Movies

From ‘Barbie’ to ‘Oppenheimer,’ Boston.com readers and our entertainment writer share their picks for the best movies of 2023.

Fall movie preview 2023: Leonardo DiCaprio in "Killers of the Flower Moon," Emma Stone in "Poor Things," and Jeffrey Wright in "American Fiction."
Fall movie preview 2023: Leonardo DiCaprio in “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Emma Stone in “Poor Things,” and Jeffrey Wright in “American Fiction.” Apple Studios; 20th Century Studios; Orion Releasing

When discussing the best movies of 2023 — and the year of cinema in general — the conversation begins and ends with only one word: Barbenheimer.

For a brief, shining moment this summer, movie studios forgot about their box office troubles and the ongoing dual labor strikes to celebrate an unforeseen phenomenon of moviegoers showing up in droves to see Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer.” The unlikely pair were exemplars of a vanishing breed: Non-sequel, non-reboot films that were critically acclaimed and dominated the box office.

Not everything was rosy at the movies this year, however. The labor strikes forced highly anticipated hits like “Dune 2” into 2024, and despite Barbenheimer’s success, total box office grosses for 2023 still haven’t returned to 2019 levels.

Doom and gloom aside, there were still plenty of great films released in 2023 — whether in theaters or on streaming platforms — which made choosing the best movies of 2023 feel like an impossible task. There are dozens of films sitting on the periphery of this list, and if you ask me next week, my picks might look drastically different.

Boston.com readers seemed to struggle a bit less than I did, to be honest. When we polled readers to find out what they believed to be the best movies of 2023, two films (can you guess which ones?) were the overwhelmingly popular favorites. While both of them made my top 10 as well, I made sure to highlight a few under-watched gems to check out while you have a few days off with the family during the holidays.

Without further ado, here are the best movies of 2023, as chosen by me and Boston.com readers.

Kevin Slane’s Best Movies of 2023

10. “Barbie”

Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie in
Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie in “Barbie.”

I wrestled with whether to put one of several lesser-seen movies in this slot — specifically Justine Triet’s “Anatomy of a Fall” or Jonathan Glazer’s “Zone of Interest.” But a “Best Movies of 2023” list without “Barbie” didn’t feel right. If you’re one of the few who missed “Barbie” this summer, Margot Robbie perfectly embodies the ubiquitous doll, who, on the surface, embodies the impossible beauty standard set for generations of girls. But internally, Barbie is conflicted and must head to the real world to find out why. Along for the ride is Ken (Ryan Gosling), who’s been insecure way longer than Barbie has and quickly learns some extremely toxic ways to process his emotions from the real world. Greta Gerwig’s film consistently refuses to be defined. It’s a Mattel brand extension and an anti-capitalist screed. It’s an uplifting comedy and a sobering meditation on the agony of existence. More than anything, “Barbie” is one of the most subversive, unexpected summer blockbusters in recent memory.

How to watch: “Barbie” is streaming on Max.

9. “You Hurt My Feelings”

Tobias Menzies and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in a scene from
Tobias Menzies and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in “You Hurt My Feelings.”

Director Nicole Holofcener loves a story about a writer, having previously chronicled the self-loathing fabulist Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), who forged letters from long-dead famous authors in 2018’s vicious “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” This time, she focuses on a smaller-scale drama as Julia Louis-Dreyfus deals with the monumental hurt of overhearing her husband (Tobias Menzies) tell a friend he doesn’t like his wife’s upcoming book. Rather than confront him, the invisible wound festers, dragging a once-idyllic partnership toward oblivion. Holofcener’s clever script snares her principals in logic traps, forcing us to ask what level of white lie to a loved one is acceptable.

How to watch: “You Hurt My Feelings” is available for streaming rental or purchase via GoogleApple TVAmazon Prime Video, and other on-demand platforms. It will begin streaming on Paramount+ Jan. 26.

8. “The Holdovers”

Dominic Sessa and Paul Giamatti in
Dominic Sessa and Paul Giamatti in “The Holdovers.”

From the very first frame, “The Holdovers” is a love letter to a bygone era. Featuring a throwback studio logo and grainy film stock, the movie takes place in 1970 at the fictional Massachusetts prep school Barton Academy, where curmudgeonly teacher Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) is stuck babysitting a precocious student (newcomer Dominic Sessa) over Christmas break, while the school’s cook, Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), watches from a healthy distance. During an early screening at the Somerville Theatre (where part of the movie was filmed), Director Alexander Payne talked with the audience about showing Sessa a number of ’70s films to prepare for his role, including Hal Ashby’s “Harold & Maude” and “The Last Detail.” It’s fitting then, that “The Holdovers” feels like a tribute to the New Hollywood-era filmmaker: A film that prioritizes quirky, flawed characters over plot and leaves your heart full when the credits roll.

How to watch: “The Holdovers” is in theaters and available as a premium rental on Apple TV+. It begins streaming on Peacock on Dec. 29.

7. “Poor Things”

Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo in
Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo in “Poor Things.”

Director Yorgos Lanthimos has turned the story of Frankenstein into a treatise on the fundamental nature of womanhood, with Emma Stone as Bella, the living, breathing, highly sexual monster at the center of it all. After a mad scientist (Willem Defoe) implants the brain of an infant in Bella’s reanimated body, she begins a “Billy Madison”-esque speedrun from newborn to full-blown womanhood, with plenty of bumps along the way. Stone’s performance is the most fearless thing you’ll see in 2023, and she’s perfectly in tune with where her character’s development stands. Watching Mark Ruffalo play a mustache-twirling lothario is icing on the cake.

How to watch: “Poor Things” is currently in theaters.

6. “Showing Up”

Michelle Williams in
Michelle Williams in “Showing Up.”

Kelly Reichardt is a director who, despite making consistently great films for close to three decades now, has missed out on awards over and over again. Her 2020 film, “First Cow,” came out one week before COVID-19 shut the world down. Her latest, the art dramedy “Showing Up,” waited a year after its festival debut at Cannes to hit theaters, and did so back in April, which is ancient history for fickle awards voters. That’s a shame, because Reichardt, along with her frequent collaborator Michelle Williams, has made another stunning character study, this one of a prickly sculptor named Lizzy (Williams) eking out a living in Portland. Lizzy is a wounded bird who passive-aggressively lashes out at those who try to help her, as the stress of an upcoming show and familial drama sits on her shoulders. Reichardt doesn’t judge, though: Her camera sits, unmoving and unflinching, as we see Lizzy scrape by. The stillness of “Showing Up” is entrancing, and its message — that even the damaged curmudgeons in our lives deserve love — is an uplifting one.

How to watch: “Showing Up” is streaming on Paramount+.

5. “American Fiction”

Jeffrey Wright in
Jeffrey Wright in “American Fiction.”

First-time director Cord Jefferson has made one of the funniest movies of 2023 in “American Fiction,” a sharp satire of the commodification of Black identity. Monk (Jeffrey Wright) plays a bitter, depressed author from Boston whose works aren’t considered “Black enough” by the publishing world. In a drunken fit of pique, Monk writes a ludicrous parody of a story — an ebonics-heavy tale of drugs, gangs and murder called “My Pafology” — under a pseudonym. To Monk’s chagrin, the book becomes a hit, forcing him to come to terms with the idea of persona and authenticity as he nears a payday that could help his ailing mother. Wright has never been better, and the moments he gets to share with his family at their Cape home tell a sweet, secondary story that nicely complements the acidic A-story.

How to watch: “American Fiction” is currently in theaters.

4. “Oppenheimer”

Matt Damon and Cillian Murphy in
Matt Damon and Cillian Murphy in “Oppenheimer.”

“Oppenheimer” is an incredible achievement — one of the most thorough, ambitious historical dramas ever put to film. Every single aspect of the movie is huge, from the cast to the real, non-CGI explosions Nolan created to mimic the Trinity Test. But “Oppenheimer” is also quiet and understated. Much of its three-hour runtime functions as a tense courtroom drama and a sprawling game of 1940s backroom politics. Most of all, it’s a fascinating character study of a man stuck living in a world of absolutes whose mind never seemed to be satisfactorily made up about anything. Cillian Murphy is brilliant, but despite his centrality to nearly every scene of the film, he leaves space for others to shine in roles both big (Robert Downey Jr.) and small (Casey Affleck).

How to watch: “Oppenheimer” is available for streaming rental or purchase via GoogleApple TVAmazon Prime Video, and other on-demand platforms.

3. “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio in
Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio in “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

Speaking of incredible achievements, Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” is 206 minutes of stomach-turning drama featuring a career-best performance from Leonardo DiCaprio — which is saying a lot. The true story of white men who married or killed off wealthy Osage tribe members who inherited oil rights is the story of America’s past, present, and future. DiCaprio’s plain-spoken Ernest endears himself to Mollie (Lily Gladstone), and the pair marry, as per the plan of Ernest’s uncle, William (Robert De Niro). DiCaprio is an avatar of greed no different than Henry Hill of “Goodfellas” or Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and seeing the way he destroys Molly’s life is tragic and unmissable.

How to watch: “Killers of the Flower Moon” is in theaters and available as a premium rental on Apple TV+.

2. “May December”

Natalie Portman as Elizabeth Berry and Julianne Moore as Gracie Atherton-Yoo in
Natalie Portman as Elizabeth Berry and Julianne Moore as Gracie Atherton-Yoo in “May December.”

Director Todd Haynes walks an incredible tightrope act with “May December,” mixing dark comedy, melodrama, and psychological thrills to tell a lurid, ripped-from-the-headlines story. The film is unofficially based on the story of Mary Kay Letourneau, a middle school teacher who, at age 34, began an affair with her 12-year-old student, eventually marrying him and having two kids together after serving time in jail. “May December” enters the story through actress Elizabeth Barry (Natalie Portman), who shows up at the home of long-married couple Gracie (Julianne Moore) and Joe (Charles Melton, “Riverdale”) in order to shadow Gracie for a movie based on the tabloid-worthy romance.

Moore and Portman have rarely been better, and Melton is a revelation — his child-like nature both amusing and heartbreaking. Not only does Haynes plumb the fragile psyche of the couple, but he also uses Portman’s Elizabeth to show how callous the Hollywood moviemaking factory can be in the pursuit of creating entertainment out of someone’s lived experiences. Portman, as it turns out, is better at playing a self-absorbed, talentless actress than most actors are at playing “real” people.

How to watch: “May December” is streaming on Netflix.

1. “Past Lives”

Greta Lee and Teo Yoo in
Greta Lee and Teo Yoo in “Past Lives.”

Celine Song takes a page out of Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy in her debut, the decades-spanning love story “Past Lives.” The story begins in South Korea, where two neighboring 12-year-old children, Na Young and Hae Sung, develop crushes on each other, going on a single parent-supervised date before Na Young’s family moves to Toronto. Twelve years later, Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) finds Na Young (Greta Lee) on Facebook, and the two rekindle their connection. After losing touch again, 12 more years pass before Hae Sung decides to visit Na Young (now Nora) in New York City. More than any other film in 2023, “Past Lives” will stick with you, conjuring feelings of longing, nostalgia, and heartbreak that linger long after the credits have rolled.

How to watch: “Past Lives” is available for streaming rental or purchase via GoogleApple TVAmazon Prime Video, and other on-demand platforms.

The best movies of 2023, according to Boston.com readers

10. “Godzilla Minus One”

A scene from
A scene from “Godzilla Minus One.”

Boston.com readers were high on the newly released Japanese Godzilla film, which has found surprising success with Western audiences amidst rapturous reviews.

“Great acting, great direction, amazing visual effects, all on a $15 million budget,” wrote reader Scott P. “A big action flick with characters you actually care about. Hollywood could learn a thing or two from this movie.”

How to watch: “Godzilla Minus One” is currently in theaters.

8 (tie). “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”

Ethann Isidore, Harrison Ford, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in
Ethann Isidore, Harrison Ford, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.”

Harrison Ford was back in the saddle as Indiana Jones this summer, and readers found the hit of nostalgia too powerful to resist.

“Having grown up with Indiana Jones, this is the perfect, feel-good culmination of a lifetime body of work for Harrison Ford and Doctor Jones,” said Casey, a Boston.com reader from Raynham. “While the storyline and plot reflect similar episodes, there exists a sense of darkness and finality in Indy’s adventures, and even some level of closure with the Marion Ravenwood appearance at the end. And could we possibly see a Helena Shaw spinoff for the next generation of adventure seekers?”

How to watch: “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is streaming on Disney+.

8 (tie). “Poor Things”

The first of five movies to make both my list and the Boston.com reader list, Emma Stone was a clear favorite for everyone who watched her.

“It’s the most bold and imaginative film of the year from one of my favorite directors Yorgos Lanthimos,” said reader Chris S. “Emma Stone not only gives the performance of the year, but of her career.”

How to watch: “Poor Things” is currently in theaters.

7. “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret”

Rachel McAdams and Abby Ryder Fortson in
Rachel McAdams and Abby Ryder Fortson in “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”

Kelly Fremon Craig’s adaptation of the beloved Judy Blume coming-of-age novel was one of the best movies of the first half of 2023, and found its way into the reader top 10 as a result.

How to watch: “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” is streaming on Starz.

6. “Napoleon”

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Napoleon Bonaparte in
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Napoleon Bonaparte in “Napoleon.”

Is there any director currently working who can stage a historical epic like Ridley Scott? It’s no surprise that the combined powers of Scott and actor Joaquin Phoenix, playing the conquering Frenchman, found an audience with Boston.com readers.

How to watch: “Napoleon” is currently in theaters.

5. “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Scorsese’s masterpiece didn’t scare away Boston.com readers with its cruel violence and lengthy runtime, landing a spot in the top five.

How to watch: “Killers of the Flower Moon” is in theaters and available as a premium rental on Apple TV+.

4. “The Holdovers”

Filmed in Massachusetts, “The Holdovers” understandably struck a chord with Boston.com readers.

“They did such a nice job recreating ’70s Boston and Massachusetts,” wrote Mike K., a Boston.com reader from Chelsea. “The movie was funny, sad, relatable, and had many powerful messages.”

How to watch: “The Holdovers” is in theaters and available as a premium rental on Apple TV+. It begins streaming on Peacock on Dec. 29.

3. “Air”

Ben Affleck as Phil Knight in
Ben Affleck as Phil Knight in “Air.”

Speaking of hometown favorites, is anyone else shocked that a movie starring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon made this list?

The tale of Nike’s historic partnership with Michael Jordan was a “great and inspiring story,” according to Boston.com reader Matt D. of Hopkinton, who picked the film as his favorite of the year,

How to watch: “Air” is streaming on Prime Video.

2. “Barbie”

Much like the rest of America, Boston.com readers loved “Barbie” and — spoiler alert — the next film on this list.

“Loved the Barbie movie — it’s iconic,” said Victoria, a Boston.com reader from Waltham. “Quirky and fun. Just perfect!”

How to watch: “Barbie” is streaming on Max.

1. “Oppenheimer”

In the battle of “Barbenheimer,” Boston.com readers sided with Christopher Nolan’s film as the king atop the Best Movies of 2023 list.

How to watch: “Oppenheimer” is available for streaming rental or purchase via GoogleApple TVAmazon Prime Video, and other on-demand platforms.





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