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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

The 20 Best Movies Of 2023

A collage of characters from the movies discussed
H264 Distribution | Lionsgate | Sony Pictures | Well Go USA | Cinemanse | Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures | Universal Pictures | Apple Original Films | BTEAM Pictures

Incredible debut features from the next generation of filmmakers, epic historical dramas that lit the box office on fire, respected auteurs bouncing back, movies about products and companies behind them as well as an extremely high bar for franchise entries. The best of 2023 list has all of this and plenty more, despite that the year as a whole felt rather underwhelming compared to some of the previous years (not affected by cinema closures caused by a pandemic). But looking at the bright side, it still feels very gratifying to list 20 amazing films—plus some special mentions—with a wide range in terms of genre, ambition and scale.

Competing for spots on the list were 101 movies from 2023, some which ended up in the top 20 and some will show up in special mentions, while I was luckily able to catch up with 17 different titles from 2022 in order to come up with a group of five in the special mentions. Documentaries continue to be a personal blindspot as I unfortunately only saw two, therefore those are not taken into consideration for fairness' sake. Major 2023 titles that I'm excited to catch later include 'Saltburn', 'Bottoms', 'The Killer', 'Godzilla Minus One', 'Maestro' and 'When Evil Lurks'. That's why you might not see them or other big ones on this list; my viewing habits are after all mostly dictated by access and review opportunities.

Anyway, these are my favourite films of the year—key word again is favourite, don't forget—and a few special mentions. As usual, you can find reviews for nearly all of these on the site, just click the ''Read our review'' or the title in special mentions.

Special Mentions

Best 2022 Catch-ups

Playground | Un Monde

Top Gun: Maverick

Women Talking

Best Bang For Your Buck

Critical Disagreement

Fingernails (5.9/10 and 60% on Rotten Tomatoes)

Promising First Narrative Features

Joy Ride (dir. Adele Lim)

Rye Lane (dir. Raine Allen-Miller)

Talk To Me (dir. Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou) They Cloned Tyrone (dir. Juel Taylor)

To Leslie (dir. Michael Morris)

And now... here are the 20 best movies of 2023


It's always worth celebrating when a ''Dumpuary'' release manages to stick around long enough and place in one's top 20. This slick tech-thriller directed and written by Will Merrick and Nick Johnson is a masterclass in editing, which keeps the twists turning and vice versa.

Storm Reid at an airport with a sign
Sony Pictures


Miraculously rescued from embarrassing studio politics, director duo Nick Bruno and Troy Quane's spirited adaptation of a graphic novel property is one of the more energetic pieces you'll see this year. Great vocal performances and strong characters lift the fantasy adventure to very high highs at times.

Ballister and Nimona on a balcony

18. SMUGGLERS | 밀수

What is also nice to see once or twice in any year is a movie that is able to shift its gears about halfway through. Ryoo Seung-wan's crime caper reinvents itself with a heightened sense of tone, brought wonderfully to life with top-tier editing, action and music cues.

Yum Jung-ah on a boat in a red suit

17. THE BOY AND THE HERON | 君たちはどう生きるか

The first renowned filmmaker to be featured on this list is Miyazaki Hayao who avoids the boredom of retirement with a rather existential fantasy drama. Vibrant art direction, a banging score and plenty of kooky sidekicks take you on a journey that won't make you want Miyazaki to quit any time soon. Now if only that English title was better.

Himi and Mahito hugging at a lake


Why not add other renowned filmmakers in their eighties to the list straight away then? Your favourite social media star Martin Scorsese's taxing, heavy crime drama is a new addition to his long list of important works made with some familiar collaborators as well as some new ones—that's our cue to mention Lily Gladstone whose presence here is captivating. Let's keep 'em coming, Marty.

Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio sitting at a table
Apple Original Films


Now here's one with a great and fairly accurate title for you. Uncompromising political views, smart screenwriting, distinct personalities and roaring synths are the engine of the tight thriller helmed by Daniel Goldhaber. As far as good reasons to end up on a watchlist exist, this is a great place to start. How are you, my beloved CIA agent?

Ariela Barer touching and next to a large pipe

14. THE TEACHERS' LOUNGE | Das Lehrerzimmer

Another thriller for you viewing pleasure, although with slightly smaller stakes and smaller people. Director İlker Çatak's examination of power struggles happening in classrooms and titular lounges keeps winding and winding, flawlessly expressed by a great duo consisting of Leonie Benesch and young Leonard Stettnisch in the centre of it all. Kids might be alright but what about the adults?

Leonie Benesch standing on stairs
Sony Pictures Classics

13. FALLEN LEAVES | Kuolleet lehdet

Speaking of great duos, you might also want to take a look at Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen in writer-director Aki Kaurismäki's sour and dour romantic comedy. A story well-told in about 80 minutes with witty one-liners, depressing karaoke tunes, magic of cinema and a cute dog; the real question is whether or not you're so far down at the bottom that you're not able to fall in love.

Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen sitting in a cinema
B-Plan Distribution


Low expectations can often be very helpful when you're sitting down in the movie theatre. When you finally get back up, you might feel that the movie was much better than it had any right to be. Greta Gerwig's voice doesn't get lost in the corporate machine, Margot Robbie develops an unexpectedly humane character, Ryan Gosling delivers a magnificent comedic performance and production design goes incredibly hard. That's more than Kenough.

Margot Robbie sitting in a pink car
Warner Bros. Pictures


Aforementioned comedies aren't the only ones that can bring a smile to your face because writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig's adaptation of a cherished novel is cute and thoughtful in the best way possible. Solid child performers across the board is a miracle on its own but when you can add a lovingly honest performance by Rachel McAdams and good dialogue to the mix, this is a slam dunk for family movie nights for years to come.

Rachel McAdams doing Abby Ryder Fortson's hair

10. TÁR

Control is a key word when it comes to this movie as we see its main character struggling to maintain it despite her best efforts. However, Cate Blanchett in front of the camera and Todd Field behind it are fully in control of their psychological drama from front to back. Complex relationships between complex people create fascinating friction throughout and the ticking sound might not be a metronome after all. Watch it before your time runs out.

Cate Blanchett conducting in front of an orchestra

9. HUMANIST VAMPIRE SEEKING CONSENTING SUICIDAL PERSON | Vampire humaniste cherche suicidaire consentant

Invigorating debut features were teased in the preamble, which leads us to Ariane Louis-Seize's undeadly serious vampire comedy. The director's sense when it comes to tonal shifts and mood is deft and fluent as the film bites its teeth into coming-of-age tropes and modern bloodsucker tales with real elegance. It also doesn't hurt to have the most wonderful title of the entire year. Fang-tastic, dare I say.

Sara Montpetit with a frown, in a dim room
H264 Distribution


Sometimes expectations can sadly be set too high but that doesn't mean that you can't recognise the improved parts of a well-oiled machine. Sure, there's a valid reason to be afraid of too many cooks in the kitchen (this has three directors: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson plus writers and tons of artists) but when you have such singularity, ambition, a terrific musical score and precise editing, there's nothing more inspiring on the big screen. You should always swing for the fences.

Miles Morales crouching whilst wearing his Spider-suit
Sony Pictures

7. 20,000 SPECIES OF BEES | 20.000 especies de abejas

More great child performances, a debut feature worthy of a spot in the top 10 and a heartrending ending? I'll never say no to that. Young Sofía Otero confidently leads writer-director Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren delicate drama as the themes are loudly and proudly presented in a lovely piece of screenwriting and family relationships. Don't bee afraid of the subject matter, just embrace it. It's very much worth your time and empathy.

Sofía Otero lying down in a bed
BTEAM Pictures


Well, there's no easy way to transition from the entry above to the madman that is Keanu Reeves' eponymous assassin. Four good movies in a row is already a wonder for a franchise but to do that with mind-blowing stunt choreography, cinematography, a lot of style conducted by Chad Stahelski and fully committed older actors? Hell yeah, let's get wicked. Stairs will never look the same after you have finished this modern action phenomenon.

Keanu Reeves walking in front of green haze


He might not like his friend all that much anymore but I sure do like this motion picture. Filmmaker Martin McDonagh's rural dramedy is just as morbidly funny as it is perceptive about legacy, friendship and one's need for connection. The cast including Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Kerry Condon not only burn the barn but also homes with their happy-sad acting, which makes you feel so, so much for these characters. And it's very much okay to feel things.

Colin Farrell looking worried in front of an ocean
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures


Throw a rock at any direction and you'll hit a story about a product or a company behind one, and in addition to the movie about a toy, this Jon S. Baird-directed comedic thriller deserves a surprisingly high placement (I'm just as surprised as you are, don't worry). Taron Egerton simply has it here, the soundtrack hits a high score and the story has all the elements you want when you want to get hooked. It's not the most sophisticated selection but everything just comes together. Let's celebrate that once in a while, shall we?

Taron Egerton standing next to an old computer with Tetris on the screen
Apple Original Films

3. MONSTER | 怪物

It feels so damn good to have your ''we're so back'' moment after your ''it's all over'' stint. That has been my relationship with director-editor Kore-eda Hirokazu who constructs a moving, scary and interesting tale told from different perspectives. Possibly boasting the year's best screenplay—one that Kore-eda didn't write for a change—terrific kid actors as well as Andō Sakura's sincere portrayal of a worried mother and fresh twists at the expense of your own flawed lens reflecting what is happening in the film. There's no kaiju mayhem but the emotions are massive.

Ando Sakura sitting in a chair
Well Go USA


Christopher Nolan's historical drama could've also featured kaiju mayhem in another Monster-universe but that's not the story being told here. Instead we get a limited perspective on a world-shattering chain reaction that gets bigger and bigger the more you think about it. The film's action, importance and weight plays beautifully on its star Cillian Murphy's face while distressing music, sharp cuts, a great use of locations and the huge cast create an epic harmony behind his solos. That's cinema, baby.

Cillian Murphy in front of a landscape, holding a pipe
Universal Pictures


Astoundingly strong first film. Paul Mescal breaking your heart. Frankie Corio putting it back together. Karaoke. Lasting memories. Shifting perspectives. Beautiful writing and character quirks. Pressure.

These are just some of the things that floor you in writer-director Charlotte Wells' remarkable drama and considering how those things were prevalent in other movies mentioned above, it's not a surprise that the one that combines them all into a 100-minute film is the one that has enough reverberations to be ringing in your mind for 100 years if not longer. Admittedly, it does hold a significant amount of personal resonance as well but isn't that what films are all about? This is a memory I, and surely many others, will cherish for a long, long time. Aftersun burns you but it also somehow heals you. This is why we love movies.

Frankie Corio and Paul Mescal snuggling on a small couch

You can find these films and everything else on this Letterboxd list.
See you in 2024.
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