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Emma Stone dances to celebrate Poor Things as the Weekly’s best movie of 2023. Courtesy Searchlight Pictures

I haven’t reviewed a lot of the movies on this annual feature of mine because they didn’t see the inside of a Tarrant County theater. Don’t worry. I’ll make up some ground one way or another. It’s understandable that the distributors are somewhat gun-shy after the pandemic, but they’re still depriving us of the chance to see some great stuff. Netflix in particular could bring some of their titles to our side of the county line, but they’re not the only ones who can do better by us. As always, watch this space for a separate list of the year’s best documentaries.

 

1.) Think of her performances in Easy A and La La Land, and you can see the more conventional path that Emma Stone’s career could have taken. But, no, she wants to challenge herself as an actor (and possibly get naked onscreen), and so she stars in this sex-positive tale of a woman charting her own course in Victorian England, of all places to do that. This past year saw a lot of raunchy comedies about women getting themselves some. Poor Things was the best and weirdest of the lot.

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2.) Netflix’s Fair Play got more publicity, but the gendered corporate thriller Sanctuary is the better movie. Christopher Abbott and Margaret Qualley (they’re both in Poor Things, too) play a CEO-in-waiting and the dominatrix he tries to fire when he’s set to inherit his father’s company. She proves she’s not going to be shed so easily, and the power games they play during this high-stakes business negotiation are as compelling as any car chase or shootout, thanks to the peerless acting and writing.

 

3.) Am I ranking it this high because it supposedly saved movie theaters (y’know, before the Taylor Swift concert film did the same thing a few months later)? Maybe just a little bit. Mostly, though, I’m putting Barbie here because Greta Gerwig took a project that could have been a cynical cash grab and turned it into a thoughtful disquisition on womanhood that your 7-year-old niece could enjoy. Now we’re going to get a ton of copycats based on corporate IP that won’t be as good, but that’s OK. This movie raised the bar in every possible way.

 

4.) What kind of Black movie have we not had yet? A literary satire! With American Fiction, Cord Jefferson is the first to breach this territory, and his comedy about a struggling Black novelist who finds success by pandering to the worst stereotypes held by white people is expansive, incisive, and funny as hell, and it leaves nobody unscathed, least of all its pathetic antihero. Jeffrey Wright gives another great performance in a role that feels particularly him.

 

5.) Why does Martin Scorsese make the white guys into the main characters of Killers of the Flower Moon? Because he’s trying to figure out what the 1920s genocide of Osage natives means to him as a man who grew up the son of Italian immigrants on the East Coast. If only more old white men thought about American history as scrupulously as he does, our politics wouldn’t be a mess, and we’d have more movies like this deluxe Oklahoma crime thriller about a tribe that survived despite white people’s best efforts.

 

6.) For some reason, this year had a lot of good movies about schoolteachers and their students. Some of them are in the honorable mention section (see: below), but The Holdovers is the best one. Paul Giamatti proves he gives his best performances for Alexander Payne in this indelible Christmas story about the people who have no choice but to stay at school over the holiday. David Hemingson’s script is as tasty and well-written as anybody else’s, and the way his three protagonists work through their issues is subtly and movingly handled.

 

7.) Just in case you were wondering whether Bradley Cooper was a one-hit wonder as a director, he comes up with this intelligent, sharp-looking appreciation of Leonard Bernstein, who was as much a pop-culture polymath in his day as Cooper is now. He and Carey Mulligan are in top form fleshing out this open marriage where the husband’s all-encompassing celebrity is the bigger threat to marital happiness than his homosexual affairs. Maestro adds up to a portrait of love, loss, and finding purpose in one’s old age.

 

8.) Japan had a banner year in 2023, with a couple of items in the honorable mention list plus Suzume, The Boy and the Heron, and even the Godzilla reboot. None of them had the delicacy and power of Wim Wenders’ meditation on the life of a public toilet cleaner in Tokyo. The German filmmaker makes Perfect Days seem as ennobled as that of the angels flying over Berlin, and Kōji Yakusho gives the performance of a career as a man who finds meaning and beauty in his existence and his city.

 

9.) Who says romantic comedies are dead? Like a British version of Love Jones, Rye Lane finds two educated, creative Black people navigating familiar romantic misadventures through multicultural London. First-time director Raine Allen Miller breaks out the postmodern devices for comedy’s sake, while screenwriters Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia craft some exquisitely funny conversation for the characters to express themselves. And Colin Firth shows up.

 

10.) The Cannes Film Festival doesn’t always pick the best movies, but they were right to award Justine Triet’s courtroom thriller acted out in English with French prosecutors accusing a German author of murdering her husband. Without ever straining for effect, Anatomy of a Fall tracks the ripple effects of this celebrity murder trial on her protagonist and the people around her, and we still don’t know whether she did it or not. Hollywood would be proud to put out a middlebrow entertainment like this.

 

Honorable Mention

Nicole Holofcener’s comic white lie fest, You Hurt My Feelings … Hlynur Pálmason’s fiercely beautiful Icelandic church-building drama, Godland … Lila Avilés’ carefully observed Mexican drama at a kid’s birthday party, Tótem … Ira Sachs’ scabrous, sexually explicit relationship drama, Passages … Pablo Larraín’s Chilean history-cum-vampire film, El Conde … William Oldroyd’s taut, homoerotically charged crime thriller, Eileen … Emma Seligman’s uproarious, face-punching Bottoms … Daniel Goldhaber’s slow-rolling ecoterrorism thriller How to Blow Up a Pipeline … Gerard Johnstone’s superlative creepy doll horror movie M3GAN … Hirokazu Kore-eda’s disquieting fable of bullied schoolkids, Monster … Carl Joseph Papa’s Filipino animated story of abuse, The Missing … Takehiko Inoue’s Japanese anime basketball drama, The First Slam Dunk … Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s epic about an inept Turkish schoolteacher, About Dry Grasses … Goran Stolevski’s reflective, sun-baked Australian gay romance, Of an Age … Sean Durkin’s wrestling drama as epic domestic tragedy, The Iron Claw … Christian Petzold’s writer’s vacation from hell, Afire … Andrew Haigh’s audacious time-traveling gay romance, All of Us Strangers … Joaquim dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson’s endlessly inventive Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse … Emerald Fennell’s murderous tale of the class war, Saltburn … Blitz Bazawule’s exuberant and visually dazzling The Color Purple. l

1 COMMENT

  1. For me, “12.12: The Day” was easily best movie of the year. It was unflinching, having the courage of its convictions. I sat riveted throughout plus was able to learn some recent Korean history. Most other films I saw their execution did not match what they intended the film to be.

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