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Mike's Top 23 Films of 2023

It is literally impossible to be a person who ranks their favorite movies of the year. You watched so many movies and you are so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be watching new movies, but somehow we’re always missing the important ones.

You have to be "artsy," but not too "artsy." And you can never say you want to watch "artsy" movies. You have to say you want to be comprehensive, but also you have to be "artsy." You have to have taste, but you can’t explore other tastes because that makes you unoriginal, and you can't say you have broad taste because that makes you egotistical. You have to be a free-thinking individual, but you can’t just skip seeing the “most popular movies of the year.” 

You have to dislike certain movies, but you can’t squash other people’s liking of those movies. You’re supposed to love watching weird movies but don’t talk about that new Finnish film all the damn time. You have to be a film critic, but also, always be looking out for just having a good time. You have to justify your enjoyment of cheesy, well-made, fun movies, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of being a contrarian. You’re supposed to stay witty for the readers, but not so witty that you taunt them too much or that you threaten other folk's opinions because you’re supposed to be a part of the cinephile inner circle. But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged by studios not releasing certain movies near you, you have no way to see them, no matter how hard you try. So, find a way to acknowledge that, but also always be grateful.

You have to never get too sassy, never be pretentious, never use the same adjective to describe two different movies, never be too appreciative of blockbusters, never dismiss that international indie film that played at like three theaters, never say how many movies you watched in one year, never put too many honorable mentions, never leave out the most culturally important movie of the year, even if you didn't love it all that much. It’s too hard to only pick ten movies, alright?! It’s too contradictory and nobody gives you a quote tweet or says "Great list! Definitely going to check some of these out!!" And it turns out, in fact, that not only are you not liking the RIGHT movies, but also everything wrong with Maestro is now your fault, even the nose.

I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other movie-lover tie themselves into knots so that people will like their Best of the Year lists. And if all of that is also true for one guy just representing his taste in the new movies he watched this past year, then I don’t even know.

Okay. Let's punch it!

23. Bottoms

Fight Club for cool people. Emma Seligman's follow-up to the outrageously great Shiva Baby shows that she is on the correct path towards becoming not just one of the most exciting new voices in movies, but one of the most unique. Ayo Edebiri and Rachel Sennott continue to be some of the best to do it, supported here by a cast of actors that completely get the bit. A very special blend of comedy, heart, and raunchy inspirations, Bottoms was, joke-for-joke, the funniest movie of the year.

22. Talk to Me

There's something impressive to me about a low-budget, high-concept horror movie that gets pulled off with such confidence and flair. The "Hand That Makes You Spooky," horror flick of 2023 escaped me for a very long time, but once I finally sat down and caught it, I was hooked, much like many of the characters in the film that take part in the "possession as party drug" concept. With an amazing lead performance by Sophie Wilde, Talk to Me is always unnerving, thought-provoking, and just straight-out dang scary AF, while holding that key element to all successful horror: a clean thematic metaphor. A horror movie lover's type of new horror movie.

21. Afire

Artistic creation is a fickle lil’ beast. Even more fickle when you truly don't have your shit together, something most creatives would immediately attest to. Writer/director Christopher Petzold, who previously made one of my favorite movies of the last twenty years, Transit, lays all the emotions involved in artistic creativity out for autopsy and deserved judgment. Paula Bear is just ripping it apart in this movie in the small ways she does best. Thomas Schubert fully encapsulates the try-hard yet writer-block-ridden artist with the exact amount of wanted empathy and unnecessary desperation the character needs.

20. May December

Todd Haynes' latest movie is just as loving and depressing as the director's filmography would have you come to expect. Darkly comedic, and expertly acted and constructed, the film became one of the biggest "Could it?" movies of 2023 when it came to audience reception and awards buzz. Charles Melton is out-of-control good in this. Both Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore deliver on their unique capabilities to bring a certain sharpness to their star power, both of which play out beautifully in the picture. You can never really pinpoint who the main character is in this movie, and that's just a sliver of what makes it so special.

19. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Gimmie gimmie gimmie! The next installment in the multiverse-spanning, better content-creating universe of Spider-Man is nothing short of a miracle. It simultaneously leans on the successes of the original (if it ain't broke, don't fix it), while not only taking aim, but firing on all cylinders at how far its creators can push this form. This chapter builds on the expectations of the world, not only in form but also in how the audience of the world will react. Emotions fluctuate, characters reenter, the universe becomes bigger, and the stakes zone in, leaving us with one of the best cliffhangers in a massive blockbuster since The Empire Strikes Back, not just in scope, but more importantly, in character.

18. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

One of the biggest surprises of 2023 for me was not in the form of a skinny legend building a bomb or a plastic doll teaching the world about gynecology (we'll get to those films soon enough, I swear), it came in Kelly Fremon Craig's ridiculously well-executed coming-of-age film based on one of the most well-known books of all time. A book that I have not read. While I was somewhat familiar with the content of the story, I was completely wrong, and I had no idea what this movie was actually about, and this led to an amazing viewing experience. Overflowing with stellar performances from both faces new and old, it's the type of feel-good movie we don't get that often, and it truly had me sobbing out of despair and happiness throughout. When we talk about the good stuff in movies these days, this is a perfect example.

17. Priscilla

In my opinion, Sofia Coppola has reached the point in her career that few achieve and many dread: she's made so many bonkers good movies that the world at large takes it for granted. If anyone else had made this thing we wouldn't be hearing the end of it. Coppola takes the story of the woman "aside" one of the most famous figures in American pop culture and breathes her sensuality and silent art into every frame. At some moments the film feels like The Virgin Suicides, and at others, like Lost in Translation. But regardless of all this, Priscilla always feels like it is in conversation with itself, constantly hurtling towards an end that can only be bittersweet. Cailee Spaeny will rule the world soon enough.

16. Maestro

Bradley Cooper is a guy who loves movies. He loves to star in them, produce them, make them, talk about them and support them. He's the cinephile's director. His directorial debut, A Star is Born, was one of the most impressive things to happen in the past decade, mostly because of his turn from how the public had previously perceived him. Leaning even harder into the "you don't know me" of it all, Maestro sees him set his sights on one of the most prolific and mysterious figures in modern music: Leonard Bernstein. Cooper's performance is electric, try-hard as it may seem. Heck, electricity looks like it's working pretty hard to me. Carey Mulligan's exuberant but still focused performance seems to ground the more lavish elements of Cooper's, which all plays into the director's expertly crafted frames of a man that loved too much and thought he knew all the same.

15. Beau is Afraid

Ladies and gentlemen, we did it. We supported Ari Aster through his fantastic dark family comedy. We praised him for his amazing work on a hyper-bright, drug-induced story of love and loss. And now, we get his junior album, where all bets are off: a nightmare of anxiety with the biggest budget A24 has yet to offer. The results were delicious. I caught this one late, so I had already been privy to the divisiveness of the flick, and honestly, I think I was all the better for it. It’s an odyssey (ugh) of extreme realism but also hyper-reality, all held together by what I'm pretty sure is Joaquin Phoenix's most insane performance (I'll have to check on that). And Parker Posey, everybody. Let's take a moment to stan the legend.

14. Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One

The worst part about M:I-DRP1 is that it was always going to be a P1, and the movie doesn't do the greatest job in changing those expectations; it’s very much the first part of a whole story. The Mission: Impossible franchise has always been one that can just go into a new chapter without any need to know what came before. Sure, it enhances the story, but it's never a requirement. That being said, all the good toys are back on the floor for McQuarrie and Cruise to play with, including a lavish budget that keeps pushing the limits of what these movies can get away with. What works so well with this installment, however, is the same that worked best with the previous installment, Fallout, which also had no shortage of amazing effects and stunt work. It's the small moments with the characters, the moments that make us truly like them, therefore root for them when the cash starts to spread across the screen. These small car chases and quiet talks around a table are what makes these movies so universally enthralling, and it's obvious they are ramping up speed for a wild finale.

13. Barbie

Who would've thought Greta Gerwig had it in her? I ask that question as someone who has been a huge fan of hers for a very long time, and has seen her career take twists and turns, from actor-turned-writer/director, to making one of the best movies of the year, two times in a row. And now it's three. What Gerwig does here is nothing short of spectacular, seemingly creating an entirely different way to make a movie and communicate a theme. Razor blade commentary disguised in bubble gum flavored soda, this movie is jettisoned into insane heights by the actors involved, most especially, Margot Robbie's jaw-dropping portrayal of a dreamlike person becoming real before our very eyes. Oh, also it's clearly just Oppenheimer for girlz.

12. The Killer

Leave it to David Fincher to turn a hitman-revenge movie into a commentary on modern day consumerism and the self-indulgence of our inner thoughts as 21st-century control freaks. A wickedly stylish (almost too much so) action thrill ride from start to finish, The Killer practically throws the whole cake in the face of other, more standard genre fare from recent times, showing what can be done when you truly give as much of a shit as Fincher does, (which is also almost too much). I can't wait to get to eat a McDonald's breakfast sandwich like that next time I'm there.

11. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

The good praise we were all hearing about this film was one thing, but I didn't expect the best family-fantasy film since checks notes like, Willow? Ladyhawke?? Fucking Legend?!?!?! They certainly don't make ‘em like this anymore, and honestly, I'm not sure they ever did it this well. I could still feel the energy from the audience days after my first watch. This flick is simply one of the most confident and competent movies I’ve seen in a LONG time, like the word "charming" doesn’t even cut it. Michelle Rodriguez continues to be the sleeper action star of a generation. I would kill and die for Jarnathan, who is my friend.

10. Godzilla Minus One (Gojira Mainasu Wan/Mainasu Karā)

Breathtaking stuff, ladies and gentlemen. There's nothing like a good Godzilla movie, especially because we seem to not get them too often. This installment puts everything on display that makes this franchise so damn entertaining and endearing: human beings going through emotional trauma and being devastated by the very spectacle that we, the audience, have come to see. This movie does an amazing job of taking us along for the story of these people, making us truly care about the outcome, even though everybody's favorite big boi is comin' on up to make it as difficult for them as he can.

9. Poor Things

My second favorite movie character named Bella has arrived! Yorgos Lanthimos continues to tombstone the hell out of the competition of freaky directors who are getting massive appeal from wide audiences. I'm so proud of my ‘lil creepy cutie-pie, who has made odd movie after odd movie, and now arrives with a megaphone to exclaim just how horny he truly is. The movie is just the right amount of Frankenstein-inspired, which transitions hard into a goof, whimsical coming-of-age story. Mark Ruffalo being confused and cutting off mid-sentence to say, “What the fuck are you talking about??” is like watching Michael Jordan slam dunk from center court. Magical stuff.

8. Fallen Leaves (Kuolleet lehdet)

One of the most artfully executed communications of how much work can suck. There's just no stopping Aki Kaurismäki, even though he is obviously taking his time and enjoying every moment he is capturing for the screen. The film's aggressive vulnerability is chemically designed to catch you off guard at certain moments, and there is one scene in particular that had everyone’s jaws on the floor in my theater for a full minute. Sweet and bitter, the way all good movies tend to be.

7. The Boy and the Heron (Kimitachi wa Dō Ikiru ka)

This Miyazaki guy is pretty good at these ‘lil cartoon movies, huh? The long-anticipated next (last?) film from the Studio Ghibli genius was well worth the wait. It elegantly strings together some of the artist's most classic traits from past films, as well as his usual flair for deep themes and sensual environments. As Miyazaki gets older, his appreciation for life and beauty seems to only grow more innocent and powerful, a rare evolution for most people, let alone artists. While I'm very excited to eventually catch the original Japanese version, this is yet again another shining example of how English dubs should be done: with fantastically talented and interesting actors making interesting decisions on how to bring the tone of Miyazaki through to audiences of any language and age.

6. Passages

Come for the galaxy brain-level sweater game, stay for the emotional scarring of a lifetime! Narcissists, beware! One of my most anticipated movies of the year, starring my darling dirtball fuckboy, Franz Rogowski, continues to bring a seemingly unheard of energy to cinema that can't be found or duplicated anywhere else. And this time he's got the powerhouse backing of  Adèle Exarchopoulos and Ben Whishaw, who both serve up what I think are their best performances to date (give or take a few bear movies). There are so many moments in this movie that made me squirm, but also loads of tender scenes that made my heart fill up until it was about to burst. To be clear: this is in no way a feel good movie, it's just very pretty and I like it.

5. Killers of the Flower Moon

Our Short King© has done it again. Even as a massive Scorsese fan (and occasional defender) I found it hard to say, "Let him cook," when learning of the story he was adapting and the runtime it had landed on. But, boy howdy, that there's a movie up on yonder screen! DiCaprio and De Niro hit it out of the park, supported by a murderers' row of character actors and talents that would make John Papsidera blush. But of course, this is the Lily Gladstone show, who imbues her character with such realism and depth that it almost becomes hard to think about her as a real person whose job it was to act in a Martin Scorsese movie. She's equally powerful in Reservation Dogs, and it's no surprise she's annihilating the awards competition. What Scorsese is able to accomplish with this horrendous true story and massive cast of talent is nothing short of a masterpiece, another notch in the belt of one of greatest to ever play the game and easily, one of his best, most well-made movies.

4. Anatomy of a Fall (Anatomie d'une chute)

Crazy trials, sexy lawyers, boppin’ tracks and cuddly dogs. What more could you possibly ask for from one of the best thrillers of the 21st century? Justine Triet creates a mystery within a mysterious world, centered around a mysterious woman, with every unknowable aspect feeding into the next, spiraling the audience into further confusion and intrigue. Courtroom thrillers are one of my favorite sub-genres and one we've lost in recent times (or had really terrible entries). However, Triet and cinematographer Simon Beaufils, craft an order to the story using only a few sets, creating a constrictive world where it seems impossible for something like this to be so perplexing. The film constantly introduces new evidence and motives that have you rarely blaming others, but becoming more disoriented at the idea of what the truth could actually become.

3. Oppenheimer

An almost unbelievable achievement, not only in Christopher Nolan's career, but in filmmaking as a medium moving forward. Creativity and technique collide on both sides of the camera for three hours of pure, "We indeed know what the fuck we are doing," firing on all cylinders. With an insane supporting cast, anchored by Cillian Murphy in full God-mode, as well as Alden Ehrenreich begging us to forgive him, what should feel like a slog is presented and edited in such a fashion that the episodic nature of the film never becomes tiresome. There's more than enough to talk about here without ever straying too far from the purpose: telling the story of a man who made a terrible decision in hopes we wouldn't do the same, and learning that he was tragically wrong. And that music cue when Emily Blunt refuses to shake Benny Safdie’s hand? The movies, ladies and gentlemen! They're back!!!

2. All of Us Strangers

One of the most affecting movies about longing and connectivity, Andrew Haigh's high-concept emotional drama is a mesmerizing example of how a fictional story can be made to feel intimate. The entire cast's decisions and sensitivities operate like a machine made to make the viewer explode with ALL the feelings. But it's Jamie Bell, who plays the young version of Andrew Scott's deceased father, who just obliterates everything around him whenever he says anything with that fantastic little mustache. A movie about contemplation, about attachment, about apprehension, about acceptance, about death, about life, about loss, about love. Also, super cookie eating work by Andrew Scott in the opening moments of this movie. Channeling my desired energy.

1. Past Lives

Celine Song's debut is a perfect mirror of my favorite film of 2022, Aftersun. Both are brilliantly captivating and devastatingly charming, propelled by expert-level visual language and performances that knock your socks right off and into the hamper. Greta Lee and Teo Yoo are astonishing in this thing, but you know your white boy over here was just digging on everything my little neurotic John Magaro was doing the whole time. Like all good pieces of storytelling, no one part should work without the other. Past Lives operates on an efficient assembly line of seemingly real people, dealing with something every single person on the planet has dealt with: “Did I make the right decision, and what does that even mean?” While this is definitely one of the more defining, universal aspects of the film, it's also a deeply personal tale of immigration and identity, handled with the same care as its delicate "love story." There are moments in the movie that will live with me forever, which is always a very defining attribute of what ultimately ends up being my favorite films of all time. Just perfect. This movie is perfect. It’s perfect.


Air, Eileen, Evil Dead Rise, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, The Holdovers, Infinity Pool, The Iron Claw, John Wick: Chapter 4, Knock at the Cabin, Rye Lane, Scrapper, Showing Up, and When Evil Lurks.

And a quick shoutout to some TV shows I loved: Barry, The Bear, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Last of Us, Our Flag Means Death, Perry Mason, Poker Face, Reservation Dogs, and Scott Pilgrim Takes Off.


Mike Burdge

Founder / Editor-in-Chief

Mike is the Editor-in-Chief, Founder, and Programmer for Story Screen. When he isn't watching movies, you can find him reading and listening to things about people watching movies. He currently resides in Poughkeepsie, NY with his partner Diana and their three cats: Willow, Hank, and Freddy.



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