Friday, March 1, 2024

NBP Top 10 Best Films Of 2023 – Matt Neglia

2023 was a fantastic year for personal growth as I started to become more confident and proud in my writing, even though this was the year I wrote the least since starting the site in 2016. We saw the filmgoing audience voice very clearly that they’re tired of Hollywood pumping out the same generic blockbusters they’ve been receiving for over a decade, and they’ll show up for something good (something Martin Scorsese might call “cinema”), even if it’s based on pre-existing IP (“Barbie“). General interest in international films continues to expand while documentaries provide so much valued insight into the past as well as the present and it’s just so gratifying to see audiences seeking these titles out. Narrowing down my favorite films of the year from the over 300 I saw to 10 was challenging, as so many movies stood out to me for many reasons. But upon rewatches of these films over the holidays, these ten resonated with me the most. Before I get started, here are a few honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): “All Of Us Strangers,” “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.,” “Beyond Utopia,” “Society Of The Snow,” and “The Taste Of Things.” And now, here are my top ten favorite films of 2023…

10. Anatomy Of A Fall

Anatomy Of A Fall“When we don’t understand what happened, we should try to understand why it happened.” Sometimes, the truth isn’t so obvious. In Justine Triet’s engrossing, Palme d’Or-winning procedural crime drama, we, the audience, serve as the jury for Sandra Voyter’s trial, not just for the potential murder of her husband but also for her marriage to him. So much is packed in Triet’s ever-evolving story, from crime procedural to courtroom drama to a raw examination of a relationship strained by years of hardship and resentment. It could’ve been a podcast or miniseries, but instead, we digest it all over two and a half hours, wondering whether Sandra did it or didn’t do it. But this is a film that lives in its grey areas, and only by carefully considering all of the facts and subjective intricacies of human behavior presented can we make a rational decision on what the truth actually is. Triet’s direction walks a fine line, never steering you in one direction or the other. Sandra Hüller is extraordinary in a can’t-look-away performance, and she’s aided by some equally impressive work from her blind son Milo Machado-Graner and some of the best dog acting I’ve ever seen (which rightfully won the Palme Dog Award at Cannes). “Anatomy Of A Fall” will grip you from beginning to end.

9. About Dry Grasses

I will never understand why the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences refuses to acknowledge Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Six of his films have been selected as Turkey’s submission for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film, and not a single one has ever been nominated. He previously won the Palme d’Or for “Winter Sleep” and has crafted other incredible films such as “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” and “The Wild Pear Tree.” But his latest, “About Dry Grasses,” is the one I’ve connected with the most as it follows a selfish, petulant art teacher who can’t stand his place in Anatolia and goes through an existential crisis that later morphs into a professional crisis as one of his students accuses him of inappropriate conduct. Endlessly fascinating on all levels, from the lush, intelligent writing, the meticulous compositions (primarily shot in wide long takes) of the snowy landscapes and their warm but dimly lit interiors, and the layered performances, its three-hour runtime requires patience, but each passing hour reveals a new coating of disturbing honesty and complexity. Deniz Celiloğlu’s quiet, intense performance has some of the most soul-piercing looks I’ve seen an actor convey as he judges everyone around him but not himself. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the third act’s jaw-dropping decision (following one of the most riveting dialogue exchanges of the year between Celiloğlu and Cannes Best Actress-winner. Merve Dizdar) to break the fourth wall. It’s an audacious choice in a film with so many other finely-tuned decisions that it demands unraveling with multiple viewings.

8. The Holdovers

The HoldoversA new Christmas all-timer Christmas movie has been gifted to us this holiday season in the latest film from Alexander Payne, “The Holdovers.” In what has been considered a return to form for the two-time Academy Award winner following the disappointing “Downsizing,” Payne reunites for the first time in nearly twenty years with Paul Giamatti after their work together on “Sideways,” and the result is a far more mature, more refined piece of work that feels like a cozy, warm blanket you want to wrap yourself in during the holidays. Giamatti delivers one of his finest performances to date in a career filled with many, while breakout star Dominic Sessa (astonishingly making his on-screen acting debut here) holds his own against the experienced actor, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph nearly steals the whole movie away with her grief-stricken performance. When all three are on screen together, magic ensues as each character masks deep pain under the surface, and we organically strip away the layers to reveal who they really are in a film that asks us not to be so quick to judge those around us. The 1970s aesthetic, sincere messaging, witty screenplay (Paul Hunham’s diction is a hoot to listen to), and calm, natural storytelling all come together in this empathetic, funny, and heartfelt film. It’s undoubtedly Alexander Payne’s best film since “Sideways” and another win for him and Giamatti.

​7. John Wick: Chapter 4

John Wick Chapter 4The best action film I’ve seen since “Mad Max: Fury Road” (Yup, even better than “Mission: Impossible – Fallout“) and hands-down one of the all-time great action films, period. “John Wick: Chapter 4” found director Chad Stahelski, his miraculous stunt team and a game Keanu Reeves firing on all cylinders to outdo not only what came before in the previous “John Wick” films but also give the Baba Yaga a fitting send-off should this indeed be the last outing for the dangerous man dressed in black. With franchise-best cinematography from Dan Laustsen (which stands as my personal favorite of the year), an epic 169-minute runtime, and engaging new characters played by martial arts masters Donnie Yen and Hiroyuki Sanada, who add real gravitas to the story, this is the most gorgeous-looking, high-stakes and balls to the wall bonkers a “John Wick” film has ever been and I couldn’t get enough of it. It reminded me of how I felt coming out of “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” where the franchise reached new, seemingly impossible heights, and I couldn’t possibly imagine how they would ever top it. From the overheard tracking shot with the dragon’s fire breath to the tumbling down the stairs of Montmartre to Sacré-Coeur in Paris to Scott Adkins hamming it up in a fat suit to the nods to classic Western and samurai films, “John Wick: Chapter 4” had us all collectively shouting “yeah” when its final credits rolled, hoping, wishing, praying that another entry could one day be possible. However, if not, it will just have to settle for raising the bar for every other action movie that will now follow in its footsteps.

6. Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse

Spider-Man Across The Spider-VerseSpider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” shocked and amazed me upon its release in late 2018, making it onto my top 10 list of that year at the last minute. And now, here we are five years later, and “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse” finds itself in the same no. 6 position in my top ten list yet again. This time, given the expectations set by the first film, I was even more surprised and impressed that the highly anticipated sequel could match it. There are times when it even exceeds it. The animation style is frankly out of this world, as it combines so many different elements, inspirations, and ideas, sometimes all within a single scene, to make us feel like we’re watching something we’ve never experienced before, all while seamlessly continuing the story of Miles Morales and giving enough breathing room to Gwen Stacey to make this film feel as much her’s as it is his. In fact, for all its visual dazzlement, laugh-a-minute humor, and overwhelming energy, it’s the moments where the film slows down to focus on the down-to-earth interactions between Miles and his parents or Stacey and her police captain father that the film truly transcends any genre or medium to set itself apart and further etch a timeless spot for itself in cinematic history. Many feel the superhero genre took a beating in 2023, one from which it might not ever recover. Still, writers Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Dave Callaham, and directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson proved that it’s not the genre that’s dying; it’s how it is utilized to tell these beloved stories. Although this is only the second part in what will be a three-part-story with the concluding “Beyond The Spider-Verse” set to come out (eventually), “Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse” can stand on its own as a pure, artistic achievement that has once again pushed the boundaries of animation and hopefully, compelling many within the industry to take it more seriously. This was also a tremendous year for animation as a whole and I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention some other wonderful films that didn’t make this list but were very close to doing so including “The Boy And The Heron,” “Elemental,” “Nimona,” “The Peasants,” “Suzume,” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.” It speaks to the level of quality which I feel the “SpiderVerse” team is operating at that this film is held in such high regard by me and will continue to be no matter the outcome of third and final installment.

5. The Zone Of Interest

The Zone Of InterestI knew just a few minutes into Jonathan Glazer’s haunting, arthouse Holocaust drama “The Zone Of Interest” that this was a flat-out masterpiece that historians and cinephiles would study, teach, and be regarded as one of the all-time greats. Ten years after “Under The Skin,” Glazer returned to challenge us with his fly-on-the-wall depiction of a German Nazi family based in Auschwitz while the horrors of the Holocaust are heard off-screen beyond the walls of their idyllic home. This is not a conventional film. It’s intended to provoke anger and distress. It’s a powerfully disturbing and cerebral statement of a film about the banality of evil and how we may fall back into it today, backed by Mica Levi’s unsettling score. When history thinks of the great Holocaust films such as “Schindler’s List,” “Shoah” or “Night And Fog,” they will have a new film to mention, for what Glazer has created may be one of the most striking juxtapositions in the history of the medium. It’s a chilling and wholly unique vision that is unlike any other Holocaust film you’ve ever seen before. Despite there being no on-screen violence, Glazer knows it’s our imaginations that can conjure the most frightening and brutal images. With some of the most purposeful sound work of the year, it unnervingly works its way over you, making you sick to your stomach, as you are powerless to do anything about the horrors taking place until it’s all too late. It has not left my mind since that first watch, and it never shall, as it reminds us of the consequences of standing by and doing nothing in the face of such blatant evil disguised as normalcy.

4. Killers Of The Flower Moon

Killers Of The Flower MoonI owe so much of my love for cinema to Martin Scorsese. To finally get a chance to meet him this year face-to-face and tell him and thank him for everything he’s given me and millions of people over 56 years is a moment from 2023 I’ll forever cherish. Seeing his latest masterwork, “Killers Of The Flower Moon.” at the Cannes Film Festival (my first time attending the international festival) was my most memorable cinematic experience this past year. Considering the high standard he’s set for himself with so many classics under his belt, it’d be one thing for his latest to simply be good. But it was so much more than that and has continually rewarded me with deeper meaning and appreciation upon several rewatches (yes, I’ve seen this 206-minute-long film five times). After “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” “Silence,” and “The Irishman,” it represents another culmination of many reoccurring themes he’s been working with since his career started with “Who’s That Knocking At My Door?” and at age 81 years old, he’s finding new ways to push himself as a storyteller, while keeping what he calls “cinema” alive. “Killers Of The Flower Moon” delves into some of the grimmest territory Scorsese has explored, where this nation’s cold, hard truths are brought to the forefront: Money and power win. The rich stay rich and will stop at nothing to keep those they feel are beneath them strictly in their place. Scorsese expectedly ruminates on the imbalance of power in this country and man’s lust for money above all else before turning in what will go down as one of the most widely discussed endings to a film he’s ever created. Its commentary on how we consume stories such as this today, how those stories have been misappropriated, and even his own complicit nature in such tellings, just as Ernest and everyone in the town, to some degree or another, were complicit in what William King Hale was orchestrating is a bold and undeniably powerful coda, one which, if this were to be his final film, would be a perfect note to go out on. For cinema’s sake, let us hope that this is not the end and that we still have a few more unforgettable masterpieces from our greatest American living director.

​3. Poor Things

Poor ThingsYorgos Lanthimos has been one of my favorite filmmakers working today since I saw the Academy Award-nominated “Dogtooth” in 2010. Since then, his brand of weirdness, off-kilter filmmaking, and thematically disturbing yet wholly imaginative ideas have filled me with wonder, amusement, and horror, from “The Lobster” to “The Killing Of A Sacred Deer” to my no. 1 film of 2018, “The Favourite.” His latest, “Poor Things,” represents the most technically spectacular work he has constructed yet. Everything from the colorful costumes to the almost Tim Burton-like sets, the character-revealing makeup, the unorthodox score, and the off-beat but pitch-perfect performances are all operating at the top of their game. In an age where society is becoming louder in its puritan-level demand for less sex in movies, along comes a sexually liberating, visionary tale of reawakening and discovery, all through the means of self-betterment to make the world a better place. Featuring the best performance of Emma Stone’s career in a role that requires her to chart the course of her character’s development from early stages of barely being able to formulate complete sentences or walk straight into a confident, intelligent, and powerful woman, she’s given us an iconic character with Bella Baxter I’m sure many will be dressing up for during next year’s Halloween uttering hilarious quotable lines such as “I must go punch that baby” and “furious jumping.” Mark Ruffalo has also never been funnier than he is here as the smarmy, caddish Duncan Wedderburn, with just as many gut-busting uproarious moments and line deliveries that see him entirely lose himself on screen. Tony McNamara’s screenplay adaptation contains so much foul-mouthed and ingenious wordplay I missed so many lines on my first viewing from laughing so hard. This sensational revisionist Frankenstein is a triumph for both entertaining those who relish it and angering those who feel threatened by it. I wouldn’t have a Yorgos Lanthimos film any other way.

2. Past Lives

Past LivesThe breakout hit of Sundance 2023 nearly made it the entire year since January as my no. 1 favorite film. Between it, “Poor Things” and my no. 1, they all traded places the last couple of months before I did my latest rewatches and settled on this final ranking. It’s a remarkable feat, considering “Past Lives” is Celine Song’s feature directorial debut, as she lets this profound, semi-autobiographical story of fate and regret unfold with the level of skill and wisdom one would expect from a more seasoned filmmaker. This is a genuine story about two people whose lives go in vastly different directions and the invisible forces that pull them back together even when they’re worlds apart. What Song taps into strikes deep and gently touches your soul. It’s achingly beautiful in its simplicity, stillness, and willingness to allow the three main actors Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, and John Magaro the space to let their characters naturally develop, exposing themselves in emotionally honest and mature ways that is so refreshing from much of the typical melodrama we see play out from romance dramas. Song’s control over the serene tone, navigating the emotional depth of her characters, and sharing such a personal story in such a universal way has announced her as a significant new and exciting voice, one I eagerly cannot wait to hear more from.

1. Oppenheimer

OppenheimerAfter the release of “Tenet,” I stated how badly I needed Christopher Nolan to go back to the stripped-down, more character-focused storytelling of some of his earlier films, such as “Memento” and “The Prestige.” What I didn’t expect was that “Oppenheimer” would not only grant me this wish but would do it on such a massive scale, blessing all of us with not only a masterpiece of the historical biopic genre but a masterpiece of cinematic history in general. What was seen as a great scientific achievement slowly turned into a neverending nightmare where one man’s reputation was destroyed by egomaniacal men clinging to positions of power who sought to use the catastrophic weapon as a symbol of that power. The world never looked back once those two bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Nolan wisely never shows the dropping of the bombs nor the destruction they caused, but it’s alluded to; we see it on Oppenheimer’s face through Cillian Murphy’s outstanding performance. His internalized struggle over the creation of the atomic bomb is a dichotomy exemplified through Nolan’s tightly controlled narrative as he utilizes color and black and white (he and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema invented IMAX black and white film stock for this movie) and non-linear storytelling to weave this important story together through Oppenheimer and Lewis Strauss’ perspectives. The entire who’s who list of names in this massive ensemble is phenomenal, but watching Downey in a project where his electrifying performance as Strauss can be just as exhilarating as an action setpiece in the MCU feels so refreshing. Of course, the film’s technical elements are exemplary across the board (Nolan always expects everything to bring their absolute best to one of his films), especially the intricate editing by Jennifer Lame, thunderous soundscape, and superbly exquisite score by Ludwig Göransson. But most of all, a Christopher Nolan film has never felt this urgent and vital before. For a filmmaker who has created some of the most entertaining blockbusters and iconic endings of the last several years, his finale in “Oppenheimer” might be his very best for how haunting and mature it is, leaving you with a gut-punch of a final line reading when Oppenheimer tells Albert Einstein “I believe we did” in regards to whether their work might’ve started a chain reaction which would eventually lead to the end of the world. For me, “Oppenheimer” represents Nolan’s most significant accomplishment as a filmmaker and why he’ll one day be regarded as one of the greatest of all time. His trust in the audience to come alongside a flawed protagonist for three hours in a period film filled with mostly men talking in rooms and shot partially in black and white paid off marvelously as the film not only became the highest-grossing biopic of all time but also epitomized what many were collectively feeling in 2023: we are starving for quality cinema, and the world is one day going to end, most likely by our hand, because we can’t help ourselves, because we don’t have enough Oppenheimers out there and we have too many Strausses with their fingers on the doomsday button instead. All of this, not to mention the unique experience of seeing this magnificent film in breathtaking IMAX 70mm during the “Barbenheimer” weekend (coined by your’s truly), and the fact it never, not once, lost any of its visceral impact on any of my subsequent rewatches in different formats since, is why it will easily stand the test of time and is the best film of 2023 for me.

What do you think of my list? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account. Be on the lookout for more of our Top 10’s for 2023 as we say goodbye to the year and say hello to a new one. Thank you everyone for a memorable year. Our annual NBP Film Awards and the NBP Film Community Awards will come in a few days to allow you all some time to see those final 2023 awards season contenders and vote on what you thought was the best 2023 had to offer. Till then, Happy New Year!

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Matt Neglia
Matt Negliahttps://nextbestpicture.com/
Obsessed about the Oscars, Criterion Collection and all things film 24/7. Critics Choice Member.

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