The Top 10 Films of 2023: 'The Continuations,' 'Oppenheimer,' and Beyond

By Gabin Villière , CNN Week

Updated 02:00 Am December 30, 2023

I cannot tell a lie: 2022 was somewhat disappointing, movie-wise. As the year came to a close, I struggled to find 10 titles that I truly loved. The options were limited, and it made me concerned about the future of movies as not just art or entertainment, but as communal experiences that are integral to our culture.

But this year has made a significant difference. Whether it was crowds of 8-year-olds flocking to theaters to sing along with Taylor Swift or a small film about a former government agent rescuing children from sex traffickers, people suddenly had reasons to go to the movies again. And more often than not, they found women breaking free from societal constraints, a theme that has gained momentum in the years following the #MeToo and Time's Up movements. Films like "Poor Things" and "Barbie" embody this theme.

Audiences seeking adventure found plenty to appreciate in the independent film scene. Outstanding documentaries like "The Mission," "Kokomo City," "The Eternal Memory," "Sly," and "The Disappearance of Shere Hite" captivated viewers. Foreign-language films such as "Other People's Children," "L'immensitá," "Close," "No Bears," and "Fallen Leaves" also offered unique perspectives. And let's not forget the upcoming "Zone of Interest," which deserves a spot on the list. 

This year has been particularly notable for first-time filmmakers who brought fresh voices and visions to original stories. A.V. Rockwell showcased Teyana Taylor in the powerful mother-son drama "A Thousand and One." Jamie Dack delivered a disturbingly effective portrayal of sex trafficking in "Palm Trees and Power Lines." Comedian Ray Romano made an assured directing debut with the nostalgic family drama "Somewhere in Queens." Charlotte Regan and Raven Jackson created wildly different but equally poetic and powerful films about girls coming of age in "Scrapper" and "All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt," respectively.

Any of these films could have easily made it onto my top 10 list this year, which was a pleasant surprise rather than a disappointment. Let's hope this trend continues.

Ava DuVernay's adaptation of Isabel Wilkerson's book "Caste" features Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor as Wilkerson herself. The film weaves together Wilkerson's personal story of loss and grief with her exploration of a theoretical construct for oppression that goes beyond race. It is a film that, like Wilkerson's mission, creates a new language by combining drama and documentary to delve into the profound and politically complex realities of human experience with depth, emotion, and raw honesty.

Where to watch: in theaters

9. Air

This year saw an abundance of product placement in movies, from the Flamin' Hot Cheetos film to the delightful comedy-drama "BlackBerry" about the beloved handheld device. In "Air," director Ben Affleck tells the story of the Nike Air Jordan basketball sneaker with energy and keen intelligence. The film brings together Matt Damon, Chris Messina, and Jason Bateman in fantastic supporting roles, and Viola Davis shines as Jordan's mother, Deloris. It's the kind of movie that we rarely see nowadays, but when we do, it's a breath of fresh air. Thank goodness.

8. Reality

Tina Satter adapted her own play for this movie about Reality Winner, the National Security Agency leaker. Sydney Sweeney delivers an astonishing performance as a de-glammed Winner. The film unfolds in real-time as Winner is apprehended and questioned by FBI agents in her Augusta, Ga., home. It's a tense, tragic, and often darkly funny film. Sweeney, known for playing bad girls, showcases her versatility as a vulnerable yet cunning young woman.

Where to watch: Max

Celine Song, like Satter, made a promising feature debut this year with "Reality." The film is built on small moments that culminate in a devastating final scene. Greta Lee stars as a young woman whose family immigrated from South Korea to Canada when she was a child.
When she reconnects with her long-lost might-have-been-boyfriend (Teo Yoo), her marriage to an American writer (John Magaro) is disrupted. Delicate, deeply felt and beautifully adjusted, "Past Lives" left an impression all the more memorable for being made so gently.

6. Joan Baez I Am a Noise
The 1960s folk icon embarks on her final tour in this excellently constructed film by Karen O'Connor, Miri Navasky, and Maeve O'Boyle, but what starts out as a farewell chronicle turns into something far more revealing and surprising than viewers anticipate. Still captivatingly charismatic in her early 80s, Baez holds nothing back in this disarmingly personal film, in which she explores her lifelong anxieties and hidden traumas, as well as her early rise to fame; her relationships with men, women, and family; and the ongoing mystery that is her sublime, still-powerful voice.
5. Barbenheimer
What, you thought I had forgotten? When it came to cultural significance, no proof of concept was more exhilarating than 2023's most enthusiastically received twofer. A movie about Mattel's most beloved plastic doll had no right to be as intelligent, aware, hilarious, and structurally ungovernable as Greta Gerwig's "Barbie" — millions of people not only embraced it but also came back for more. What better palate cleanser than "Oppenheimer," Christopher Nolan's technically flawless, intricately layered portrayal of Manhattan Project leader J. Robert Oppenheimer, brought to life with haunting authenticity by Cillian Murphy. Robert Downey Jr. commanded the screen as Oppenheimer critic Lewis Strauss, and Emily Blunt transformed from disheveled to explosive as Oppenheimer's fiercely loyal wife Kitty. A captivating movie that rewards the undivided attention it demands.
4. Anatomy of a Fall
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Sandra Hüller is flawlessly cast as the prickly, proud, unapologetically assertive writer at the center of Justine Triet's clever murder mystery. The question of whodunit revolves around whether Hüller's character pushed her husband out of the window of their snowbound chalet; the real questions delve into love, family, gender roles, and the norms — and bonds — that hold us together. Triet's depiction of a marriage exerts a similar appeal to Hüller's enigmatic wife and mother: cool and seductive at the same time.

3. You Hurt My Feelings
Nicole Holofcener's latest dramedy stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tobias Menzies as a writer and therapist whose marriage encounters a rough patch when she overhears him candidly critiquing her latest book. My dedication to Holofcener has been well-documented elsewhere; suffice it to say that she has once again succeeded in combining pain, humor, and cringe-inducing recognition in a film of perceptive wit and wisdom.
2. The Holdovers
Paul Giamatti and Da'Vine Joy Randolph co-star in this 1970s-set picaresque by Alexander Payne (working from a script by David Hemingson). Giamatti and Randolph portray a teacher and cook at an elitist New England prep school who find themselves trapped there over winter break; hilarity doesn't ensue as much as simmer beneath the surface, as a troubled student — portrayed in a fabulous breakout performance by newcomer Dominic Sessa — tests the boundaries of his elders, culminating in a classic Payne road trip of healing and discovery. Funny, sad, and exhilaratingly humanistic, "The Holdovers" brims with vitality.
1. American Fiction
Of all the feature filmmaking debuts this year, the most triumphant is Cord Jefferson's adaptation of Percival Everett's novel "Erasure," which follows an African American writer's attempt to navigate the racist parameters of the White liberal publishing world while simultaneously grappling with some complex family issues. Jeffrey Wright finally receives the leading role he has long deserved in a movie that somehow manages to be a sharply pointed satire while also being incredibly warm and appealing. This is the kind of movie that succeeds brilliantly in fulfilling all expectations, even as it pokes fun at fulfilling all expectations — and that's a fact.

That’s the best of the best. Here are more of our favorite movies of 2023 — films that received 3 stars or more from The Post’s critics.
Four individuals (Thomas Schubert, Langston Uibel, Paula Beer, and Enno Trebs) gather at a vacation cottage on the Baltic Sea in a film Ann Hornaday describes as a "subtly atmospheric exploration of artistic solitude and ego."
After Love
Joanna Scanlan delivers an award-winning performance as a woman who uncovers her late husband's secret second family. Thomas Floyd praises Scanlan's "resolute portrayal of a widow unraveling the threads of her husband's carefully constructed double life."
All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt
Ann Hornaday notes that the pacing and gestures in writer-director Raven Jackson's debut feature, an impressionistic portrayal of a girl's coming-of-age in rural Mississippi, evoke "the elliptical meanings found in the works of Terrence Malick, William Faulkner, and Maya Angelou."
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
In Kelly Fremon Craig's film adaptation of Judy Blume's beloved 1970 coming-of-age novel, Kristen Page-Kirby states, "The film's humor stems from empathy rather than mockery."
Baby Ruby
Noémie Merlant and Kit Harington portray new parents in a film that Ann Hornaday describes as "evolving from a critique of how American society fails women throughout the reproductive spectrum to a nuanced—and often uncomfortably candid—depiction of a new mother navigating deep anxiety, isolation, self-doubt, and barely contained anger."
Beyond Utopia
This captivating documentary follows a family's journey from North Korea to Thailand. Mark Jenkins describes the film as "resembling a found-footage horror movie, except that both the footage and horror are real."
Jay Baruchel and Matt Johnson star as Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, best friends who created the once-ubiquitous BlackBerry smartphone, in a comedy that Ann Hornaday dubs a "hilarious and insightful corporate biopic."
Bobi Wine: The People's President
This documentary tracks the life of Ugandan singer-turned-presidential candidate Bobi Wine during his unsuccessful 2021 campaign. Mark Jenkins asserts that the film's "mix of intimate portrait and raw street warfare is visceral, dynamic, and occasionally distressing."
Writer-director Emma Seligman's second feature follows the misadventures of two unpopular high school lesbians (Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri). Olivia McCormack describes the film as "an offbeat satire: simultaneously relevant and irreverent."
The Boy and the Heron
Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki comes out of retirement (once again) to tell another enchanting tale set in what Lucas Trevor calls "a magical world hidden just beneath the surface of our own." Taking place during World War II, this story revolves around a boy grappling with his mother's death.
Chile '76
Set during Augusto Pinochet's oppressive regime, the film follows a homemaker (Aline Küppenheim) whose apolitical stance is disrupted when she agrees to care for a wounded young man (Nicolás Sepúlveda) in hiding from the authorities. Ann Hornaday states that the film "focuses on how personal and political realms intersect, leading to increasingly tense outcomes rather than relying on shock value."
Creed III
Actor Michael B. Jordan makes a strong directorial debut, reprising his role as boxer Adonis "Donny" Creed in the third installment of the "Rocky" spinoff series. Ann Hornaday notes that Jonathan Majors portrays Donny's adversary "with a captivating blend of menace and sensitivity."
Desperate Souls, Dark City, and the Legend of Midnight Cowboy
Documentarian Nancy Buirski's kaleidoscopic film examines the cultural impact of the Oscar-winning 1969 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight. It analyzes the "shift from tough-guy actors like John Wayne to vulnerable performers such as Hoffman and Voight," with Mark Jenkins presenting "Midnight Cowboy" as "both a reflection and catalyst of societal change."
The Disappearance of Shere Hite
The documentary presents a portrait of the sex researcher and author of “The Hite Report.” Ann Hornaday says the film is “fascinating on myriad levels, most obviously in the way it illuminates how Hite transformed herself from a lonely little girl in a repressed household to a dashingly romantic figure on New York’s Upper West Side, where her Pre-Raphaelite beauty allowed her to model while she pursued her academic studies.”
Dream Scenario
Nicolas Cage plays an ordinary person who starts appearing in other people’s dreams in a film Ann Hornaday calls a “intelligent, incredibly entertaining horror-comedy.”
Earth Mama
The feature debut of writer-director Savanah Leaf focuses on a mother in crisis (Tia Nomore) who is overwhelmed by her responsibilities. Omari Daniels says the film presents “an honest and understated view of the challenges of motherhood.”
Emma Mackey plays the title character, author Emily Brontë, in what Ann Hornaday calls a “thought-provoking reinterpretation of her biography.”
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The Eternal Memory
Ann Hornaday calls Chilean filmmaker Maite Alberdi’s film an “alternately tender and tough documentary portrait” of a couple struggling with the gradual deterioration caused by Alzheimer’s disease.
Fallen Leaves
Aki Kaurismäki’s latest film is another example of the Finnish filmmaker’s distinctive storytelling: a “detached, highly stylized, quietly dramatic love story.”
The Five Devils
Michael O’Sullivan calls Sally Dramé, the young star of this French film about a peculiar young girl with an enhanced sense of smell that enables her to not only replicate any scent, but also engage in a form of time travel, a “remarkably self-assured newcomer.”
Flora and Son
This Irish dramedy explores the relationship between a single mother in Dublin (Eve Hewson), her unruly teenage son (Orén Kinlan), and a guitar teacher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) she meets online. Ann Hornaday says, “As a profane, slightly disheveled modern-day Holly Golightly, Hewson develops a convincingly magnetic chemistry with Gordon-Levitt.”
Godzilla Minus One
Lucas Trevor says that this Japanese reboot of the iconic monster movie showed us “there’s still an audience for movies that combine concise and creative action with emotionally resonant characters.”
Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant
Michael O’Sullivan says this story of a wounded soldier (Jake Gyllenhaal) who returns to Afghanistan to bring the interpreter who saved his life (Dar Salim) back to the United States may be manipulative — skillfully, entertainingly, and at times almost overwhelmingly so. “But oh, boy, does it work.”
Imagining the Indian: The Fight Against Native American Mascoting
This documentary explores a subject that has been much in the news: high school, college, and professional sports teams called the Indians, Redskins, Braves, Chiefs, and the like, and the movement to remove the offensive portrayals of Native Americans. Mark Jenkins says that the “energetic if somewhat uneven” film packs lots of information and even more emotion.
It Ain’t Over
Thomas Floyd says that Sean Mullin’s documentary portrait of Yogi Berra, the baseball player known for his malapropisms, “flows through Berra’s life without ever feeling rushed. When it comes to Mullin’s well-paced depiction of a misunderstood legend, Berra’s words put it best: ‘You can observe a lot by watching.’”
It Lives Inside
A common trope of horror — the demonic entity — becomes a metaphor for the immigrant experience in this tale of an Indian American teen (Megan Suri) whose classmate (Mohana Krishnan) begins carrying around a foreboding Mason jar. Lucas Trevor calls the film a “great addition to an unfolding new canon” of elevated horror.
John Wick: Chapter 4
Keanu Reeves returns to the title role of a highly lethal fugitive assassin in this fourth installment of the vividly violent action franchise. Michael O’Sullivan says that, at nearly three hours long, “there is more time to indulge the films’ fans exactly what they want, in spectacular fashion.”
Ali Junejo portrays a reserved and introverted man who falls for a vivacious transgender woman (Alina Khan) in what Mark Jenkins describes as a well-performed, novel-like drama about "the suppression of human individuality by a rigid traditional society."

Joy Ride
Four Asian American friends (Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, and Sabrina Wu) embark on an international escapade in a raunchy comedy that Olivia McCormack hails as "a heartwarming film about identity and friendship wrapped in a bundle of risqué humor."

Killers of the Flower Moon
Ann Hornaday asserts that Martin Scorsese's thriller, based on David Grann's nonfiction book about the murders of Osage Indians in 1920s Oklahoma, "brings to light a painful truth — the wickedness, devastation, and self-deception that underlie the American ideal — which has been concealed for far too long, particularly in cinema."

Kokomo City
D. Smith's inaugural documentary delves into the lives of Black transgender sex workers, following four individuals in Atlanta and New York. Ann Hornaday notes that the film "radiates not only with the indomitable energy of the intelligent, mesmerizingly beautiful women Smith has cast but also with the contradictions within their lives."

The Lady Bird Diaries
Dawn Porter's captivating documentary portrait of former first lady Lady Bird Johnson is based on Johnson's own recorded audio journal. Ann Hornaday reveals that one of the film's most delightful surprises is "Lady Bird's astute power of observation."

Leave the World Behind
Julia Roberts, Ethan Hawke, Mahershala Ali, and Myha'la star in a dystopian thriller about the potential end of the world. Michael O'Sullivan contends that it is "the human element that is most chilling and ultimately almost hopeful."

Mark Jenkins describes this French drama about the subculture of ATV riders in the suburbs of Paris as "energetic, intimate, and immersive."

Lola Campbell portrays a 12-year-old girl without a mother who reunites with her long-absent father (Harris Dickinson) in this British drama, which Ann Hornaday states offers viewers "uplifting moments without preaching."

Justice Smith, Briana Middleton, Sebastian Stan, Julianne Moore, and John Lithgow star in this twisty yet formulaic tale of con artists. Michael O'Sullivan considers the film's cast to be its "secret weapon."

Showing Up
Michelle Williams plays Lizzy, a ceramic artist stressed about her upcoming solo exhibition, while Hong Chau portrays her carefree and oblivious neighbor, a fellow artist and landlord, in a film by slow-cinema virtuoso Kelly Reichardt that Michael O'Sullivan describes as embodying a "strange and visually poetic" quality.

Somewhere in Queens
Ray Romano's directorial debut tells the story of a boisterous Italian American family whose communication style involves shouting. Michael O'Sullivan believes the film offers "something genuine, something relatable, something authentic."

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
This animated sequel reunites teenage webslinger Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) with Gwen Stacy, a.k.a. Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld). Ann Hornaday describes it as an expansive experience, stating, "You'll never want to leave this world."

The Starling Girl
Eliza Scanlen portrays a 17-year-old girl living in a fundamentalist Christian community who develops a mutual attraction with her pastor's 28-year-old son (Lewis Pullman). Ann Hornaday writes, "As a portrayal of a young woman pushing the boundaries of the shame-based system that has governed her, 'The Starling Girl' serves as a warmer, more radiant companion piece to last year's 'Women Talking.'"

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
Davis Guggenheim's documentary portrait of the star of the "Back to the Future" trilogy is presented through a combination of interviews, scripted reenactments, and archival footage. Michael O'Sullivan notes that Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1990, "retains an immensely likable and humorous on-screen persona, and now he employs that gift — along with another,this candid film memoir — to share hope, joy, and perhaps a sense of acceptance with others."
"Talk to Me" is a horror film that focuses on a group of young people who experiment with the supernatural by summoning spirits using the preserved hand of a medium. According to Olivia McCormack, the film's unique blend of horror and human connection makes it a topic of conversation.

"The Eras Tour" is a documentary that provides an intimate and spectacular look at Taylor Swift's record-breaking career over the past year. Ann Hornaday suggests fully embracing the experience of the tour, including the sparkly cowboy hats, boots, friendship bracelets, and the inevitable screams.

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem" is an animated film about talking-turtle superheroes. Kristen Page-Kirby compares it to "Barbie," noting its visual innovation and humor, as well as its mission to explore and celebrate the complexities of being a 15-year-old boy through the lens of a pop culture phenomenon. It also touches on the experience of parenting.

"Theater Camp" is a mockumentary that humorously portrays the eccentric world of adult counselors and child campers at a struggling summer drama program in the Adirondacks. Michael O'Sullivan describes it as a film that has something for everyone, with its show tunes and quirky characters.

"A Thousand and One" is a gritty urban drama set in 1990s Harlem, focusing on a mother's struggles to raise her son. Ann Hornaday praises A.V. Rockwell's triumphant debut as a first-time feature filmmaker.

"To Kill a Tiger" is a Canadian documentary that follows a child-rape case in India, shedding light on the alarming frequency of rape incidents in the country. Mark Jenkins highlights the determination of the victim and her father, as well as the potential positive changes that may result from their fight for justice.

"We Are Fugazi From Washington, D.C." is an immersive concert film that celebrates the iconic D.C. post-punk band Fugazi. It features footage shot by fans and aspiring filmmakers, capturing not only the band's powerful music but also their democratic spirit and inclusive approach to live performances.

"You People" is a comedy from Kenya Barris and Jonah Hill that combines elements of a romantic comedy and a father-of-the-bride farce. It follows the love story and wedding plans of Ezra, a hip-hop-loving Jewish podcast host played by Jonah Hill, and Amira, a Black stylist in L.A. portrayed by Lauren London. Michael O'Sullivan describes the film as a master class on divisive issues and our shared humanity, delivered with humor by comedians who understand the healing power of laughter.

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