wed 21/02/2024

Best of 2023: Film | reviews, news & interviews

Best of 2023: Film

Best of 2023: Film

Kicking off the top choices of the year, theartsdesk's film critics cast their net wide

Moral reckoning: Lily Gladstone with Leonardo DiCaprio in 'Killers of the Flower Moon'Apple TV+

Numbers indicate if entries are listed in order of preference


Saskia Baron

Anatomy of a Fall

Broker

Fallen Leaves

Joyland

Killers of the Flower Moon

Otto Baxter: Not a F**ing Horror Story

Return to Seoul

St Omer

Scrapper

A Thousand and One

The reason I go to the cinema is mainly to experience other people’s lives and thoughts but also to escape for a few hours from the gerbil wheel of anxiety about the world that spins constantly in my head. 2023 was not a great year for anyone of a fretful disposition, but these were the movies that for a while made me happy and distracted in the dark of the movie theatre. They included tales of poisonous relationships (Anatomy of a Fall, St Omer, Killers of the Flower Moon) and fresh portraits of unconventional families (Scrapper, Broker, A Thousand and One, Otto Baxter, Return to Seoul). Lastly two very different romances, Joyland and Fallen Leaves (pictured above), set in the heat of Pakistan and the chill of Finland respectively, left me feeling that love might still conquer all.

 

Justine Elias

1.    Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret

2.    Eileen

3.    Godzilla Minus One

4.    Killers of the Flower Moon

5.    May December

6.    Medusa Deluxe

7.    Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning

8.    Napoleon

9.    Oppenheimer

10. Piggy

Re-releases, from the BFI’s Powell and Pressburger retrospective and The Age of Innocence to The Big Lebowski, overshadowed the pallid start of 2023. Leave it to Martin Scorsese, already the premier US storyteller, to make Killers of the Flower Moon a thrilling, unsettling mix of backstabbing and romance – and perhaps the definitive word on the myth of the American West. (Pictured above: Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret)


Graham Fuller

Afire

Anselm

Eileen

Godland

Killers of the Flower Moon

May December

The Old Oak

Pacifiction

Return to Seoul

Tótem

More chillingly even than Scorsese’s urban crime films, Killers of the Flower Moon demonstrates that violence is the fount of power and wealth in America; his Manifest Destiny movie, it reaches into the racist present. It was the only “event” movie released after the spring that I admired unequivocally, preferring intimate stories that resonate outwards – Christian Petzold’s Afire (pictured above), Albert Serra’s Pacifiction, Lila Aviles’s Tótem, and Davy Chou’s Return to Seoul cases in point. William Oldroyd’s neo-noir Eileen and Todd Haynes’s Persona-influenced May December each beguilingly focuses on a complicated woman trying to mirror another woman, making us question who’s stable, who’s neurotic. In February, Wim Wenders follows his awe-inspiring Anselm Kiefer doc with the tranquil Japanese drama Perfect Days – some comeback. If Ken Loach has truly retired, The Old Oak’s mix of sorrow, anger, and compassion make it the perfect swansong.


Nick Hasted

1. Killers of the Flower Moon

2. Tår

3. Maestro

4. Godland

5. Pearl

6. Joyland

7. One Fine Morning

8. Anselm

9. The Fabelmans

10. Evil Dead Rise

Recounting the 1920s oil super-wealth discovered in Oklahoma’s Osage Nation and a white conspiracy to steal it, Killers of the Flower Moon was Scorsese’s third successive magisterial moral reckoning, in a sober late period. America’s racist malaise thickens the air as Osage corpses are dumped like garbage. De Niro’s malevolent rancher recalls his Goodfellas mastermind, offering enemies an ambiguous, hangman’s turn of the head. Lily Gladstone’s Osage are sidelined, and this confessional leap forward in the Western’s Indian Wars now awaits Native directing kin to Louise Erdrich’s entrancing, devastating novels.

Apple allowed Killers of the Flower Moon a decent cinema run after Netflix’s ruthless hit on The Irishman’s big-screen life. Watching Maestro’s rapturous tribute to Leonard Bernstein immersed in the dark with a community of strangers was a sadly rare treat, as its confirmation of Bradley Cooper’s mainstream mastery was denied A Star is Born’s cinema stature by more quick Netflix streaming. Maestro anyway matched Tar’s entirely different, icily freaky portrait of a classical conductor, just as Cate Blanchett’s monstrously flawed yet sympathetic woman was equalled by Mia Goth’s second turn as Pearl’s eponymous maniac (pictured above). Ti West’s prequel to last year’s X showed the smalltown adolescence of its elderly Seventies serial killer, splicing The Wizard of Oz with Psycho in its Texan cornfields. Goth’s calibrated hysteria and rictus grin, her repressed pantomime of apple-pie innocence thinly papering a screaming abyss, was recognisably Scorsese’s America, too.

 

Helen Hawkins

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

Fremont

How to Have Sex

The Eternal Daughter

The Pigeon Tunnel

Moon Is the Oldest TV

Fallen Leaves

Past Lives

Asteroid City

Oppenheimer

My top 10 are, with the exception of the overwhelming Oppenheimer, not canonical epics and great “achievements”, so no Killers of the Flower Moon or Maestro, happy though I was to see them. My 10 are the films I would gladly watch again, and already have mostly. I was reluctant to lose Afire and the intriguing Anatomy of a Fall, riveting though Sandra Hüller is in the latter; her next performance, in The Zone of Interest, is even more impressive. I unapologetically chose three inventively constructed documentaries, about fascinating subjects (Nan Goldin, John le Carré and Nam June Paik). (Pictured above: Goldin in "All the Beauty and the Bloodshed")

 

Demetrios Matheou

1976

Anatomy of a Fall

Anselm

Barbie / Oppenheimer 

Killers of the Flower Moon

Maestro

May December

Past Lives

Tár

Women Talking 

2023 was the year of "Barbenheimer", arguably the most significant filmgoing phenomenon since Jaws heralded the summer blockbuster. The unlikely Oppenheimer/Barbie double bill (my excuse for a top 11) was a welcome sign that post-pandemic audiences are hungry for a challenge – and that films don’t need Cruise or Marvel to stir the box office. Along with the word-of-mouth success of such films as Past Lives (pictured above) and Anatomy of a Fall, cinema was back in business with a hugely eclectic range of accomplishment.


Markie Robson-Scott

Anatomy of a Fall

Tár

Saltburn

One Fine Morning

War Pony

Women Talking

The Damned Don’t Cry

Napoleon

Nostalgia

Godland

In a year of writers’ and actors’ strikes and epic Hollywood blockbusters – Oppenheimer, Barbie, Killers of the Flower Moon, Napoleon – there were some quieter, lower-budget films, such as Fyzal Boulifa’s outstandingly original The Damned Don’t Cry, Mia Hanson-Løve’s moving One Fine Morning, and Mario Martone’s sensuous Nostalgia, that didn’t go past the three-hour mark. But for me, Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall comes out on top: a superbly ambivalent portrait of a marriage, with a stunningly convincing performance by Sandra Hüller (pictured above).


James Saynor

20 Days in Mariupol

20,000 Species of Bees

Beyond Utopia

Godland

Killers of the Flower Moon

Maestro

The Old Oak

Rye Lane

Tár

A Thousand and One

Voters for the BAFTAs and Oscars have traditionally been Anglo-centric in their choices, and there’s often a striking difference between their shortlists and those of film critics who cast nets more globally for their Movies of the Year. In recent times, there have been encouraging signs that Bafta folk at least are fancying more subtitled fare. I’m a little surprised, though, that my picks (not ordered by merit) turn out to be fairly US and UK for 2023. (Pictured above: Godland)

 

Adam Sweeting

1. Oppenheimer

2. Killers of the Flower Moon

3. John Wick: Chapter 4

4. Saltburn

5: Ferrari

6. Tár

7. The Killer

8. The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from the Life of John le Carré (Apple TV+)

9. Hypnotic

10. Stewart (Sky Documentaries)

There have been times when it has seemed that all the acting and film-making talent (along with all the money) have fled en masse to the TV streamers, but 2023 offered some scintillating proof that it ain’t necessarily so. Oppenheimer (pictured right) and Killers of the Flower Moon found Christopher Nolan and a chap called Scorsese at their very finest, while Saltburn confirmed Emerald Fennell is a talent built to last. Fascinatingly, motor racing continues to evolve into its own mini-genre, with Michael Mann’s Ferrari and documentaries such as Sky’s excellent Jackie Stewart film scrapping all the way to the chequered flag.

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