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Laramie Movie Scope:
Top, bottom films, etc. of 2023

Best, worst and ruminations on 2023 films

[Strip of film rule]
by Robert Roten, Film Critic
[Strip of film rule]

June 6, 2024) -- Here is my ridiculously late list of the best films, best actors, and the most disappointing films from the year 2023. Documentary films are listed in the Honorable Mention list, even though they may be rated higher than some of the films in the Top 10 list. Documentary films are more impactful because they are inherently more believable than fiction movies, so I put them in a different category.

There are the usual caveats. I saw most of the year's top films with the exception of a few films which had limited distribution or promotion in this country.

I have more top-rated films on my list this year than I used to see because I was able to see more of them thanks to streaming services. Streaming services not only made it easier to see more good movies, but streaming companies also produced a lot of the top movies on my list, as opposed to theatrical releases.

So where are Oppenheimer, Barbie, The Boy and the Heron, Mission: Impossible - Dead Reconing, Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse, Perfect Days John Wick Chapter 4? I saw them, but I didn't think they were quite good enough to make my Top 10 list. I did not see About Dry Grasses, The Promised Land and When Evil Lurks but I did see most of the movies on most Top 10 movie lists.

Below this list of top films, are honorable mentions, followed by lists of my picks for top director, top actor, top foreign film, etc. Those lists are followed by lists of the worst films, overrated films, funniest, saddest, weirdest, most romantic, etc. I've included a Dubious Distinction award for a films of “bad taste.” My top 10 lists include more comedy and films starring black actors, two varieties of movies absent from most top 10 lists. Drama is easy, but comedy is difficult.

Page navigation: Commercial Links Honorable mention Best of by category Funniest movies,   Best Love Stories  Saddest movies Weirdest movies Scariest villain Overrated movies,   Best movies you haven't heard of,   Most disappointing movies,   Dubious Distinction.

Best 10 films of 2023

1.Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret[4 stars]
This is the best coming of age story I have seen in a long time, and I have seen a lot of movies in this particular genre. The screenplay is smart and funny and the acting is top shelf. The characters are believable and memorable.
2. American Fiction[4 stars]
This movie strikes a good balance between broad satire and character-driven humor. Monk is an unlikable curmudgeon who can't help but speak his mind, yet Jeffrey Wright in a tremendous performance, imbues him with enough humanity that he is a character that you can root for. You end up hoping this guy will get his act together and that he finds love.
3. Past Lives[4 stars]
This heartbreaking story of a love affair lost, but not faded, by distance and time, doesn't go for the cheap shot suicides and other tragedies one often sees in such stories. It is more grown up than that, but no less tragic in terms of regret and loss. A beautiful screenplay and effective performances power this movie.
4. Poor Things[4 stars]
This fantastic-looking film features some great acting performances, a unique story and dazzling visuals. Emma Stone's amazing performance has been deservedly awarded, while those of Mark Ruffalo and Willem Dafoe less so. At a time when so many movies are derivative, this one is original.
5. Anatomy of a Fall[4 stars]
This psychological drama is a kind of whodunit, in which a death (possibly a murder) is examined from different perspectives. So what is the truth about this death? Who knows? But the journey in search of truth is fascinating just the same. A clever screenplay and great acting by Sandra Hüller make this a must see for all those who love mysteries.
6. Origin[4 stars]
Ava DuVernay (“Selma” and “13th”) writes and directs this drama about the emotional and intellectual journey of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson (played by Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor of “King Richard”) as she researches her best-selling book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.” The intellectual journey of this movie makes it important, but its hot button political issues caused it to be largely avoided during awards season.
7. All of Us Strangers[4 stars]
This disturbing psychological drama, by writer-director Andrew Haigh (“Weekend”) based on a 1987 novel, “Stranger,” by Taichi Yamada, is compelling, and very clever, with some surprising twists. The acting, by Andrew Scott and, Paul Mescal, is outstanding, and the production values are perfect.
8. The Holdovers[4 stars]
Powerful performances by Paul Giamatti, Da'Vine Joy Randolph and Dominic Sessa make this movie work despite a small cast and limited sets. It is kind of like an adult version of “The Breakfast Club.” Director Alexander Payne (“Sideways” and “Nebraska”) deserves a lot of the credit for this excellent movie, as well as screenwriter David Hemingson.
9. The Taste of Things[4 stars]
One of the best romantic films of the year is about the love of fine food as much as it is about romantic love of a man and woman. This is not a film to be watched on an empty stomach. Much of the film is about the art of cooking fine food, but it is also about a man and woman who wait to long to explore the depths of their mutual love. Great performances here by Juliet Binoche and Benoît Magimel with impeccable direction by Anh Hung Tran (also co-writer with Marcel Rouff).
10. The Teacher's Lounge[4 stars]
Another great international film of 2023 is from Germany, and it hits a lot of the same political and social divides that also are evident in America. It is a case study in how rumors and one little incident can blow up out of control, causing a series of misunderstandings, suspicion and anger. It features a great performance by Leonie Benesch as the teacher caught in the middle of this emotional storm.

Top 10 Documentary/Honorable Mention movies

20 Days in Mariupol[4 stars]
The unfiltered story of a city under siege is captured by a determined news crew, the only one to stay inside the Ukrainian city of Mariupol after the Russian shells and bombs started falling in 2022. The Ukrainian Associated Press crew luckily survived the siege for 20 days, and managed to smuggle out video proof of Russian war crimes past numerous Russian checkpoints.
American Symphony[4 stars]
This documentary (streaming on Netflix) depicts a year in the life of multi award-winning musician Jon Batiste, under enormous pressure to finish his own American Symphony, to be played at Carnegie Hall. At the same time, his wife, Suleika Jaouad, has a recurrence of lukemia. There is high drama, romance, and high art working hand in hand in this movie.
Beyond Utopia[4 stars]
Much like “20 Days in Mariupol,” this documentary was shot under very dangerous conditions by very brave, dedicated people. It puts the spotlight on North Korea, one of the most secretive, closed societies on earth. It illustrates the power of a government to brainwash millions of people into believing that a fantasy is reality. It also shows what real heroism is, in the person of a minister, Seungeun Kim, director of the Caleb Mission in South Korea.
The Eternal Memory[4 stars]
This heartbreaking documentary shows the awful mental decline of one of the leading journalists of Chile, Augusto Góngora. Ironically, Augusto had dedicated years to preserving the memory of the horrors of the General Pinochet's dictatorship. Pinochet's rule (1974-1990) by terror included thousands of political opponents murdered, tortured or sent into exile. This documentary not only chronicles the mental decline of a famous journalist, but it also shows us the beauty of love and marriage. It shows us how love persists, even when memory fails.
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie[4 stars]
Fox is interviewed extensively in this movie, and he is funny, disarming and upbeat, despite his serious medical condition. He always has a quip ready for any occasion, even if he isn't able to say it quickly enough. It is easy to see the personality and wit that made him so popular, even in the advanced stages of his illness. For those who don't know what a big star he was, this documentary shows us his rise and fall.
Suzume[4 stars]
The year's best animated film (2022 in Japan) is about a relationship between a boy and girl that seems more dreamlike than real because they seem to exist in a world that most people can't see. The same two characters also inhabit the conventional real world. The question of whether or not these two will ever meet in the real world is suspended until the end.
Air[3.5 stars]
You would not expect a great movie to come from a story about a company signing Michael Jordan to a basketball shoe contract, but this movie does a great job explaining why this is such a great underdog story. It includes great performances by Viola Davis, Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, Chris Messina and Ben Affleck and a well-written story by Alex Convery.
Godzilla Minus One[3.5 stars]
What is there left to do in a Godzilla movie after 32 previous films? Nothing, really, but this one goes back to the source material and puts a haunted, dramatic human face on the conflict between man and monster. It also explores the social landscape of post-war Japan in a very dramatic way. This is arguably the best Godzilla film of them all.
Killers of the Flower Moon[3.5 stars]
Acclaimed director Martin Scorcese shines a light on a little-known fragment of America History, when a small group of white men conspired to steal millions of dollars from Native Americans by killing certain Osage tribe members for their oil leases. The movie includes brilliant performances by Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone.
May December[3.5 stars]
Old emotional wounds are uncovered in this movie about an actress researching an infamous affair involving a teacher and student. Layers are peeled off deep secrets one by one in this intense drama which has deep ties to the entertainment industry. Intense performances by Julianne Moore, Natalie Portman and Charles Melton light a fire under this story.
Napoleon[3.5 stars]
The madness of love and the lust for power are both on full display in this unusual portrait of one of history's most important characters. The love story between Napoleon and Josephine is front and center in this historical drama which features great performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby, who play them. Although the military battles are secondary to the main story, the battle scenes are also powerful.
Rye Lane[3.5 stars]
Most romantic comedies are not successful, either as romances, or comedies, but this a rare exception to the rule. Dom (played by David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah) meet in the unlikliest of places and they share equally unlikely adventures on their way toward a romance that neither of them sees coming.
Saltburn[3.5 stars]
Arrogant rich people get a tragic comeuppance in this very dark comedy about a seemingly mild-mannered, socially awkward freshman scholarship student at Oxford. Barry Keoghan gives a Hannibal Lecter-worthy performance in this movie.

More lists below

[Strip of film rule]

Links to reviews of all the films I've reviewed on this page are indexed in the following web pages:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through L
M through Q   R through S   T through Z

Best director

1. Yorgos Lanthimos — Poor Things
2. Cord Jefferson — American Fiction
3. Celine Song — Past Lives
4. Kelly Fremon Craig — Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
5. Justine Triet — Anatomy of a Fall

Best feature film directorial debut

1. Cord Jefferson — American Fiction
2. Celine Song — Past Lives
3. Raine Allen Miller — Rye Lane
4. Juel Taylor — They Cloned Tyrone
5. Michael B. Jordan — Creed III

Best leading actor

1. Colman Domingo — Rustin
2. Jeffrey Wright — American Fiction
3. Leonardo DiCaprio — Killers of the Flower Moon
4. Barry Keoghan — Saltburn
5. Andrew Scott — All of Us Strangers

Best leading actress

1. Emma Stone — Poor Things
2. Abby Ryder Fortson — Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
3. Leonie Benesch — The Teacher's Lounge
4. Sandra Hüller — Anatomy of a Fall
5. Viola Davis — Air

Best supporting actor

1. Mark Ruffalo — Poor Things
2. Robert De Niro — Killers of the Flower Moon
3. Robert Downey Jr. — Oppenheimer
4. Sterling K. Brown — American Fiction
5. Dominic Sessa — The Holdovers

Best supporting actress

1. Da'Vine Joy Randolph — The Holdovers
2. Julianne Moore — May December
3. Penelope Cruz — Ferrari
4. Vanessa Kirby — Napoleon
5. Jodie Foster — Nyad

Best child actors

1. Abby Ryder Fortson — Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
2. Elle Graham — Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
3. Milo Machado-Graner — Anatomy of a Fall
4. Violet McGraw — M3GAN
5. Leonard Stettnisch— The Teacher's Lounge

Best adapted screenplay

1. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret — Kelly Fremon Craig and Judy Blume
2. American Fiction — Cord Jefferson and Percival Everett
3. Poor Things — Tony McNamara and Alasdair Gray
4. Origin — Ava DuVernay
5. All of Us Strangers — Andrew Haigh and Taichi Yamada

Best original screenplay

1. Past Lives — Celine Song
2. The Holdovers — David Hemingson
3. Anatomy of a Fall — Justine TrietArthur Harari
4. May December — Samy Burch and Alex Mechanik
5. Saltburn — Emerald Fennell

Best animated feature

1. Suzume
2. Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget
3. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
4. Nimona
5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

Best foreign language film

1. The Taste of Things
2. The Teacher's Lounge
3. 20 Days in Mariupol
4. Society of the Snow
5. The Zone of Interest

Best cinematography

1. Poor Things — Robbie Ryan
2. Oppenheimer — Hoyte Van Hoytema
3. Barbie — Rodrigo Prieto
4. Killers of the Flower Moon — Rodrigo Prieto
5. El Conde — Edward Lachman

Best editing

1. Anatomy of a Fall — Laurent Sénéchal
2. Poor Things — Yorgos Mavropsaridis
3. Oppenheimer — Jennifer Lame
4. Past Lives — Keith Fraase
5. The Zone of Interest — Paul Watts

Best visual effects

1. Poor Things
2. Godzilla Minus One
3. The Creator
4. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
5. Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One

Best short film of the year

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar

Links to reviews of all films on this site are indexed below:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through L
M through Q   R through S   T through Z

Funniest films of the year

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret[4 stars]
American Fiction[4 stars]
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem[3 stars]
The Holdovers[4 stars]
Rye Lane[3.5 stars]
Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget[3 stars]
Poor Things[4 stars]
Barbie[2.5 stars]

Saddest films of the year

20 Days in Mariupol[4 stars]
Beyond Utopia[4 stars]
The Eternal Memory[4 stars]
Killers of the Flower Moon[3.5 stars]
Past Lives[4 stars]
May December[3.5 stars]
All of Us Strangers[4 stars]
The Teacher's Lounge[4 stars]
The Zone of Interest[3 stars]
Eileen[3 stars]
Four Daughters[3 stars]
Passages[3 stars]
The Royal Hotel[2.5 stars]
Society of the Snow[3 stars]

Weirdest films of the year

Poor Things[4 stars]
It doesn't get much weirder than this. This movie is a kind of steam punk science fiction comedy about a mad scientist who creates a truly unique woman. It is apalling, but somehow wonderful at the same time.
El Conde[3 stars]
You start with Augusto Pinochet and Margaret Thatcher as vampires in South America, and then it gets even weirder after that.
All of Us Strangers[4 stars]
This disturbing psychological drama has a lot of surprising twists, with a main character who seems almost normal at first. Later, it turns out he is way more disturbed than one would imagine.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar[4 stars]
Author Roald Dahl (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) and movie director Wes Anderson (“Asteroid City”) combine their unique views of the world for a weird, but beautiful short film, part of a collection of Dahl-based short movies on Netflix.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania[2.5 stars]
This movie takes quantum pseudoscientific absurdities to a whole new level, although most of it actually takes place at some mythical level existing on a scale even smaller than the quantum realm, described as a whole sub-atomic universe of its own. It is, in fact, a sort of wonderland, where anything goes. It is weird. It is crazy, but it is fun.
Asteroid City[3 stars]
Wes Anderson's offbeat style of filmmaking has never been mistaken for realism, and his latest, and so far most successful film, is a strange, soft, pastel vision of life and love with rounded edges. It is weird (including a funny visit from a UFO) but also wholly inoffensive and charming.
Barbie[2.5 stars]
What would happen if Barbie was a real person living in an alternate universe with other Barbie and Ken people? That is the crazy premise of this highly successful comedy, and it works, weirdly enough.
Infinity Pool[3 stars]
What if you could commit any crime, even murder, and not be held responsible for it, as long as you had the money to pay for a way out of legal jeopardy? Well, yes, that does sound a lot like the American legal system, but in this case, it involves human clones, and it is much weirder and more disturbing than it sounds.
The Marvels[3 stars]
There seems to be no end to the craziness of movie plots based on the idea of multiple universes. This one includes not only the usual multiverse plot, but superpowers, faster than light travel, macro-level quantum entanglement, and cat-like creatures that swallow people whole and later regurgitate them intact and still alive, although covered in cat spit.

Best love stories

American Symphony[4 stars]
The Taste of Things[4 stars]
Rye Lane[3.5 stars]
The Eternal Memory[4 stars]
Fallen Leaves[3 stars]
Suzume[4 stars]

Scariest villains of the year

“The Entity” and its minion Gabriel (Esai Morales) demented mass killers bent on world domination in
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Part One[3 stars]

Oliver Quick, the Mr. Ripley-like serial killer (played by Barry Keoghan) in
Saltburn[3.5 stars]

M3gan, the creepy killer robot on the loose in
M3gan[3 stars]

William Hale (played by Robert De Niro) a corrupt, racist rancher who orchestrates a series of killings for money in
Killers of the Flower Moon[3.5 stars]

The year's most overrated films

All of these films have won awards or have been highly rated by some critics groups. They are mostly not bad films, but are not top 10 material for my list.
Barbie[2.5 stars]
Elemental[2.5 stars]
Enys Men[1 star]
Ferrari[2 stars]
La Chimera[2.5 stars]
Maestro[3 stars]
Sanctuary[2 stars]
All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (I tried to watch this, but it was too dull)

The year's best films you've never heard of

All of Us Strangers[4 stars]
American Symphony[4 stars]
Anatomy of a Fall[4 stars]
Beyond Utopia[4 stars]
The Eternal Memory[4 stars]
Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project[3 stars]
How to Blow Up a Pipeline[3 stars]
The Killer[3 stars]
Kokomo City[3 stars]
Nimona[3 stars]
Nyad[3 stars]
Origin[4 stars]
Past Lives[4 stars]
Rustin[3 stars]
Rye Lane[3.5 stars]
Saltburn[3.5 stars]
Sharper[3 stars]
Society of the Snow[3 stars]
Stamped From the Beginning[3 stars]
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie[4 stars]
Suzume[4 stars]
The Taste of Things[4 stars]
The Teacher's Lounge[4 stars]
A Thousand and One[3 stars]
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar[4 stars]
You Hurt My Feelings[3 stars]
The Zone of Interest[3 stars]

Most disappointing 2020 films I've seen

While I saw most of the best films 2023, I purposefully missed nearly all of the reportedly bad films, including Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and HoneyThe TutorThe Devil ConspiracyTeen Wolf: The MovieMy Big Fat Greek Wedding 3MarloweShotgun WeddingThe SonYour Place or MineThe Exorcist: Believer and Ghosted, among many others.

Here are some films I saw that disappointed me the most:
Ferrari[2 stars]
I like movies about racing and race cars, and there have been some excellent ones in recent years. This one, however, turned out to be not as good as I hoped it would be.
Haunted Mansion[2 stars]
This is a ghostbuster-type movie that is nowhere near as good as any of the films in the Ghostbuster franchise. It turned out to be worse than I feared.
A Haunting in Venice[2 stars]
I thought that a movie based on an Agatha Christie story, featuring the talents of Kenneth Branagh (who also directs this film) and Michele Yeoh, that it would be a lot better than this.

Dubious Distinctions: The Bad Taste Award

The Bad Taste Award goes to The Sound of Freedom

This movie is supposedly based on a true story, the most compelling aspect of which turns out to be a tall tale told by a braggart. It is a movie that made a lot of money by exploiting those who find wing nut QAnon political conspiracy stories credible, as well as phony “alternative facts” about child sexual slavery that fit the same false narrative.

Links to all my reviews are indexed below:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through I
J through L   M through N   O through Q   R through S   T through Z

Page navigation: Commercial Links  Honorable mention Best of by category Funniest movie,   Best Love Stories  Saddest movie Scariest villain Overrated movies,   Best movies you haven't heard of,   Most disappointing movies,   Dubious Distinctions.

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Copyright © 2024 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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