This is a live list where I rank the movies of 2023. People tend to believe I have…contrarian taste. So some of these rankings may surprise you. But they are true and genuine. I highly favor movies with considerable style, deep and rich characters, and strong themes. I’ll be keeping a diary of my thoughts on every new movie I watch. Links to each entry can be found in the rankings.
If you have any recommendations for me, or if you just want to talk about my thoughts or rankings, comment below!
Links to my other rankings:
Table of Contents
Latest Movies I’ve Watched
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023)
Seemingly playful yet tedious as hell, aggravatingly casual and mockingly crafty with its character development, backed by a $150 million budget but completely complacent with piss-poor CGI, based on a game about world building yet can’t present a world to actually care about, burdened with what appears to be Hollywood’s first attempt at an AI-generated script. That’s Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. When a movie is content with the most dead-in-the-road, run-of-the-mill, so-lifeless-you-can-barely-bear-it delivery imaginable, you have to remember that some movies are made to sell dreams while others are made to sell games. While I’m sure the movie is meant to evoke the spirit of playing Dungeons & Dragons, it feels a million times more formulaic and placating to me than improvisational and fun. Boring. Ugly. Empty.
2023 Movie Rankings
- Knock at the Cabin
- Fast X
- Magic Mike’s Last Dance
- Rye Lane
- Infinity Pool
- No Bears
- Beautiful Disaster
- Murder Mystery 2
- Creed III
- 80 For Brady
- Scream VI
- White Men Can’t Jump
- You People
- The Pale Blue Eye
- Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
The Fast franchise requires a director who never jogs, but sprints. And Louis Leterrier provided the boost these characters needed. Stagnancy and complacency are dirty words to Fast X, which propels forward with absolute reckless abandon. As Dom and his family attempt to gain a sense of normalcy and contentment in a world committed to tearing them apart, the frenzy of their lives is mimicked by the uncontrollable camera, dashing and jutting from one set piece, from one family member in peril, from one philosophical quandary to the next. This refreshing take on such anarchy has its own cartoonish but never preposterous rhythm that no modern blockbuster can match. This is unmitigated chaos. This is the Safdie brothers with a $340 million budget. This is an important step for post-cinematic storytelling—where plot and logic take the backseat, where characters and their ideologies provide direction, where artists committed to giving life and cadence to an ever-evolving world grab the wheel.
White Men Can’t Jump
The comedic banter of the original White Men Can’t Jump was constantly in service of pushing the story and the characters forward. But in the remake, it feels…sluggish. Noncommittal. On the verge of…something, maybe, interesting. But never, quite, not really. It’s certainly entertaining and watchable. But I don’t feel the relationship between Kamal and Jeremy comes close to matching the tenor between Billy and Sidney, two men who pushed each other in subtle, meaningful ways. Simply put: Kamal’s story is so much more enthralling than Jeremy’s lackluster dilemma. And even more simply put: Sinqua Walls demands your attention, while Jack Harlow doesn’t care for it. The first two strengths create an emotionally gripping narrative, while the latter two weaknesses leave you listless and searching. An interesting story about two broken people trying to revive their careers ebbs and flows all too jauntily, and by the end it putters out. There are a lot of great moments in this one, but it pales in comparison to the original.
There are many seeming faults in 65. Is the action outstanding? No. Is the story new and refreshing? Not at all. Do I care that Adam Driver showed up on planet Earth the EXACT moment the asteroid was about to hit Earth and kill the dinosaurs in the EXACT spot where it would strike? Even I rolled my eyes at that one, and I like shitty movies for a living. But, overall, it’s hard for me to hate on a movie with such good intentions. In a world stuffed full of indulgent, pretentious movies, I love that this majorly hyped sci-fi flick kept its sights so small. The story is simple and profound, and Adam Driver and Ariana Greenblatt create engaging characters with natural chemistry. The bigger problem for me is the direction never propels their dynamic forward. Inherently, it’s beautiful to watch Mills and Koa struggle with tragedy in the exact moment the Ice Age consumes Earth. Yet…I never really feel it. I sense it, I assume that’s what’s happening, but it never feels imposed upon me. And I would very much like to be imposed upon.
I sit here with such confidence and satisfaction when I say: I adore Beautiful Disaster. I know everybody is going to make fun of it. I know it’s not the next Citizen Kane. I know it’s full of batshit crazy moments. But all those reasons are part of why I love it. As somebody who watches lots and lots and lots of movies, I’m used to movies going the opposite direction. And I have no problem with dramatic, self-serious flicks. But it’s rare to see a movie like Beautiful Disaster that truly frees itself from any modicum of high-brow standards. If you were a fan of old-timey slapstick affairs and delighted by the patterns romantic comedies have spanned over the years, then you would see how this bizarre erotic romance was born from that ever-evolving formula. It’s goofy, it’s fun, and it’s not really concerned with the rules that the higher-powers-that-be have designed for what makes a movie good or not.
Beautiful Disaster is an alien force in modern cinema that moves and breathes at a different rhythm. It’s not dark and ominous like A24’s catalog, it’s not a politically relevant Oscar grab, and you won’t see Martin Scorsese praising it in some IndieWire story. You will, however, see people mocking Abby’s laughably comatose state when she sees Travis (yes, it’s Dylan Sprouse) without a shirt on, and you will hear guffaws from flabbergasted moviegoers when Shepley and America (my god, these names) can’t stop making out with each other, and you will wonder if Parker could ever have children after Abby’s implausible attempt at throwing a frisbee (she looks like a malfunctioning robot) shatters his testicular region. The general reaction will be: what the hell is this movie and how could it exist? And that’s why I love it. This movie is “bad” because we’re told it’s bad. Movies shouldn’t be like this…right? I say: wrong. I don’t mind when a movie rests outside the norm. If it’s entertaining (it is), if I can enjoy the characters (I do), and if it makes me laugh (I smiled from ear to ear nearly the entire time!), then I see no reason to not love it.
This feels like the absolute best these Scream reboots can possibly be…but it also happens to be way less interesting than any of Wes Craven’s contributions to the franchise. I don’t know. Maybe I’m biased. Maybe I simply cannot watch these movies without thinking about how Craven would have handled it with such better style and humor and grace. It’s just not fair, as Craven was an absolute master who crafted an aesthetic unlike anybody else’s. But then again, nobody made these hotshot directors (Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin) embark on such an impossible mission. While they are clearly very talented, I can’t help but be way less interested in anything they have to say. They certainly aren’t exactly ripping off Craven, which I appreciate, yet their entire approach feels reverent to Craven in a way that doesn’t allow a movie like Scream VI to entirely become its own. I like that this movie had more fun, more blood, more laughably stupid twists than that unfortunate first attempt at a Scream reboot. Yet, I simply cannot enjoy this movie in the way I’d like. That might be entirely on me—but that’s the way it is.
I’ve always enjoyed the Creed series for what it brought to the Rocky universe. The stories are uplifting, the characters are compelling, the actors are phenomenal. The only barrier for me has been the direction. While Ryan Coogler and Steven Caple Jr. are both very talented and have interesting voices, the visualizations of Adonis’s journey in Creed and Creed II were heavy-handed to a distasteful degree for me. That was not the case in Creed III with Michael B. Jordan, who brought such animation and spirit to the established aggressive aesthetic of the Creed series. It’s no surprise Jordan referenced anime as a main source of inspiration for his debut feature, as the fights in Creed III felt refreshingly provocative and buoyant in a post-cinema world. While the movie’s rather cartoonish fervor could lose control in the hands of others (I’m eyeing Damian’s outrageously villainous turn in the second act), that energy simply fits with Jordan’s realized vision. The oversized battle facing Adonis in the form of Damian adeptly balances the overt, existential drama that floods his post-boxing life, which nicely allows the two worlds to merge as he finds catharsis through the art of boxing. With Jordan both behind the camera and in the ring, Creed III’s finale feels so much more important than either of its predecessors. If they make any more Creeds, then I want Jordan in charge.
80 for Brady
Fuck it, I’m not afraid to say it: more movies should be like 80 for Brady. Hell, maybe we just need more movies about old people taking trips. They can’t move very fast, they can’t go very far, and they don’t have time to sit around and have problems. The end is nigh, and they have to embrace life before it passes them by. 80 for Brady is refreshing in the same way Magic Mike XXL found power in the slow, lackadaisical ebb-and-flow of life. Yeah, shit happens sometimes. Yeah, we do stupid things like Betty losing Super Bowl tickets. And yeah, those trivial happenings can trigger existential crises like the one Lou had. Is it truly the end of the world? No. Is it strong enough for the plot of a movie? If it’s a feeling that’s so familiar…well, why the hell not? What’s wrong with a movie that deals with the banalities that flood our collective everyday? I welcome a movie like 80 for Brady because it’s not afraid to shy away from the dreaded “nadir” that forces so much Hollywood fare into a hamfistedly melodramatic, hopelessly grim corner. Despite the years draining away for these characters, the only direction is up for 80 for Brady. The movie is full of people helping other people overcome their problems—and that makes me so happy. It’s not a perfect movie. But it’s fun, it’s unpretentious, and it’s more honest about life than most movies I see. That’s refreshing in my book.
Honestly, Tetris was a revealing experience for me. Because, at first sight, it’s not nearly as impressive as its influences. I love Taron Edgerton to death, but his DiCaprio-esque performance simply isn’t honored with the Scorsese energy that allows The Wolf of Wall Street to churn and hum. Plus, the stress-inducing, fast-paced, helter skelter fervor that drives this film forward clearly lacks the confidence and rhythm of David Fincher’s The Social Network. But once I got over the pressure to compare Tetris with the “greats” (I don’t even like that second movie, by the way), I started to realize the simple beauty of Tetris. All of that window dressing that we love in big studio projects from auteurs that expose the ugly depths of capitalism? That can only take you so far. At the end of the day, you need strong characters who have a will to make a difference, that show us a better path towards enlightenment in a greedy, narcissistic capitalist system. Tetris may not be the most innovative movie in terms of its craft. But its natural ability to craft a web of colorful characters that reveals the humanity of a complicated yet malleable power-hungry system? That’s no small feat. That takes a level of skill that’s owned by the greats.
No Bears left me extremely worried for who might be the greatest unsung filmmaker of our time. After all: I am a die hard Jafar Panahi fan. After watching This is Not a Film back in 2012, I became obsessed and sought out his entire filmography. I was blown away by Crimson Gold, The White Balloon, Offside. Panahi’s entire aesthetic, which was so intimate and humane and defiant, spoke to me. And that aesthetic has only become richer after being jailed by the Iranian government, which couldn’t silence and in fact only emboldened Panahi’s relentless pursuit of truth. Closed Curtain and Three Faces were excellent exercises that showcased Panahi’s ability to craft meta stories with the barest resources available. His resilience in the face of subjugation only further energizes his message. Inherently, all of that invigorating energy is infused into a film like No Bears, which deploys all of the same meta techniques that allowed his previous films to reveal the connection between filmmaker and his work, filmmaker and his audience. No matter how dour the ending, there’s intense dynamism pulsating through his work.
But similar to This is Not a Film, Panahi strikes me as decidedly defeated at the end of No Bears. Which, to be clear, isn’t a complaint—it is, in fact, a very powerful aspect of this film, and leaves an overwhelming sense of dread once the credits roll. The weight and gravitas that permeates the final moments of No Bears owes quite a debt to the rest of Panahi’s filmography, which brings an inherent provocative attitude to the film. But those closing seconds when Panahi just sits in his car, reflecting on the ungodly state of affairs, the inhumanity grappling his home country, feels born from a different beast than movies like Taxi or Three Faces. Following this film, Panahi was sentenced to a six-year sentence as the government only continued to silence his overwhelming voice—perhaps Panahi saw the writing on the wall. As he continues and continues to fight, his efforts could feel more and more hopeless to many as the ever-powerful Iranian government exercises its seemingly limitless control.
Knowing Panahi, I certainly don’t think that’s the case at the end of No Bears. The dread we feel at the end simply captures an unavoidably defeated feeling in the face of such conquest. But the power of his art is what allows that message to gain texture and clarity: the film captures a person who’s dedicated to his home country, yet feels imprisoned to his home country. Such a fruitless fight would drive many away—but not this filmmaker. Because there are more stories to tell. When he stops in that car at the end, it’s because not even the horrible atrocities he’s just witnessed could drive him away. Panahi’s ability to capture such a disoriententing level of existentialism with his meta sensibilities absolutely astounds me.
It’s amazing what a rewatch can clarify. The first time around, I wasn’t too impressed by M3GAN, a movie that didn’t go far enough with its wacky premise. I wanted more camp, more commentary, more life. And most of all, as a new father, I wanted to feel the energy between Gemma and Cady. On all fronts, the movie fell short. But this second time around, I got all that and more. What felt light and placating before suddenly felt honest and determined. I felt much more connected with Gemma, who was listlessly stuck in a frigid, practically loveless life before Cady showed up on her doorstep. Slowly but surely, I felt her dedication manifesting throughout the movie as she realized the importance of parenthood and (human) guidance in a child’s life. With AI’s presence growing at a rapid rate, the movie’s commentary went from light and cheeky to frighteningly familiar. I legitimately feel like I learned some lessons about raising my child in a technological world because of this movie. And it’s all because of M3GAN’s strong emotional foundation. A movie like this could have easily discarded the characters and opted for fun horror. Luckily, this movie was committed to both.
My love for movies stems from many vines: full characters, strong themes, an established and rich aesthetic, unadulterated optimism—the list goes on for these definable, palpable features. But there’s something intangible, something almost indescribable about what some movies achieve. And Rye Lane fits that bill. Don’t get me wrong: Rye Lane establishes all the above criteria with flying colors. But what makes the movie special, for me, is the assured style, the loving presence, the absolute fervor that catapults its kind-hearted and compassionate story about the awkwardness of finding love forward. The array of colors, the interplay between characters, the randoms populating London’s streets—it’s all part of Raine Allen Miller’s uplifting formula that permeates this film. Maybe the movie doesn’t have the “depth” of the year’s most revered films. But the ability to capture such engaging energy, such recognizable strength, such exhilarating vitality would strengthen even the weakest of scripts, would turn any milquetoast affair into an inspiring, breathtaking tale. The insanely confident choreography, the pitch-perfect editing, the mix of humor and very relatable drama, the chemistry between actors—this movie simply has it all. Some movies are great…but I wouldn’t recommend them to everybody. I have no doubt, however, that just about anybody’s heart would skip a beat or two while watching Rye Lane.
Much like Your Name, Suzume showcases Makoto’s Shinkai’s refreshing ability to balance sentimentality with calamity—the result is an aesthetic that either word doesn’t properly describe. His movies aren’t naively optimistic affairs, nor are they ridden with doom and gloom. Simply put: Shinkai’s fantastical films offer an enlightened path that makes the seemingly unbearable weight of life feel weak in comparison with the human spirit. That formula could easily come across disingenuous and repetitious as Shinkai continually pits humanity with ethereal forces. But in the end, the path to enlightenment requires an alignment, not a battle—a deep, intangible connection between mortals and the unfathomable. Suzume poetically establishes this connection by defamiliarizing the grieving process in an unconventional manner. Because it isn’t just Suzume who’s grieving the loss of her mother after a deadly earthquake. It’s the entire nation of Japan trying to cope with monumental losses in the face of natural disaster. While such tragedies would ostensibly sever our connection with Mother Earth, it is strengthened through Suzume’s grapple with the unknown. It’s scary to enter that inconceivable realm. But when we do, and when we surround ourselves with loved ones, with positive energy, with the collective trauma that grips a nation, then the sheer power of humanity’s collective spirit pushes us through. Suzume displays this communal spirit beautifully.
Murder Mystery 2
Is this movie crude? Absurd? Ridiculous. Yes, obviously, and most definitely. And no, it’s not going to make the AFI 100. But I’ll be damned if Murder Mystery 2 doesn’t scratch an itch. I believe there’s great beauty to be found in a film that doesn’t cater to the pressure of self-seriousness and instead brazenly commits to lunacy. The comedy of the Murdery Mystery franchise may not be for everyone—but the comedy is realized. It’s faithful to an aesthetic, and it doesn’t miss a step. And when an aesthetic becomes this realized, it allows simple humane observations to gain breadth and clarity. Wrapped up in the wacky whodunnit parodies and dick jokes is a couple struggling to fuel the marital flame that was reignited in the first film. Marriages aren’t just fixed and mended for forever. They constantly require tinkering and repair. That endeavor may feel like an afterthought in Murder Mystery 2, but it’s very much part of the aesthetic: Audrey and Nick aren’t just solving a murder—they’re writing the next chapter of their shared story. I love how authentic their relationship is, how palpable their chemistry feels, how honestly their struggles reflect the terrorizing pace of life.
The path towards inspiration is way more winding and curving and rocky than we’d like. Why is it so difficult to channel that temperament that is so crucial to finding fulfillment and catharsis? Shouldn’t that come easy? Of course it doesn’t. We question ourselves. We scream about the unfairness of life. We wonder what great power will lead us towards purification. When will I realize who I’m supposed to be? Such daunting questions are the fuel of many films, but few in recent memory have explored those questions with the fervor of Infinity Pool. I don’t know if Brandon Cronenberg has quite achieved greatness yet, but Possessor and his latest film are one heck of a college try. In particular, Infinity Pool feels so realized and overwhelmingly penetrating in its observations of humanity and the struggle to realize our true selves. The hypnotic visuals, psychological turmoil, the unrelenting body horror—it all coalesces into an actualized visualization of such a common struggle. The execution feels so assured and the message feels so accomplished that Infinity Pool stands out in a field of half-baked ideas in modern cinema.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance
After spending 112 glorious minutes in the theater watching Magic Mike’s Last Dance, my wife overheard someone claim that Mike (Channing Tatum) and Maxandra (Salma Hayek) had “no chemistry”—which absolutely blew my mind. That kind of statement leaves me feeling disconnected from not just the movie world, but the world period. Much like the franchise movies that preceded it, I am forced to recognize that the story of Magic Mike’s Last Dance is an anomaly in modern movie culture. The calm, submerged energy of this film isn’t lackadaisical or sluggish, but immersive and entirely unpretentious. And such grace requires us to bathe in its aesthetic, to become part of its strikingly honest reflection of finding love and living life.
This problem has plagued this incredibly insightful franchise. When many people think of “Magic Mike,” which has become a much bigger brand over the years, they think of nothing more than jacked dudes taking their clothes off. But in my experience, these movies capture the joy of living life more than just about any other. Magic Mike provides a refreshing take on the Hero’s Journey, pushing Mike to be more mature and seek a higher, more fulfilling calling in life. And Magic Mike XXL—which, for the record, is one of my absolute favorite movies ever—is practically plotless, instead focusing on the common good of man, on how we rely on each other and encourage one another during moments of hardship. Both movies are remarkable in their ability to never inflate the situation at hand, and instead focus on the mundanity of overcoming life’s biggest obstacles. Often what we need is so simple—not a colossal change that upheaves your life, but a pivot that reorients your focus.
In steps Magic Mike’s Last Dance, which finds our hero Mike in a relaxed state. He has accepted the failings of his business ventures, he is content working a paltry job that helps him get by. The same personality and humor is there, but the vigor and enthusiasm has waned. This is a man who has lived life, who has gone through its ups and downs, who stands at a hushed crossroads in life that requires wisdom and meditation to operate. Sometimes you just live life until the right circumstance, until the right person comes along to give life strength and urgency—and that’s what Maxanda represents to Mike, what Mike represents to Maxandra.
Their connection is gloriously understood, existing in the ethereal space between them. It’s what makes their dance at the beginning so sexy, making us feel like voyeurs; it’s what makes Mike’s desire to establish a deeper relationship so distressing, and what makes Maxandra’s resistance so maddening. Steven Soderbergh does a tremendous job of capturing the reality of this pivot: of being ready to find and accept love. It’s a two-way street, because the only way to truly love someone else is to learn to love what you do and who you are. We watch Mike and Maxandra traverse their own individual journeys on that road—to the point where they don’t even realize they’ve helped each other navigate that treacherous road until they’ve reached their destination. And once they’ve reached it, they’re ready to start this new life together. That’s a feeling I recognized and fully absorbed as Mike Mike’s Last Dance came to a close—a beautifully uplifting feeling that makes life feel so wonderfully limitless. It’s never too late to make that pivot.
The big problem with You People is that it loses its footing halfway through. But instead of simply catching itself and readjusting, the movie falls off a gigantic cliff. You People started so promisingly, finding a delightfully indelible mix of humor and meditation that allowed its observations of racial harmony in a politically divided society feel refreshing and penetrating. Jonah Hill clearly brought a Superbad energy to the film as it navigated its crude and clever sense of humor, while Kenya Barris highlighted the inherent conflict that drives races, families, and generations apart. This perfect blend produces an aesthetic that instantly feels vital, that’s exploring seemingly unsolvable problems with dexterity and personality.
So…what happened? Why did this extraordinary film suddenly become so content with…being ordinary? It happens in a flash. One minute, we’re watching all of this movie’s extraordinary players traverse a socially debilitated landscape with ease, producing laughs and insightful commentary at will. To boot, You People has a wonderful sense of humor about itself, committing to slapstick gags that would make Preston Sturges proud. But before long, the film devolves into a mess of mind-numbing monologues, of dead-end bits that constantly go nowhere, of deliberate soapboxing. Essentially: of hitting the nail on the head and then beating it into the ground for good measure. After an hour—which is only one half of this movie, by the way—it feels as though You People has nothing left to say, resorting to trope-laden character arcs and narrative nadirs that cease any and all momentum. As a result, the message is saturated and diluted into oblivion, making the remaining hour a tedious one.
Knock at the Cabin
I’ve seen many complaints that Knock at the Cabin is “too simple.” And to that gripe, I say: good. I would argue the main ingredient that would save so many modern films is, in fact, simplicity. Because when you simplify, you actually end up augmenting your message; when a filmmaker doesn’t feel burdened to pack a story with dozens of characters and wide-ranging ideas, then they’re better able to extract as much meaning as possible from the core. By trying to cover so much territory, modern films often end up saying less, as their messages and takeaways are saturated across dozens of half-baked ideas.
Knock at the Cabin is only seemingly uncomplicated. Without a doubt, the movie is more focused, as the story is straightforwardly about a family’s decision to sacrifice its unity in the face of worldwide destruction. This approach may lead one to believe the movie is about nothing more than the promise of humanity—and that’s not necessarily wrong. But by focusing so vehemently on that central idea, the film expands and strengthens the emotional core to profound extents. Sure: the movie is about humanity. But the movie is also about overcoming inescapable trauma. And recognizing the goodness in others. And tolerating persistent uncertainty that causes existential dread. And remaining strong in the face of prejudice. And learning to cultivate trust in others. And dealing with the apocalypse of your very being—I could go on. M. Night Shyamalan’s unadulterated commitment to perceiving the humanity of his characters (this swift and efficient film doesn’t waste a single shot; the dialogue and story are always intertwined with the message; and the acting is never off point) made Knock at the Cabin a deeply enriching experience for me at the theaters. The connection I felt to this movie’s message was staggeringly intense—all because it was so “simple.”
The Pale Blue Eye
What a shame. The Pale Blue Eye is packed to the brim with interesting ideas regarding the thin line between life and death, the attraction of the occult, the soul-bending precariousness of spirituality. The only problem? It’s a complete freaking bore. Characters stare vacantly ahead with the deadest eyes imaginable as they contemplate and discuss life’s biggest questions and investigate absolutely grisly murders—a strange dichotomy indeed. What inherently stands as a recipe for a great melodrama or a great detective story instead becomes an undercooked pile of muck that sludges forward and doesn’t bring dignity to any of its hefty queries until the very end. It’s an eye-roll of a movie filled with people trying to great work while tethered to such dead weight.
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