The 10 best movies of 2023

2023 was an extraordinary year for cinema, replete with the returns of many celebrated auteurs and the flourishing of numerous British indie voices. Whilst some upcoming awards contenders are yet to be released here in the UK, here are the ten best films I have been able to see thus far, from uplifting comedies to thought-provoking and existential dramas. Honourable mentions must go to Celine Song’s moving relationship drama, Past Lives, and Molly Manning Walker’s provocative How to Have Sex.

10) Wonka

Despite not returning to direct the third installment, Paul King has not quite left behind the world of Paddington. Wonka revitalises the Roald Dahl chocolatier with King’s signature whimsical charm, complemented by a host of magical song-and-dance numbers from Chalamet and co. Chalamet, I must mention, completely owns the role, equalling Gene Wilder’s iconic portrayal with his innocent eccentricity. A visual and musical feast which brought me back to a charming childhood world of unbounded imagination, Wonka was a delightful way to end the year.

9) Saltburn

Saltburn left me lost for words but simultaneously grinning with satisfaction. Barry Keoghan’s filmography of deranged characters is only extended with this film. Darkly humorous in its social satire and intelligently structured, this trip to the picturesque Saltburn estate is extremely entertaining and spirals into a disturbing yet quite literally mind-blowing third act. As a late addition to last year’s eat-the-rich subgenre, this for me trumps all those efforts with its madness and depravity, a gleeful concoction by Emerald Fennell which impressed me a great deal and which I cannot wait to revisit.

8) Barbie

Bursting with ‘Kenergy’ and blindingly pink, Greta Gerwig’s original take on the popular doll was a witty and emotional breath of fresh air which was even better than I could have imagined. Ryan Gosling’s Ken is the highlight of course, comically fragile and a macho-effeminate hybrid who provides endless laughs, including his powerhouse ballad ‘I’m Just Ken’. Gerwig’s direction makes the film consistently surprising in its existentialist and gender-political turns. It’s not only a vibrant and absurd comedy but an intelligent drama too; it was simply destined for box office domination.

7) Rye Lane

Short, sweet and distinctly 2020s, Rye Lane is an endearing rom-com so tightly written and stylistically directed that it will surely make you smile, if not fall in love with the two leads who front it. A vibrant South London proves an enchanting backdrop to the connection of two broken souls in a beautiful narrative. David Jonsson as Dom is particularly loveable, but it is the flawless writing which places the film on this list, laugh-out-loud hilarious and endlessly joyful throughout.

6) Killers of the Flower Moon

Martin Scorsese’s triumphant return brought together his long-time muses, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, under his wing for the first time. The result was a bleak and hostile epic that completely justified its much-discussed runtime and respectfully dealt with a tragically silenced true story. Lily Gladstone as Mollie is the film’s MVP, her stoicism always belying a subtle rage and melancholy emptiness. Whilst the Osage murders occupy the bulk of the runtime at the expense of the succeeding judgement, this ironically mirrors the blind eye turned on the real case, transforming the film into a metatextual requiem for a forgotten history, perfectly executed by a cinematic master.

5) Anatomy of a Fall

Winner of Cannes’ Palme d’Or, this courtroom drama concerning a wife’s guilt in her husband’s death is at once slow and methodical yet also immensely satisfying in its discriminating detail and unpredictable development. There is a barrage of evidence and counter-evidence, claustrophobic interrogation hiding an inner core of marital failure and its causation, equally the subject of this ‘anatomy’. Like in classics such as 12 Angry Men, we must act as jury. Sandra Hüller is my pick for Best Actress at the upcoming Oscars, showing impressive range as a desperate yet elusive woman. Oh, and I forgot to mention, there’s an awards-worthy canine performance too.

4) May December

This chameleonic comic-thriller from Todd Haynes was an unexpected favourite of mine this year. Whilst Natalie Portman as the lead is fantastic, this film belongs to Charles Melton, who gives a heartbreaking portrayal of masculine brokenness and vulnerability within an uncomfortable story of sexual predation and scandal. This film will reward close attention to its subtly powerful acting and is a voyeuristic but also gripping experience, punctuated by some unnerving yet strangely hilarious use of music.

3) Scrapper

We all have hidden gems that we are protective of, and Scrapper is mine for this year; it demands, however, to be seen much more widely. Almost as emotional a father-daughter drama as last year’s Aftersun, this short British indie was a delight, raw in its emotion and charming in its quirks and performances. Lola Campbell and Harris Dickinson’s sweet chemistry elevates the story of a grieving child and her absent father into one of moving emotional U-turns that will make you laugh audibly and well up with tears soon after. Easily 2023’s most welcome surprise for me.

2) Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

The Spider-Verse’s second outing was not only the pinnacle of animation this century, but it had stunning action sequences throughout. Although it lacks the finality of a complete story, it remains a work of outstanding standalone potency, a relentlessly bombastic action epic interspersed with intimate moments. Legions of hardworking animators made this film the triumph it is, and a third instalment of similar quality would situate the Spider-Verse saga amongst the best trilogies of all time.

1) Oppenheimer

“Can you hear the music, Robert?” is the question Niels Bohr asks Cillian Murphy’s Oppenheimer, but it is equally directed at us. Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus is a ticking time bomb which conjures scale from dialogue in tiny rooms as much as it does from the watershed Trinity Test, elevated to symphonic grandeur and existential horror by an already-iconic Ludwig Göransson score and an ensemble of captivating performances. The rapid-fire dialogue accumulates megatons of tension, every shot radiates with beauty, and every musical cue inspires emotion in a myriad of ways. The haunting final line silenced me like nothing else ever has, truly the epitome of this enigmatic man’s Promethean guilt, and solidified this as my favourite of the year. The music was heard.


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