2023 has been a good year for movie lovers.
From the blockbuster “Barbenheimer” phenomenon to the 21 films released by indie production company A24 this year, there has been something for everyone.
As a self-proclaimed movie addict, I visited movie theaters 17 times this year, emptying my bank account and dragging my friends to the best and worst movies 2023 had to offer. I watched a few movies twice—and a few I never want to see again. From box office hits to indie films, here are my favorite 2023 releases—and one movie viewers should skip.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
After sleeping through the last hour of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania earlier this year, I was worried that theatrical Marvel releases had lost their appeal. The third installment of Guardians of the Galaxy proved my fears wrong, introducing new sides to old characters and a satisfying end to the series.
Through Rocket Raccoon’s (Bradley Cooper) flashbacks to his life before the Guardians, the movie gave viewers a deeper understanding of its core characters. The mostly comedic, sibling-like dynamic among the group that viewers love still existed—but Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his friends seemed more serious and invested in their cause than in previous films.
Rather than relying on its trademark throwback soundtrack and well-timed jokes as the franchise has in the past, this film had a bittersweet tone that set it apart from other Guardians movies. Specifically, its flashbacks to Rocket’s origin story provided sobering reminders of the pain the normally easygoing characters have experienced. I expected to be disappointed by the change in tone, but I found myself laughing and crying along with the characters in a way I hadn’t with the previous movies.
This film, released by A24, was worth the two hours I drove to see it. Centered around friends who went on a date in their childhood, only for one of them to move across the world and lose touch, Past Lives is a nontraditional love story in the best way possible.
Instead of telling the typical story where the protagonists are torn apart, reconnect, and fall in love, this film tells a more realistic, but deeply resonant, story of missed connections. Nora (Greta Lee) looks up her childhood sweetheart on Facebook on a whim, years after leaving him behind when she emigrated from Korea. She skypes him for a year before realizing she has, as expected, fallen in love with him.
But the film isn’t a rom-com, so instead of abandoning her life and her writing to be with him, she cuts contact—only for him to finally visit years later when she has married someone else. Despite the film being composed mostly of long conversations, every second was intriguing.
I found myself at first surprised and saddened by each choice the characters made, but as the film progressed, I realized its portrayal of the complications between love and friendship resonated more with me than any typical rom-com has.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
After loving the long-anticipated Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse earlier this year, it never occurred to me that another animated film might take its spot. The new take on a classic cartoon, however, managed to surprise me. Although the plot was simple, its acting and soundtrack likely made the audience forget it’s watching a kids’ movie.
Co-written and produced by Seth Rogen, the film is like if the animated Teen Titans met Superbad. Featuring voices including Ayo Edebiri as April O’Neil, Jackie Chan as Splinter, and Ice Cube as Superfly, the movie’s action scenes frequently feel like comedy routines. In one scene, the characters break out in a neon-splattered fight in a bowling alley, incorporating pizza slices and bowling balls as weapons.
The animation is also versatile, reminiscent of the old Ninja Turtles movies while incorporating the cartoon art popularized by the Spider-Verse films. It is visually interesting at every turn, and the loose, sketch-ed out style accompanies the East Coast hip-hop soundtrack well. I didn’t know I needed a fight scene to Blackstreet’s and Dr. Dre’s “No Diggity,” but the movie proved that I do.The movie is visually and audibly engaging at every turn and is a film for little kids and art lovers alike.
Film to Skip: Asteroid City
Director Wes Anderson’s long-awaited theatrical release about a desert space camp that experiences a strange alien encounter fell short of my expectations. Anderson’s trademark film aesthetic has tackled nearly every setting with success, from the suburbs in Bottle Rocket to the sea in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. His first foray into the desert, however, did not have the same magical effect—rather than being whimsical, it was just a little weird.
Normally, this is part of the appeal of Anderson’s films. The aesthetic of bright colors and charming music was overwhelming, however, and overshadowed the actual plot of the movie. It didn’t help that the main desert storyline was revealed to be only a play within the larger film, whose characters had their own complex motives for making the play.
If I were a more focused person, I might have appreciated the story within a story, but it mostly served to make the plot disjointed and hard to follow. If you want the quirky characters without the plot-induced headache, I recommend skipping Asteroid City and opting for Anderson’s recent Netflix release instead.