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The 50 best movies of 2023

Celebrating a terrific year at the movies

Making a collaborative list of the year’s best movies usually feels like trying to form a committee to definitively rank apples and oranges. How do you account for personal tastes? For access, when a given movie — er, fruit variety — is only available in certain markets at certain times? For the fact that apples and oranges are just so qualitatively different that they don’t have a lot in common except juiciness and vitamin C content?

Fortunately, 2023 has its own peculiar answer, in the form of the Barbenheimer phenomenon. Beleaguered movie theaters got a boost this year from film fans who made an event out of seeing two radically different movies back-to-back: a slyly satirical movie about a living fashion toy, and a heavy, grim historical drama about the father of the atomic bomb. While Barbie and Oppenheimer do have a clear theme in common, they’re still radically different movies. But the way they collectively dominated the 2023 box office and the cultural discussion is a strong reminder that regardless of tone or topic, a great story, told passionately, stands out. Cinephiles can be drawn to just about any movie in any genre, if it’s well crafted and engaging, no matter what kind of fruit it is.

Here at Polygon, we have pretty eclectic collective tastes: Some of us are hungriest for action, horror, epic fantasy, or challenging science fiction, while some of us prefer complicated drama or dark neo-noir, and others are drawn to musicals, comedy, animated adventures, and other lighter fare.

Our best-of-the-year list reflects that range.

How the Polygon top 50 list works

Every year, the staff’s film fans create individual ballots to reflect their top movies, with an option to rank them numerically or just weight them. We use these ballots to generate a collective list, weighted by strength of opinion to make sure a much-seen mainstream movie doesn’t have too much advantage over a terrific but underseen indie. And then we put it all out there for your enjoyment. The top 10 picks on each our staff’s lists will be listed in the comments.

Any movie released in the US this calendar year is eligible, but since we are publishing this in early December, some December releases are underrepresented. We hope you’ll find a new favorite here on our list of the best movies of 2023.

Top 50

50. Shin Kamen Rider

Kamen Rider (Sosuke Ikematsu) delivering a kick mid-air to the torso of Kumo Augment-01 (Nao Omori) in Shin Kamen Rider Image: Toei

Director: Hideaki Anno
Cast: Sosuke Ikematsu, Minami Hamabe, Tasuku Emoto
Where to watch: Prime Video, under the title Shin Masked Rider

The best superhero movie of 2023 didn’t come from Marvel or DC. Instead, it came from Hideaki Anno. Shin Kamen Rider might not reach the soaring heights of Shin Godzilla, but it’s an incredibly fun time bolstered by terrific costume designs, inventive action sequences, and a delightfully bizarre tone, all while looking gorgeous throughout. —Pete Volk

49. Missing

Storm Reid, wearing the pajamas + crocs fit one wears to the airport, holds a cardboard sign that says “Welcome Back Mom!” in Missing. Image: Sony Pictures

Directors: Nicholas D. Johnson, Will Merrick
Cast: Storm Reid, Nia Long, Ken Leung
Where to watch: Netflix, or for digital rental/purchase

If Knives Out has proven anything, it’s that people are hungry for mysteries on the big screen. Missing — the twisty and fun spiritual sequel to 2018’s Searching — is what people don’t know they’ve been looking for. It’s a web of clues, a mess of mystery, all played within the computer screen of June (Storm Reid), who’s left to figure out what happened when her mom (Nia Long) doesn’t return from a vacation with her boyfriend.

The mystery genre deserves more movies that feel big and meaty. And whether it’s splashed across the big screen or just a computer one, Missing manages to bring its A-game. —Zosha Millman

48. Passages

Franz Rogowski and Ben Whishaw standing close to one another on a crowded dancefloor in Passages. Image: Mubi

Director: Ira Sachs
Cast: Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw, Adèle Exarchopoulos
Where to watch: Mubi, or for digital rental/purchase

Perhaps the platonic ideal of an arthouse film: a messy love triangle, set in Paris, shot through with explicit sex and arresting fashion choices. Sometimes you just want to watch complicated hot people (Adèle Exarchopoulos, Ben Whishaw, and Franz Rogowski in this case) messing with each other’s heads in tops their characters couldn’t possibly afford. There’s nothing wrong with that. —Oli Welsh

47. Fist of the Condor

Marko Zaror, shirtless with ripped abs, walks on the beach with his head down in Fist of the Condor. Image: Well Go USA Entertainment

Director: Ernesto Díaz Espinoza
Cast: Marko Zaror, Eyal Meyer, Gina Aguad
Where to watch: Hi-Yah!, free with a library card on Hoopla, free on Tubi and Plex

Fist of the Condor is a martial arts throwback where Marko Zaror (John Wick: Chapter Four) plays twin brothers at odds with each other over an ancient text. Zaror, who also choreographed the movie’s fight scenes, excels. There are high-flying kicks, rapid displays of martial arts forms, and the drama inherent to great cinematic fights.

The movie is at its best when leaning into the action, but that’s not all it has to offer. Director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza shoots the landscape of Chile in a way that builds the drama of the fights and adds an element of tranquility to the chaos. For fans of martial arts cinema, Fist of the Condor is a must-watch. —PV

46. The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes

Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird in a purple dress lays with Tom Blyth as Coriolanus Snow who has a white tee and bleach blonde hair in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Photo: Murray Close/Lionsgate

Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Rachel Zegler, Tom Blyth, Peter Dinklage
Where to watch: Theaters

The Hunger Games series is one of the few where the movies are often just as good as the books. The new prequel movie, which focuses on a young President Snow (played excellently by Tom Blyth), is no exception. With a particular attention to detail and some masterful songs to really color the world, The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is a rare meaningful prequel that bolsters the existing narrative. —Petrana Radulovic

45. The Origin of Evil

A group of women crowd around a couch, smoking cigarettes and drinking wine, in The Origin of Evil. Image: IFC Films

Director: Sébastien Marnier
Cast: Laure Calamy, Suzanne Clément, Dominique Blanc
Where to watch: Digital rental/purchase

This French thriller is the kind of twisty story that’s hard to sum up in any way without giving something away, but that’s part of the appeal. Sébastien Marnier, director of the shocking 2018 prep school thriller School’s Out, steers The Origin of Evil away from a neo-noir tone, even though the plot is pure noir, right down to the character types. When a woman (Laure Calamy) insinuates herself into a rich family, claiming she’s a lost daughter to the patriarch, Serge (Jacques Weber), viewers will suspect she has more of an agenda than she’s letting on. But Serge and the rest of his caustic family members have agendas too. Unpacking every lie and scheme in this movie takes every minute of its run time, and it’s guaranteed that audience sympathies will shift half a dozen times in the process. As a crime story, it’s a gem; as a character story, it’s even better. —Tasha Robinson

44. They Cloned Tyrone

John Boyega as Fontaine, Teyonah Parris as Yo-Yo and Jamie Foxx as Slick Charles staring down at a dead body on a examination table in They Cloned Tyrone. Photo: Parrish Lewis/Netflix

Director: Juel Taylor
Cast: John Boyega, Teyonah Parris, Jamie Foxx
Where to watch: Netflix

Juel Taylor’s Blaxploitation-inspired romp follows a drug dealer, a pimp, and a prostitute who inadvertently stumble upon a clandestine government facility that has been secretly experimenting on their neighborhood from the shadows. Faced with the horrifying reality of their situation, the trio band together to do the only thing they can — find a way to spread the truth and fight back against their oppressors. They Cloned Tyrone is a wild, weird, and genuinely funny comedy anchored by strong leading performances (especially in the case of Foxx’s charismatic and foul-mouthed turn as Slick Charles). —Toussaint Egan

43. Broker

Sang Kang-ho sews some pants while wearing glasses and a collared shirt in Broker. He looks to the right, with an eyebrow raised. Image: CJ E&M

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won, Bae Doona, Lee Ji-eun
Where to watch: Hulu, or for digital rental/purchase

Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters) returns with another story about people committing crimes just to survive. This time, it’s two men who sell abandoned babies on the adoption black market.

Song Kang-ho and Bae Doona deliver electrifying performances — Song as another shifty, funny schemer who is in way over his head, and Bae as a hard-headed cop pursuing them. But it’s Lee Ji-eun, as a young mother who becomes entangled in the scheme, who steals the show, with a fierce intelligence and hardened worldview concealed by a veneer of youthful innocence. Plus one very adorable baby. That never hurts. —PV

42. Creed III

(L-R) Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) standing across from Damian “Diamond Dame” Anderson (Jonathan Majors) in Creed III. Photo: Eli Ade/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

Director: Michael B. Jordan
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors
Where to watch: Prime Video, MGM Plus, or for digital rental/purchase

In 2015’s Creed, Michael B. Jordan established his bona fides as a true movie star when he assumed the role of Adonis Creed, the lost son of Apollo Creed and heir apparent to his father’s title as the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. In this year’s Creed III, Jordan has taken on the mantle of the Rocky franchise and made it his own as both the film’s star and director, enriching Adonis’ story with a perspective and style that feels at once fresh and familiar.

With electrifying fight sequences and powerful lead performances, Creed III is a knockout sports drama that combines anime-inspired choreography with a powerful narrative about strained relationships and redemption. —TE

41. Infinity Pool

Gabi (Mia Goth) sits at the end of a beach chair while James (Alexander Skarsgård) looks at an ornate white and red mask in Infinity Pool Image: Neon

Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Coleman
Where to watch: Hulu, or for digital rental/purchase

Death doesn’t have to be real in the world of Infinity Pool — at least, not if you’re rich enough to turn it into a fun night out. Director Brandon Cronenberg’s (2020’s stellar Possessor) third film gazes into the bizarre void of identity and wonders what happens when it gazes back. Infinity Pool is queasy and fascinating, and perhaps 2023’s most nihilistic view of wealth. But the real selling point are the go-for-broke central performances by Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgård. —Austen Goslin

40. Master Gardener

Quintessa Swindell and Joel Edgerton stare at each other on a brick pathway, surrounded by a green garden, in Master Gardener. Image: Magnolia Pictures

Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Quintessa Swindell, Sigourney Weaver
Where to watch: Hulu, or for digital rental/purchase

The third in Paul Schrader’s thematic “Man in a Room” trilogy, Master Gardener follows a reformed former white supremacist (Joel Edgerton) who works as a horticulturist on a grand Southern estate. When the young Black relative (Quintessa Swindell) of the estate’s owner (Sigourney Weaver) arrives, the two form an unlikely bond.

Master Gardener is a gorgeous movie, filled with fields of flowers and excellent performances from Edgerton and Swindell. The movie distinguishes itself from many other “reformed racist” movies by having Edgerton’s character already distanced from his past self, rather than relying on his relationship with a Black person to spur that change. He’s a new person, but that doesn’t erase his history. It’s a wonderful coda to a superb trilogy. —PV

39. Theater Camp

Molly Gordon and Ben Platt talk to each other behind a table in Theater Camp, while actors on stage look on. Image: Sundance Institute

Directors: Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman
Cast: Jimmy Tatro, Ben Platt, Molly Gordon, Noah Galvin
Where to watch: Hulu, or for digital rental/purchase

All great camp movies are about found family, and there are few subcultures that theme fits better than theater kids. Theater Camp, from Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman, is well aware of this and plays its excellent (and specific) jokes to the cheap seats for an audience it knows has felt its characters’ pains and joys themselves.

What Theater Camp understands best about its subjects is that being a theater kid means never really leaving a stage. It’s all performance, whether it’s for an audience, your best friend, your campmates, or alone to yourself. And it doesn’t really matter if you’re laughing or crying, as long as you enjoyed the show. —AG

38. BlackBerry

Jay Baruchel as a man with graying hair and glasses (Mike Lazaridis) holding a prototype BlackBerry device in BlackBerry. Image: IFC Films

Director: Matt Johnson
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, Matt Johnson
Where to watch: AMC Plus, or for digital rental/purchase

More Social Network than the recent streak of corporation-flavored inventopics (see: Air, Tetris, The Beanie Bubble), genre-bending filmmaker Matt Johnson’s indie take on tech breakthroughs and backstabbing finds darkly comedic laughs in capitalist meltdowns. At the center of the movie: two great performances destined to fly under the radar.

Wannabe businessman Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) initially brushes off lowly inventor Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel), until he sees a gold mine: a reimagined mobile prototype that doesn’t actually work, but could definitely sell. Johnson’s screenplay, co-written with his Dirties and Operative Avalanche cohort Matthew Miller, delivers all the bravado one expects from this type of rise-and-fall saga. Howerton rewires his Always Sunny Dennis persona into a true warhead, barking at Doom-playing brainiacs until they get results. Baruchel’s arc as a tech genius sinking in corporate quicksand is almost a mini Breaking Bad. Johnson’s touch is delivering a searing indictment of Canada’s own Silicon Valley behavior with puncturing goofs and plenty of chewed-up scenery — it’s a fun movie, too. The keyboard clacks and the cast absolutely roars. —Matt Patches

37. Eileen

Anne Hathaway and Thomasin McKenzie dance at a party in Eileen Photo: Jeong Park/Neon

Director: William Oldroyd
Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway, Shea Whigham
Where to watch: Theaters

Sleek and understated, Eileen takes a compact and uncomfortably close eye to a psychological thriller about ladies making bad decisions. Based on the novel by Ottessa Moshfegh — who co-wrote the script with Luke Goebel — Eileen follows its eponymous protagonist (a magnetic and fidgety Thomasin McKenzie) and her obsession with Rebecca (Anne Hathaway), a worldly and glamorous psychiatrist who begins working at the prison Eileen works at as a clerk. As the women get closer, they feed into each other’s darker impulses, and upend their lives, violently. With pulpy thrills and assured direction from William Oldroyd, Eileen is a perfect anti-holiday film in the vein of David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a smart, edgy feel-bad good time. —Joshua Rivera

36. Earth Mama

A pregnant woman (Tia Nomore) sits on the floor with two young children as they read and play in Earth Mama. Image: A24

Director: Savanah Leaf
Cast: Tia Nomore, Erika Alexander, Doechii
Where to watch: Paramount Plus, Showtime, or for digital rental/purchase

Gia, a pregnant single mother in the Bay Area, seeks to recover her two children from foster care. The close-up is director Savanah Leaf’s flex. She uses the shot with a confident abundance that few contemporaries dare. On each character, she moves in close, like a friend at a party with a secret to tell under the loud music. When that intimacy is shared with Gia herself, what differentiates Earth Mama comes into focus. We are not observing this woman from a distance; we are sitting beside her, listening closely and hoping for the best. —Chris Plante

35. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar

Benedict Cumberbatch (as Henry Sugar) and Ralph Finnes (dressed as a policeman) look directly into the camera in a scene from Wes Anderson’s Netflix film The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar Image: Netflix

Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley
Where to watch: Netflix

Benedict Cumberbatch is a rapscallion who seeks to learn how to see without his eyes (in order to cheat at gambling). The premise is mostly immaterial. Henry Sugar, and the three other Roald Dahl stories Wes Anderson adapted for Netflix, are opportunities for the director to continue to push his aesthetic forward.

In his recent work, Anderson has made bare the artifice essential to filmmaking. These shorts take that even further. Actors recite Dahl’s words verbatim, often speaking directly to the camera. The sets are treated like those on a theater stage, collapsing or building in real time to aid scene transitions. Even in short form, Anderson never ceases to amaze. —PV

34. M3GAN

M3gan from M3GAN reading Cady (Violet McGraw) a book Image: Universal Pictures

Director: Gerard Johnstone
Cast: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald
Where to watch: Prime Video, or for digital rental/purchase

2023 was such a big year for big conversations about AI (including AI art, AI writing, and AI style theft) that it’s no surprise we’re already getting a fresh wave of “AI is going to murder us all” horror movies. But M3GAN is a refreshingly goofy spin on that old trope — and a fairly creepy one, too. When a tech whiz (Allison Williams) has to take responsibility for her dead sister’s kid, she distances herself by building a robot to handle parenting for her. It goes badly. Scripted by Akela Cooper with the same shamelessly messy, giddy verve she brought to Malignant, M3GAN is a good time for knowledgable horror fans, packed with referential humor, but still channeling some real anxiety about the place computers have in our lives and how far that’ll eventually go. —TR

33. When Evil Lurks

Ezequiel Rodríguez, with his face covered in blood, sits in the driver’s seat of a car with his hands on the wheel in When Evil Lurks. The car’s front windshield is shattered, with lots of blood. Image: Shudder

Director: Demián Rugna
Cast: Ezequiel Rodríguez, Demián Salomón, Luis Ziembrowski
Where to watch: Shudder, AMC Plus, or for digital rental/purchase

Demián Rugna’s gory possession movie isn’t just the usual barrage of religious imagery and religious anxiety: It’s much more concerned with bigger, sadder thoughts on the ways our institutions keep failing us, and the ways we fail each other and ourselves. Ezequiel Rodríguez gives a mesmerizing performance as Argentinian farmer Pablo, a man estranged from his wife and in denial about his own responsibilities. When a demonic presence starts stalking his rural county, he runs to his ex-wife and the city, and brings the curse along with him. It’s a shocking film that crosses lines in unusual ways for a horror film (particularly around horrors visited on children and animals), but what really makes it land is how well realized all the human drama is, more so than the demon drama. —TR

32. Polite Society

A young woman wearing green and gold wedding attire and jewelry holds up her hands ready to fight in Polite Society. Image: Focus Features

Director: Nida Manzoor
Cast: Priya Kansara, Ritu Arya, Nimra Bucha
Where to watch: Prime Video, or for digital rental/purchase

Ria (Priya Kansara) dreams of being a stuntwoman and loves her sister deeply. So when her sis drops out of art school and gets engaged to some jabroni she’s known for a month, Ria does what any of us would: Plan a wedding heist to rescue her sister from what’s surely a fate worse than death.

With that, Polite Society vaults between genres and tones and makes it all look easy, melding the wedding-prep comedy with Ria’s action thrill ride. Ria’s story may be singular, but all of us can relate to the enthusiasm and care she brings to her life. (Even if the rest of us are still trying to nail our flying reverse spinning kick.) —ZM

31. Talk to Me

A close-up of a woman screaming in a car in Talk to Me. The image is tinted in red, and her hand is pressed up against the glass window. Image: A24

Directors: Danny Philippou, Michael Philippou
Cast: Sophie Wilde, Joe Bird, Miranda Otto, Alexandra Jensen
Where to watch: Digital rental/purchase

Talk to Me is like the horror movie version of a perfect comedy sketch. It’s got a perfect premise (possession as a party drug), a brilliant turn you saw coming from the start but that hits even better than you expected, and it ends before it wears out its welcome. It helps that it’s also one of the most stylish and shocking horror movies of the year.

Between its abrupt bursts of violence, possession-party montages, and creeping family tension, by the time Talk to Me’s brisk (just under 90 minutes before the credits roll) run time is up, it feels like you were one of the lucky kids who let go of the demon hand at exactly the right moment for the maximum high. —AG

30. Skinamarink

A young boy sits in a dim, blue hallway with his back to the camera, facing a series of open doorways, in a typically grainy, fuzzy shot from the horror movie Skinamarink Image: Shudder

Director: Kyle Edward Ball
Cast: Lucas Paul, Ross Paul, Dali Rose Tetreault
Where to watch: Hulu, AMC Plus, Shudder, or for digital rental/purchase

Skinamarink is hands down the most peculiar and divisive horror film to come out in 2023. It is also one of the best. A pair of siblings awake in the middle of the night to find their home transformed into an inescapable nightmare of yawning hallways, dimly lit corridors, and looming walls devoid of any windows or doors. As they search aimlessly for safety and familiarity in this otherworldly situation, the children find that they are not alone in the house, haunted by an unknowable entity that seems to feed on their fear, as it twists their lives into ever more frightening shapes. Or maybe not! The film’s narrative is notoriously sparse and open to interpretation, but the effect is nonetheless one of the most unsettling scenarios seen this year. —TE

29. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

Rachel McAdams as Barbara, standing with awkward preteen Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson) in a department store Photo: Dana Hawley/Lionsgate

Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Cast: Abby Ryder Fortson, Rachel McAdams, Benny Safdie
Where to watch: Starz, or for digital rental/purchase

Judy Blume’s coming-of-age novel is one of the most challenged in the country, because of its direct discussion of puberty. But it’s a staple of children’s literature, and director Kelly Fremon Craig’s movie is a gem. She previously wrote and directed The Edge of Seventeen, so she knows her way around crafting a relatable coming-of-age movie. As Margaret’s parents, Rachel McAdams and Benny Safdie steal scenes, but Abby Ryder Fortson’s earnest and endearing performance as Margaret anchors the whole film. —PR

28. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

April O’Neil, Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo laugh while looking at a mobile phone in a still from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem Image: Nickelodeon/Paramount

Director: Jeff Rowe
Cast: Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon
Where to watch: Paramount Plus, or for digital rental/purchase

Director Jeff Rowe and executive producer Seth Rogen’s spin on the turtles asserts itself as one of the most visually impressive animated films of the post-Into the Spider-Verse era. A modern reboot of the classic TMNT origin story, Mutant Mayhem emphasizes the fact that everyone’s favorite anthropomorphic reptilian warriors are, well, teenagers, with all the stupid, fun-loving shenanigans that come with being an adolescent. From the character designs and lighting to the action sequences and soundtrack, everything in the film pops with its own unique oddball charm that breathes new life into a beloved franchise. Whether you’re new to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or a longtime fan, TMNT: Mutant Mayhem is a certified banger. —TE

27. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

(L-R) The half-elf sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith), the human Bard Edgin (Chris Pine), the tiefling druid Doric (Sophia Lillis), and the Barbarian warrior Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) standing in a valley flanked by solemn looking statues in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. Image: Aidan Monaghan/Paramount Pictures

Directors: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Cast: Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Justice Smith
Where to watch: Prime Video, Paramount Plus, MGM Plus, or for digital rental/purchase

Far from the definition of great, ambitious filmmaking, Honor Among Thieves is nevertheless a pretty perfect romp for fantasy fans, whether or not they know the RPG or care about its rules. It’s funny, fast-paced, and freewheeling, full of visual gags for the in-the-know crowd, but broad and action-driven enough to be comprehensible to people who’ve never picked up a d20. Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez’s companionable bard-and-barbarian relationship is a lovely model for how to include a romance-free mixed-gender friendship in a story — still a frustratingly rare thing for mainstream movies. —TR

26. Napoleon

Napoleon Bonaparte leans forward over his wife Josephine’s face, who is turning to the side with her mouth covered by her hand in the film Napoleon. Image: Apple TV Plus

Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Vanessa Kirby, Tahar Rahim
Where to watch: Theaters

Rather than trying to encompass the entire life of one of modern history’s most important and captivating figures, Ridley Scott’s biopic seeks to establish three things about Napoleon Bonaparte. First, that he was one of the greatest battle commanders, tacticians, and military men to ever live. Second, that he was a petty and weird little pervert. Third, that those first two things are deeply and irrevocably intertwined.

To that end, Napoleon is undeniably hilarious. Sure, it has gigantic battles, with beautiful photography and framing, and a more jaw-dropping sense of scale than almost any movie made in the last decade. But between its massive and awe-inspiring battles, Napoleon finds time to gawk at France’s first emperor parading around his palace, screaming at the English about boats, and pouting about being cucked. It’s the story of Bonaparte by way of Barry Lyndon, and we’re all luckier for it. —AG

Top 25

25. Jawan

Shah Rukh Khan dances in a club with backup dancers in Jawan Image: Red Chillies Entertainment

Director: Atlee
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Nayanthara, Vijay Sethupathi
Where to watch: Netflix

The biggest Indian movie of the year is a genre-bending, crowd-pleasing spectacle that rests on the reliably charismatic talents of star Shah Rukh Khan.

Jawan is many things, but the cleanest description of the premise is “Charlie’s Angels meets Robin Hood.” Another clean description would be “everything you want in a blockbuster movie,” combining some of the year’s best action, romance, and dance numbers within a compelling revenge story with a strong “power to the people” message.

The key to Jawan’s joyful success, though, is Shah Rukh Khan. One of the biggest movie stars in the world, he has returned to blockbuster cinema after a brief hiatus with Pathaan and this movie. Both are very fun and make good use of his irrepressible charisma, but Jawan shines to a different degree. It’s a reminder of what blockbuster movies can be — fun and exciting, but with plenty on its mind. It’s the highest-grossing Indian release of the year and the second-highest-grossing Hindi film ever. As you catch up on the year’s biggest releases, don’t miss this one. —PV

24. Saltburn

Oliver (Barry Keoghan), in black tie dress, sits at what appears to be an fancy table covered in candles of all descriptions, reflecting his face back at him — except the more you look, the more it’s clear that the reflection is in a different position, standing with its eyes lowered. From the movie Saltburn Image: Prime Video

Director: Emerald Fennell
Cast: Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike
Where to watch: Theaters, coming to Prime Video Dec. 22

Emerald Fennell’s startling, gleefully dark follow-up to Promising Young Woman is another story about toxic obsession. This time, the central figure is a social climber (Barry Keoghan, mesmerizing as ever) trying to weasel his way in among a rich family in 2000s England. It’s one of the year’s most polarizing films: Critics either applauded its daring or dismissed it as empty provocation, due to its graphic use of nudity, sexual imagery, and extreme behavior. But “empty provocation” is such an odd insult to levy at a movie from someone who so thoroughly thinks her movies through. Saltburn is visually luscious and emotionally gripping, a real feast for the senses. It’s grimly funny and full of shocks. And it’s a smarter, more insinuating take on the growing eat-the-rich subgenre. —TR

23. Dream Scenario

Schlubby professor Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage), in a suit and tie, sits uncomfortably at the end of a boardroom table in front of a wall with the words “Thoughts? Thoughts? Thoughts?” written on it in three different pastel shades in a scene from A24’s Dream Scenario Image: A24

Director: Kristoffer Borgli
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Julianne Nicholson, Michael Cera
Where to watch: Theaters

There is nothing special about Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage). He’s a frumpy college professor in a small, cold town. He has a wife and daughter and students that take his biology class because it’s required. And he has started to appear in the dreams of everyone in the world. Writer-director Kristoffer Borgli’s black comedy about viral fame gives audiences plenty to ponder, with sudden turns both hilarious and deeply uncomfortable. All of it is held together thanks to a tremendous performance from Cage, in his best role since 2021’s stunner Pig. In Cage’s hands, Paul Matthews’ plight, while farcical, stays grounded in humanity, and all the petty, cringeworthy foibles that come with it. —JR

22. The Zone of Interest

A woman leans over some flowers to let the baby she’s holding touch them in The Zone of Interest. Image: A24

Director: Jonathan Glazer
Cast: Christian Friedel, Sandra Hüller, Ralph Herforth
Where to watch: Theaters

The Zone of Interest is set mere feet from the walls of Auschwitz, at the home of commandant Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) and his family. The Höss family builds their life in this small estate, with a fancy house, and Mrs. Höss’ (Sandra Hüller) carefully curated garden, while the horrible sounds and black smoke of the concentration camp constantly seep over their protective walls.

Director Jonathan Glazer’s camera never really goes inside the camp, or shows the prisoners huddled there or their actual fates. Rudolf is careful to never speak about his job while at home.

This may sound like it sidelines the tragedy and horror of the Holocaust, centering the story on the culprits rather than the victims, but Glazer’s carefully measured detachment lets the situation speak for itself, as the quiet part gets louder and more horrific throughout the film. This creates a completely different kind of Holocaust film from almost any we’ve ever seen, and one that is essential in understanding the scale and depth of its evils. —AG

21. Priscilla

Priscilla Presley (Cailee Spaeny, in a white wedding dress and swept-back white veil), stands with Elvis Presley (Jacob Elordi, in a black tuxedo) stand behind their tiered white wedding cake under an arch of green leaves and white flowers, with Elvis looking downward and Priscilla looking directly into the camera, in Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla Photo: Sabrina Lantos/A24

Director: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Cailee Spaeny, Jacob Elordi, Dagmara Domińczyk
Where to watch: Theaters

I won’t spoil it, but perhaps the best needle drop of the year arrives at the end of this Priscilla Presley biopic: a stone-cold tear-jerker so apt it takes your breath away, and a song with a complex history that adds multiple layers of delicious dramatic irony to the scene. Nobody ever accused Sofia Coppola of lacking taste. Adapted from Priscilla’s memoir about life with Elvis — who groomed her to be his companion from the age of 14 — Priscilla is a dreamy, uneasy, claustrophobic study of life in a gilded cage (a Coppola specialty). Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi are stunning in the lead roles, and Coppola, empathetic as ever, is careful neither to let Elvis off the hook nor damn this damaged man completely. It’s a fascinating companion piece for Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, a brassier study of the man as performer that only skirts his domestic life, but shows he had a cage of his own to contend with. —OW

20. Anatomy of a Fall

A dead, bloody body in the snow in Anatomy of a Fall, as someone near talks on the phone Image: Neon

Director: Justine Triet
Cast: Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado-Graner
Where to watch: Theaters

The premise could set up a tacky 1990s courtroom drama or erotic thriller: A woman’s husband falls from a balcony and dies while she was in the house. Did she do it? Anatomy of a Fall is not one of those movies, but it’s not not one of those movies either. Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or-winning procedural is not a thriller, but it is thrilling; and even though Triet stubbornly refuses to pick any of the obvious ways her film could resolve itself, it achieves a deep and lingering payoff anyway. Anatomy of a Fall is a hypnotic well of a movie in which the truth of what happened only seems to recede the deeper you dive into it. That’s a bold, almost sadistic choice, but the sleek presentation, sharp script, and riveting performance by Sandra Hüller — perhaps the year’s best by any actor — keep you on the hook. —OW

19. Knock at the Cabin

Dave Bautista standing in front of several other people in Knock at the Cabin Image: Universal Pictures

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Rupert Grint
Where to watch: Prime Video, or for digital rental/purchase

This recent stretch of M. Night Shyamalan films has marked a fascinating chapter in the career of one of the most idiosyncratic directors working today. Coming off of the success of 2021’s Old, Knock at the Cabin marks Shyamalan’s return to one of the most understated yet prevailing themes of his work: religious terror and despair in the face of the unexplainable.

The film follows a family (Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, and Kristen Cui) who, after traveling to a secluded cabin in rural Pennsylvania for a vacation trip, find themselves menaced by a group of four heavily armed intruders who refuse to let them leave. The family is presented with a warning and an ultimatum: Every single person on the planet is about to die, and the only way to prevent this catastrophe is for one of them to choose to sacrifice themselves for the sake of humanity. As the family struggles to escape from their captors, the undeniable weight of their situation begins to set in. Could their kidnappers be telling the truth? And if so, would any of them be willing to submit to the unthinkable cruelty of their fate?

Knock at the Cabin is a film that challenges its audience to look inward for the answer to these questions, all the while witnessing its story unfold. This is not a horror movie whose horrors rely on brutality and gore — though there is certainly that and then some — but one whose apocalyptic premise provokes both outright terror and disquieting introspective dread. —TE

18. Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One

Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt holds on to a railing in a train car turned vertical as Hayley Atwell clings on to him in Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One Image: Skydance/Paramount Pictures

Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Hayley Atwell
Where to watch: Digital rental/purchase

Tom Cruise loves popcorn and movies, and nobody made a better popcorn movie in 2023 than Dead Reckoning Part One. While it fell some way short of the series’ critical and commercial peak, Fallout — mistakes were made, chiefly putting “Part One” in the title — the seventh (seventh!) Mission: Impossible film is another shockingly confident and artful action movie that delivers set-piece after astounding set-piece over a breathless two and a half hours.

At its center, controversially edging Cruise’s slinky pas-de-deux with Rebecca Ferguson out of the frame, is a new, more kinetic and balletic partnership between the star and Hayley Atwell. In the movie’s best sequences (the Rome car chase, the train carriage climax), the pair somehow blend jaw-dropping practical stunt work with ballroom dancing, silent slapstick, and rom-com meet-cute — a perfect, fizzing cocktail of a century of cinematic sugar highs. —OW

17. The Killer

Michael Fassbender as The Killer sits cross-legged on the floor on a plastic sheet Image: Netflix

Director: David Fincher
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Tilda Swinton, Sophie Charlotte
Where to watch: Netflix

The Killer, like the assassin at its center, is difficult to pin down. It’s astonishingly gorgeous and well made, but at the same time stubbornly unflashy. It’s bleak and violent, but at the same time hilarious and irreverent. It’s fascinated with exploring the ideas of how media shapes identity, but completely resistant to assigning any actual meaning. The Killer is the kind of movie that can throw in a fight scene for five minutes that’s better than almost any fight in a mainstream movie this year, then never go back to hand-to-hand combat again. In other words, it’s a David Fincher movie through and through.

Fincher is famous for his precision on set and his dedication for finely honing every aspect of his films until they’re exactly what he needs. And yet, his movies never feel stodgy, tight, or lifeless; he makes it look easy. And that’s where The Killer truly excels. It breezes by every assassin movie and thriller trope, executing each one flawlessly, all while making a snide comment about it. It’s the kind of movie that feels so effortless and smooth that it makes you wonder why all movies can’t be this good. But that’s Fincher’s gift; his films have the kind of quality and handmade perfection so precise it can be mistaken for the work of factory machines… until you look a little closer. —AG

16. Ferrari

An overhead shot of Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver) walking next to a Ferrari race car with the number 532 painted on it Photo: Lorenzo Sisti/Neon

Director: Michael Mann
Cast: Adam Driver, Penélope Cruz, Shailene Woodley
Where to watch: In theaters Dec. 25

Between Ferrari and Oppenheimer, it’s been a fabulous year for biopics about bastards doing tremendously dangerous things.

The Enzo Ferrari biopic’s standout sequences are unquestionably its races, which director Michael Mann infuses with tension, speed, and horror. The movie goes to great lengths to show us how dangerous auto racing is, and every time someone gets into a car, Mann translates that danger into a palpable tension. But what’s most surprising about Ferrari is that its most thrilling sequences are those that clear the way for Adam Driver’s performance as Enzo.

The movie is an incredible portrait of a man who was a perfect concoction of some of Mann’s favorite things: obsessive, brilliant, awful, detached, and a winner through and through. The film, and Driver’s exceptional performance, make Ferrari’s ambition and passion deeply clear. The painful determination driving him is absolutely electric to watch — even more exciting than the races, which is saying something. —AG

15. Poor Things

Mark Ruffalo embraces Emma Stone, who holds a pen and paper, in Poor Things Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Searchlight Pictures

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe
Where to watch: Theaters

If there were an award for unlikeliest but most effective Oscar bait, it would go to this reunion of The Favourite star Emma Stone; its Greek surrealist director, Yorgos Lanthimos; and its screenwriter, Tony McNamara. Poor Things is tipped to win a few real Oscars, despite making The Favourite look like a normal movie. It’s a deeply weird, neo-Frankenstinian fable about a reanimated woman’s quest for independence, identity, and the meaning of life. Yep — along with everything else, Poor Things is also goth Barbie.

Adapted from a cult novel by the eccentric Scottish writer, illustrator, and typesetter Alasdair Gray, Poor Things reworks Frankenstein to explore themes of feminism, sex, and social rot. Lanthimos doubles down on the baroque stylings of The Favourite to create an astonishingly visually dense film composed of outlandish costumes, lavish sets, and fantastical painted backgrounds, often shot through woozy fish-eye lenses. It’s also, surprisingly, one of the year’s most hilarious movies, in no small part thanks to Mark Ruffalo’s game campery and McNamara’s cleverly twisted syntax. But the movie is Stone’s. Her performance is fearless, frank, funny, and intensely physical. Bella is no less than a deconstructed human being, and to watch her slowly reassemble herself is to fall in love with the character: an insatiable, ferocious force of nature, whose appetite for life and love for humanity never dim, despite their many disappointments. —OW

14. Suzume

Suzume, a teenage girl with long dark hair in a ponytail, looks surprised Image: CoMix Wave Films/Crunchyroll

Director: Makoto Shinkai
Cast: Nanoka Hara, Hokuto Matsumura
Where to watch: Crunchyroll

Makoto Shinkai’s career seems to have been building up to Suzume. It has all the hallmarks of Shinkai’s recent, most popular works: a young couple brought together by strange fantastical elements, a looming disaster threatening to upend the world, and clear blue skies. But everything that didn’t quite work in Your Name and Weathering with You manages to coalesce together in Suzume.

While Suzume is about two young people banding together to save the world from disaster, it is equally about Suzume, the protagonist, overcoming her own trauma. As she travels cross-country with an animated chair (who is actually a handsome and mysterious young man), she starts to connect with other people, instead of closing herself off. Her quest to stop a giant earthquake-creating worm comes from the fact that she lost her mother in the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Slowly but surely, throughout her journey, she rediscovers her will to live and realizes that her life is not disposable. Unlike Shinkai’s other works, the romance is subtle, the barest hint of it actually, and that just makes it resonate even more.

It’s a beautifully haunting story, rooted in a real-world tragedy that makes it resonate even more. —PR

13. Godzilla Minus One

Godzilla destroys a city in Godzilla Minus One. Image: Toho

Director: Takashi Yamazaki
Cast: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Minami Hamabe, Yuki Yamada
Where to watch: Theaters

Godzilla fans aren’t wanting for new media, including the recent Apple TV series Monarch. These recent releases, while enjoyable, have taken a distinctly Hollywood approach, building out a mythology in the style of the MCU. Godzilla Minus One is the first Japanese live-action Godzilla film from Toho since the brilliant, post-Fukushima Shin Godzilla. And it returns to the original recipe.

Minus One is a throwback: to the post-WWII Tokyo setting, to 1950s human melodrama, and to a kaiju singularly focused on the obliteration of large, human-made structures. Its hero, Koichi Shikishima, is a kamikaze pilot who, in the final days of the war, fakes a technical issue with his plane, taking shelter in a repair facility on a small island that just so happens to be in the path of a certain teenage lizard monster.

How Shikishima builds relationships with a wide cast of lovable surrounding characters elevates Minus One above other giants. Where Shin Godzilla chronicled a government response to disaster, Minus One pins its hopes on civilians who — failed by their leaders and the world — must rely on each other. —CP

12. John Wick: Chapter 4

Donnie Yen as Caine sitting in a chair behind Bill Skarsgård as Marquis, who sits at a glass table, guarded by Marko Zaror as Chidi in John Wick: Chapter 4 Photo: Murray Close/Lionsgate

Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Ian McShane
Where to watch: Starz, or for digital rental/purchase

John Wick has only ever wanted to fuck off and retire, and no one seems to get the message. Chad Stahelski’s saga about the boogeyman of assassins in a world full of them reaches a staggering crescendo in Chapter 4, a film that somehow manages to run faster and hit harder than three previous movies dedicated to constant escalation. Facing off against action legends Donnie Yen and Scott Adkins, Keanu Reeves pushes John Wick harder and farther than before in a film that rages against the untouchably wealthy, and their expectation that the world be in their service. —JR

11. May December

(L-R) Natalie Portman as Elizabeth Berry and Julianne Moore as Gracie Atherton-Yoo in May December. Photo: Francois Duhamel/Netflix

Director: Todd Haynes
Cast: Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton
Where to watch: Netflix

Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) arrives in Savannah to prepare for a new role based on Gracie (Julianne Moore), a grown woman who slept with 13-year-old Joe (Charles Melton) and subsequently married him. Elizabeth comes with an open mind, ready to inhabit Gracie and fully understand her. And yet, across Todd Haynes’ May December, we see how nothing is as simple as Elizabeth — or the audience — thinks. Gracie is always more than meets the eye: more emotional, more aware, more monstrous. And throughout the movie, Haynes expertly teases out the two women’s mysteries as they each try to craft an identity around the other.

Haynes’ film certainly has callbacks to other, classic movies about selfhood. But in a way, May December feels most in line with something like The Rehearsal, which also has a lot on its mind about how blurry the line between real life and performance can be, and particularly how traumatic it is to ask kids to behave like adults. It’s something Melton’s Joe is tragically caught in the middle of, and something May December always has on its mind, even when it feels like it’s about other things. As Gracie and Elizabeth obsess over little details, May December lets Melton make the case for the quiet, seething corruption at the heart of the film. —ZM

Top 10

10. Showing Up

Michelle Williams molding a sculpture in an art studio in Showing Up. Photo: Allyson Riggs/A24

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Cast: Michelle Williams, Hong Chau, John Magaro
Where to watch: Digital rental/purchase

Lizzy (Michelle Williams) is a 30-something artist living on campus at her hometown art school. She wants two things in life: time to prepare for her exhibition, and her landlord, Jo (Hong Chau), to fix her hot water heater. Superficially, there’s little more to Lizzy’s plight, for the better. Director and co-writer Kelly Reichardt never permits the stakes to rise too high or the plot to get too complicated. Because this film, at its core, is about working artists working in less financially stable mediums, like ceramic figurines and trippy visual projections. Without plot filling the film, we have time to just be present in this beautiful Pacific Northwest scene.

Reichardt’s genius is getting the audience giggling at the artists but never the art. For example, it’s funny to think that an artist dedicated a year of her life to crocheting a jumpsuit. Except then, in Showing Up, you see the outfit and it’s beautiful — an intentional undermining of the punchline. A teacher smugly opines on ceramics, but each piece he holds up is so lovingly crafted that they confidently speak for themselves.

This decision (rib artists, celebrate art) sets the tone. We humans are artifice, a bunch of contradictory masks that we put on to match the situation and the crowd. But our creations — when we commit to a craft, whatever medium it may be — are an expression of our most vulnerable selves.

I suppose I knew this on some subconscious level, but Reichardt, as with so many of her films, helped me mine the epiphany from my brain or heart or wherever I was keeping it. She knows that art, when created from that place of sincere intent, deserves compassion and respect — even if its creator is still a desperate, self-conscious ball of anxiety. And now I know it too. —CP

9. Barbie

Barbie (Margot Robbie), seen from behind, stands on the pink-and-blue plastic roof of her DreamHouse and looks out over all the other pink plastic DreamHouses of the other Barbies in Barbieland, in the live-action 2023 movie Barbie Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

Director: Greta Gerwig
Cast: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Will Ferrell
Where to watch: Digital rental/purchase before streaming on Max

Any description of Barbie’s big themes (toxic masculinity, how Barbie branding affects young girls, women as playthings, the commodification of girl power) makes it sound preachy and stilted. But writer-director Greta Gerwig and co-writer Noah Baumbach never hold still for long enough that viewers will feel like they’re sitting through a Gender Studies 101 class. They package these ideas into a giddy satire full of bright and winning performances, pointed jokes aimed at Mattel and the corporate world, terrific casting (Issa Rae as President Barbie, Simu Liu as one of many Kens, and Kate McKinnon as Weird Barbie are standouts), and endless cultural gags. And then there are the bright, poppy meta-humor musical numbers, including Ryan Gosling turning “I’m Just Ken” into 2023’s top movie anthem.

Perky, playful, and deceptively caustic, Barbie is one of just a few films (like 1995’s The Brady Bunch Movie and 2007’s Enchanted) that gleefully satirize a cultural staple while also treating it with real affection. Margot Robbie makes a perfect Barbie, whether she’s in perky-and-plastic mode or slowly revealing her underlying humanity, as fears of death and dying leak into the endless party of Barbieland. There’s so much going on in this patter-filled, joke-a-second comedy that it feels like 2023’s Everything Everywhere All at Once, right down to the big life messages smuggled into all the goofery. It’s a high-speed joke-fest that doesn’t take Barbie any more seriously than she deserves — but does pay solemn homage to all the ways, positive and negative, that Barbie fandom makes people feel. —TR

8. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Gwen Stacy hangs upside down from a building in the foreground while Miles Morales smiles at her from the background in the animated movie Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Image: Sony Pictures

Directors: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson
Cast: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Daniel Kaluuya
Where to watch: Netflix, or for digital rental/purchase

2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse changed the game for superhero movies and animated movies. It raised the bar for what a Spider-Man story could be, and inspired animators to push the boundaries of what their movies could look like. Maybe Hollywood as a whole took away the wrong lesson (we’ve seen so many multiverse movies), but Into the Spider-Verse redefined genre staples.

The sequel continues to raise the bar. It’s a little busier than the first, pulling in more characters, more frantic visuals, more emotional throughlines, but it’s still bold, daring, and unlike anything else in the superhero movie sphere.

As the characters bounce across the multiverse, the animation style shifts, with each character rooted in a different style. Spider-Gwen’s world is rendered with watercolors, which shift according to the tone of her story. She gets a step up in this movie — a second chance for Gwen Stacy, whose previous iterations across media have not ended well. Meanwhile, Spider-Punk, the brash counterculture rebel, is made up of collaged bits, and animated against the norm so he stands out even more. Every frame of the movie is a visual feast, just bursting with lovingly rendered details.

With a bigger cast and higher stakes, Across the Spider-Verse wasn’t going to finish its story in just one movie. It ends on a huge cliffhanger, but all the pieces are in place for one hell of a trilogy finale. —PR

7. The Boy and the Heron

A determined-looking boy with a bandage on his head stand in a green, windswept, tree-lined area in front of a two-story red house with green gables in The Boy and the Heron, aka How Do You Live? Image: Studio Ghibli/GKIDS

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Soma Santoki, Masaki Suda, Ko Shibasaki
Where to watch: Theaters

Texture is essential to Hayao Miyazaki’s work. Sometimes the most visceral memories of his movies are the ways liquids glob or glide, while wood flecks flint and flake in tiny explosions. Famously, even his still shots contain some motion, often featuring the slightest of movements that make the world feel more full — more real.

The Boy and the Heron, for all its fantastical realms and magical happenings, follows the same ethos, constantly grounding itself in the feel of Miyazaki’s style and knack for characters drawn into strange worlds. This time it’s 11-year-old Mahito, who’s bored and miserable after moving to the country following his mother’s death in a World War II bombing. His grief has a touch familiar to those who have lived with it: bland and isolating. But the touch of Miyazaki’s work is always deeper, and it’s not too long before an errant heron proves the veil between Mahito and his more vivid dream world is much thinner than he knew.

But no matter which side of the fantastic we’re on, The Boy and the Heron makes the texture of the world feel enthralling. Little details — a bandage loosening in water or a granny’s gait — weave together, building a world that feels at once like anything Studio Ghibli has made and wholly its own. It manages to meditate on its themes without lingering, never letting its story falter (even as our hero languishes in his country tedium). No one is going to be on the other side of an argument calling Hayao Miyazaki the GOAT (at least, nobody I care to talk to). But The Boy and the Heron shows that he is always game to top himself, finding new ways to add layers to every part of his work. —ZM

6. Asteroid City

teenage boy Woodrow Steenbeck (Jake Ryan) and his triplet siblings, three young girls, sit arrayed against a pastel-and-white desert motel in Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City Image: Focus Features

Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, and many more
Where to watch: Peacock, or for digital rental/purchase

To people who don’t know Wes Anderson’s work well, he’s a known quantity that’s easily replicated and parodied: If you’re watching one of his films, you’re going to see a lot of fast-talking people responding with unemotive calm to extraordinary events, against a backdrop of meticulously designed pastel sets. But fans see a lot of nuance within that formula, as Anderson’s voice (especially his sense of humor) develops from film to film.

In Asteroid City, his ridiculously meta story-within-a-story sci-fi film about an alien encounter, that voice hones in on the question of art and creativity — who it’s for, what it brings the artist and the audience, why any form of recognition or acclaim is good enough for one creator while another strains to find connection and resonance in their work. It’s the kind of film that moves so quickly, and with so little attempt to hold the audience’s hands and tell them what to feel, that it takes some work to scratch the surface.

But it’s worth diving into the movie’s connections and themes, as a who’s who of actors — many from Anderson’s usual stable, and some debuting here — bounce off each other, looking for meaning in an isolated desert setting. The cast (including Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson, Jason Schwartzman, Jeffrey Wright, Sophia Lillis, Edward Norton, and many, many more) navigate familial death, meaningless plaudits, and that alien visitor with the same straight-faced aplomb. This may not be a movie designed for passionate emotional response, but as usual for Anderson, it’s remarkably specific, idiosyncratic, beautifully assembled, and absolutely intentional. —TR

5. How to Blow Up a Pipeline

The young people in How to Blow Up a Pipeline sit on top of and in front of a white van. One leans against it. The background is the desolate West Texas desert. Image: Neon

Director: Daniel Goldhaber
Cast: Ariela Barer, Lukas Gage, Forrest Goodluck
Where to watch: Hulu, or for digital rental/purchase

An unconventional adaptation of the controversial 2021 nonfiction novel, How to Blow Up a Pipeline applies the ethos of the book (which argued sabotage is a necessary part of environmental activism) to a fictional scenario. In the movie, a group of people from different walks of life — students, disillusioned activists, service workers, punks — gather in Texas with a plan: Blow up an oil pipeline and finally enact some real change. And the movie absolutely rules.

The movie takes the best parts of the heist thriller genre (a likable crew who each brings their own specialized skills, a worthy cause, a focus on the process, a tense finale) and discards the rest (notably, there is no major police/investigator B-plot). It’s a perfect marriage of the genre and the movie’s radical politics, without sacrificing either. Pipeline is also just an impeccably crafted movie, with strong location work that makes the most of America’s vast landscapes, hinting at past beauty ruined by industrialization. And it’s all supported by great performances from emerging stars, especially Forrest Goodluck (The Revenant), who excels as a quiet, awkward, self-taught explosives expert.

One of the buzziest and most controversial movies of the year, don’t mistake it for an empty vehicle for controversy; How to Blow Up a Pipeline is a thoughtful, masterful work that weaves in the principles of what makes heist thrillers fun to great effect. 2023 has had many great movies, but none feel as urgent and timely as this one. —PV

4. Killers of the Flower Moon

Lily Gladstone, holding a fan, sits at the center of a group of well-dressed Osage women in Killers of the Flower Moon Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon/Apple Studios

Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone, Robert De Niro
Where to watch: Theaters, or for digital rental/purchase

Ernest Burkhart loves money. It’s one of the first things he says when he arrives in Oklahoma, fresh off the Great War’s killing fields and into the arms of his manipulative uncle, William Hale. Together, they will help turn this land, home of the Osage Nation, into another killing field. For 206 minutes, we will watch them.

Killers of the Flower Moon is an act of lamentation. A cinematic wail against one of the many foundational horrors of these United States, a crime that is still in living memory, its ill-gotten gains still propping up any claim to prosperity the nation has today.

With tremendous conviction, director Martin Scorsese’s reverent, methodical film adapts David Grann’s 2017 account of the reign of terror that plagued the Osage in the 1920s, paring back the sprawling story to focus on Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), Hale (Robert De Niro) and Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone), the Osage woman who would marry Burkhart and pay for it with the lives of her entire family.

Through the Burkhart marriage, Scorsese renders the crimes committed against the Osage in miniature, three and a half hours of rumination on the theft and bloodshed that watered the prosperity of white America, endured in stifled silence for a century. Monumental and sobering, Killers of the Flower Moon trembles at the evil that has been grafted onto our collective story, and mourns the voices that will never get to be a part of it. —JR

3. The Holdovers

Dominic Sessa, Paul Giamatti, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph gather around a table with a Christmas tree in the background in The Holdovers. Image: Focus Features

Director: Alexander Payne
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Dominic Sessa
Where to watch: Theaters, or digital rental/purchase

If you hate sentimental, cliched “abandoned kid and aging curmudgeon create found family” movies like I hate them, The Holdovers is a guaranteed surprise. The latest from Alexander Payne (Election, Nebraska), scripted by Kitchen Confidential creator and writer David Hemingson, reunites Payne with his Sideways star Paul Giamatti, playing a buoyantly stuffy professor at a ’70s private boys’ prep school, where he’s tasked with overseeing “the holdovers” — the kids who are staying at the school for Christmas while all their more fortunate classmates head home or out on adventurous holidays.

The Holdovers is full of sudden twists, mostly backstory reveals suitable for a particularly startling stage play. But the real surprise is how personal and specific it becomes, and excellent writing and acting help it dodge the expected parameters for this kind of story. Eventually, it settles into a three-hander between Professor Hunham (Giamatti), his troubled adolescent student Angus (Dominic Sessa, in an intense star-making performance), and Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the school’s head cook, an older Black woman mourning her son’s recent death in the military.

All three of these characters get room to develop and reveal themselves, and they’re all handled with sensitivity and real warmth that goes far beyond the usual sentimental holiday feel-good fare. (If anything, this is a pretty dark story, and not in a laughable Bad Santa kind of way.) It’s a beautifully calibrated, touching drama about starting over when there’s no other choice available. —TR

2. Past Lives

Nora and Hae Sung sit on a ferry, going to the Statue of Liberty. Photo: Jon Pack

Director: Celine Song
Cast: Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, John Magaro
Where to watch: Available for digital rental/purchase

A radiant romantic drama with a shiver of tension running through it, Past Lives is about a love that might have been. But it’s also about a person who might have been (or two people, or three). As well as romantic relationships, it’s a movie about the complicated relationships people have with themselves: especially the various versions of themselves who exist in the past, the present, the future, and on the paths not taken.

It unfolds in three time frames. In Seoul, around the turn of the millennium, Na Young and Hae Sung are 12-year-old classmates and best friends who might be starting to develop deeper feelings for each other, but Na Young’s family is planning to emigrate to Canada. 12 years later, Na Young has changed her name to Nora Moon (Greta Lee) and is a young writer living in New York; she falls into an intense Skype affair with Hae Sung (Teo Yoo), but plans to visit each other never come together. In another 12 years, Nora is still in New York with her husband, Arthur (John Magaro), and Hae Sung comes to visit, threatening to destabilize all their lives.

It’s a film of almost impossible delicacy. Writer-director Celine Song and her brilliant trio of actors hold so much within Past Lives’ patient frame — unspoken feelings, unrealized possibilities, layers of cultural subtext — that you find yourself holding your breath while watching it, even before it gets to its heart-stopping final scene. The 35mm film cinematography by director of photography Shabier Kirchner (Small Axe) absolutely glows, too. Past Lives has a lot to say about the immigrant experience and about the uncertain spaces between childhood and adulthood. It has a philosophical, maybe even spiritual dimension, too. But this all emerges quite naturally from a simple, beautifully observed, and achingly romantic story that anyone can relate to about the sweet pain of the one that got away. —OW

1. Oppenheimer

Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer looks troubled, hands on hips, before a cheering audience waving small American flags, in the film Oppenheimer Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures

Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh
Where to watch: Theaters and for digital rental/purchase before streaming on Peacock

Is there much left to say about the United States’ criminal, moral compromise in dropping the atomic bomb or the obviously tortured psychology of the bomb’s creator, J. Robert Oppenheimer? Maybe not, but as Christopher Nolan proves in his biopic on the life of the theoretical physicist, there’s plenty left to feel. Cross-cutting through time at lighting speed, and smashing together facts in ways its source material, the exhaustive biography American Prometheus, can’t in bound form, Nolan’s action-movie sensibilities split the very atoms of his subject to understand not the what, but the how and why.

Bouncing from the early days of a daydreaming scientist to the congressional hearings of his eventual political confidant to Oppy’s eventual time at Los Alamos, his $2 billion built-from-the-ground-up research base, Nolan litters the drama with factual detail ripped straight from the book. Yet at every turn, he ditches the Bohemian Rhapsody school of explanation to handwave away complicated mathematical explanation and legalese that might tie a complicated situation up in knots. Like in everything from The Dark Knight to Dunkirk, stakes do the talking — Oppenheimer must end the war. Throughout time he wrestles with turbulent family life, the burial scrutiny of a blacklist-giddy government that wants names of his Communist pals, and the heartbreaking fact that the Jewish people, his people, are under attack… but it all comes back to the bomb. There’s a ticking clock, and yet again, Nolan takes full advantage.

Part heist movie, part courtroom drama, part dreamscape, the swirl of Oppenheimer is at constant crescendo thanks to a kinetic camera, Ludwig Göransson’s humming score, and what might be the most stacked cast in movie history. Every IMAX-sized close-up of Cillian Murphy reveals layers to Oppenheimer that are easily assumed. Robert Downey Jr. takes the right lessons from Tony Stark to imbue Oppenheimer’s political adversary, Lewis Strauss, with swagger. Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Rami Malek, Kenneth Branagh, and so many more all show up to deliver — and yet there’s still room for The Santa Clause’s David Krumholtz to be the MVP. They all fire off life-or-death lines, sweat under the pressure of the job, stagger backward when they realize what they’ve done, and under the eye of Nolan, reach the quantum realm of impossible choices. Oppenheimer has a magnitude worthy of the Trinity tests, but most admirable is that it never fetishizes the accomplishment of the bomb. The end will leave a person absolutely furious, as it must. —MP