10 Best Films 2023: Margaret Roarty

2023 proved to be another challenging year for the movie industry, as filmmakers struggled against the lingering socio-economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as corporate interests intent on turning films into easily consumable products rather than art. Streaming has continued its downwards spiral, with rising membership costs, additional ads, and dozens of movies and TV shows being yanked form channels and disappearing into the ether. Major studios are still spending millions of dollars on tent-pole films, refusing to take risks, and freezing out other kinds of films, leaving highly-respected and successful filmmakers like Sofia Coppola having to beg for financing.

Recent studio mergers have continued to have ripple effects on the industry, with Warner Bros Discovery choosing not to release several movies, including Batgirl, taking the tax right off instead. Tensions between artists and studios boiled over this summer, as SAG-AFTRA and the WGA went on strike, with the unions demanding fair wages, transparency with streaming numbers, and protections against AI. Film and TV productions were once again shut down and actors were unable to promote their projects.

Faced with extreme inflation, an escalating climate crisis, and two wars, audiences in 2023 gravitated towards comfort and safety, making IP-driven films and ongoing franchises some of the most successful movies at the box office. Audiences turned out in droves to The Super Mario Bros. Movie and Five Nights at Freddy’s. The summer saw Barbie and Oppenheimer go toe-to-toe at the box office and, thanks to the Barbenheimer movement (which saw audiences turn out to support two vastly different films by seeing them both on the same day), Barbie was crowned the highest-grossing film of the year and Oppenheimer, a three hour biopic, ended its initial theatrical run just shy of one billion dollars.

Even though 2023 taught us that audiences were still willing to go the theaters, the kinds of movies they want to see have shifted slightly. While films like Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 earned well, other massive budget CGI spectacles like The Flash, The Marvels, and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, failed to reach the heights of earlier franchise entries.

In spite of the turmoil and uncertainty facing the film industry, there was much to celebrate in 2023. The best films of the year tackled heavy topics like grief, abuse and loneliness with nuance and care; filmmakers continued to explore the isolation brought on by the pandemic, reckoning with our place in the world and the mistakes we’ve made; they revisited people and events from the past, armed with the power of perspective, giving us a lens and a language to make sense of events of the present. Some of the best films of the year interrogated power structures and social norms, and some were made by the most artistically distinct filmmakers working today. Filmmaking legends like Martin Scorsese and Hayao Miyazaki released emotional films that struggle with the complexities of their own legacies as artists – we also saw a career best from Zac Efron and a breakout performances from Cailee Spaeny, Charles Melton and Dominic Sessa. While the best films of 2023 reflect an unjust world and our struggle to live in it and make peace with it, these movies are also triumphant, epic and hopeful. These are the 10 Best Films of 2023.

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10. The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Review

The Hunger Games film series, which ended in 2014, was revived this year with the release of the prequel film The Hunger Games: the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, which takes place 64 years before the start of original series. The Hunger Games was a defining film of the 2010s, which ushered in a trend of teen dystopian dramas that died a quick death only a few years later. In an era where sequels and reboots can run the gambit anywhere from competent to soulless cash grabs, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is an incredibly well made film with something to say that enriches the story we already know.

Given the rise of fascist and right wing rhetoric that has taken hold in the US in recent years, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a lens audiences – especially young people – can use to examine and understand the real world injustices happening today. The film engages its young audience in themes of propaganda, oppression, and war, never stopping to coddle us or hold our hand. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a tragedy that exposes the nature of true evil: that it is not inherent, but a choice.

Aside from the relevancy of its narrative, the film is also gorgeous and exhilarating to watch. Director Francis Lawrence, who also helmed Catching Fire, Mockingjay Part 1 and Mockingjay Part 2, has a keen eye for action scenes, composing shots and sequences that give us a real sense of space and weight. It is tense and brutal, never shying away from violence or death. The world feels lived in, dressed in cold greys and bathed in blood.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes offers a different kind of comfort than we’ve come to expect from the franchises we grew up with. It’s an acknowledgement that the world is cruel and unjust. That heroes die and, sometimes, love is no match for the allure of power.

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9. Bottoms

Bottoms Review

While superhero movies struggled to maintain dominance within popular culture, smaller films with smaller budgets mounted a comeback, the best of which was certainly the raunchy sex comedy Bottoms, directed by Emma Seligman.

Centered around two high school students, Josie (Ayo Edebiri) and PJ (Rachel Sennott), who start an all girl’s fight club in order to get their crushes to fall in love with them, Bottoms is both of the moment and nostalgic, reminiscent of the kinds of early 2000s teen comedies we all love and miss.

Bottoms is led by some truly bonkers comedic performances, including Ayo Edebiri’s, who had quite the banner year herself, starring in Hulu’s ‘The Bear’ and Theater Camp. Aided by Charli XCX and Leo Birenberg’s 80s-style synth score, Bottoms feels surreal and painfully relatable at the same time. While it satirizes and riffs popular high school comedies of the past, the film also feels fresh, original and told through a uniquely modern, queer lens.

Bottoms is a bloody fever dream, and one of the most original, wacky films of the year. With a charming and diverse cast, Bottoms makes room for the kind of queer love and friendship that has all too often been absent teen comedies and from mainstream films in general.

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