The Podcast: The Best Movies of 2023

Once again, has assembled a crew of movie experts/fans/nerds to talk about the best movies of the year, for our Best Movies of 2023 podcast episode. Nathaniel, Jeremy, Sara, Jesse, Marisa, Becca, and Ben all submitted lists of their best movies of 2023, which were then aggregated into a master list for a lengthy discussion. Indies, blockbusters, auteurs, Godzillas; it’s all here in our Best Movies of 2023 extravaganza! Listen, download, whatever you want, using the player below. And scroll past if you want to go directly to our list and a little bit of contextual discussion outside of our audio joshing.

The Best Movies of 2023

  1. Poor Things
  2. Past Lives
  3. Killers of the Flower Moon
  4. Asteroid City
  5. Barbie
  6. Oppenheimer
  7. May December
  8. The Holdovers
  9. John Wick: Chapter 4
  10. Showing Up
  11. Anatomy of a Fall
  12. Godzilla Minus One
  13. The Killer
  14. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
  15. Priscilla

JESSE: We didn’t talk about points and stuff on the actual episode, but the top two were very, very close. Is there anything in particular, do you guys think, that connects Past Lives and Poor Things? I think there’s probably something there about external lives versus internal ones. Bella Baxter in Poor Things has no real choice but to live a more external life as she learns how to be a woman in the world, while so much of Past Lives has to do with what’s beneath the low-key surface that its protagonist Nora puts out into the world. Do these movies actually complement each other perfectly or do they have nothing to do with one another? Or are they all really playing for runner-up because Zone of Interest could have won if more of us had a chance to see it before the list deadline?

JEREMY: In one sense, our (and my!) two favorite movies of the year are complete opposites; Poor Things is boisterous and extravagant, with eye-popping visuals and florid dialogue, while Past Lives is intimate and earthly, communicating as much through long silences and freighted glances as through words. Yet both strike me as romances, albeit of an unusual sort. As Sara eloquently put it in the episode, Bella Baxter is infatuated with the world, and the love story of Poor Things centers on a woman’s heedless embrace of life, with all its wonders and dangers and possibilities. As for Past Lives, it takes the skeleton of a classic romance — a storybook tale of two people destined to be together, fighting the ravages of space and time conspiring to keep them apart — and then twists it ever so gently, interrogating it with clarity and empathy. Beyond that, the heroines of both movies undergo a journey of self-discovery. Bella’s is more literal, of course; she begins as an infant, turns into a hedonistic adolescent who craves pleasure at any cost, then ultimately matures into a fully realized creature without ever sacrificing her fiery independence. But Greta Lee’s Nora also progresses over the course of Past Lives, transitioning from a strong-willed girl who dreams of winning a Nobel Prize into a clear-eyed woman who recalibrates her personal and professional desires in light of what the world has provided her — even if part of her still aches for the life she never lived. And finally, both movies sport masterfully constructed narratives, building to moments of extraordinary power — even if they’re opposites yet again in this regard. By which I mean, the last act of Poor Things filled my heart with joy; the last scene of Past Lives hollowed my heart right out.

Speaking of which, was 2023 an unusually strong year for endings? Looking over the rest of our list, I’m struck by the strength of the climaxes on display: that devastating radio play in Killers of the Flower Moon, the double-pronged procedural battles of Oppenheimer, that unholy hackwork scene in May December, the epic stairwell fight in John Wick 4 — even the deceptively elegant melodrama of Godzilla Minus One. Did anyone else find themselves repeatedly frozen in their seats this year as the end credits rolled? Or were we all just chortling at the prospect of Barbie visiting her gynecologist?

SARA: It was a strong year for endings, and I think many of my favorites were ones that recontextualized what came before in ways I hadn’t considered. You mention Barbie, which does close with a great laugh line. But it’s also striking in how it calls back to her earlier existential crisis. Barbie makes a choice at the end to become “real,” and accept all that comes with being a real woman. That includes new parts of herself to explore (hey-o!) but also mortality. It gives real weight to the entirety of her journey, while also sending us off with something fun to explain to viewers under twelve. Killers of the Flower Moon takes a different approach by breaking the continuity of the story to comment on its tellers, but it made me newly enraged on behalf of its indigenous characters and think about my own complicity in pushing those narratives aside. But the most memorable ending of the year for me by far was The Zone of Interest‘s, which I didn’t see in time to vote for but since Jesse mentioned it, I’m going to go ahead and include it here. Experiencing that flash forward in a full theater, as it slowly dawned on all of us where and when Glazer had taken us and what he wanted us to see, took my breath away, literally. I’ve thought about that film, and that moment specifically, on an almost daily basis since I saw it, and while it’s by no means an easy film or one I’ll soon rewatch, I’m oddly grateful for it.

Pivoting a bit to broaden this line of discussion: what were some of the most memorable theatre experiences you all had this year? We discussed this a bit on the podcast, but 2023 felt like the first time since the pandemic that “movies were back” as they say, and possibly the first time since that filmmakers were making projects that prioritized being a theatrical, and communal, experience. I’m thinking of Oppenheimer specifically but there are many others on our list where that could apply.

JESSE: I do think I had more sort of transcendent big-screen experiences in 2023 than in the years before, even though my rush of excitement over actually being so back in movie theaters was more of a 2021 thing. I see a lot of press screenings, and those always feel a bit less-than compared to a truly great public screening experience (though of course I can still lock into a movie and wind up gasping or crying or laughing along, which happened in press screenings as varied as Barbie and Asteroid City and May December). But I saw Godzilla Minus One in commercial release, and I was so enamored of my dawning realization that I was seated for a really fucking good Godzilla movie that was both emotionally involving and featured the requisite awesome Godzilla shit going down that I went back a week later. I’ve really enjoyed the American MonsterVerse movies of the past decade, but Godzilla Minus One essentially gave me the experience I was looking for back in 1998, when it was the summer blockbuster to beat (and turned out to be a world-beating disappointment). That was about as back as I’ve ever felt, movies-wise. It was a great year to cap off such an eclectic and satisfying year at the cinema.