The 10 best movies of 2023: ‘The Holdovers,’ ‘Oppenheimer’ and more

The 10 best movies of 2023: ‘The Holdovers,’ ‘Oppenheimer’ and more

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I cannot tell a lie: 2022 was kind of a bummer, movie-wise. As the year ended, I was hard-pressed to come up with 10 titles I genuinely loved. The pickings were so slim, I worried about the future of the movies, not just as art or mass entertainment, but communal events that are central to our culture.

What a difference this year made. Whether it was hordes of 8-year-olds storming the screen at their local ‘plex to sing along with Taylor Swift, or a little movie about a former U.S. government agent rescuing children from sex traffickers, suddenly people had reasons to go to the movies again. What they found, as often as not, were women trying to break free of societal constraints (Barbie, meet Shere Hite! Have you two seen “Poor Things” yet?), a theme that seems to have reached full expression in the years following the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up.

Adventurous audiences found plenty to value in the independent sphere, whether it was outstanding documentaries like “The Mission,” “Kokomo City,” “The Eternal Memory,” “Sly” and “The Disappearance of Shere Hite,” or foreign-language films like “Other People’s Children,” “L’immensitá,” “Close,” “No Bears” and “Fallen Leaves.” (Save space on that list for the upcoming “Zone of Interest.”) And this was a banner year for first-time filmmakers, who brought exceptionally strong voices and visions to rivetingly original stories: A.V. Rockwell gave Teyana Taylor a dazzling showcase in the tough and tender mother-son drama “A Thousand and One”; Jamie Dack created the year’s most disturbingly effective portrait of sex trafficking with “Palm Trees and Power Lines”; comedian Ray Romano made an assured directing debut with the sweetly nostalgic family drama “Somewhere in Queens”; Charlotte Regan and Raven Jackson made wildly different but equally poetic and powerful films about girls coming of age in “Scrapper” and “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt,” respectively.

Any one of those films could easily have ended up on my top 10 list this year, which was a stunner, not a bummer. Here’s hoping the trend continues apace.

10. Origin

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Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of Isabel Wilkerson’s book “Caste” stars Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor as Wilkerson herself, in a story that weaves her personal story of loss and grief into her search for a theoretic construct for oppression that transcends race. The result is a film that, like Wilkerson’s mission, invents a new language, combining drama and documentary to get at some of the most profound and politically complex realities of human experience with depth, emotion and raw honesty.

Where to watch: in theaters

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