Another year has passed and it feels like we are all barreling through the 2020s like a freight train. It is hard to believe that I am getting close to 10 years of writing for Story Screen because some days it feels like I am just getting started. 2023 was not the easiest year for me, as the instability of the film and television industry which led to the WGA and SAG strikes (Solidarity to everyone affected and continuing to fight for the rights of all the industry workers) left me and thousands of out of work creatives and crew fighting for validity.
Nevertheless, I always look forward to writing about 10 or so of my favorite films and sharing them with you, the beautiful readers of Story Screen. This was a terrific year for film releases, with a healthy balance of innovative microbudget indies as well as blockbusters using every cent of their huge budgets to deliver true spectacles. The films that spoke to me the most, the ones that showed me images I didn’t think were possible, and the auteurs I have the greatest admiration for somehow getting better, which I did not believe was possible.
Before I get into the top 10 films of the year, I’d like to give an honorable mention to a handful of television shows I finished and greatly enjoyed over the past year. In no particular order!
The Fall of the House of Usher
Blue Eye Samurai
The Righteous Gemstones
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
I would also like to shout out a handful of video games I loved and got addicted to over the past year.Again, in no particular order.
Resident Evil 4 (2023)
Dead Space (2023)
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2
Street Fighter 6
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name
El Paso, Elsewhere
One more bulleted list! These are the films I had a lot of fun with and/or had a substantial quality to them, but did not quite qualify for the final 10. Still would highly recommend any and all films listed here.
How to Blow Up a Pipeline
Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
Evil Dead Rise
Shin Kamen Rider
And now, here are my 10 favorite films of 2023. These are mostly unordered. As I’ve gotten older, it’s been more difficult for me to rank pieces of art that have spoken to me as one over another, but these are the 10 that left me with the biggest and most positive impressions. Regrettably, I did not get to see every film I would have liked to see before finalizing this list. It seems as though certain distributors do not find the Hudson Valley to be a particular zone of any interest to release certain films, but I digress.
This is a film I can’t easily recommend to everyone (starting off this list great, right?). It has an extremely unconventional method of storytelling. It is vague, obscure, still, and there isn’t really a human face that appears on screen for most of the runtime. It is a film heavily reliant on atmosphere and interpretation, and not everyone wants to do the homework for that, which I understand. I was not fully on board with Skinamarink directly after leaving the theater, but as its harrowing and upsetting imagery and oppressively bleak atmosphere crept into my brain as I walked through my empty and dark house, I knew the film had a more powerful effect on me than I had originally realized. Director Kyle Edward Ball accomplishes so much with so little, not just creating a piece that’s scary, but also emanates pure malice.
Beau is Afraid
You have to respect A24 granting Ari Aster their biggest budget (at the time) and letting him craft something so personal and, at the same time, so bizarre and alienating. A true big-budget film for sickos. The first and last acts are definitely stronger than the middle section, which unfortunately drags along a little, but the film is an uncompromising and hilarious vision. It constantly throws me for a loop with its insane twists and turns to an almost exhausting degree, while also featuring one of my favorite Joaquin Phoenix performances.
When Evil Lurks
When the vice president of a horror streaming service directly tells you he’s particularly excited about a recent acquisition, you know you’re in for something special. A truly mean-spirited gross-out demon possession horror film that fully commits to its apocalyptic atmosphere, as we watch our protagonist's family spiral towards their eventual dooms attempting to prevent an infection from spreading to everyone around them. Turns out, that’s not an easy task, as we’ve all come to learn. Sometimes, people just can’t help themselves from giving in. The rest I will leave unsaid, however. This is a film that benefits from a blind watch. It’s on Shudder, go watch it and feel bad!!
The Iron Claw
It is a shame that The Iron Claw was released so late into the year in such a crowded market. I hope people discover it and receive its flowers over time because it’s truly deserved. An incredibly crafted and affecting melodrama about the most tragic celebrity family ever, next to the Kennedys maybe. A gripping and heartbreaking story of loss, family, masculinity, and the limits of how we push our minds and bodies for our art, anchored by a terrific ensemble.
David Fincher performs a victory lap, fully indulging in the dark, precise, and stylish atmosphere he’s perfected over his 30-year career. On the surface, this appears to be a cold and brooding film about a stone-faced bad MF operating at the highest level of murder that this character archetype has been so solidified as. However, the film blossoms into an exploration of self-doubt, the loneliness and mundanity of freelance work, and the realization that one may be more human and vulnerable than how they present themselves. It’s so simple in its execution, but so satisfying.
Godzilla Minus One
Combining the Western influences of Jaws and Dunkirk, Takashi Yamazaki’s Godzilla Minus One reinvents and revitalizes the 70-year-old monster into not only an exciting and scary action blockbuster, but a truly life-affirming and moving character study exploring chosen families, collective trauma, and regular people banding together to do something their higher powers failed to do for them. It’s terrific stuff, and I’m so happy for its success. I hope future films get as weird and surreal as certain Showa and Heisei-era Godzilla films do while still retaining the strong emotional core this film has. It’d be tough to pull off but I’d still like to see it!
John Wick: Chapter Four
The highest level of action filmmakers collaborating with the highest level stunt team currently working today to deliver a modern-day Odyssey that concludes the greatest action series of the 21st century. There are sequences in this that I fear may never be beaten. Our hero has been finally set free, but not before he paints his Sistine Chapel with gunpowder and brain matter.
Glenn Howerton. He’s from Waterloo, where the vampires hang out. This is probably my most rewatched film of 2023. So effortlessly entertaining as a hilarious and tragic display of the most innovative men of their time and their capacity to fumble the bag so destructively. Matt Johnson deserves the world (or at least a third season of Nirvanna the Band the Show).
The most elating success story of 2023 is that a 3-hour historical courtroom drama made a billion dollars at the box office. You have all seen it by now. You know exactly how much of a monumental achievement Oppenheimer is. Christopher Nolan collects his 25 years of masterfully crafted spectacle and distills it down to the human face.
Killers of the Flower Moon
I’m eternally grateful we still have Martin Scorsese. 50 years into his career and he is still at the top of his game, this time guiding us by the hand and having us stare into the abyss of American History. His editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, continues to be the best in the business 50 years into her career as well, with a three-and-a-half-hour film that feels like no time has gone by at all. This is a bleak, and heartbreaking film chronicling an entire culture that was almost erased by greed and bloodthirsty men. It’s not an easy watch by any means, but it is in every regard, essential.
I’ll see you around in 2024, hopefully seeing more great movies.
Jeremy is a long-time supporter of and contributor to the Story Screen Fam, as well as the entire Hudson Valley Film community, as a writer, filmmaker, film worker, and general film fan. You can find him sifting through the most obscure corners of horror, martial arts, comedy, noir, and crime drama cinema, always on the hunt to discover something new, strange, and exciting.