From 2005 through 2013 and then, after a hiatus, from 2017-2021, I have punctuated each year with an ever increasingly complex Best of List. The fact is that I watch things, read things, and eat things, and above all, I love making lists. Over the next three weeks, I’ll pull from a year’s worth of notes, Instagram posts and spreadsheet entries to put together a personal summary of my 2023 experience (your results may differ).
BEST OF FILM 2023 (Recap)
No other blogger is brave enough to pick their favorites before they ever see them. Here’s what I boldly thought I’d be writing about in December 2023 (when it was still an innocent December 2022). Try not to laugh at my 2022 innocence. Two of these never even came out and one just debuted at the tail end of the year.
PREDICTED BEST MOVIES OF 2023 (As I Wrote About Them In Dec. 2022)
1. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (May): The easiest thing for me to pick on these lists is the ending of a franchise that has brought me so much joy. James Gunn gets to revisit the characters that he set in motion in this cinematic trilogy. I’m excited to take a ride with the crew one more time.
2. Rebel Moon (Unknown): Do I trust a Zack Snyder film for Netflix? The fact that there’s already a sequel filming and that he lists Akira Kurosawa as a major influence on this helps too. It was originally pitched to Lucasfilm as a player in the Star Wars Universe. I want to catch this in theaters.
3. Oppenheimer (July): Christopher Nolan directs a film with epic shots and epic explosions? Let’s all meet at the IMAX.
4. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (June): I hope that the delay of this from 2022 to 2023 isn’t a sign of anything other than better timing. I’m basing my excitement solely on the entertainment value of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
5. Next Goal Wins (April): Taika Waititi takes a break from the Marvel Universe to tell a story based upon the American Samoan soccer team who once lost 31-0 before they hired a new coach and suddenly . . . you know the story.
6. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (February): Three of my first six are superhero films, showing that hope springs eternal. I am a sucker for superhero trailers and then as the reviews start to roll in, I lose momentum if I don’t see them first weekend (see this past year’s Doctor Strange as an example).
7. Dune: Part Two (November): I liked but didn’t love the first entry into Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation. I did like Timothee Chalamet as Paul. This late-year entry gives me a goal for reading the book (finally!) and watching the first part again.
8. Roosevelt (TBD): Scorsese directs DiCaprio . . . again. This won’t make the 2023 deadline but just the combination of director / actor / subject matter has me eager for what is likely to be a darling of any Awards season.
9. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (June): I’m putting the film down here to fool myself that there are eight other films that will have me more excited than sitting down in a theater this summer to watch this one.
10. Showing Up (Unknown) Maybe I’m just still in love with Michelle Williams after The Fabelmans or maybe this just looks like a great look at adulthood.
BEST MOVIES OF 2023
My goal in past years has been to view at least 25 movies in the theaters. This year I made it to 14, which is slightly better than where I have been the past few years. I used to hold this list to only theatrical films but there are too many good films that get released across the streaming services. So this list is only limited to 2023 releases (a slight fudge for limited release films that bled into January for wide release) that I have watched. As a point of comparison, I have watched four of the predicted best above (only two of which made my final Top Ten). And yet I found time to watch over 70 movies that were made 50 years ago. Documentaries are relegated to their own list below. The Best Movie of 2022: The Fabelmans (Directed by Steven Spielberg).
1. Oppenheimer (Directed by Christopher Nolan) (Theater): I would have imagined that the film ended with the nuclear explosion. There’s still an hour left in the film when that happens. It’s a testament to the character building that I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the pacing when it was all said and done. There were a few films that were called “epics” this year but this one was the one that felt the most like Classic Hollywood in tone and structure. David Lean would have been proud of the influence he had over the camerawork. I hope that Cillian Murphy is properly recognized during awards season.
2. Asteroid City (Directed by Wes Anderson) (Theater): Is this being penalized a spot because it doesn’t star Bill Murray? Maybe. It might be here because it requires two viewings to appreciate the multiple levels happening here. It’s a movie of a television program about a play that has a play within it. Tom Hanks and Steve Carrell both get a chance to show their chops with a Wes Anderson script. When all is said and done, Anderson’s insights into life are probably their most developed (even more than The Grand Budapest Hotel).
3. Priscilla (Directed by Sofia Coppola): The flipside of the desire for fame is getting it and not being sure you want it anymore. The age difference, the drugs, and the fame make this film feel dangerous throughout even though we know the outcome of the marriage. It’s only tangentially a film about Elvis. There are so many little touches that I loved about this film.
4. Beau Is Afraid (Directed by Ari Aster) (Theater): This was definitely the “love it or hate it” film of the year. I have become a bigger fan of it the further I get from my first viewing of it. There’s a slow burn genius to the story that’s stuck in my brain for months. Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t play roles half measure. Equal parts The Odyssey and The Wizard Of Oz, there isn’t another film that compares to this that came out this year.
5. Godzilla Minus One (Directed by Takashi Yamazaki) (Theater): It would be easy to write off “just another reboot” of the franchise. This is the first Godzilla in decades to figure out the right balance between the monster destruction and the story of the residents of Japan. Characters that you really care about is a fresh take. We still get the atomic breath and the Godzilla March theme. This is just what I needed in my giant monster films this year.
6. The Boy and the Heron (Directed by Hayao Miyazaki) (Theater): Another beautifully rendered vision of WWII-era Japan. The potential for hand-drawn animation in 2023 is still powerful. Miyazaki is saying good-bye to his legion of fans by making a film that looks back on his real life and at the same time combines little elements of all of his most recognizable films. This will have a long life compared even to the five films ahead of it.
7. A Haunting In Venice (Directed by Kenneth Branagh) (Theater): In just three films, Kenneth Branagh has fully embraced the Poirot character. This film isn’t the best mystery of the series. It’s the most fully realized story with characters that aren’t just stereotypes. My particular obsession with Venice in 2023 certainly plays into this ranking.
8. Showing Up (Directed by Kelly Reichardt) (Showtime): I thought this would be my tenth favorite film of this year, and it outperformed my expectations. Michelle Williams, Hong Chau, and Andre 3000 are all perfectly cast. Set in Portland, it’s not Portlandia of the 1990s. It’s the story of two women where everything feels one bad turn from falling apart. These slice-of-life films are best like this when they are not tied down to specific modern events. Sometimes life is really just about showing up.
9. Napoleon (Directed by Ridley Scott) (Theater): It’s a beautiful portrait of the ruler. I never feel like I get to know the man. The style is there, but the substance leaves out some details in favor of covering so much ground. I want more of his relationships. I want more of the politics. Scott plays the middle ground. No complaints about Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon nor the epic battle scenes. Just lacked the extra to push it up the list.
10. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 (Directed by James Gunn): Is it amazing? Not in the way that I might normally think of the top films of the year. It’s the end of one of the most daring trilogies of the MCU. It runs that fine line of humor and action that other characters in the MCU can’t find that same consistent balance. Director Gunn’s love for these characters flows right out onto the screen.
BEST MOVIES I DIDN’T SEE IN 2023
Last year, I did my best follow-up ever. I eventually watched nine of my ten “Best Movies I Didn’t See.” (still missing only Decision to Leave) This list acknowledges that I’ve missed some incredible films in 2023 and I’ll get around to some of them by 2038. Last year’s Best Movie I Didn’t See in 2022: Tar (Directed by Todd Field) The films off this list last year like Tar, The Whale, and All Quiet On The Western Front all would have been heavy contenders for the Top Ten of 2022 if I had watched them before creating the list.
- Past Lives (Directed by Celine Song): There aren’t any multiverses here. This is a simple look at meeting up with a former love and dreaming of what might have been. Sometimes simple is the best.
2. Poor Things (Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos): Where Barbie took pot shots at our male-dominated culture, this film looks to go scorched Earth on the Patriarchy. We know from Yorgos’ previous films that this will leave many viewers scratching their heads.
3. Killers of the Flower Moon (Directed by Martin Scorsese): Once the Oscar nominations are out, I hope this will play again on some of the local big screens. I’m reluctant initially to see it on the home screen.
4. Anatomy of a Fall (Directed by Justine Triet): This would win the “Looks the Most Like a Hitchcock Film” award of the year if there was such an award. I’ve only ready positive reviews of this mystery.
5. You Hurt My Feelings (Directed by Nicole Holofcener): I celebrate all of the works of Julie Louis-Dreyfus. This looks to be a different take on the usual mid-life crisis films. I have hope for a more subtle satire of personal growth and relationships.
6. Barbie (Directed by Greta Gerwig): How did such a big film escape my viewing? It was just a matter of timing. At a busy time of year for me, there just wasn’t enough time to see multiple movies in a month. I know I will be entertained.
7. May December (Directed by Todd Haynes): This postmodern take on our Tabloid society covers some of the same ground as Lolita (1962) and mixes it with our instant gratification society.
8. The Color Purple (Directed by Blitz Bazawule): This musical debuts on Christmas and it won’t be up on my list in 2023. I’m hoping that my enjoyment of West Side Story (2021) bleeds over to this film.
9. Ferrari (Directed by Michael Mann): Since it’s debuting on Christmas, there’s no way I get to this until 2024. You don’t skip a Michael Mann film in the theaters.
10. The Holdovers (Directed by Alexander Payne): Payne’s film don’t always get the best reviews but this Paul Giamatti film looks like it could be a spiritual prequel to Sideways (2004).
BEST DOCUMENTARIES I WATCHED IN 2023
I started my Documentary Project in 2020. I was more immersed in it back then with 180 docs watched but I have fallen off from 80 documentaries a year to just under 40 this past year. I previously ranked the best documentaries of the current year and the past years separately. I’m combining this list just to represent the best that I watched this past year.
- American Buffalo (Directed by Ken Burns) (2023): If Burns has a good instinct, it’s telling a story that connects the past to the present. The decimation of the American Buffalo and what it meant to the Indigenous people of our country plays well as an allegory of our loss of connection to Nature today. (Playing on PBS)
2. Moonage Daydream (Directed by Brett Morgen) (2022): This David Bowie documentary dressed up in the clothes of an art film. It’s just the greatest when Bowie does the talking. He has better insight into his own career than any biographer. It’s hard to turn away from this at any point. I can’t imagine the style working for too many other artists. (Playing on Hulu)
3. Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (Directed by John Landis) (2007): This loving portrait of famed insult comic, Don Rickles, is a time machine back to a type of humor that doesn’t/can’t exist today. It’s so carefully crafted and part of an older tradition that you just have to sit back and appreciate the years and years that Rickles spent perfecting his craft. Robin Williams connection to him feels more poignant watching it now. (Playing on Amazon Prime)
4. Luckiest Guy in the World (Directed by Steve James) (2023): This four-part documentary about Bill Walton from the 30 for 30 series seemed excessive to me before I started it. At best, his basketball career was a two-hour story. Turns out that these four hours could barely contain what needed to be said about this man. My appreciation for Walton grew by leaps and bounds in the final hour of the documentary. (Playing on ESPN+)
5. Ruthless: Monopoly’s Secret History (Directed by Stephen Ives) (2023): There’s so much that happened in the early days of one of America’s most popular board games. There’s an original game known as “The Landlord’s Game” that was much more anti-Capitalist before it became “Monopoly” and celebrated at the ultimate Capitalist game. How it eventually ends up at Parker Brothers is fascinating, and the ending isn’t as tragic as you might fear for the creator. (Playing on PBS)
6. The American Gladiators Documentary (Directed by Ben Berman) (2023): This 30 for 30 entry was much more on the Entertainment instead of Sports part of ESPN. Turning the story into a mystery of who actually created the franchise told in bits and pieces as the history of the characters unfolds is an effective storytelling method. (Playing on ESPN+)
7. The Movement and the “Madman” (Directed by Stephen Talbot) (2023): The story of how two anti-war demonstrations brought Nixon from the brink of expanding the Vietnam War to the point of ending the War is one that I feel like I should have known better. (Playing on PBS)
8. Harlan County, U.S.A. (Directed by Barbara Kopple) (1976): I probably should rate this higher, as it’s held as one of the best documentaries ever. I think you have to place it within the time it was made because in today’s world, the stories would have been tightened up. The coal miner strike at the Brookside Mine is an engrossing story about American labor relations. A must see! (Playing on Max)
9. The Minister of Defense (Directed by Rodgers and Courtland Bragg) (2023): The story of Reggie White is mostly told through the eyes of his son, Jeremy White. Reggie’s complicated off-field comments aren’t overlooked. They are aggressively addressed, which is hard since the man has passed. Luckily, much of the rebuttal comes in an unaired interview not long before his untimely death. (Playing on ESPN+)
10. Beaches of Agnes (Directed by Agnes Varda) (2008): It’s rare to get an autobiographical documentary done by an elderly director. Agnes visits important locations of her life and ruminates on what those experiences meant to her. It’s beautiful. (Playing on Criterion Channel)
BEST MOVIES OF 1973
I have previously taken yearly deep dives into 1970 through 1972. The experience builds upon itself as I see patterns and connections from year to year. The deep dive into 1973 came into focus better for having done the previous years. The first cellphone call was made, the World Trade Center opened, and Secretariat won the Triple Crown. I watched 73 films from 1973, which I know is just scratching the surface, and first viewing or tenth viewing, here is what sticks with me.
1. American Graffiti (Directed by George Lucas): Up to this point in history was there a better soundtrack? The film is a practice run for many aspects of the Star Wars script and characterizations. It’s part of a proud tradition of “last day of school” films and television shows. With Vietnam on the horizon in this film, it’s easy to see the film that comes out at the end of the war as a wistful look at the end of innocence.
2. The Exorcist (Directed by William Friedkin): It would make the Top Ten just on its own merits, but add to that an influence on the Horror genre that’s still being felt in 2023 and you have an undeniable Classic of All-Time. Don’t discount that William Friedkin was the best fit as a director for this film, and it’s hard to imagine the same impact with a more mainstream director.
3. Don’t Look Now (Directed by Nicolas Roeg): This was one of those films that I had much respect for in the past, but it was this year that I really could see how groundbreaking it was for the time it was released. The Venice setting endeared it to me a bit more this year. Donald Sutherland is a massive star in this era.
4. The Last Detail (Directed by Hal Ashby): Often overlooked because it doesn’t fit nicely into the comedy and/or action genre. Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid, and Otis Young have such good chemistry that you forget you are watching a scripted film.
5. Mean Streets (Directed by Martin Scorsese): Harvey Keitel as the “trying to go straight” character and Robert DeNiro as the “self destructive” friend forms a set of guardrails that Scorsese will feel comfortable operating within for decades to come. So many seeds are planted here for his best films.
6. Enter the Dragon (Directed by Robert Clouse): Bruce Lee’s last film is such a tragic hint at the brilliance that could have been. He’s an enigma throughout the first half of the film. We only get a taste of his talent as we see the other fighters in their matches. Then Lee is featured at full strength through an incredibly long final battle that just never seems to let up. This would become the template for martial arts action films for 20-30 years afterwards.
7. High Plains Drifter (Directed by Clint Eastwood): He learned from the best and his vision of the Spaghetti Western is very mature for only a second-time director. The town of Lago could just as easily be a set in Spain or a village in feudal Japan.
8. Serpico (Directed by Sidney Lumet): Al Pacino solidifies his mega-star status, as if that was really needed. As much as any of the films released in 1973, this has every feel like a modern film you might have gone to theaters to see this year.
9. Badlands (Directed by Terence Malick): This is a beautiful film with a simple plot brought to you by the man who will go on to make some of the most head-scratching films of the past 20 years. Martin Sheen just sizzles as Charles Starkweather.
10. The Sting (Directed by George Roy Hill): I thought at the start of the year that this film wouldn’t hold up to my love of it earlier in my life. Turns out that it is still a really entertaining film. Even when you know the “sting”, it’s so well acted that you just can’t help but watch the last quarter of the film with a smile on your face.
There were plenty of 1973 movies that I just didn’t get around to yet. The best of the bunch I didn’t watch include The Holy Mountain, The Wicker Man, and The Day of the Jackal.
BEST TRAILERS OF 2023
I just don’t go to the theaters enough to see the previews for the blockbusters that are upcoming. I rely on YouTube and Google to put them across my feeds now, or a recommendation from one of you to check it out. From a limited selection, here are the best trailers / mini-movies of the past year. 2022 Best Trailer: Marcel The Shell With Shoes On.
- Asteroid City (2023): It’s relatively simple to sell us fans on a new Wes Anderson film. You do two things – tell us when it’s coming out and show us our favorite actors. This does both of those without giving away much more than the tone of the film. Once you see the film, you realize that this didn’t give away anything important.
2. Barbie (2023): The teaser trailer was better than any of the plot-revealing trailers. The 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) style got my attention and quickly showed that you needed to set aside any expectations you had for this film.
3. The Iron Claw (2023): Did I want to see this movie already? Of course. Did this trailer combine great narration, awesome visuals, and perfect tunes to make this an opening weekend film? Heck yeah. This is how you get people to stop eating their popcorn long enough to say “Hold on, what is all of this?”
4. Killers of the Flower Moon (2023): If I didn’t see Martin Scorsese’s name attached to this film, the trailer might lead you to believe that this is an action film with lots of special effects. I’m guessing it’s a much slower paced drama than the explosions here might lead you to believe. Most savvy moviegoers know the Scorsese name and wouldn’t be misled. It’s a great trailer no matter what the final product.
5. Godzilla Minus One (2023): I included the second trailer above and it might be the better of the two. I want to include this one as equally the best of the year because it does a great job of getting across the focus on the human heroes of the film. Plus they are smart enough to give you a taste of Godzilla.
BONUS: Smoking Causes Coughing (2023): I like to include one “I have no idea” trailers each year. This French film starts with the following description, “After a devastating battle against a diabolical giant turtle . . .” so you know you’re in good hands. What I see onscreen doesn’t seem like anything that would have anything Cannes Film Festival attached to it. I’m surprised not to see Peter Jackson’s name attached to something like this.
This next group is my most uninformed list of the year. I don’t read nearly as much about upcoming films as I do books and television shows. I’m typically pretty surprised when a movie opens and has a name I am familiar with in it. I do see some trailers and it’s hard to avoid lots of hype films. Here are the films that are at the top of my radar for 2024. With the most recent settlement of the Writer’s Strike, I don’t hold much stock in the release dates to anything that has a premiere past March.
BEST MOVIES OF 2024
- Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (May): I put lots of faith in director George Miller even though we don’t see much from him on the big screen. This prequel to Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) is a long time coming. The trailer does just what it needed to do. It reminded us all how exciting the previous film was and told us to be in theaters in May to watch this exciting film. These type of films rarely make my “Best Of” films at the end of the year, but I look forward to the theater experience of them when they arrive.
2. Joker: Folie A Deux (October): Director Todd Phillips brings back Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker and adds Lady Gaga as Harley Quinn. I’m skeptical of the musical aspects of this film, but I questioned all aspects of the first film that I ended up liking quite a bit.
3. Dune: Part Two (March): I’m just a few chapters away from finishing the book and this second part comes with some great timing. I was excited to see this when it was supposed to come out in 2023. Director Villenueve’s adaptation is beautiful to look at, and the second portion of the book should provide lots of sandy action scenes.
4. Nosferatu (December): If I thought this was actually going to play in theaters in 2024, it might be my #1 film of the year. Directed by Robert Eggers and starring Willem Dafoe and Bill Skarsgard, this remake of the Dracula by Bram Stoker meets German opera films looks amazing just from the few shots we’ve seen. Few other films on this list check off as many boxes of my interests.
5. Civil War (April): Is this Alex Garland-directed movie a fictional film or a futuristic documentary? Alex makes some beautiful and thought provoking films like Men (2022) and Ex Machina (2014). This has a ton of potential but might be dragged down by real world headlines.
6. Drive-Away Dolls (February): We don’t have a Coen Bros movie for 2024. I can give you half of that with this Ethan Coen road trip film. Expect wacky hi-jinx and a caper with regular people caught up in a series of events that get out of their control.
7. A Quiet Place: Day One (Unknown): I liked the first film and didn’t watch the second one. Luckily this is a spin-off prequel that isn’t a continuation from that second film. There’s potential to the franchise and I hope it works out.
8. Madame Web (February): Sony tries to continue their Spider-Man franchise without Spider-Man. I wouldn’t have thought I’d have any interest in this until I saw what looks like a film that has something to it.
9. Imaginary (March): There’s almost no way I will see this in theaters. I didn’t think I would even have it on my radar until seeing a very effective trailer. I can imagine that by early spring this will show up on Peacock and be a good Saturday night flick. Horror films that aren’t sequels should be supported.
10. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (May): It’s been seven years since War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) ended the original trilogy. It’s easy to forget that there wasn’t a bad film in that batch. Director Wes Bell brings us into the future with this new entry that looks to bring the timeline closer to where we entered the Universe back in the original. There isn’t much substance to give away the plot here, but I’m excited to reenter the world of the apes.
Thanks for making it through the first episode of this year’s multi-episode finale. Next week: Television/Streaming lists.
” I mean, I think I know now what I realize we are. Two catastrophically wounded people who don’t express the depths of their pain because we don’t want to. That’s our connection.” – Midge Campbell from Asteroid City