For a few years now, movies (and movie theaters) have struggled, but 2023 felt like a real renaissance, with plenty of great films big and small finding receptive audiences. If you need proof of what a strong film year it was, narrowing my list of the funniest movies to 10 was just too hard, forcing me to go to 11. Even then, though, I had to leave off a few really funny films.
In terms of these rankings, I focused on movies that are comedies. That might seem obvious, but these days critics and viewers will make arguments that something like Napoleon is really a comedy because of how funny it is. And while I think that movie is funny, I don’t think it really counts. (Likewise, Joaquin Phoenix’s other big film of 2023, the great Beau Is Afraid, has a lot of dark comedy in it, although not enough to make the cut.) I tried to find space for American Fiction, May December and Fallen Leaves, but ultimately these were the 11 films I thought were the most laugh-packed in 2023 — from rom-coms to coming-of-age period pieces to the year’s biggest blockbuster.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
Writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s debut was 2016’s well-received The Edge of Seventeen, starring Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson. She topped it with her follow-up, an adaptation of Judy Blume’s most beloved book. In Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Abby Ryder Fortson was a perfect Margaret, who’s navigating a new school, hormones and adolescent insecurities. Craig keenly focused on what’s so excruciatingly funny about puberty — well, at least when you think back on that time later. (In the moment, it’s just hell.) And special kudos to Rachel McAdams, so lovely and touching as Margaret’s resilient, silently adrift mom — this is one of her best performances, and in a fair world, she’d get an Oscar nomination for it.
There’s a sadness at the core of Wes Anderson’s latest feature — an acknowledgment that nothing lasts and that life rarely ends up how you expected — but that melancholy is buttressed by a funny, clever story within a story. Asteroid City explores a quirky Southwestern desert town where aspiring astronomers gather every year, but that movie we’re watching is actually a live television production being performed by actors, who are back in New York City. That may sound confusing, but Anderson makes these two different worlds blend seamlessly, featuring a terrific cast that includes Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks and the most adorable little alien you ever met. And if you’re looking for more Anderson gems from 2023, the wry auteur created a series of Roald Dahl shorts for Netflix, highlighted by The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar — those are highly recommended, too.
They Cloned Tyrone
The year’s oddest mystery, They Cloned Tyrone starred John Boyega as a drug dealer who gets shot dead — only to show up the next day, totally fine. What’s going on here? Along with Jamie Foxx’s pimp and Teyonah Parris’ sex worker, he seeks the truth, leading them to a government conspiracy involving nefarious activities happening within their inner-city community. Director and co-writer Juel Taylor isn’t just satirizing blaxploitation films but also commenting on systemic racism with a mocking tone. His main characters are different degrees of ridiculous, but Foxx is especially great as this foolhardy, cocky pimp. His big awards-season film is The Burial, but the truth is, he’s better here.
Who says romantic comedies are dead? In her feature debut, director Raine Allen-Miller crafted a thoroughly charming one, starring David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah as two strangers who run into each other one day in London, both of them reeling from the end of their respective relationships. They decide to hang out, quickly getting to know each other. Rye Lane recalls walk-and-talk movies like Before Sunrise, but the inventiveness of the film’s design and the chemistry of these rising stars made this among 2023’s happiest discoveries. If you missed it, proceed to Hulu immediately — you’ll remember what it’s like to watch funny, good-looking people fall in love on screen.
Recently, there have been several “Here is the story of how that corporate/consumer thing you sorta remember came to be”: Air, The Beanie Bubble, etc. The best of the bunch was this remarkable recounting of the rise and fall of the now-forgotten smartphone some of us had before the iPhone dominated the market. BlackBerry is very funny, but never in a smug or lazily nostalgic way: Co-written and directed by Matt Johnson, the film presents us with a series of fascinatingly nerdy and/or egomaniacal characters who see BlackBerry’s potential, speedily becoming rich and powerful. Jay Baruchel has never been better than as the tech-whiz Mike, who is the meek geek to Glenn Howerton’s raging bully Jim. What’s especially satisfying about Howerton’s towering performance is that it’s not that far removed from his portrayal of Dennis on It’s Always Sunny: They’re both dudes with anger issues and deep insecurities.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
It had been years since we’d had a good Turtles movie, but Seth Rogen, who produced and co-wrote Mutant Mayhem, helped crack the code. Part of the trick was to invest Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael and Donatello with real feelings and genuine teenage hangups. But more importantly, the movie let them be funny — really, really funny — in a way that no Turtles movie has since the 1990 original. The comic rapport between the guys is endlessly endearing, and the pop-culture references are sharp rather than obvious. Most films, I dread the inevitable sequel — but with Mutant Mayhem, I’m excited for more.
Alexander Payne’s best film since The Descendants was also his first with Paul Giamatti since Sideways. The Holdovers takes us back to the early 1970s, where Paul (Giamatti) is a miserable teacher at an East Coast boarding school, tasked with keeping an eye on the students who have to stay on campus because they have nowhere else to go during the holidays — including the smartass Angus (Dominic Sessa), who has clashed with Paul during the semester. This warm comedy, which might end up becoming a Christmas staple for those who hate the season’s forced yuletide joy, builds its humor out of its characters’s day-to-day unhappiness, observing as the surly Paul starts to soften. (And Da’Vine Joy Randolph, as the school’s head cook, is as good as she was in Dolemite Is My Name.) The bite of early Payne flicks like Election isn’t as evident in The Holdovers, but the laughs are still plentiful.
You Hurt My Feelings
What a fantastic premise: A married author (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) struggling with her new book discovers that her psychiatrist husband (Tobias Menzies) secretly hates it — despite swearing to her that he thinks it’s great. You Hurt My Feelings will speak to anybody who’s fearful that their friends, lover, parents, siblings, coworkers — you name it — aren’t being honest with them in order to spare their feelings. Writer-director Nicole Holofcener explores not just the anxiety of the creative life but also the white lies that we all tell every day — to others and also to ourselves — in order to keep going. Louis-Dreyfus is excellent as this flailing writer who starts to worry about her marriage, and a great supporting cast that includes Michaela Watkins and Arian Moayed help expand the concept into myriad aspects of life. Few comedies were wiser this year.
Emma Stone is a marvel in Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest freaky concoction, a tale of a dead woman brought back to life, relearning how the world works. The La La Land Oscar-winner plays Bella Baxter, who starts off with the mental development of a child, quickly growing in sophistication while having a lot of sex. Featuring Mark Ruffalo having a ball as a no-good, randy lawyer who beds Bella, Poor Things is outrageous in all the right ways — sexy, bizarre, irreverent, shocking. And the film reconfirms Lanthimos as one of the great comic filmmakers — even if he likes to make you wince as much as laugh.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
Because the 2018 original was so groundbreaking, it can be easy to underrate this stellar sequel. Just as visually assured as Into the Spider-Verse, Across the Spider-Verse expanded the world of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) and gave us more information about Hailee Steinfeld’s Gwen Stacy — not to mention the multiverse itself. And you’ve got to hand it a sequel that dares to ignore some of the first film’s best characters — Spider-Ham, Spider-Man Noir — and then introduce a bunch of new ones who are just as entertaining. (Jason Schwartzman was superb as the film’s villain, the Spot, while Daniel Kaluuya revels in his cheeky role as Spider-Punk.) Across the Spider-Verse was as gleeful and stunning as Into the Spider-Verse, the jokes coming at you so quickly that it was impossible to absorb them all in one sitting — as if you needed another excuse to revisit this animated marvel.
Forget all the commercial records Barbie broke during its historic theatrical run — when was the last time a pure comedy was No. 1 at the year-end box office? It’s just another example of the achievement director and co-writer Greta Gerwig pulled off, turning a popular toy into a very popular movie — even though there was skepticism when the project was first announced. Satirical but also bighearted, Gerwig’s Barbie managed to elucidate why that iconic doll has endured while also critiquing Barbie’s damaging effects on the culture at large and feminism in particular. It isn’t easy to be smart and goofy at the same time, but as embodied by producer Margot Robbie’s effortless portrayal, the movie was the best kind of pop-culture phenomenon: a blockbuster that’s also legitimately great. From the visual gags to the takedowns of everything from Zack Snyder to Matchbox Twenty, Barbie packed more laughs per minute than any other film, and that’s not even including Ryan Gosling’s inspired turn as the ultimate himbo, Ken.
There were plenty of times this year that we thought about dying, but Barbie made 2023 consistently brighter.