This year I decided to change the criteria for finalising my top 5 movies and go with my top 5 first-time watches of the year. It turns out there’s actually only one movie on my list that wasn’t released in 2023, so it hasn’t affected things too much and overall I managed to log more first-time watches on Letterboxd than I did in 2022, which I’m very happy about. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I still have a few superhero movies ranking very highly, but you may be surprised to hear that not only are Barbie and Oppenheimer absent from my top 5, but they’re also absent from my top 30 too!
With TV, as is always the way, this year saw the release of so many great TV shows that even if my full-time job was just to sit and watch TV, I still wouldn’t be able to watch and keep up with them all. Consequently, I will almost certainly have missed out on hundreds of incredible shows, but I am very happy to have found and enjoyed the ones mentioned below. So, let’s kick things off with my top movies of 2023.
I guess my top 5 wouldn’t be complete without an appearance from at least one superhero movie and Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 made it onto the list at number 5. I’ll admit to feeling some superhero fatigue this year when it comes to Marvel’s movie and TV output, but GOTG3 proved to be a real emotional rollercoaster, with a lot of heart, a bit of sadness and some brilliantly fun action sequences. I loved it. Just to compare with the other MCU movies this year, The Marvels made it to number 14 on my list and Quantumania is way down at number 57! Meanwhile, DC movie The Flash, which I enjoyed a lot, is at number 10.
All of my top 5 movies earned 5-star ratings, but the final positions for a few of them changed quite often over months, including Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Part One, which now settles at number 4. I do keep telling everyone (especially my wife) that I am not in love with Tom Cruise, but I do love his movies. And when it comes to the Mission Impossible series, they do seem to just keep getting better and better. And just when you think they cannot top the last movie’s death-defying stunt, or better the incredible action set pieces, they go and do it again. The final train sequence was simply superb and I am very disappointed that we need to wait until 2025 for part two!
Ahead of seeing John Wick Chapter 4, I was a little worried that the franchise may be starting to run out of steam. The almost 3-hour runtime also had me concerned! When I started watching, it did seem to follow the same tried and tested formula for a while – fighting in glass rooms, fighting in nightclubs while dancers look on, seemingly unphased by someone getting their brains blown out just a couple of feet away from them. But then the action moved to Paris and something magical happened. I was treated to some absolutely jaw-dropping action that just took things to a whole new level. It definitely pushed the boundaries of believability as to how far one man can fall and how much damage he can take and STILL keep on running and fighting, but when the action is as thrilling as this, I can forgive it. As an aside, I’m suddenly reminded of another movie this year which pushed the injury believability way too far and was worse off because of it. Scream VI (number 38 on my list) regularly had characters receiving a severe stabbing, causing them to slump to the ground and appear out of the movie for good, only to be up and running in the next scene like they’re suffering from nothing worse than a slight stomach cramp.
Early on in the year I finally managed to catch the movie RRR, the only non-2023 release on my list, and one which had been getting a lot of positive buzz since its 2022 release and subsequent arrival on Netflix. At over 3 hours long, I ended up watching it over a couple of sittings, but it still completely blew me away, with so many truly memorable scenes. It was number 1 on my list for a good few months but ends the year at a highly respectable number 2. I hadn’t even heard of the main song Naatu Naatu before, but it turns out I was in the minority (as usual) as the video had already gained hundreds of millions of views on YouTube before going on to win a well-deserved Best Song Oscar at this year’s awards. I also spent this year occasionally heading onto YouTube to search for ‘RRR bridge scene’ or ‘RRR animal scene’ to remind myself just how brilliant a movie it is. It really was a close call between this and my eventual number one as to what took the top spot.
I spoke earlier about Marvel superhero fatigue, so you’re probably wondering why I placed a movie featuring a Marvel superhero as my overall favourite of the year. Well, when it’s something that’s separate from the MCU and is so wildly different to anything else in terms of its boundary-pushing animation, then hopefully I will be forgiven. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse actually managed to improve on its predecessor Into the Spider-Verse on so many counts – the animation, characters, storyline, and action – and experiencing it in IMAX just took that to an even higher level of appreciation. I do remember checking my watch about 15 minutes before the end and wondering how the hell they were going to neatly tidy everything up, only to be hit by an incredible cliffhanger, but overall this was just an absolute joy. Side note: Another high-ranking movie which also blew me away with its exciting animation style and turned out to be a really pleasant surprise too was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.
Kicking off the year was a show that I was lucky enough to see a preview of ahead of release, Extraordinary. Created by Emma Moran, Extraordinary put a fresh and welcome spin on the superhero genre, portraying a world where everyone, except for Jen (Máiréad Tyers) that is, has their own superpower. Some of the powers people possess are pretty standard superhero stuff, but the majority are just damn peculiar. It was hilarious and well-written, and I am so happy that it is getting a second season.
Another early entry into my top 5 of the year was The Last of Us. Having never played the video games the show is based on, I went into it with only a very basic knowledge of the plot. And I was blown away. The show went in all kinds of directions I wasn’t expecting, all supported by an incredible cast of characters and some very solid writing. It also featured what many declared at the time to be a contender for best episode of television this year, episode 3, titled ‘Long, Long Time’. Absolutely must watch television, and a show which even had me listening to the official podcast of the show, something I don’t normally do.
After season 3 of The Boys aired last year, it was the turn of a brand new spinoff show called Gen V to step in while we wait for The Boys to return in 2024. Set at Godolkin University, the training ground for up-and-coming contenders for joining The Seven, Gen V continued the tradition set by The Boys of finding increasingly inventive, violent and gross ways to portray superheroes and their powers. The cast was superb and the story was engaging and shocking.
At some point during season 3 of What We Do in the Shadows, I felt the show was starting to run out of steam and I lost interest in it for a while. But then I suddenly decided to revisit the show and I am so glad I did. Season 4 grew stronger with each episode, introducing some genuinely creative and hilarious concepts. Season 5, released this year, continued to build on that trend and managed to end on a real high. I cannot wait for more.
My favourite show of 2023 is one that I only discovered late in the year, by which time its second season had just come to an end. FROM tells the story of a family out on the road, who find themselves in a small town that they are unable to leave, no matter how many times they try to drive away from it. The town residents are all trapped too… oh and there are creatures in the woods who look like humans and come out at night to lure the townsfolk out of their homes so they can kill them. But the weirdness doesn’t end there and FROM continues to add mystery after mystery, to the point where I’m wondering how they’ll ever be able to answer all the questions and satisfyingly end the show at some point. But in the meantime, I am more than happy with two gripping seasons and not a single bad episode so far.
Just a couple of honourable mentions for shows that could so easily have made it into my top 5. The Fall of the House of Usher was the latest show from Mike Flanagan, the man behind some of my favourite Netflix shows, including The Haunting of Hill House and Midnight Mass. While Usher was brilliantly clever, I felt it didn’t quite live up to Hill House, but it was certainly a huge improvement over The Midnight Club. And finally, another show that I adore, Ghosts, gave us its final season this year. After experiencing a wonderful guided tour of West Horsley Place a few months ago, which doubles as Button House for the show, I could not wait for the final season, and it certainly did not disappoint.
Web developer by day, with a movie and TV watchlist that continues to grow as much as my spare time reduces! My favourite movie is Inception and, despite what everyone says, I do not have a man-crush on Tom Cruise.