The Best and Worst Films of 2023
By Danny Minton
The year started out with a huge slump, as many years do, but once John Wick 4 hit theaters in late March, followed by Air shortly after, 2023 started churning out some really good fare, and overall, I must say it ended up being a good year. While the strikes in Hollywood pushed back a few projects (mostly due to promotional abilities for the films), this year wasn’t badly affected. That won’t be the same story we tell next year as 2024 will most likely really pay a price for the amount of time Hollywood was shut down. But there’s a lot of celebrating to do and this holiday there will be a lot of great films to catch up on for those in the mood to devour some terrific cinema. So without further ado…
1) The Color Purple (In Theaters). This isn’t necessarily a remake of the 1985 Spielberg film, but rather a recreation of the Broadway musical which more closely followed the book by Alice Walker. Produced by Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey and Quincy Jones, the film delivers some of the best talent stage and screen has to offer with Fantasia (from the original 2005 Broadway run) as Celie, the beaten-down and broken young black woman whose children are stolen from her by her father only to be sold off to an abusive husband (Coleman Domingo) who only wants her cooking, cleaning and taking his crap. But when her stepson’s wife (Danielle Brooks) and her husband’s not-so-secret mistress (Taraji P. Henson) come into her life, she begins to transform into a more beautiful and powerful version of herself. The film is directed by relative newcomer Blitz Bazawule, a filmmaker from Ghana who won the job when he made the bold decision to suggest that the film should represent Celie’s imagination, her only escape from her dreaded world. This change in the film’s narrative makes the movie come to vibrant life, giving the popular story a new dimension and soul. The story’s larger theme of searching for God in the presence of the evil in the world leads to a transformation of both the characters and the film, and by the end the audience is treated to a true religious experience.
2) Oppenheimer (Available on paid streaming). One of the most fun Hollywood moments this year came from the marketing of one of the biggest box office events in recent memory: Barbenheimer, where Barbie and Oppenheimer both opened on the same weekend, leaving most audiences no choice but to see both amazing films. While Barbie led the box office while still getting amazing reviews, Oppenheimer became the critical darling, giving filmmaker Christopher Nolan the edge when it comes to Oscar Odds. With a stellar cast and a fantastically written story and directing style, the movie gave us an aggressive narrative around the man responsible for the nuclear bomb.
3) The Creator (Streaming on Hulu). This is where I differ from many of my colleagues. Panned by many critics and thus ignored by audiences, this magnificent sci-fi film by Gareth Edwards (Rogue One) tells the story set in the near future where AI has been held responsible for mass destruction, and thus selected for extermination by the U.S. military. When a former special forces agent (John David Washington) is hired to kill a new AI weapon largely thought to take down the U.S. government, he turns from assassin to protector when he discovers that the weapon is an AI child with the power to end the war. Big and bold, the film is as exciting as it is thought-provoking. I hope that now that it has reached streaming, it will get the audience it deserves.
4) Saltburn (Streaming on Amazon Prime). Filmmaker Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) brings us this twisted and intriguing tale of a young Oxford student (Barry Keoghan) who is invited to spend the summer at his family’s sprawling estate by his friend and secret crush (Jacob Elordi). Having grown up poor, he is thrust into a world of excess and eccentricity like he’s never seen, giving him an intoxicating power over his new Uber-wealthy so-called friends. Starting out, you don’t really know what to think of the story, as it feels somewhat familiar, and possibly like a modern Jane Austen tale. But that familiarity quickly dissipates as you follow the hero’s journey into the depths of the wealthy depravity. And just when you think tragedy will lead to a depressing narrative, you are suddenly proven very wrong. Sure to be a divisive hit, I can’t wait to have deeper discussions around this one.
5) Killers of the Flower Moon (Available on paid streaming). Soon to be streaming on Apple TV+). Having grown up in Oklahoma, I was still completely unaware of some of the well-covered up atrocities relatively recently committed there in the early 1900’s. First, HBO’s Watchmen exposed us to the Tulsa Race Massacre where what was known as Black Wall Street in Tulsa was decimated in a raid by white supremacists and the government. Here, Martin Scorsese tells us the story of another horrible event in our past, taking place at almost the same time, where white men went into the Osage nation to systematically kill off the native population in order to lay claim to their rich oil land given to them when their tribe was displaced to their new land. The story itself is masterfully told with a heartbreaking script by Scorsese and Eric Roth (Forest Gump, Munich). Filming in Oklahoma gives the movie a real authenticity, with the help of a solid A-list cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Jesse Plemmons and newcomer Lily Gladstone, who is sure to be a favorite contender during awards season this year. Not only is this a great film, but it proves to be a really important one as well.
6) Poor Things (In Theaters). Writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite, The Lobster) gives us this sci-fi sexual fantasy starring Emma Stone as a young women who is pieced back together by a mad surgeon/scientist after she attempts suicide. Given the brain of a baby, the Frankenstein-like beauty quickly develops in movement and intellect, but becomes fixated with a new obsession when she discovers sexual pleasure. Told in a crazy, visually-stunning style, the movie manages to entertain with a dazzling look and gut-busting comedy, all wrapped up in an enthralling journey. It took me two viewings to fully appreciate the film, but it keeps growing on me day-by-day.
7) The Holdovers (Streaming on Peacock on December 29). Paul Giamatti re-teams with filmmaker Alexander Payne (Sideways) for this severely good dramady about a much-disliked boarding school teacher who is asked to stay over the holiday to watch the one kid (Dominic Sessa) left behind by his parents during the Christmas break. Beginning with authoritarian tension, the two quickly warm to each other as they get to know one another better. As you would expect from a Payne film, the movie is both hilarious and moving, with some of the best performances of the year from Giamatti, Sessa and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, the woman left behind to cook for the three of them.
8) Maestro (Streaming on Netflix). In this long-in-the-works project, Bradley Cooper writes, directs and stars in this biopic about the legendary composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. I knew his music well, but knew relatively nothing about the man before this story unfolded. Masterfully executed, Cooper proves to be impressive under all his hats on display here, giving us a beautiful, although sometimes painful story. The film is wonderfully cast, but it is Carey Mulligan, who plays his wife, Felicia Montealegre, whose commanding presence gives gravity to the film while simultaneously breaking our hearts.
9) Wonka (In Theaters). The charming and talented Timothée Chalamet stars as the infamous chocolate-maker in this musical prequel to the 1971 classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The story follows Wonka on his journey to create his chocolate empire as a poor dreamer who is oppressed by the town’s chocolate mafia: three businessmen determined to not allow any newbies to compete for their business. Playful and genuinely funny, the film is a joy to witness and has the potential to become as iconic as the original.
10) John Wick 4 (Available on Paid Streaming and Starz). While there were some excellent films competing for the last spot on my list, I couldn’t help but include this guilty pleasure, which puts an end to the story of the former assassin trying to survive after claiming revenge for the death of his dog. This nearly three-hour finale pits Wick against an old friend (martial arts master Donnie Yen) who has been hired to take out the man who just can’t seem to die. Thrilling from the first minute to the last, the movie is about as entertaining as a film can get, and a fitting tribute to the character we have grown to love over the last decade.
Honorable Mention (In alphabetical order): Air, American Fiction, Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, Barbie, BlackBerry, Flora and Son, The Iron Claw, The Killer, Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Part One, No Hard Feelings, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse, The Taste of Things, The Zone of Interest
1) Haunted Mansion. Disney, once again, attempts to give a story to a ride, with resounding failure. It’s a shame there were so many great actors willing to bury their reputations in this graveyard.
2) Ghosted. This romantic action thriller from Apple TV+ about a goofy guy (Chris Evans) who falls for a secret agent (Ana de Armas) is as unbelievable as it is disappointing. After two hours watching, you kinda wish there had been an internet outage earlier in the day.
3) Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Disney has been having a really bad year, releasing lousy film after lousy film from franchises that should be able to deliver. By the end, you wish the movie had gotten so small that no one could actually see it.
4) The Marvels. Disney’s need to take successful franchises and turn them into women-driven flicks flops again with this unnecessary and confusing project with little saving grace.
5) Creed 3. Dropping Stallone and adding in now Hollywood Pariah Jonathan Majors proved to be a losing match for director and star Michael B. Jordan, who isn’t quite up to the challenge at hand here.