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Film critic tt stern enzi's top films of 2023

 2023 year numbers in cinema red seats. 3d illustration

For more from tt stern enzi on his top movies of 2023, listen to this episode of Cincinnati Edition.

What’s the theme of this year’s films? If pressed, I would say that 2023 gave me movies that made me feel. The best of them — captured here in this list — found me lingering in achy heartbreak, which doesn’t sound like a positive, but, trust me, it is. I cried. I hurt from all the onscreen slings and arrows (and punches, bullets and bombs exploding). And I experienced joy in the dark, time and again. You can’t ask for more than that.

Origin (Ava DuVernay)

Revelatory, from a viewing experience, is how I would describe the impactAva DuVernay’s new film had on me during its Toronto International Film Festival screening. Already prepared for a buzzy experience thanks to its reception at the Venice Film Festival days before its TIFF premiere, I was totally unprepared for a heady exploration of caste (as opposed to race) as the systemic evil of our times, but deep in the mix was a profoundly sad love story full of grief and so beautifully realized. I felt the tears welling up in my eyes — several times and suddenly — freely allowed them to flow from me. Again and again. The film begs audiences to let it go and gives us the safest of spaces to do so.


Anatomy of a Fall (Justine Triet)

A tightly wound courtroom drama complete with expert forensic analysis, but what matters most is how the narrative never forgets to make us feel for its highly ambiguous central character. She’s a writer struggling to live and love a partner who is everything and nothing to her in virtually every single moment of their lives together. Lead actress Sandra Hüller is marvelous. No, that’s not quite right — she is simply the best actor in the world at the precise moment that you’re watching her in this performance. The best. (Of course, it shouldn’t be overlooked that Hüller had an astonishing opening day at TIFF thanks to her other festival release The Zone of Interest, which had its Press & Industry screening immediately after Anatomy.

RELATED: A guide to some of the best films shown at TIFF 2023

Oppenheimer (Christopher Nolan)

In Christopher Nolan films (from Memento, Inception and Tenet to his latest) time is not a fluid construct. It has been twisted and bent beyond recognition until its broken fragments don’t look like they were ever one piece, and yet, somehow he is able to reorder space and the idea of time into a new form that only he can see. Now, consider the notion that time is not the concern with Oppenheimer; instead we focus on a man, J. Robert Oppenheimer, who theoretically spawned the means to break the world. Of course, the man (fully realized by Cillian Murphy and his piercingly hypnotic eyes) in the end, is broken, too.


The Eternal Memory (Maite Alberdi)

What happens when someone else’s story becomes your personal experience? That’s how I felt watching The Eternal Memory. Augusto Góngora, a revolutionary radio and television journalist in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, slowly devolves right in front of us, but his wife Paulina Urrutia smartly uses his old footage as a lifeline, replaying the clips as a means of reminding and stimulating him to hold onto pieces of himself. I watched this play out, knowing that at some point down the road, this could be my life. And rather than succumbing to despair, I found it beautifully hopeful. To live and relive those moments is a gift.


Air (Ben Affleck)

A Michael Jordan story that strategically sidelines Michael Jordan plays like the joke that Dean Smith was the only person who could limit Jordan. At its core, Air is an ensemble drama featuring a team of all-stars (Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker, and Viola Davis) who orchestrate a wondrous fast break of character (e)motion leading to a nearly perfect slam dunk of a movie. Ben Affleck, as a director and co-star, once again reminds us that he is a consummate storyteller who never overplays his hand, either in front of or behind the camera.

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All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson)

A poet (writer-director Jackson) picks up a camera, assembles a first-rate cast and composes a lyrically breathtaking visual poem that picks up where Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust left off, but dares to fiercely live in the here and now. This is a story of and about Black folks in Mississippi connected tangibly to the past, but not slavishly devoted to the misery and hardship of our history.


Ferrari (Michael Mann)

Michael Mann creates a gritty Godfather-styled take on European racing and sneakily (not really) makes sure to incorporate family and, more importantly, women into the combustible mix. Adam Driver, as Enzo Ferrari, is in nearly every scene and even when he’s not, his presence looms, but Penelope Cruz, as Enzo’s wife and business partner Laura, exerts her own powerful pull that cannot be shaken.


Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson)

We all know the Peter Parker/Spider-Man adage: with great power comes great responsibility, right? But it took Marvel’s fairly recent introduction of Miles Morales to give those words real meaning. Rather than being wise beyond his years with this knowledge, Across the Spider-Verse reminds us that Morales is a kid struggling to live up to the epic task at hand. Be a hero. Be a kid. Be the savior of the multiverse while you’re at it and face dark doppelgangers, the love of your life (from another universe) and be the good son your family and culture needs. That’s a lot to ask of an animated superhero movie, but it’s just another day in the life of this iteration of a friendly neighborhood Spider-person.


Past Lives (Celine Song)

As taken as I was with this film, I remain enthralled by Greta Lee, who I watched in new season of The Morning Show, long after screening Past Lives, and completely forgot I was watching the same performer in each role. I’m still not sure I believe the truth (but its right there on IMDB).The film makes itself a memory for each and every member of the audience. We don’t imagine our own similar situations of past lives and loves; we find a place for ourselves in this tale of childhood friends flirting with young love who are separated and then find one another decades later. That’s movie magic.


John Wick: Chapter 4 (Chad Stahelski)

Somehow this franchise, with each new big screen edition, finds a way to top the previous release in both box office grosses and punishing fight sequences. Forget sense and sensibility. John Wick has been all about world building on the disposable bodies of a never-ending army of pawns and the beaten flesh of its protagonist. I liken this action series to the work of George Miller’s insane Mad Max films. Stahelski and Keanu Reeves have built a precariously higher leaning tower and simply refused to let it fall. Now that’s mad genius.

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Just missed the cut

Maestro (Bradley Cooper)

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie (Davis Guggenheim)

Stamped from the Beginning (Roger Ross Williams),

Saltburn(Emerald Fennell)

tt stern enzi has spent 20 years as a freelance writer and film critic in the Greater Cincinnati region covering the film industry and film festivals while also earning distinction as an accredited critic on Rotten Tomatoes and membership in the Critics Choice Association.