Craig Silliphant’s Best (and Worst) Movies of 2023

As I mentioned on Dave Scaddan’s Top 20 Albums of 2023, we do these year-end best of lists every year. We did them for 10 years over at The Feedback Society, which we have recently decommissioned. I wanted to keep the tradition going, but publish them on this new site.

Each year, I am contractually obligated to note that there are 2023 films I haven’t seen, mostly because they haven’t come to Saskatchewan yet. I know there are movies like The Zone of Interest that would most likely make this list had I been able to see them.

Here are my Top 10 films of the year for some can’t miss titles! And for fun, I’ve also listed #11 to #27 for further recommendations you might love. Plus, the Worst three films I experienced this year.

I now present — Craig Silliphant’s Best (and Worst) Movies of 2023.

10) Priscilla

I love Sofia Coppola. Her feminist take on Elvis Presley, based on Priscilla Presley’s book, knocks the icon down a peg or two. Because of their brilliance, we give huge artists lie Elvis a pass on their love of things like underage girls and the methods used to manipulate them. Jacob Elordi offers us a more human version of the King than Austin Butler’s bang-on impression gave us last year. This would have been way higher on the list but I didn’t feel like Coppola quite stuck the landing. Without giving anything away, it feels anti-climactic. But the first ¾ of the film is well-told, offering meaningful perspectives, and it looks elegant and beautiful.

9) I Like Movies

Here is a great little, low-fi Canadian film from director Chandler Levack, that brought me back to my video store days. It’s about Lawrence, a socially inept teenage cinephile who gets a job at the video store, forming relationships with those around him as he deals with his mental health and other issues. It’s simple but effective and showcases a love of movies (and some pretty funny jokes about Canadian production values). Note that you can find this hidden gem on Netflix.

8) The Holdovers

Alexander Payne is back with a story about a cranky teacher in a boarding school, played by Paul Giamatti, who ends up stuck over Christmas break with a troubled student and a woman grieving the death of her son in Vietnam. This is the kind of thing Payne is great at, blending drama, sadness, and comedy to tell a human story. The movie isn’t necessarily a masterpiece (in fact, his last film, Nebraska was better), but it’s an incredibly well-told story that felt very much like a 90s indie movie about misfits. The look of the movie captures a very specific place and time and the performances are at the heart of things. This is probably one of the best mainstream movies of the year that most people would really enjoy.

7) Past Lives

A very low-key affair about a young Korean boy and girl who had a special relationship as kids. However, the young girl moved to Canada (and then America) where she grew up. They find each other again years later and have to navigate what their relationship might look like. A lot of people mention the Before Trilogy from Richard Linklater, which I can see; they spend a lot of time on FaceTime or walking around New York, talking about life. But Past Lives also does a great job of not falling into cliches. For example, as an adult, she has a husband when her old friend shows up. In a lesser movie, this would have pushed the drama in a different direction. But director Celine Song isn’t exploiting things for drama — she’s more interested at the hearts that beat inside all of us and the joy and pain that come with that. Another wonderful, humanist film.

6) Poor Things

Yorgos Lanthimos is one of my favourite directors of the last decade or so and he doesn’t disappoint with Poor Things. Emma Stone plays a woman who is learning to be a person, by way of a mad scientist of sorts, played by Willem Dafoe. There are obvious parallels to Eliza Doolittle or Flowers for Algernon (sort of). The movie looks amazing — totally spellbinding in many scenes. It’s hilarious and philosophical. Stone and Dafoe are excellent but oddly, it’s Mark Ruffalo that steals so many scenes. The only reason this movie isn’t higher on the list is because I didn’t feel like there was a lot of dramatic impact. There aren’t really any stakes or obstacles for most of the movie, so it plays like a series of clever, funny vignettes, as opposed to a true journey for its characters. I’m sure this will be #1 for many film lovers (though it might baffle some with less adventurous taste).

5) Guardians of The Galaxy, Volume 3

Now, don’t think too hard about the order of things here and the fact that a comic book movie ranks higher than brilliant filmmakers like Lanthimos (especially as we wander into an era of problems for Marvel and superhero fatigue). I love all different kinds of movies and while something like Past Lives gets to human truths, the movies can also be a fun, escapist adventure. And if I had more fun at Guardians than I was moved by something else, well, what can I say? Guardians is a bit overstuffed, though never boring, with a big, fun, hilarious James Gunn energy. And I had no idea that my 2023 movie bingo card would feature feeling actual emotions at the plight of a CGI raccoon.

4) Spider-man: Across the Spider-Verse

The sequel to Into the Spider-Verse and the middle part of a trilogy, we deepen the story of Miles Morales and the multi-verse. I am normally sick to death of this whole multiverse storytelling, which is usually just a cheap way to jam nostalgia and IP into things. But these movies are the exception to the rule (well, they are still a cheap way to jam nostalgia into things, but they’re so creative it works). As with the first movie, the artistry behind the film is simply insane — beautiful, creative, and hypnotizing. And like Guardians, it succeeds by caring about its characters. The movie is both deep and a silly meme at the same time, balanced perfectly. My only complaint about the film is that it cuts off halfway through. People compared it to Empire Strikes Back, but Empire wraps up its second act story before dropping a new cliffhanger to spin into Return of the Jedi; Spider-man just stops. And while we were supposed to get part three within a year, it’s now looking like it may be a few years. A brilliant film, but I couldn’t help feeling ripped off (my 10-year-old son felt the same). Here’s my original written review.

3) Oppenheimer

Chris Nolan finds a way to make a three-hour film about guys talking in rooms into a fascinating and compelling theatrical experience. I am far from a Nolan fanboy, but I really appreciate how he’s using original ideas (without gimmicks like 3D) to tell stories that bring people to the theatre. I think we’ll see this film do big things at Oscar time. Here’s my original written review.

2) Killers of the Flower Moon

At 80 years old, Martin Scorsese, the Master, is still taking risks. This could have easily been a 2-hour action drama with Leo DiCaprio as an FBI agent solving murders on Osage Indigenous land. Instead, we have another three-hour-plus butt-numbening here, but it’s always interesting. Like The Irishman, this may have worked better as a 6-episode streaming series, but we know that Scorsese isn’t interested in that. This, as well as questions as to who should be telling an Indigenous-adjacent story, courted a bit of controversy. But the great thing about Scorsese is that he always rides those out (think about movies like The Last Temptation of Christ) with the soul of a true artist. Sometimes he’s so far ahead of the rest of us that it takes time for the audience to catch up to him. These movies are usually recognized as brilliant later.  Here was my full, written review.

1) Anatomy of a Fall

Probably the movie that most North Americans won’t be aware of, but it won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, The Palme D’or. It’s a riveting story about the death of a man, which leads to questions about whether his wife may have murdered him. Their son is legally blind, but witnessed the death. Most of it is a riveting courtroom procedural, but aside from the mystery of what happened, it’s also an anatomy of marriage and the rises and falls of relationships.

And just for fun, before we get to the worst movies I saw this year, here’s the rest of the movies that were in contention for the Top 10 and where they ultimately landed.

11) Dream Scenario

12) MI: Dead Reckoning Part I

13) John Wick 4

14) The Killer

15) The Creator

16) Barbie

17) Air

18) Bottoms

19) May December

20) How to Have Sex

21) No One Will Save You

22) Theater Camp

23) You Hurt My Feelings

24) Beau is Afraid

25) When Evil Lurks

26) How to Blow Up a Pipeline

27) Maestro

As for the worst movies of the year, there were three that made this list.

3) Shazam: Fury of the Gods (2/5)

A movie that’s as long as it is excruciatingly mediocre. It’s quite boring for a sequel to what was a fun first film. The villains are lame, the humour consistently misfires, and there are too many characters chattering at a pitch high enough to make dogs cringe. I didn’t know any more about the characters at the end of the movie than I did at the beginning. And while I don’t mind product placement, the turnabout of the plot revolving around Skittles was nowhere near as funny or clever as they thought. Zach Levy, banging around in the press about how he’s being shorted with the new DC, might want to sit down and actually watch this movie before opening his big fat mouth. What a mess.

2) A Royal Christmas Crush (1/5)

I admit it, I fell down the rabbit hole of the shockingly chaste Hallmark Christmas movies a couple of years ago. They’re usually really bad, but unlike Shazam’s mediocrity, the bad is part of the fun. My wife and I have a drink and watch one or two each Christmas; we can chit chat and make fun of the film while hanging out. Added to this, is that an actor who was originally from Saskatoon has started to make his bones in these Hallmark films. His name is Stephen Huszar and he used to star in a lot of the music videos we made when I was younger (I used to write for a film company). So it’s really fun to watch him. We watched two with Huszar this year. The first was called Navigating Christmas and it was surprisingly decent (I mean, on the Hallmark scale). However, A Royal Christmas Crush one was baffling. There are some insane accents and casting choices (Huszar’s prince is clearly older than his parents, haha). Harmless enough, but downright bewildering.

1) Suitable Flesh (BOMB)

This was part of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival, who I should note program really great (as well as often fascinating and unique) movies. Suitable Flesh was none of these things. It thinks it’s really edgy but it’s incredibly bland. Nothing happens for the first hour and when it finally does, it’s weaksauce. I don’t mind limited production values, especially if a film has good ideas or is entertaining for other reasons, but this played like a gorier, soft core porn television production like The Red Shoe Diaries. The amazing Barbara Crampton is wasted. Even Heather Graham sucks out loud. If you want a fun, campy Lovecraft movie (that also has Crampton), go watch The Re-Animator instead.

That’s it! I hope to see a few more films that I wasn’t able to, but at this point they get lost in the void or added to 2024. Happy watching this year!

Craig Silliphant

Craig Silliphant is a D-level celebrity with delusions of grandeur. A writer, editor, critic, creative director, broadcaster, and occasional filmmaker, his thoughts have appeared on radio, television, in print, and on the web. He is a juror on the Polaris Music Prize and the Juno Awards. He has written two books; a non-fiction book about Saskatoon's music scene, Exile Off Main St, and a book of short stories called Nothing You Do Matters. He's a husband and father who loves living in Saskatoon. He has horrible night terrors and apocalyptic dreams.

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