The BP Top Ten of 2023

10. Priscilla

Sofia Coppola was one of the earliest directors to home in on the value of liminality in modern cinema, the notion that film can be constructed around the moments between the big touchstones of life. In a positive sense, this is the antithesis to Luhrman’s Elvis film from last year. Priscilla is about Priscilla. It’s as simple as that, but of course, the narrative, their relationship, how it was cultivated, and how it was maintained is anything but. The minutiae of life is the standard of quality that Coppola attains, and her latest is one of the best examples of her distinctive direction capturing the climate of a moment, realizing the weight of time or the measure of a person, and all of that is magnified by her emphasis on unique touchstones wholly reliant on character rather than structure. 


9. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is an incredible sequel that matches, if not surpasses, the first by delving even further into the limitless possibilities that come with animation. Beyond just being an excuse to delve into comic lore and find excuses for action, there’s a nuanced story commenting on fan culture, the growth into adulthood, a continued exploration of various clashes of cultures, and it’s all happening through the eyes of a character who, frankly, looks like me. Bursting with life, color, and wit, Across the Spider-Verse is a boundary-defying feature that looks incredible, provides so much entertainment, and relies on proper emotional stakes, putting it toe-to-toe with whatever else I would consider the “best” of the superhero genre. It is a blast to watch, and seeing so much imagination on display shows how much fun it is to see so many do whatever a spider can and so much more.


8. Killers of the Flower Moon

Killers of the Flower Moon is a film full of sorrow and tragedy concerning how Native Americans and their land was and still is corrupted by powerful white men from the outside looking to capitalize on oil and anything else that could make them rich. At the center of this true-to-life story framed as a wounding western, are three mesmerizing performances from Scorsese regulars Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, as well as Lily Gladstone, who is on the path to breakout as more than just an indie darling. Working with Scorsese means working with the best, so it’s no surprise that everything from the production design to the cinematography to the music by the late Robbie Robertson is top-notch. True to form, the choice to angle so much of the narrative around the evil causing so much disarray means the film invites its viewers to be more probing, and respecting them enough to know whether something is being glorified. Differentiating the movie from other Scorsese films is emphasizing the Osage people, with their presence looming over the wicked ones going after them. The director doesn’t overstep; he knows his limitations in capturing pure authenticity, and the intentions only become more evident with his all-timer of a closing epilogue. A deliberately paced epic that’s rewarding thanks to the master at the helm.


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

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. is the most charming, pleasant film of the year that also acts as an interrogation of faith, family, and reaching an age at which you’re ready to ask the big questions, but completely unprepared to answer them. Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig adapts Judy Blume’s landmark novel with verve and passion, dedicating her soul to its humor and her humor to the characters, who are richly drawn, specific to their time period but their issues far from beholden to them. Abby Ryder Fortson is a new star, and in a film overflowing with truly outstanding supporting performances (Kathy Bates, Elle Graham, Katherine Kupferer prime among them), Rachel McAdams still stands markedly out, delivering her best performance to date, showcasing the warmth and charm that has made her one for twenty years.


6. Barbie

Barbie was undeniably the most fun I had at the movies this year. I was laughing from almost the first frame. I’ve never really been a Greta Gerwig or Noah Baumbach fan, but Barbie just works for me. I appreciate its message of female empowerment and acknowledgement that a Hollywood beauty standard is unrealistic. But I also like how fun and silly it is while never really making a mockery of Barbie and people who love(d) the dolls. 


5. May December

After a relative fallow period in which he wasn’t making exclusively masterpieces, Todd Haynes returns to screens large and small with one of his greatest. A nuanced examination of the parasitical impulse in art, the (in)stability of family, the impossibility of really knowing another person, and the vital importance of owning a scale, May December gives us three people trapped in adolescence, trying to play at being adults, and to one degree or another coming up short. With a sharp, biting screenplay by first-time writer Samy Burch, and a trio of expert performances by Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, and Charles Melton, the film has alternately stunned, puzzled, and thankfully even offended some audiences, and left even its deepest admirers admitting there’s more yet to explore.


4. The Zone of Interest

The power of Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest lies in everything that it is not. On paper, it’s the story of a good German family, with a dedicated, hard-working head of household, whose career causes some strain in his family life. But no one watching the film would ever say that’s what it’s about. It’s about what lies barely in the margins, right on the other side of the wall, and the way that, try as they might, they can’t really keep it out. Their victims tend their garden, the bones of those they’ve killed flow through their stream. The sound – the ghastly, harrowing sounds of misery, torture and murder – float into their windows day and night. The horror of the film is not simply that these things happened, but that people could live next to it, day in and day, out and believe that what they were doing was good. To those that have complained that focusing on the perpetrators humanizes them – this is the point. We don’t need another movie to show us Nazis were inhuman monsters. We need movies that remind us that regular people can do inhuman, monstrous things. 


3. Past Lives

Celine Song’s directorial debut Past Lives is soft, touching, and bittersweet. It follows childhood friends growing apart over the years when one moves to Canada and the other stays in South Korea. Now adults, the pair come back together in New York City, only to find their connection is as strong as ever, but their lives are more different than they could ever imagine. A heartbreaking romance — centered on excellent performances from Greta Lee and Teo Yoo — in the same vein as Brief EncounterBefore Sunrise, and Call Me By Your Name.


2. Anatomy of a Fall

Anatomy of a Fall masterfully examines the difficult subject of truth. It is fascinating to get a glimpse into the French judicial system. As an American watching the film, I felt like an outsider trying to understand the language and the proceedings. The lead character, Sandra, is a German and also experiences the trial as an outsider who is not fluent in French. As a viewer you have to figure out how you determine the truth when you only have one person’s account of what happened. Also how do you judge a family from the outside in? I was engaged and in suspense right until the end of the film. 


1. Oppenheimer

Christopher Nolan has, from his early films Following and Memento, on through his Batman trilogy and in-between crowdpleasers like The Prestige and Inception, been captivated by the theme of the stories we tell ourselves to assert a sense of identity. That may seem an odd approach to take in crafting a biopic of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, but that is precisely what the film runs with – is Oppenheimer a scientist? A politician? A communist? A womanizer? A cunning strategist? A victim? A mass murderer? A genius? A traitor? Various figures will accuse him of all these and more, and his assertions for or against are just as often about getting the upper hand in those exchanges as getting to a sense of the truth. Written, directed, performed, photographed, edited, and scored to the speed of thought, Oppenheimer taps into its surprisingly-vast audience’s potential, curiosity, and fascination with our collective history and their own lives, becoming the year’s surprising blockbuster and its most acclaimed film. It’s rare when we can have both, and it’s a genuine pleasure to experience.


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2 Responses

  1. Mike says:

    I enjoyed all your choices except ‘Barb’ (good for its market but its flash couldn’t reach an emotion in me). Great year for Sandra Hüller – ‘Zone’ and ‘Anatomy’ will explode her career at age 45.

    My favourites include several of yours so here’s 10 that exclude them:

    The Eight Mountains (Belgium set Italy friendship drama)

    The Teachers’ Lounge (Germany school drama)

    Next Sohee (Korea drama thriller)

    Close (Belgium school child friendship drama)

    Inshallah a Boy (Jordan female oppression drama)

    The Persian Version (USA-Iran immigrant family comedy)

    The Artifice Girl (USA philosophical indie sci-fi drama)

    Poor Things (Frankenstein meets My Pretty Lady)

    Green Border (Poland immigrant drama thriller)

    Bad Lands (Japan crime drama)

    I look forward to seeing Perfect Days, American Fiction, The Boy and the Heron, Housekeeping for Beginners and Tótem .

    • Battleship Pretension says:

      Of the ten you list, I love The Eight Mountains, The Teachers’ Lounge, Poor Things and Green Border. And, unfortunately, I absolutely despised Close. As for the rest, thanks for the recommendations!

      – David

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