Top five films of 2023, ranked

Dominic Sessa, Paul Giamatti and Da’Vine Joy Randolph are in Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers.” The movie is Sessa’s first feature film, and Giamatti and Randolph have both won Golden Globes for their performances. // Photo courtesy of IMDb

The tide seems to be shifting in Hollywood.

For the first time in what feels like a decade, the movies with the most buzz this year were not franchise sequels or paint-by-numbers superhero movies. This year, “Barbie,” was the highest grossing film, a movie directed by acclaimed indie filmmaker Greta Gerwig with an inventive visual style, social commentary and a hilarious script.

And the film getting the largest awards push? “Oppenheimer.” The three hour, R-rated, dialogue-driven biopic from Christopher Nolan managed to crack the top five highest grossing movies of the year. Just a couple of years ago, movies like “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” would have been lucky to make their money back. This
year, they were hits. 

They were not the only fantastic movies this year. Audiences are looking for films with meaning, and Hollywood is giving it to them. With award season quickly approaching, here are a few highlights:


Wes Anderson has been busy. Not only did he release four short films on Netflix this year, he directed one of his most inventive feature films yet, “Asteroid City,” starring Jason Schwartzman and Scarlett Johansson. The movie follows a grieving father as he takes his kids to a Junior Stargazing convention before otherworldly events shatter his perception of reality. 

It is a funny, bittersweet film about how art helps people understand life’s uncertainty, all backed by a
stellar performance from Schwartzman that manages to hold the film’s complexity together. The film is funny, sad, strange, surprising and, yes, Wes Anderson’s best film in years.


The evil men of Martin Scorsese’s movies have always had an allure. From “Goodfellas” to “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Scorsese makes depravity and villany look cool — just enough to rattle his audience’s misplaced confidence in their own morality. However, in “Killers of the Flower Moon,” a brutal story about the murders of dozens of Osage tribe members, that allure vanishes. 

With brilliant turns from Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and Lily Gladstone, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is a walk through an American hellscape, revealing the monstrosity of America’s original sins and man’s
capacity for cruelty. 

What began as a story about the birth of the FBI became something much deeper and more profound. 

It is not a fun movie, but it is an important one, a work that is worth watching without looking away. 


There is a heartache to “Past Lives” that is hard to shake. Writer and director Celine Song’s debut film is a beautifully human tale of a woman named Nora Moon (Greta Lee, “Russian Doll”) encountering her first love decades later after their lives have gone separate directions. 

The film is a compassionate look at the dichotomy between Nora’s love of what her life has become and her grief over what it might have been. It is an emotional story that takes subtly unexpected turns, producing a powerful work of art that feels achingly real. Song knows what audiences expect from a love story and seems
to relish giving them something different and, ultimately, far more rewarding.  


What is there to say about “Oppenheimer” that has not already been said? It is a masterclass in filmmaking, with every shot feeling intricately and purposefully put together, culminating in an unsettling ending for the ages. 

Nolan, who gravitates towards action and thrillers with bombastic set pieces, manages to make “Oppenheimer,” a movie mostly comprised of people talking in rooms, thrillingly tense. 

It also has some of the best performances of the year from Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer, Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss and Emily Blunt as Katherine Oppenheimer. 

It is a movie with so many moving parts that it would take a genius to make it work. Luckily, Christopher Nolan was in the director’s chair.


“The Holdovers,” at its most distilled, is about life — the joys and hardships, the love and pain. It
follows a troubled student, an angry teacher and a grieving mother who are left to spend winter break together at a boarding school. 

Director Alexander Payne follows these three broken people with such empathy and compassion it is impossible not to love these characters as much as he does. All three lead actors, Dominic Sessa, Paul Giamatti and Da’Vine Joy Randolph give Oscar-worthy performances, turning these characters into people that do not feel anything less than real. 

Don’t think that the movie is dour, though. The script is permeated with screenwriter David Hemingson’s sharp wit, and the cast has impeccable chemistry. Payne  dazzlingly juggles the script’s tonal high-wire act, gracefully shifting from hilarity to tragedy and back again. 

Most importantly, the film tenderly captures the beauty of connection, and in a time where people are more divided than ever, it feels wonderfully refreshing. “The Holdovers” is funny, heartbreaking and the best movie of the year.

Thank you 2023, it has been a great year for movies.