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The Poppies of Terra #20 - My Top 10 of 2023

By Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

2024-01-03 09:00:59

Esteemed readers, happy 2024; best wishes, on this dank and overcast day in Southern California, to all and sundry. 

The freshly minted year already promises a number of interesting films, but before looking forward to the new season’s coinage, let's glance back at some particularly resplendent artifacts of the recent past. 

Here are my top ten personal favorite films of 2023:   

  1. Past Lives — Unsentimental yet heartfelt, graceful but naturalistic, unpretentious but subtly wise, this is a thoroughly disarming chamber piece about how life moves on. Celine Song’s consummate directorial debut makes her a name to look out for. 

  2. The Zone of Interest — An unforgettable tunnel into the abyssal depths of evil as banality. Without ever crossing the boundary into the zone of atrocity, this film demolishes our every wall of inner reserve.

  3. Killers of the Flower Moon — In my book this one, with a striking performance by Lily Gladstone and a career highlight for Leonardo DiCaprio, rates as a top five entry in Martin Scorsese’s impressively deep catalog of twenty-six feature films. Tawdriness and viciousness writ epic, with a measure of grace. 

  4. Poor Things — Visually dazzling, mordantly critical of societal foibles, endearingly raunchy and depraved, and just a little mad sometimes, this is a reinvention of Frankenstein for the ages.

  5. All of Us Strangers — Tender, lyrical, ethereal, hard-hitting: Dostoevsky and The Twilight Zone meet at the kitchen sink. Longing incarnate; film as fugue.

  6. American Fiction — Bold and biting, savvy and satirical, with a perfect balance of melodramatic flair and meta awareness, this might be my favorite screenplay of the year. The execution is assured on every level, especially impressive given that this is Cord Jefferson’s directorial debut.

  7. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse — A magnificent, unprecedented achievement in the art of kinetic, textured, inventive visual animation, with an intricate story and fully-rendered characters. The superhero movie that didn’t find the right band to join, so it started its own.

  8. Rye Lane — The best a contemporary romantic comedy can offer; quirky and quippy, smart and smarting, snarky and soulful. Raine Allen-Miller’s directorial debut (the third of the list!). Love, Guactually.

  9. A Thousand and One — The instant this film cut to the credits I immediately started from the first scene again and experienced something new. Motherhood was one of last year’s recurring themes and this was one of its standout, and in some ways most oblique, explorations. Resentment and rage, sacrifice and commitment, deception as honesty to one’s truth–this movie offers no easy answers, but, like the classic collection of stories to which its title alludes, shines light enough for us to live on another day.

  10. Bottoms — Preposterous and punk, irrepressibly anarchic, so stupid but really clever; I laughed, and I cared. The palpable energy, infectious joy and emotional investment of the audience made this my best theatrical experience of the year. 

And two documentaries I believe merit special note:

  1. River — Narrated by Willem Dafoe, flowing with poetry and scientific insight, this is a mesmerizing musing on one of the planet’s most complex yet primal forces. Following wide distribution in Australia in 2022, this came to the U.S. for a short run last year, so I’m counting it as a 2023 release, and I’m thankful to have experienced its powerful marriage of humbling visuals and elegant observations in the theater. 
  2. Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie — Rags to riches to ragged riches of another ilk, this is a moving portrait, supported by ingenious recreations intercut with archival footage and present-day material, of Michael J. Fox’s unbelievably storied life story. Affecting and inspiring.

Overall, 2023 delivered many notable films across a broad spectrum of budgets and genres. It was difficult to pick only ten, which is an excellent problem to have.

Now, 2024, let's see what you can do.


Alvaro Zinos-Amaro is a Hugo- and Locus-award finalist who has published over fifty stories and one hundred essays, reviews, and interviews in professional markets. These include Analog, Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Galaxy's Edge, Nature, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Locus,, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, Cyber World, Nox Pareidolia, Multiverses: An Anthology of Alternate Realities, and many others. Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg was published in 2016. Alvaro’s debut novel, Equimedian, and his book of interviews, Being Michael Swanwick, are both forthcoming in 2023.

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