Probably the first year since 2019 with no interruption from any COVID pandemic, 2023 has proved to be quite a successful year for movies as audiences returned to theatres in huge numbers. In North America, the total domestic box office hit the highest marks since before the pandemic. FIlms felt bigger and more important, with Barbenheimer being hyped up to huge extents and the success of Sony’s new Spider-man animated film.
In the wake of such an immense comeback for the industry and the end of a great year for films, Estrakt and The Duke of Cinema have decided to rank the top 10 films of 2023.
The Bradley Cooper-directed film based on the life of Leonard Bernstein(played by Bradley Cooper) proved to be a pleasant and vibrant surprise. The movie staged the career of the famed composer and conductor with incredible historical precision, as it seems that we’re right there to witness everything uncovered live with our own eyes. The cinematography is gorgeous, the music is beautiful and coupled with Bradley Cooper and Carrey Mulligan’s outstanding performances, a great film is born. Maestro doesn’t quite strike a balance between narrative excellence and technical mastership that it strives for but it still does a damn good job. Cooper omits huge loads of impressionistic freedom and vibrancy while Carey Mulligan, who I felt stole the show, created a beautiful portrait of love, empathy, heartbreak, and acceptance. Overall, the directorial talent in Cooper shines throughout the film, as does his brilliant acting which makes for an interesting, captivating 2-hour journey that does not disappoint.
9. All of Us Strangers
When you see a film with Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal at the helm, you just know it’s gonna be great. Along with that, it is incredibly shot, and the introspective dive into Andrew Scott’s character and his own personal demons, as he attempts to reconcile within himself. The score is strong, the writing is intelligent and the movie is very intricately made, perhaps so much so that it falls heavy with its attempted use of the abstract to deliver its narrative to the audience. The movie is undoubtedly emotionally moving, but sad endings seem a cliche in many LGBTQ films nowadays. While this is by no means bad, it tends to fatigue the viewer at times. AND Andrew Scott delivered one of the best performances of the year.
8. Godzilla Minus One
The angriest Godzilla we have seen in years and perhaps the best one comes in the reboot of the popular Japanese icon by Takashi Yamazaki. After a series of inconsistent Hollywood blockbusters, it is fitting that the best Godzilla in recent memory is from Japan, where the kaiju originated. The special effects and VFZ are masterful as always with Yamazaki, and the inclusion of an emotional plot within chaos is cliched but works wonders. A certain seaborne chase in the movie is eerily similar to a certain Spielberg blockbuster from 1975, but it doesn’t take anything away from it and instead acts like a great throwback and isn’t shy to show it.
7. May December
The latest melodrama from Todd Haynes’ revolves around a suburban woman, Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Julianne Moore), living in the shadow of an underage sex scandal. Now, in the present day, Moore and the former child are seemingly in a happy marriage and raising a full family together; a young actress (Natalie Portman) takes on the task of studying and understanding her next role, which is that of Moore’s character. Heavy themes of sexual power dynamics and self-delusion are explored with utmost precision and intricacy. If you asked me to say one word about this movie, there would only be one possible answer. Profound. The acting of the whole cast in general is Oscar-worthy but Charles Melton steals the show. Seamlessly diving into his broken psyche seems surreal as you discover layer upon layer of insecurities and deep-rooted issues the character faces. The movie tackles abuse and trauma in a way I’ve seen very few other films try to do and succeed at it.
6. Sound of Freedom
Sound of Freedom illustrates the real-life story of Tim Ballard and his efforts to combat the network of child sex trafficking. A lot of people may not agree with this film making the top 10 films of the year, but I believe it absolutely does deserve a spot. While subject material doesn’t drive a movie too much as far as its quality goes, I believe it does as far as this film goes. Child sex trafficking is one of the biggest issues that the world is facing right now and is also one of the largest and most profitable businesses in the world. The execution may be a bit heavily melodramatic, and the effects may be a little uncomfortable, but the movie is emotionally heavy in the best way possible. It exposes the audience to heartbreaking truths that invite our empathy and open our eyes to a huge issue we face as a community. Power and intensity come through in each moment of the film for an emotionally high final product.
5. Past Lives
Another great indie film from A24. It’s actually insane how many great indie films the studio has produced only a decade into its existence, and Past Lives is right up there with the studio’s best. A tender-hearted romance, which showcases great empathy and emotional intelligence throughout the film. Celine Song’s debut film follows Nora (Greta Lee), a New York-based playwright born in Korea who reconnects with her childhood sweetheart (Teo Yoo), reminiscing on what her life could have been. The raw vulnerability of confronting roads we couldn’t take in our lives is beautifully presented by great cinematography and remarkable performances from the two lead actors. The dialogue drives the film, as it strongly emphasizes the painful nature of confronting your past and your mistakes, but treats it as something necessary to do to move forward.
4. Killers of the Flower Moon
Can a Martin Scorsese Picture NOT be on such a list? At the age of 80, Scorsese holds the mental prowess to materialize films of such a high degree that most directors are never able to do over the course of their whole career. Martin seems to reinvent himself and redefine cinema with each release. Killers of the Flower Moon is an interesting neo-western film, driven by bold artistic choices, signifying the Osage culture in wreaths of profound shots. DiCaprio gave a stellar performance as the lead actor and Robert DeNiro killed his role as his manipulative and evil uncle, who is hugely responsible for a large number of the Osage killings. I understand concerns related to the mammoth 3-and-a-half-hour runtime but for me, it felt so swift(and absolutely necessary). Lily Gladstone’s performance left me speechless. Her on-screen presence was haunting, and she stole the show whenever she was in any shot. The supporting cast further elevates the film to new heights and Martin Scorsese delivers on the huge expectations placed upon the film’s shoulders. I know who gets my vote for the Lead Actress Academy Award.
3. Anatomy of a Fall
One of the best courtroom dramas I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. A mystery of tantalizing darkness that takes hold of the viewer and doesn’t let go throughout its runtime. Justine Triet’s elusive Palme D’or winner, masterfully dissects a marital relationship in every human way possible, every aspect and dimension of it covered in its entirety. The film follows, Samuel, a teacher and writer, who has fallen to his death from the upper level of his sprawling chalet home in the French Alps. Did his wife murder him? Did he commit suicide? The film leaves you clueless as his wife, exquisitely played by Sandra Hüller(who easily gave one of, if not the best female performance of the year), becomes the prime suspect in his murder. Anatomy of a Fall tells us a story of a marriage, and more importantly, a story of man and woman in the 21st century. The dynamics between spouses are so perfectly depicted in so many ways, that it’s hard to decipher what exactly the film is. Triet throws morsels of information at us throughout the film as we helplessly attempt to decipher the story, piece by piece. The cast in general, gave masterful performances, as the whole movie revolves around a certain important blind boy, and the audience is kept on their toes.
Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece and one of the most important films of the century, Oppenheimer is an insightful 3-hour journey and one of the bravest ventures I’ve seen a director of such a high status take on. The film forces us to question ourselves, and humanity as a whole and contemplate various topics that govern our present-day world by giving us a look into the mind of Robert J. Oppenheimer. A deep journey into human ambition and guilt, Ludwig Goransson’s score sends shudders down the viewer’s spine in the IMAX theatre. How can I talk about the film without mentioning Cillian Murphy’s effortless portrayal of Oppenheimer, which shakes you to your absolute core? He gave one of the best performances of the last decade and it’s truly mesmerizing. Robert Downey Jr.’s brilliant monologue and menacing embodiment of Lewis Strauss in the world of black and white added a completely new dimension to the film, elevating it to heights that I had never hoped the film would reach. If this film doesn’t win Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Picture, we riot!
1. The Boy and the Heron
Hayao Miyazaki came out of retirement to give us one last masterpiece from Studio Ghibli and DAMN! DID HE DELIVER!? The Boy and the Heron is a brilliant and vibrant film that poses Beauty and the Beast-esque traits and follows a grieving boy down a rabbit hole in prime wartime Japan, to find peace of mind and contemplate. The Boy and the Heron speaks with immense empathy towards our own tough times and is greatly relatable due to the similar issues we face. It’s weird and fantastic and proves to be the perfect escapism from real world troubles. A pure, beautiful, insightful, relatable yet simple masterpiece. If nothing else, The Boy and the Heron is utterly gorgeous and proves to be a vividly magnificent tale that encapsulates the journey of Hayao Miyazaki across his long career of animated excellence. It is a final statement from Miyazaki and the best send-off a legendary director could hope for.