Matt at the Movies: Top Ten of 2023
Matt recaps the best films of 2023, plus a note from our editor and a bonus list of Matt's top TV shows of 2023.
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2023 in Film
I don’t want to speak the words out loud because the sentiment may be lost before it leaves my lips, but 2023 was a banger year for movies.
I’m looking over the sixty new films I’ve viewed this year and it’s a dogfight to make it to the top ten. This year feels very close to 2019, when an excellent slate of Best Picture nominations included Parasite, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, 1917, Little Women, and The Irishman.
The awards season push is in full swing with almost too much to watch. I’ve seen five films in the past week just to stay up to date for this article. There are still a handful of films that have yet to open; American Fiction & Monster are both coming soon to the Independent Picture House. All of Us Strangers and Zone of Interest are both heartbreaking stories that should fight for acting and best picture nominations as well.
As I peruse the list a few things pop out. First, the aging masters have all come out with new large scale films - hopefully not their swan songs. Martin Scorsese (81) used a healthy paycheck from Apple TV+ to create the epic Killers of the Flower Moon, and Sir Ridley Scott (86) brought us breathtaking set pieces and a naughty look at the life of Napoleon. Michael Mann (80) finally filmed his adaptation of the 1991 biography Enzo Ferrari: The Man, the Cars, the Races, the Machine by Brock Yates featuring Adam Driver in films titular role.
Secondly, the cup runneth over biopics and “based on a true story” films this year. Similar to Napoleon, films like Oppenheimer, Maestro, and The Iron Claw span long periods in characters' lives, charting decades of highs and lows.
Other “true stories” are more limited in scope. Ferrari focuses on the critical 1957 Mille Miglia and the fight for the company’s survival. Following a similar, smaller scale are the biopics Priscilla (courtship and marriage with Elvis), Air (luring and signing of Michael Jordan to Nike), and Dumb Money (the GameStop “stonks” story). Even smaller releases like the excellent Blackberry, the quite fun The Pope’s Exorcist, or the terrible comedy The Machine were all based on a true story.
Receipts Rebound Despite a Superhero Slump
Per Box Office Mojo, 2023 saw a 20% increase in domestic receipts compared to 2022. Nothing close to pre-pandemic numbers, but a good sign nonetheless after the shuddering of so many theaters nationwide.
The end of the year list also notes another important trend. While recycled intellectual property dominates the top grossing films of the year, only three of the top twenty box office domestic films would be categorized as “superhero” movies (four if you want to count Transformers).
Has Marvel fatigue finally consumers who have had enough sequels and terrible re-told origin stories? The Marvels, Blue Beetle, and The Flash all bombed this year. Was it a sign of things to come or just a bump in the road?
Enough reflection, let’s get to Matt at the Movie’s top ten of the year for 2023!
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Matt at the Movies Top 10 of 2023
Making this year’s Top Ten list was extremely difficult given the plethora of quality films this year. Every genre brought something to the table and Oscar races will be full of near misses and disappointed fan bases.
Only four of my ten mid-year picks finished out the season in my top ten. Here is the list of honorable mentions that did not make the final cut. The films are in order of viewing from earliest to most recent:
John Wick: Chapter 4, Beau is Afraid, Blackberry, Knock at the Cabin, No Hard Feelings, Infinity Pool, Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret., Talk to Me, Passages, Priscilla, The Holdovers, Dream Scenario, Maestro, Poor Things, and The Iron Claw.
Now onto our top ten films of 2023!
#10 - When Evil Lurks
A film that follows two brothers in a rural Argentinian town as a looming evil presence washes over the countryside. As the evil passes from one person to the next we see the normal constraints of human nature stripped away in truly upsetting ways. The use of animals and children in horrific scenes increased the fear and tension in the hands of director Demián Rugna. If you are a fan of gut-wrenching horror or post-spiritual apocalyptic societies, I cannot recommend this film enough.
#9 - Past Lives
One of three films on the list not reviewed for Y’all Weekly this year, Past Lives is about two childhood friends from South Korea who reunite in New York City after twenty years in the directorial debut from Celine Song. Nora, played by Greta Lee (who is having an amazing year on screens both big and small), is a writer who moved on with her life after fleeting moments of intense connection with her friend Hae Sung. As we move through the years, Nora marries fellow aspiring writer Arthur and they now live pleasant, idyllic artists’ lives in the city. That is until Hae Sung’s impromptu trip to visit makes them question their own relationships as well as what could have been if Nora had made different choices.
There are beautiful and awkward scenes between all three characters as they try to understand, process, and even cope with why Hae Sung has traveled from South Korea to begin with. The film makes you think about your own life: what choices you made to get you where you are today; the forks in the road . Hae Sung talks about the Korean phrase inyeon and how nothing is accidental with love. Brushing clothes casually walking down the street means you must have had a connection with that person in a past life. Marriage with the philosophical meaning means that there are 8,000 thousands layers of inyeon over 8,000 lifetimes.
This film is already nominated for five Golden Globe awards at this year's ceremonies (January 7th at 8PM on NBC).
#8 - The Killer
Take David Fincher and Michael Fassbender and add in a little an assassin storyline with a pinch of The Smiths for the soundtrack and the concoction sounds like a thirty-something cis white film bro’s fantasy. Fincher pulls no punches to make fun of himself as a constant perfectionist (read this anecdote for a good laugh), similar to Fassbender’s assassin in this film. His jabs at consumerism and the state of society are also biting, if hypocritical coming from a man who’s made millions filming advertisements for the likes of Gap and Nike.
That’s also the fun of this movie as the killer (Fassbender) is a completely unreliable narrator who fumbles his way through the story as much as he succeeds. His fifteen minute voiceover diatribe about his job and life of an assassin is immediately put into question as he botches a contract in Paris. From there a chain of events plays out that makes the killer break protocol and go on the hunt for revenge.
All the while, Fassbender plays this unreliable sociopath to perfection. As we travel with him through the Dominican Republic, New Orleans, backwater Florida, the lower Hudson Valley, and Chicago we are treated to intense conversations and more intense action sequences. He will stop at nothing to bring swift vengeance to those who wronged him, but if he was as good at his job as he keeps claiming, would any of this even be necessary?
Fincher has us asking these questions and more as “How Soon Is Now?” lowers our heart rate back to sixty beats per minute for the next kill.
#7 - Barbie
What can you say at this point that hasn’t already been said?
Almost $1,500,000,000 at the global box office and the highest-grossing movie of the year. Nine Golden Globe nominations (tied for most) with several Oscar nods coming in the near future. Three new versions of “I’m Just Ken” released by Ryan Gosling and Mark Ronson over the past week. The highest-grossing film ever with a woman director.
The more profitable half of the Barbenheimer phenomenon’s IP was bought by Margot Robbie, who then landed Greta Gerwig to direct. Gerwig along with her life and writing partner Noah Baumbach then created a hilarious, poignant, and heartwarming script to go along with the incredible set design of Barbieland.
On second viewing it becomes clear the casting was pitch perfect. Robbie was made for the lead role and Gosling has the natural confidence and comedic timing to shine as Ken. While Barbie and her crisis of self were the backbone of the movie, Ken’s full embrace of the patriarchy after a lifetime of emotional cuckoldry really stole the show for me. It will be interesting to see where this film goes this awards season: will Barbie be a major player, or is it Kenough to be nominated?
Who could get a 200 million dollar check from a streaming service to create a three hour historical tragedy? Martin Scorsese and maybe three other living directors, that’s who.
If this ends up being his final film, it would be a lovely send off. The set pieces, costuming, and classic Scorsese shots are all present. We get a real sense of the Osage world and the danger the tribe faces daily from their white neighbors, who are keen to capitalize on the immense new wealth from the land’s oil reserves.
This film focuses on the Kyle family, in particular the eldest daughter Mollie as she watches those around her picked off one by one in brazen fashion. Lily Gladstone was captivating in her performance and will be talked about non-stop through the awards season. Playing off her is another career performance by Marty’s lifelong collaborator Robert De Niro as the deplorable “King” William Hale. Ernest Burkhart, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, completes the triumvirate as the charming but pawn-like figure in Hale’s master plan to gain power.
The long runtime flows quickly as the pounding score by Robbie Robertson paces us through this terrible period in American history. Nominated for eight Golden Globes, this film should receive multiple major Academy Award nominations in the coming months.
#5 - Ferrari
What can I say? I’m a sucker for great clothing, Adam Driver, and fast cars breezing through the Italian countryside. While Michael Mann is unlikely to recoup his $100 million budget, it doesn’t take away from the visceral experience I had in a Dolby Theater theater watching team Ferrari fighting for their existence in 1957 during the 1,000 mile Mille Miglia open road endurance race spanning from Brescia to Rome.
With his company on the ropes, Enzo Ferrari battles the press, his grieving wife (played exquisitely by Penelope Cruz), and team Maserati to keep his legacy afloat. Driver, who is back in Italy again after an unsuccessful attempt in last year’s House of Gucci, delivers a powerful performance. He exudes a powerful confidence as Enzo who must not only succeed on the track but balance the life he’s created with a mistress who bore him a son out of wedlock. The mix of drama and sport go together seamlessly to create one of my favorite theater experiences of the year.
#4 - Anatomy of a Fall
The most dramatic scene of the year featured a conversation between a frustrated husband disillusioned by the state of his life and his seemingly cold but pragmatic wife with no sympathy for his complaints. The audio is played during her trial for his murder, but we the viewer see the actual conversation play out in real time. It’s intense, dramatic, and chilling to wonder why the husband chose to record this explosive fight for the world to hear later.
Sandra Hüller - who will also be starring in the much anticipated Zone of Interest - plays an author who lives in an isolated chalet in the French Alps along with their blind, adolescent son Daniel. The murder - which you can see on the movie poster above - happens very early on in the film and we witness the aftermath as her former friend (lover?) Vincent decides to take her on as a client. This is a court procedural involving forensics, testimonials, and probing questions. The courtroom scenes were incredibly intriguing as the French system is much more loosely structured than a traditional American setting.
This film was able to push forward without losing momentum from the SAG-AFTRA strikes, allowing Hüller and director Justine Triet to hit the campaign trail as Hollywood was on pause. It picked up four Golden Globes nominations, but France opted to select The Taste of Things as its official entry to the Best International Feature at this year's Academy Awards. Regardless, Hüller and the film will make a big push for acting awards and even a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.
There is so much to enjoy about this film. The “get the gang together” backstories get us invested in the plot. Young Gen Z actors come together with a common goal to fight Big Oil. Montages of preparation and camaraderie from this band of scorned ecoterrorists over a driving score bring the excitement. Moral questions abound alongside the biggest question of all: can they actually pull this off?
I wasn’t sure if this small indie film would make it to my final list, but after a second viewing (it’s currently on Hulu) I found it stuck with me more than I’d realized. If anything, I hope this type of storytelling is what we can come to expect from the next generation of filmmakers.
#2 - Saltburn
Did you cozy up around the Christmas tree with loved ones to fire this up on Amazon Prime over the holiday? If so, you’ll probably be asked to stay home next year as Emerald Fennell’s sophomore feature is as divisive as her Oscar-winning Promising Young Woman in 2019. This dark comedy is my 2023 Babylon in that it takes big swings and leaves many with an icky sheen on their bodies after viewing. An “eat the rich” parody that is funny, perverse, and at times grotesque hit much more than it missed.
As book-smart loner Oliver befriends the charming aristocrat Felix at Oxford in the fall of 2006, he leeches his way into an invite to summer with the Catton at their glorious estate Saltburn. Barry Keoghan wickedly plays the sociopathic loser who works his talons in the family one by one. The absurd the Catton family - played by Felix (Jacob Elordi), mother Esplethy (Rosamund Pike), sister Venetia (Alison Oliver), and father Sir James Catton (Richard E. Grant) - displays excess and a lack of empathy that is as hilarious as it is ridiculous. The vibe this movie brings will have as many haters as fans, and the film feels both too simplistic and rushed in the third act. However, I’ve thought about this movie more than any other this year.
If there’s any hill I’ll die on with cinema, it’s ramping it up to eleven and going for it as Fennell has done once again.
#1 - Oppenheimer
The brooding half of the Barbenheimer experience has become an instant rewatchable for me. I don’t often give five stars out of five - check out the thousands of films I’ve logged on Letterboxd - but Oppenheimer was a no-brainer. It shot to #1 in my Nolan rankings:
Matt at the Movies: Christopher Nolan Rankings
It was a great feat in filmmaking that will most likely bring Christopher Nolan his much awaited Best Picture and Best Director Oscars. Breaking down the immense text of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer into a cohesive story was a victory in its own right. Bringing together a superb cast of leading men and character actors to fulfill his vision created a masterpiece.
The performances of Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Benny Safdie, Jason Clarke, Alden Ehrenreich, Dane DeHaan, and David Krumholtz brought a gravity to this film that is hard to match. Nolan even had three best actor Oscar winners coming in for bit scenes that made you do a double take. Nolan created a spectacular biopic of one of history's most important figures using all of the tools and tricks from his 25-year visionary career.
Bonus Content: Matt at the Movies’ Top Ten TV Shows of 2023
Though no one asked (Editor’s Note: True), I love filling my non-moviegoing hours with various TV shows. Here are my honorable mentions and top ten shows of the year:
The Sex Lives of College Girls, The Witcher, Rick & Morty, Fleishman is in Trouble, Class of ‘09, A Murder at the End of the World, How to with John Wilson, The Fall of the House of Usher, Perry Mason
10. Welcome to Wrexham (FX/Hulu)
9. The Righteous Gemstones (HBO)
8. Jury Duty (Freevee)
7. The Gilded Age (HBO)
6. Beef (Netflix)
5. Silo (Amazon)
4. Reservation Dogs (FX/Hulu)
3. Succession (HBO)
2. The Last of Us (HBO)
1. The Bear (FX/Hulu)
Thanks again for reading and a toast to another great year in movies. Coming up soon are some great new releases and the march to the Oscars. See you next time at Matt at the Movies!
Matt at the Movies will return.