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Best movies of 2023, according to critics

Written by:
December 29, 2023
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Parkwood

Best movies of 2023, according to critics

Looking back on 2023, it's fair to say the year was one for the film history books. From the box office-breaking Barbenheimer weekend to the writers' and actors' strikes that lasted a large part of the year, countless defining events majorly impacted the industry. Alongside these headline-making moments were 12 months of incredible film releases.

"Maestro" audiences bore witness to a "career-best performance" by Carey Mulligan, with Jeffrey Wright's jaw-dropping turn in "American Fiction" following suit. There was the buzzy "Saltburn" and "May December," Greta Gerwig's flawlessly directed "Barbie," and the gorgeously shot "Poor Things." In fact, there were so many good films this year it would be almost impossible to name them all, let alone compile a comprehensive list of the very best—so we've left that job up to the critics.

Using Metacritic data, Stacker appraised all the new films released in 2023 and ranked the top 25 by Metascore, with ties broken by the number of reviews and further ties remaining intact. (Data was collected on Dec. 13.) There are sure to be several films you'll recognize as blockbuster hits, like "Oppenheimer" and "Killers of the Flower Moon." There are also several lesser-known titles—from "Beyond Utopia" and "The Disappearance of Shere Hite." Along with some likely Oscar contenders like "The Zone of Interest," there are also films you may be surprised didn't make the list.

Read on to see whether your favorite blockbuster is #1 and discover a few hidden gems along the way.

#25. Beyond Utopia

- Director: Madeleine Gavin
- Metascore: 84
- Runtime: 2 hours, 5 minutes

In this unique documentary, viewers follow several North Koreans as they risk everything to escape their homeland. All the footage in the film is original—none of the harrowing scenes are recreations, and it was all shot by the filmmakers or the film's subjects themselves. The more tense moments are interspersed with talking-head scenes from other defectors that expound on life under the totalitarian regime. Ben Pearson, writing for /Film, called the movie "intense, thrilling, heartbreaking, and vital."

#23. 20 Days in Mariupol (tie)

- Director: Mstyslav Chernov
- Metascore: 84
- Runtime: 1 hour, 31 minutes

Another hard-hitting documentary, "20 Days in Mariupol" follows director Mstyslav Chernov as he navigates the nearly abandoned Ukrainian port city after the invasion of the Russian military. His footage captures fleeing civilians, destroyed hospitals, and people attempting to survive in the hollowed-out city. While the film is far from an easy watch, New York Times Critic-at-Large Jason Farago wrote that the film is a "truly important documentary," serving as "a model of how we discover the larger truth of war."

#23. The Eternal Memory (tie)

- Director: Maite Alberdi
- Metascore: 84
- Runtime: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Shot primarily during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, this documentary follows the relationship between famed Chilean journalist Augusto Góngora and his wife, actor and politician Paulina Urrutia, as she cares for him after his devastating Alzheimer's diagnosis. Writing for The Guardian, Wendy Ide described "The Eternal Memory" as "wrenchingly sad, but also a testament to the love that endures."

#22. Earth Mama

- Director: Savanah Leaf
- Metascore: 84
- Runtime: 1 hour, 41 minutes

"Earth Mama" is an A24 drama following a young woman who finds herself leaning heavily on her Bay Area community as she navigates her pregnancy and attempts to reunite with her two older children in foster care. Both subtle and intimate, the film explores the complexities of motherhood, love, and grief. New York Times Chief Film Critic Manohla Dargis called Savanah Leaf's feature film directorial debut "very moving and adamantly political."

#21. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

- Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
- Metascore: 84
- Runtime: 1 hour, 46 minutes

Based on the classic 1970 coming-of-age novel by Judy Blume, "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." follows a middle school-aged girl as she navigates a major move, her interfaith religious identity, and the various trials and tribulations of puberty. In her review, Lauren Mechling, senior editor at The Guardian, called the movie "a stunning evocation of the fear and yearning that come with standing on the precipice of adulthood," and though it was originally intended for preteens, its subject matter is sure to resonate with viewers of all ages and genders.

#20. Tótem

- Director: Lila Avilés
- Metascore: 85
- Runtime: 1 hour, 35 minutes

In "Tótem," a 7-year-old spends the day with her extended family as they gather to celebrate what will probably be her father's last birthday. The film, told from the point of view of a child who cannot quite decipher the adults around her, is an honest, heartfelt look at the realities of an extended goodbye. Never veering into sentimentality, Variety's chief film critic, Peter Debruge, called the film "intimate [and] emotionally rich."

#19. The Disappearance of Shere Hite

- Director: Nicole Newnham
- Metascore: 85
- Runtime: 1 hour, 56 minutes

Narrated by Dakota Johnson, "The Disappearance of Shere Hite" is a documentary chronicling the life and legacy of feminist and women's sexuality researcher Shere Hite. Despite Hite's "The Hite Report" being the 31st bestselling book of all time as of 2021, most would be hard-pressed to give even a basic summary of its contents. The film has, as Monica Castillo writes in her review for Roger Ebert, brought Hite's important work back into the light. Castillo called the movie especially "poignant at a time when people are losing reproductive rights, and LGBTQ communities are losing their hard-won protections."

#18. May December

- Director: Todd Haynes
- Metascore: 85
- Runtime: 1 hour, 53 minutes

Loosely based on the real-life story of Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau, "May December" follows a woman whose 23-year relationship began when her partner was just 13, blurring the lines between abuse and romance. Starring Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, and Charles Melton, the movie's thematic content is challenging, to say the least. Still, most critics, like Manohla Dargis in her New York Times rave, agree its disturbing subject matter is delicately dealt with. Its ambiguous ending encourages viewers to even further complicate their perspectives on the family at the heart of the film.

#17. Orlando, My Political Biography

- Director: Paul B. Preciado
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 1 hour, 38 minutes

This uniquely formatted, experimental documentary tells the transition stories of 26 trans and nonbinary individuals, using Virginia Woolf's novel "Orlando" as a unifying framework. For Variety, Manuel Betancourt wrote that director Paul B. Preciado created a "towering manifesto" of a film that blurred genre boundaries and blended the political and the personal with humor and self-consciousness.

#16. The Delinquents

- Director: Rodrigo Moreno
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 3 hours, 3 minutes

In "The Delinquents," an overlooked, overworked bank employee plots to steal enough money to live modestly for the rest of his life—and he'll cut his co-worker in if the other man agrees to hide the cash while he serves his inevitable jail time. However, there's more to this Argentine film than an action-packed plot; it ruminates on late capitalism and the odd connections between people with quirky humor. Writing for Roger Ebert, Jourdain Searles said the film "plays like a philosophical experiment."

#15. All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt

- Director: Raven Jackson
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Spanning the course of several decades, "All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt" follows a Black woman in Mississippi from childhood into her adult years. Raven Jackson's first film has been highly praised for its composition and, as Richard Brody described in his New Yorker review, the way it "looks at ordinary life with such loving care." In addition to Brody's assertion that the film is "the directorial debut of the year," fellow critics, including Monica Castillo for Roger Ebert, have lauded the film's subtlety and slow, deliberate pacing.

#14. Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé

- Director: Beyoncé
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 2 hours, 50 minutes

A concert documentary film written, directed, and produced by Beyoncé herself, "Renaissance" takes viewers behind the scenes of the titular worldwide tour, giving them a rare look at the development of the epic scale of what can only be called an experience. Writing for Slate, Nadira Goffe, an associate writer of culture, praised how the movie embraced the singer's imperfections, dispelling the idea that all celebrities are—and should be—perfect. "Renaissance" also offers up a visual feast that NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour called "maximalist excellence."

#13. Anatomy of a Fall

- Director: Justine Triet
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 2 hours, 32 minutes

In this French courtroom drama, a young visually impaired boy struggles with his decision to testify after his mother is accused of murdering his father. "Anatomy of a Fall," winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes, wrestles with the idea of truth and whether it is ever really knowable. Writing for The Guardian, Wendy Ide called the film "electric, restlessly dynamic and compulsively watchable," neatly stepping around the common pitfalls of legal dramas to create something fresh and complex.

#12. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

- Directors: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 2 hours, 20 minutes

Following up on the critically acclaimed "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" sees Spideys from the far reaches of the multiverse team up to stop a new threat. Bursting with creative energy and multiple visually arresting animation styles, the film explores what it means to grow up and how much power we have over our own storylines. In his review for The Ringer, Daniel Chin wrote that "Across the Spider-Verse" is "even more ambitious, adventurous, and visually spellbinding than its predecessor—and just as filled with heart."

#11. Mami Wata

- Director: C.J. 'Fiery' Obasi
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 1 hour, 47 minutes

A black-and-white thriller based on Nigerian folklore, "Mami Wata" deals with the water spirit Mami Wata and one village's growing discontent with her earthly representative, Mama Efe, who serves as the village's faith healer. Peter Bradshaw raved about the movie's striking visuals, urgent storytelling, and stripped-down minimalism in his Guardian review, while Editor-at-Large Matt Zoller Seitz wrote, "The film casts a spell, and the spell persists to the end."

#10. Fallen Leaves

- Director: Aki Kaurismäki
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 1 hour, 21 minutes

The only rom-com to make the list, "Fallen Leaves" follows two Finnish people as they attempt to start a relationship despite numerous obstacles that range from lost phone numbers to alcoholism. In her New York Times review, Esther Zuckerman called the film a "brilliant new gem of a comedy" that balances despair and levity to ultimately "life-affirming" effect.

#9. Poor Things

- Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 2 hours, 21 minutes

Based on a 1992 novel of the same name, "Poor Things" tells the story of a resurrected Victorian woman who embarks on a journey of self-discovery and sexual liberation. Besides calling the film Yorgos Lanthimos' best, film critic Christy Lemire praised Emma Stone's "performance of a lifetime" as Bella in her Roger Ebert review. Constance Grady, a senior correspondent of culture at Vox, called the film "joyous in its weirdness, joyous in its exploration and celebration of its strange, strange world."

#8. Killers of the Flower Moon

- Director: Martin Scorsese
- Metascore: 89
- Runtime: 3 hours, 26 minutes

An adaptation of the bestselling 2017 book of the same name by David Grann, "Killers of the Flower Moon" is about the murders of Osage Nation members after oil was discovered on their tribal land. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, and Lily Gladstone, the movie has been held up as a perfect example of how drastically American history changes when the narrator of that history changes. Scorsese's handling of the heavy subject matter was praised by Managing Editor Brian Tallerico, who called it "a masterful historical drama about evil operating in plain sight" in his review.

#7. Oppenheimer

- Director: Christopher Nolan
- Metascore: 89
- Runtime: 3 hours

One of the summer's biggest hits, "Oppenheimer" is an epic biographical thriller that covers the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer and his role in developing the atomic bomb. In addition to its compelling direction and nuanced performances from its leads, Associated Press film writer Jake Coyle praised the movie for how it wrestled with the question of the responsibility of power: whether it be in major things, like the development of the bomb, or more everyday things, like our interactions with our loved ones.

#6. All of Us Strangers

- Director: Andrew Haigh
- Metascore: 91
- Runtime: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Best described as a romantic drama with a magical realism twist, Andrew Haigh's "All of Us Strangers" follows a Londoner named Adam as he begins a relationship with his mysterious neighbor and simultaneously discovers that his parents appear to still be alive, despite dying in a car crash 30 years prior. The gut-wrenching film at once inspires feelings of loneliness and connection, which is partly what makes it so remarkable.

"Haigh's study of loneliness does, in its own strange way, make us feel less alone," Benjamin Lee, East Coast arts editor at The Guardian, wrote in his review. "It may never get better in the ways we were told it would but if we can stop it from getting worse, then maybe that'll be enough."

#5. Menus-Plaisirs: Les Troisgros

- Director: Frederick Wiseman
- Metascore: 92
- Runtime: 4 hours

Directed by 93-year-old veteran Frederick Wiseman, this documentary takes viewers inside the titular French restaurant that's held three Michelin stars for more than half a century. Earning a rare 100% score from critics and audiences alike on Rotten Tomatoes, "Menus-Plaisirs: Les Troisgros" meticulously showcases what it takes to reach culinary perfection. Writing for Roger Ebert, Matt Zoller Seitz noted the project helps audiences "see through fresh eyes and understand things [they] never thought about or took for granted."

#4. The Boy and the Heron

- Director: Hayao Miyazaki
- Metascore: 92
- Runtime: 2 hours, 4 minutes

A Studio Ghibli project, "The Boy and the Heron" is an animated fantasy film that follows a young boy, Mahito, who, after his mother dies, enters a timeless world via an abandoned tower and befriends a talking gray heron. As with many Studio Ghibli releases, critics have lauded Hayao Miyazaki's incredible animation and the movie's poignant themes of coping with grief and loss and eventually, coming to a place of acceptance.

#3. The Zone of Interest

- Director: Jonathan Glazer
- Metascore: 93
- Runtime: 1 hour, 46 minutes

Jonathan Glazer's difficult-to-watch film "The Zone of Interest" follows a Nazi commander as he and his family work to build an idyllic home for themselves next door to Auschwitz. Critics have praised the drama for how it unemotionally examines how easily apathy can make us complicit in the horrors of history. Critic Raphael Abraham wrote for the Financial Times: "Glazer has achieved something much greater than just making the monstrous mundane — by rendering such extreme inhumanity ordinary he reawakens us to its true horror"

#2. Past Lives

- Director: Celine Song
- Metascore: 94
- Runtime: 1 hour, 46 minutes

The drama "Past Lives" follows two people as they go from childhood loves in South Korea to veritable strangers in New York City to something in between. At once incredibly romantic and heartbreakingly sad, the movie is both "delicate, sophisticated and yet also somehow simple, direct, even verging on the cheesy," as Peter Bradshaw described for The Guardian; it's a fitting way to encapsulate this singular entry into the cannon that sits in the runner-up spot for 2023 movies.

#1. Our Body

- Director: Claire Simon
- Metascore: 95
- Runtime: 2 hours, 48 minutes

And the best movie of 2023, according to critics? That honor goes to "Our Body," a documentary about the doctors and patients of a gynecological ward at a public Parisian hospital. The film from acclaimed documentarian Claire Simon has a rare 100% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Variety's International Critic Jessica Kiang praised "Our Body," particularly for "demystifying and de-objectifying the female body" and for its "nonjudgmental, empathetic" approach to the choices pregnant people from all walks of life make regarding their health care.

Story editing by Eliza Siegel. Copy editing by Paris Close.

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