The Jam Report’s top ten films of 2023

Another year of cinema comes to a close and it was a year dominated by the most unexpected double-bill the world of cinema has ever seen. What grew from a quirky viral trend known as “Barbenheimer” ultimately became the biggest box office success story of the year with Barbie and Oppenheimer grossing $1.4 billion and $952 million worldwide, respectively. Naturally, not all cinemagoers indulged in the back-to-back pairing of two wildly different films. But the publicity undoubtedly helped the latter become the highest-grossing biopic of all time and one of the most unlikely box office smashes we’ve seen in years.

While attendance numbers are still not quite back to what they were in 2019 and only one other film joined Barbie in the billionaires club (The Super Mario Bros. Movie), there was still plenty to celebrate. Taylor Swift scored the highest-grossing concert movie of all time with the phenomenon that was Taylor Swift: The Eras TourGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 bucked the trend of MCU box office failures with $845 million worldwide. Relatively cheaply made horror/thriller titles like Five Nights at Freddy’s, The Nun II, Scream VI, Insidious: The Red Door, and Evil Dead Rise collectively made more than a billion dollars worldwide. But it was ultimately the success of “Barbenheimer” that proved audiences are still keen to turn out for event-type releases, even if one is a super-serious Oscar-bait biopic drama.

But it wasn’t exactly a great year for the once mighty House of Mouse with Universal dethroning Disney as the highest-grossing studio of the year for the first time since 2015. Sure, Disney still earned $4.8 billion globally, but most of the titles in that collective fell well short of expectations and struggled to break a profit, particularly box office disappointments like The MarvelsAnt-Man and the Wasp: QuantumaniaWish, and Haunted Mansion. Even the $569 million haul of The Little Mermaid pales compared to other live-action Disney remakes, which used to earn a billion dollars without breaking a sweat. The one bright spot for Disney was the unexpected success of Pixar’s Elemental, which shook off a tepid opening weekend figure to earn close to $500 million worldwide.

On a personal note, this year was a tough one for me with finding the time and energy to write for a variety of reasons. That meant fewer reviews have been published on The Jam Report than are normally pumped out. For that, I sincerely apologise. It’s been a learning lesson in finding the right balance between personal and professional lives and something I will strive to improve in 2024. My passion for cinema and writing hasn’t diminished one iota, so I know I can get things back on track in time.

Enough about the state of the industry and my personal affairs. Let’s get into my retrospective of the year that was. As is tradition, here are ten films that just missed out on my top ten but are still absolutely worthy of adoration.

20. The Color Purple
19. Fallen Leaves
18. Wonka
17. Talk To Me
16. May December
15. Society of the Snow
14. The Boy and the Heron
13. Of an Age
12. American Fiction
11. Saltburn

And now, without further ado, presenting The Jam Report’s top ten films of 2022.

10. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

“Everyone keeps telling me how my story is supposed to go. Nah. I’m-a do my own thing.”

A stunning film that takes its place alongside The Empire Fights Back and The Godfather: Part II as one of the greatest sequels ever made, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a masterpiece of animation and cinema in general. A rare film that proves you can occasionally capture lightning in a bottle twice, this follow-up not only equals everything offered in its predecessor but somehow surpasses it. Astonishingly animated and deliriously entertaining, it’s a monumental achievement.

9. Anatomy of a Fall

“Everything you hear in the trial it’s’s twisted. It wasn’t like that.”

Led by an astonishing performance from potential Oscar nominee Sandra Hüller and elevated by one of the year’s most captivating screenplays, Anatomy of a Fall is a courtroom drama with so much hiding beneath its surface. A twist-filled narrative that consistently keeps you on your toes evolves into a fascinating exploration of marriage and the complexities of a relationship that will ring true for many viewers. While the central “did she do it?” plot will keep you guessing until the final frame, it’s Hüller’s commanding performance that will dance in your mind for days on end.

8. The Holdovers

“Life is like a henhouse ladder. Shitty and short.”

A deceptively beautiful film that will leave you floating out of the cinema, The Holdovers is another cinematic gem from Alexander Payne that’s simple, charming, and wildly effective. Paul Giamatti is sublime as a curmudgeonly teacher forced to chaperone a handful of students with nowhere to go on Christmas break. On its surface, this is a madcap comedy with plenty of laughs and humourous situations, but when it digs deeper into more dramatic beats, the result is deeply satisfying cinema. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is rightfully raking in awards for one of the most overwhelmingly empathetic turns of the year.

7. All of Us Strangers

“I always felt like a stranger in my own family.”

Beautifully written and impeccably crafted, Andrew Haigh once again deftly captures the queer experience like few others with the unforgettable All of Us Strangers. A heart-shattering portrait of grief, love, loneliness, and healing, Haigh weaves a tale that will touch the hearts of a queer audience but is still universally accessible to anyone to connect with. Andrew Scott is masterful in a mournful performance full of the yearning that’s intrinsically linked to gay men of a certain age. Paul Mescal, Jamie Bell, and Claire Foy are all brilliant in supporting turns that only elevate everything Scott is delivering.

6. Barbie

“Humans have only one ending. Ideas live forever.”

Elevated by a sharp, insightful script from director Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach and led by the force of nature that is Margot Robbie in the role she was born to play and a wickedly ridiculous supporting performance by Ryan Gosling, Barbie is a candy-coloured, dizzying delight that’s not only genuinely hilarious but bitingly subversive and shrewdly pertinent. With some of the most glorious production values you will see on the big screen in 2023 and a playful energy that’s intoxicatingly palpable, it’s fun with a capital FU to the patriarchy. In Greta we trust.

5. The Zone of Interest

“The heartfelt time we spent in the Höss house will always be among our most beautiful holiday memories.”

Unshakably chilling and meticulously crafted, The Zone of Interest says so much by showing so little. Jonathan Grazer crafts a Holocaust film like no other and one that deftly dismantles the mundanity of pure evil. Stunningly framed with unnerving sound design, it’s a snapshot of familial life in the most unlikely of settings. With deft sensitivity shown by Grazer for his subject matter and restrained performances from Christian Friedel and Sandra Hüller, it’s a difficult watch but entirely essential viewing.

4. Poor Things

“I have adventured it and found nothing but sugar and violence.”

Another twisted and unhinged piece of avant-garde cinema from master filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, Poor Things is so unshakeably dedicated to its weirdness that you have to admire it. Emma Stone is utterly mesmerising in one of the most committed performances you will ever see on screen. Stone is tasked with creating a character and a narrative journey that would cripple most actors. And, yet, she handles it so effortlessly that you will want to applaud. Elevated by delicious supporting turns from Mark Ruffalo and Willem Dafoe and eye-popping production values, it’s the closest cinema comes to pure art.

3. Killers of the Flower Moon

“Can you find the wolves in this picture?”

Martin Scorsese delivered something that feels both old and new, vast and intimate, captivating and infuriating, beautiful and horrifying. Killers of the Flower Moon is a thoroughly absorbing film that burns with the kind of intensity we’ve come to know from a filmmaker still at the top of his game. It’s Scorsese’s sprawling opus that takes full advantage of its incredible ensemble cast and a remarkable story that demanded to finally be told in the grandest of ways. At the centre of everything is an Oscar-worthy Lily Gladstone in one of the most quietly compelling performances you will see this year. Or any year, for that matter. This is an exceptional piece of cinema and truly one of the finest films we saw last year.

2. Oppenheimer

“They won’t fear it until they understand it. And they won’t understand it until they’ve used it.”

Both an intensely intimate character study and a glorious theatrical experience, Oppenheimer is a staggering piece of filmmaking only someone like Christopher Nolan could bring to fruition. Led with quiet power by a career-best performance from Cillian Murphy and elevated by a sublime ensemble supporting cast, it’s a profoundly human portrait of a brilliant man and the crushing weight of moral reckoning. A beautifully crafted and palpably tense thriller centred on ambition, hubris, paranoia, and persecution, it’s an overwhelming piece of cinema that will stay with you for an eternity.

1. Past Lives

“What if this is a past life as well, and we are already something else to each other in our next life? Who do you think we are then?”

As is the case each year, one film shines above all others. In 2023, it arrived in June. And nothing came close to matching it for the next six months. Crafted with a delicate touch by Celine Song and cemented by a trio of mesmerising performances from Greta Lee, Teo Yeo, and John Magaro, Past Lives is a beautiful and heartbreaking look at the what-ifs of life. Song delves deep into concepts of nostalgia, regret, and the persistent pull of the past with numerous dialogue-heavy scenes and palpable silences that say so much without a word uttered. A bittersweet portrait of unlived possibilities and the choices that shape our lives, it’s an unforgettable piece of cinema that avoids the cloy cliches of similarly themed works. Nothing captured my heart quite like Past Lives and there was simply no other choice for my #1 spot this year.

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