Top Films of 2023 (And Other Highlights)

Kevin Gosztola
The Wide Shot
Published in
7 min readDec 28, 2023


Screen shots from promotional trailers for “Past Lives,” “Anatomy of a Fall,” “Godzilla Minus One,” and “Killers of the Flower Moon” | Fair use as included for the purpose of commentary and criticism

It was the year of the strike. The Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) engaged in the longest work stoppage in the history of their union, and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) stopped work for the second longest period in their union’s history.

The strike challenged the dominance of streaming services and the lack of revenue sharing by entertainment and technology company executives. It also was forward-thinking, with actors and writers hoping to guard against the rise of artificial intelligence, or AI, better than they did when Netflix forever changed the industry in the 2000s.

While writers and actors battled greedy industry executives, their money-grubbing ways were further exposed as they canned movies and removed projects from streaming services that had not met a certain criteria to warrant leaving them on their platforms for audiences to discover. This compounded the alienation and hardship that creators were feeling during the strikes.

Although major projects were put on hold and delayed, Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” made it to theatres. Moviegoers dubbed the event “Barbenheimer,” giving us a cultural phenomenon that tens of millions of people enjoyed. The two films grossed over $2 billion worldwide.

Unfortunately, especially with ailing superhero movie franchises, we may be doomed to an industry that will try and reproduce this phenomenon for the next decade as executives attempt to regularly event-ize going to the movies. Bob Iger and David Zaslav will probably blame us for the state of the industry if we don’t show up to their idea of the next “Barbenheimer.”

“Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” grossed over $175 million in the United States. The film offered millions who cannot afford tickets to a Swift concert a way of getting a taste of the experience, and it, too, was an event. Hollywood executives will spend much of 2024 searching for the next big concert movie they can release in theatres.

William Friedkin, Harry Belafonte, Richard Roundtree (“Shaft”), Melinda Dillon (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind”), Alan Arkin, Paul Reubens, and others who left their mark on cinema died in 2023.

Here are what I consider the best films of 2023.

1. “Past Lives

Celine Song’s love story deconstructs romance films. It centers on the philosophical concept in Korea of Inyeon, which is the idea that two people are destined to cross paths. Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) are childhood sweethearts, but their lives separated them and they never became an adult couple. Brilliantly composed shots, like when Nora goes up the stairs and Hae Sung heads up a different path or when Nora, Hae Sung, and Arthur (John Magaro) are at the bar, help viewers feel the emotional weight of what could have been.

2. “Anatomy of a Fall

The incident that plunges us into director Justine Triet’s engrossing French courtroom drama is never shown, and that encourages the audience to subjectively respond. Sandra, played by Sandra Hüller, is tremendous as a mother and spouse who may be entirely innocent but she was unfaithful and jaded enough to commit the act. Triet and her co-writer Arthur Harari do a remarkable job of using the language barrier to ramp up the tension. Milo Machado Graner as Daniel gives a rather good performance as a child who, like his mother Sandra, must put up with unbending procedures imposed by authorities while overwhelmed by intense grief. So much of how one processes the movie is dependent on whether you have faith in Western legal systems (or not).

3. “Godzilla Minus One

Filmmaker Takashi Yamazaki reimagines the original 1954 film, once again conveying the aftermath of the U.S. atomic bombings in World War II and the near-extinction of humanity that could come from the further use of nuclear weapons. The visual effects, like the re-charging of Godzilla’s heat ray, are computer-generated but nevertheless it all looks stunningly crisp and polished. The characters dealing with the reality of post-war Japan, who both the U.S. and Japanese government have abandoned, cope with the things they carry from the war while uniting to combat Godzilla.

4. “Killers of the Flower Moon

Th simmering epic centers the Indigenous Osage people to tell the story of the Osage murders that occurred from the 1910s to the 1930s. Lily Gladstone gives a heartrending performance as Mollie Burkhart, a part of a family that is besieged by white people who prey on them like wolves. The subtle manner in which Robert De Niro plays Bill Hale was absolutely creepy, including his small talk and polite gestures. How Martin Scorsese embraced the input from the Osage people and then incorporated the Osage into the production set an example for future stories about Indigenous people that deserve to be brought to the silver screen.

5. “Barbie

“Barbie” was one of the best moviegoing experiences that I had in a long time. The audience was super-engaged. There was cheering, clapping, crying, and uproarious laughter. It had a playful subversiveness because it was not what one would have expected from a film built around one of the most popular toys produced by an American corporation. Director Greta Gerwig explores the origin and very existence of Barbie, questioning both what she meant in the dreamworld of Barbieland and the capitalist world of Los Angeles. Gerwig, Margot Robbie, and Ryan Gosling, etc, all took a risk and committed to the vision for this project with lush production design. The result was a delight.

6. “Oppenheimer

In Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin’s book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan found what he described as “a riveting account of one of history’s most essential and paradoxical figures.” It was one of the most ambitious examples of filmmaking this year and was released on 70mm. It also turned out to be more than a story about how Oppenheimer led the development of the atomic bomb. Nolan pairs that part of Oppenheimer’s life with the attack on his character that was mounted by Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.), who was the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission director. Oppenheimer’s anti-nuke advocacy was such a threat to the U.S. military industrial-complex that they summoned him to a small room for a banal hearing, where he ultimately lost his security clearance and was stripped of his power to influence nuclear policy.

7. “Broker”

The strength of Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film is how he gradually assembles a family of misfits from the underclass and underworld of society, who want nothing more than a second chance at life, and convinces the audience through a combination of warm and heartrending scenes that they deserve redemption. It centers on a baby box at a church in South Korea. It takes on the feel of a heist movie at one point, and Kore-eda sprinkles in some screwball comedy too. I consider this a pleasant companion to Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters,” which made my year-end list in 2018. (Kore-eda’s latest, “Monster,” has received rave reviews, but its release in the U.S. was limited to New York and Los Angeles.)

8. “M3GAN

From the moment that the skin used for M3GAN appears on screen to the finale sequence, the film is a diabolical technophobic thrill that weaves in some astute commentary about AI. It essentially follows a classic Frankenstein’s monster narrative. Gemma (Allison Williams), a genius robotics engineer, has a faith in technology that blinds her to the risk of manufacturing a doll that could take the place of a parent. And the jabs at consumerism, especially the commercial that opens the movie, help make the terror caused by M3GAN darkly comical.

9. “Brother

Set in Scarborough, a district or suburb of Toronto, “Brother” is a moving portrait of a migrant community that has been wrongly stigmatized as “crime-ridden.” The story revolves around a tragic event that occurs in 1991. What makes the film riveting is how the two Black migrant brothers are presented. Moments from their lives are edited together in a nonlinear manner to give the story more emotional weight. It was adapted from a novel written by David Chariandy, whose parents immigrated from Trinidad, and written and directed by Clement Virgo, an immigrant who was born in Jamaica. Like many of the stories from James Baldwin, one truly feels the “cage of reality” that Francis (Aaron Pierre) and Michael (Lamar Johnson) are dealing with. Plus, the love that Michael and his childhood girlfriend Aisha (Kiana Madeira) have for their parents, who sacrificed so much for them, is touching as well.

10. “Satan Wants You

Steve J. Adams and Sean Horlor, who are both a couple and LGBTQ+ filmmakers, directed this long overdue project on the Satanic Panic that mushroomed in the 1980s and finally petered out in the early 1990s. The cautionary tale of this documentary involves how the most insane and ridiculous nonsense can become engrained in society and culture that it is reflexively regarded as truth. While Adams and Horlor take a mostly standard approach to the subject matter, they interviewed many of the people closest to Michelle Smith and Larry Pazder, who helped spark the panic. They also include tapes from Pazder’s sessions with Smith. Altogether, Adams and Horlor hold a mirror up to the present and remind viewers that this type of panic could easily happen again.

*Honorable Mentions: “American Fiction,” “How to Blow Up a Pipeline,” “BlackBerry,” “Tori and Lokita,” “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One”



Kevin Gosztola
The Wide Shot

Journalist, film/video college graduate, and movie fan. Previously published by Fanfare and Counter Arts.