While there have been literally hundreds and hundreds of movies released in 2023, the huge blockbuster movies seem to quickly dissipate from my memory. This year, as I waited for “the one that knocks my socks off,” I have found that it’s been a year of the more quiet and thought-provoking films and not the sock-removal films. After scouring the releases and putting together a list of 14 movies I truly loved, I noticed a theme: Quietness and Introspection. Is this a reflection of my age? Perhaps. Or perhaps I’ve been doing this for so long, it takes a lot to impress and surprise me. Whatever the case, here is my list of Top Films of 2023.
10: “Somewhere in Queens”
Ray Romano co-writes and directs this insightful film about an average dad whose relationship with his son isn’t what he thought it was. Watching him grow and push away, attempting to cut the apron strings from his parents, Jacob (Matthew ‘Sticks’ Russo) wants to pave his own path in life as he falls in love with a girl who isn’t exactly Mom (Laurie Metcalf) and Dad’s (Romano) first choice. And with this comes the burden of a mother who is battling and recovering from breast cancer. This is a story of and for any family and Romano, wearing three hats as writer, director and actor, balances and brings love and levity in the most human way possible to this story. Family, loyalty, love, and self are all familiar topics as they are integrated artfully into this story that will capture you and your heart.
9. “Anatomy of a Fall”
A young visually impaired boy is “witness” to his father’s death high in the mountains as his mother, Sandra (Sandra Huller), is accused of murder. Fighting for her freedom as the truth is unveiled, details of their marriage are peeled away to reveal a very different story. We easily walk in Sandra’s shoes as she attempts to protect and care for her son, especially as the state steps in to do the same. It’s a tightrope act for Sandra as we want so badly to believe her, but we also question the reality of the situation. The ending isn’t what you expect and may leave some dissatisfied, however, it also opens the door to conversation as to what actually took place.
8. “The Boys in the Boat”
Sometimes you just need a story to uplift and inspire and George Clooney finds just the right tone to do so with “The Boys in the Boat” starring Joel Edgerton as the University of Washington Rowing Team’s coach and Callum Turner as the young man to carry the team. While it might be a predictable story, it is based upon the true story from 1936 as the team fought not only to win against the ivy league schools, but to also be a part of the Berlin Olympics. Great performances are key as well as characters we care about and Clooney delivers.
Truth is always stranger (and more entertaining) than fiction and Matt Johnson’s “BlackBerry” proves it. Starring Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, and Johnson who also co-writes, we are taken back in time to the era of the BlackBerry phone and how it began, rose to being a powerhouse only to plummet to its death. The story is a crazy one and Johnson finds a way to create characters that are over-the-top yet believable while he embraces the humor in the ridiculousness of it all. This big business movie is mesmerizing and engaging as you wait for the final scenes. You really don’t know the ending!
6. “Past Lives”
Celine Song writes and directs an international story that everyone over 20 can relate to. It’s the “what ifs” of life. And if we could turn back the hands of time would we? Greta Lee stars as Nora, a young Asian woman whose family moved to the States when she was a child, leaving her best friend and crush Teo Yoo (Hae Sung) behind. Their lives take drastically different routes, but the roads soon intersect to see how they have changed as well as stayed the same. This is a beautifully quiet and introspective film filled with emotion as we watch Nora and Hae find solace with their current lives and choices. Additionally, John Magaro’s performance as Nora’s husband placed in a very uncomfortable situation is one of brilliant subtleties that connects us more deeply to the story. Once you see this film, you’ll need to find the space and time to reflect on your own life’s choices and where you turned left or right at the crossroads.
5. “Story Ave”
This film took a good 20 minutes to hook me, but once it did, you couldn’t pull me away with a team of wild horses. Co-written and directed by Aristotle Torres, we meet a young teen, Kadir (Asante Blackk) whose guilt and circumstances drive him to the leader of a gang in NYC, Skemes (Melvin Gregg). Thrown into making a poor choice, he finds himself guided by Luis (Luis Guzman) whose own ghosts haunt his life as he attempts to make a positive impression upon Kadir. Together, Luis and Kadir navigate this rocky time, leaning on one another and pushing away to find the right answers for themselves. The ending left me breathless with tears streaming down my cheeks, completely satisfied with the gorgeous and meaningful film.
Yes, it’s true. I’m turning 60 and this movie is all about this time period in one woman’s life: Diana Nyad played by Annette Bening. Refusing to succumb to the notion that the best is all behind her, she vows to do what she failed at doing 3 decades earlier; swim from Havana, Cuba to the Florida Keys. An incredible feat that no one had done before, Nyad trains and fails, but doesn’t give up. Accompanied by her coach, Bonnie (Jodie Foster) and a small support team, we too become a part of her team as she swims endlessly, battling both Mother Nature and her creations as well as the nay-sayers. Bening’s sublime performance is unparalleled as she becomes the irascible yet tenacious middle-aged woman with a vision. Cinematically stunning, “Nyad” pulls you into the rocky waters so that you almost feel the waves crashing over you.
Never would I have thought I would have loved (and I mean loved) a big budget movie about a Mattel doll even if I did have my very own Barbie and camper as a kid. This is a larger than life story written by Greta Gerwig and hubby Noah Baumbach, tackling societal stereotypes, and gender issues as well as the inherent inequities. “Barbie” becomes an emotionally loaded yet still very funny look at our world and the expectations for women who have to “do it all” or “have it all.” Costuming and production design are stellar, but the deft direction, intuitive acting, and a deeply meaningful script that consumed me and had me crying at least twice are what make this one of my top movies of the year.
2. “Flora and Son”
John Carney writes and directs (and creates original songs) in a story of a young mom, Flora (Eve Hewson) who isn’t going to get the Mother of the Year Award any time soon as her teenage son Max (Oren Kinlan) finds himself on the verge of incarceration in Ireland. Looking to connect with her music-loving and -producing teen, Flora buys him a guitar only to have it land in her hands. She then finds more than music lessons on-line from the California guitarist Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as the lessons become a form of therapy. We begin to understand Flora, revealing what it’s really like to be a mom in her situation, as she attempts to do better. The brutal honesty of motherhood and living life portrayed in this film is sometimes a gut-punch and at others a wake up to reality. There’s nothing flashy in this story and that is to its credit. It’s beautiful, sweet, honest, and emotionally raw. I dare you not to love this film!
This is the movie of the year. Cord Jefferson co-writes and directs the story of Thelonious Monk Ellison (Jeffrey Wright), an author who is struggling with his second book; the first wasn’t exactly on the best-sellers’ list. Aghast at what is actually selling, particularly Sintara Golden’s (Issa Rae) book about being poor and Black — capitalizing on the stereotypical Black experience as she writes in that vernacular — Monk uses a pseudonym and writes his own Black experience novel, seen through the eyes of a convict. You guessed it…it becomes a best-seller. Disgusted by this popularity, Monk attempts to reckon his own reflection and how he perceives himself. We also delve into Monk’s family as his sister Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross) and brother Clifford (Sterling K. Brown), both with their own stories, wrestle with an aging mother (Leslie Uggams) who suffers from dementia. If ever there was a movie that could open up the lines of communication to ask important questions about race and understanding, this is the one! With great performances and a complex script, this is a movie everyone should see.
Tied for 11th Place are:
“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”
“She Came to Me”
“The Promised Land”