The very best films of last year, from Poor Things to Oppenheimer.
2023 has been a monumental year for cinema—both in the industry as well as the sheer volume of excellent films that have been released. I’ve had a great year digesting all the new releases—from Cocaine Bear to The Peasants—and feel comfortable in saying that I’ve managed to narrow down the lot to just ten, ten of the very best of the year.
10) Godzilla Minus One
Godzilla returns with a roar… as he always does. This time, he’s back and destructive as ever in the action-packed Godzilla Minus One. Set-in post-war Japan, Godzilla follows a former kamikaze pilot navigating the destruction of his home after the air raids. Godzilla as a monster—a kaiju—has always been a strong metaphor for not only Japan’s military offensive front, but also the horrors of nuclear weaponry, the lasting effects of the two nuclear bombs dropped during the Second World War. Godzilla Minus One finds an easy balance in both. On top of all this, Godzilla’s design is at its peak; a great, daunting regenerating monster with the signature heat ray the most specialised. Godzilla Minus One is a must watch for fans both new and old of the iconic monster and franchise.
Hands up if you still remember what a BlackBerry is? Matt Johnson’s BlackBerry is a comedic glance into the development and creation of the Blackberry phone—once a cornerstone of every yuppie’s suit jacket pocket. Part corporate drama, part biographical comedy, BlackBerry revolves around co-founders Douglas Fregin (Johnson) and Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) as they attempt to pitch their idea to the world. Glenn Howerton (of Always Sunny fame) plays Jim Balsillie, a very bald and very, very, very angry investor whose scene-stealing performance alone is worth watching BlackBerry. BlackBerry was shown as part of the 2023 Glasgow Film Festival programme, to an enthusiastic and packed crowd. In the age of technological convenience, where everything is just an app away, a trip back to the days of modems, dial-up internet and the BlackBerry phone can reflect just how far technology has come.
8) The Holdovers
Set at a picturesque New English boarding school and backdropped against the ongoing Vietnam War, The Holdovers is a bittersweet, warm hug of a film, reminiscent of the likes of Dead Poets Society. It’s a rare form of Christmas film that stands out against the hordes of dichotomous red-green jumper Hallmark movies. The film follows students (the titualr holdovers) who board at the school over Christmas and the grouchy teacher (Paul Giamatti) assigned to watch over them. Over the holiday period, however, an unlikely bond is formed. Featuring incredible performances from Dominic Sessa, in his acting debut, and Da’Vine Joy Randloph, The Holdovers recognises the fragility of the holiday season, how it can be a time of devastating isolation and loneliness for some. A heartfelt coming-of-age film, a Holdovers rewatch will be a Christmas tradition of mine for many years to come.
7) Anatomy of a Fall
In Justine Triet’s airtight, Palme d’Or winning Anatomy of a Fall, we enter a world where many things are both true and false at the same time. In the tranquil serenity of a mountain settlement in the French Alps; a man is found dead. The only witness—his visually impaired son. Soon, a suspect is identified—his wife. Anatomy of a Fall is, primarily, a meticulous courtroom dissection of the couple’s personal lives- the good, bad, and ugly—as Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner) must attest to his parent’s (somewhat rocky) relationship himself. A look into the ties that bind and the binds that tie, Anatomy of a Fall asks its audiences to really think about the story’s that’s presented and asks—did she do it?
6) Poor Things
Adapted from the Alasdair Gray novel of the same name, Poor Things is Yorgos Lanthimos’ recent fantastical adventure, his latest endeavour into both the whimsical and fantastical. Poor Things follows Bella (Emma Stone), a woman who discovers herself and her sexuality, as well as a reason to live, as she travels across Europe. Lanthimos’ style is magnetic, the world he creates is a dream to fall in love with, as we trapeze around the Mediterranean—a land of steampunk architectural wonders and glittery skies—and with the inclusion of a talented cast, including the likes of Willem Dafoe, Mark Ruffalo, and Kathryn Hunter, Poor Things is all things: a darkly comedic storybook fairytale.
5) Past Lives
First loves, distance, and time. A series of a million what ifs? We all have these people, these memories- the ‘ones who got away’. Celine Song’s Past Lives is for all of those loose ends in life, all those possibilities. Past Lives chronicles the life of South Korean immigrant Nora (Greta Lee) who reconnects with an old childhood friend from Korea in New York City, lingering on the all the unsaid between the two. A beautiful reflective reckoning of the past and present as well how we love through distance, Past Lives is poignant and moving film, guaranteed to make you shed a tear or two.
4) May December
Loosely inspired by the Mary Kay Letourneau case, May December is another Todd Haynes/Julianne Moore picture that’s their best to date. Moore plays Gracie, a woman of pure manipulation and sweet sugar frosting whose extramarital affair with a thirteen-year-old child shocked the nation and ruined her marriage twenty years ago. Portman delivers a career best as Elizbeth, the actor now portraying her in a movie who visits the couple—now married with children—in order to prepare for the film. Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore and magnetic together, every scene a viscous mix of imitation, flattery, and deceit. While Portman and Moore are certainly powerhouses in their own regard, Charles Melton delivers a juggernaut performance, of careful and quiet repression and tragedy, a performance that will haunt me for a while yet.
3) Killers of the Flower Moon
Killers of the Flower Moon is the sum of Scorsese’s career and then some. A lengthy epic based on the book of the same name, Killers meticulously follows the real poisonings in the Osage Nation in the 1920s, starring both Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro—Scorsese’s leading men. In addition to these two is the incredible Lily Gladstone, who delivers a terrific performance full of subtlety and quiet, unbridled rage. Equal parts blood and oil, Killers is a horrifying tale made even more horrifying by its truth, and a sublime masterpiece. One of Scorsese’s finest—and one of the best of the year.
Christopher Nolan’s 3-hour biopic about Robert J. Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb, was a hit this summer, one half of ‘Barbenheimer’, and that’s no surprise really. Cillian Murphy as Dr Oppenheimer himself is a career best; a man racing against the clock and the world around him in the development of the A-bomb. Oppenheimer is a testament to film as an art form in every sense, a technological and cinematographic marvel. Following the creation of the Atomic Energy Commission, the Los Alamos project, and the bomb itself provides a whirlwind of a narrative, where the stakes are high and ambitions higher, interposed against segments of Oppenheimer’s life—New Mexico, Cambridge, Germany—fractured and dissected. Oppenheimer is a chain reaction of a movie, the build-up to what we know is coming haunting the film, and certainly the victor of this summer’s ‘Barbenheimer’ phenomenon.
1) Asteroid City
Fans of Anderson’s previous work will be happy to hear that the recent Asteroid City is a triumph. Asteroid City is about a play within a play, juxtaposing the fictional town of Asteroid City against actors, producers, writer, and director of the play of the same name. It’s Anderson’s most mature work to date, a successor to his catalogue of work prior. Anderson’s ever-evolving toybox of actors makes for a charming ensemble; schoolchildren, stage actors, governments agents, astronomers and one alien all gather in the titular Asteroid City, a drive-through settlement in the desert situated right next to a massiv—you guessed it—asteroid impact crater. Beyond Anderson’s Americana fairy tale is a tale of love and loss and ultimately, grief. As always, this heartfelt and emotional look into how we live with our grief is complemented by Anderson’s trademark of sardonic and dry dialogue, which makes Asteroid City as funny as it is heart wrenching and my personal favourite of the year.