A Reel Good Year: Movies From 2023 To Watch ASAP

2023 was the gift that kept on giving for film— after a world-stopping pandemic, audiences were finally looking forward to going to the movies again. This year saw the Barbenheimer phenomenon breaking box office records, the first major theatrical release by a historically streaming-focused corporation, and historic strikes for writers and actors in Hollywood– all proving that the love and support for this medium is alive and well.

Now, I haven’t watched as many films from last year as I would’ve liked, so this is hardly a definitive list. But here are a few of the most stunning, moving and clever movies from 2023 that I think deserve a spot on your watchlist.

The Holdovers

Focus Features

Directed by Alexander Payne

Set in 1970s Massachusetts, The Holdovers follows classics professor Paul Hunham at a prestigious boarding school for boys. Hunham (Paul Giamatti) is tasked with staying at the school over the holidays, supervising the other students “holding over” during the break. He frequently beleaguers the students, particularly the intelligent but prickly Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), whose last-minute vacation plans with family are canceled. Along with the students, the head of the kitchen Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) stays behind.

What many Christmas flicks fail to sincerely capture, but The Holdovers does to a T, is something that many people over the holidays really feel: a quiet yearning for connection. In an abandoned child chasing after his memory of his father, a mother grappling with the loss of her young son, a teacher stuck where he’s been all his life and barely tolerated by his community. All of them with nowhere to go, and no one to turn to but each other. And against all odds, each of them come out of it just a little less cynical– just a little more hopeful. Even the most fleeting, most surprising connections you make can move and change you if you’d just let them. 

Grief, loss and disillusionment don’t go away during the holidays, and it’s nice to see that bittersweetness so honestly reflected on screen for once, which is why I think this film is far more comforting than most classic Christmas movies, as enjoyable as they may be.

Incredibly funny and earnest, with moving performances from its three stars and a soundtrack that evokes such a warm love for its setting. The Holdovers is a film that feels timeless yet so refreshing, and I look forward to seeing how it holds up over the years.

May December


Directed by Todd Haynes

Loosely based on an infamous ‘90s scandal, May December stars Natalie Portman as Elizabeth Berry, an actress researching a role for an independent movie where she plays Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Julianne Moore), a woman who had been caught having sex with a young classmate of her son’s. Years after having his child in, and being released from, prison, Gracie and Joe (Charles Melton) are now married with three children in Savannah, Georgia. Elizabeth learns more about the Atherton-Yoos through their community and tries to piece together the story of their first affair, becoming increasingly obsessed with her subjects and capturing something “honest”.

With its difficult subject matter, May December was never going to be an easy watch. But Haynes manages to dress up the discomfort in so much allure and absurdity that it keeps you fascinated. What are we waiting to uncover next? Portman and Moore play into the melodrama and (I hesitate to use the word) camp of it all, leaving you to interpret every single face twitch and slip of a lisp through each scene. With the help of a lush yet almost jarring score, these inscrutable performances draw you in and make you contemplate these women’s true natures, waiting to see their facades crack, for someone– anyone– to drop the act and just tell the situation like it is.

But it’s Charles Melton who ultimately cuts through the layers of tension, becoming a weighty and earnest presence in a house and community full of subtle manipulation and intentional ignorance. The way he carries himself is heartbreaking, a grown man, who has never really been anything more than a teenage boy, whose reality is now slowly crashing down around him as his own children seem to outgrow him.

All in all, May December is deeply uncomfortable to watch, but unfortunately fascinating and hilarious all the same.

Asteroid City

Focus Features

Directed by Wes Anderson

A lot of people who don’t like Wes Anderson’s previous movies will probably dislike Asteroid City. The film chronicles a show, about a play, about an alien landing on an asteroid site in front of an astounded audience, which includes literal whiz-kids, scientists, military officers and cowboys. The alien leaves just as quickly as it came, but leaves existential dread and confusion in its wake– and Anderson sets out to make it look every bit as quirky as it sounds on paper. 

I won’t embarrass myself by trying to eloquently summarize the film’s plot and structure, which I’ve seen a lot of people describe as convoluted or maybe even obnoxious. But I think it may have been the perfect way to tell this story: symmetry and pastels, manicured sets and self-aware quips, stories within stories within stories– finding structure and meaning in grief. Patterns and parallels of ourselves in the face of chaos and uncertainty. 

The characters in the play attempt to carry on with life after literally discovering that aliens exist. The actors playing the characters attempt to find deeper meaning in their roles and the story after the playwright dies. Whether it’s in the play, in the film, or in life, everyone’s just bumbling around, searching for meaning to help them make sense of the reality around them and their place in it. In the wake of life-altering tragedy, we look for some sign or reason, and maybe even the strength or permission, to carry on.  This deceptively throwaway exchange right before the film’s emotional climax perfect captures it:

“[The alien was a] Metaphor for what?”
“I don’t know yet. We don’t pin it down.”

The scene that follows is one of the most moving I’ve seen, with Jones Hall (Jason Schwartzman) contemplating his character Augie’s emotions with the play’s director Schubert Green (Adrien Brody), who simply encourages him to keep telling the story despite his despair and confusion. After, Jones runs into “the wife who played my actress” (Margot Robbie) and together they recall a deleted scene from the play, in which Augie gets to say goodbye to his late wife in a dream. It’s a simple scene– two actors reading lines that were cut for time. Arguably inconsequential to their “real” lives, and yet, it seems to provide Jones with new insight into his character, himself, and his own grief over his lover-slash-playwright Conrad Earp (Edward Norton).

Dreamlike, witty, and a joy to watch. Solid performances all around from Anderson’s most star-studded cast yet, regulars and first-timers alike (Tom Hanks in particular is a surprising but welcome addition to the Wes Anderson repertory).

Past Lives


Directed by Celine Song

Celine Song’s directorial debut is arguably the most quiet, modest film on this list, but might just be the most sincere one, too. Past Lives chronicles childhood friends Nora Moon (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung’s (Teo Yoo) relationship over decades and across continents after Nora’s family moves abroad. After a brief reconnection online over Skype (Skype!) calls and email, Nora decides that their relationship is beginning to derail her own priorities, and asks to stop talking. Which– good for her, honestly. Fast forward to over a decade later, Nora, now married to Arthur (John Magaro), finally meets Hae Sung again in the flesh when he comes to visit her in New York City.

This film isn’t a love story in any traditional sense, but a contemplation on the forks in the road that we face in life, and wondering what lives we may have lived if they had maybe taken a different turn. It’s something so honest and human, to ponder who we are and what we mean to each other, and Past Lives lets you feel the tenderness and awkwardness of it all. 

With soft, muted imagery of silhouettes and distant shots, the film reminds us: this could be anyone’s story. This is just one of billions of stories. The film even opens with an offscreen couple observing the three main characters (yes, Arthur is a main character, okay!) and speculating about what their dynamic could be. 

Behind closed doors, Arthur admits his wariness over what Hae Sung’s visit means, telling Nora that he feels like a villain in a love story between long lost sweethearts. Their own story is so dull, born out of circumstance, and anyone could have possibly been in Arthur’s place when he first met Nora. To which she responds: “This is where I ended up. This is where I’m supposed to be.”

The forces of life that bring people together are the same ones that bring them apart. Some people are just meant to come into your life to steer you another way, not travel with you. As Hae Sung put it, “To me, you are someone who leaves. To Arthur, you are someone who stays.”

Past Lives lets us quietly sit with and grieve a life we won’t get to live (even if we may not have even wanted it) and gives us a gentle reassurance: maybe in the next one.


Universal Pictures

Directed by Christopher Nolan

One of the reasons I didn’t want to make a ranked list was the certainty I had that Oppenheimer would take first place, out of sheer repetition bias. I can’t count how many times I’ve watched this movie, both in the theater and at home, and I always find myself impressed at what an achievement this is for Nolan. But I’m always yapping about this film (like, too much), so I’ll keep this one brief.

Oppenheimer is an astounding experience, with incredibly calculated, purposive writing; equally thoughtful choices in music; and an all-star cast that holds their own against Cillian Murphy’s Oppenheimer.

Killers of the Flower Moon

Apple TV+

Directed by Martin Scorsese

A true and perpetual story of corruption, murder and exploitation dressed in the trappings of classic westerns and crime films. Ultimately, though, Killers of the Flower Moon is a love story. But how much is “love” really worth? Should it be enough to absolve you of your complicity in abuse and oppression? Scorsese’s films have been criticized in the past for “glorifying violence”, but KOTFM uses all that blatant criminality, greed and general heinousness against the native Osage tribe to prop up a mirror: this is the great tragedy of America. How long will you remain silent and unaccountable for your role in it?

Killers of the Flower Moon is tragic, ludicrous and nauseating in all the right ways. Beautifully shot, written and acted, this latest film has all the hallmarks of Scorsese, but with what feels like a more refined command of tone and the medium as it directly demands the audience to reckon with the injustice Indigenous people have faced historically. (I also just want to specifically mention that Blind Willie Johnson (“Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground”) needle drop. Chills.)

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Animation/Marvel

Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson

Packed with incredible animation and wildly entertaining action sequences, Across the Spider-Verse proves that the increasingly bloated superhero subgenre can still provide a unique and genuinely enjoyable viewing experience. A monumental achievement in animation (which one would hope leads to equally monumental changes in working conditions for their animators, yikes!) and a profound continuation of Miles Morales’ (Shameik Moore) journey as Spider-Man.

There’s no shortage of clever references, insanely cool characters, and touching moments, but what really makes this such a compelling second act in the Spider-Verse saga is our own desire for Miles to forge a new superhero story. Aside from themes of alienation and societal expectations, something all too familiar for people of color who are always getting put in a box, Spider-Verse also directly challenges the tragic origin trope that we’ve all seen a million times, making us all the more invested as Miles attempts to subvert or “break” the canon, so to speak, and fully come into his own as Spider-Man.

Across the Spider-Verse is fun, touching and exhilarating from start to finish, and feels complete and solid despite its groan-inducing cliffhanger. The final installment might still be a little ways down the road, but Across the Spider-Verse is still an incredibly satisfying watch (and rewatch– I guarantee you’ll notice something new every time!)



About Bernice Quimbo

Loving cat mom with too many different interests and a new obsession every week. After spending most of her life moving back and forth between Cebu and Manila, Bernice considers herself a woman of two cities, with a soft spot for her hometown and the Cebuano lifestyle.


About Bernice Quimbo

Loving cat mom with too many different interests and a new obsession every week. After spending most of her life moving back and forth between Cebu and Manila, Bernice considers herself a woman of two cities, with a soft spot for her hometown and the Cebuano lifestyle.

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