Each year, I end up with a Top Ten Favorite Films list that provides more of a challenge (and it’s also very fun to put together). On the other hand, assembling a list of favorite movie moments is a different yet still very entertaining undertaking. Narrowing it down is the most difficult, as even some average movies have terrific moments, and there’s so much I must recall as well. For 2023, I narrowed it down to, appropriately, 23 memorable scenes. This list represents many fun or crucial instances, ranging from musical numbers to dramatic moments to action highlights and more. Enjoy! (Note: There are spoilers for some films.)
Favorite Scenes Presented in Alphabetical Order by Film:
Air – Sonny Vaccaro Tells Michael Jordan the Future
In a year featuring multiple biopics focused on pivotal times for major businesses, Air was certainly aided by having the most star power involved. While Viola Davis could easily nab another Oscar nomination, Chris Messina has a lot of fun yelling and swearing up a storm as sports agent David Falk and Jason Bateman put in a nice bit of poignant character work; it’s this crucial scene featuring Matt Damon’s Sonny Vaccaro that really resonated. At this point, there’s a meeting at Nike that is going south for the marketing execs, only for Vaccaro to look Michael Jordan in the eyes and lay out exactly how his career is going to go, the highs and the lows, and what it is that makes him unique. Thanks to Ben Affleck’s’ direction and the use of montage, it’s a well-structured scene that really conveys the meaning behind the words being said. Regardless of where opinions are with Jordan today, it’s a fantastic bit of writing delivered very well by Damon, who tends to be so strong in these kinds of roles that he makes it look easy while flashier characters get more of the glory.
American Fiction – “Stagg R. Leigh” Meets The Movie Producer
By this point in American Fiction, things have gotten out of hand. Jeffrey Wright’s Monk has sarcastically written a book to comment on stereotypical stories written about Black culture, and the publishers love it. They also want to option the rights for a movie, which means Monk must pose as the fictional author he invented to take credit for the book, “My Pafology.” This leads to a hysterical scene with the erudite Monk dressing “street” in the only way he knows how (wearing a t-shirt and taking off his glasses) to sit with Adam Brody’s Wiley, a hack filmmaker in it to score box office and awards. Brody matches Wright’s energy by saying he understands Stagg because they’ve both served time (he was a white-collar criminal) and knows how to call out someone on their BS. Wright plays all his comic beats well, from his speech patterns to his posture, only to conclude the scene by running out because of being distracted by the sirens, suggesting to Wiley that this fugitive is worried that cops are always just around the corner, ready to get him. It was between this scene or the ridiculously well-acted bit involving Keith David and Okieriete Onaodowan as imagined versions of characters in Monk’s book, but Monk’s exit put this moment over the top.
Asteroid City – “Dear Alien (Who Art in Heaven)”
Between this film and the shorts Wes Anderson released this year, I could make a top ten list of moments from just his 2023 films alone. However, of the moments I would spotlight, while Asteroid City has everything from an alien encounter to multiple effective monologues aiming for humor and sadness from stars including Tom Hanks, Margot Robbie, and Jeffrey Wright, I can’t help but focus on this musical interlude. Maya Hawke’s exacerbated teacher is struggling to continue with her science lesson plan, only for one of her students to introduce a song he wrote about the alien they all saw. On top of that, Rupert Friend’s singing cowboy, Montana, and his band have written the music to accompany the child’s “warble.” Then, we get to see the little ditty play out, including some impromptu dancing to add to the scene’s joy.
Barbie – “I’m Just Ken”
Amid all the praise for how Barbie has meaning and manages to skewer the patriarchy, it’s also well worth remembering that it’s a pretty funny comedy. While there are individual moments of Barbie that made me laugh quite a bit, including Barbie’s admiration for space or her perplexity over being called a fascist, Ryan Gosling’s take on Ken really is a lot of fun. A sorta-climax revolves around the Kens being tricked into fighting each other. What better way to handle that than having director Greta Gerwig revolve it around an extended musical number that plays like an 80s power ballad, and combines references to everything from The Sound of Music to Grease to The Red Shoes. It’s a layered number that only increases in absurdity and surrealness as it goes, matched by the strong use of color and a game ensemble.
Beau Is Afraid – The Stranger Above
Sometimes a ridiculous gross-out gag just plays really well. There were a couple of moments in the runner-ups, but I’m looking at Ari Aster’s tragicomic Jewish epic, which finds Joaquin Phoenix’s Beau feeling extremely anxious in one scene after another. More specifically, following a night where he’s been locked out of his own apartment by multiple deranged homeless people who invaded his space, Beau finally takes his home back and receives the worst news possible about his mother. To find any sort of relief, he puts on a bath and attempts to rest, except for one thing. There’s one more intruder who has somehow stuck himself onto the ceiling right above the tub. The tension created by the realizations both have and how it plays out is hilarious and only becomes increasingly bizarre once Beau finds himself running naked into the streets for help.
The Blackening – The Group Plays The Blackening
For me, The Blackening was the comedy surprise of the year, as I can’t always say I’m on board with director Tim Story’s movies. Key to it is the strong writing and the ensemble cast, representing a variety of Black voices. At the center of the film is the board game itself, a purposely designed racist spin on other trivia question games, with a minstrel character reading out instructions. Here, the cast gets to shine in handling various challenges ranging from covering the Black National Anthem lyrics to knowing all of the Black characters who guest-starred on Friends to other very specifically targeted bits of info. It’s a really funny sequence that allows everyone their time to shine, showing the depths of cleverness this film has in delivering a horror-comedy with something on its mind.
Creed III – The “Battle of Los Angeles” Goes Full Anime
The Creed spin-off franchise has had a strong consistency running throughout it, and it was great to see this latest entry directed so assuredly by star Michael B. Jordan as his debut attempt. In addition to doing the work to convey what was needed in his characters, it’s been made clear that various anime series influenced his work when it came to depicting boxing matches. That’s never more evident than in the final round of the final fight, where Adonis must finally put down his estranged friend/ex-con Damian (screen villain-turned-unfortunate headline story Jonathan Majors). As these two evenly-matched gladiators battle it out, the film takes on far more stylization, showing an empty arena, putting up jail cell bars around the ring, and playing with the camera lenses/angles to achieve large-than-life results. If we’re looking at this as the 9th Rocky movie, let alone the umpteenth boxing film, this ambitious approach brought new life to how to show an intense match.
Evil Dead Rise – The Title Rises!
Sometimes, you just watch something really cool. I’m a major Evil Dead fan, so I’m inclined to like whatever this enduring and very gory franchise throws at me. However, even a casual viewer should get a kick out of the opening sequence. While most of the film is set in an apartment building to mix things up, we see a prologue calling back to the other films by focusing on a cabin in the woods. Stuff happens involving an extended, quick-paced shot with a fun reveal, followed by some business with a young woman suffering from violent Deadite-itus that leads to a scalping – the usual Evil Dead nastiness. However, concluding this scene, we have a possessed character rising out of a lake, and while she levitates in place, the title logo rises behind her in a way that could excite anyone for anything coming next. As I said, it’s a cool idea.
Ferrari – The Kiss of Death
It’s May 12, 1957. Actress Linda Christian kisses Spanish racecar driver Alfonso de Portago at a brief stop during the 1957 Mille Miglia race in northern Italy. He rides off in his Ferrari 335 S. And then, 70 kilometers away from the finish, traveling at 150 mph – an object in the road combined with a worn-down tire leads to catastrophe. It’s a horrible situation for Portago, his navigator, and the nearby onlookers, and it’s captured with shocking detail in Michael Mann’s very focused drama.
Godzilla Minus One – You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Minesweeper
Director Takashi Yamazaki clearly had Jaws on his mind when it came to the various homages he was going for with Godzilla Minus One. In one truly exhilarating sequence, Shikishima and the minesweeper crew find themselves traveling into an area ravaged by Godzilla, only to suddenly be in a chase away from the giant beast. They use mines to attempt to at least hurt it, but only a last-second show of force aids in their escape. This whole sequence is brilliantly conceived, with an expert blend of visual effects and sound design to maximize the genuine level of terror conveyed in a film that nails Godzilla’s scariness.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 – “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”
James Gunn’s final ride with the Guardians of the Galaxy was a high point for the MCU this year. With that said, for all the talk of how emotional the film is with its depiction of Rocket Racoon’s past, it feels like there’s not enough talk about how funny a movie it is, let alone one that delivers competent action. For all the talk about what Marvel is getting wrong lately, Gunn is here, working with the same materials as those around him, still delivering the goods and achieving a critical hit that’s also the fourth biggest movie of the year. To spotlight one scene, it’s this elaborate hallway action sequence staged to look like a long take. Scored to the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” it’s not only seeing the Guardians finding fun comic book poses and super moves to pull off in dispatching multiple foes, but also watching the entire group working as a true team. For all their bickering, this is a weird family unit whose love for each other informs much of this entry’s plot, and seeing them all together in action one last time really hits a sweet spot.
John Wick: Chapter 4 – Dragon’s Breathe
At nearly three hours, John Wick: Chapter 4 is filled to the brim with action sequences I could have chosen. Whether it’s the club fight with Scott Adkins’ Killa or John’s fight around the Arc de Triomphe, the guy had his work cut out for him this time. However, I must shine a light on the “Hotline Miami” scene, in which John uses a shogun filled with Dragon’s Breath rounds to take down a series of pursuers. Even as one with no real interest in guns, these films really do know how to make this stuff look as wild as possible. On top of that, because the filmmaking team really pulled out all the stops, this sequence is approached with a gods-eye camera perspective, allowing us to see John Wick blasting enemies with explosive rounds in a continuous take that feels unlike what we’re used to in cinema, and more akin to a video game. This is what director Chad Stahelski was going for, and it’s a first-rate action scene in a movie full of them.
Killers of the Flower Moon – The Lucky Strike Hour
There’s good reason to feel upset by the true-to-life events depicted in Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon. By the end of the film, it’s time for the lead characters to seemingly receive some sort of comeuppance, but that’s not exactly how it plays out. Yes, there’s a divorce, court cases lead to convictions, and guilty parties serve some time, but there’s also the matter of how America remembers these events. In what is an all-timer ending for a Scorsese feature, rather than actually show Ernest Burkhart and William Hale being sent to jail, the film cuts to a decade later, where we watch an imagined re-creation of a radio show recording that summarizes everything that happened in the aftermath of the Osage murders. It’s already striking to watch this play out, only to have Scorsese, himself, appear on screen to deliver the final words concerning what happened to Lily Gladstone’s Mollie. His statement makes it clear how much the country wanted to work toward erasing these events rather than deal with them, and here we are nearly a century later left to think about that.
The Killer – Fighting The Brute
David Fincher is known for his meticulous nature and being so focused on getting every detail to be exact. That makes it all the more impressive to have him stage a sequence requiring a knockdown, drag-out fight, where many items are broken, walls are smashed, and the camera must keep up with it all. For Fincher, that means an insane amount of planning, given his penchant for doing numerous takes versus the complicated restaging of the set due to all the destruction taking place. Still, it pays off, as this fight rules. Fassbender’s sometimes great/sometimes a screw-up Killer is discovered by the large man (stuntman Sala Baker) he is supposed to kill, and the two get into an extended brawl. It’s well-choreographed and intense. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score add a lot to the proceedings. Most importantly, though, the sound design here is incredible. It’s what makes it regretful that Fincher is delivering primarily for Netflix when his films speak so well to a big-screen experience. Still, it’s a pretty crazy fight for all to enjoy.
M3GAN – M3GAN Becomes A TikTok Sensation
This is one of those scenes that became legendary months before the film even came out. The campy sci-fi horror hit, M3GAN, focuses on an artificially intelligent doll who develops self-awareness in the most dangerous way possible. Still, that doesn’t mean the robot didn’t have time to learn how to dance from her human companion, Cady. However, this useful skill becomes a distraction, as M3GAN confuses Ronny Chieng’s jerk business exec character with these random moves before chasing after him with the bladed side of a paper slicer. Yeah, that doll had moves.
Oppenheimer – A Speech Full of Sin
While much of Oppenheimer centers on the development of an atomic weapon, seeing director Christopher Nolan find a way to show the Trinity test as Los Alamos is not what I want to focus on. Instead, one of the scenes that defines this movie is what happens soon after. Oppenheimer receives word that the atomic bombs were dropped, and he delivers a speech to a hyped crowd in a gymnasium. For whatever cries there were about the film deliberately not showing the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this is a critical sequence, as we are understanding everything this man is going through based on what he knows he’s created and what his perspective is, knowing that it’s done something irreversible. A wide assortment of techniques are used to show Oppenheimer’s reactions as he says the kinds of things he knows this crowd wants to hear. Shallow focus and a shaky effect do a lot with Cillian Murphy’s face. The sound drops at various moments. We see images of disintegrating bodies and hear screams. It’s all very effective, doing so much to allow us insight into this man’s guilt and moral reservations as the story progresses.
Perfect Days – Shadow Tag
For so much of Wim Wenders’ wonderfully observed slice-of-life drama, we follow Kōji Yakusho’s Hirayama, as he spends his structured life working as a toilet cleaner in Tokyo. There’s an unmistakable message about finding beauty in anything, and sure enough, Hirayama is, himself, an observer of everything around him, and one fascinated by music and books. Late in the film, he has an unexpected encounter with a stranger. Following a pleasant conversation, the two engage in a game of shadow tag. It’s simple, sweet, and a truly lovely moment in a fine film.
Polite Society – Reverse Spinning Kick
Throughout the delightful action-comedy, Polite Society from debut film director Nida Manzoor, aspiring stunt performer Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) attempts to land a killer finishing move – the reverse spinning kick. She fails during practice, against a bully, and against her nemesis, Raheela Shah (Nimra Bucha, in full wicked villain mode). However, a second fight with Raheela in the film’s final moments finds Ria unleashing the fury, and finally landing the kick to defeat her foe and rejoice in having saved her sister. It’s a cool moment bolstered by something I always find fun in movies – characters reflecting on the awesome stuff they just did with each other. For a film like this, it totally tracks.
Poor Things – Bella Finds Her Rhythm
I don’t know what’s more fun – the latest ridiculous dance number director Yorgos Lanthimos has concocted for one of his features or watching Mark Ruffalo and Willem Dafoe recreating it during interviews. Regardless, each of Lanthimos’ recent films have these splendid moments of dance. Poor Things continues embracing its own bizarro spirit by letting Jerskin Fendrix’s looney score inspire Emma Stone’s Bella Baxter to get up from her seat and try on dancing for herself. Ruffalo’s caddish Duncan Wedderburn joins her, and the two hit the dance floor with a series of nonsense motions, further emphasizing what matters most – Bella is a woman created with no inhibitions or shame, and only a drive to learn and explore in this deeply funny film.
R.M.N. – Town Hall Meeting
Director Cristian Mungiu’s R.M.N. can be a tough film to summarize, but it primarily deals with a rural Transylvanian town’s reaction and resentment toward immigrants, leading to various displays of xenophobia. One bravura sequence is set at a town hall meeting late in the film. It’s a single unbroken take lasting nearly 15 minutes. We focus on various characters chiming in with thoughts on a situation, leading to multiple statements, pleas, arguments, irrational fears, understandable perspectives, and everything else that can come out of a scenario where a group of people attempt to explain themselves in a crowded setting. It’s an emotionally charged scene too, with Mungiu remaining as unobtrusive as possible to hold onto the core themes on display.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse – Escaping the Spiders
When looking at my favorite film of 2023, this is the sort of thing I’m talking about when it comes to watching a movie so amazing burst through barriers to deliver something new. We’ve seen plenty of chase scenes, but Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) has to outrun thousands of Spider-People from different dimensions in this climactic set-piece. That means seeing a wide variety of animation styles coming together for a fast-paced, thrilling sequence that is funny, exciting, and incredibly creative. It also has one of my favorite comedy lines of the year delivered by the film’s soundtrack orchestrator, Metro Boomin, in a fun cameo.
Talk to Me – Conjuring Montage
One of the best things the horror hit Talk to Me manages to do is clearly establish why these teenagers go as far as they do with their party activity that involves conjuring up spirits via a severed and embalmed hand. You can insert whatever metaphor you want (drugs) in this activity’s place, but it’s essential to see the fun these kids are having despite how clearly dangerous it is. The RackaRacka boys, directors Danny and Michael Philippou, bring plenty of style to Talk to Me, and it’s this montage sequence, aided by Richard Carter’s “Le Monde” on the soundtrack, that highlights the energy they bring to this creepy horror flick.
The Zone of Interest – Cleaning Up
Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest has a clear intent – putting the banality of evil on display. It’s made clear throughout the film in a variety of ways. Without delving too far into precisely what’s taking place, the end leaves us with a haunting moment, as there’s a change in context regarding how we are observing Auschwitz. Yet, the familiar display of how much attention is really being paid to what’s right in front of people’s eyes persists. As a minimalist feature, Glazer chooses to keep his camera stationary throughout the film, only adding to the intended impact. In the final moments, the experimental nature of his choices once again plays a role in how the film wants us to feel, and it is undoubtedly effective.
Bonus – Jawan – “Zinda Banda”
So, I don’t know about anyone else, but leaving things off with a moment from The Zone of Interest seemed like a real bummer, so why not one more moment – another very fun musical number. The Indian action-romantic-comedy-thriller, Jawan (yeah, it’s a lot of things), is a highly enjoyable feature. It’s also incredibly convoluted in establishing all we know about its characters. That said, star Shar Rukh Khan plays the jailer of a woman’s prison, and from what we understand, he’s the best warden you could ask for. Everyone loves this guy, and he uses the talents of these mostly wrongfully imprisoned women to help him in his schemes to reform the Indian government. We come to understand this through the song “Zinda Banda,” which is performed by SRK and others, and features 1000 dancers backing up our lead in a wonderfully choreographed sequence. One could argue that SRK is not even at full strength in this number compared to his other 2023 release, Pathaan. Still, there’s an energy and a context here that makes bonkers sequences like this really worthwhile.
And that will do it for my list of favorite movie moments. There were many to go through, and, of course, plenty were cut from this list. What say you? What were your favorite movie moments of 2023?