did Celine Song drop a doozy for her feature debut. A sobering, heartbreaking look at relationships, fate, and regret that features two sensational performances from Greta Lee and Teo Yoo, if you didn’t leave this movie in absolute shambles, then you weren’t paying attention. (On digital)


23. FAIR PLAY 

Another fierce debut this year, Chole Domont’s “Fair Play” pits two lovers, played by Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich, against each other in the cutthroat world of hedge fund brokers. It’s a wild, sizzling ride that dabbles with gender dynamics and tense atmospheric tension. (On Netflix) 


22. INFINITY POOL  

Brandon Cronenberg continues to prove he’s taking the reins from his father, David Cronenberg, as his second feature, “Infinity Pool” goes full metal. Anchored by Alexander Skarsgard and Mia Goth in a movie you have to see to believe, “Infinity Pool” walks a fine line between artistic merit and unholy depravity. I loved it. (On Hulu)


21. DUMB MONEY 

Who doesn’t leave sticking it to the man? In this case, it was the hedge fund managers of multi-billion dollar assets who were short squeezing GameStop stock in order to screw the little guys. Craig Gillespie’s insanely fun “Dumb Money” chronicles the wild craze that saw the struggling chain store become boosted by an army of online reddit users. It’s “The Social Network” meets “The Big Short.” (On digital)


20. THEATER CAMP 

Few movies capture the exact ethos of what it means to be a theater geek. And as a former high school theater kid myself, I felt very seen watching “Theater Camp,” a laugh-out-loud riot peppered with hilarious original songs about a camp in upstate New York trying to mount their summer stock season. It’s this generation’s “Waiting for Guffman.” (On Hulu) 


19. SALTBURN 

Emerald Fennell’s follow up to “Promising Young Woman,” was another devilish kick in the teeth. Barry Keoghan and Jacob Eloridi star in this provocative drama that’s as much about eating the rich as it is becoming them. You may need to take a shower after it’s over. (In theaters now. On Prime Video Dec 22nd).


18. THE KILLER 

David Fincher went back to the stylish flicks that made him a household name following the prestige drama “Mank.” His “The Killer” is a slick, but simplistic story about a hitman (played by a stern Michael Fassbender) who goes on the run after a job goes horribly wrong. If anyone had their doubts, this movie solidifies Fincher still has that dawg in him. (On Netflix) 


17. BLACKBERRY 

Another trend this year was, instead of superheroes being the IP, it was literal brands. Hence Matt Johnson’s “BlackBerry” which tackled the rise and fall of the once dominant cell phone company. The cast was solid, however, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” star Glenn Howerton outshines them all and turns in one of my favorite performances of the year playing BlackBerry CEO Jim Balsille. That dude was on another planet. (On digital and AMC+)


16. BEAU IS AFRAID

Leave it to Ari Aster to redefine what the “hero’s journey” means in a nearly three hour epic that’s like a cross between “Truman Show” meets Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.” It’s an incredibly divisive movie, but one eager to reward viewers who dare to get lost in its insane web of madness. (On digital)


15. AIR 

An old fashion studio programmer that doesn’t get made enough anymore, Ben Affleck’s “Air,” the story of how the Michael Jordan shoe came to be at Nike, is a massive crowd pleaser stacked with an incredible ensemble. It doesn’t rewrite the uplifting sports biopic formula, but it never needed to. (On Prime Video)


14. HOW TO BLOW UP A PIPELINE 

Hard to remember a movie that’s had its fingers on the pulse of modern day issues quite like “How To Blow Up a Pipeline,” a call-to-arms about how the era of peaceful protests when it comes to global warming/climate change is long gone. It moves at a breakneck pace and hardly slows down to let you catch up. It’s invigorating. (On Hulu)


13. JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4 

The supposed “final” chapter in the “John Wick” saga went out with some of the year’s most stunning action achievements. Keanu Reeves put his mind, body, and soul on the line in Chad Staheliski’s masterful epic that now stands among the greats, including “Die Hard,” “The Raid,” and Seven Samurai,” as one of the best action movies of all time. (On Starz)


12. RYE LANE 

An infectious romantic comedy that is sharp as it is endearing, “Rye Lane” sees David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah make a great duo as two people reeling from bad breakups. It marks an energetic and full of life debut from director Raine Allen-Miller. Can’t wait to see what she does next. (On Hulu) 


11. THE IRON CLAW 

I walked into “The Iron Claw” having no idea what the story of the Von Erich brothers entailed and it left me completely shatterd. The wrestling family dynasty is chronicled in Sean Durkin’s latest with care and precision, and it also features the best performance of Zac Efron’s career. Bring the tissues. (In theaters Dec 22nd) 


10. THANKSGIVING 

What started as a parody trailer attached to prints of 2007’s “Grindhouse” ended up becoming a new instant slasher classic. Eli Roth, in his best and most complete directorial effort to date, pulled out all the fixings: Gallons of blood, pulpy B-movie humor, and ingenious kills that’ll prevent you from looking at a Thanksgiving dinner the same way again. (In theaters) 


9. THE PEASANTS

The creators of “Loving Vincent,” have outdone themselves with “The Peasants,” which employs the same animation style. It’s shot in live action and then hundreds of workers paint over the shots, which then become frames in the film. So you’re essentially watching what’s the basic equivalent of 40k watercolor paintings at 24fps and it’s a thing of absolute beauty. You have to see it twice. One to just take in how stunning the movie looks, and another to absorb the powerful story. (TBD release nationwide)


8. KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON 

A tale of blind, willful ignorance at the hand of the white man, Martin Scorsese’s epic odyssey “Killers of the Flower Moon” tells an urgent and necessary story about the slaughter of innocent Osages after they were relocated atop one of the richest oil deposits in the US. Featuring grand slam performances from Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert DeNiro, and, of course, the film's towering center, Lily Gladstone, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” doesn’t hold back for three hours and 26 minutes. (On Digital)


7. ANATOMY OF A FALL 

Sandra Hüller gives the performance of the year playing a widow on trial for the murder of her husband in Justine Triet’s enthralling “Anatomy of a Fall.” It’s a courtroom drama with teeth that’s carefully plotted and keeps the viewer guessing at nearly every corner. Did she do it? That’s for you to decide. (In theaters) 


6. SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE 

Without a doubt the most intoxicating animated (and superhero) film of the year, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” took the web slinger to new highs. We thought we had seen it all with “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” but it turns out we were just barely scratching the surface. The finale, “Beyond the Spider-Verse,” due out sometime in 2024, can’t come soon enough. (On Netflix)


5. OPPENHEIMER 

Leave it to Christopher Nolan to turn a nearly three hour drama about scientists debating quantum mechanics and physics into a harrowing, race-against-the-clock thriller that cruises at a rapid  pace. Featuring the year’s most hellacious ensemble, “Oppenheimer” took off into the stratosphere. (On digital)


4. ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET 

Kelly Fremon Craig is really good at directing coming-of-age stories and the long awaited Jude Blume adaptation of “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret” cemented that feat. Newcomer Abby Ruder Forston is a revelation as the titular Margaret and Rachel McAdams, who deserves serious award consideration, thrives as her loving mother. It’s a movie every young teenager, of any gender, should see at least once in their lifetime. (On Starz)


3. POOR THINGS 

Oh Yorgos Lanthimos, please don’t stop being weird! The Oscar nominees latest, “Poor Things” finds Emma Stone letting loose in a way audiences have never seen before. It’s also, by a mile, Lanthimos most gorgeous film and is outfitted with a murderer’s row of supporting performances, including Willem Dafoe as a deformed scientist and Mark Ruffalo playing a pompous aristocrat. It’s funny, strange, and not for the faint of heart, but Lanthimos challenges you to go along for the journey anyway. (In theaters everywhere Dec 25). 


2. THE HOLDOVERS 

Guaranteed to become an annual holiday rewatch, Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers” is built on pure vibes and wholesome relatability. It follows three lost souls looking for purpose and meaning during the most wonderful time of the year as they are shacked up at a boarding school for Christmas break. Paul Giamatti hurls several hilarious insults playing a strict professor who is unafraid of offending anyone and Da’Vine Joy Randolph is emotionally stirring playing a grieving mother, though it’s Dominic Sessa, in his acting debut, who steals the show. He goes toe to toe with the vets in what’s easily the most feel good movie of the year. (On digital)


1.BARBIE

 Greta Gerwig did what many thought impossible and managed to turn a seemingly harmless movie about an iconic children’s doll into sharp and hilarious mediation on gender dynamics. It’s a miracle “Barbie” exists in the way that it does: one that spins its premise in several “I-can’t-believe-they-did-that” creative directions. Can you feel that Kenegry?! (On digital and MAX December 15th). 


Honorable Mentions: The next five movies that just missed the cut. 

Dream Scenario 

Knock at the Cabin 

Cocaine Bear 

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part 1 

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves 


The Top 10 Television Series of 2023:

  1. SUCCESSION (HBO)

  2. THE CURSE (SHOWTIME)

  3. THE BEAR (HULU)

  4. TELEMARKETERS (MAX) 

  5. WELCOME TO WREXHAM (FX)

  6. THE LAST OF US (HBO)

  7. BEEF (NETFLIX)

  8. FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (NETFLIX)

  9. POKER FACE (PEACOCK)

  10. JURY DUTY (PRIME VIDEO)


The Top 25 Movies of 2023 (Recap) 

  1. BARBIE 

  2. THE HOLDOVERS

  3. POOR THINGS

  4. ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET

  5. OPPENHEIMER 

  6. SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE 

  7. ANATOMY OF A FALL

  8. KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON 

  9. THE PEASANTS 

  10. THANKSGIVING 

  11. THE IRON CLAW 

  12. RYE LANE 

  13. JOHN WICK: CHAPTER FOUR

  14. HOW TO BLOW UP A PIPELINE

  15. AIR 

  16. BEAU IS AFRAID

  17. BLACKBERRY 

  18. THE KILLER 

  19. SALTBURN 

  20. THEATER CAMP 

  21. DUMB MONEY 

  22. INFINITY POOL 

  23. FAIR PLAY 

  24. PAST LIVES 

  25. GODZILLA MINUS ONE


See ya in 2024!


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