A list of the 20 best movies of 2023, from box office hits to hidden gems and festival favorites, according to the Loud and Clear Reviews team!
What were the 20 best movies of 2023? It’s an easy enough question, but the answer is not so simple. This was the year of Barbie, Oppenheimer, Dead Reckoning, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and many more box office hits. But we also saw some incredible festival films, from Past Lives, Poor Things and Killers of the Flower Moon to American Fiction, Anatomy of a Fall, Saltburn, The Holdovers, The Boy and the Heron: the list goes on. And then there were tons of hidden gems that really spoke to viewers, and incredible debuts that not everyone has seen yet. Not everyone at Loud and Clear Reviews was able to see every 2023 release, as so many exceptional movies came out this year, but 27 of our writers helped make this list of 20 best movies of 2023, and every single one of them is worth the watch for different reasons.
Below is our definitive list of the 20 best films of the year. It only includes movies that had their first U.S. or U.K. release or FYC screening in the year 2023, not counting film festival debuts, and we also added links to our reviews. Scroll till the end for some runners-up, and don’t forget to check out our writers’ individual top 10s of best films of 2023!
THE BEST MOVIES OF 2023:
20. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. (Kelly Fremon Craig)
19. Maestro (Bradley Cooper)
18. Bottoms (Emma Seligman)
17. Fallen Leaves (Aki Kaurismäki)
16. The Boy and the Heron (Hayao Miyazaki)
15. American Fiction (Cord Jefferson)
14. Perfect Days (Wim Wenders)
13. The Zone of Interest (Jonathan Glazer)
12. May December (Todd Haynes)
11. John Wick: Chapter 4 (Chad Stahelski)
10. ALL OF US STRANGERS
Director: Andrew Haigh
Full review: All of Us Strangers Film Review
Read also: The specific grief in The Boy and The Heron and All of Us Strangers
Taichi Yamada’s 1987 novel “Strangers” is a curious story. In it, a middle-aged screenwriter named Harada rediscovers his parents as they were before they were killed in a car crash years before. The twist (spoilers for the book) is that the parents are a pair of ghosts draining Harada’s life force. Here, parental comfort and nostalgia almost kill him. But that supernatural surprise is dropped in the adaptation All of Us Strangers, with Andrew Haigh – who has always felt underrated between Weekend, 45 Years and his short-lived HBO series Looking – favouring a sense of melancholy within his gay romance drama. The result is the most spellbindingly emotional film of the year.
For starters, Haigh’s script tackles love, grief and loneliness whilst still retaining a lot of complexity. The childhood home of the main character, Adam, is intricately designed, generating a lived-in feeling found in every setting. And the cast is utterly outstanding. Jamie Bell’s wry yet emotionally suppressive father, Claire Foy’s affectionate yet worrying mother, Paul Mescal’s partner who gets Adam to open up. Then there is Andrew Scott, achingly sensitive as a man caught between two ages.
Compassionate and phenomenally made, All of Us Strangers is about the power of two kinds of love. The parental kind that can be ripped from you in an instant (haunting you long after), and the romantic kind that begins to heal you. It is a film that swells with emotion with a devastating climax that ensures it will be always on your mind. (Daniel Allen)
Director: Emerald Fennell
Full review: Saltburn Film Review
After making an enormous splash in the world of cinema by winning the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for her debut feature Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell is back with an ever sicker, twistier, and more stylish psychological thriller in Saltburn. The story follows two young students named Oliver (Barry Keoghan) and Felix (Jacob Elordi) who become close friends despite their differing social classes, with Oliver spending the summer at Felix’s family home and quickly learning that things aren’t exactly as glamorous as they might seem. Fennell uses this glossy exterior to craft a shocking, subversive commentary on the nature of classism and social hierarchy that’s just as entertaining and unpredictable as Promising Young Woman with even more hilarious characters and uncomfortable sequences.
Although Keoghan and Elordi shine in their diametrically opposed roles, the real magic of Saltburn lies in its supporting cast. Veteran actors such as Carey Mulligan, Richard E. Grant and Rosamund Pike provide some of the year’s funniest performances and forge a deliciously diverse cast of characters that really makes this story work. While the film has admittedly been criticised for its tonal inconsistencies and uncomfortable narrative, that’s exactly what makes Saltburn such a unique picture.
What’s often perceived as ‘inconsistent’ or ‘uncomfortable’ is merely a result of Fennell’s extensive range as a filmmaker, both thematically and visually, pulling the movie in countless different directions and ensuring that the audience never knows exactly what’s happening until the final moments. It’s the kind of story that begs to be watched multiple times, allowing audiences to pick up on all the clever details that are littered throughout the film and enjoying the palpable chemistry between all these brilliant actors. (Jack Walters)
What can I say about Barbie that has not already been echoed by millions? Years from now, I think we will remember 2023 as the year of Barbie, whether it’s the time that everyone changed their profile pictures to their personalized version of the film’s poster or seeing at least one group of people dressed up in pink for the rest of the summer anytime we would go to the movies. Barbie follows the titular character (played beautifully by Margot Robbie), who is living her absolute best life among her peers in Barbieland. This perfection quickly changes when Barbie starts to have an existential crisis, which leads her and Ken (Ryan Gosling) on a journey to the real world to discover what she was made for.
Barbie has become so much more than just a popular film; it was a cinematic cultural reset that audiences needed this year more than ever. Ryan Gosling’s unforgettable performance is my personal highlight from the film, but if you ask anyone else, there are endless scenes or aspects of the filmmaking that people are still obsessed with.
Most importantly, Barbie was able to preach what so many women had on their minds for years, even if they hadn’t found the words to say it yet. I will never forget watching my friends’ eyes slowly tear up during America Ferrara’s monologue and my majority female audience applauding scene after scene during the film’s final act. In the hands of almost anyone else, Barbie could have easily been the cinematic failure of the century, but Greta Gerwig somehow pulled off the impossible. She crafted a film that united moviegoers in a way I’ve never seen before, which is why Barbie most certainly deserves a spot on our top 10 movies of 2023 list. (Jonathan Vargas)
7. SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE
Directors: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson
Full review: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Film Review
Multiversal adventures are all the rage in comic book films as of late, but Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse blows all that came before it out of the water. That is because the creatives in charge here have more interest in using it as a supporting tool instead of the central focus. The sequel to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) excellently continues the journey of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) but gives Gwen Stacy/Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) a beautiful arc of her own as they travel through multiple dimensions chasing a villain known as The Spot (Jason Schwartzman).
Across the Spider-Verse has so much going for it, from spectacular animation to unbelievable action sequences, and even a score from Daniel Pemberton that makes each moment so powerful. The multiversal moments are cool, but this film never loses sight of what truly makes it special, which is how much heart is at its center. All these parts, plus an epic performance from Oscar Isaac as Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099, make Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse an absolute feat of cinema and one of the best films of 2023. (Branyan Towe)
6. ANATOMY OF A FALL
Director: Justine Triet
Full review: Anatomy of a Fall Film Review
Sandra Hüller is titanic in Justine Triet’s latest film Anatomy of a Fall, an unremittingly gripping courtroom drama set in the French Alps. She plays novelist Sandra, who stands accused of the murder of her husband, Samuel (Samuel Theis), after he is found lying in bloodstained snow outside the family’s home. What follows is not only a riveting thriller, but a discomforting dissection of the film’s central relationship.
Exposed by both the vast space of the mountains she reluctantly calls home and the expertly rendered claustrophobic space of the courtroom, Sandra and her marriage to Samuel are subject to an invasive scrutiny in which the film’s audience is complicit. Triet’s treatment of language in Anatomy of a Fall is masterful; every argument, gesture and comment shared between the couple is examined with unforgiving scrutiny. As their intellectual and sexual frustrations are laid bare for all to see, one fears a misinterpreted phrase or a barbed comment in the heat of the moment could prove just as lethal as a fall from the top floor of a mountain chalet. This is compounded by Sandra’s flitting between French, English and German whenever it suits her, leading us to ponder her authenticity and the reliability of language itself as a means of communication.
Special mentions must go to the brilliant Milo Machado Graner, playing the couple’s young son Daniel, and Messi, the border collie who plays Daniel’s guide dog Snoop in a Cannes Palm Dog-winning turn. Having also scooped the Palme d’Or and with more prizes surely to come, Anatomy of a Fall will likely go down as one of the all-time great courtroom dramas. (Louis Roberts)
5. THE HOLDOVERS
Director: Alexander Payne
Full review: The Holdovers: Film Review
Overall, 2023 was an excellent year for cinema, with many new outstanding works by both established and new directors. Of course, we cannot forget Alexander Payne who returned to the big screen this year with his newest film, a Christmas comedy drama that will warm the heart of its audience. With its charming comedy and beautiful characters, The Holdovers is without a doubt one of this year’s best movies. Set in New England in the 1970s, the film shows us what Christmas and the festive season look like at the prestigious Barton’s Academy for those who have remained on campus, including a cranky history teacher (Paul Giamatti), a troubled student (Dominic Sessa), and the school’s cook (Da’Vine Joy Randolph).
The Holdovers stands out particularly for the humour in its screenplay: with witty jokes and excellent comedic timing. it is a film that manages to remain consistently funny for its whole runtime. It is also a very moving film, creating a successful balance between the comedic moments and emotional scenes that give depth to the characters as we learn more about their respective backstory. This is all elevated by the excellent performances we see in the movie: Giamatti, Sessa, and Randolph all shine in bringing their characters to life. The Holdovers is an incredible film that will certainly become a Christmas classic for many viewers in the years to come. (Clotilde Chinnici)
4. POOR THINGS
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Full review: Poor Things: Film Review
Read also: Interview with Poor Things‘ cinematographer Robbie Ryan
As soon as you hear the first off-kilter note of Jerskin Fendrix’s original score or see the first twinklings of Emma Stone’s (La La Land) gloriously physical performance, you know you’re in for a wholly singular experience with Poor Things. Based on Alasdair Gray’s delirious, unrivalled novel of the same name, Poor Things follows Bella Baxter (Stone)—a woman with an infant’s mind—on her journey of discovery and liberation, as she traverses the globe and visits Victorian London, Lisbon and Alexandria.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Favourite), who is no stranger to surrealism, is given a stunning screenplay from Tony McNamara (The Favourite) to work with. Not only is Poor Things a hilarious hoot, it also shows a strong voice in depicting sexism and feminism. As the film progresses, Bella becomes more autonomous and aware, breaking free from the manipulative shackles that have been flung on her by a masculine society. Perhaps most impressive is the production (Shona Heath and James Price, The Iron Claw) and costume design (Holly Waddington, Lady Macbeth) of Poor Things. The worldbuilding on show here is fully formed and quite simply a wondrous creation.
Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse) burps big bubbles, there are half-and-half animals, Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight) says “ow” in the most bizarre way possible, and yet even these aspects barely scratch the surreal and strange surface of Poor Things. Most importantly, there is style and substance here; the result is spellbinding. (William Stottor)
3. KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON
Director: Martin Scorsese
Full review: Killers of The Flower Moon Film Review
Why exactly does Killers of the Flower Moon exist? What should its purpose be? So often, we place these expectations on cinema that are so ignorant of what we should actually be taking away from the experience. So many people carelessly throw on the latest Netflix true crime documentary simply because they want to be thrilled, transforming someone else’s horrific tragedy into Saturday night entertainment. Killers of the Flower Moon won’t allow for that to happen. Martin Scorsese ensures that the awful, shocking story of the murder of the Osage people is told in the most straight-forward, chilling way possible. There’s no room in this story for thrills or for entertainment; Scorsese wants you to see this tragedy for what it is: an absolutely horrific genocide that should never be forgotten or brushed under the rug.
With that ending, Scorsese makes his point directly to the camera. Is this what you people want? To have these stories spoon-fed to you, to have real tragedies turned into fun, quirky pieces of art that you can recommend to your friends? Is that all these people are to you? Is that all their stories are? At the end of it all, you get the feeling that even Scorsese isn’t sure if he’s doing the right thing. Should this film exist at all? Should he be the one helming it? Should the true-crime genre, if you can label this film as that, even exist in the first place, or is it one that we should bury in the forgotten depths of streaming services?
Killers of the Flowers Moon may not entirely answer those questions, but that’s not what it’s here to do. It’s here to start a discussion, one about how we view art, and more importantly, one about remembering the Osage people, and making sure they never get swept aside ever again. (Tom Spoors)
2. PAST LIVES
What else can be said of Celine Song’s astonishing and gripping debut, Past Lives? This tale, told in three decades and two countries, is one of the best and most emotional cinematic experiences 2023 had to offer. It made audiences cry collectively, moved to tears by the power of cinema. The film resembles Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy, another beloved love story crossing through multiple points in time and locations. But Celine Song subverts the romantic fantasies we all have in our heads, choosing instead to decipher the reasons why living in a constant state of “what if” injures one’s soul.
The irreversibility of time and the strain of lost love have been pet topics for the post-pandemic era; we’d often think back to what could have happened if COVID hadn’t occurred. Song takes those sentiments and flips them upside-down, making the viewer feel grateful for the paths they have taken. Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) have found themselves separated a couple of times at various points in their young lives. But a visit from the latter makes them recall their experiences together, struggles, and even the lost opportunities that might have arisen had Hae Sung come to see her earlier. These characters’ conversations feel grounded and authentic, as if the director went through a similar situation in her life.
After watching Past Lives, you’re left with a feeling in your mind, body, and soul that’s just as liberating and heartwarming as it is heartbreaking. No other film has conveyed that feeling to such a piercing degree in recent memory. And when a movie makes the viewer react and feel to such extent, you know it is a special picture that will stand the test of time. (Hector A. Gonzalez)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Full review: Oppenheimer Film Review
Read also: Oppenheimer: Nolan’s Fictional Fractured Man No More
There’s a scene in Oppenheimer that made me realize I was witnessing cinematic history in the making, and that everyone would be talking about it for years to come. Not long after an incredibly tense Trinity Test scene had us on the edge of our seats, hoping for the team of scientists behind the atomic bomb to make it out alive, the US detonates said bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), who was essential in achieving this result, celebrates the victory at Los Alamos, giving a speech to a cheering crowd.
“The world will remember this day,” he says, but as the people get more excited, uncertainty appears on his face. As he talks, the screen begins to shake. The sound changes, placing us in the mind of Oppenheimer just as flashes of intense white light appear, and the extent of the damage caused by his device suddenly dawns on him. The crowd gets louder but all we hear are the distant rumble of the bomb’s explosion and the sound of their skin peeling off as we watch it happen on the screen.
The victory speech is a devastating scene that serves as a showcase of the film’s achievements in sound design (Richard King) and cinematography (Hoyte Van Hoytema), in a movie that contains plenty of deeply affecting moments. But Oppenheimer is also an incredibly well-written film which is not just the story of the father of the atomic bomb, but also a movie about a triple destruction, whose real message only comes through at the very end. Elevated by career-best performances from Cillian Murphy and Robert Downey Jr., Oppenheimer feels like the film that Christopher Nolan has been trying to make for his entire life, and it’s also his best one to date. (Serena Seghedoni)
THE BEST FILMS OF 2023: RUNNERS-UP
La Chimera, Godzilla Minus One, The Iron Claw, Talk to Me, Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning – Part 1, Trenque Lauquen, Saint Omer, How to Have Sex, Blue Jean, Scrapper, Monster, Asteroid City, Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World, The Sweet East, One Fine Morning, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3