The 2023 Talkies: Talkhouse Film Contributors’ Top Films of the Year

A list of the best movies of the past 12 months, with special contributions by Joe Dante, Bette Gordon, David Dastmalchian and more.

Talkhouse Film contributors voted on their favorite movies of 2023. The results of the Talkhouse Film poll are below, showing all the titles that received multiple votes; a selection of individual ballots will be posted tomorrow. Ten points were awarded to first-place films, 9 points were given to second place, etc.

Thanks to all who voted, and to the following contributors, whose wonderful written and graphic responses to the Top 10 films are featured below: Vashti Anderson, Rodney Ascher, Nikole Beckwith, Bernardo Britto, SJ Chiro, Zach Clark, Joe Dante, David Dastmalchian, Tom Gilroy, Bette Gordon, Alix Lambert, Danny Madden, James Marsh, Jim McKay, Kent Osborne, Noah Schamus, Leah Shore, Chelsea Stardust, Colleen Trundy and Onur Tukel.

1. Anatomy of a Fall 209
A man lies in his own gore amidst beautiful alpine scenery. Did he jump or was he pushed? This slippery, riveting film finds some kind of answer to its central mystery by ruthlessly exposing the ugly secrets of a failing marriage. However, it’s an answer that might well be different for each viewer of the film. The fatality (and the marriage) become the subject of an invasive, withering legal enquiry, but the truth is not to be found in the argumentative court proceedings which occupy much of the film’s length but in how we read the characters of the husband and wife and their son.

The dramatic centerpiece of the film is a furtively recorded argument between husband and wife that is perhaps the most excruciating and (emotionally) violent sequence in a movie this year. It shows how intimacy breeds a special kind of hatred between people who know very well how to wound each other, mostly with the unvarnished truth. This episode lays bare all the usual flashpoints, like money and childcare, that are available to most couples, but with the added accelerants of professional rivalry and envy. And the argument refines the central question of the film: is contempt a strong enough motive for murder? Is artistic failure a strong enough motive for suicide? Are they deceiving each other or themselves? The one person they don’t deceive is their partially sighted son, who sees more clearly and more wisely than any other character in the story. Justine Triet’s film unfolds in a limpid, precise style, perfectly measured to its story, and boasts the best performance by an actress (and by a dog) that I’ve seen this year.

And the year’s most incisive line: “The absence of shame is a superpower …” (James Marsh)
Image by Bernardo Britto

2. Killers of the Flower Moon 204
With Killers of the Flower Moon, Martin Scorsese takes his urban sensibility and throws it on the frontier, making us feel the true savagery of the 20th century West. He seizes the Western, flips it on its head in its perspective and respect for Native American people and, at the same time, shows the unfettered violent assault against them. Once the fuel is unleashed, soldiers and prospectors invade the Oklahoma town and its politics. One of those invaders is Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio), a submissive, greedy and stupid man who comes to work for his wealthy uncle. He epitomizes the idea of complicity, only able to see his left and then his right foot, like the soldiers in the trenches during WWI. But at the heart of the film is Mollie (Lily Gladstone), a Native American woman from the Osage tribe whose family is wealthy because they retained rights to the oil. Falling for DiCaprio’s charm and seduction, Gladstone’s Mollie manages to hold on to her dignity, while also feeling a sense of shame for collaborating with Ernest, one of the perpetrators of the killings. Her performance is delicate and subtle, and I couldn’t take my eyes away from her. Scorsese takes his time in this film, creating a portrait of Osage life from the inside, and also asking us to experience the secret (or not so secret) history of American power and violence. (Bette Gordon)
Image by Danny Madden

3. May December 191.5
After watching May December, I read almost no criticism and discussed it even less (which is pretty unusual for me), perhaps because I found a need to protect my relationship with the film. I think mostly because I found myself vehemently disagreeing with the Twitter Discourse™️ I had peripherally observed before watching the film about how “camp” May December is.

I think my disavowal of this reading lay in a feeling that sometimes when we identify something as camp, we imply there is some arch distance between the audience and the film, some irony that enables the film to be excessive, “too much,” without us having to really feel or own its supposed excesses. But I was legitimately devastated by much of the film, particularly Charles Melton’s Joe. (Mild spoiler, but if I think about the weed-smoking scene for too long, I feel myself sharing, without irony, his very specific and strange pain.) The excess and artifice of the movie are exactly what moved me; my skin crawls when I remember Natalie Portman’s monologue, when Julianne Moore weeps in bed, inconsolable over a cake. There was no distance, no irony between me and these characters. So I decided to reread Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp to help sort through my own feelings on the term and on this film. As I was nearing the end, Sontag reminded me: “Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of ‘character.’ Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as ‘a camp,’ they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.” I feel quite tenderly towards May December, even in my ambivalence and discomfort. (Noah Schamus)
Image by Zach Clark

4. Past Lives 176
Past Lives is Celine Song’s first feature film. She is an accomplished playwright, which is apparent in her deeply felt, multilayered and intelligent screenplay. How she became such a delicately subtle yet forceful filmmaker, making room for actors to give deeply connected, intricate performances straight out of the gate, is a marvelous mystery to me. Past Lives is particularly revolutionary because a woman protagonist is allowed complicated feelings and the space to express and investigate these complexities freely, without suffering the total destruction of her life. Song’s film also celebrates the strength and integrity of men in a way we don’t usually see in cinema.

Past Lives is not only a personal love story, it’s an immigrant story as well. Who have you become when you have moved far away from where you were born and assimilated into a new culture? Who were you as a child? Will you remember yourself if you’re no longer surrounded by witnesses who watched you grow up and grew with you, eating the same foods, playing on the same playgrounds, competing in the same schools, surrounded by the same community? Is what’s gained worth what could be lost? And how can you know the answer to these questions unless it’s too late?

In my early twenties, I married a man who immigrated to the U.S. in his early twenties. Next month we will celebrate 35 years together. Celine Song moved us both with her raw honesty about a complicated situation, and the grace and generosity required from both people in a couple to grow. Past Lives is one of the best films to debut in 2023. I’m very much looking forward to Song’s next contribution to cinema. (SJ Chiro)
Images by Nikole Beckwith

5. The Holdovers 172
The Holdovers is a giant bag of cinematic magic tricks so deft you find yourself exhausted after two hours of laughing at what is actually a not very comic premise — the battle of altruism vs. selfishness, academia vs. avarice. Some magic you’ll find: It takes place in the ’70s (and actually looks like the ’70s), but it’s about the present. It’s set during a (yes, ahem, “national”) Christian holiday, but extols the virtues of agnosticism, stoicism, atheism — and, most importantly, community. It allows you to believe in magic as a metaphor for hope. Lastly, it’s an oversized present wrapped in Dead Poets Society paper and Good Will Hunting ribbon, but what’s inside is pure Samuel Beckett. (Tom Gilroy; go here to read more …)
Image by Kent Osborne

6. Oppenheimer 165
I suppose it’s a bit strange writing about Oppenheimer since I am a small part of this film, but I believe I am able to look at the movie with (almost) complete objectivity when I say that it achieves something I yearn to experience each time I enter a cinema. The fact that writer-director Christopher Nolan was able to transport a wide-reaching audience into a world of the past where a complex network of characters, ideas and conflicts surrounded the hero of the story (one of the most inspiring performances of recent years by Cillian Murphy) in a way that glued eyes, minds and hearts to screens around the world was a feat of artistic acuity on a level rarely achieved. The film utilizes every classic and modern effect of camera, light and sound felt alchemical and yet it is, at the end of the day, the achievement of a diligent student of film who is relentless in craftsmanship and work. I haven’t watched it on a screen other than IMAX, but I’m sure I will be viewing on my home screen in the coming weeks. (David Dastmalchian)
Image by Alix Lambert

7. Barbie 149
I grew up with Barbies … about 20 of them … (and one very lucky Ken), but I never expected a movie about Barbie to be so deeply cathartic. When Gloria (played by America Ferrera) has her mirror monologue (you know the one), I started crying and couldn’t stop. The film let me release emotions I had been holding on to for years. Yes, years. Emotions pent up from the 2016 election, from MeToo, from living through a pandemic, from the stress of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes (which Barbie was released right in the middle of, so a brief moment of escapism). Frankly, I felt … seen. Greta Gerwig tapped into something special that I connected to very deeply. And the fact that it fucking crushed at the box office is a massive win for all women in the entertainment industry. I’m so thankful to live in a world where this film exists. Hi Barbie! (Chelsea Stardust)
Image by Leah Shore

8. The Zone of Interest 145
I know director Jonathan Glazer’s films well, and I love how he consistently pushes the morality of his protagonists. But this is the first one with a truly awful main character, and I initially thought, who would want to do this? (A similar sentiment was expressed by Sandra Hüller, who plays Hedwig Hoss, during a Q&A at the New York Film Festival.) But then, why should he not challenge himself, again, and in new ways? The film told me where to look, but not how to feel, and that’s the kind of storytelling I like.

The film’s point of view restricts vision to one side of the wall of Auschwitz; evidence of crimes – gold teeth, stolen furs and camisoles, bones and ashes, gunshots, smoke billowing from furnaces that fills the night air, the chilling implication of rape … and eventually, the shoes – creeps into the visual narrative. Images of “beauty” live just next to the wall – a lavish garden, a soft-banked river, a home-grown vegetable garden. The main character has succeeded in life; her children even have a small swimming pool. But who builds an eden on the border of hell?

The film explores this question in multiple ways. Film cameras are hidden in the walls impelling the characters to run through their idyllic home like rats in a maze. (Glazer wanted to remove the inherent power of a staged camera). Rather than witnessing a historical account, I felt like I was creeping through a portal that had the power to spontaneously change its destinations. Some worlds seemed real and some seemed like they must be imaginary. Like, how was I seeing in infrared at times? A child, on a bicycle, at night, with a cache of glowing apples – what realm was that? The film’s music, a compilation of assonant human screaming – where in space was I now?

Because it’s Glazer, the filmic experience feels metaphysical. When the credits rolled, I felt a haunting feeling, I think because the experimentations with form lose their mechanics when the culmination is profound humanism. This is Glazer’s incredible skill, which leaves me thinking for a long time about his films (including The Fall, his fantastic short), as well as the films I want to make. This is the type of storytelling I need, always. (Vashti Anderson)
Image by Rodney Ascher

9. Poor Things 124
Poor Things is certainly one of the most original pictures of the decade, a bizarre exercise in studied unreality that never ceases to pursue the most unexpected avenues.

I really admired Lily Gladstone’s knowing performance in Killers of the Flower Moon, but there’s no denying that Emma Stone’s magnetic and fearlessly committed turn as, essentially, the Bride of Frankenstein in this wacky steampunk nightmare is a stunner. (And there’s more nudity and sex than we’re used to these days.) Rescued from suicide by deformed mad scientist Willem Dafoe (great, covered with prosthetics), who gives her the brain of her own unborn baby, she evolves from a destructive, monosyllabic tot into a curious and articulate Candide figure, learning life lessons from every setback. And there are plenty, both shocking and tragic, but always absurd. Her innocent lack of civilized filter is good for some laughs (“I must go punch that baby”), but mostly her odyssey of discovery is arresting and even poignant. James Whale would have approved. It’s exquisitely detailed, with some convincing Dr. Moreau-type animal mutations running about.

At 141 minutes, it’s typically (for these days) long in the tooth, but always fascinating, with remarkable art direction that recalls Karel Zeman and Terry Gilliam. (Joe Dante)
Image by Onur Tukel

10. Passages 118.5
My favorite movie of the year was a French film made by an American director. Or was it an American film made in France? I guess they’re both accurate, but I’d go with the former. Does it really matter? Well, I can say that it’s been years since I’ve seen an American feature film as taut, subtle and human as Ira Sachs’ Passages. It’s a nearly perfect film, one that respects its audience and its characters, who come to us open, ugly and afraid; desperate for connection and deeply flawed. In other words, real.

My first viewing of the film was transportive, with each successive scene sitting me up straighter in my seat, watching with an excitement and joy that I hadn’t felt in years. Somehow, my second viewing felt the same.

The film’s vision is potent and while it most definitely feels of a piece with Sachs’ oeuvre, one can sense the strength and spirit of the community behind its creation, as well. From every corner of the team, one can feel this collaboration – from the plethora of single-shot scenes to the actors who embody them, not waiting for their close-up to turn it on, but in it right then and there, in every scene. It’s in the perfection of Ben Whishaw’s robe and the oh-my-god of Franz Rogowski’s every outfit. It’s the crooked shelf in the kitchen that’s as tentative as a marriage and the camera that doesn’t flinch or adjust when it gets blocked – because do we need to see their faces when we can hear and feel this conversation, so raw and complex? In many ways, it’s what is not spoken or shown or explained in the film that makes it so powerful.

“Maybe we have to take more risks,” Tomas says to Martin after sleeping with Agathe.

Thank you to Ira Sachs, co-writer Mauricio Zacharias, and the cast and crew of Passages for having taken more risks. (Jim McKay)
Image by Colleen Trundy

11. Beau is Afraid 85
12. Bottoms 82
13. Saltburn 68
14. The Boy and the Heron 65.5
=15. Talk to Me 63
=15. The Killer 63
17. Showing Up 62.5
18. Asteroid City 59
19. Dream Scenario 55
20. Fallen Leaves 54

21. Spider-man: Across the Spider-Verse 51.5
22. Priscilla 47
=23. How to Blow Up a Pipeline 42
=23. Reality 42
25. Fair Play 41
26. Godzilla Minus One 36
27. All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt 34
=28. American Fiction 32
=28. Skinamarink 32
30. Godland 31

=31. Four Daughters 30
=31. Maestro 30
=33. Flora and Son 29
=33. Rotting in the Sun 29
=35. Blackberry 27
36. Jethica 26
=37. Joy Ride 25
=37. Theater Camp 25
39. You Hurt My Feelings 24.5
=40. Hello Dankness 24
=40. Taylor Swift – The Eras Tour 24

42. Our Body 23
=43. 20 Days in Mariupol 22
=43. Afire 22
=43. American Symphony 22
=43. Napoleon 22
47. Eileen 21
=48. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret 20
=48. John Wick: Chapter 4 20
=48. Sisu 20
=48. Starring Jerry as Himself 20

=52. A Thousand and One 19
=52. Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World 19
=52. Sick of Myself 19
55. Pacifiction 18
=56 Orlando, My Political Biography 17
=56. Piaffe 17
=56. Queendom 17
=56. Return to Seoul 17
=60. Gran Turismo 16
=60. Monster 16
=60. Saint Omer 16
=60. Walk Up 16

64 The Stroll 15.5
=65. All of Us Strangers 15
=65. Sanctuary 15
=65. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem 15
=65. The Teachers’ Lounge 15
=69. M3GAN 14
=69. When Evil Lurks 14

71. Earth Mama 14
=72. Fremont 13
=72. Happer’s Comet 13
=72. My Animal 13
=72. Of an Age 13
=72. The Eight Mountains 13
=77. Evil Dead Rise 12
=77. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One 12
=77. Renfield 12
=77. The Taste of Things 12

=81. Infinity Pool 11
=81. The Civil Dead 11
=81. The Night of the 12th 11
=84. Biosphere 10
=84. birth/rebirth 10
=84. Kokomo City 10
=84. Mama Wati 10
=84. Perfect Days 10
=84. Richland 10
=84. The Beasts 10
=84. The Flash 10

=92. Leave the World Behind 9
=92. Something You Said Last Night 9
=94. 32 Sounds 8
=94. Reptile 8
=94. TÁR 8
=94. The Last Voyage of the Demeter 8
=94. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar 8
=99. Air 7
=99. Inside 7
=99. When You Left Me on That Boulevard 7

=102. Kim’s Video 6
=102. Nimona 6
=102. Smoke Sauna Sisterhood 6
=102. The Adults 6
=102. The Becomers 6
=102. The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes 6
=108. Cobweb 5
=108. Enys Men 5
=108. Ferrari 5
=108. Monica 5

=112. Rustin 4
=112. The Pigeon Tunnel 4
=112. Upon Entry 4
=112. You Were My First Boyfriend 4
116. Still 3
=117. Cypher 2
=117. Knock at the Cabin 2