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Poor Things might be the fantasy movie of 2023

Emma Stone heads up an exceptional cast in what is the most inventive, most fun genre movie of the year

Poor Things
Image credit: A24

One of the particular oddities about this job is that you have to make up Best Of lists before the year is actually out, enabling the possibility that you’ll find your own list outdated and incorrect within days of it running. On a related note, Poor Things might be the finest genre movie of 2023.

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Favorite) from a screenplay by Tony McNamara — creator of the dear, departed The Great on Hulu — that adapts a 1992 novel by Scottish writer Alasdair Gray, the movie is at once a hybrid and parody of both Frankenstein and Pygmalion, while also having an identity (and purpose) of its very own. Emma Stone plays Bella Baxter, a young woman whom it’s quickly revealed is actually a re-animated corpse with the brain of a baby, whose combination of beauty and curiosity makes her the subject of fascination (and, in one case, obsession) by almost everyone she comes into contact with. It’s a simple enough premise, but what makes the movie so utterly compelling is the execution.

I mean that on every level: the writing allows the characters to go places that are at once surprising and utterly logical, with the story’s global reach — the story begins and ends in London, but visits Portugal, Greece, and France along the way — and Bella’s intellectual and emotional evolution proving to be both hilarious and beautifully melancholy. I mentioned Frankenstein and Pygmalion above; there’s no small amount of Voltaire’s Candide in here, too, although perhaps Terry Southern’s wonderful, camp 1960s update Candy is a more appropriate touchstone: Bella’s sexuality and lack of shame on the topic is central to the movie, so consider that a warning to the more restrained, prudish readers out there.

The visuals, too, are stunning; Lanthimos and cinematographer Robbie Ryan play with the look of the movie for its entire runtime, using color, lighting, and even types of lens to push the emotion of what’s happening onscreen in a way that makes almost every other movie of the year feel embarrassingly sluggish and unambitious. (The movie’s visual playfulness also features what might be the best use of a CGI video wall background that we’ve seen so far; the cruise ship scenes, especially, look amazing.)

More than anything, though, what’s so memorable about the movie is the performances. Every actor shows up ready to go, but the movie’s core cast — Stone, Willem Dafoe, Mark Ruffalo, and Ramy Youssef — are outstanding on every level, with Stone in particular delivering a fearless performance that’s thrilling to watch. Stone is simultaneously broadly comedic and breathtakingly subtle, and consistently surprising. If she doesn’t win all the awards for this one, something has gone very, very wrong.

Poor Things might not be for everyone — the sexual nature of the movie might turn some off, and others might find it too weird in its resistance to settle for formula or expectation — but it’s exactly what audiences should be demanding from fantasy and genre cinema: something inventive, playful, and daring that, while informed by stories and ideas that have been seen before, nonetheless breathes new life into them with joy and excitement.

Poor Things is in U.S. theaters now. Buy tickets on Fandango or Atom Tickets.

As the year wind downs, it's time to look back and all you've read and watched. Popverse has picked the best movies, best comics, and best TV shows of the year.

But who really cares about what we think? This year, we had you vote for your best movies, best comics, and best TV shows of the year too. Check the lists and mix and see if you agree with our (and your) top choices of the year!