What a year in cinema it’s been. We take stock with our annual ‘best of’ lists, which chart the finest films seen at festivals, on streaming and in cinemas, as well as the top discs, TV series and film books of 2023.
Elsewhere in this special issue are a feature on Scala!!!, a lively new documentary celebrating the infamous London cinema, Michael Mann talking Enzo biopic Ferrari, Alexander Payne on his Christmastime comedy The Holdovers and much more below.
Our annual round-up of the best films, as voted for by our contributors, is as eclectic and unpredictable as it has ever been – reflecting a year of remarkable cinematic achievements, from arthouse blockbusters like Oppenheimer to small-scale heartbreakers like Past Lives, against a background of strikes and financial uncertainty for both theatres and streamers. Introduction by Isabel Stevens.
While Christopher Nolan’s film was a commercial and critical success, the BBC beat him to the story of the father of the atom bomb with a fine 1980 miniseries. David Thomson examines the way the two portraits diverge and outlines their contrasting performance styles.
Barbie is definitively established as a critical as well as a box-office triumph. Here, in excerpts from a Screen Talk she gave at the BFI London Film Festival in October, Greta Gerwig discusses writing, dream ballets and embroidering Barbie with Proust.
4. Poor Things
Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest film, a Frankenstein story full of sex and humour – and even hope – won the Golden Lion at Venice. It is on a larger scale than anything he has made, but loses none of his strangeness and wit, writes Nicole Flattery. Photography by Yorgos Lanthimos.
3. Past Lives
In its wistfulness, its evenhandedness and its acknowledgement that instant chemistry is not the be-all and end-all of love, Celine Song’s first film quietly, brilliantly subverts the conventions of romantic comedy. By Molly Haskell.
2. The Zone of Interest
Sandra Hüller and Christian Friedel tell Jonathan Romney about their remarkable performances in this stark, mesmerising portrait of a German commandant and his family at Auschwitz.
1. Killers of the Flower Moon
At the top of this year’s poll stands Scorsese’s late masterpiece, an epic story told in intimate terms about the systematic robbing and murder of the Osage of Oklahoma in the 1920s. Here, the director responds to his win.
+ Martin Scorsese’s westerns masterclass
Talking about Killers of the Flower Moon in our October issue, Martin Scorsese periodically recalled westerns that were important to him – some famous, some less well-known. Here he discusses the mixed, vexed heritage of the genre, which Killers profoundly questions, and recalls his childhood obsession with westerns and the parallel genre of noir. Interview by Philip Horne.
+ The year in British cinema
+ The year in horror
+ The year in AI
+ The year in social media
+ The year in documentary film
The best TV of 2023
In 2023, the TV industry showed it was keener on making unnecessary drama-documentaries about abusers than on cleaning up its act. But it was also a year in which several much-loved shows bowed out graciously and genres were creatively teased. By Andrew Male.
+ Discs of the year
+ Books of the year
Obituaries of those who died in 2023. Compiled by Bob Mastrangelo.
Scala spirit 1993-2023
It’s been 30 years since the demise of London’s legendary Scala cinema – a haven for mavens of arthouse obscurities, films maudits, demi-monde double bills and simply gloriously scuzzy cinema. To celebrate the release of Scala!!!, a new documentary about the raucous picture palace, directed by Ali Catterall and former Scala programmer Jane Giles, Sight and Sound asked writers, critics and filmmakers – including John Waters, Bette Gordon, Peter Strickland and Edgar Wright – for the post-Scala flicks they’d put on the bill were the cinema still open today. Introduction by Ali Catterall.
Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers, a comic tale of a misfit student left in the care of a misanthropic teacher at a Massachusetts prep school for Christmas in 1970, is a glorious return to form. Here he discusses his debt to early 70s cinema, his favourite Christmas movies and his love of Paul Giamatti. By Philip Horne.
Michael Mann’s high-octane tale of the personal and professional crises faced by racing legend Enzo Ferrari in the mid-1950s is as much an emotional family drama as it is a car-racing movie. He tells Nick James about life in the driving seat on set and why the drama feels operatic in its intensity.
Boy meets world
Miyazaki Hayao’s constantly surprising new feature The Boy and the Heron, which follows a young boy in mourning for his mother who discovers a series of portals into other worlds, blends animated fantasy with the director’s own memories of growing up in post-war Japan to create another triumphant exploration of life, loss and death. By Nick Bradshaw.
+ ‘Miyazaki wanted to look back’
Studio Ghibli co-founder and president Suzuki Toshio outlines Miyazaki Hayao’s painstaking working methods and explains the autobiographical origins of much of The Boy and the Heron. Interview by Nick Bradshaw.
From the archive: Hollywood royalty
A career that successfully straddled both silent and sound eras over seven decades was still in train when King Vidor, legendary director of classics of the 1920s and 30s, spoke to the magazine in 1968.
Films to watch out for in 2024
With the strikes firmly in the rearview mirror, the coming year has a bonanza in store from Bong Joon Ho, Joachim Trier, Rose Glass, Steve McQueen and plenty more. By Arjun Sajip.
In conversation: Lila Avilés
The Mexican director’s second feature, Tótem, explores a young girl’s sad, magical universe. Interview by Jonathan Romney.
In focus: Empire of light
Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux on Lyon’s Musée Lumière, a shrine to cinema and photography which celebrates the brothers Louis and Auguste’s pioneering contributions to moving pictures. By Pamela Hutchinson.
The long take
For all its fantasy and glamour, The Red Shoes reveals the real blood, sweat and tears behind ballet. By Pamela Hutchinson.
John Cheever’s gin-soaked suburban nightmares are out of fashion, but their intensity survives. By Nicole Flattery.
A true-crime drama may be in part an act of remembrance – but one that distorts reality. By Andrew Male.
As films slip down the rankings over the decades, will we forget what made them seem great? By Kevin B. Lee.
From poll to poll, 2023 was a battle for cinema’s soul. By Mike Williams.
Rediscovery: Black God, White Devil
To depict the desperation of poverty-stricken Brazilian farmers, the young Glauber Rocha stepped away from neorealism, creating a feverish story of apocalyptic religion and violent revolt. By Ben Nicholson.
Archive TV: Ivor the Engine, Clangers, Bagpuss
The idyllic worlds of Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate still exercise their charm – should we be worried? By Robert Hanks.
Lost and found: Some Interviews on Personal Matters
In her 1978 portrait of a woman journalist under pressure from an unfaithful husband and a patriarchal society, Lana Gogoberidze made one of the first feminist Soviet films – and a daughter’s memorial to her filmmaker mother. By Carmen Gray.
A new generation of technologies – grouped under the heading XR – promises to take us beyond 3D cinema into ‘immersive experiences’. The potential for new kinds of art is there – but we need some Eisensteins to exploit it. By Ian Christie.
Workwear of the world, unite
With pretend workers clad in fake brands in a show run by pseudocorporations, Beagles & Ramsay cock a snook at capitalist realism. By Susannah Thompson.
Endings: Time of the Wolf (2003)
Michael Haneke’s drama plunges the audience into an apocalypse that ends with neither a bang nor a whimper, but a rumble and a whoosh and a sudden, uncharacteristic surge of hope. By Catherine Wheatley.
Our critics review: All of Us Strangers, Priscilla, The Boy and the Heron, The Zone of Interest, Scala!!!, Every Body, The Peasants, Ferrari, The Book of Clarence, Tchaikovsky’s Wife, One Life, Poor Things, The Holdovers, Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer, Queendom, Sweet Sue, Trenque Lauquen, Maestro, Samsara, Freaks Vs the Reich and Napoleon.
Our critics review: World: Selected works by Ben Rivers, Early Skolimowski, Blackhat, The Spanish Dancer, The Last Picture Show, The Hot Spot, Typhoon Club, Bluebeard’s Castle, Ghost Stories for Christmas Vol. 2 and 23 Seconds to Eternity.
Our critics review: The Path to Paradise: A Francis Ford Coppola Story and Kubrick: An Odyssey.