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Here is my obligatory/traditional annual top 10 list of movies, ranked according to mainstream standards. In other words, weird movies are allowed on this list, but I attempt to rank the 2023 releases according to their general cinematic merit, intended for people who don’t specialize in the surrealer genres. If you want an advance peek at the weird list (coming tomorrow), check out our latest episode of Pod 366.

There are a fair number of films that might have made this list but for the fact that I didn’t have time to get to them in 2023. Notably, I wasn’t able to screen awards contenders All of Us Strangers, American Fiction, American Symphony, Anatomy of a Fall, Apolonia Apolonia, The Color Purple, Fallen Leaves, Ferrari, Four Daughters, Maestro, May December, The Mother of All Lies, Rustin, Saltburn, Society of the Snow, The Taste of Things, or The Zone of Interest before drafting this list. I expect to see most of these before awards voting season concludes, and some of them may end up deserving inclusion here.

Before the official top ten starts, here are 2023’s numerous honorable mentions, in alphabetical order: Beau is Afraid, Beyond Utopia, Blackberry, Blind Willow Sleeping Woman, Dream Scenario, Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, Give Me Pity!, John Wick 4, Killers of the Flower Moon, Lynch/Oz, Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1, Past Lives, Robot Dreams, Suzume, Talk to Me, Unicorn Wars, Unidentified Objects, and When Evil Lurks.

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And now, the official list:

10. Once Within a Time: Curtains open on a glowing, chanting golden tree woman, then children watch a couple with wicker cages around their heads wander through incidents of apocalypse, technology, and wonder. Simultaneously ancient and hyper-modern, Godfrey  Reggio‘s visually-stunning surrealist experimental feature is as an apocalyptic dispatch from the far reaches of reality and a major cinematic event of 2023. With a new Philip Glass score, Iranian vocalist Sussan Deyhim as a tree-mother-goddess-spirit with a glowing heart, and a very special guest star as a pied piper who speaks in saxophone solos. Under an hour long, but because of its esoteric nature (Reggio dubs it a “bardic fairy tale”) its exposure was limited to museums and major art-house venues; hopefully it will find it’s way onto disc/streaming services soon.

9. The Origin of Evil [L’Origine du mal]: A sardine factory worker (a ruthless but needy Laure Calamy) reconnects with her rich, estranged father, who lives in an isolated mansion with four women, each of whom have their own secrets and schemes. A meticulously plotted French film where no one may be who they seem, slowly unraveling a great deal of nasty behavior amidst a sprinkling of satire and split screens. You’ll be wondering who’s plotting against whom—and with what ultimate motive—right up until the final scene.

8. Barbie: Barbie (and Comic Relief Ken) head to the real world after imperfections start turning up in Barbieland. Although it is, at bottom, a toy commercial, it’s constructed so that you can view it as a feminist satire, or brush that all off and enjoy it as a fluffy popcorn comedy with some of the funniest scenes and characters of 2023 (both Ken and “weird Barbie” are a blast, and even the awkward Allan gets chance to shine). It’s also woke, but unless you’re Ben Shapiro, you’ll be laughing to hard to be triggered. A worthy half of an Internet meme. Caring parents: pass on Senator Barbie, buy your kid Weird Barbie instead.

Weird Barbie

7. Infinity Pool: A couple on vacation in an unspecified third world paradise in the unspecified future accidentally run down a local while driving drunk and learn of that country’s strange legal arrangement: for a generous donation, they can substitute a clone for execution in death penalty cases. Moral corruption from son-of-David Brandon Cronenberg, who has a magnum of his fathers’ style but continues to deliver strong sci-fi/horror that’s both familiar and new. This slick, sick satire serves as a dual metaphor for first-world privilege and self-destructive behavior. When it comes to depravity, (whose huge 2022 bled into 2023) steals the show .

6. Oppenheimer: Theoretical physicist Robert Oppenheimer successfully heads the Manhattan Project, but his pre-war flirtations with Communist intellectuals endanger his reputation in the McCarthy years. The uncompromising script, which jumps around in time and expects the viewer to have at least an inkling of who Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg are, is structured like a political thriller, while exploring a burden of personal responsibility never before experienced by any other human being on the planet. The cast and timelines can get bit confusing at times, but the inherent drama and cinematic power blows up any complaints. The bitter to Barbie‘s sweet in the summer’s hit confectionery.

5. 20 Days in Mariupol: An AP reporter and his team stay in Maripoul for 20 days after the Russian invasion begins, documenting the experiences of civilians under siege (including the notorious bombing of a maternity hospital). A surgeon working on a wounded four-year-old demands the camera “keep filming!” 20 days later, the city is 90% rubble, and the crew takes the last caravan out. This is history captured in real time, an irreplaceable human account of what it feels like to be a civilian when the bombs start falling on your hometown. Best of all, the best documentary of 2023 is available for free on YouTube, courtesy of PBS and the AP.

4. Asteroid City: A colorful cast of characters assembled for a 1955 science fair are trapped in the Mojave hamlet of Asteroid City after an extraterrestrial event causes the military to declare a quarantine. pushes his trademark artificiality and stageyness to near its breaking point, focusing on space-age desert aesthetics while propping up the main plot with a “behind the scenes” meta element. The midpoint scene is as unexpected (and hilarious) as anything appearing onscreen in 2023. An appealing ensemble cast, led by and , sharp (if restrained) dialogue, and constant humor and surprises overcome any complaints. Although Anderson’s movies are always clever and pretty, this one reveals new depths of thoughtfulness and sublimated emotion. It reveals new layers with a second viewing.

3. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse: 15-year-old Miles Morales re-enters the multiverse, encountering new alternate reality Spider-men (like Indian Spider-man and punk Spider-man) while facing a new enemy bent on destruction and learning secrets about his own identity. Spider-verse brings abstract and experimental animation—sub-universes as drawn by Chagall or Da Vinci—to a mass audience, while creating a completely involving comic epic. This is peak popcorn entertainment; with this second triumph, this animated Spider-man series establishes itself as Miles ahead of Marvel’s live-action offerings. Warning: it ends on a cliffhanger.

2. The Boy and the Heron: A Japanese boy who has lost his mother in WWII meets a mysterious heron creature who guides him into a fantastic netherworld between the living and dead. 82-year-old (coming out of retirement for the third time) proves his imagination and design sensibilities haven’t dimmed with age–witness the man-eating parakeets–and Heron ranks alongside his best work, with a minor complaint being that it wraps up too abruptly. And yes, it’s also weird (in that peculiar Miyazaki way). Full review coming soon.

Still from The Boy and the Heron (2023)

  1. Poor Things: Bella, a mad scientist’s creation with (literally) the mind of a child, runs off with a rakish attorney to explore the world. The cast (especially Emma Stone, a shoo-in for a Best Actress nod) are magnificent, the production design (with steampunk elements) is enchanting, and the entirety of this  Frankenstein story turned social satire is sprinkled with magic and wit. If you’re looking for downsides, it is perhaps a tad long, a bit oversexed (full-frontal nudity and a large number of “jumping” scenes), and Yorgos Lanthimos’ random experiments with different lenses can be distracting. But I wouldn’t worry about such poor drawbacks. Full review coming soon.

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