In the vast and ever-evolving world of cinema, 2023 has proven to be a year where filmmakers have pushed the boundaries of storytelling, blending the art of visual narrative with profound themes and emotions. From the hauntingly introspective journeys in Andrew Haigh’s “All of Us Strangers” to the culinary romance of Tran Anh Hung’s “The Taste of Things,” each film this year has offered a unique window into the human experience. These movies, diverse in their genres and styles, share a common thread – they are not just stories told on screen; they are immersive experiences that invite us to delve deeper into the complexities of love, loss, identity, and the ethereal connection between past and present. As we explore some of the most notable films of the year, we find ourselves embarking on a journey through cinematic landscapes that challenge, inspire, and captivate us in equal measure. Join us as we delve into the masterful artistry and storytelling of 2023’s most compelling films.
‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ (Martin Scorsese)
Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” is a profound exploration of historical injustice and greed. This film delves into the real-life 1920s murders of the Osage Nation members in Oklahoma, who were targeted for their oil-rich land. The narrative unfolds through a complex web of characters, including white Americans from various social backgrounds. At its heart lies a dark, emotional story of betrayal and a deeply ingrained belief in white superiority. Scorsese masterfully crafts this into a gripping, gangster-style movie, showcasing his adeptness in blending historical context with cinematic flair. “Killers of the Flower Moon” is not just a film; it’s a powerful statement on a tragic chapter of American history.
‘Oppenheimer’ (Christopher Nolan)
Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” is a cinematic marvel that brilliantly encapsulates the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, famously known as the “father of the atomic bomb.” Nolan’s signature detailed storytelling paints a vivid portrait of Oppenheimer’s journey from his complex youth to the heavy weight of his later years. The film lays bare the harrowing impact of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, events that redefined global history and morality. Nolan navigates these themes with a balance of factual detail and emotional depth, making “Oppenheimer” a thought-provoking exploration of the ethical dilemmas at the heart of scientific discovery and its consequences.
‘Menus-Plaisirs — Les Troisgros’ (Frederick Wiseman)
Frederick Wiseman’s “Menus-Plaisirs — Les Troisgros” is a delightful cinematic experience focusing on the Troisgros family, celebrated French chefs. The film primarily takes place in their renowned restaurant-hotel in the Loire Valley. Wiseman meticulously captures the essence of culinary art, paralleling the chefs’ creativity, technique, and passion with his own filmmaking genius. The film is more than just a documentation of food; it’s an exploration of the artistry and love that go into creating extraordinary culinary experiences. It’s a tribute to the dedication and innovation that continue to shape the culinary world.
‘All of Us Strangers’ (Andrew Haigh)
Andrew Haigh’s “All of Us Strangers” is a deeply moving adaptation of Taichi Yamada’s 1987 novel, brilliantly queered to resonate with Haigh’s own experiences. The film stars Andrew Scott as Adam, a lonely gay screenwriter, and Paul Mescal as Harry, his intriguing neighbor in a nearly vacant London high-rise. Their evolving relationship interlaces with Adam’s script about his childhood and spectral encounters with his deceased parents, played by Jamie Bell and Claire Foy. Haigh skillfully balances this ghost story with elements of poignancy and introspection, steering clear of over-sentimentality. The film’s emotional depth is enhanced by its exploration of longing and the human desire to connect across time and space, making “All of Us Strangers” a poignant and resonant narrative that delves into the complexities of identity, memory, and intimacy.
‘Beau Is Afraid’ (Ari Aster)
Ari Aster’s “Beau Is Afraid” is a distinct departure from his previous horror ventures like “Hereditary” and “Midsommar,” presenting a seriocomic narrative that delves deep into a Jewish man’s neurotic psyche. This three-hour epic, starring Joaquin Phoenix, unfolds more like a nightmarish odyssey than a conventional horror film. It’s a journey through the protagonist’s tangled emotions towards his overbearing mother, blending surreal imagery and a palpable sense of guilt. Unlike Aster’s earlier works, the horror here is less about overt scares and more about the internalized terror of emotional baggage. The film demands a certain resilience from its audience, challenging them to confront their own familial complexities and personal anxieties. “Beau Is Afraid” stands as a testament to Aster’s ability to evoke fear not just from supernatural elements but from the depths of human relationships and psychological turmoil.
‘Occupied City’ (Steve McQueen)
Steve McQueen’s “Occupied City” is a groundbreaking documentary that offers a haunting look at Amsterdam’s Jewish community during World War II. This four-and-a-half-hour film is a poignant journey through the city, recounting the tragic history of the Jewish population street by street. McQueen’s approach, informed by Bianca Stigter’s book “Atlas of an Occupied City: Amsterdam 1940-1945,” combines everyday contemporary scenes with historical narrative. The film is a powerful reminder of the horrors of the past, serving as an important document of historical memory and a testament to McQueen’s skill in storytelling.
‘La Chimera’ (Alice Rohrwacher)
Alice Rohrwacher’s “La Chimera” is a cinematic tapestry weaving together Italy’s past and present, forming the most romantic chapter in her informal trilogy. This film, following “The Wonders” and “Happy as Lazzaro,” brings viewers back to the rustic beauty and timeless melancholy of Italy. The story centers around Arthur, played compellingly by Josh O’Connor, who is on a poignant quest to reunite with his lost love, Beniamina, in the afterlife. The narrative unfolds as Arthur leads a group of endearing grave-robbers in a small village, using his unique ability to locate ancient treasures. Rohrwacher skillfully combines elements of adventure, reminiscent of Indiana Jones, with a deeper contemplation on the ownership of history. “La Chimera” is not just an exploration of lost love; it’s a lush and thought-provoking journey that challenges viewers to ponder whether the past is a collective heritage or an ephemeral memory belonging to no one.
‘The Boy and the Heron’ (Hayao Miyazaki)
In “The Boy and the Heron,” Hayao Miyazaki, the iconic filmmaker and co-founder of Studio Ghibli, emerges from retirement to craft another cinematic masterpiece that delves into profound themes. The film follows Mahito, a young boy grappling with grief and anger after losing his mother, who is led into a parallel universe by a deceptive bird with the promise of reuniting with her. Miyazaki’s creation is visually stunning, evolving into a transcendent dream-like adventure that reflects on the nature of legacy and farewell. While it may not possess the immediate force of “The Wind Rises,” Miyazaki’s supposed final film, “The Boy and the Heron” offers a more intimate and fitting goodbye. It’s a work that beautifully encapsulates Miyazaki’s incomparable legacy, marked by divine awe and poignant wistfulness, as he confronts the themes of mortality and the ephemeral nature of dreams and creativity.
‘A Thousand and One’ (A.V. Rockwell)
“A Thousand and One” by A.V. Rockwell is a captivating film that follows a young woman’s life in a rapidly changing New York. Rockwell, who was raised in Queens, brings an authentic understanding of the city and its inhabitants to this feature. Teyana Taylor’s performance as the lead character is remarkable, capturing the resilience and complexity of a woman navigating life’s challenges. The film’s portrayal of gentrification and its impact on New York’s cultural fabric is insightful and resonates deeply with current urban realities. Rockwell’s debut is not only a story of survival and motherhood but also a love letter to the city that never sleeps.
‘The Taste of Things’ (Tran Anh Hung)
Tran Anh Hung’s “The Taste of Things” is a cinematic delight that artfully intertwines love and food, treating them as inseparable entities. Starring Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel, the film brings to life a story of culinary passion and romantic intimacy within the confines of a 19th-century French manor’s kitchen. Adapted from a 2014 graphic novel renowned for its sumptuous depiction of food, the film excels in its simplicity and attention to detail, much like a perfectly crafted dish. The narrative evolves into an elaborate dance of affection and culinary art, reminiscent of the sensual exploration in “Call Me By Your Name” but with syrup pears taking the central role. “The Taste of Things” joins the ranks of films like “Babette’s Feast” and “Like Water For Chocolate,” elevating the concept of connecting through cooking. It eloquently suggests that certain dishes, imbued with the essence of their creators, become tangible memories, leaving viewers with a lingering, exquisite after-taste.
‘Past Lives’ (Celine Song)
Celine Song’s “Past Lives” is an extraordinary debut, capturing the essence of life’s what-ifs and the invisible threads that connect our destinies. The film, centered around Greta Lee’s character, is an introspective journey into the realms of destiny, chance, and love. Song’s storytelling is both delicate and powerful, brilliantly supported by the performances of Teo Yoo and John Magaro. The narrative is a beautiful tapestry of emotions, weaving together the lives and choices that shape our existence. “Past Lives” stands as a testament to the power of nuanced, character-driven cinema, offering a deeply moving exploration of the human soul.
‘The Zone of Interest’ (Jonathan Glazer)
Jonathan Glazer’s “The Zone of Interest” is a chilling narrative that thrives on what is left unsaid. Loosely based on Martin Amis’ novel, the film presents a disturbing look at the life of Rudolf Höss’ family near Auschwitz. The juxtaposition of their idyllic life against the horrors occurring just beyond their walls is hauntingly effective. Glazer’s approach, focusing on the human capacity for denial and moral blindness, is both bold and unsettling. The film’s power lies in its ability to evoke a sense of dread and revulsion through implication, making it a stark reminder of the atrocities humans are capable of ignoring.
‘Poor Things’ (Yorgos Lanthimos)
Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things,” featuring Emma Stone in a groundbreaking role, redefines cinematic storytelling with its unbound creativity and dark humor. Stone plays Bella Baxter, a woman resurrected with an unborn child’s brain, embodying a tabula rasa unfettered by societal norms. Her performance evolves from childlike innocence to worldly sophistication, showcasing her most audaciously peculiar role to date. The film is a visual feast, with vibrant production design, intricate sets filled with surreal details, and Victorian costumes that border on the fantastical. Lanthimos crafts a sexually charged, comedic picaresque, drawing comparisons to Terry Gilliam and Ken Russell, as Bella navigates her identity and desires in a patriarchal world. With stellar performances by Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, and Ramy Youssef, “Poor Things” emerges as a masterpiece in Lanthimos’ repertoire. It’s a whimsical, uproarious film that resonates as an instant classic, exemplifying the potent creative synergy between Stone and Lanthimos since “The Favourite.”
‘Love Life’ (Kōji Fukada)
Kōji Fukada’s “Love Life” is a masterfully crafted melodrama that unfolds like a whispered confession, exploring the emotional distances in relationships through a lens of quiet tragedy. This film represents a significant stride in Fukada’s career, known for “A Girl Missing” and “The Real Thing,” by finding the ideal narrative to showcase his distinctive style of reserved yet probing storytelling. Inspired by Akiko Yano’s emotive 1991 song, the film delicately unravels a domestic bliss, echoing the song’s theme of enduring love despite physical and emotional distances. Fukada employs subtle visual cues and emotionally charged settings to communicate the complexities of relationships, creating a tapestry of moments that reveal deeper truths about connection, loss, and the nuanced dynamics of human interactions. “Love Life” stands out for its ability to articulate profound emotional experiences through its understated yet impactful cinematic language.
‘Reality’ (Tina Satter)
Tina Satter’s “Reality” is a compelling portrayal of Reality Winner, played with intense conviction by Sydney Sweeney. Adapted from Satter’s play, the film uses verbatim dialogue from the F.B.I.’s interrogation of Winner, creating a gripping narrative that blurs the lines between fiction and documentary. Sweeney’s performance is remarkable, anchoring a story that is as much about the manipulation of truth as it is about the individual at its center. “Reality” challenges viewers to question the nature of truth in government, language, and media. It stands as a powerful statement on the current socio-political climate, reflecting the uneasy relationship between reality and perception.
‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ (Joaquim Dos Santos & Kemp Powers & Justin K. Thompson)
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson is a vibrant continuation of the innovative storytelling introduced in its predecessor, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” The sequel starts with a bang, offering a tragic yet dynamic prologue that sets the tone for the entire film. Embracing the promise to “do things differently,” this film takes the familiar Spider-Man narrative and elevates it into something truly groundbreaking. The sequel builds upon the first film’s clever, emotional, and daring approach, pushing the boundaries of what a superhero movie can be. It’s not just about showcasing the extraordinary; it’s about exploring the vast potential of the genre, offering a rich tapestry of stories that are both visually stunning and emotionally resonant. “Across the Spider-Verse” not only meets the high expectations set by its Oscar-winning predecessor but also surpasses them, redefining the superhero genre with its boldness and creativity.
‘A Still Small Voice’ (Luke Lorentzen)
Luke Lorentzen’s “A Still Small Voice” is a poignant documentary set in the early days of the pandemic at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. Following a group of chaplaincy residents, particularly focusing on Mati, the film captures the challenges of providing spiritual care in the face of overwhelming grief and fear. Lorentzen’s observational style, largely self-shot, brings an intimacy and immediacy to the narrative. The film delves into the complexities of faith, mercy, and mortality, offering a glimpse of hope amidst despair. “A Still Small Voice” is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the profound impact of compassionate care in times of crisis.
‘Earth Mama’ (Savanah Leaf)
Savanah Leaf’s “Earth Mama,” featuring Tia Nomore in her debut role, transforms a welfare-system drama into an enthralling narrative. This film, directed by the former Olympic volleyball athlete Leaf, portrays the tenacious struggle of a single mother fighting to keep her family intact. Spanning 97 minutes, the film highlights Leaf’s directorial skill and Nomore’s exceptional acting, as they explore the challenges within the foster care system with authenticity and depth. Nomore’s character, Gia, a young Black mother confronting drug addiction and societal obstacles, is portrayed with a realism that resonates deeply. “Earth Mama” transcends its plot of struggle, emerging as a tribute to human resilience and spirit, making it a compelling watch for its heartfelt storytelling and robust performances.
‘Asteroid City’ (Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City” is a whimsical yet poignant exploration of intersecting lives in a small Southwest town. This film is quintessentially Anderson, with its rich tapestry of colors, meticulous attention to detail, and a unique blend of humor and melancholy. The story weaves together various elements – from budding romances to the peculiar arrival of an extraterrestrial – all presented with Anderson’s signature stylistic flair. “Asteroid City” is more than just a narrative; it’s a celebration of storytelling itself, showcasing Anderson’s ability to create a world that is both surreal and deeply human. The film’s charm lies in its ability to balance the absurd with the profound, making it a must-watch for those who appreciate cinema that combines artistry with storytelling.
‘May December’ (Todd Haynes)
Todd Haynes’ “May December” is a complex, emotionally layered film that delves into the intricacies of life and performance. Starring Natalie Portman as Elizabeth, the film explores the controversial and multifaceted relationship between Elizabeth and Gracie, portrayed compellingly by Julianne Moore. The narrative, rife with unsettling and perverse undertones, challenges conventional storytelling. Haynes masterfully crafts each scene to reflect the intricate, often painful, realities of life. The performances are powerful, particularly Moore’s portrayal of a complex character navigating societal judgment and personal struggle. “May December” stands as a poignant commentary on life’s intricate performances, blending raw emotion with nuanced storytelling.
‘Pacifiction’ (Albert Serra)
Set in Polynesia, Albert Serra’s “Pacifiction” skillfully avoids the usual tropes of exotic locales to deliver a powerful introspection on colonialism teetering on the edge of apocalypse. The film follows Benoît Magimel as De Roller, the High Commissioner in a French-controlled territory, whose life is gradually upended by rumors of impending nuclear tests. Serra’s 163-minute epic, reminiscent of ’70s conspiracy thrillers, is less about the threat of nuclear war and more about the pervasive atmosphere of uncertainty it creates. Filmed with extensive improvisation, resembling a Frederick Wiseman documentary yet distinctly narrative, “Pacifiction” is a subtle yet profound critique of a culture at risk of repeating its historical follies. It challenges viewers to confront the ongoing realities of colonial exploitation and the specter of nuclear threats, emphasizing the precarious nature of our perceived progress.
‘Showing Up’ (Kelly Reichardt)
Kelly Reichardt’s “Showing Up” offers a subtle yet profound look into the life of an artist. The film stars Michelle Williams as Lizzy, a sculptor in Portland, Oregon, who navigates the complexities of creative expression, personal relationships, and everyday challenges. Reichardt’s direction is understated yet impactful, capturing the minutiae of an artist’s life with authenticity and sensitivity. The film is more than a narrative; it’s a reflection on the act of creation itself, possibly mirroring Reichardt’s own experiences as a filmmaker. “Showing Up” is a testament to the quiet yet profound impact of art in our lives, making it a deeply resonant film for viewers who appreciate cinema that reflects on the human condition.
‘Orlando: My Political Biography’ (Paul B. Preciado)
In “Orlando: My Political Biography,” director Paul B. Preciado offers a groundbreaking exploration of identity and gender. Using Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando: A Biography” as a foundation, Preciado weaves a narrative that is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally powerful. The film is a bold statement on the fluidity of identity, featuring performances from 20 trans and nonbinary actors. Preciado’s directorial debut is not just a film but a movement, challenging conventional norms and encouraging viewers to rethink the constructs of identity. The documentary is as playful as it is serious, making it an essential watch for those interested in the evolving conversation around gender and identity politics.
‘Stonewalling’ (Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka)
“Stonewalling” by Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka is a poignant portrayal of the struggles faced by a young woman, Lynn, in contemporary China. This film is an intimate look at the trials of youth and the pressures of societal expectations. The directors’ approach is both understated and impactful, capturing Lynn’s journey with a sense of realism that resonates deeply. The narrative’s progression into the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic adds another layer of complexity, reflecting the universal challenge of navigating a rapidly changing world. “Stonewalling” is a quietly powerful film, offering a window into the human experience in times of personal and global upheaval.
‘Smoke Sauna Sisterhood’ (Anna Hints)
“Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” by Anna Hints is a striking Estonian documentary that provides an intimate glimpse into women’s lives. The film, set in the unique environment of a smoke sauna, captures candid discussions about the complexities of womanhood, encompassing everything from personal fears to moments of joy. Hints’ approach, focusing on their nude bodies from the neck down, adds a raw, unfiltered authenticity to the narrative. This documentary stands out for its frankness and visual storytelling, offering insights into women’s experiences in a world still grappling with patriarchy.
‘Godland’ (Hlynur Palmason)
Hlynur Palmason’s “Godland” is a compelling narrative set in the 19th century, following a Danish priest’s journey to Iceland. The film masterfully portrays the priest’s confrontation with a landscape indifferent to his ambitions, leading to his gradual unraveling. Palmason captures the irony and tragedy of human endeavors against the immovable force of nature. “Godland” is a poignant reminder of the often futile nature of human plans against the backdrop of the world’s overwhelming power.
‘The Eternal Memory’ (Maite Alberdi)
Maite Alberdi’s documentary “The Eternal Memory” is a poignant exploration of memory and identity. Centered on Chilean journalist Augusto Góngora and his battle with Alzheimer’s, the film intertwines his personal struggle with his lifelong dedication to preserving Chile’s cultural memory. Alberdi highlights the vital role memory plays in our individual and collective lives. The film is anchored by the profound love between Góngora and his wife, Paulina Urrutia, underscoring the power of human connection in the face of adversity. “The Eternal Memory” is a touching narrative about love, memory, and the enduring human spirit.
‘Anatomy of a Fall’ (Justine Triet)
Justine Triet’s “Anatomy of a Fall” is a standout in contemporary French cinema, skillfully joining the ranks of courthouse dramas that critically examine social structures. This Palme d’Or winner brings the institution of marriage into the stark light of the legal system, contrasting domestic life’s chaotic subtleties with the law’s quest for order. Sandra Hüller shines as Sandra, a French-based, bisexual German novelist, whose life mirrors her fiction in a haunting murder case. The film isn’t just about the trial; it delves deeper, unraveling a family with chilling precision and intertwining memories with nightmares, fact with fiction. Triet’s narrative is a whirlwind that blurs lines between reality and illusion, making “Anatomy of a Fall” a profound exploration of personal and societal conflicts, offering a unique and thought-provoking cinematic experience.
- “Afire” (Christian Petzold) – An intriguing drama that delves into complex emotional landscapes.
- “American Fiction” (Cord Jefferson) – A compelling narrative that explores the nuances of American culture and identity.
- “American Symphony” (Matthew Heineman) – A visually stunning documentary that captures the essence of American life and spirit.
- “Anselm” (Wim Wenders) – A reflective piece by Wenders, known for his profound storytelling.
- “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” (Kelly Fremon Craig) – An adaptation of the beloved novel, exploring adolescent challenges and discoveries.
- “Barbie” (Greta Gerwig) – Gerwig’s unique take on the iconic character, likely imbued with depth and wit.
- “BlackBerry” (Matt Johnson) – A narrative that delves into the tech world, with Johnson’s signature style.
- “Eileen” (William Oldroyd) – A suspenseful story likely filled with twists and complex characters.
- “Fallen Leaves” (Aki Kaurismaki) – A film that promises Kaurismaki’s trademark humor and humanism.
- “Four Daughters” (Kaouther Ben Hania) – A culturally rich story, possibly exploring familial and societal dynamics.
- “The Holdovers” (Alexander Payne) – Payne’s films often offer a blend of humor and poignant observation.
- “Priscilla” (Sofia Coppola) – Coppola’s films are known for their atmospheric depth and character focus.
- “The Royal Hotel” (Kitty Green) – A potential exploration of intricate narratives within a single setting.
- “The Starling Girl” (Laurel Parmet) – Promises to be a compelling drama with insightful character studies.
- “You Hurt My Feelings” (Nicole Holofcener) – A film that probably explores complex relationships with Holofcener’s characteristic wit.
Additionally, don’t miss out on “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt,” “Ferrari,” “John Wick: Chapter 4,” “R.M.N.,” “Scarlet,” “Will-O’-the-Wisp,” and “Youth (Spring).” Each of these films adds to the rich tapestry of the year’s cinematic offerings, showcasing a wide range of storytelling styles and themes.
For the full list of our collection of best movies of 2023 click here.