The Best Movies of 2023

This year seemed to mark the end of a film era. Has another exploded out of the box already?

Is the franchise era over? In 2023, a slew of superhero movies earned hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office each and still reportedly failed to make back the money required to produce and market them. Not even Tom Cruise, 2022’s box office savior, could rescue a Mission: Impossible movie from the installment fatigue that has set in across multiplexes — a kind of invasive exhaustion that’s made even the most reliable (or put another way, formulaic) of animated features falter in theaters. All this uncertainty raises a natural question: If franchises are dead, what’s next?

As our critics thumbed through the many, many movie releases of 2023 to determine their favorites from the past year, that question loomed. Are there hints for what’s to come, post-Barbenheimer, in the kinds of films that broke through for them when a Paul Rudd–led Marvel title couldn’t? Greta Gerwig’s and Christopher Nolan’s historic releases perhaps provide some clues, though only one of them made our critics’ top-10 lists. In the end, after sifting through the tumult, Bilge Ebiri and Alison Willmore landed on 10 very different films each — not one movie choice made the other’s list. Still, there are similarities: Filmmakers with a penchant for autobiography made both records, movies that clock the existential confusion of being locked inside a career did too. And in a year when it feels safer than ever to say superhero movies are throttling toward their own demise, one of them ended up in our top 20. Perhaps the best answer to what comes next is, simply, more chaos.

Bilge Ebiri’s Top 10 Films

10.Anatomy of a Fall

Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or–winning courtroom drama, about a woman accused of killing her husband after he falls to his death in suspicious fashion, would be gripping enough as a procedural. But it gains transcendence as it begins to question the very nature of truth. Reality, we understand, is something different for each individual, an idea that has particular power in the world today. Anatomy of a Fall, however, isn’t necessarily a Grand Statement About Our Times; Triet and her co-writer and partner, Arthur Harari, have surely imagined this more as an exploration of domestic conflict than anything else. But their observational acuity, their fidelity to life as it’s lived — along with Sandra Huller’s entrancing lead performance — results in something that keeps exploding in the mind long after the credits have rolled.

9.Asteroid City

It should have been evident long ago that Wes Anderson’s brand of hyper-controlled whimsy was all an attempt to confront the unhinged madness of the world. And none of us should have been surprised that his work became even more peculiar and more precise as the world became more and more insane. Maybe that’s why Asteroid City feels like such a signature work. Anderson doubles down on his style (how is that even possible at this point?) and gives us a maze-like network of framing devices to tell a story about a group of teenage scientists and their traumatized parents confronting an alien life form in the 1950s. Or wait, is it actually a story about the Actors Studio and turn-of-the-century American theater’s attempt to wrestle with the intricacies of the human heart? Or maybe these are the same thing. Anderson uses all the technique at his disposal to create a beautiful diorama of a world he cannot understand. In the end, isn’t that what great art does?


Ira Sachs is a master of the small, delicate gestures that wind up having seismic repercussions in our lives. In Passages, which might be his masterpiece, he fashions the most delectably ruinous of love triangles. A German filmmaker (Franz Rogowski) cheats on his husband (Ben Whishaw) with a woman (Adèle Exarchopoulos), falls in love with her, then begins to have second thoughts as the specter of commitment looms. Rogowski’s character is a total narcissist — a needy, callous, pathetic, selfish chaos agent — but go figure, he’s also quite irresistible. We’re drawn to this man despite the emotional devastation he wreaks, maybe because we sense something of ourselves in him. His destructive immaturity is captivating and relatable.

7.Fallen Leaves

Many of the year’s best films capture the queasy uncertainty of living in this moment, but few do it with such oblique charm as Aki Kaurismaki in this understated romance following two lonely, mismatched souls who keep missing each other. Kaurismaki’s style — somehow both deadpan and tender — is timeless, and one could argue that his stories could be taking place at any moment in history. But look at the ways in which his characters constantly seem on the verge of being tossed aside by the post-human, industrial landscape of Helsinki, and listen to the way that the music on the radio has been replaced by news reports about the war in Ukraine. The world has no place for the individual. And yet here we still are, persisting and yearning and drinking and stewing and fumbling our way through.


Ava Duvernay has been so ever-present in the public eye that it’s wild to think this is her first feature film in five years, not to mention her first drama — the genre she truly excels at — in nearly a decade. She adapts Isabel Wilkerson’s monumental nonfiction study Caste as a cross between a historical mystery and a memoir, making the writer (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) her protagonist. Thus, we see the personal tragedies Wilkerson dealt with during her research, which adds an emotional urgency to her journey. But the film’s real power lies in Duvernay’s ability to jump across historical events, anecdotes, and images, forging connections that are at times revelatory and devastating, creating something that at times feels like both essay film and melodrama.

5.About Dry Grasses

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films were never not ambitious, but they’ve become even more so over the years, all the while remaining confined to the rural Turkish small towns whose lives the director chronicles so well. His latest, clocking in at a mesmerizing 197 minutes, follows a middle school teacher (Deniz Celiloglu) whose attitude toward the people around him — be they students, fellow teachers, or ordinary citizens — is alternately patronizing, compassionate, and contemptuous. Not unlike with Passages, at times one wonders if this film could have been titled The Worst Person in the World, even as it’s clear that the filmmaker recognizes much of himself in the protagonist. Ceylan has never been a directly political filmmaker, but About Dry Grasses provides an astute analysis of the modern Turkish intellectual’s place in society, in all its infuriating complications, its social paralysis, and self-defeating self-absorption.

4.Perfect Days

Wim Wenders released two marvelous films this year (his 3-D documentary Anselm was another triumph, though it just missed my list) and I hope he makes at least a dozen more pictures before he’s through. But in some ways, Perfect Days represents a culmination of the director’s journey. Wenders’s restless, angst-ridden protagonists have always been searching for blissful oblivion. These weren’t ambitious characters but rather people looking for a center. All those road movies — where were they headed? Perfect Days provides a kind of answer. A quiet, middle-aged man lives in a modest Tokyo home, gets up every morning and goes about his day cleaning the city’s toilets. There are hints of a past heartbreak, but they’re nothing more than gentle nods to the fact that all of us come from somewhere. There’s no sense that this person needs to do more, no sense that his life is being wasted. If anything, he is more aware of how lucky he is to be here than any of us. Is this what happiness looks like?


Once upon a time, Michael Mann was the king of composed beauty — a director of impeccable frames, of telling postures, of ethereal moods. Over the years, especially as he began to experiment with digital video, his work became more frenetic, more abstract, more reflective of the cacophony of our many-screened visual culture. In Ferrari, a project he’s been trying to realize for several decades, he brings the different sides of his directorial persona together, creating a film that veers between classicism in its domestic scenes and rip-roaring kineticism in its racing scenes. It’s all held together beautifully by Adam Driver as the aging Enzo Ferrari and Penélope Cruz as his wife, Laura, grieving parents and feuding spouses locked in tight emotional combat.

2.The Holdovers

Like a warm blanket made of asbestos, Alexander Payne’s comedy-drama about winter break at a boys’ boarding school has a cozy surface familiarity that’s slowly revealed to be toxic. Paul Giamatti — an actor who cannot be compared to any other actor in human history, in any medium — plays a history teacher living resolutely in the past. The stellar Da’Vine Joy Randolph is the grieving head cook who can neither move forward nor look back, and lightning-bolt newcomer Dominic Sessa is a troubled, unloved teen hurtling headlong into an uncertain future. Payne’s fondness for quiet, casual moments blends well with the film’s lo-fi aesthetic, which mimics the textures of a picture from the 1970s. This also means that formally, the movie is fixated on the past the way Giamatti’s character is. Even the nods to the Vietnam War throughout play like coy references to a controversial subject, as they would have been in 1970. Nevertheless, growth is possible. In Payne’s work, one individual’s foibles and failings can open another’s perception; his humans lead not by example, but through their flaws. This is one of the director’s greatest films.


So many biopics tried this year not to be biopics, to the point that the films’ publicists politely but firmly requested that we not call them biopics. Christopher Nolan didn’t seem to have any such worries. Oppenheimer is a proud biopic: a dense, big-swing condensation of a 600-page biography about one of the most important men of the 20th century and about (in the movie’s own words) “the most important fucking thing to ever happen in the history of the world.” But Oppenheimer is also the opposite of a standard-issue Great Man movie: The achievement here is monstrous, and the psychic dissolution of the main character before our very eyes is heartbreaking. Nolan wants to enter J. Robert Oppenheimer’s mind, to see the “hidden universe” that quantum physics opened up and thus convey the psychic prison in which the scientist found himself after ushering in the nuclear age. That the director turned this most devastating of stories into a riveting pop culture phenomenon without ceding one inch on its tragic dimensions is surely an achievement for the ages.