Killers of the Flower Moon | photo: Apple TV+

Depending on your vantage point, 2023 was a rather fantastic year for films. Sure, there are naysayers, there always are, but for those of us who love nothing more than to lose ourselves in a movie for a couple of hours, well, there was a whole lot to get lost in last year. So without further ado, here are some thoughts on what got us through 2023…

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Elizabeth Cantwell:

10 of My Favorite 2023 Moments on Film

10. The ending of The Pope’s Exorcist

Okay, this is sort of on here as a goof. But also: when Russell Crowe and his sad sack sidekick who really should have died go to the Vatican and are praised for their work and then shown the secret Vatican room with a bunch of Spanish Inquisition maps marking the location of demon/Buffy-style Hellmouth wells, a moment occurs that made me among the most joyful I felt watching a movie this year. Russell Crowe asks how many more sites there are with demons that he’ll need to exorcise, which clearly seems like the set-up for a sequel. And the Vatican guy tells him there are 199 more sites. One hundred ninety-nine! I laughed out loud. Obviously there will not be 199 Pope’s Exorcist movies. But if there were, I would be in! I think mostly I just loved the bold insanity of a number that high. It’s rare to find a bad movie that knows what it is and telegraphs its identity so clearly. 

9. “Once in a Lifetime,” Stop Making Sense

All riiiight, it’s kind of a cheat putting Stop Making Sense on here, but its 2023 re-release in theaters was a true gift for a fan like me. I dragged some friends who had never seen it to our local cinema and promised them they would love it and I think they did, but I loved it the most. I’ve seen this film multiple times and a different part strikes me each time, but on a big screen, in a theater, it was David Byrne’s performance of “Once in a Lifetime” that really got me. Maybe it’s being middle-aged or being a parent or having a tough year or watching the world burn around me or all of the above, but the energy and lighting and power of this song was exactly what I needed. 

8. The sleeveless dress scene, May December 

If you watched this film you know what I’m talking about. That moment when Julianne Moore says “You’re so brave to show your arms like that”—a true stunner of a line delivery. It brings her character into sudden, ugly focus: the way she effortlessly inhabits a seemingly genuine manipulation of others. In one line we understand that this is a woman who knows how to get her way no matter the consequences—how to railroad the other person in any interaction into feeling that they had to do what they did. Todd Haynes, of course, is also a master of the visual moment; give me any scene in mirrors like that and I’m head over heels. 

7. Gwen’s confrontation with her father, Across the Spider-Verse

I fell hard for the visuals of this movie, and also found myself really loving the thinly-veiled coming-out metaphor of Gwen’s struggle to tell her father that she’s the Spider-Woman he’s been tracking. In lesser hands it might have felt overplayed, but the movie allows you to feel these resonances without also feeling like they’ve been didactically telegraphed. The scene where Gwen finally removes her mask—only to have her father see her and continue to point a gun at her—is beautifully composed, and imbued with emotion in a way most animated films struggle to achieve. 

6. The scene at Anna’s grave, Killers of the Flower Moon

I didn’t love Killers of the Flower Moon the way I wanted to, but there was a lot to admire in this movie—especially the performances from both Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone. The scene where their characters meet at the cemetery where their daughter is being interred—Ernest handcuffed, out temporarily from jail where he is being held for his involvement in the Osage murders, and Molly finally recovered from Ernest’s slow poisoning of her—sees each actor elevating the other in a way I wanted more of from other parts of the film. There’s such nuance and complexity in this moment. As a viewer, you’re struggling to reconcile the love these two people had and still have for each other with the vile and ugly pain Ernest has quite literally injected into their relationship, and each actor works to convey layers of betrayal and confusion and vulnerability in their few lines. How can you grieve a child with someone who tried to kill you? How can you watch someone you love waste away into nothingness, holding their hand while you hasten their death? I would give both Leo and Lily Oscars for just this scene if I could! 

5. The 27-minute long single-take scene on the boat in Season 4, Episode 3 of Succession 

Sure, not a film, but if you’ve seen Succession you’ll probably agree that this scene deserves a place on this list. It wasn’t until about ten minutes in that I started realizing it was one take and was going to stay one take for quite a long time—and then my attention turned to intense admiration, all while I also felt myself plunged into the emotions of each of the Roy siblings as they hear about their father’s death. Honestly top-tier visual and emotional storytelling. It hit all the right buttons for me. 

4. The Fiat 500 car chase in Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One

I get the critiques of this movie, I do! But tell me this scene doesn’t bring you joy! If I were Marie Kondo I would not throw it out!! The slapstick energy that Tom Cruise harbors but so rarely gets to indulge in—the propulsive camera work—the enjoyable claustrophobia of the tiny electric vehicle—the silly chemistry imposed by the handcuffs—I loved it! I think I was smiling the whole time. More action sequences like this, please. 

3. Daniel’s testimony (both scenes), Anatomy of a Fall

There’s so much I could go on and on about in this movie. Some really subtly fascinating camera work, a boatload of insanely nuanced performances, a pitch-perfect dog, a marital fight that continues to trouble me in its relatability (raise your hand if you are married to a writer and have had tension over who is working/who is doing childcare) even through its relatively extreme expression. But the performance of Milo Machado Graner as Daniel anchors the movie, and the two scenes in which he delivers his testimony to the court completely absorbed me. The moment during that first scene when you realize the camera is rotating from side to side to indicate the direction of his hearing and imitate his inability to see the lawyers throwing their lawn dart questions at him: simply brilliant. 

2. The “Who abandoned Snoopy in the vestibule?” scene, Maestro

I had mixed feelings about this movie but this scene is a winner. First of all, it’s immediately quotable—I can’t count how many times my husband has already muttered this in the house, and I’m online enough to have seen others quoting it, as well. Bradley Cooper’s line delivery—in that weird voice!—is an instant classic. Secondly, though, the sequence that follows, in which Leonard Bernstein and Felicia confront some of the thorny issues in their marriage that refuse to go away, is perfectly directed. Cooper’s choice to shoot the whole thing in wide (no close-ups!) as we watch the truncated top of the Thanksgiving Parade pass by the window was bold, and, for me, it works exactly the way he wanted it to. To see the whole couple, from both sides at once, in all their stubborn maze of repression and vivacity—I loved it. 

1. The moment Joe sees his children graduate from high school, May December

Yeah, I gave May December two spots on my list, because in my mind it was the best movie of the year, no question. I struggled to decide whether I thought this moment or the scene on the roof between Joe and his son Charlie was stronger; both showcase the way Charles Melton’s standout performance grounds the film in a terrible sadness and regret that can’t be brushed away easily. This moment, though—Joe watching not from the stands but from a side gate—really got to me. In Melton’s face, you can see pride in his children; grief at watching them achieve a milestone he never got to reach; and a deep fear of what his immediate future looks like when he leaves this sunny field. I was stunned by it. Here’s to a 2024 rich with many awards for Charles Melton and Todd Haynes.

Looking over this list, it seems like what I valued in 2023 was joy and nuance—two qualities I’ve been hard-pressed to see in my daily interactions with the wider world. Maybe that’s what I’ll take with me into the coming year: a desire to keep seeing joy and nuance wherever I can. 

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Carrie Courogen:

  1. It’s not an accident that my two top films this year were both ones I saw with my kids, and the experience of doing so is forever inextricable from the movies themselves, though I make no excuse for this; we respond to what we respond to, for all kinds of reasons, and context is no small thing. Still, I think even without the context, these would be my two favorite movies of the year.