Good movies are entertaining. They offer us escapism during our darkest hour. They force us to reflect on the direction in which our society is heading. During times of great polarization, they manage to bring us together as a community and make us cheer, laugh, and weep in union. 2023 was definitely chock full of such examples, and I rewatched many of them more than once. The only downside of releasing so many amazing films within a span of 365 days was that, due to a variety of reasons that ranged from accessibility to not having the bandwidth to consume quality cinema, I couldn’t watch all of them. Even though it’s obvious, I have to explicitly state that the ones mentioned in this list are my favorites out of the films that I got to watch. And even though I rated around 130 films positively, in order to make the cut, the biggest criteria was that they had to be memorable. So, just in case you don’t see a “good film” here, it was either forgettable or I haven’t watched it yet. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the best movies of the year.
Knock at the Cabin
A movie has to be truly amazing to be released in the January–March period and be remembered till the end of the year. M. Night Shyamalan’s latest is that kind of film. I have thought about the performances, the themes, its bursts of panic-ridden brutality, and that bittersweet conclusion over and over again. In a just world, this would’ve won all the awards.
I didn’t know how relevant this modern take on a haunted doll would be, but the ever-growing presence of artificial intelligence has turned this horror film into the most prescient commentary on the times that lie ahead of us. By the way, given how Akela Cooper has already penned iconic films like Malignant, M3GAN, and The Nun II, I think she should try her hand at direction now.
John Wick: Chapter 4
Everything that has been said about the magnificence of its action set pieces is true. Everything that has been said about its visual storytelling and sound design is true. And it is truly insane that even after watching John Wick: Chapter 4 six times, it still manages to make my jaw drop during a rewatch.
Evil Dead Rise
I have always heard (and maybe even uttered) the phrases that life imitates art and art imitates life. But it was during my fourth re-watch of Evil Dead Rise that the elevator in my mall started malfunctioning, and the elevator sequence from the film started flashing before my eyes. Well, the adrenaline high actually made the viewing experience more immersive, that’s for sure.
The basic premise of the film seemed really absurd. But as the investigation progressed, the commentary on casteism and the abuse of power became apparent. In addition to that, the critical lens through which it viewed the police—something that many mainstream Indian films refuse to do—was genuinely refreshing, and it set the bar for how law enforcement agencies should be portrayed.
Huesera: The Bone Woman
Every time I crack a single bone in my body, I am reminded of this movie; that’s how effective it is. Beyond the amazing sound design and physically demanding performance, though, it made a lasting expression for the way it put the audience in the shoes of a queer woman struggling with her identity.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
A true-blue animated masterpiece that I wish wasn’t brought to life by overworking and underpaying animators. I watch and re-watch Across the Spider-Verse‘s scenes on a weekly basis, because that’s how good the movie is, but there’s always that niggling feeling at the back of my head that reminds me how unfairly crushing it was for the crew to get it made.
The story of how Nimona was almost killed by Disney (who gave the most critical and theatrical flops this year, BTW) and was then resurrected by Netflix is as thrilling as the movie itself. And I think we should all feel lucky that we got to experience this hilarious, heart-wrenching, and furiously queer film. I would’ve paid good money to watch it on the big screen.
Satyaprem Ki Katha
This is the only good film that Kartik Aaryan has ever been in. It’s also the best film of Kiara Advani’s career. Luckily, word-of-mouth made Satyaprem Ki Katha a commercial hit. So, I can hope that there’ll be more films about loser men learning about their privilege and then using it to champion women who are traversing through this patriarchal society.
I think it was really surprising and fun to see people show up at the theater dressed in some shade of pink, click pictures at the photo booth, and then thoroughly engage with the movie in question. Also, as a longtime fan of Ryan Gosling, it was satisfying to see people become his fans while watching Barbie.
The Roundup: No Way Out
Ma Dong-seok bodying a bunch of goons is one of the most cinematic things in existence. It’s simple and effective, and the great thing is that Ma Dong-seok knows that, and I hope that he milks this enjoyable trope endlessly.
The movie was so good that it made me visit single-screen theaters located in the most remote sections of my city and observe how differently it was being received by people from all walks of life. That was how I ended up watching Jawan seven times on the big screen. I don’t know if any other movie will be able to beat that number.
Killers of the Flower Moon
It’s an honor to be in the presence of a Martin Scorsese film. There’s a generation gap between this legend and the people who are making films nowadays, and it’s mind-blowing to see him take them to the cleaners like it is a walk in the park while making such spine-chilling points about the banality of evil.
Everyone who wants to put a stop to cis-het actors taking on trans roles and telling trans stories should drop everything and watch Samyuktha Vijayan’s Neela Nira Sooriyan, when it gets a wide release after its film festival run. Everyone who thinks otherwise should watch it, too. In fact, everyone who has the luxury and time to watch a film should give this a go. If it’s not clear yet, this is my favorite movie of the year.
This is the second film festival release that I want everyone to watch when it gets a wide release. If you are chronically online, you’ll see people endlessly talking about a romantic film set in the mountains that features Shah Rukh Khan and Tabu. Yes, this is that film, except it stars Harish Khanna and Mrinal Kulkarni, who effortlessly deliver two of the best performances of the year. And that’s why it deserves all the love and attention in the world.
This is the third film festival release that I want to see on everyone’s watchlists so that they can watch it when it gets a wide release. Also, I think this is the first time in the last 5–6 years that I have mentioned a Bengali film in a “best movies of the year list,” and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Either way, you must watch it for Tnusree’s fantastic performance and Arjunn Dutta’s delicate filmmaking.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
Despite being a victim of a staggered release, this oddball take on one of the most iconic vigilante teams in pop culture managed to make me feel like a child again who used to fight with his friends about being the Raphael of the group.
Merry Little Batman
This might be my recency bias speaking, but Merry Little Batman is one of the funniest and most heartfelt movies of the year. On top of that, it’s one of the best Christmas movies of all time.
I don’t follow award season discourse nowadays, but if I were in charge of all the awards in the world, especially the ones for animation, I would’ve given them to The Peasants.
December is one of the most exhausting times of the year because you are not only catching up with the movies and shows that you have missed, but you are also trying to keep up with all the holiday releases. That usually causes me to not watch anything new until the next year. I feel that it’s a good practice because it allows your mind to cool down and watch a film (or a show) from a fresh perspective. However, I abandoned my principles when I saw a Wes Anderson film on a “worst movies of the year” list because I simply couldn’t believe it. Well, now we are here because Wes Anderson can’t make bad films. That’s the bottom line.
Talk To Me
I am not sure if all the people who have used Richard Carter’s “Le Monde” in their Instagram reels have watched Talk To Me or not, because if they knew about the negative connotations of the scene that featured that track, they would have had second thoughts about editing their trip to the Maldives to that music. As for the movie itself, it’s one of the best horror movies I have watched this year, and I have watched plenty of horror movies in 2023.
It’s a shame that this Manoj Bajpayee-led film didn’t receive its due during its theatrical run. Well, I hope it finds a second life when it arrives on a streaming platform. In this climate, it’s tough to come across anti-establishment films that also dare to comment on casteism and classism while being really well-made from every perceivable angle. But Joram is all that and more.
I can’t explain the joy I felt while watching all the long takes in 12th Fail. The themes, the storytelling, and the performances were undoubtedly commendable. But the filmmaking was so good that it brought me to the edge of my seat so that I could truly appreciate the artistry on display. Vidhu Vinod Chopra and his team deserve all the applause that’s coming their way.
Now, it’s time for the honorable mentions, i.e., films that didn’t quite make the cut but were good enough to get a shoutout. Oppenheimer was good, but the great Christopher Nolan decided to send a censored copy of his film to India, and hence, it won’t get full marks from me. Joyland, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, Project Wolf Hunting, A Man Called Otto, and The Other Shape were victims of a staggered release, but that didn’t stop them from impressing me. Despite being at the helm of the death of the theatrical experience, Netflix released some good movies like Jung_E, Ballerina, AKA, Dream, Marry My Dead Body, Sister Death, Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead, Kill Boksoon, Qorin, Hunger, Extraction 2, Mother’s Day, Phenomena, and Furies. Apple put their back into promoting Killers of the Flower Moon and Napoleon, and then they probably forgot to highlight Tetris, even though it’s pretty amazing.
I know that it’s blasphemy to enjoy mainstream movies as a cinephile, but I loved watching The Super Mario Brothers Movie, Scream VI, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, The Great Indian Family, and Meg 2: The Trench on the big screen. Horror movies like The Last Voyage of the Demeter, Cobweb, Birth/Rebirth, and No One Will Save You were a blast. Anger Tales was one of the only anthology films from this year that I really liked, especially the story about the local film theater. Miguel Wants to Fight was so hilarious, and it had some of the funniest action scenes I have ever seen. Yannick was darkly humorous as it beautifully dissected the relationship between an artist, the audience, and the critic. Reality is here solely because of Sydney Sweeney’s riveting performance. Neeyat was a great whodunit, and it was fueled by queer vengeance.
Ghoomer featured career-defining performances from Abhishek Bachchan and Saiyami Kher. As a huge fan of Takashi Miike, it was a privilege to watch Lumberjack the Monster on the big screen. The sumptuous visuals and heavy atmosphere crafted by Kenneth Branagh and his team in A Haunting in Venice made for a nightmare-inducing viewing experience. Finally, and contrary to popular opinion, I vibed a lot with John Woo’s Silent Night because I love John Woo. And those are just my favorite movies of the year. Please, share your favorites in the comments and let’s celebrate good cinema.