Best movies of 2023: 'Oppenheimer,' 'Fallen Leaves,' 'May December'


The Associated Press’ Film Writers Lindsey Bahr and Jake Coyle’s picks for the best movies of 2023:

Christopher Nolan has had so many major films in a relatively short time, that “ Oppenheimer ” might seem like a given, rather than the triumphant fusion of everything he’s passionate about: Large format film; the tension between humanity and science; the turmoil of a brilliant mind; and the wonder of an exceptional group coming together to make an impossible thing (in this case a nuclear weapon) but also on a meta level, the film.

Like “Oppenheimer,” the horror in Jonathan Glazer’s “ The Zone of Interest ” is what is unseen. Depiction bubbled up as a hot topic this year, as though audiences aren’t intelligent enough to imagine the worst. In “The Zone of Interest,” it’s only a wall that separates one Nazi family from the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Glazer’s film is a masterclass in atmosphere: A chilling, artful representation of the not so grey areas of complicity.

Sofia Coppola’s “ Priscilla ” is so beautiful to look at, it’s easy not to notice its rigorous restraint and minimalism in storytelling. It provides a singular showcase for her very capable actors, Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi, that’s about all the small things — the moments that might be imperceptible were it not for her quiet gaze. That the Elvis estate wasn’t on board just means she did her job as an independent artist.

The play within a play conceit of Wes Anderson’s “ Asteroid City ” is perhaps his most self-conscious film, made in his signature style but also about his style and the artifice of it. It is immensely rewatchable, funny and quotable, with a career best performance from Scarlett Johansson and a brilliant Margot Robbie cameo.

It takes a master like Todd Haynes to authentically blend high camp and melodrama with grounded emotion, but that’s what he’s managed to do with the sickly entertaining “ May December. ” It’s a satire about actors and the Lifetime-ing of human tragedies and a soulful portrait of a victim who doesn’t realize it.

Aki Kaurismäki was, embarrassingly, a blind spot for me. But the Finnish filmmaker’s deadpan romance about the missed connections of two lonely souls in a cold, unglamorous, alcohol-soaked setting is a wonderful place to start. Like Holappa and Ansa come to learn, it’s never too late to grow.

There were a few movies this year that were just so good and so watchable that it feels too easy to select them. Alexander Payne’s “ The Holdovers ” is the best of them: A well written, acted and composed film that makes you feel like you too are stuck in a New England boarding school over a holiday break and learning things about yourself and those in the trenches with you.

Yorgos Lanthimos crafts a deranged, provocative, unabashedly stylish and funny fairy tale that feels completely fresh. The themes aren’t exactly subtle, what with Emma Stone’s insatiable Bella Baxter calling her creator (Willem Dafoe) God, but it is one of those huge, ambitious swings that works.

Writer-director A.V. Rockwell made the year’s best debut feature in this vibrant portrait of a mother and son in New York City in the 1990s. The city as character may be a tired trope, but here you feel their home changing and gentrifying as their own relationship takes unexpected turns. This grand opening statement is both intimate and epic, with a pulsating soundtrack.

It’s kind of hard to believe that “ Bottoms ” was a real movie that was really released by a major studio, MGM. Director Emma Seligman and her co-writer/muse/star Rachel Sennott created one of the wildest, funniest, weirdest high school movies that Gen Z still needs to discover and claim. It’s ok, there’s time.

Also: “ 20 Days in Mariupol,” “ Theater Camp,” “ Blue Jean,” “All of Us Strangers,” “ Eileen,” “ Showing Up,” “ You Hurt My Feelings,” “ Killers of the Flower Moon,” “ The Eight Mountains,” “ Anatomy of a Fall,” “ The Pigeon Tunnel.”

Loneliness and lousy bosses are everywhere in the cold world of Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki’s latest. But there are stirring signs of life beneath the deadpan surface of “Fallen Leaves,” a minimalist fable about a maybe-romance between two working-class loners (Alma Pöysti, Jussi Vatanen). Kaurismäki doesn’t need much — a trip to the movies, a few good songs, a dog named Chaplin — to say a lot. An 82-minute balm for a bleak world.

Alexander Payne’s latest, with its cozy, Christmas New England environs, has sometimes been compared to a warm blanket. But there’s a strong anti-authoritarian streak running through “The Holdovers,” much like the ’70s films it models itself on. The cast, including Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and newcomer Dominic Sessa, is flawless. There’s plenty of warmth here, but there’s rage, too — including a lament for a lost spirit of American filmmaking.

Seasons sweep through Felix Van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch’s gentle tale of friendship set in the Italian Alps. The film, vast and intimate at once, tracks two childhood friends (Luca Marinelli, Alessandro Borghi) over the course of years, enveloping them in a breathtaking high-mountain backdrop and the radiant folk songs of Daniel Norgren.

The year’s giddiest and most spectacular film. As good as “Into the Spider-Verse” was, the second chapter pushes dazzlingly against both superhero convention and the limits of animation.

The great Japanese actor Koji Yakusho stars as a solitary, soft-spoken public toilet cleaner in Tokyo in Wim Wenders’ profoundly lovely ode to the everyday. Though plot and backstory make hesitant inroads, “Perfect Days” is mostly about the day-to-day rhythms of Hirayam, who reads Faulkner at night, takes pictures of trees on his lunch break and listens to cassette tapes (yes, including Lou Reed) while he drives.

Ava DuVernay’s stirring adaptation of Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste” isn’t exactly an adaptation. DuVernay dramatizes Wilkerson’s writing of the celebrated nonfiction book, mixing in historical accounts of caste systems with the intimate dramas of Wilkerson’s own life. The combination movingly fuses social with personal.

Here’s one thing that’s not been said enough about Greta Gerwig’s runaway sensation: It’s the funniest movie of the year. With apologies to Cord Jefferson’s blistering debut, “American Fiction,” and Nicole Holofcener’s white-lie opus, “You Hurt My Feelings,” nothing was as clever as Gerwig’s I’ll-have-my-cake-and-eat-it-too balancing act of brand marketing and gender satire.

The past in everywhere in Alice Rohrwacher’s enchanting 1980-set folk tale, underfoot and in the melancholy eyes of its Englishman protagonist (Josh O’Connor), the gifted but haunted leader of a ramshackle band of tombaroli who raid ancient Etruscan burial sites in Tuscany. This is a magical but earthy movie.

The latest by Andrew Haigh, the British filmmaker of “Weekend” and “45 Years,” is an aching, unshakeable ghost story. In a dreamy metaphysical daze, the film toggles between the unfolding relationship of two gay men, Adam (Andrew Scott) and Harry (Paul Mescal), and Harry’s visitations to his frozen-in-time childhood home where he finds his long-dead parents (Claire Foy, Jamie Bell). It’s about family, loss, fiction, romance, coming out, growing older, and it will absolutely level you.

Mexican writer-director Lila Aviles’ film is likewise about family and grief, and it, too, has the power to devastate. Aviles’ follow-up to her 2018 debut “The Chambermaid” is largely seen through the perspective of young Sol (Naima Senties) on a day when her multigenerational family is preparing a birthday party for her dying father (Mateo García Elizondo). The teeming, distracted lives of her relatives nearly obscure the hard truth at hand for Sol.

Also: “R.M.N.,” “Anatomy of a Fall,” “Oppenheimer,” “You Hurt My Feelings,” “A Thousand and One,” “Tori and Lokita,” “Youth (Spring),” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “The Delinquents,” “Orlando: My Political Documentary,” “Past Lives,” “American Fiction,” “Ferrari,” “The Boy and the Heron,” “Asteroid City”



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