Top Ten Movies | 2023

by Tim Gordon

Tumultous would be the best description of 2023 in film. In a year that featured labor unrest, dolls coming to life, stories about the creation of the atomic bomb, and human cloning, it was quite an eventful year at the box office.

In one of the most creative marketing campaigns conceived, Barbie and Oppenheimer became “Barbenheimer,” vaulting both films to record box-office numbers. The first signs of “Superhero fatigue” at the box office were repeatedly demonstrated by the low grosses of several films from both Marvel and DC, including Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, The Flash, and The Marvels, among others. The lone bright spots were James Gunn’s Marvel swan song, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3, and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

Tom Cruise made sure that his work at the Impossible Mission Force continued, the saga of John Wick continued and the biggest surprise at the box office was the power of the Super Mario Brothers. Speaking of surprises, both the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) employed lengthy strikes, which shut down the marketing of television and film projects for months as well as forcing delays for both tentpoles and indie films into next year.

Despite the cinematic obstacles that the industry and fans suffered collectively, there were several films that, to borrow a phrase from Rihanna, “shine like a diamond.” Below, are TheFilmGordon’s Top Ten Films of 2023:

Invisible Beauty
Several years ago, the story of influential mover and earth-shaker, Clarence Avant was brilliantly captured in Reginald Hudlin’s inspiring documentary, The Black Godfather. Now, subject and co-director Bethann Hardison and Frédéric Tcheng spotlight Hardison’s lifelong passion for fashion in the stirring story, Invisible Beauty. Initially, she got her start as a groundbreaking model and later as a tastemaker, discovering countless models and later championing their cause. Her impact on the fashion industry is vast and much like the late-great Avant, following in her footsteps will be challenging.

Rye Lane
In her directorial debut, Raine Allen-Miller hits all of the right notes in this well-written romantic comedy about a young couple that meets under challenging circumstances but over a day slowly falls in love in the tender tale, Rye Lane. Suffering the worst day of his life, Dom (David Jonsson) has a chance encounter with the curious but outgoing Yas (Vivian Oparah) who he can’t seem to shake – who not only lifts his spirits but who begins to give him purpose. This British rom-com shared the same romantic sensibility of Notting Hill, albeit on the other side of town.

Killers of the Flower Moon
Since his directorial debut back in 1967, auteur and master storyteller, Martin Scorsese has consistently challenged audiences with his films and many of them have become cinematic canon. His latest film, Killers of the Flower Moon is a rich, detailed story that centers on a set of serial murders in the Osage Nation and features both of his muses, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Deniro, as well as an outstanding. One of the five mavericks that changed Hollywood in the 1970s, Scorsese along with Brian DePalma, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, and George Lucas have redefined what is contemporary cinema; his latest continues in that tradition.

The vigorous pursuit of arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan’s sneaker endorsement is the subject of sports drama, Air. Directed and co-starring Ben Affleck, he surrounds himself with a talented cast including Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker, Marlon Wayans, and Oscar winner Viola Davis, which expertly takes the audience behind the scenes as Sonny Vaccaro tries to convince Nike boss Phil Knight that Jordan is not only the right person for the company to align with but that he could be a generational talent. Little did Vaccaro know, but the affiliation would not just change Nike’s fortune but those of sports and fashion fans to this day. The film brilliantly illustrates that fact and so much more.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
The sequel to the 2018 film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, not only equals its brilliance but manages to raise the bar. This time around Miles Morales (Shamiek Moore) teams Gwen Stacy and a group of fellow Spider-people across the multiverse in a visual cinematic feast for the audience.  Featuring a top-notch voice cast, including Hailee Steinfeld, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Vélez, Jake Johnson, Jason Schwartzman, Issa Rae, Karan Soni, Shea Whigham, Greta Lee, Daniel Kaluuya, Mahershala Ali, Oscar Isaac, the film crackles with creativity and is much more substance than dazzling style.

Little Richard: I Am Everything
One of two films that not just were produced by Lisa Cortés but also appear on this list. She also directed this documentary about the self-proclaimed “Architect of Rock and Roll,” Little Richard who finally gets his day in the sun in the extraordinary re-telling of his story. He has often stated that he was the “originator,” and Cortés story backs up Richard’s claim. Beginning with his humble beginnings and up through his hit-making period in the early-to-mid 1950s, Richard’s signature style influenced generations of performers and artists. The documentary also details Richard’s challenges and battles with his sexuality and his faith. While Richard rarely was recognized during his lifetime, this documentary will serve as a living testament to an artist who truly embodied “everything” that was possible in music.

Master filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s latest spotlights the life of nuclear physicist Robert J. Oppenheimer as he leads the Manhattan Project that would create the world’s first atomic bomb in 1945. Anchored by a sensational ensemble cast led by Cillian Murphy, alongside Robert J. Downey, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, and Florence Pugh, and a script by Nolan, he expertly captures the complex story of a man whose work would change the world. Similar to the way Prometheus was publicly tried and punished for his actions after “stealing fire from the gods,” Oppenheimer, who borrows a line from the Hindu sacred text the Bhagavad Gita, “‘Now I Am Become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds,” suffers a similar fate.

American Symphony
Soon after receiving eleven Grammy Award nominations, composer and artist Jon Baptiste finds out that his life partner, author Suleika Jaouad cancer has returned. This conflict is at the center of this portrait of two artists at a crossroads and a meditation on art, love, and the creative process, in American Symphony. The film explores an artist who is at the height of his professional creativity but also is supporting his partner through one of the most difficult seasons of her life. Directed by Oscar nominee Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land), his camera captures all of the empathy and vulnerability that Baptiste possesses, while also letting us experience his highs. A riveting look at the totality of an artist.

American Fiction
From his sizzling opening sequence through the film’s conclusion, writer/director Cord Jefferson’s story of a frustrated writer who in a moment of haste creates a story as a joke that becomes a critically acclaimed novel, much to his chagrin in American Fiction. Featuring a picture-perfect ensemble led by Jeffrey Wright, and featuring Tracee Ellis Ross, Sterling K. Brown, Leslie Uggams, Jon Ortiz and Adam Brody, Jefferson expertly weaves his story, based on Percival Everett’s 2001 book, Erasure, satirizes the system that attempts to victimize African Americans. Jefferson’s script is bitingly effective and humorous as well – simply one of the best films of the year.

When Isabel Wilkinson’s book, Caste: The Origin of Our Discontent was released, it thought that the book was unfilmable. In the hands of award-winning writer/director Ava DuVernay, she came up with a winning device that focused on Wilkinson’s struggle while theorizing that racism as we know it is just a caste system. Wilkinson’s research takes her from Nazi Germany to the Dalits / the Untouchables in India through the Jim Crow South to illustrate her point. Led by the sensational work of Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, alongside Jon Bernthal, Vera Farmiga, Audra McDonald, Niecy Nash-Betts, Nick Offerman, and Blair Underwood, Origin is DuVernay’s best and strongest film. Its heartbreaking third act is like a “cinematic punch in the soul” – powerful and utterly soul-crushing.