Amber Duke, Washington editor
Talk to Me
John Carpenter made some of the best horror movies of all time because his work did more than just try to scare the audience — it explored what really drives fear. Halloween toyed with the nature of evil. The Thing is a commentary on human isolation and the psychological effects of distrust and suspicion. That’s why Talk To Me, a 2023 horror flick from the much buzzed about studio A24, is so good. Yes, it’s about demonic possession and conjuring spirits, but at its core it’s a story about grief. Namely, the poor choices we can make when we miss someone so terribly and we just need a respite from the pain. We know that Mia’s recklessness with the “hand” that allows her and her friends to talk to the dead won’t lead anywhere good. But we also understand why she can’t stop, driven by her deep need to see her deceased mother again. Watching Mia descend into desperation as she puts her and her friends in danger instills a deep sense of dread. Even basically knowing how things will end, we’re still scared of what comes next. That’s a good horror movie.
Matt McDonald, managing editor
Hi Barbie! I’m hoping to catch up on a number of the year’s most fêted films over the Christmas break — namely Poor Things and Wonka — so for now let me revisit the cinema phenomenon of the summer: the five hours I spent indoors on a summer Sunday watching Barbie followed by Oppenheimer. This was perhaps ninety minutes too long to spend in a movie theater for me — and so while I have no doubt that Oppenheimer is a technically brilliant picture destined for classic status, Barbie is my film of the year.
I suspected that it was going to be terrible. But for the first forty or so minutes, I laughed almost every frame. Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling deserve all the plaudits they’re getting for their performances, but for me the film’s MVP is Michael Cera as Alan. It felt like Hollywood hadn’t bothered to make an original comedy since 2008’s The Hangover — but Barbie changes all that. I loved Lady Bird and Little Women, Greta Gerwig’s last two offerings, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised at how well she confronted the challenge of her career. An honorable mention, too, for The Super Mario Bros. Movie, another expectation-exceeding adaptation from earlier in the summer. 2023 is the year the toys took over.
Jacob Heilbrunn, contributing editor
The Holdovers, which is set at a prep school in Massachusetts, features a moving performance from Paul Giamatti, a learned, if crapulous, Latin teacher. His wards may receive low marks, but the film deserves the highest.
Tyler Cowen, economist and author of Marginal Revolutions
I found May December to be the most interesting movie of the year. It examines deep questions about who envies whom, what a meaningful life consists of, what about possession is satisfying, art versus artifice, the nature of celebrity, and how hard it is to live without worrying about what other people think. The stars are Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore, and the director is Todd Haynes. The plotline (these are not spoilers) is that a grown woman had sex with a male seventh-grader, was sent to prison, and later ends up marrying him and having his children. Natalie Portman plays the role of a well-known actress who comes by to learn their story, so that she may better play the woman in a movie. The biggest cinematic influence is perhaps Bergman’s Persona, as we increasingly see different ways in which the two women are parallel or “twinned” in their stories. The movie poster reflects this. The highlight is when Natalie Portman explains to a group of teenagers what it is like to do a sex scene in a movie. In an era where Hollywood is supposed to be stale, this one resets the clock.
Ben Domenech, editor-at-large
Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse
There are certain ideas taken as obvious statements of fact about current trends in Hollywood — above all, that everyone’s tired of superhero movies. They’re bland dreck with predictable twists, repetitive soundtracks and budget CGI that hasn’t been updated in a decade. The misguided push for representation has become a poor substitute for the weakness of plots — the more diverse the characters, the weaker the story, the more it leans on a message as monotonous as a corporate DEI session. And if there’s one crutch audiences are particularly tired of, it’s the “multiverse” trope, where Easter eggs for fans are used to fill time in between other forms of product placement. Yet somehow Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the follow-up to 2018’s monumentally successful Into the Spider-Verse, manages to dodge all of these pitfalls. It is visually incredible, emotionally mature and even ends with a cliffhanger that feels surprising and earned. In a post-Avengers era where Marvel movies feel so uninspired, Sony and the Lord & Miller team keep defying the odds with the webslinger, showing what comic book movies that actually care about art, story, and characters can achieve.
Ross Anderson, life editor
Anyone But You
As a champion of cinema getting horny again, 2023 was a pretty good year! Challengers sadly got delayed until next, but Sanctuary made dark comedy of the dominatrix psychological thriller, anchored by two awesome performances from Margaret Qualley and Christopher Abbott; Passages brought bisexual love-triangle drama to the big screen; Red, White & Royal Blue had corny transatlantic gay love (it wasn’t as turned-on as it should have been, but alas), and the legendary Meg Ryan returned to the big-screen (and directors chair) in What Happens Later. But my pick for 2023 film of the year is Anyone But You; a flawed film that I couldn’t help but love, as it has everything I want in a rom-com. It’s a will-they, won’t-they, they-will rom-com starring Glenn Powell (of Top Gun: Maverick) and Sydney Sweeney (of Euphoria), and their chemistry is just perfect. It’s less raunchy than I first hoped it would be, but it’s nonetheless, fun, sexy and funny, set in Australia and stars two talented, young, hot stars; what more could you want? Cinema is back, baby.
Kevin Spacey, two-time Oscar-winning actor
My pick is Rustin; a film filled with moments of such emotional truth and shocking prejudice, in this powerful story of the man who was the heart and driving force behind Martin Luther King’s March on Washington. Even though we know the March happened in 1963 the tension built by director George C. Wolf, screenwriters Julian Breece and Dustin Lance Black and the truly brilliant ensemble cast is remarkable – and all are worthy of many Oscar votes!
To observe once again the unfairness that the black community has had to endure . . . but also to witness how that same biased, unfair treatment added even more challenges for those who were both black and gay – is heartbreaking. Bayard Rustin’s incredible story demonstrates how easy it is to diminish someone, behave with cruelty, instill fear and test friendships along the way… but thankfully Rustin’s inspiration lives on.
I was moved, saddened, frustrated, but also thrilled at a movie that pushes boundaries, tells the truth and celebrates storytelling in such a commanding way. This thrilling film with such heart, craft and art comes along at the right moment; because the world needs to experience the voices that speak and the voices sing throughout this beautiful telling of one of the most important events in American history. With Barack and Michelle Obama executive producing this timeless tale should reach audiences everywhere.
Alexander Larman, books editor
Oppenheimer and The Killer
2022 ended with a bang, thanks to Cate Blanchett’s extraordinarily brilliant performance as a manipulative conductor in Todd Field’s masterly Tár, in which comparisons made between Field and Kubrick no longer seem far-fetched. Much the same could be said of Christopher Nolan’s peerless Oppenheimer, which proved that a three-hour, partially black and white picture about nuclear physics that largely consisted of men talking in rooms could be considerably more thrilling than any superhero picture. And David Fincher’s The Killer was perhaps the greatest and most pleasant surprise that I had at the cinema all year. Reviews out of Venice were polite but faintly dismissive, so it was with glee that I found myself laughing my head off at the blackest of black comedies, acted to perfection by an icy Michael Fassbender and alternating between bloody violence and a voiceover that probably packs in more bone-dry quips per minute than anything since the glory days of Raymond Chandler. Also, it looks as if Marvel and their dreadful, derivative pictures are finally on the way out; we shall see if this continues, but 2024 is looking good for the fall of the superhero picture.