Favorite Movies of 2023

1. Killers of the Flower Moon

Another masterpiece by Martin Scorsese, whose cameo in the movie’s rather meta epilogue brought tears to my eyes—both times I sat through this three-and-a-half-hour epic in the theaters. I wasn’t sure at first why exactly that moment hit me so hard. I think it was the accumulated power of the story I’d just watched, but also a sense of appreciation for Scorsese himself and all of his accomplishments over the years. In this scene, he was slyly undercutting the movie he’d just presented to us, casting doubt on whether any movie could truthfully and faithfully capture history. And while it’s true that I’d like to see Native American filmmakers given more chances to tell their own version of stories like this, I do think Scorsese did a commendable job of incorporating Native perspectives into his film. The enigma of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Ernest Burkhart, is at the heart of this movie. Is he a dope and a dupe, who does evil only because of his uncle’s bad influence? Is it possible that he loves his wife even as he’s taking part in schemes to kill and swindle her, along with her kin? Like many of the riddles of American history, these questions have no easy answers.

2. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar /
The Rat Catcher / Poison / The Swan

Wes Anderson’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar earned an Oscar nomination for best live-action short film, but I prefer to think of it as just one portion of an anthology: four movies based on Roald Dahl stories, released simultaneously on Netflix. Maybe it’s cheating to lump these four shorts together on my list, but they’re all practically perfect. It’s too bad they weren’t released as one package and shown in theaters, because Anderson’s work has never been better. These stories are terrific tales, but they’re also utterly delightful examples of how to tell stories on the screen, with continually fascinating combinations of verbal and visual tricks. As in Anderson’s other recent films (including Asteroid City, also in my top 25 for 2023), we feel like we’re watching a play performed in front of our eyes. Here, we even see members of the stage crew (who often happen to be actors we see appearing in other roles) moving pieces of scenery in and out of the frame. At some moments, the actors perform a scene in a style that’s very theatrical—pretending, for example, that a rat is present, even though we cannot see one. Other moments are more like pure cinema—such as when an animated rat appears. As a result of all these narrative techniques, it feels like Anderson is using every toy in his toy box. And it’s all just so much darn fun!

3. 20 Days in Mariupol

Harrowing yet riveting, this is an important document of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, captured on film by director Mstyslav Chernov and a team of Ukrainian journalists working for the Associated Press. The horrors of war in our time.

4. Trenque Lauquen

Argentine director Laura Citarella’s beguiling four-hour epic takes us in strange and unexpected directions. Is it the story of the search for a missing woman? A tale of historical romantic intrigue? A monster movie about supernatural happenings? It’s all of the above—not that these strands ever come together into anything resembling a neatly tied knot.

5. Poor Things

Yorgos Lanthimos has been directing distinctly quirky movies since 2009’s brilliant Dogtooth, and this is one of his best. It’s also an incredible showcase for the jaw-dropping talents of Emma Stone, who uses her verbal and physical dexterity to create a character unlike any other. Poor Things is quite funny, and it has a delightful visual flair, but it also feels like a profound statement on the human condition.

6.  The Zone of Interest

The sounds in the background of Jonathan Glazer’s film—and the way they contrast with the family we see on the screen—are what make this so chilling and disturbing. It’s a highly original way of presenting the horrors of the Holocaust, but it’s more than that: It challenges us to think about what horrors we might be ignoring in the scope of our present-day world. What are the background noises we’d rather not hear?

7. Monster

Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s movie is constructed something like Rashomon, Pulp Fiction, and other movies that show us different versions of the same events, as seen by various characters. In Monster, each time a new layer of the story is revealed, we come to understand characters who’d previously seemed unsympathetic. I even felt some twinges of guilt about having assumed the worst about these people. By the end, no one in Monster seems like a monster.

8. Fallen Leaves

Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki returns yet again to the same themes, the same cinematic style, and the same dark sense of humor that he has honed over the course of so many films. It’s nothing new. But I absolutely loved it. What can I say? I just love spending time in Kaurismaki’s world, even when he’s portraying the downtrodden. This one is a fine distillation of Kaurismaki’s craft.

9. Unrest

Truly remarkable cinematography and sound. I love the way the camera is set up to create detailed tableaus, often placing the characters who are speaking in one small corner of the screen—with their dialogue elevated above other sounds that you might expect to hear louder, based on the overall image you’re watching. The themes of time, photography, work, and the late 19th-century anarchist movement are fascinating. Director Cyril Schäublin’s film plays out in a style that is almost stoic, like a series of still photographs, but there’s so much drama tamped down under the subdued surfaces.

10. Past Lives

Director Celine Song’s lovely film about a romantic triangle of sorts is so perfectly balanced. It’s a moving story about the enduring strength of bonds formed in childhood and the immigrant experience of feeling connections with two worlds at one time.


Showing Up, Pacifiction, Rewind & Play, Tori and Lokita, Occupied City, Asteroid City, The Delinquents, Anatomy of a Fall, Pictures of Ghosts, Our Body, The Holdovers, The Curse, All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt, About Dry Grasses, Afire

You can also read this list on my Letterboxd page.