Kenny’s Best Movies of 2023 and Other Highlights

Kenny Miles details his favorite films of 2023, along with honorable mentions, favorite documentaries, as well as favorite first-time watches.

Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer

A little late, but I wanted to reflect on the best movies of 2023. It was an eventful year for me, so movie-watching was a little delayed thanks to a last-minute year-end move (which is why writing something took a while to get off the ground). Many movies I wrote about below were covered in previous posts unless I went long writing about them. Let’s get started in covering this great movie year! 

10 THEATER CAMP

The funniest movie of the year was a hoot during Sundance but made the mistake of rolling out into theaters around the same time as Barbie. Its audience was in the other auditorium, and it didn’t break out on Hulu that it should have, which is the point of a popular streaming service. The mockumentary style resembled comedy classics Waiting for Guffman and Drop Dead Gorgeous and featured a cast of talented child actors (Alan S. Kim unexpectedly is the agent making deals.) Jimmy Tatro is the goofy TikTok influencer commissioned to run his mother’s summer camp and has to find a way to creatively and financially save it. Molly Gordon, Ben Platt, and Ayo Edebiri also co-star.

9 GODLAND

A simple synopsis about a young Danish priest, Lucas, who is assigned to a remote Icelandic village, has ocean-deep meaning. Even though I watched it at a 2022 film festival, it was released this February, and the Kierkegaardian drama has stuck with me ever as an understated religious epic where the protagonist ponders other forms of enlightenment. While watching the new NatGeo documentary, The Mission it reminded me here how the missionary is the one doing their own work projecting onto others. Miraculously shortlisted for Best International Oscar consideration with a long-shot darkhorse, chance I am rooting for an Academy Award nomination. 

8 AIR 

I wrote about Air earlier this year so I won’t t say much more. As someone who fondly remembers the 80s and embraces storytelling marketing, I loved every minute of it, from the acting to the editing and writing. I joked Ben Affleck hiding Michael Jordan’s face might be one of the great directorial accomplishments of the year, but I liked that choice. 

7 THE ZONE OF INTEREST

I usually put a fun movie in #7 that worked with me, but I had to mix it up this year and play fair when ranking since I thought this was better than Air. Jonathan Glazer constructed one of the great Holocaust movies of all time from a perspective we haven’t seen in cinematic history. The cinematography, sound design, and direction are some of 2023’s best, as the lingering tension of dread is a stench in the air. 

6 PAST LIVES

A lot has been said about the Celine Song debut, including my previous review from earlier this year, so I don’t have a lot to add. What stuck with me the most was how delicately directed this movie was. The acting and writing were the strongest elements, but after a re-watch, there are more deliberate choices In a movie world not grounded in reality, this one covers the possibility of living with your choices. 

5 POOR THINGS

Yorgos Lanthimos transformed audiences into a different world in Poor Things. Emma Stone is ravishing as the lead who balances the trifecta acting of comedy, drama, and the physical in a tour de force. Willem Dafoe was incredible in a supporting role making the most of his little screen time. She gave the best lead performance in any movie, hands down. At times, the production design reminded me of Meow Wolf’s fantastical realism come to life. 

4 KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

Since this is the only one I didn’t write about previously, I will go a little longer. Based on the bestselling book, this is a sweeping historical epic. Martin Scorsese crafts a masterpiece with both delicacy and raw attitude fulfilling his uncompromising vision. Leonardo DiCaprio gives one of the best performances of his career as the lead. He is one of the greatest living actors. Robert De Niro chews every scene he is in on screen. A truly commanding supporting performance as the man controlling the criminal operation. My favorite performance was Lily Gladstone who uses her screen time to elevate the human cost of their crimes. She delivers Ruth Negga’s type of poised, understated acting. What a career she has in front of her. The highlight was the end when the last three scenes and the final 8 minutes. (Yes, I timed it during my second viewing.) The bold decision paid off and stuck with me months later.

3 THE TASTE OF THINGS

A mouthwatering tale of passion and humanity and how food brings people together, the photography was as gorgeous looking at the food as it was away from the table. Trần Anh Hùng’s elegant and very French drama was a breeze to watch and had the best pace per length of any movie I saw this year. I hope more people get a chance to see it when it expands this February. 

2 THE HOLDOVERS

I was overwhelmed attending the world premiere of this movie and wanted to manage my expectations since I had a Christmas by myself in 2022 thanks to canceled Southwest flights. I initially had Alexander Payne’s latest movie a little lower, but after a Christmas re-watch, it stuck with me even more. The trio of Giammati, Dominic Sessa, and DaVine Randolph work so well together that I want a follow-up, but the best movies leave us wanting more and don’t have the need to continue their stories.  

1 OPPENHEIMER 

My # 1 was one part of the box office Barbenhemier miracle that works on every cylinder with writing, director, screenwriting, and acting. ‘It all comes together with such perfection. The historical drama plays like a thriller and looks stunning in both 35 MM and 70 MM. Christopher Nolan made one of his best movies, a tale about morality, risks, and consequences. 

***

Honorable Mentions:

ALL DIRT ROADS TASTE OF SALT

A poignant, delicately paced drama about the Southern Black girl’s experience is something rarely seen in movies. The cinematography drew me in and lingered in my mind for days. 

ALL OF US STRANGERS

Andrew Scott is top tier in Andrew Haigh’s ghost story drama about being haunted by lost love and regret. A true tear-jerker.

BARBIE

Greta Gerwig’s bonkers and fascinating color candy blockbuster shell with a feminist core interjects creativity and emotions when most movies lack them. Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling were perfect.

ELEMENTAL

Adorable, clever, and beautiful. A creative tale about immigration as a metaphor reminded me that Pixar still has its magic despite Disney’s lack of luster last year.

FALLEN LEAVES

Aki Kaurismäki’s lovely movie is both darkly comic and sweet, with great chemistry from Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen.  

THE IRON CLAW

Outstanding performances from the ensemble of brothers, especially Zac Efron. This bleak drama showcases Middle America like few art house movies do.

THE KILLER

The longer this stayed with me, the more I appreciated it as a meditation on connection and loneliness. A flashy thriller was captivating, and we take David Fincher and Michael Fassbender for granted. 

POLITE SOCIETY

Reminiscent of old-school Edgar Wright, Nida Manzoor’s fun and energetic movie was one of the most delightful surprises of the year. I hope the scene-stealer Nimra Buchais is in more movies. 

RYE LANE

Another quite lovely with the acting and screenplay were the highlights. Raine Allen-Miller gives this a distinct style and is a director to watch. 

SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE

A dazzling animation spectacle with a strong musical score deserves its own immersive touring art exhibit. Every frame is something to see to believe. 

THE TEACHERS LOUNGE 

A stressful movie where the drama of teaching and the politics of administration unravel like an unnerving thriller. Leonie Benesch was commanding in the lead role. 

***

Best Documentaries: 

  • Beyond Utopia 
  • Kokomo City 
  • Anselm 
  • Eternal Memory 
  • 20 Days in Mariupol 

Top Ten “New To Me”/First-Time Watch:

1. SUNSET BLVD. 

2. ALL ABOUT EVE 

3. 400 BLOWS 

4. TAMPOPO 

5. OUT OF THE PAST 

6. WILD AT HEART 

7. SEVEN DAYS IN MAY 

8. PARIS BLUES 

9. THE LOST WEEKEND 

10. DARK VICTORY

***

Written by
Kenny admired film criticism as a child when his mother wrote a positive review of Home Alone in his small town Arkansas newspaper and defended it against angry Letters to the Editor. Kenny Miles loves to talk about movies especially the cultural impact of a film, if something is overlooked by Hollywood, or whatever business trend has captured the Entertainment Industry’s attention, specialty releases, an auteur director, a unique premise, branding, and THE much infamous "awards season." Kenny currently lives in Denver, Colorado and is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society critics group. When he isn’t writing, Kenny channels his passion working as an events marketing coordinator. He spends many Friday nights exit polling for CinemaScore (and his opinions are his own).

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