Taking a Look at the 10 Best Films of the Year 2023

By Dwight Brown
NNPA News Wire

As 2023 ends, this year’s best films are vying for awards that will crescendo with the Oscar® race. Film fans don’t have to watch from the sidelines. They can join the fun and view them all in theaters, VOD or on streaming services.

Pictures, directors, screenwriters, actors and behind the lens talent have given their all. Now you can experience the results of their work. These are the best and the brightest…

10 Best Feature Films 2023
The Color Purple (***1/2)
Steven Spielberg adapted a version of Alice’s Walker’s classic novel in 1985 and caused a rift. Women found their voice in the lead character. Black men were portrayed as devils.

This modern version, based on the Broadway musical,is a new and much welcomed interpretation by screenwriters Marsha Norman and Marcus Gardley. Director Blitz Bazawule (video director for Beyonce’s Black is King)aces the the song and dance routines, pulls stellar performances from the cast and give this new spin on a tale about two separated sisters verve. Fantasia Barrino’s captivating performance of the blossoming protagonist Celie is superb. Supporting cast of Coleman Domingo, Taraji P. Henson and Danielle Brooks adds zest. Redemption is this film’s secret weapon in this feminist fable that’s inspiring in all ways possible. A very surprising triumph.

Eileen (****)
She didn’t see it coming. Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie), a small-town young Boston-area woman works as a secretary in a boys’ prison. The day a blonde bombshell psychologist (Anne Hathaway) walks into the building, she’s smitten and led astray down a path of self-destruction. Credit novelist/screenwriter Ottessa Moshfegh and co-screenwriter Luke Goebel for spinning this twisted, flabbergasting tale. Director William Oldroyd (Lady MacBeth) delivers shocking, ensuing drama so hot that it heats up the placid winter snow scenes. McKenzie excels as the quintessential blue-collar worker. The incorrigible Hathaway is wicked beyond belief. Her best performance ever.

Flamin’ Hot (***1/2)
Sometimes a film’s greatest accomplishment is that warm-hearted feeling you take away from a story you couldn’t fathom. Richard Montañez (Jessie Garcia), a janitor at Frito Lay, turns the munchy food industry on its ears by climbing the corporate ladder and creating a snack that appeals to his Latino community, and the world. Garcia carries the film’s weight and is aided by costars Annie Gonzalez, Dennis Haysbert, Emilio Rivera and Matt Walsh. Controversy followed this bio/film, due to an embellished resume. But put this story in the narrative/nonfiction category, and the sting of exaggeration fades while pure joy prevails. Actress turned director Eva Longoria takes a very basic story about the human spirit and makes it wondrous.

John Wick: Chapter 4 (****)

Keanu Reeves stars in John Wick: Chapter 4.
Keanu Reeves stars in John Wick: Chapter 4.

The best action film of the year features Hollywood’s most laconic actor in an iconic role surrounded by friends who are foes and foes who could be friends. John Wick (Keanu Reeves), a badass hired killer, works under the mandates of a clandestine council, “The High Table.” He’s done them wrong, and they send assassins to hunt him and snuff him out. Extremely evocative settings, especially in Paris. Mind boggling stunts are brilliantly shot by cinematographer Dan Lausten. An elaborately choregraphed, gorgeously crafted slaughter fest. A blood-thirsty spectacle all expertly and exquisitely assembled by director Chad Stahelski.

Killers of the Flower Moon (***)
To appreciate this western classic, first you must address the elephant in the room. Why in the 21st century is anyone making films about the Native American experience, which is not from their point of view? Or with them as the lead protagonists? If you want to learn something about America’s indigenous people check out the enlightening documentary Lakota Nation vs United States. Still, this masterwork by veteran filmmaker Martin Scorsese is an engaging crime/thriller. It’s based on a bestselling, narrative nonfiction book that’s centered around the murders of wealthy members of the Osage Nation back in 1920s Oklahoma. Can’t deny the film’s artistry or fine acting. Cast includes a haunting performance by Lily Gladstone.

Maestro (***1/2)
Who knew that the guy who clowned his way through the Hangover franchise was an artiste? Now everyone does. Bradley Cooper, as director, writer, producer, actor, brings the story of famed New York symphony conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein to life in shades and tones not seen in a film before. Gorgeously crafted. Brilliantly acted by Cooper and Carey Mulligan as his long-suffering but always loving wife. 2023’s definitive art film.

Oppenheimer (***1/2)
Quantum physics and a race against the Nazi’s motivated J. Robert Oppenheimer to be the big man on campus. This retelling of the development of the ultimate, war-ending weapon—the atom bomb—is spellbinding. It’s cryptic subject matter is made discernible by genius writer/director Christopher Nolan. He pulls out all the visual stops as he catalogues government intrigue, rivalries among scientists and the hangers-on who were part of that fateful day in Nevada when a flash of light and power changed everything. Noland and the ensemble cast of Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt and Matt Damon were on a mission. Their mission is completed in the most visually stunning ways.

Past Lives (****)
Creating three-character movies is a tough assignment. But somehow Korean-born writer/director Celine Song manages to do that in the most simple, graceful and romantic way. As kids back in Seoul, South Korea, Na Young and Hae Sung where kindred spirits. Life separated them. She (Greta Lee), as an adult, lives in New York, is a writer and goes by the name Nora. He (Teo Yoo), smitten and forlorn, tracks her down. He’s so enraptured he pursues the now married old friend endlessly. Luckily her husband (John Magaro) is patient as the two sort out their feelings. Song’s script is never less than poetic. The performances are delicate and nuanced in this most loving and ethereal ways. What a touching story. A very striking way to look at relationships and the ways that love lingers.

Rye Lane (****)
If Love Actually and Love Jones had a child, this would be it. Dom (David Jonsson), a twenty something, is ugly crying in a toilet stall in the unisex bathroom of a bar in South London. Yas (Vivian Oparah) overhears the wailing. Fate pulls them together as they discuss their exes while on an afternoon jaunt. Their mutual happiness may be the best revenge, but they’re oblivious. First-time director Raine Allen-Miller creates the wittiest, coolest and most contemporary rom/com in ages. Her breezy, moment-to-moment directing never loses its energy. Lovely.

A Thousand and One (****)
Black urban dramas have long been stained by dehumanizing tropes and stereotypes. Somehow, first-time filmmaker A.V. Rockwell steers clear of that quicksand, which is a credit to her creativity and social consciousness. When her central character (Teyana Taylor) kidnaps her son from NYC’s social welfare system and tries to raise him on her own, her plight and journey become a riveting experience that shatters the way films tell tales about those living under constant stress. Rockwell tells stories like a shaman imparting wisdom. Brilliant on every level.

If you’re looking for reasons to go to the movies and want to home in on strong performances, astute directing and behind-the-lens, use this “Best of the Best 2023” as a guide. This roundup of honorable mention films, best acting nods and great artistry from a diverse set of today’s top talent is a great starting point.

Honorable mention films: Air, All of Us Strangers, Barbie, The Blackening, Blue Beetle, The Burial, Chevalier, Creed III, Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant, Equalizer 3, Fair Play, Flora and Son, The Holdovers, Joy Ride, Missing, Mutt, Passages, Saltburn, Somewhere in Queens, Talk to Me.

Best Directors: Blitz Bazawule (The Color Purple), Greta Gerwig (Barbie), Christopher Nolan (Oppenheimer), A.V. Rockwell (A Thousand and One), Chad Stahelski (John Wick: Chapter 4).

Best First Films: Fair Play (Chloe Domont), Flamin’ Hot (Eva Longoria), Past Lives (Celine Song), Rye Lane (Raine Allen-Miller), A Thousand and One (A.V. Rockwell).

Best Foreign Language Films: Godland, Godzilla Minus One, Joyland, The Teacher’s Lounge, Shayda.

Best Documentaries: Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project, Going Varsity in Mariachi, Lakota Nation vs United States, Little Richard: I Am Everything.

Best Animation: The Boy and the Heron, Elemental, The Little Mermaid, Migration, Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse.

Best Actors: Bradley Cooper (Maestro), Leonardo DiCaprio (Killers of the Flower Moon), Colman Domingo (Rustin), Jesse Garcia (Flamin’ Hot), Jeffrey Wright (American Fiction).

Best Actresses: Fantasia Barrino (The Color Purple), Lily Gladstone (Killers of the Flower Moon), Greta Lee (Past Lives), Carey Mulligan (Maestro), Teyana Taylor (A Thousand and One).

Best Supporting Actors: William Catlett (A Thousand and One), Ryan Gosling (Barbie), John Magaro (Past Lives), Tatanka Means (Killers of the Flower Moon), Chris Messina (Air).

Best Supporting Actresses: Anne Hathaway (Eileen), Taraji P. Henson (The Color Purple), Vanessa Kirby (Napoleon), Annie Gonzalez (Flamin’ Hot), Da’Vine Joy Randolph (The Holdovers).

Best Screenplays: Barbie (Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach), Eileen (Ottessa Moshfegh, Luke Goebel), Joy Ride (Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, Teresa Hsiao, Adele Lim), Past Lives (Celine Song), A Thousand and One (A.V. Rockwell).

Best Cinematography: Godland (Maria von Hausswolff), John Wick: Chapter 4(Dan Laustsen), Killers of the Flower Moon (Rodrigo Prieto), Maestro (Matthew Libatique), Oppenheimer (Hoyte van Hoytema).

Happy Holidays!

Visit Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.

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