Consider these movies strong contenders for inclusion in the “must-watch” section of your 2023 watchlist.
Whether you caught up with the year’s biggest and most acclaimed movies or had no time (or budget) to head to the cinema, 2023 was an eventful year for movies. Hollywood went through it with two industry-wide strikes, while Philippine films came swinging for an overall great year. From Hollywood blockbusters, streaming drops, indie favorites, and more, the movies released this year were an eclectic mix of genres and stories.
In a time of great upheaval and uncertainty, movies once again proved to be a haven. 2023’s films explored interesting narratives, led conversations, shed light on important topics, transported viewers to new worlds, and more, as exemplified in the following movies. While this isn’t an exhaustive list of the year’s best, it is a look at the movies that had us mesmerized long after the credits rolled. Check out the films that had us racing to our nearest movie theater and logging on streaming services with quickness below.
Some movies go beyond the silver screen and lead to bigger conversations and cultural movements. Such was the case for Barbie. But more than just giving moviegoers a renewed sense of womanhood, the film is a compelling character study of a stereotypical Barbie doll who discovers what it means to be your own person as well as dive into the criticisms the Barbie dolls have faced.
The film skips typical conventions to be a fun and even campy look into Barbies and Kens who are exposed to the eccentricities of the real world. Led by strong performances (such as a scene-stealing role from America Ferrera), a banging soundtrack, and all the pink in the world, Barbie breathes new life into the classic doll.
DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES
On the surface, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves looked like a big-budget disaster in the making. The trailers gave the air of a generic Hollywood fantasy movie that would tread every stereotypical path possible. But to the delightful surprise of many, the DND movie is not only competently made, but also fun and funny with bundles of heart.
The movie manages to satisfy fans of DND while also being accessible to casual viewers. The story is good, the acting is solid, the fantasy elements make sense, and the comedy hits. It’s a shame that it disappointed at the box office as one of the year’s most overlooked is also one of its best. Don’t let the generic fantasy setting fool you, this one is worth the watch.
Philippine animation rarely gets the flowers and support it deserves from the local industry despite the output of local animators. Just look at the excellence that is Iti Mapukpukaw. Cinemalaya’s first animated feature film tells the interesting story of an animator, who literally has no mouth and his life-changing encounter with aliens.
Director Carl Joseph Papa, along with his team of animators, delivered a technical achievement through rotoscoping, a process of tracing over frames of live-action footage, while also delivering the emotional core that makes the story work. While the country’s chosen film for the 2023 Oscars failed to make it on the shortlist, it is still a fine film and one of the best from Philippine cinema this year.
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4
In a year of strong action movies, John Wick’s fourth (and maybe last) outing stands on top. Film franchises rarely succeed in upping the ante in each succeeding entry, yet the fourth chapter of the franchise does so marvelously. It takes the action from New York to Osaka and Paris in some of the most thrilling sequences put to film this year. John Wick’s (supposed) send-off was one for the ages.
From the assault of the Osaka Continental to that edge-of-your-seat extended sequence across the streets of Paris during the final act, every set piece stunned, stabbed, and shined. Add to that excellent new additions from Donnie Yen’s Caine and Rina Sawayama’s Akira, you have a movie that ended on a definitive period while also leaving the door slightly open for exciting new adventures.
KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON
While a three and a half hour movie may scare off most people, that shouldn’t deter you from seeing Martin Scorsese’s latest masterpiece. This fictional look at the real-life killings of the Osage people in the 1920s is meticulous, precise, and takes its time saying what needs to be said, but also doesn’t drop the ball at being a boring melodrama. And in a cast of A-tier actors, Lily Gladstone knocks it out of the park as the steadfast Mollie Burkhart, who goes to hell and back in the movie. It makes for a crime thriller that does the near impossible, captive from start to finish in its long runtime.
Christopher Nolan’s movies are must-sees for his many fans. Add to that the Barbenheimer mania, Oppenheimer was one of the most anticipated experiences of the year. And when it finally premiered, it did not disappoint. This three-hour epic follows J. Robert Oppenheimer as he is recruited by the US government to help develop the atomic bomb. However, his success quickly leads to regret as Oppenheimer wrestles with the morals of his invention.
Ambitious is an apt way to describe the movie, yet Nolan and company do not buckle under the daunting weight of what the film is trying to say narratively and technically. Grand in scale yet never forgetting to have its feet on the ground, Oppenheimer is an achievement unlike any other.
How can a movie say so much by doing so little? By being like Past Lives. On the outside looking in, A24’s romantic drama looks simple enough; Nora and Hae Sung are two childhood best friends who reconnect in New York after years apart. Yet what follows in the film’s less than two-hour runtime is a soft-spoken yet compelling tale of connection, love, and moving forward.
As Nora and Hae Sung (played to perfection by Greta Lee and Teo Yoo respectively) have their long-awaited reunion in NYC, they discover that their past isn’t so easy to untangle from where they are in the present. Believe it or not, this is writer-director Celine Song’s debut feature film, and she knocked it out of the park. In a year where maximalism had its time in the spotlight, Past Lives stands out as a tender, intimate, and real tale of complicated longing.
Yorgos Lanthimos will always zig when everyone else zags. And that’s the case for his latest effort Poor Things, which also is one of his best yet. The eccentric film centers on the idea of a woman finding her autonomy in a strange world yet does so in a way only Lanthimos can do.
Emma Stone delivers a top-tier performance as Bella Baxter, a young woman who is brought to life by Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). In the hopes of learning about the world, Bella runs off with a lawyer named Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) as she stumbles on adventures equal parts humorous and enlightening. Exciting, funny, and whimsical, Poor Things is an uncompromising riot on womanhood.
SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE
Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse does something a handful of movie sequels have done right, retain what made the original so exciting while adding new elements that make it stand on its own. The film expands Miles’ journey, turns Gwen Stacey into a true lead of her own, opens wide the Spider multiverse, and adds new fan-favorite characters like Hobie Brown and Pavitr Prabhakar. Sure, the ending is a bit abrupt and the sound mixing needed some fixing in the beginning, but that doesn’t diminish the film from being an animated powerhouse.
Original big-budget sci-fi concepts are a dime a dozen in Hollywood these days. So, The Creator, from Rogue One director Gareth Edwards, had our attention. And it was worth it. While the story and setting of the movie err on the generic side, it succeeds in its technical prowess. The film is gorgeous, with sweeping cinematography that plays to the strengths of built sets and actual locations. The effects, both practical and computer-generated, add to and enhance the movie’s grittiness. The Creator’s action scenes are a wonder to watch and visual spectacles that will have you hooked. If sci-fi is what you’re after, do not miss this movie.
THIRD WORLD ROMANCE
Dating? In this economy?? That’s the basic premise of Dwein Baltazar’s Third World Romance, and it succeeds on nearly every front. The film centers on Britney (Charlie Dizon), a young and outspoken woman desperate for a job to fund the return ticket of her mom from Oman to the Philippines. Luck finds Britney when she comes across Alvin (Carlo Aquino), a laidback grocery store bagger who helps Britney get a job as a cashier at the grocery he works at. The two eventually fall in love, but they soon realize that their paycheck-to-paycheck life may not be the most ideal setting for their love story.
Dwein Baltazar leads Third World Romance with her deft direction and writing (as well as co-writer Jeko Aguado), while Carlo Aquino and Charlie Dizon bring that magic to life. It’s an honest portrayal of love in the working class, one that strips away the high ideals of romance and focuses on the practicality of being in love while struggling to make ends meet. Excellent direction, knockout lead performances, and poignant storytelling combine to make Third World Romance a gem of a rom-com.
A Very Good Girl – Kathryn Bernardo and Dolly de Leon deliver a joint slay in a poignant film about injustice and power imbalance.
About Us But Not About Us – A lunch between a student and his teacher turn tense in the best way possible.
Air – The movie about how the Nike Air Jordan line came to be is surprisingly as captivating as a Michael Jordan basketball game.
Bottoms – Rachel Sennott… okay girl. Bottoms is on top as one of the best comedies of the year.
Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 – It’s not all doom and gloom for the MCU as the third and final outing for the Guardians was the send-off they deserved.
Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One – Mission Impossible’s hot streak continues in this thrilling ride that will have you teetering on the edge of your seat.
Nimona – Do yourself a favor and watch this underrated animated film on Netflix. You won’t regret it.
Rookie – This is the modern sports queer love story we needed.
Talk to Me – A fun and bone-chilling twist on the possession sub-genre.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem – Authentic, funny, and entertaining are just some words that can be used to describe this good time.
When Evil Lurks – This Argentinian horror film is nasty, maddening, disgusting, and abhorrent, which means it’s an excellent movie.
Continue Reading: Here Are The 10 Movies Competing At The 2023 Metro Manila Film Festival