My Review of Film in 2023

Tristan Casady
5 min readJan 1, 2024
Greta Lee and Teo Yoo in “Past Lives”

2023 was a fascinating year for movies in more than a couple of ways. First off, theaters might actually be back (?!). If Tom Cruise and Top Gun: Maverick saved the theater experience in 2022, the summer sensation of “Barbenheimer” (and to a lesser extent, Cruise’s newest MIP project) cemented it once more at the forefront of our cultural landscape. People are going to the movies again, and that in itself has made this year a huge success. The streaming platforms continue to grow, and whether you like it or not, they are increasing exposure to some incredible films. All of this has happened in the face of a sweeping labor movement that brought the industry to a sudden and lengthy halt. Sure, we’ll have to wait a few more months for Dune 2, but it doesn’t appear to have affected movie consumption to the degree that many feared. It’s a small price to pay for fairer wages and protection from the growing threat of artificial intelligence. To top it all off, December has brought some of the best movies of the year just in time for what should be an exciting awards season.

Cinephiles and casual movie-goers alike had their patience rewarded with the return of some of our most beloved and hallowed filmmakers this year. Martin Scorsese made his long-awaited follow-up to The Irishman with a 206-minute epic in Killers of the Flower Moon. Christopher Nolan delivered one of the most anticipated — and ultimately successful — films of the year in Oppenheimer. Marking the end of his incredible career, Hayao Miyazaki released The Boy and the Heron, arguably his most ambitious project of all. Wes Anderson fans got everything they could have asked for in Asteroid City (and don’t forget his Netflix shorts.) Ridley Scott, Sofia Coppola, Michael Mann, and David Fincher also got back in on the fun with their respective feature films — The Killer being a personal favorite of mine. It was quite the year for legendary directors, and who knows when we’ll get something like this again.

Martin Scorsese on the set of “Killers of the Flower Moon”

We also saw some filmmakers burst onto the scene in a big way this year, while others continued their rapid ascension. The biggest of shoutouts to Celine Song who made her industry debut with the incredible Past Lives, an A24 film that should garner plenty of best-picture conversation. After a decorated career in TV, Cord Jefferson made his movie debut with an adapted screenplay, American Fiction, a significant success in its own right. Bradley Cooper delivered his second feature film as a director with Maestro, though his portrayal of Leanord Bernstein certainly outshines the movie itself. I feel the need to at least recognize the efforts of Emerald Fennell in her sophomore film, as she swung for the fences with Saltburn. It’s hard to believe Creed III came out in 2023 but Michael B. Jordan may have found a future in directing after the objective success of his first film. Finally, 2023 saw Greta Gerwig establish her legacy as the filmmaker to watch as her career continues to reach new heights.

I think we can finally say that the Marvel Cinematic Universe might be cooked, especially after DC poached James Gunn — the only director making palatable content as of late. If it weren’t for Gunn’s Guardians 3, it would have been an utterly unsalvageable year for the MCU after the failures of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and The Marvels. The Phase Five timeline may already be destined for failure, and my faith in their ability to re-cast or re-write the phase’s primary villain is admittedly quite low. Thankfully, this year audiences got to watch — and hopefully re-watch — one of the best superhero movies in recent memory. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a reminder of why we love this genre of movies to begin with, and what a loss it would be if the genre collapsed altogether.

Scene from Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

What a year it was for assassin movies! John Wick 4, one of my most memorable viewing experiences this year, should be the gold standard for genre movies. I would say the same thing about The Killer, which is exactly what an assassin movie should be. Byun Sung-hyun added a very creative international film to the genre with Kill Boksoon. While it was an exciting year for these kinds of films, the same cannot be said for sci-fi or horror. Godzilla: Minus One and its $15 million budget was probably the only standout film in the science fiction genre. Similarly, horror films failed to make much noise at all this year, leaving the door open for A24 to make a slight splash with Talk to Me. Oh and can anyone recall a good non-Barbie comedy that was released in 2023?

We can’t talk about the films of 2023 without also mentioning the actors that made them so memorable. We saw some pretty impressive lead “debuts” from the likes of Lily Gladstone (Flower Moon), Greta Lee (Past Lives), Dominic Sessa (The Holdovers), and Charles Melton (May December); all of whom should be in play for their respective award categories. Some of our favorite actors delivered career performances — looking at you Emma Stone (Poor Things) and Cillian Murphy (Oppenheimer). We also rarely get an actor who plays a lead role in two Best Picture contenders but Sandra Hüller did just that in 2023 with her performances in Anatomy of a Fall and Zone of Interest. The best on-screen chemistry award — if it existed — would probably go to the irresistible Paul Mescal and Andrew Scott in All of Us Strangers. Who knew that Zac Efron had that kind of acting performance in him? Was Timothée Chalamet destined for musical theater after all? And finally, has anyone ever campaigned more tirelessly than Ryan Gosling for his summer sensation “I’m Just Ken”?

Sandra Hüller in “Anatomy of a Fall”

2023 was exactly the kind of year movies needed. Was it the best year for top-end creative content? No. But I think it allowed many to fall in love with going to the theater again. It got people talking about what they just saw (at the theater or in the comfort of their homes) with their family, friends, and coworkers. Discourse as part of popular culture is integral to the survival and growth of film as an art form. See you on Letterboxd in 2024!