Between theaters and streamers, there’蝉 a lot to sift through if you want to find the best movies of 2023. To spare you that effort and save you some time, we’re keeping a running list of good movies to watch as they open throughout the year. Existential unease, literate thrills, and devastation await. And, yes, most of the films listed below are either in theaters or available for streaming or rental (or will be soon).?Happy watching.
You Hurt My Feelings
At first glance, writer-director Nicole Holofcener’蝉 witty, beautifully acted comedy seems like a mere light romp through monied Manhattan. But as she always does, Holofcener has deeper things on her mind. You Hurt My Feelings is a sharp and often poignant study of the mechanics of love, how its eagerness to support and encourage can sometimes have the exact opposite effect. It’蝉 a clever and thoughtful movie about white lies and well-meaning indulgence, wise in its detailed observation of human behavior. And what a human Holofcener has cast in the lead: Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who is also excellent in Holofcener’蝉 Enough Said) gives a radiant star turn, as naturally dexterous with the film’蝉 peppery comedy and she is with its bleary drama. It’蝉 an immensely charismatic performance, one that would, in a just world, be recognized by awards-giving bodies at year’蝉 end.
One of the most striking debut features in years, Celine Song’蝉 decades- and continents-spanning romantic drama took Sundance by storm in January. Although “storm” implies something aggressive, which Past Lives, in all its delicate emotional insight, certainly is not. Instead it’蝉 a sad, swooning, graceful look at the journeys of immigration and aging, telling a story about two old friends and maybe lovers. The film follows Nora (played as an adult by Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (played as an adult by Teo Yoo), early adolescent pals in Seoul who are separated, seemingly forever, when Nora’蝉 family moves to Canada. Past Lives traces their initially tentative and then wholehearted reunion years later, as they reconcile the realities of their adult selves with their dreamily remembered youth. Song swathes her film’蝉 metaphysical questions in gorgeous, summery light, crafting a lilting portrait of life in its infinite dimensions and sliding-doors possibilities. Past Lives is a must-see gem of a film, one that augurs many good things for its fledgling creator. (In limited theaters June 2)
The Eight Mountains
Watching Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch’蝉 vivid, sweeping film about male friendship is like reading a satisfying novel. (Indeed, the film is based on Paolo Cognetti’蝉 book.) It has heft and breadth and spans decades, tracing the bond between two Italians as they leave boyhood behind and venture into manhood. The film’蝉 narrative turns may get a bit grandiose toward the end, but what precedes that is rich and moving. The Eight Mountains is, among other things, a sensitive look at class in a country riven with economic problems, and a testament to how adolescent experience can shape an entire life. Much of this drama is set against stunning alpine vistas, filmed in such gorgeous enormity that The Eight Mountains should be shown in IMAX. (In theaters April 28)
Director Hlynur Pálmason’蝉 grand and forbidding film, about a Danish priest traveling to Iceland at the end of the 19th century, is not an easy sit. The film is stark and withholding, a trek across harsh and desolate landscape toward, well, nothing good. But Godland proves enveloping in all that strain and struggle—the film is an effectively somber, despairing meditation on faith, vanity, and colonialism. While much of his film is austere, Pálmason employs a few flashy techniques to enhance the eerie mood of existential unease. Godland is by no means a casual watch, but it rewards patience and investment.
How to Blow Up a Pipeline
A nervy eco-thriller that doubles as a persuasive piece of activist messaging, Daniel Goldhaber’蝉 film vibrates with urgency. A band of 20-somethings from various backgrounds and all across the country come together to make good on the title of the film. Their thinking is that because all manner of peaceful climate change activism has failed, radical action must be taken. The film makes a worthy philosophical, political, and moral argument, while also serving as a compelling riff on the heist film. How to Blow Up a Pipeline may represent a shift in culture’蝉 approach to the climate crisis, as a younger generation comes of age and begins fighting for their future.
Of an Age
Australian Macedonian filmmaker Goran Stolevski’蝉 sophomore feature (his first was last year’蝉 exquisite You Won’t Be Alone) is a coming-out story, of sorts. Told in two parts, Of an Age centers on Kol (Elias Anton), who begins the film as a closeted teenager who has a chance encounter with a friend’蝉 older brother, Adam (Thom Green). An attraction blooms and is consummated, but the two young men’蝉 lives are on divergent paths. A time jump reveals them as more fully realized adults, perhaps still carrying torches for one another. Stolevski seems to have been influenced by Andrew Haigh’蝉 landmark gay romance Weekend; there’蝉 a similar wistfulness, a discursive chattiness, a woozy sense of closeness at work in Of an Age. But Stolevski has threaded his film with textures all his own, looking at the Balkan diaspora in Australia and allowing for some gentle humor. Though the ending of Of an Age is dismayingly abrupt, much of what’蝉 come before is sweet and erotic and wise about the fits-and-starts process of coming out—chiefly to oneself.
Return to Seoul
Evocative and offbeat, Davy Chou’蝉 film follows a young woman, Freddie (Park Ji-min), who was born in South Korea before being adopted by French parents. Somewhat against those parents’ wishes, Freddie travels to Korea to seek out her birth family. She’蝉 searching for specific people, of course, but she is also reaching for something intangible. Return to Seoul spans nearly a decade as Freddie struggles for a sense of place in the world. She’蝉 a fascinating creation, prickly and mercurial and, for a spell, immoral. But Chou eventually rounds his film into something compassionate, a bittersweet collage of a young life in flux.
After they made a ruinous mess of the fifth Scream movie, there was no reason to trust that the people behind that film—directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick—could right the franchise. And yet their follow-up sequel, a continuation of a long saga now geographically shifted to New York City, is a surprising delight. The new characters introduced in V are better honed in VI, shrewder and more likable and thus actually worth rooting for. (Veteran player Courteney Cox gets her fair due, too.) Jumpy-fun scares abound, the filmmaking is both crisp and happily freewheeling, and the killer reveal is amiably goofy. While still a far cry from the elegance of Wes Craven’蝉 original, Scream VI is the best installment in the series since the second film. It’蝉 tart and suspenseful and has reignited my faith in a once cherished, then tarnished brand.
A movie of the sort they don’t make often enough these days, Benjamin Caron’蝉 twisty con game is a literate pleasure. The cast—Justice Smith,Briana Middleton,Sebastian Stan, and a fabulously shifty Julianne Moore—perfectly balance the sexy and the sinister, tearing into a clever script with panache. Caron, mostly known as a TV director in the UK, has a keen sense of rhythm and an eye for composition. Sharper is polished and sophisticated but never forgets that it is, at root, a seamy little B-movie. Which is great! May there be more compact, nifty films like this, ones that tell a good story and don’t skimp on aesthetics (Sharper was shot on film) like so many streamer-original movies do. Hopefully we’ll someday reach a time when films like Sharper are given proper theatrical releases again.
Kelly Reichardt offers up perhaps her liveliest, warmest film yet with this wistful, softly comedic look at the making of things. The director’蝉 frequent collaborator Michelle Williams is all watery sighs and huffs as a sculptor who lives in Portland, Oregon, earning a living at a local arts college and spending her spare time tending to her creative output. Reichardt lovingly teases the pretensions and neuroses of a milieu she knows well, while also saying something rather grand (in a quiet way) about what ends art is supposed to meet. Lilting yet sharp, Showing Up is a must-watch for anyone tinkering away at their own passions.
A Thousand and One
First-time feature director A.V. Rockwell’蝉 handsomely mounted film is a terrific showcase for its star, Teyana Taylor. Tackling her first big dramatic role with force, Taylor fluidly embodies a woman trying to keep ahead of a secret. Taylor’蝉 Inez, recently out of prison, kidnaps her son from foster care and steals away into a new life with him, hiding out in uptown Manhattan. The boy, Terry, grows up, unaware that his mother is something of a fugitive, a fact that will come to bear heavily on his educational prospects. Except for an unnecessary, late-breaking twist, Rockwell stages this heavy subject matter with little melodrama. Her film is humble, though finely tailored in restrained style. (She shoots New York City beautifully.) It’蝉 an auspicious filmmaking debut, and a grand re-announcement for its star.
Tori and Lokita
The Belgian director duo Luc Dardenne and Jean-Pierre Dardenne turn in another consideration of the social margins of their country with this frank, devastating look at two kids tangled in the red tape of immigration bureaucracy. Both Tori (PabloSchils) and teenage Lokita (Joely Mbundu) are refugees from West Africa, though the Belgian immigration authorities will only give proper documentation to one of them. Which forces both further into the fringes, where a criminal element lurks, waiting to exploit. Tori and Lokita is an almost unbearably tense, lo-fi thriller that carries with it a stern, solemn moral weight. Long into a storied career, the Dardennes are making work as relevant and probing as ever.
Wes Anderson’蝉 latest is both a return to form and a thoughtful expansion of the director’蝉 humanist impulses. The story of disparate people (played by a starry array of actors) trapped in a tiny desert town at the height of the Atomic Age, Asteroid City considers matters of grief and loneliness, romance and existential wonder. Contained in its lovely diorama box is a winsome picture of life in almost its entirety, all the strangeness and sweetness and arrhythmia of being. What’蝉 more, Anderson’蝉 structural flourishes—Asteroid City is a play within a television broadcast within a film—do not alienate as they have in recent past efforts. Instead, Asteroid City finds true meaning in its layers, offering something like a consoling pat on the shoulder—or a willowy embrace—in difficult, confusing times.
From some perspectives, Oppenheimer is director Christopher Nolan’蝉 most ambitious work yet. Perhaps not in terms of mind-bending conceits or daring set pieces, but certainly in its themes and dramatic intent. Telling the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer’蝉 work to win the nuclear arms race, Nolan’蝉 film is fast moving and granularly detailed, a feverish journey toward the creation of a nightmare and a sobering look at some of what came after. Cillian Murphy is eerily magnetic in the title role, tracing Oppenheimer’蝉 trajectory from curious inventor to rueful parent of a terrible new era. Sharp and literate, Oppenheimer is summertime counterprogramming sneakily packaged—and delivered—as a blockbuster.
A romantic drama without much romance, Ira Sachs’蝉 beguiling character study examines the heedless man at the center of an interpersonal storm. The great Franz Rogowski—preening, pitiable, vibrating with restless energy—plays a film director, Tomas, who disrupts the relative contentedness of his marriage (to Martin, played by Ben Whishaw) by embarking on an affair with a Parisian school teacher, Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos). Relationships crack and heal and crack again in this intelligent, funny, evocative film. Full of sex and talk (the foundation of so many couplings), Passages rambles, in its high-minded way, toward a mysteriously poignant conclusion: an image of a man somehow stuck in ceaseless motion.
Continuing in the tradition of The Big Short and other antic-depressing looks at how money booms and busts in deregulated America, Craig Gillespie’蝉 Dumb Money, in theaters now, is a stressful but entertaining comedy about the GameStop meme-stock phenomenon. The film follows a renegade day trader and his many eager acolytes—some of them cynical internet trolls, others just regular people looking to tap into the wealth stream so dominated by the 1 percent—as they resist hedge funds’ short selling of the video game retail chain by driving up its stock price, much to the consternation of Wall Street raiders who are all too used to pulling the levers of the economy without interference from the little guy. The film’蝉 rousing populist message may be a little muddled—it’蝉 a celebration of a different kind of market trading, not an excoriation of market trading as the insidious invention it is—but Gillespie keeps the film persuasive and engaging, aided by nicely rendered performances from Paul Dano, Seth Rogen (as a villain), and America Ferrera.
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