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The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

The top 10 best films of 2023

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Caroline Puckett

In the throes of this year’s tight awards race, several movies made substantial waves in all aspects of film discourse. In a year packed with fantastic films of all genres, it is impossible to claim to know the definitive best films of the year, or any year for that matter. This past year had much to offer lovers of any film genre, so here are a few of the best films of 2023.

  1. “Ferrari”

“Ferrari” is one of this year’s misunderstood films. While spotty accents and an abrupt ending occasionally mar the film’s glossy exterior, its exhilarating core, spearheaded by Adam Driver’s tortured and borderline sociopathic Enzo Ferrari, is bursting with power. Starring alongside Driver, Penelope Cruz elevates the film with a tour de force performance as Laura Ferrari, the grieving wife of Enzo Ferrari. Veteran director Michael Mann and cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt use the rawness of digital photography to highlight the pulsating highs and harrowing lows of the script. While it may falter as a high-octane racing film, it soars as a contemplation of grief and ambition.

  1. “Asteroid City”

Another film that deserved more credit than it initially received, “Asteroid City”’s melancholic self-reflection only gains resonance as time goes on. Wes Anderson’s tried-and-true twee landscape provides a fantastic canvas for a phenomenal ensemble cast, led by Jason Schwartzman, in what may be the best role in his already knock-out year, clever meta-textual musings of the nature of artistic expression and some of his signature meticulously composed shots. 

  1. “Godzilla Minus One”

The latest entry into the 50-year-running Godzilla franchise excels far past almost all of its peers within its franchise and beyond, offering both a nail-bitingly intense large-scale monster flick and a beautifully intimate portrait of grief, post-traumatic stress and the paranoia/anti-war sentiments that birthed the franchise in the first place. Elaborating on the franchise’s initial premise of another force of mass destruction being launched against Tokyo in the wake of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “Godzilla Minus One” reckons with the post-war ennui that categorized much of Japanese film and culture in the decades after World War II. While it does not deliver the bombast of some of the fan-favorite films in the franchise, for example, the elegiac “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah,” the biting satire of “Shin Godzilla,” or the sheer malicious spectacle of “Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack,” it delivers its emotional moments with the virtuosity of even the most tender of indie dramas.

  1. “The Holdovers”

Alexander Payne’s latest effort gently weaves a story of a complicated relationship between bitter youth and bitter adults with the dexterous hand of a seamstress. It breaks your heart one minute, patches it back together the next and does it all over again. Led by the endlessly entertaining trio of Paul Giamatti as Paul Hunham, the curmudgeonly ancient civilizations teacher at Barton Academy, Dominic Sessa in a breathtaking breakthrough performance as Angus Tully, a spiteful troublemaking student left alone at his school during Christmas vacation, and the heart-shattering Da’Vine Joy Randolph as grieving mother and school lunch lady Mary Lamb, Payne has crafted a true Christmas classic that mends the pain that the holidays may inflict on many of us.

  1. “Anatomy of a Fall”

The year’s best screenplay is brought to life by Sandra Hüller’s powerhouse performance as Sandra Voyter, a writer accused of killing her husband. This simple premise is explored with sympathy and depth, and Justine Triet’s directing brings out spectacular performances from every principal cast member. It is at the same time a straightforward yet complicated narrative, with enough closure and ambiguity to provide alternate interpretations with the same general conclusions. 

  1. “The Iron Claw”

Zac Efron completely stuns as Kevin Von Erich, leading a stellar ensemble featuring Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson and Stanley Simmons in the real-life tragedy of the Von Erich wrestling dynasty. “The Iron Claw” is a Southern Gothic power ballad. The electric wrestling choreography and the apex of physical strength that the brothers achieve are juxtaposed with their sheer vulnerability. As with many of the films in the latter half of this list, it is a tough watch. The texture of its southern environment makes the absurdly devastating story feel real, especially to native Southerners and anyone who practiced wrestling moves on their little brothers in their youth. “The Iron Claw” is a powerful film and one that will undoubtedly stand the test of time. If the final 10 minutes do not shatter you, you probably are not human.

  1. “May December”

A film that was unfortunately buried in the straight-to-Netflix content vortex, Todd Haynes’ “May December” nails every ingredient that makes a great film. Each shot is impeccably framed and blocked, the dialogue is earnestly devastating while being occasionally hilarious and the performances from Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore are top-notch, but the real star of the show is former Riverdale star Charles Melton, who portrays a victim of grooming at the hands of Julianne Moore’s character. “May December” has a lot to say about the sensationalization of true crime stories and stolen innocence, so it is a real shame that its direct-to-streaming release robbed it of the cultural impact that it deserved.

  1. “Oppenheimer”

Even after its release, “Oppenheimer” continues to tyrannically dominate the awards circuit and film discourse in almost all major circles. There is little left to say about Christopher Nolan’s mature, soul-crushing magnum opus; other than that, it has proven itself to be nothing short of an astronomically great film. Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr. and the entire ensemble cast are being heaped with mountains of praise from all outlets, and they deserve every ounce of it. Its rank of third best of the year should not be observed as a slight against its near spotless critical reception, but just as an indicator of how many incredible films came out in one year. 

  1. “The Zone of Interest”
    Jonathan Glazer’s latest masterpiece leaves the audience speechless. The story of a concentration camp commandant who attempts to raise a family in a house built next to Auschwitz is told using not only what is on screen but also what lies outside the frame. The unspeakable horror that was inflicted inside the camp just yards away from our sickeningly callous main characters is never made explicit, but its weight dominates the film’s 106-minute runtime. Every aspect, from the hollow performances of the main cast to the bone-chilling soundscapes and the magnificent cinematography, expertly builds a truly one-of-a-kind nightmare of a film.
  2. “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Another entry into Martin Scorsese’s pantheon of classics, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is a great American epic about the Native American blood that was spilled on the land that we walk on every single day and the failure of anybody with any power to do a damned thing about it. It is not a fun watch, but it is a necessary one. Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and Lily Gladstone are all astounding. Scorsese uses his reputation as a director of rousing crime thrillers to grapple with America’s categorical complicity in reckless cruelty and wanton hate and the banal evil that we may never escape from. 

Honorable mentions

The first honorable mention is the re-release of “Stop Making Sense,” the brilliant Talking Heads concert film directed by Jonathan Demme. While being nothing short of an 88-minute blast of some of the best music ever written, it did not originally come out this year. Another film worth mentioning is “The Venture Bros.: Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart,” the emotional straight-to-Blu-Ray finale of one of the most under-appreciated shows of all time. 

Last year was filled with some excellent films. Several renowned auteurs returned to the screen to bring us some of their best works yet and new voices made themselves known, all while audiences were being treated to blockbusters, arthouse films, streaming and television. It was positively an amazing year for film.

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About the Contributor
Caroline Puckett, Graphic Artist
Caroline (she/her) is a graduate student from Brownsville, Texas studying Health, Community and Policy. She is a passionate artist with a love for graphic design and illustration. On any given day, you will find Caroline re-watching her favorite shows, drawing in her sketchbook or crocheting tote bags.

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