Sunday, June 23, 2024

List: JD Duran’s Top 10 Movies of 2023

Each year we do a Top 10 list for our awards show, and it’s some of the most fun we have on the podcast. This year was especially exciting as 2023 will go down as an all-timer. Partially because of how it’s defined by Barbenheimer and the successes of other auteurs, but just as noteworthy, its depth is unmatched. There will always be a debate regarding the top end of each year, and 2023 is no different (for reasons I’ll get to below). However; this is a year when 50 films were fighting for spots in my Top 20. It was an astounding year where we saw one gem after another, particularly in the fall season. It was a remarkable year for international cinema. It was an elite year for animation. Directorial debuts were, once again, spectacular. And then there were the auteurs. We saw films from Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, Todd Haynes, Alexander Payne, David Fincher, Michael Mann, Greta Gerwig, Hayao Miyazaki, Wes Anderson, Yorgos Lanthimos, Sofia Coppola, among others. And they all delivered. 

We do encourage you to listen to Episode 567 to hear more about our picks, but as we do every year, listed here (after the jump) are my Top 10 Movies of 2022.

RELATED: JD’s Top 10 Movies of 2021

10. Spider-Man

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse isn’t just the best animated film of 2023 (with all due respect to The Boy and the Heron, which I also love), but it’s probably the best of the decade, so far. Its visuals alone will evoke essays for years to come. The way it utilizes various forms of animation, to not only render evocative world building, but also feature different artistic designs among our heroes is nothing short of sublime. And as if that isn’t enough, the film’s intuitive visuals are deeply connected to its emotional core. It’s stunning. The writing of Miles and Gwen equally offers a great complexity. The way it deconstructs Spider-Man lore as it relates to responsiblity is one of its best traits. Daniel Pemberton’s magnificent score. So much to love and it’s endlessly rewatchable. Click here to listen to our full review.

9. May December

May December has been polarizing amongst audiences, and honestly it’s been strange to see. Sure, it’s tackling a topic that is sensitive, but the film is crystal clear on where it stands as it relates to its Gracie’s actions. I mean, did people not see how the film explores Joe and how he’s been affected? He’s one of the most devastating characters of the year. A little melodrama doesn’t eliminate the emotional backbone of Joe. Speaking of, however, no one weaves melodrama better than Todd Haynes, and boy is that incredible here. He loves examining the façade of suburban life. It’s at the core of a lot of his films, including May December, obviously. And for me, it’s some of his best work. Especially when you consider Elizabeth and how she exemplifies the impact of art mimicking the superficialities of real conflict. Click here to listen to our full review.

8. Anatomy of a Fall

Anatomy of a Fall is an engrossing deconstruction of a marriage that Justine Triet structures with remarkable precision. We get just enough detail to question Sandra in the opening scenes, especially over the “what” of it all. There’s debate over forensics, blood spatter, psychology, Daniel’s hearing, and more. Hell, even at the end of the trial we still don’t know for sure what really happened. Instead, the film emphasizes the “why” of it all. Why did these things happen? A question that highlights how often we live our lives without seeing the entire picture, but when it’s put under a microscope everything becomes scrutinized with a vivid clarity. The truth has nowhere to hide when it’s cross-examined in the public domain. To see how that plays out here is excruciating for Sandra, but dramatically gripping. Sandra Huller and Milo Machado-Graner are both astounding. Click here to listen to our full review.

7. All of Us Strangers

All of Us Strangers is my pick for the most moving film of 2023. It absolutely shattered me. We’ve all fantasized about reconnecting with those we’ve loved and lost. If we could see them again, what would we say? How would we react? There’s something about the film’s raw intamacy inside that idea here that just floored me. Adam’s conversations with his parents are full of captivating honesty and longing. You see him become a kid again all while still maintaining the complications of being an adult. Those scenes are tender and poignant. Then there’s everything with Harry and his yearning for connection. The past and the present colliding a deeply meaningful way. With all of his wounds out in the open. Cannot articulate enough how moving it is, featuring some of the best writing of the year in Andrew Haigh’s screenplay. And a cast where all four should be (they won’t, sadly) be Oscar nominated. Click here to listen to our full review.

6. Killers of the Flower Moon

The legacy era of Martin Scorsese might just be my favorite era of Scorsese. It’s remarkably fascinating how ruminative he’s become over the last decade with Silence, The Irishman, and now Killers of the Flower Moon. This is a film that firmly embeds itself within Scorsese’s distinctly patented crime drama formula. It’s not dissimilar to Goodfellas or The Wolf of Wall Street in terms of structure. However, like The Irishman and how it deconstructs legacy, Killers of the Flower Moon is a blistering dissection of tone. It might feature the same rapacious and predatory behavior we see in his other crime films, but it does not (in any way) feature the same diverting qualities. Instead, this lingers in a tragic pathos that is almost arduous to watch. It’s extremely well crafted, as always, however Scorsese is much more doleful and introspective, once again subverting himself. And when you add in the sad irony of the last scene, and you have one of the year’s best movies. Click here to listen to our full review.

5. The Zone of Interest

The Zone of Interest isn’t sophisticated in its concept. Jonathan Glazer simply exhibits a German Nazi family living their utopian life next door to Auschwitz while the horrors of the Holocaust unfold. It demonstrates, not just a coarse and inhumane apathy, but a profoundly disturbing complicity. It’s effective because of what Glazer chooses not to show us. We hear the screams. We hear the gun shots. We see the fires burning. The sound design and production is truly staggering. Additionally, Glazer sets up a dozen cameras around the place to capture the family as they move about freely. There are no close ups. Intimacy is removed. It’s all about capturing the unnerving normalcy of the Hoss family. And the results are harrowing. Click here to listen to our full review.

4. Asteroid City

It’s heartbreaking to witness the recent dismissal of Wes Anderson. Perhaps some are too caught up in the saturated color palette, distinct camera tricks and overall quirkiness of Wes, but his last three features have depicted a filmmaker who’s evolving right in front of us. Asteroid City, alongside The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar (Dahl shorts) and The French Dispatch, are much more than aestetics. It’s Anderson at his most experimental. Asteroid City not only plays with structure, it helps inform the film’s ideas on cinema vs the theater, and how both mediums say something about art and interpretation. Additionally, the film features a sorrow we just haven’t seen since The Royal Tenenbaums. Its melancholy comes through on the page, but most notably it’s this remarkable cast and how they tap into that emotion that left me on such a high. It’s also weird. One of Wes’ most idiosyncratic movies to date, and that’s saying something. I hope more people come around on it in time. It’s a special film. Click here to listen to our full review.

3. The Holdovers

The Holdovers has a rigorous warmth to it that undeniable. Sure, it has some of that patented Alexander Payne cynicism, but these characters grow and bond in a way that leaves you with a blazing coziness. The journey, however, is certainly prickly. Paul is belligerent with the little power he has. Angus is volatile. A duality that leads some compelling friction between the two. Mary Lamb is a griveing mother who adds a great dynamic. The three of them found themselves in this unexpected circumstance, but they make the most of it. They start to understand each other in a deeper, more meaningful way by realizing how they’re driven by some sort of sadness. They don’t have much in common on the surface, but underneath they’re all hurting in their own way. And that brings them together. It’s an utter delight. Paul Giamatti with the best performance of his career. Click here to listen to our full review.

2. Past Lives

Past Lives is a tricky film in the sense that half of its production is international, but when you do the math, about 60% of it is spoken in English. So should it be considered for Best International film? Yes. At its core, it’s about two cultures, two languages, crossing paths and creating uncertainty. Nora considered a relationship with Hae Sung, but then decided against it because the literal international distance between them was too much. Then there’s her husband Arthur in one of the most heartbreaking scenes of the year declaring, “you dream in a language I can’t understand…it’s like there’s this whole place inside of you I can’t go.” It’s a moment born out of two cultures crossing paths. And of course, the great bar scene where Nora has to translate for both Arthur and Hae Sung. You can take Past Lives out of international but you can’t take the international out of Past Lives. Click here to listen to our full review.

1. Oppenheimer

Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece. His magnum opus. Oppenheimer isn’t just the best film of the 2020s so far, but of the 21st Century. It’s Nolan at his most operatic. His most ethereal. His most horrific. It’s also a reverberation of an artist who has become wholly consumed with time and its almost transcendent grip on our lives. Once again we see him play with time, weaving fission and fusion storylines into a tapestry of gripping dialogue and chilling stakes. Culminating in a final shot that recontextualizes the beginning of the film and leaving us on a doleful note with one simple phrase: “I believe we did.” It’s an engrossing work of art. Oppenheimer has the scene of the year (gymnasium speech). The score of the year. The best direction of the year. The editing of the decade (maybe 21st Century). And arguably the best leading actor performance of the year (although the whole cast is excellent). Oppenheimer is simply an all-timer. Click here to listen to our full review.

To round out my Top 20, here is the rest of my list:
11) The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar (Dahl Shorts)
12) The Boy and the Heron
13) Poor Things
14) The Killer
15) Passages
16) Perfect Days
17) The Taste of Things
18) Ferrari
19) Barbie
20) Priscilla

Because it was such a deep year, and I felt so compelled, I compiled a full Top 50 on Letterboxd.

Let us know what you think. Do you agree or disagree? We’d like to know why. Leave a comment in the comment section below or tweet us @InSessionFilm.

To hear us discuss our InSession Film Awards and our Top 10 Best Movies of 2023, subscribe to us on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud or you can listen below.

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InSession Film Podcast – Episode 567 (Part 1)
InSession Film Podcast – Episode 567 (Part 2)

JD Duran
JD Duran
InSession Film founder and owner. I love film. Love art. Love how it intersects with our real lives. My favorite movies include Citizen Kane, The 400 Blows, Modern Times, The Godfather and The Tree of Life. Follow me on Twitter @RealJDDuran. Follow us @InSessionFilm.

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