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From Barbie to Killers of the Flower Moon: The Best Movies of 2023

What are the best movies of 2023? Well, that depends on who you’re asking, but I’ll admit that as I compiled my personal favourites, I was surprised at the amount of blockbuster entries taking up space. ‘Barbenheimer,’ the theatrical film event of the year, was a no-brainer pick, for having not only delivered the most juxtaposing clash of themes on a single release date since the pandemic era, but also bringing back moviegoers to the theatres. Greta Gerwig’s Barbie was an overtly pink and joyous movie about living dolls and feminism, while Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer was a bleak biopic about the creator of the atomic bomb. In case you’re wondering, I liked Barbie more (slightly).

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the second chapter in Miles Morales’ multiversal tale, was another standout, blending multiple animation styles to tell the story of teenage struggles and parenthood. And so was Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon — a period Western that tells the story of insidious Osage murders.

Unfortunately, only half of the films on this list were screened in Indian theatres, further detailing how poorly distribution works in the country. Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest and Yorgos Lanthimos’ highly anticipated Frankenstein-inspired black comedy Poor Things were also on my radar this year, but at the time of writing, there is no way for me to watch them digitally or in the cinemas, which genuinely sucks.

With that, here are Gadgets 360’s picks for the best movies of the year (in no particular order):

Anatomy of a Fall

Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or-winning courtroom drama isn’t exactly a thriller about the crime at hand, but an intimate peek into a couple’s life whose destruction seems to have been a long time coming. Sandra Hüller plays an acclaimed bisexual author in Anatomy of a Fall, who is suspected of murder when her husband suspiciously falls to his death from the attic room window. An investigation ensues, with the usual forensics and alibi confirmation, before their relationship is put under the microscope, with haunting revelations that leave their blind son and the audience equally stunned.

The way the details are drip-fed to us is creative, starting with the opening which shows Polaroid pictures of the young couple meeting each other at a bar and eventually having a child who likes music. Cracks start appearing in testimonies when the son gives conflicting accounts of what sounded like an argument between his parents, which further rips open when a voice recording of an explosive quarrel surfaces — fuelled by hatred, jealousy, and feelings of mistrust due to Sandra’s history of infidelity. While the familial struggles are genuine and relatable in this contemporary world, all the evidence combined with her penchant for inserting intrusive thoughts in her novels, paint her as evil in the eyes of the law.

Often, the camera chases around other minor characters, offering their perspective and a glance at their thought process about the investigation. Even as the trial draws to its lingering but safe payoff, we’re left with more questions about what could have happened on the fateful morning, the possible lies, and the fear of turning over a new leaf. Save for some distracting out-of-focus shots, the overall writing and enthralling performances — even from the pet dog — kept me glued to the screen.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

This is the second time I felt the tired formula of the multiverse was used as a crutch to explore parenting and the notion of letting your teenage child learn to survive by themselves. Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is undergoing a new phase in life — juggling between his duties as Brooklyn’s saviour and school, all the while getting into petty arguments with his mom and dad. It’s a humane touch that we all can relate to on some level, an aspect that’s been missing from most superhero films that came out this year. Perhaps that intimate display of emotions is what sets apart Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, only benefitting from the jaw-dropping art style that contorts depending on our characters’ internal struggles and experiences.

Within the first five minutes, we’re flooded with the plight of living a double life through various shades of splashy watercolour, as a frustrated Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) drums her pain away and vents about feeling like a solo act. That theme is heavily demonstrated throughout the film, bouncing between multiple Spider-Men across dimensions, who are all forced to isolate their true selves to protect the ones they love.

Pushing the boundaries of animation with busier frames and more characters might feel messy and convoluted as an elevator pitch, but when they’re all segmented into smaller stories backed by cold opens, it all just clicks. Every major plot event is preceded by new characters tossing in an information-packed voiceover — from Pavitr Prabhakar bashing the choking traffic in Mumbattan to the usage of the term ‘chai tea’ and Spider-Punk rattling about fighting fascism with punk rock ideals.

Every frame oozes personality, drawing heavily from the comic books but also morphing it into something wild; even if the choice seems jarring compared to the rest of the film. It plays around with paper collages, doodle sketches, silkscreening, pastels, and uses colour smears to depict fast-moving objects — all of which look dazzling while also making me concerned about the animators who had to work gruelling hours. The efforts have certainly paid off in offering a unique and aesthetically lush visual experience that simply cannot be found in a live-action affair.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is available to stream on Netflix in India.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Review

Past Lives

Celine Song’s directorial debut hinges on the concept of ‘what life could’ve been’; the perpetual yearning for an alternate life had you walked a different path in that one seminal moment in your life. Now granted, it’s not as depressing as Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things, but understanding the Korean concept of ‘in-yun’, which suggests that fate ties together people through numerous reincarnations, makes this a rather tough and sentimental watch. It’s an idea that only people who grew up in the same backgrounds and culture can fully comprehend, and thus we notice that deep connection in the way our lead players interact with each other. Past Lives laser focuses on the lives of Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) and author Nora Song (Greta Lee), who after a cute little date in their childhood hometown in Korea, separate when the latter’s family emigrates to Canada.

Years pass and Teo and Nora, now living their separate lives, reconnect online to discover that their bond remains intact, before they’re once again separated and brought back together for what could be a final confrontation. By then, Nora’s married to a fellow writer, Arthur (John Magaro), which adds further tension and suspicion to the fated meeting between the long-lost lovers. In an average romance story, Arthur would be presented as a villain, standing between the protagonists’ hopes for a life together, but Song’s direction completely accepts him as an integral aspect of Nora’s life and treats him as an unfortunate victim in this intertwined fate. I couldn’t help myself but pray for Nora and Hae to end up together, as they spoke about their past and stared into each other’s eyes with longing.

But I also didn’t want an upstanding guy like Arthur to end up alone and devastated, especially after being dragged into a dinner, where our leads completely tuned him out and conversed in pure Korean for what seemed like a lifetime. In those final moments, every character is treated with the utmost respect and the unified awareness that it might be difficult to return to their normal lives.

A lesser-known cinematographer Shabier Kirchner lends his warm, soothing, and poetic vision to Past Lives — it’s nothing cinematic but complements the themes of the film. However, I do wish the sound design was handled more deftly, wherein the characters were basically whispering to each other in public places, but the music and incoherent chatter never overpowered their audio. It’s still an incredible watch and I’m excited for what this filmmaker brings next to the table.

Dream Scenario

I think Nicolas Cage is totally right about noticing the similarities between his memefied legacy of meltdown compilations on the internet and the absurdist premise of Dream Scenario. In this meta-comedy, he portrays the boring Paul Matthews, a balding evolutionary biology professor, who looks so plain on the surface, that you wouldn’t remember him. But all that changes when he starts appearing in millions of strangers’ dreams, casually strolling through nightmares and in time, becoming a viral sensation. Cage’s performance as a stuttering, anxiety-driven man trying to please everyone around him is very reminiscent of his role in Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, albeit slightly amplified to add an element of the crazy — which works perfectly.

The overnight fame reveals some darker, needy aspects of his mind, where instead of figuring out the phenomenon, he’s more obsessed with how he’s perceived in people’s dreams, which was odd and hilarious to me. Dream Scenario is filled with tonnes of such bizarre situations, from PR firms trying to use Paul’s ability to advertise commercial products on a larger scale to a hysterical sexual encounter with Dylan Gelula, which abruptly ends with him farting, premature ejaculation, and another quick fart for good measure. Despite the film’s wild disposition, none of the performances felt phoned in either — for once, Michael Cera is not typecast as the awkward teenager with a squeaky voice; he’s grown a stubble here and brings the right amount of added annoyance to Paul’s plight.

When people start having nightmares about him, it soon pivots into tragic territory, with Kristoffer Borgli’s direction shedding light on cancel culture and how the general public views celebrities. As Paul navigates his crumbling life, the film experiments with different filming techniques, none of which feel jarring because they’re dreams after all; further solidifying that it is well aware of its absurd premise. It’s a smartly written script with every character being treated with enough care and precision. Cage’s performance, in my opinion, easily sits up there with some of his career’s best work. My only gripe with this movie is the dreamy happy ending, which I understand is a callback to an earlier scene, but the result came across as a copout. A fantastic film overall!

Barbie

Greta Gerwig’s candy-coated reinvention of Mattel’s toy brand was a breath of fresh air in the fantasy realm, transporting us to the joyful Barbie Land where every day is perfect, and the sun sets with a dance party. It’s an amusing vibe in many ways, often satirically poking fun at the greedy corporations responsible for creating narrow-minded stereotypes, leading young girls to develop skewed perceptions of themselves. Using the perfectly cast Margot Robbie as a vessel, the film navigates feminist themes with flair, as she becomes sentient and self-conscious about flat feet and cellulite; thrusting her into a trip to the real world to learn about the perils of womanhood stemming from a patriarchal society.

There’s no subtlety in how these themes are explored, but the witty writing from Gerwig and Noah Baumbach doesn’t convey this as a needlessly divisive man-hating movie as some online grifters might’ve led themselves to believe. Barbie takes a balanced and light-hearted approach to these topics by ridiculing toxic masculinity but also critiquing the same oppressiveness all the Barbies had enacted upon the personality-lacking Kens — whose only purpose was to serve the former by any means and just hang around at the beach. Ryan Gosling is a total scene-stealer, going from the needy, quivering guy trying to woo Barbie to a six-pack abs flaunting macho-man who imparts his knowledge about patriarchy, monster trucks, and horses to turn Barbie’s abode into his apex ‘Mojo Dojo Casa House’. There is so much nuance to his performance, with his frat-boyish ‘ha-ha-ha’ Chad laugh, tilting his head backwards so he’s technically looking down at women, and turning into a liberated emotional wreck by the end of the film.

Despite its subject matter, the film does not take itself seriously, best represented by the ‘I’m Just Ken’ musical segment where all the Kens unite on a mission to defeat Barbies, but in the process, work out their identity issues. The set design is another key player in this movie, filled to the brim with pop culture references and visual gags such as dumb men unable to spell ‘Saloon’, the opening segment evoking the visuals from 2001: A Space Odyssey, discontinued and discarded versions of Barbies, and a lot more. If you enjoyed watching Barbie the first time, I highly implore you to do it again, because trust me when I say you haven’t fully experienced all the rides Barbie Land has on display!

Watch Barbie on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and YouTube Movies in India; it’s available to stream on JioCinema.

Oppenheimer

Taking on his first lead role in a Christopher Nolan film, Cillian Murphy is incredible in his portrayal of the flawed but genius theoretical physicist, trudging along an isolated community in Los Alamos and musing about the spoils and consequences of war while building the atomic bomb. It goes beyond his weary appearance and dead-set eyes, often disassociating from the present and losing himself in dreams and hallucinations — the results of which are shown through haunting close-ups and a slight tremble in his voice. Familiar A-list Hollywood faces catalyse the film, showing up in a crucial scene or two before fading away — in what would qualify as cameo porn were this some comedy or a superhero movie.

But Oppenheimer uses these characters to demonstrate our lead’s path to triumph, through the frequent affairs he had with student Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh), his dysfunctional marriage with Katherine (Emily Blunt), and logging heads with the Atomic Energy Commission chairman Lewis Strauss, whose envy and personal vendetta was shown brilliantly by Robert Downey Jr. Even with a vast three-hour-long runtime, it’s hard to cram in all these defining moments and so, a chunk of the film is edited like a trailer, jumping across time and having spoken dialogue overlap and slip into the next scene to create a sense of continuity. With the actors delivering their lines fast, this style of editing felt jarring at first — skimming through crucial moments of history in the blink of an eye — but Ludwig Göransson’s energetic score soon ties it all together and is very instrumental in keeping the audience engaged in a drama about a group of scientists talking about electrons.

Frequent Nolan collaborator DOP Hoyte van Hoytema lends a captivating look to Oppenheimer, with the colour scenes providing the subjective view of the titular physicist’s life, whereas the monochrome format presents an objective view, slowly revealing information piece-by-piece. All in all, it’s a remarkable achievement in filmmaking and I highly recommend pairing this with a good sound system, helping the atmospheric horror elements come alive.

My only complaints with Oppenheimer were the exhausting length and the rhythmic and, at times, poetic dialogue. Now, don’t get me wrong. The lines are gripping and I’m sure some of them will end up in a ‘Best Movie Quotes of All Time’ online blog in a few years. However, real human beings don’t talk like that.

Watch Oppenheimer on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and YouTube Movies in India.

May December

May December was easily my most uncomfortable watch this year, not just due to its sensitive subject matter, but Todd Hayne’s direction, which brings out the most convincing performances from his cast. Here, he reteams with Julianne Moore to present Gracie, a former schoolteacher with a lisp, who was involved in a scandalous affair with a 13-year-old Joe (Charles Melton) and decided to keep the baby, subsequently marrying him. Years after those tabloid headlines went viral, a pretentious actor with a penchant for method acting, Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), comes to town to embody the nasty woman’s personality for an indie film she’s attached to star in. What follows next is a power struggle, as the two women put themselves on a pedestal and try to deceive each other, revealing some harrowing desires.

Much of the movie plays out from Elizabeth’s perspective, who runs around interviewing locals about the disgusting act and seeming concerned, while also being extremely gleeful in private about the research material she’s acquired and how that could plunk her to the higher echelons of Hollywood. Portman perfectly portrays a cocky actress, seamlessly injecting herself into her adversary’s life and coming off with a bizarre takeaway, where she starts to understand Gracie’s experience and justification for the horrid, sexual deviance. At times, she’s seen fantasising about the encounter at the exact location, replicating Gracie’s fashion sense, or manipulating the adult Joe for her own selfish needs — all with the defence of how ‘real’ this is getting for her.

Moore’s portrayal of Gracie isn’t far off from a monster, either. After all, Elizabeth is simply — and at times, literally — mirroring her outlandish idea of a fairy tale romance, while using weaponised tears to dismiss any criticism and shift blame onto the young kid who apparently ‘seduced’ her. A lot of these revelations are followed by a discordant piano sound, which makes the tone all the more bitter.

Indeed, the one who’s tortured the most by this is Melton’s character Joe, who brings a level of purity and innocence to this dark tale, further characterised by his duties as a loving father. But despite his physical age, he is still stuck in this adolescent self where he hadn’t seen himself as a victim until Elizabeth came around asking questions. And that realisation hits like a floodgate, unleashing all kinds of repressed emotions, as he begins asking whether he was old enough to take on parenthood, the experiences he missed out on, and why his wife Gracie never had a proper, adult discussion with him. It is extremely heartbreaking to see him break down and skulk in fear at several moments, and I really hope he gets an Oscar nod for his efforts.

Killers of the Flower Moon

Moments after introducing the money-loving war veteran Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his cunning Sheriff uncle William Hale (Robert De Niro), the scene crudely cuts to the visual of a poisoned Osage native flapping to his death on a hardwood floor, with a stream of froth dripping out of his mouth. Such harrowing acts have been an ongoing affair in 1920s Oklahoma — a conspiracy surrounding the mysterious illness and murders of the tribe, benefitting swarms of white people who had invaded the land for oil wealth. Despite its Western themes, Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon is a true crime story that’s spun around the aspect of marriage — between the clumsy Ernest and an Osage woman Mollie, played masterfully by Lily Gladstone, exhibiting a sincere level of suspicion and pain to the genocide.

From the get-go, the writing exhibits a sense of deception and nastiness in the way Ernest and his motley crew perceive the Osage natives. There are layers to what one might find creepy about this film, too. Some might find the cruelty of the killings unbearable, but what irked me the most was the casual nature by which the characters’ murders were planned and treated — like lambs for slaughter — and the frequent discussions about how much money a half-blood offspring could inherit. Scorsese also implements some stunning dream sequences based on the Osage’s religious beliefs, from owls acting as the harbinger of death to divine ancestors waiting at the gates of heaven. I cannot speak to the authenticity of those depictions, but Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography truly sets a sombre vibe that you get absorbed in.

Thelma Schoonmaker’s smooth editing ensures that this three-and-a-half-hour-long epic moves at a steady pace and personally, I never felt weary by the end of it. While Scorsese might think that this wasn’t necessarily his story to tell, I don’t think anyone else could’ve captured the corruption and greediness of America in a more truer way.

Killers of the Flower Moon is available to watch on Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video in India.

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  • Genre Crime, Thriller
  • Cast

    Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado Graner, Antoine Reinartz, Samuel Theis, Jehnny Beth, Saadia Bentaieb, Camille Rutherford, Anne Rotger, Sophie Fillières

  • Director

    Justine Triet

  • Producer

    Marie-Ange Luciani, David Thion

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  • Language English
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  • Producer

    David Hinojosa, Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler

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    Kristoffer Borgli

  • Producer

    Ari Aster, Tyler Campellone, Jacob Jaffke, Lars Knudsen

  • Release Date 21 July 2023
  • Language English
  • Genre Comedy, Romance
  • Cast

    Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Simu Liu, Kate McKinnon, Ariana Greenblatt, Alexandra Shipp, Emma Mackey, Will Ferrell, Issa Rae, Michael Cera, Hari Nef, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Rhea Perlman, Ncuti Gatwa, Emerald Fennell, Sharon Rooney, Scott Evans, Ana Cruz Kayne, Connor Swindells, Ritu Arya, Jamie Demetriou

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    Greta Gerwig

  • Producer

    Margot Robbie, Tom Ackerley, Robbie Brenner, David Heyman

  • Release Date 21 July 2023
  • Language English
  • Genre Biography, Drama
  • Cast

    Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Rami Malek, Benny Safdie, Josh Hartnett, Dane DeHaan, Jack Quaid, Matthew Modine, Dylan Arnold, Olli Haaskivi, Alden Ehrenreich, David Krumholtz, Michael Angarano, Kenneth Branagh

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    Christopher Nolan

  • Producer

    Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas, Charles Roven

  • Release Date 30 November 2023
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  • Genre Drama
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    Todd Haynes

  • Producer

    Jessica Elbaum, Will Ferrell, Grant S. Johnson, Pamela Koffler, Tyler W. Konney, Sophie Mas, Natalie Portman, Christine Vachon

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  • Language English
  • Genre Crime, Drama, Western
  • Cast

    Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Jesse Plemons, Lily Gladstone, Tantoo Cardinal, Cara Jade Myers, JaNae Collins, Jillian Dion, William Belleau, Louis Cancelmi, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Tatanka Means, Michael Abbott Jr., Pat Healy, Scott Shepherd, Gary Basaraba, Steve Eastin, Barry Corbin, Brendan Fraser, John Lithgow

  • Director

    Martin Scorsese

  • Producer

    Martin Scorsese, Dan Friedkin, Bradley Thomas, Leonardo DiCaprio

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