38. Knock at the Cabin; M. Night Shyamalan
Poking fun at M. Night Shyamalan stopped being funny ever since he started making good movies again. This is such a meditative, humanistic end of the world thriller about the four horsemen sent to kill a family to prevent the end of the world: high stakes yet no big grand twist either – this is Shyamalan reigned in. Dave Bautista and Rupert Grint standout with Paul Tremblay’s novel the guiding hand – Bautista arguably putting in one of the strongest performances of the year as a cold and calculated man with an impossible choice.
37. The Blue Caftan; Maryam Touzani
Tender and upending tradition at a traditional caftan store in one of Morocco’s oldest medinas; the film looks at the dynamic between Halim and Mina and how it’s changed when Mina notices how Halim is moved by Youssef, a new young hire who joins to aid them. It’s full of the hidden heart and beautifully articulated in a compassionate and artful way; The Blue Caftan is a quiet if familiar success.
36. Scrapper; Charlotte Regan
A modern fairytale. Wes Anderson-esque with something that’s all too rare in a British social-realist drama these days, colour – Charlotte Regan’s film about an absent father facing up to his responsibility shines thanks to the talented Lola Campbell – and the strong themes that make it impossible not to fall in love with.
35. Broker; Hirokaza Kore-eda
Few can make you care for a group of loveable child kidnappers like Hirokaza Kore-eda, and beneath the film’s sinister overtures a found family emerges – about the family we let go and the ones that we make in the process. Pardon the pun, but Broker broke me – bittersweet and heartfelt as always.
34. Blue Jean; Georgia Oakley
An indictment of how hostile Britain has been in the very recent past to the LGBTQ+ community. It doesn’t make for pretty watching – it’s a hard film to sit through, with Section 28 – which banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools, still present on people’s minds today. This displays the dynamic between a closeted teacher and a student with the care to avoid falling victim to another Hollywood ending which is the last thing this film needed – thanks to a powerhouse effort by Georgia Oakley and the incredible Rosy McEwen.
33. May December; Todd Haynes
Charles Melton, who’d have thought? What a performance – capable of holding his own with the brilliant Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman in a twisted psychodrama that Todd Haynes is able to mine in a way that it pulls the rug from under your feet into becoming a horror story – terrifyingly plausible yet hard to pull away from. As evidenced by what comes later: 2023 is a great year for a director to be called Todd.
32. The Beasts; Rodrigo Sorogyen
Denis Menochet is your actor’s favourite actor and he puts in a tour de force of a performance in this – but the real star is Marina Force who doesn’t show how vital she is in the film to a bold, brazen third act. Rodrigo Sorogoyen terrific behind the camera in a brilliant study of local rivalry and xenophobia that spirals out of control.
31. The Eternal Daughter; Joanna Hogg
A ghost story; rich in gothic brilliance – unnerving and so coolly executed it’s hauntingly rich. Tilda Swinton superb in a dual role; and Joanna Hogg’s atmosphere building will send shivers down your spine. Loosely works as a third part to her Souvenir duology but capable of standing on its own two feet – The Eternal Daughter is a masterclass in gothic horror.
30. The Killer; David Fincher
Bigmouth strikes again. David Fincher’s return to form after the underwhelming Mank is probably the closest we’ll get to a Hitman film adaption that’s actually good, with Fassbender’s cold, calculating and ruthless assassin sent into a spiral after a kill goes wrong. Best watched on the big screen as opposed to Netflix it makes an inventive use of the Smiths songs and a cold, dark melancholic approach to feel like a modern take on Jean-Pierre Melvile’s Le Samourai – arguably a classic as that film itself.
29. Saint Omer; Alice Diop
The French love their courtroom dramas don’t they? Saint Omer is such a morally ambiguous film there are no easy answers from the start and it feels so essentially shot it’s hard not to fall completely in love with, stripping everything down to its bear essentials. generational trauma front and centre through peerless performances by Kayije Kagame and Guslagie Malanda both – Alice Diop is such a force to be reckoned with.
28. The Old Oak; Ken Loach
Loach’s rallying cry against xenophobia is startingly and terrifyingly realistic as one would expect nothing less from Britain’s premier social realist director; in maybe his final film. A direct response to the systematic racism in the UK – The Old Oak shines a light on community and togetherness in the face of all odds; and is hard to watch but oh so vitally important. As with the best films there’s no easy answer and the film manages to showcase the best and worst of humanity in one film the way Loach can only do best – he caused shockwaves with I, Daniel Blake in 2016 but if anything this is more vital given the current state of the nation.
27. Past Lives; Celine Song
Two childhood friends; Nora and Hae Sung, are reunited 20 years later after Nora’s family emigrates to New York. However times have changed; Nora is now engaged – but Hae Sung’s affections for her has not changed and he still has a crush on her. It’s heartbreaking, and beautifully acted between Greta Lee and Teo Yoo; who share impeccable chemistry on screen. Song’s direction captures New York from the perspective of an outsider, as are all New Yorkers – with the skill and craft of a director ten times her experience – and what a knockout of a debut film this.
26. Rye Lane; Raine Allen-Miller
A love letter to London, Rye Lane is such a treat and a real modern classic of a romcom! nothing more awkward than having your playlist play on shuffle at a party and the sparks and the vibes are just perfect there. all the praise for Raine Allen-Miller – its characters are so infectiously likeable and awkward and it just goes to show that everyone is human, really. I love this city so much and both David Johnson and Vivian Oparah come from out of nowhere to show that the romcom is very much not only alive but alive and kicking.
25. Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One; Christopher McQuarrie
Crusie control. A return to the spy movie espionage narrative with each action sequence forming a different act of the film culminating in a spectacular motorcycle jump set piece; Dead Reckoning Part One continues Cruise’s rallying cry against the evils of artificial intelligence with the best Mission Impossible film yet – explosive, no holds barred and full of spectacular set pieces that make so much use of the dutch angles it’s hard not to love. McQuarrie, in going out of his way to become a journeyman director at the cost of being an auteurist has become an auteurist journeyman – and Hollywood is all the better for it. The natural heir to Tony Scott is very high praise indeed.
24. Master Gardener; Paul Schrader
ahahaha absolutely fuck yes. Paul Schrader got really into gardening and it shows – delivering a redemptive arc with one of his most unlikeable leads front and centre as part of the loose trilogy of First Reformed and The Card Counter. A romantic search of meditation and absolution in a way for the die-hard Schraderheads only – it’s a film about seeking a new path and embracing it whole heartedly no matter what has come before.
23. Bottoms; Emma Seligman
A really fun comedy with madcap energy that obviously calls to mind Booksmart. A queer lesbian fight club spirals out of control and has some of the best set-up to payoff scenes that I’ve seen in quite some time, and every time a bomb went off I couldn’t help but laugh. Hard to imagine the cast not having fun on set and I love Emma Seligman’s follow-up to the most stressful film of all-time, Shiva Baby – and This is Ayo Edebiri’s movie – and she owns it with one endless best line delivery of 2023 after another. But just like her character Ruby Cruz is key to making the whole thing work.
22. Oppenheimer; Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan turned a 3 hour biopic into one of the event blockbusters of the summer in the only way Christopher Nolan knows how – a fascinating condemnation of the actions of the United States told through the eyes of Oppenheimer himself; with a stellar performance by Cillian Murphy that has him answer for the weight of America’s sins through a study of paranoia, anger and conspiracy.
21. How to Blow up a Pipeline; Daniel Goldhaber
A wonderful anti-capitalist act of revolution; free spirited youth and progress – a rallying cry for change as an artform is fiercely independent and a fire that sparks a revolution. Ariela Barer, Kristine Froseth, Lukas Gage, Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, all excellent – and the film attempts to portray the various different problems of putting people with different views by putting them in a melting pot and letting them cook together – sparks fly with an unparalleled energy. The synth score, the look and feel of it all – it feels like a fuck you to everyone in charge and deserves all the audience possible.
20. Afire; Christian Petzold
Christian Petzold has been making German mythology anew for the past decade or so and his film Afire is a wonderful magical realist tale about two friends, Leon and Felix, who arrive at Felix’s holiday home to find a mysterious woman, Nadja – there already – with the threat of a forest fire in the background. Avoiding the manic pixie dream girl trope, Afire is a devastating look at how quickly self-centred narcissism and jealousy can consume even the closest of friends; and Petzold’s muse, Paula Beer – deliver a tremendously multifaceted performance.
19. Pacifiction; Abel Ferrara
A post colonialism critique of the French, Pacification is an entirely rich labyrinth of an existential drama that plays out like Abel Ferrera’s Miami Vice. Bold, visionary – exciting and daring – Pacifiction takes steps to accomplish something truly breathtaking – Benoit Maigmel acts as a centrepiece for the corruption of the state through his central performance, and through him we see such a rampant control of luxury.
18. Magic Mike’s Last Dance; Steven Soderbergh
As romantic as finales get; this is just such a flawless film – Channing Tatum, Salma Hayek, all exceptional – Soderbergh is still just majestic at getting everything right and this teardown of the patriarchy is what we very much needed. That finale is the best ending of the year – and Mike returns for one last dance; it’s hard not to fall in love. Love the little scenes like the dance on the London bus – and it’s further proof Soderbergh has just perfected the movie artform, few to do it better.
17. Beau is Afraid; Ari Aster
A 3 hour long nightmare that I absolutely adored; and not just that – it’s also Ari Aster’s best work to date. Unflinching in its compromise and full of absurdly brilliant situations that test the limits of your imagination – there’s nothing quite like Beau is Afraid this year and it may end up being the most unique film of 2023. Certainly the most traumatising from the city sequence alone: it’s like having a never ending panic attack with a gorgeous animated sequence in the middle.
16. Return to Seoul; Davy Chou
All praise to Park Ji-min who puts in one of the year’s best performance as Freddie; a 25 year old who decides, like much of her life – on impulse to return to Korea to reconnect with her parents after a lengthy stay in France after she was adopted. In a quest for her biological parents she embarks on a journey that will change her life in ways she never expected to: adapting to the conservative Korean culture with free-spirted energy not understanding its social cues and rules causes havoc in her friend group; and the scene where Freddie dances to the hypnotic beat of Jeremie Arache and Christophe Musset’s Anybody is one of the best of the year. A journey of self-discovery and realisation – in search of contentment and happiness.
15. Fallen Leaves; Aki Kaurismaki
The cinema date in this transformed my opinion of this film from very good to legendary; and it all starts with a series of missed connections. And what a movie! a dry comedy aware of the lengthy tradition of cinematic dry comedies – so painfully awkward at times and yet never more human. The story of love between two lonely souls.
14. The Boy and the Heron; Hayao Miyazaki
Miyazaki is back with an intimate sense of wonder and imagination; but well aware of his own mortality and challenging the concept of a farewell film by looking at his legacy whilst making something new. After escaping from the wartorn Tokyo to live in the remote home of his new stepmother Natsuko, Mahito is stalked by a grey heron as the world around him grows forever stranger. Beautifully illustrated with nods from all things from Grave of the Fireflies to Doctor Who’s Partners in Crime (tell me you won’t be reminded of the Adipose after watching this); it’s a grand masterstroke that is the best animated film of the year.
13. Godzilla: Minus One; Takeshi Yamazaki
This is one of the “most” films of the year and the fact that it might be my favourite blockbuster movie tells you something: a harrowing human drama that finally nails non-monster parts of a modern Godzilla story; and absolutely crushes it with the big guy. Best score of the year and a rich anti-war theme that puts most American films to shame. Its critics who call it pro Nationalism couldn’t be further than the truth – this is the most damning statement of Japanese attitudes towards the lack of care for life in World War Two that we could’ve had; and pushing everything towards giving its characters something to fight for the film feels like a real artwork. Legendary have a lot to catch up on.
12. Passages; Ira Sachs
A movie for the disaster bisexuals! featuring the most awkward meet the parents scene you’ve ever seen – Franz Rogowski plays Tomas, a German filmmaker who embraces his sexuality when he and his husband Martin are both involved in affairs. Chaos all around with another all-timer of an Adèle Exarchopoulos performance, Passages is much more deserving of The Worst Person in the World title than the film of the same name; but it shows how good Rogowski is of an actor that you can’t help but care for him regardless of all the horrible things his character does.
11. Ferrari; Michael Mann
A biopic that shows the life of automotive mogul Enzo Ferrari places you in a time in Formula 1 racing when stepping into the high-powered racing cars was a matter of life and death. Anchored by a brilliantly ruthless Adam Driver performance opposite a fiery Penelope Cruz, Ferrari showcases Mann at the top of his game; a late career epic that is best watched knowing nothing about the true story that this film draws from: as one of the most horrifying scenes in a film all year is present in Ferrari and the shock is still present even months removed from watching it; to the point where I don’t think I’ll ever recover.
10. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed; Laura Poitras
One of the most vital films to show people why sex scenes in movies are important and why it would be so reductive to erase them just because you don’t like the awkwardness of watching something with your parents; a fierce work of art with something to say and a loud voice about the incredible life of Nan Goldin, renowned photographer and activist. It’s queer and courageous, a bold act of revolution that has to be seen to be believed.