I Watched 138 New Releases In 2023, And These Are My 15 Favorite Movies

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Written By Maya Cantina

If the cinematic landscape of 2023 were to be described as a buffet, I could say that I’ve been feasting since January. I make a goal every year to see as many new releases as I possibly can so that I have the best possible context to judge my favorites, and I managed to squeeze in 138 screenings in the last 12 months. Naturally, I ended up seeing a lot of movies that I didn’t like at all, but there was also more than enough greatness out there to make a challenge out of determining my Top 15.

It took a lot of thinking, taking into consideration many different factors, but as I look back on 2023, these are the titles that stand out as the best that I saw.

(Image credit: A24)

15. The Zone Of Interest

I heavily debated whether or not The Zone Of Interest would make my Top 15 list this year. Rewatchability is an element that is kept in heavy consideration when I sort out my favorites, and I can say with authority that I will not watch Jonathan Glazer’s latest film ever again. That being said, I’ve never had an upsetting cinematic experience on the level of what it delivers, and my inability to shake it deserves recognition. Any horror filmmaker will tell you that what’s not shown on screen is always more terrifying than what’s revealed, and The Zone Of Interest is 106 minutes of imagined nightmares conjured from simple train whistles and the distant popping of gunshots. It’s a painful watch, but one that is also so foreboding as a metaphor for the present that it demands to be viewed.

I Watched 138 New Releases In 2023, And These Are My 15 Favorite Movies

(Image credit: Neon)

14. Perfect Days

Contentment is undervalued in an ambition hungry society, and that’s what makes Wim Wenders’ Perfect Days so beautiful. Kôji Yakusho’s Hirayama has what many would consider to be an objectionable job – cleaning public toilets in Tokyo – but he is so at peace with the world that it doesn’t matter. Not only does he take pride in his work, but he finds satisfying joy in the simplicity of classic rock cassettes, photographing trees, and eating a nice meal at a familiar restaurant. It’s poetry and cinematic meditation that heals the soul.

I Watched 138 New Releases In 2023, And These Are My 15 Favorite Movies

(Image credit: Neon)

13. Sanctuary

Without actually checking, I’d wager that the majority of the end-of-year lists I’ve written for CinemaBlend over the last decade-plus have featured at least one single setting drama/comedy where characters have to sort out their issues together while literally or metaphorically locked together in a space. Director Zachary Wigon’s Sanctuary scratched that itch for me in 2023. Christopher Abbott and Margaret Qualley make an incredible duo as a soon-to-be wealthy and powerful heir and the dominatrix who is desperate to stop him from severing their relationship. The cat-and-mouse games are thrilling and funny in equal measure, and it manages to successfully land on what seems from the outset would be the least likely conclusion to the narrative.

I Watched 138 New Releases In 2023, And These Are My 15 Favorite Movies

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

12. John Wick: Chapter 4

Truth be told, I am a John Wick fan who went into John Wick: Chapter 4 with a bit of dread. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is my least favorite movie in the series, and I largely attribute that to its length and it becoming a tad exhausting by the end. Chapter 4 is 38 minutes longer, but the difference is that it earns every second. The outrageous, bold set pieces orchestrated by the brilliant Chad Stahelski and his production teams all stand among the best in the franchise, and witnessing the skills of Donnie Yen is literally jaw-dropping.

I Watched 138 New Releases In 2023, And These Are My 15 Favorite Movies

(Image credit: Toho)

11. Godzilla Minus One

In Takashi Yamazaki Godzilla Minus One, the presentation of the titular King of the Monsters is phenomenal. Not only do we get to see a cool evolution for the creature, as he goes from being as big as a house to as big as a skyscraper, but the terror he unleashes when he is on land hits like a truck. But that’s not what makes the film great. Instead, that’s the story of Ryunosuke Kamiki’s Kōichi Shikishima and his search for redemption after shirking his mission as a kamikaze pilot. It’s impressive how emotional it is, and his relationship with Minami Hamabe’s Noriko Ōishi is one of 2023’s greatest cinematic romances.

I Watched 138 New Releases In 2023, And These Are My 15 Favorite Movies

(Image credit: A24)

10. Dream Scenario

Between the memes and his most over-the-top performances, it’s easy to forget that Nicolas Cage can deliver a tremendous turn when paired with the right material – but he’s been working to remind us in recent years, most notably in 2021 with Pig, and now with Dream Scenario. It’s a movie about public perception and one’s inability to control it, and Cage is remarkable as he rides the wave of fame that comes from first appearing in people’s dreams and then in their nightmares. With a demonstrated skill for capturing the surreal and blending comedy, horror and drama, writer/director Kristoffer Borgli instantly emerges as a talent to keep an eye on.

I Watched 138 New Releases In 2023, And These Are My 15 Favorite Movies

(Image credit: Neon)

9. Anatomy Of A Fall

As someone who doesn’t watch legal dramas or police procedurals on television, I appreciate a well-made feature courtroom drama, and this year I saw two: William Friedkin’s The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (which just missed out on inclusion on this list), and Justine Triet’s tremendous Anatomy Of A Fall. In the latter, it’s fascinating by itself to witness trial proceedings in a foreign country, but what makes the movie special is both its gripping maintained mystery concerning the truth behind the crime, and its genius, natural approach to exposition. Enthralling details about the potential murder and the relationship between the victim and his wife, who is accused of murdering him, are slowly unveiled, and each revelation sucks you in deeper. Sandra Hüller delivers one of the best performances of 2023.

I Watched 138 New Releases In 2023, And These Are My 15 Favorite Movies

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

8. No One Will Save You

I knew I loved Brian Duffield’s No One Will Save You as soon as the end credits started to roll, appreciating its daring creative choices and the spectacular performance from star Kaitlyn Dever – but my appreciation for it grew stronger as my brain chewed on it. More than just being a rad home invasion thriller and a terrific use of classic grey aliens, it’s a superbly crafted meditation on grief that sees its protagonist progress through the five stages via her battles with extraterrestrials. Duffield shows no sign of a sophomore slump, and I hope it’s getting people to check out his stellar directorial debut, Spontaneous.

I Watched 138 New Releases In 2023, And These Are My 15 Favorite Movies

(Image credit: Focus Features)

7. The Holdovers

After watching The Holdovers, one dominant thought that came to mind was, “Why have Alexander Payne and Paul Giamatti not made five movies together at this point?” They’re obviously great independently, but they clearly evoke the best from each other – first demonstrated in Sideways and now once again 19 years later. Giamatti is genius as the principled, strict, lazy-eyed and malodorous Paul Hunham, but not to be overlooked are the incredible Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Dominic Sessa. Together, they play three broken individuals who begin to find some emotional rehabilitation while trapped together at a private school during winter break, and their healing is magic.

I Watched 138 New Releases In 2023, And These Are My 15 Favorite Movies

(Image credit: Cr. Courtesy of Netflix)

6. May December

I love how hard it is to get a total grip on Todd Haynes’ May December. On the one hand, there’s the staggering dramatic work from Charles Melton as the mentally and emotionally stunted Joe Yoo – the victim of a stolen childhood. On the other hand, you have Juliane Moore’ Gracie staring into a refrigerator with concerns about hot dog quantity (amid a soap opera-esque musical cue) and Natalie Portman’s Elizabeth getting way too far into her craft while discussing acting with a class of high school students. You’d think that these tones would viciously clash, but they instead harmonize to make one of the most compelling, messed-up movies of 2023.

I Watched 138 New Releases In 2023, And These Are My 15 Favorite Movies

(Image credit: A24)

5. Talk To Me

As evidenced by both this list and my ranking of 2023’s best horror movies, this year was tremendous for terrifying original films, and the king of them all is Talk To Me. It has it all: a deeply considered mythology with creative iconography that serves as a smart metaphor, an amazing performance from an up-and-coming star in Sophie Wilde, and some of the most disturbing imagery that was projected in theaters over the last 12 months. The work of directors Danny and Michael Philippou suggests an exciting understanding of the genre, with instincts that lead them away from clichés, and I’m thrilled to see what they cook up for the announced Talk To Me 2.

I Watched 138 New Releases In 2023, And These Are My 15 Favorite Movies

(Image credit: MGM)

4. Saltburn

There are few things more exciting for a cinephile than discovering a new filmmaker with sensibilities directly tuned into one’s own, and I felt that glorious feeling in my gut when first watching Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman – my #1 film in my Top 10 from 2020. In 2023, Saltburn has only affirmed my feelings. The shocking soulnessness of Rosamund Pike’s Elspeth Catton nicely sums up the pitch black comedy that Fennell aims for in her work, but the truth is that during my first watch, there was a big, dumb grin on my face through every diabolical twist and example of deviant behavior that the film had to offer. It’s deliciously fucked up, and that’s 100% my jam.

I Watched 138 New Releases In 2023, And These Are My 15 Favorite Movies

(Image credit: Sony PIctures)

3. Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse

From Fast X to Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning to Rebel Moon, this was a big year for the advancement of serialization in cinema, but of the many “Part 1s” that came out in the last 12 months, none fully satisfied like Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse. There is certainly a lot more story to tell and a cliffhanger that requires conclusion, but I was blown away by Miles Morales’ scary first taste of independence and adulthood, and the growth we see in Gwen Stacy as she repairs her relationship with her father. It’s also the most visually dazzling film of the year and introduces one of my favorite big screen characters of 2023 (Daniel Kaluuya’s Hobie Brown a.k.a. Spider-Punk), so it’s really been a lock for my Top 5 since June.

I Watched 138 New Releases In 2023, And These Are My 15 Favorite Movies

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

2. Killers Of The Flower Moon

David Grann’s book Killers Of The Flower Moon is an objective view of history that unfolds akin to a whodunit. It presents the shocking details of the horrible crimes that occurred in the Osage Nation while painting a picture of life at the time and the extreme prejudices that were held against Native Americans. It’s a powerful work, but Martin Scorsese’s adaptation packs an even more forceful punch with its horrifying subjective perspective. Witnessing the cruelty, hate and disgusting brazenness of Robert De Niro’s William Hale and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkhart adds whole new layers to the murders that contradict the notions of the American Dream, and the striking visual beauty and intense ugliness create an incredible contrast that keeps you enraptured for the full 206 minutes.

I Watched 138 New Releases In 2023, And These Are My 15 Favorite Movies

(Image credit: Searchlight Pictures)

1. Poor Things

First watching Dogtooth in 2010 and having my mind blown by the creative brilliance of writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos, I never would have guessed that he would eventually find his perfect muse in Emma Stone… but here we are. The two conjured gilded wickedness together in 2018 with The Favourite, but with Poor Things they have mined a diamond. The strange tale of the Frankensteined Bella Baxter is as weird as it is empowering, as her innocence and naivety lead her down paths that are exciting, terrifying, heartbreaking and just about always super horny. It’s audacity is deliriously hard to fathom minute-to-minute (in the best way), and I can’t wait to watch it over and over again.

As evidenced by all of these excellent titles 2023 was another great year for film, and I look forward to seeing what the 2024 movie calendar has in store.

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