The 50 best films of 2023

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 to small-scale heartbreakers

8 December 2023

Lily Gladstone and Martin Scorsese filming Killers of the Flower Moon
Sight and Sound

See all the individual ballots: The best films of 2023 – all the votes

How will 2023 in film be remembered? As the year that the business models of streaming and Marvel started to wobble; the year that Hollywood learned to start worrying and fear the AI bomb ticking beneath it; the year when film production halted due to the writers’ and actors’ strikes and the unseen labour behind cinema took the spotlight – from the minions of the ‘mini-room’ to extras who risked being replaced by pixels in perpetuity.

Fonder reminiscences may come from those with fuchsia-tinted lenses who will recall the summer when pink ruled, when people actually queued to go to the movies again and when the phrase ‘double bill’ came back into popular parlance for the first time in 60 years. “Do you guys ever think about dying?” Margot Robbie asked in Barbie, an existential question directed frequently at cinema in recent years. If the big screen could talk, in 2023 it would have shouted back “No!” 

Let’s hope such a seismic 12 months behind the screen doesn’t overshadow what’s been on it. For 2023 has been one of the best years in recent memory for the art of cinema. As ever, we hope our list, voted for by more than 100 contributors, works as an invitation to dig beyond those films blessed with multimillion-pound marketing muscle and giant awards-season promo budgets, to find new films and directors rather than simply those that shout the loudest.

— Isabel Stevens

The best films of 2023

=38. All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt

Raven Jackson, US

All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (2023)

Raven Jackson’s lyrical stream-of-consciousness debut comprises vignettes that span several decades in the life of a Black woman in Mississippi, each showing her connection to the earth.

Where to see it: Awaiting UK distribution

=38. Earth Mama

Savannah Leaf, US

Earth Mama (2023)

Without preaching or editorialising, Savanah Leaf ’s compassionate, poetic debut depicts a care system that’s stacked against poor American single mothers, with a subtle, sullen and understated performance by newcomer Tia Nomore.

Where to see it: In UK cinemas

=38. The Holdovers

Alexander Payne, US

Dominic Sessa and Paul Giamatti as Angus and Paul in The Holdovers (2023)

Consciously evoking the cinema of mid-budget early 70s Hollywood, Alexander Payne’s high-school heartwarmer, starring a never-better Paul Giamatti, is every bit the equal of the films that inspired its aesthetic.

Where to see it: In UK cinemas from 19 January 2024

=38. The Killer

David Fincher, US

The Killer (2023)

Michael Fassbender stars as a hitman who becomes a target himself after a job gone wrong in David Fincher’s intriguing, freshly staged procedural, a film which entertains and unsettles at the same time.

Where to see it: Streaming on Netflix

=38. Menus-Plaisirs les Troisgros

Frederick Wiseman, US

Menu-Plaisirs les Troisgros (2023)

The 93-year-old Frederick Wiseman patiently examines every facet of the eponymous French three-Michelin-star kitchen in this four-hour documentary feast for the senses, with delectable diversions to vineyards, fromageries and farms.

Where to see it: Awaiting UK distribution

=38. Our Body

Claire Simon, France

Our Body (2023)

Comprehensively cataloguing the events in a Parisian gynaecology ward, this observational documentary gains added poignancy when Claire Simon steps in front of the camera for her own treatment.

Where to see it: Awaiting UK distribution

=38. A Prince (Un Prince)

Pierre Créton, France

A Prince (Un prince, 2023)

French ‘cineaste-peasant’ Pierre Creton’s portrait of the lives of gay horticulturalists in rural Normandy is a spellbinding, formally innovative curio. Jozef van Wissem, who scored Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), supplies another otherworldly soundtrack.

Where to see it: Awaiting UK distribution

=38. Priscilla

Sofia Coppola, US

Priscilla (2023)

Graceland becomes Heartbreak Hotel for a young Priscilla Presley in Sofia Coppola’s melancholic, utterly gorgeous tale of young love turned sour by Elvis’s alienating superstardom.

Where to see it: In UK cinemas from 5 January 2024

=38. Reality

Tina Satter, US

Reality (2023)

Tina Satter’s exacting recreation of whistleblower Reality Winner’s FBI interrogation is a tense, expertly modulated study of state control and the vulnerability of truth-tellers, starring an impeccable Sydney Sweeney.

Where to see it: Streaming on major platforms

=38. Rye Lane

Raine Allen Miller, UK

Rye Lane (2023)

This vivacious south London-set romcom channels genre classics as its flirtatious, quick-witted pair race around the city in a whirlwind 24-hour narrative heavy on high jinks and belly laughs.

Where to see it: Streaming on Disney +

=38. Suzume

Makoto Shinkai, Japan

Dajin the wickedly mischievous cat in Suzume (2022)
Dajin the wickedly mischievous cat in Suzume (2022)
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment

A whirlwind of tentacled monsters, interdimensional portals and talking chairs make up this stunning supernatural fantasy by the director of Your Name, but its more grounded moments are just as beautiful.

Where to see it: Streaming on Crunchyroll

=38. Samsara

Lois Patiño, Spain

Samsara (2023)

The Spanish director probes spiritual and cinematic boundaries with a symphonic, shapeshifting voyage through a Buddhist temple in Laos and a seaweed farm in Zanzibar.

Where to see it: In UK cinemas from 5 January 2024

=38. Trenque Lauquen

Laura Citarella, Germany, Argentina

Trenque Lauquen (2022)

This languorous, two-part shaggy-dog story, about the search for a missing woman from the titular Argentinian town combines outlandish sci-fi elements with grounded characterisation, for a wonderfully off-kilter triumph.

Where to see it: In UK cinemas from 8 December

=34. The Human Surge 3

Eduardo Williams, Argentina

The Human Surge 3 (2023)

Cutting between groups of young friends in Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Peru, Argentinian director Eduardo Williams shoots the low-key interactions using an eight-lens VR camera, to disorienting but mesmerising effect.

Where to see it: Awaiting UK distribution

=34. Infinity Pool

Brandon Cronenberg, Canada

Infinity Pool (2023)

Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth excel in Cronenberg Jr’s outré satire of the super-rich, in which a striking sense of style enriches a lively kill-your-clone concept.

Where to see it: Streaming on Sky / Now TV

=34. One Fine Morning (Un beau matin)

Mia Hansen-Løve, France, Germany

One Fine Morning (Un beau matin, 2022)

Juggling care duties for her daughter and stricken father, Léa Seydoux’s single mother gains a rush of new love in Mia Hansen-Løve’s stealthy, sublime portrait of life’s sea changes.

Where to see it: Streaming on Mubi

=34. The Taste of Things

Tran Anh Hung, France

The Taste of Things (Pot-au-feu, 2023)

Benoît Magimel and Juliette Binoche sauté up a storm in this delightfully sweet romance between a man and his cook, which features many a mouthwatering scene.

Where to see it: In UK cinemas from 16 February 2024

=31. Hit Man

Richard Linklater, US

Hit Man (2023)

In Richard Linklater’s strange, multilayered comedy, whose surface charm belies a pervasive sense of callousness, Glen Powell gives an audaciously on-point performance as a nerdy philosophy professor masquerading as an assassin.

Where to see it: UK release date yet to be announced

=31. Music

Angela Schanelec, Germany

Music (2023)

Angela Schanelec is on typically enigmatic form with this series of poetic visual riddles, which draws loosely on the myth of Oedipus – perhaps confusing, but never frustrating.

Where to see it: Awaiting UK distribution

=31. Talk to Me

Danny and Michael Philippou, Australia

Talk To Me (2023)

This social-media-age teen horror grabs the attention with the help of an evil ceramic hand that allows the living to be possessed by disembodied spirits.

Where to see it: Streaming on Netflix

=26. The Beast

Bertrand Bonello, France

Léa Seydoux and George MacKay in The Beast (2023)
Carole Bethuel

A focus on omnipresent AI makes this era-hopping sci-fi, starring Léa Seydoux, Bonello’s most topical film to date.

We said: “The film’s central segment takes place in Paris in 2044; Bonello’s rendering of this era is counterintuitive but intriguing – no screens, internet, cars or social media, a world where relationships are disembodied and isolation is the norm. The past’s lingering impact in the present has been a recurrent and resonant Bonello theme, but in terms of narrative scale and conceptual scaffolding The Beast is easily Bonello’s most ambitious film to date, not to mention his first attempt at sci-fi.” (Kieron Corless, S&S online)

Where to see it: UK release date yet to be announced

=26. Beau Is Afraid

Ari Aster, US

Beau is Afraid (2023)
Beau is Afraid (2023)
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment

Joaquin Phoenix sets off on a surreal journey through the United States to visit his overbearing mother in Ari Aster’s Oedipal epic.

We said: “‘Stop incriminating yourself,’ Amy Ryan’s Grace hisses fiercely, apropos of nothing, at the bewildered protagonist Beau Wassermann over a homely breakfast table. Yet Beau Is Afraid is a wig-out Freudian picaresque journey that lets all its neurotic complexes hang out to the max. The last section reaches a jaw-dropping crescendo in which any shreds of subtext are blasted away in a welter of images of full-on sexual anxiety. It is funny and horrifying, grievous and grief-stricken, and as incriminating as hell.” (Roger Luckhurst, S&S June)

Where to see it: Streaming on major platforms

=26. The Delinquents

Rodrigo Moreno, Argentina

The Delinquents (2023)

Rodrigo Moreno’s three-hour heist movie is a low-key comedy epic, with time aplenty for playful interludes and dead-ends.

We said: “This is a film of two very different halves. In the first, bank clerk Morán – thirsting for life – steals $650,000 from the vault and blackmails his colleague Román into hiding the cash. In the second, Román falls in with a bunch of filmmakers he meets in the hills. Éric Rohmer, Alexandre Koberidze and even Hong Sangsoo come to mind, but this stately, wistful epic has a flavour all of its own. Stunning.” (Arjun Sajip, S&S Summer)

Where to see it: UK release date yet to be announced

=26. The Fabelmans

Steven Spielberg, US

The Fabelmans (2022)

Critics, fans and other armchair therapists will enjoy the keys Spielberg’s gratifying movie memoir provides to the director’s larger-than-life, era-defining entertainments.

We said: “For the young Sam Fabelman, movie-making is an escape and more than that, an escapade, an adventure, a three-ring-circus. There are literally skeletons in the cupboard here, rigged in the service of one of his horrorific home movies for a shock scare that prefigures Gertie discovering ET.” (Tom Charity, S&S November 2022)

Where to see it: Streaming on Sky / Now TV

=26. Rotting in the Sun

Sebastian Silva, US, Mexico

Catalina Saavedra as Vero and Jordan Firstman as himself in Rotting in the Sun (2023)
Courtesy of MUBI

Sebastián Silva plays a version of himself in this mordantly meta satire, which draws uneasy parallels between social media and drug addiction.

We said: “Rotting in the Sun is as queer as a £12 note, pirouetting giddily from the existential musings of E.M. Cioran in The Trouble with Being Born (which the protagonist is reading as the film begins) to a bit of knockabout comedy with a doubleended dildo. It’s the film’s daring association of nihilism, homosexuality and social media that elevates it to required viewing status for, particularly, clued-up gay audiences.” (Caspar Salmon, S&S October)

Where to see it: Streaming on Mubi

=24. The Boy and the Heron

Hayao Miyazaki, Japan

The Boy and the Heron (2023)

Miyazaki’s mystical new film – which will no longer be his ‘last’ – is a thrilling, frenetic experience that gradually opens itself up to something massive, even apocalyptic.

We said: “Distilled down to its essence The Boy and the Heron is a story about the necessity of recognising and accepting one’s responsibilities – about the interior journey from innocence to experience, which gets thrillingly externalised through a series of surreal and epically scaled landscapes that are only familiar from the iconography of Miyazaki’s own body of work.” (Adam Nayman, S&S Winter 2023-24)

Where to see it: In UK cinemas from 26 December 2023

=24. Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell

Pham Thien An, Vietnam

Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (2023)

Vietnamese writer-director Pham Thiên Ân’s hypnotically paced debut is an odyssey about a young man who travels to the countryside following a family tragedy.

We said: “The film combines themes of national history, Catholicism and the search for meaning – the titular shell, Pham has said, being the worldly illusions we should strive to shed. While the style might recall Apichatpong Weerasethakul or Bi Gan (Long Day’s Journey into Night, 2018), the execution and the existential questioning show a very individual artist bursting from his own cocoon and taking wing.” (Jonathan Romney)

Where to see it: Awaiting UK distribution

=20. Afire

Christian Petzold, Germany

Afire (2023)

Love and jealousy simmer as a forest fire grows in Christian Petzold’s satirical statement about love and its devastating power.

We said: “Afire doesn’t enter explicit psychological thriller territory, but its teasing out of the emotional shifts in character dynamics, and the gradually intensifying pace of the action, all while the forest fires get closer and closer, amount to an electric sense of atmosphere. Petzold’s concerns with love as a consuming force continue to inspire some of his most poetic onscreen relationships, and by taking a more comic approach, the director homes in on the humanity of it all.” (Caitlin Quinlan, S&S September)

Where to see it: Streaming on major platforms

=20. La Chimera

Alice Rohrwacher, Italy

La Chimera (2023)

Josh O’Connor plays a melancholic tombarolo who loots artefacts from ancient Tuscan burial sites in this joyous work of folk magic.

We said: “No description of what happens in La Chimera can adequately convey what happens in La chimera, which feels like watching ancient magic from the point of view of the spell. Arthur awakens to the realisation that his lifestyle is built on a desecration of the very things he loves. But Rohrwacher’s real story – splitting the difference between the earthiness of The Wonders (2014) and the whimsicality of Happy as Lazzaro (2018), and surpassing them both in vivid strangeness – is the story of the Tuscan ground and the beautiful secrets that sleep beneath our feet.” (Jessica Kiang, S&S Summer)

Where to see it: UK release date yet to be announced

=20. Evil Does Not Exist

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Japan

Evil Does Not Exist (2023)

Hamaguchi Ryūsuke follows Drive My Car (2021) with an ambiguous, elegantly told story of a lakeside community’s resistance to an intrusive corporate ‘glamping’ development.

We said: “The beguiling Evil Does Not Exist, with its story of a community’s defiance of an intrusive land development, reconfirms Hamaguchi’s talents as one of today’s greatest dramaturges… Hamaguchi maintains a mystery around the direction of the film that is sustained by Ishibashi Eiko’s shifting music, which creates a robust structure for the film quite apart from the dramatic development – almost as if it’s channelling the interiority of nature, and of a specific place, but even that feels like oversimplification, and the score can also cut out abruptly to unsettling effect.” (Nicolas Rapold, S&S online)

Where to see it: UK release date yet to be announced

=20. Return to Seoul

Davy Chou, France

Return to Seoul (2022)
Return to Seoul (2022)
Courtesy of MUBI

A woman takes a trip from France to Seoul in search of her birth parents in this shapeshifting story of identity and self-exploration.

We said: “Freddie’s situation affirms the ineffable importance of knowing at least something of your own origins, but at the same time highlights the limitations of an identity politics based on authenticity or innate belonging. Is Freddie Korean because her genes are Korean, even though she neither remembers Korea nor relates to what Korean-ness seems to ask of her? Is she French because the only life she remembers is French? Does it matter?” (Hannah McGill, S&S May)

Where to see it: Streaming on Mubi

=17. How to Have Sex

Molly Manning Walker, UK

Mia McKenna-Bruce as Tara and Shaun Thomas as Badger in How to Have Sex (2023)

This winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes is an exuberant but devastating take on female friendship and teenage sexual awakening, seen through the lens of a chaotic Greek holiday.

We said: “Molly Manning Walker’s blistering first feature captures the chaos, mischief and excess of British teens abroad. Fuelled by silly jokes, cheesy chips and endless sticky vodka shots, the girls tear up the town, and reluctant virgin Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce) sees an opportunity to finally undergo a crucial rite of passage. But behind Tara’s bravado lies a young woman trying to find herself. Manning Walker offers a nuanced exploration of the effects of a highly sexualised, casually misogynist subculture.” (Rachel Pronger, S&S November)

Where to see it: In UK cinemas

=17. Last Summer

Catherine Breillat, France

Last Summer (2023)

Catherine Breillat is in typically provocative form here, as a well-respected lawyer begins an affair with her teenage stepson.

We said: “Last Summer is a complication of the age-gap dynamic that casts the older individual as a Svengali figure. The insolent Théo, who at 17 is no stranger to matters of the flesh, is persistent in his pursuit of Anne. She cannot deny her attraction, the thrills Théo offers so unlike her conjugal routines. At first, the affair comes across as a mere reckless rebellion born of sexual dissatisfaction, but the drama and eventual fallout amount to something much more chilling.” (Beatrice Loayza, S&S Summer)

Where to see it: Awaiting UK distribution

=17. Totem

Lila Avilés, Mexico

Tótem (2023)

Lila Avilés’s dazzling film takes a child’s-eye view of jubilation and tragedy in the build-up to a party for her dying father.

We said: “No one grows up in one day; on the other hand, maybe it can happen in an instant. Towards the end of Lila Avilés’s exuberantly lovely Tótem, there’s an unearthly moment – made all the eerier in a film otherwise raucous with the rattle of real life – that suggests as much. Seven-year-old Sol (a wonderful Naíma Sentíes) looks up from her father’s blazing birthday cake, suddenly sombre, suddenly still. There are many ways to read it, but Sol’s gaze has a strange and profound effect on our very sense of the film, telescoping all the vitality of this crowded, clattering day into a held breath.” (Jessica Kiang, S&S December)

Where to see it: In UK cinemas

=15. Fallen Leaves

Aki Kaurismäki, Finland

Jussi Vatanen as Holappa, Alma Pöysti as Ansa in Fallen Leaves (2023)
Courtesy of MUBI

In Aki Kaurismäki’s bittersweet cinephile romance, love represents the possibility of transcending – or at least surviving – the grinding reality of life under capitalism.

We said: “More than three decades have passed since Aki Kaurismäki’s so-called Proletariat Trilogy but not much has changed. In Fallen Leaves, the world is still various shades of grey and teal, livened up by the occasional splash of vivid colour: a woman’s bright red blazer, a dumpster of deep blue. Lonely men and women still toil away their days at dreary and precarious working-class jobs. After clocking off, they still go to bars where they drink and smoke and talk to each other in comically clipped sentences – if they talk at all, that is. Kaurismäki’s characteristic nostalgia has its narrative advantages: when Ansa (Alma Pöysti) gives Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) her phone number, had she typed it into his mobile instead of writing it down on a piece of paper, the wind couldn’t have blown it away.” (Giovanni Marchini Camia, S&S online)

Where to see it: In UK cinemas

=15. Saint Omer

Alice Diop, France

Saint Omer (2022)

Based on a real-life infanticide court case, Alice Diop’s fiction feature debut is a haunting drama that plays on deep maternal anxieties.

We said: “This film is a remarkable feat in numerous ways. The acting is uniformly superb, even when it’s simply dispassionate testimony that’s being dispatched. Kagame plays Rama in a state of continual displacement, ill at ease at dinner with her mother, uncomfortable on the streets of Saint-Omer and conspicuous in the courtroom; Guslagie Malanda, as the defendant Laurence Coly, evokes profound pain through the tiniest cracks in her expressions and voices as she revisits traumatic memories.” (Leila Latif, S&S March)

Where to see it: Streaming on Mubi

=13. Asteroid City

Wes Anderson, US

Jason Schwartzman (Augie) and Tom Hanks (Stanley) in Asteroid City (2023)
Jason Schwartzman (Augie) and Tom Hanks (Stanley) in Asteroid City (2023)
Courtesy of Focus Features

Wes Anderson’s charming 1950s-set sci-fi features an ensemble cast, alien invaders and a dizzying ‘play within a TV show within a film’ structure.

We said: “A one-car pioneer town, somewhere in the parched wilds of the California-Nevada desert, in the fresh-faced postwar years of the expanding American empire, on the third rock from the sun. This remote outpost, and the few days we spend there with a ragtag group of visitors both scheduled and unscheduled, lend Wes Anderson’s latest world-rebuilding confection more dramatic unity than perhaps any of his previous ten cavorting cine-capers… The name ‘Asteroid City’ may be a sci-fi come-on for this dreaming toehold in the desert, but the film precisely evokes that time when America’s frontier was moving from the West to the skies above.” (Nick Bradshaw, S&S Summer)

Where to see it: Streaming on major platforms

=13. TÁR

Todd Field, US

TÁR (2022)

Cate Blanchett gives a career-best performance in this sly, scabrous symphony, as a monstrous conductor losing her grip on power.

We said: “Tár is a slow dive into the increasingly alienating psychology of Lydia Tár, a world-famous orchestra conductor. It moves to a rarefied tempo: philharmonic politics, contested cello solo auditions and live-recording contract negotiations for one of Mahler’s more daunting works. It is replete with classical-music-world in-jokes and casually caustic namedrops… It has absolutely no business being even remotely watchable, and yet here it is, one of the most grippingly brilliant films of the year, featuring, in Cate Blanchett’s mesmerising central turn, a truly irreplaceable star performance.” (Jessica Kiang, S&S March)

Read the full review: TÁR: a sly, scabrous symphony

Where to see it: Streaming on Sky / Now TV

12. All of Us Strangers

Andrew Haigh, UK

All of Us Strangers (2023)

Andrew Haigh’s time-slipping film is a deeply affecting, supernatural exploration of the profound consequences of grief and homophobia.

We said: “Adam (Andrew Scott) is cruising the past, seeking meaning and connection, an unlocking, a release, a path. He is a blocked writer but also a traumatised queer person reckoning with the intimate and profound consequences of structural homophobia and his parents’ deaths. He wants to go home and to find a home and needs to learn the difference between the two.” (Ben Walters, S&S Winter 2023-24)

Where to see it: In UK cinemas from 26 January 2024

11. Close Your Eyes

Victor Erice, Spain

José Coronado as Julio Arenas in Close Your Eyes
José Coronado as Julio Arenas in Close Your Eyes (2023)
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival 2023

Victor Erice’s first feature in 30 years deals with the disappearance of a fictional actor and explores loss, grief and the exquisite power of cinema.

We said: “The unfussy elegance of Erice’s filmmaking remains as fresh and clear as ever. It’s a contemplative style, allowing his superb cast time and space. It’s a film made by, and about, true believers in the transcendent potential of sound and image… Erice has dreamed in light an extraordinary ambition for what film, certainly his films, can strive for. As his characters gaze up at the screen, and out, perhaps for the final time, at their audience, it’s hard to envisage a more emotionally overwhelming farewell, if that’s what Close Your Eyes becomes, from a vital, too-often missing, force in world cinema.” (Leigh Singer, S&S online)

Where to see it: UK release date yet to be announced

10. May December

Todd Haynes, US

Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman in May December (2023)
Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman in May December (2023)

A housewife’s scandalous past is probed in this dark comedy that explores the thin line between truth and self-delusion.

We said: “Fiction and fact, self-delusion and self-truth are given a dangerous edge in Haynes’s film, which, ultimately, isn’t so much about Gracie’s actions as it is about society’s appetite for demonstrations of compunction, even where none is felt. If society demands its martyrs, Gracie both dazzles and irritates by refusing to be one.” (Ela Bittencourt, S&S December)

Where to see it: Streaming on Sky / Now TV

9. Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World

Radu Jude, Romania

Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World (2023)

Radu Jude’s rude, relentless and original provocation skewers the managerial classes as it speeds through late-capitalist Bucharest.

We said: “Funny, fierce, unstoppable, Radu Jude’s latest film is quite simply essential viewing for anyone trying to survive the world as we now know it. It’s one woman’s life caught at a gallop, as our hero Angela (instant star Ilinca Manolache) motors around Bucharest running down tasks for a production company while keeping ahold of what personal freedoms she can. Galvanized by Jude and his lead’s humour and weaving in not-too-distant visions of the past, the formally brilliant film shows how Angela’s resilience becomes one kind of rebellion.” (Nicolas Rapold, S&S online)

Where to see it: In UK cinemas from 8 March 2024

8. Anatomy of a Fall

Justine Triet, France

Anatomy of a Fall (2023)
Anatomy of a Fall (2023)
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival 2023

This sharply intelligent Palme d’Or-winning psychological drama puts a wife on trial for the violent death of her husband.

We said: “Sandra maintains her innocence, but is such a shrewd, worldly woman that ‘innocent’ is not a label that suits her. In every sympathetic reaction, a sliver of manipulation; in every flash of hot temper a glimpse of something cold… Between the absolute poles of ‘guilty’ and ‘not guilty’ lies a many-shaded spectrum of culpability and complicity. In vivid, clean lines, Anatomy of a Fall navigates this moral morass and exposes the absurdity of trying to pluck from it a simplistic, binary verdict.” (Jessica Kiang, S&S December 2023)

Where to see it: On major streaming platforms in 2024

7. Passages

Ira Sachs, France

Passages (2023)

Franz Rogowski shines as Tomas, the controlling director at the centre of Ira Sachs’s thorny, pleasurable exploration of a destructive love triangle.

We said: “The relationships in Sachs films are tangled, porous and shifting and the stories’ interest lies in investigating the messy permutations of these jostling wants and needs, the bounds of individual understanding and agency, and the subtle uses of cooperation, hypocrisy and sacrifice… Passages is interested in asking whether what seems like sharing information might in fact be avoiding conversation; whether what seems like patience might in fact be co-dependence; whether what seems like happy-go-lucky impulsiveness might in fact be a way of asserting distance and control with undesired consequences.” (Ben Walters, S&S September 2023)

Where to see it: Streaming on Mubi

=5. Barbie

Greta Gerwig, US

Barbie (2023)
Courtesy of Warner Bros

You won’t find a biting critique of Mattel in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, but the committed performances of its plastic, fantastic leads help sell the film’s kitschy self-mockery.

We said: “Some gags land, some fall flat, but the film’s snappy tempo, its willingness to dip into pointlessly spectacular asides – a disco dance party here, a beach-side Battle of the Kens there – keeps things shiny and fun. Invoking a modish aesthetic spiked with Tupperware artifice, the film abounds in kitschy rear-projection screens and plastic waves. Spurts of animation give a gonzo effect to scenes of physical comedy. Even when the script winks too much, or when the girl-bossing grates too hard, Robbie and Gosling’s committed performances keep the film afloat.” (Beatrice Loayza, S&S )

Where to see it: Streaming on major platforms

=5. Oppenheimer

Christopher Nolan, US

Oppenheimer (2023)

Christopher Nolan’s serious, scholarly epic about ‘the father of the atom bomb’ J. Robert Oppenheimer revolves around verbose courtroom confrontations, but the beautiful visual touches – and Cillian Murphy’s grave, introspective performance – put it among the director’s best.

We said: “Oppenheimer is meticulously concrete in its recreation of its world, from Berkeley classrooms to the Trinity test bomb, seen pieced together like a giant Rubik’s sphere. But it is also an intensely symphonic film, naturalism intermittently disrupted by expressionistic flourishes, bringing it closer than expected to John Adams’s 2005 Los Alamos opera Doctor Atomic. Ludwig Göransson’s score runs continuously throughout; his screeching strings and obsessive ostinatos sometimes detract from the dialogue, but they bring unifying flow to a film constructed on a principle of discontinuity.”

Where to see it: Streaming on major platforms

4. Poor Things

Yorgos Lanthimos, Ireland, UK, US

Poor Things (2023)

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.

We said: “A film that gives pleasure in every fantastical frame – pleasure to the eye, pleasure to the soul – this dazzling suite of dirty minded delights is set in not-quite-reality during an era of never-quite-was. But particularly for women, and particularly for men, the poor things, its accuracy about the here and now gives its macaroon swirls an acidic sting – in both senses: formaldehyde and LSD. Few are the films that make you think and feel and laugh this much; even fewer are the ones that send you skidding out with your whole demeanour reset to remember just what a splendid, absurd thing it is to have a body and a mind, and a big, dumb, glorious world on which to set them loose.” (Jessica Kiang, S&S Winter 2023-24)

Where to see it: In UK cinemas from 12 January 2024

3. Past Lives

Celine Song, US

Leem Seung-min and Greta Lee in Past Lives (2023)

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.

We said: “Remarkable is the sympathy Song extends to all three characters. The spectre of the driven woman still unsettles us, especially if men are sacrificed along the way. Even more unusual is the balanced treatment of the two men, the gallantry allowed them. They both desperately want the same woman, but are ready to give her up if that’s what she wants. As a consequence, we feel their longing, inhabit their desire, without having to take sides. The sadness is that choices are made, feelings hurt, but love – in this case an unembittered love – lingers.” (Molly Haskell, S&S Winter 2023-24)

Where to see it: Streaming on Curzon Home Cinema

2. The Zone of Interest

Jonathan Glazer, UK, Poland, US

The Zone of Interest (2023)

A stark, mesmerising portrait of a German commandant and his family at Auschwitz.

We said: “A defining quality of Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest – essentially the domestic drama of a Nazi officer and his family, stringently confined to their worldview – is the sound-designed tumult of Auschwitz: like the ambient machine hum of an industrial park near a field, dotted with gunshots, yells, screams. The camp is heard but barely glimpsed in the film, its smokestacks and watchtowers peeking above the walls of SS officer Rudolf Höss’s house and grounds; the sounds as heard in the film are the opposite of deafening, they are distant, blurred, their horrors pushed to the absolute periphery of indifference.” (Nicolas Rapold, S&S Winter 2023-24)

Where to see it: In UK cinemas from 2 February 2024

1. Killers of the Flower Moon

Martin Scorsese, US

Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)

Scorsese’s late masterpiece is an epic story told in intimate terms about the systematic robbing and murder of the Osage of Oklahoma in the 1920s.

We said: “Slowly, from beneath the shiny carapace of authorial familiarity, another film emerges: one that is grave, delicate, wary. It is the story of the Osage themselves, forced to witness their own eradication and powerless to stop it. And at its moral centre is Lily Gladstone’s Mollie Burkhart: a woman torn between the family she was born to and the one she has made. For all the fire-and-brimstone imagery, Scorsese’s peculiarly Catholic sensibility is perhaps most visibly written on these bodies, and Mollie’s in particular.”

Where to see it: In UK cinemas and available to buy online