Kyle Nazario

The 10 best new movies I saw in 2023

The 10 best new movies I saw in 2023

Gemini - "Generate an image from the back of a movie theater. A Godzilla movie is playing on screen. Godzilla's head is coming out of the screen toward the audience"

This was a surprisingly good year for movies, and not just because of Barbenheimer (which has a Wikipedia page? Amazing). In between all the chuff were a couple really great movies.

See the full list on Letterboxd.

(Ratings are out of 5. 3 stars is good, 4 is great, 5 is 😍).

10: Oppenheimer | ★★★

In the book Amazon Unbound, Brad Stone explains how Jeff Bezos categorizes decisions. Anything easily reversed is a two-way door. Amazon deputies should be quick when deciding whether to go through a two-way door, because you can always go back.

Some decisions, however, are one-way doors. One-way doors should be entered only after thorough caution and investigation.

Oppenheimer is fascinating because it shows humanity, and one man specifically, charging through the most dangerous one-way door in history. J. Robert Oppenheimer can’t stop for a moment to consider his decision to build the atomic bomb. There’s a war on.

The whole movie is terrific, but the moment that stuck with me most was an improvised line. An American government official is narrowing down a list of possible Japanese targets for the new atomic bomb. He strikes Kyoto from the list, because he and his wife honeymooned there and it was “beautiful.” People in the theater around us gasped when he said it.

That’s the movie right there in a nutshell. The destructive power of a god is being controlled by… humans. Hundreds of thousands live or die based on where some bureaucrat went on vacation.

Oppenheimer gave us the power to destroy ourselves. Nolan points out in this movie, correctly, we are not qualified and there’s no going back through the door.

9: Barbie | ★★★★

Barbie is good. To get distracted by other conversations, like whether its feminism is too corporate, is to miss the point. Barbie effortlessly skates from joke to joke, attempting and landing lines no other movie would try.

It’s also a technical marvel, with gorgeous sets, perfect costumes and stunning supporting performances. Ryan Gosling’s turn as a himbo king was so good it got him a Best Supporting Actor nomination. For a comedy!

Hats off to Greta Gerwig and company. She turned a movie that had no business being good into one of the best comedies of the year. I still marvel at the movie’s final joke.

8: Godzilla Minus One | ★★★★

I’ve only ever seen the American Godzillas before this, so I never understood people’s affection for the big lizard. Now I get it. The thing American movies were missing was fear.

The Godzilla of Godzilla Minus One is terrifying. When his eyes settle on our heroes, your heart starts racing.

Godzilla looking at the viewer

Via BoundingComics

The first time he fires his heat laser is one of the best, scariest moments in a theater last year.

The creators of this movie just understand that it’s not enough to make something big. You should be terrified of Godzilla.

7: Talk to Me | ★★★★

I can’t describe Talk to Me better than this Letterboxd review:

Somehow two dudes who ran a horror-comedy YouTube channel and whose most well-known film work was done as crew hands on The Babadook churned out a tense, atmospheric mindfuck masterpiece, joining Jordan Peele and Zach Cregger as career comedians who apparently have the souls of demons.

Talk to Me is pound-for-pound the scariest movie I’ve seen in years. It’s 90 minutes long and feels like three hours. It is intense. It’s not even that gory.

The movie follows a group of Australian teenagers who try a fun party game. Your friends tie you to a chair. You reach out and hold a haunted ceramic hand and say, “Talk to me.” Then… someone does.

Phenomenal work from two up-and-coming directors. Can’t wait to see what they do next.

6: May December | ★★★★

Speaking of horror movies, Todd Haynes’ May December is one of the most uncomfortable watches of 2023.

Natalie Portman plays an actress staying with a family in Georgia. She’s going to play the family’s mom in a TV movie. 20 years prior, the mom (then in her 30s) slept with a 13-year-old boy (her current husband, now early 30s).

Unsurprisingly, this family has a lot of tension. Neighbors, friends and family have to live with the aftermath of an unimaginable crime, one whose evidence is in front of them every day.

The performances are what make the movie. Portman and Julianne Moore are creepy frenemies. Charles Melton is the grown-up kid and the beating heart of the film, the conscience who begins to realize the wrong done to him.

5: Beau Is Afraid | ★★★★

No movie on this list is harder to recommend than Beau Is Afraid. It is three hours of postmodern horror focused on toxic family relationships. When it finished, people in our theater scoffed.

Reader - those people are wrong

Beau Is Afraid is a horror masterpiece about living with and loving an abusive narcissist. If you’ve ever known someone like this, Beau Is Afraid plays like a documentary: the coy hints of displeasure, eidetic memory of wrongs, guilt trips, dizzying mood swings, paranoia, and conditional, easily withdrawn affection.

As the film critic David Ehrlich put it, “Anyone who would sooner die for their mom than answer the phone when she calls should probably mix a few Zoloft into their popcorn just to be safe.”

4: Killers of the Flower Moon | ★★★★

There’s nobody better at depicting gangsters than Martin Scorsese. The guy who made Goodfellas, Casino and The Wolf of Wall Street gets criminals on a bone-deep level. He sees their vanity, pride, egotism, chauvinism, and raw greed. Scorsese knows a gangster can wear any costume and live in any social class, no matter how “respectable.” Fitting, then, that he turns his attention to the American frontier.

Killers of the Flower Moon is based on a true story. A century ago, the Osage tribe was forced to move to a rocky, unfarmable patch of nowhere in Oklahoma. It was the least valuable corner of the state, right up until they found oil.

The vast oil riches put the Osage in a historically strange position. They were multi-millionaires who couldn’t vote. They had more money than most people’d see in a lifetime, but the government offered almost no protection.

This paradox created, in Scorsese terms, an entire town of gangsters. Untold numbers of white citizens began killing their Osage neighbors for their oil rights. The book the movie’s based on talks about healthy Osage men in their 40s dropping dead one day of “natural causes.” Murdering them was basically legal.

It’s a story worth telling and remembering. Scorsese’s not Osage, so his perspective is inherently from the white characters, but he’s canny enough to know that.

3: Poor Things | ★★★★

Yorgos Lanthimos is one of my favorite weirdos working in cinema. I am always happy to see new movies from the warped mind that brought us The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

This time, the movie is about a mad scientist who implants a baby’s brain into the body of an adult woman (Emma Stone). Stone is transfixing as a Frankenstein’s monster growing to realize she is much smarter than the dumb men around her. Her performance is, politely, deranged.

My favorite turn has to be Mark Ruffalo, though. He plays a preening, pompous wannabe ladykiller who quickly falls to pieces before Bella. It is one of the best comedic performances of the year. My friends and I still giggle at the way he screams “BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELLLLAAAAAAAAAAA!!!”

2: The Holdovers | ★★★★

Between ages 14 and 18, I went to an all-boys Catholic preparatory school. It was high school, but with demanding academics and mandatory Mass. The high stress caused dozens of students to drop out of my class over four years.

All this is to say when Paul Giamatti comes on screen as a beleaguered classical history teacher, I immediately recognized him. His background, history, ambitions and personality are perfectly written. He feels like someone who should’ve taught Latin at our school.

Giamatti, a student and a cook are stuck at school over Christmas and wouldn’t you know it, they become a kind of found family. Even though its predictable, the movie just has a kind of integrity you can’t question. It means what it says.

1: The Boy and the Heron | ★★★★

If you’ve never seen a Hayao Miyazaki movie before, please understand he is one of the best directors alive. Possibly the best.

The Boy and the Heron is his swan song (pun intended), a final goodbye to his grandchildren. It is abstract, awe-inspiring, overwhelming and unforgettable.

The movie follows a boy who loses his mother to a fire from a bombing in World War II. He moves to the countryside, where a strange heron begins taunting him.

Don’t expect a ton of literal narrative. The Boy and the Heron gets abstract at points. According to a podcast I heard, even Miyazaki doesn’t know what it all means. He just loaded the movie with imagery that works on some level I can’t describe.

At the end of the movie, the boy finds an old man alone in a tower. The old man tells him he’s waited for him, that the boy must take over his role as ruler of his fantasy world. The man produces a handful of white stone toy blocks and demands the boy stack them (one of the blocks is a sphere). Stack the blocks, the man says, and the fantasy world will continue. Let them fall, and everything ends.

I’ve been thinking about that metaphor a lot. About how much of life amounts to stacking blocks for reasons we can’t understand. About when we should stack the blocks and when we should let them fall. Damned if I know what it means, but I know I’ll never forget it.