WITH HOLLYWOOD having spent a good chunk of 2023 on strike and the lingering effects of COVID still very much being felt in film studios across the world, this year in films has had no right to be as good as it has been. Even so, slowly but ever so surely, heavyweight directors, A-listers and blockbuster franchises alike are starting to return to the silver screen more regularly, which combined with the seemingly limitless rise of indie heavyweights like A24, make a trip to the cinemas as exciting of a proposition as it has been in some time.
As such, despite it feeling for a fair portion of the year that all there really was to watch at the theatres was either Barbie or Oppenheimer, a particularly strong end to 2023 has left us with some seriously good films to wade through in our pick of the best of the year. But for us, only a select few rose above all others.
What are the best films of 2023?
The bookies’ favourite to take home Best Picture at next year’s Oscars, Christopher Nolan’s gripping, if slightly long, biopic telling the story of the father of the atomic bomb will go down as one of his magnum opuses. Grounded by a Cillian Murphy performance as dark and moody as the subject matter, regardless of whether or not it’ll take home the top gong come Oscars season, it’ll be remembered as perhaps the defining blockbuster of 2023, alongside…
You can’t have one without the other, right? Greta Gerwig pulled together perhaps the best cast ever to make what’s unquestionably the most audacious, and spellbinding, film of the year. Was it the technical marvel Oppenheimer was? Of course not, but with the two releasing at the same time in a landmark cultural moment for the year, it was every bit as entertaining.
Killers of the Flower Moon
Killers might make some slightly odd choices during its 3-hour-plus runtime, but it’s unassailably one of the most powerful achievements of Martin Scorsese’s already legendary career. Perfectly positioned in a time of global conversation about the treatment and exploitation of indigenous peoples, it probably won’t pip Oppenheimer to Best Picture, but it’ll almost certainly be the most debated film of 2023.
David Fincher films always hit differently, and The Killer, which brought Michael Fassbender back to the forefront of films for the first time in what feels like forever, was the perfect comeback following his post-Mindhunter pause. Borrowing some of the style of the French graphic novel it’s based on, it and Fincher’s trademark aesthetics pair beautifully, with Fassbender as arresting as he’s ever been back in a leading role.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
Across the Spider-Verse has some serious competition for best animated feature from a film we’re yet to come to, but it’s hard to argue that the long-awaited cartoon Spidey sequel is anything other than a groundbreaking achievement in the art form.
Who’d have thought the best sports film of the year would hardly feature a moment of on-field (or in this case, on-court) action? Alas, such is the all-encompassing pull of anything related to Michael Jordan, in this case the story of how a fledgling Nike transformed its brand by signing perhaps the greatest athlete of all time. Driven by a reunited pairing of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and complimented by a stellar cast, it’s basically the Big Short of sports.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ first film since garnering acclaim with The Favourite five years ago, his second collaboration with Emma Stone is infinitely more fantastica, but every bit as entertaining and darkly comic as his first period film. Aussie cinemagoers will have to wait until next month to see it, but it’s already making a splash at the bookies as a Best Picture dark horse.
The Iron Claw
A24’s wrestling biopic is yet to hit cinemas, but if initial reactions from both movie buffs and wrestling diehards are to be believed, we could be looking at one of the late entries for film of the year. At the very least, it’s almost certainly bound to be worth it for the buffed up turns from Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson and Zac Efron alone.
Yet another nugget in a growing list of golden collaborations between A24 and Korean filmmakers, the directorial feature debut of playwright and screenwriter Celine Song is a tour de force of romantic drama, telling a grounded, yet tender, story of love grinding through everyday adversity.
The Boy and the Heron
The jury might still be out on whether The Boy on The Heron will prove to be Hayao Miyazaki’s last feature film, but if it is, it’s a fittingly gorgeous way for the Studio Ghibli legend to bow out after more than 30 years setting the gold standard for Anime feature films. While the purists will no doubt want to watch it in Japanese, the English dub, led by Luca Padovan and a charmingly chaotic Robert Pattinson in the role of the titular Heron, is by all accounts well worth a watch as well.