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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

My 50 Favourite Films of 2023 (50-26)

Updated: Mar 7

Holy crap what a year for movies. 2023 was absolutely stacked, making it the best, at least in my opinion, film year since 2019. Now, every year I normally do a big Top 100, but due to time and energy constraints (my body is weak and soft, soz), I’m opting to do a Top 50 instead. This doesn’t mean that there were fewer good movies in 2023 than in 2022, quite the opposite, actually. 

But before we get into the nitty-gritty of it all, there are some silly list rules I have invented for myself that constitute my annual lists. If it only made its debut during the year at limited-access festivals then it doesn’t qualify. As long as the film made its debut through wider theatrical releases in either South Africa, UK or USA, as well as streaming outside the confines of the festival bubble, then it qualifies. Some of these titles I was only actually able to watch on circuit in South Africa in 2024, but because they made their large-scale debuts in either the UK or the USA in 2023, they made it in time for my annual list. There are dumb exceptions here and there that I have invented for myself. For example, I have yet to see Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron, and although it has been released on a large scale in cinemas across the world, for some strange reason, we aren’t getting it in South Africa. No physical copies of it exist yet and will only make its streaming debut on MAX in June. So if I do love that film, it’ll most likely only make the 2024 list.

Anyways, as I said before, there was an overabundance of great films. For exact numbers, I watched 277 films from 2023. And as mentioned before, I normally do Top 100’s. But seeing as we are skipping the queue, I thought it would only be fair to show entries 100-51, all in order (as it stands at this point in time at least). These are all films that I loved, resonated with and revisited the most. REMEMBER, IT’S LIKE, JUST MY OPINION, MAN… Anyways, here’s 100-51. All great films I highly recommend you seek out:

100.Chowchilla – Documentary

99. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (USA – English)  – Animation/Comedy/Action/Sci-Fi

98. Fremont (USA – English/Dari/Cantonese) – Comedy/Drama

97. Unclenching the Fists (Russia/France – Russian) – Drama

96. A Thousand and One (USA - English) – Drama

95. Other People’s Children (France – French/Hebrew) – Drama

94. Concrete Utopia (South Korea – Korean) – Thriller

93. A Tiger in Paradise (Sweden – Swedish/English) – Documentary/Music

92. The End We Start From (UK – English) – Drama/Thriller/Adventure

91. Stamped from the Beginning (USA – English) – Documentary

90. The Pigeon Tunnel (USA -  English) – Documentary

89. Mutt (USA – English/Spanish) – Drama/LGBTQIA+

88. Under the Fig Trees (Tunisia/Switzerland/France – Arabic) – Drama

87. Nam June Paik: Moon is the Oldest TV (USA – English/German/Korean) – Documentary

86. How to Have Sex (UK/Greece – English) – Drama

85. Brother (Canada - English) – Drama

84. Love Life (Japan – Japanese/Korean/Korean Sign Language) - Drama

83. Mikado (Romania/Czech Republic – Romanian) – Drama

82. Theatre Camp (USA – English) – Comedy

81. Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb (USA – English) – Documentary

80. American Symphony (USA – English) – Doumentary/Music

79. Full Time (France – French) – Drama

78. The Royal Hotel (Australia/UK – English) – Drama/Thriller

77. Lynch/Oz (USA – English) – Documentary

76. Kokomo City (USA – English) – Documentary/LGBTQIA+

75. Eileen (USA/UK – English) – Thriller

74. Judy Blume Forever (USA – English) – Documentary

73. Hurricane Season (Mexico – Spanish) – Thriller/Drama/Mystery

72. Fingernails (USA/UK – English) – Drama/Romance/Sci-Fi

71. Pretty Red Dress (UK – English) – Drama/LGBTQIA+

70. Biosphere (USA – English) – Comedy/Sci-Fi

69. Of an Age (Australia – English/Serbian) – Drama/Romance/LGBTQIA+

68. Maestro (USA – English) – Drama

67. No Bears (Iran – Farsi/Turkish/Azerbaijani) – Drama

66. Palm Trees and Power Lines (USA – English) – Drama

65. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (USA – English) – Action/Adventure/Comedy/Sci-Fi

64. The Disappearance of Shere Hite (USA – English) – Documentary

63. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning: Part 1 (USA – English/French/Italian/Russian)

62. Society of Snow (Spain/Chile/Uruguay/USA – Spanish) – Drama/Adventure

61. Beyond Utopia (USA – Korean/English) – Documentary

60. More Than Ever (France/Germany/Luxembourg/Norway – French/English/Norwegian) – Drama

59. The Delinquents (Argentina/Brazil/Luxembourg/Chile – Spanish) – Comedy/Thriller/Drama

58. The Unknown Country (USA – English) – Drama/Adventure

57. Bobi Wine: The People’s President (UK/Uganda/USA – English/Ganda) – Documentary

56. The Civil Dead (USA – English) – Comedy

55. A House Made of Splinters (Denmark/Ukraine/Sweden/Germany/Finland – Ukrainian/Russian) – Documentary

54. Totally Killer (USA – English) – Comedy/Horror/Sci-Fi/Mystery

53. Smoke Sauna Sisterhood (Estonia/France – Estonian) – Documentary

52. Suzume (Japan – Japanese) – Animation/Adventure/Fantasy/Action

51. Plan 75 (Japan/France/Phillipines – Japanese/Tagalog) – Drama/Si-Fi


Without further ado, here's the Top 50…

50. Skinamarink

Director: Kyle Edward Ball

Genre/s: Horror/Experimental Length: 1 Hour 40 Minutes Language: English Country: Canada

Cast: Lucas Paul, Dali Rose Tetreault, Ross Paul, Jaime Hill

Synopsis: Two children wake up in the middle of the night to find that their father is missing, as well as all the windows and doors vanished.

My Take: Starting off the list is easily the most polarizing film of 2023, Skinamarink. An indie experimental horror, Skinamarink is easily the most unique horror film of the past few years, one that doesn’t really focus on plot but more on atmosphere. It’s very easy to see why the consensus on this from audiences is so split. People either love it or hate it, and to be honest, I find it hard to recommend to anyone because it’s a horror film that is so uniquely tailored to creating such a specific experience. Alone in the dark and not completely sure of what is happening around them, these children are left alone in a house with no answers and no one to look out for them, and it’s with this sense of dread seen from the eyes of scared, helpless children where Skinamarink feels so real and so true to the fears we felt as children when we were left alone and completely unequipped to deal with strange environments. Shots are often out of focus, heavily grainy, noise is often unrecognizable, dialogue is barely audible or comprehensible. It perfectly evokes the confusion and terror of a child in such a scenario - evoking an odd sense of nostalgia that rocked me to my core. The first time I saw this, I watched it on my laptop as the power was out. Once the film finished, it was 2am and I still had to stumble around the house with a flashlight to lock up. Let me tell you, doing that after experiencing Skinamarink had me shitting my pants. It may not be entertaining in the traditional sense, and it’s easy to see why some would dismiss it so easily, but Skinamrink did a number on me.

Where you can watch it: Shudder (USA, UK, Australia), Hulu (USA), AMC+ (USA, Australia), Most VOD Platforms (USA, UK, Australia).

49. Monica

Director: Andrea Pallaoro

Genre/s: Drama/LGBTQIA+ Length: 1 Hour 46 Minutes Language: English Countries: Italy/USA

Cast: Trace Lysette, Patricia Clarkson, Emily Browning, Adriana Barraza, Joshua Close

Synopsis: After many years away, Monica (Trace Lysette) revisits the pains of her past as she returns home to take care of her dying mother (Patricia Clarkson). 

My Take: Carried by an understated lead performance in Trace Lysette, Monica is a film of quiet intensity. Touching on themes of abandonment, forgiveness, acceptance and finally redemption, writer/director Pallaoro allows a level of intimacy that is so hard to get right in film. Returning home for the first time in 20 years, Monica is not the same person when she left. Having now fully transitioned, she is often hiding from her family, and through Pallaoro’s clever direction, is often obscured in framing. We are often denied clean unobscured shots of her as we try to learn more about a woman holding onto the pains of her past. “She didn’t recognize me.” “Did you expect her to?”. Monica also does such a great job of denying us answers through exposition, letting the organic interactions between Monica and her family, particularly her mother, deliver the crushing emotional blows that have affected her for so long. 

Where you can watch it: AMC+ (USA), Most VOD Platforms (USA, UK).

48. The Future Tense

Directors: Christine Molloy & Joe Lawlor

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 29 Minutes Language: English Country: Ireland

Synopsis: Irish filmmaking couple Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor visit Ireland with their English daughter, an event that has them exploring the very ideas of what home and being Irish meant to them in the past, what it means to them now and what It could mean for them in the future.

My Take: Molloy and Lawlor take a hard look at what being Irish means to them: why it pushed them away to raise their daughter in England, and what it is possibly calling them back. Making themselves the subjects and point of view within the documentary, Lawlor and Molloy create a fascinating collage of Irish identity and how the overlapping pieces are made up of both the regrets and joys of leaving, and what the potential of coming back could mean to their national and cultural identity once more. The Future Tense reminds us of the importance of belonging - whether it’s to a country, an ideal, or family, it’s an important factor in shaping our identity and how the call to belong will ultimately set our roots back down to where we belong.

Where you can watch it: MUBI (Worldwide).

47. Riceboy Sleeps

Director: Anthony Shim

Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 57 Minutes Languages: Korean/English Country: Canada

Cast: Choi Seung-yoon, Ethan Hwang, Anthony Shim, Dohyun Noel Hwang, Hunter Dillon, Jerina Son

Synopsis: Set during the 90s, a single Korean mother moves to Canada with her young son, hoping to forge a new life as they look to forget the one left behind.

My Take: Based loosely on writer/director Anthony Shim’s childhood, Riceboy Sleeps is in danger of being another “more of the same” immigrant story of a young boy thrown into a new environment while his mother toils away at a dead-end factory job. Thankfully, Rieceboy Sleeps pulls itself up from the overused tropes of its genre and gives us a film that is elegant and beautifully poignant in how its characters rediscover their place in the world. What initially appears to be a story about strangers in a new land desperately trying to blend in, to be ‘normal’ within the confines of the overwhelmingly white suburban community, eventually turns into a tale of reconnecting with the past. Through Dong-Hyun’s school assignment to research their family tree, Riceboy Sleeps pivots in a thoughtful new direction, subverting the clichés of the immigrant story and allows us to experience a real sense of self-discovery and reclaiming of one’s identity not just for Dong-Hyun, but his mother as well.

Where you can watch it: Most VOD Platforms (USA).

46. The Beasts

Director: Rodrigo Sorogoyen

Genre/s: Drama/Thriller Length: 2 Hours17 Minutes Languages: French/Spanish/Galician Countries: Spain/France

Cast: Denis Ménochet, Marina Foïs, Luis Zahera, Diego Anido, Marie Colomb

Synopsis: French couple Antoine and Olga (Denis Ménochet & Marina Foïs) run an organic vegetable farm in the hills of the Spanish countryside. But despite them regarding this as their new home, tensions with the local farmers, ones who have been there for generations, begin to boil over.

My Take: Loosely based on a real incident, The Beasts is a slow-burning, xenophobic thriller that clashes big personalities, unwilling to buckle to one another. Rodrigo Sorogoyen expertly toes the line between a standard conflict drama and an unbearably taut thriller whose fuse has been lit, not knowing when it will reach its explosive turning point. Denis Ménochet’s sparring partner in Luis Zahera as his rival neighbor makes for some of the most unpredictable and uncomfortable scenes in any film I saw in 2023. It’s performances like this that allow for The Beasts’ suspense to be so effective and unbearable.

Where you can watch it: MUBI (USA), Eventive (Worldwide), Most VOD Platforms (USA, UK).

45. Beau is Afraid

Director: Ari Aster

Genre/s: Horror/Comedy/Adventure/Drama Length: 2 Hours 59 Minutes Language: English Country: USA

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Patti LuPone, Amy Ryan, Nathan Lane, Denis Ménochet, Kylie Rogers, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Richard Kind, Hayley Squires, Alicia Rosario

Synopsis: Beau Wassermann's (Joaquin Phoenix) overbearing mother has suddenly passed away, forcing him to make the long, perilous journey to her funeral that will have him confronting his biggest fears, desires and who he could become.

My Take: Touching on themes of anxiety, childhood trauma, guilt and loss, Beau is Afraid proved to be one of the most uncomfortable, strange and even thrilling films of 2023. Just shy of a hefty three-hour run-time, Aster’s epic road movie is an often funny and consistently disturbing descent down a rabbit hole of paranoia, self-loathing and mommy issues that may or may not be reflection of himself onto an extraordinary, all-in Joaquin Phoenix. Beau's journey of self-discovery and wish fulfillment had me looking at my own hangups and trauma that stop me from progressing and pursuing a life I could have if I just let it all that baggage go. Kafka-esque in both nature and structure, Aster’s Beau is Afraid may not be his defining masterpiece just yet, but it feels like his most personal one – a work that may be guilty of self-indulgence but is nevertheless admirable in its ambition and scope. It does what good art is supposed to do: spark a conversation. A film that will be discussed, re-evaluated and eventually cherished over the coming years. You can find my extended thoughts on Beau is Afraid over here.

Where you can watch it: Showtime, Paramount + (USA), Prime Video (SA), Most VOD Platforms (Worldwide).

44. The Innocent

Director: Louis Garrel

Genre/s: Comedy/Thriller/Romance Length: 1 Hour 39 Minutes Language: French Country: France

Cast: Louis Garrel, Noémie Merlant, Roschdy Zem, Anouk Grinberg, Jean-Claude Pautot

Synopsis: Abel (Louis Garrel) is weary of his mother’s new husband Michel (Roschdy Zem). But shortly after his release from prison, Michel finds himself caught up in a chaviar heist he is forced to take. Needing to rope Abel in, and with the help of Abel’s best friend Clémence (Noémie Merlant), they might be able to pull it off.

My Take: Part heist thriller, part romantic comedy. The Innocent never gives in to being just one type of film, interchanging between both genres that allow for humour, suspense and the teasing uncertainty of a “will they, won’t they” dynamic to flourish. Louis Garrel directs a script he co-wrote on top of starring as the lead in a film all about the things we will do for the people we love and the compromises we will have to make in order to just that. It’s sharp, sweet and quite easily one of the funnest films I watched in 2023.

Where you can watch it: The Criterion Channel (USA), MUBI (UK), Binge (Australia), Most VOD Platforms (USA, UK, Australia).

43. Yellow Door: ‘90s Lo-fi Film Club

Director: Lee Hyuk-rae

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 24 Minutes Language: Korean Country: South Korea

Synopsis: An intimate documentary that explores a bygone era of cinematic passion through a group of young film enthusiasts in South Korea, a group that includes Oscar-winning hero Bong Joon Ho (Parasite, Memories of Murder).

My Take: Despite being a country churning out so many great filmmakers and future classics over the past couple of decades, South Korea’s film history and movie-watching culture was never as deep or as rich as its neighbours like Japan and China for example. Because of the lack of a movie-watching culture in South Korea (at the time), the Yellow Door club took it upon themselves to track down and import classic movies on tape and DVD from all over, roughly translating each film, cataloging them and organizing viewing parties as they discuss and learn from the films they would obsessively watch. It’s a heartwarming film about the power of film, how it cultivates passions and effectively curates long-lasting bonds and friendships through our mutual love (or hatred) of the art we consume together. It’s awesome seeing how these movie nerds effectively made their own film school because none were available to them, unknowingly help shape the future of Korea’s now rich and diverse filmscape. It’s also really awesome seeing where it all began for some who would go on to become respected filmmakers, particularly Oscar-winning hero Bong Joon Ho (Parasite, Memories of Murder), who remains one of the greatest filmmakers working today.

Where you can watch it: Netflix (Worldwide).

42. BlackBerry

Director: Matt Johnson

Genre/s: Comedy/Drama Length: 2 Hours Language: English Country: Canada

Cast: Jay Baruchel, Matt Johnson, Glenn Howerton, Cary Elwes, Michael Ironside, SungWon Cho, Rich Sommer

Synopsis: The true story of BlackBerry’s quick rise to the top and even faster descent to the bottom.

My Take: Remember when everyone had a BlackBerry? I always had a bit of jealousy towards all my friends who did, using BBM to message each other for free while I was stuck with “sorry, dc. What did you say?” via mixit. Matt Johnson’s comedy drama tracks the very evolution of what would become a titan in the tech industry, before quietly disappearing from the zeitgeist altogether. Shot with the same gritty style a la The Big Short, BlackBerry harnesses its own style of comedy and drama that lets it stand on its own instead of being a copycat. Jay Baruchel and Matt Johnson (who also wrote and directed BlackBerry) are routinely hilarious as the founders and geniuses behind the device, but it’s Glenn Howerton as the ruthless and unpredictable CEO Jim Balsillie who shines – channeling the psychotic energy of his character Dennis in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to give us one of the year’s most memorable supporting performances. Just like the titular main character, BlackBerry's indie film sensibilities feel like the perfect container to spin a story about the little engine that could, until it eventually got too big for its own good and crashed with a whimper.

Where you can watch it: Hulu, AMC+ (USA), Most VOD Platforms (Worldwide).

41. No One Will Save You

Director: Brian Duffield

Genre/s: Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller Length: 1 Hour 33 Minutes Language: English Country: USA

Cast: Kaitlyn Dever, Lauren L. Murray, Zack Duhame, Elizabeth Kaluev

Synopsis: Brynn (Kaitlyn Dever), a woman seemingly living in exile from the rest of her town, is forced to fight for survival as celestial visitors invade her home.

My Take: Writing a screenplay with no dialogue is hard. Dialogue allows for easier characterization to take place, important exposition to come to fruition. But there’s more to it than just dialogue in a screenplay. It’s all about showing and not telling. With No One Will Save You, writer/director Brian Duffield took up the challenge to do just that. Home invasion movies tap into my biggest fears, so when you take that niche genre and stuff it with terrifying aliens with unknown motives, you have a recipe for something wild. Duffield could so easily have fumbled this one - a film relying heavily on what is shown through performance and action instead of dialogue is a tricky thing to do. It’s a gimmick that could get old very quickly, run out of steam or just become entirely awkward (see John Woo’s failed, wordless action movie experiment in Silent Night), but Duffield is clever with how he uses this gimmick as a weapon to his storytelling arsenal – one that takes full advantage of its themes of survivor’s guilt and shame. With the only line of dialogue coming in at around the 70th minute, it’s a thrilling exercise in how to write an action-driven horror film that requires only what we see through action and performance to convey what is really being said and felt. Brynn (Dever) makes for a great final girl that has me even more hyped for what she will bring to the physically demanding and brutal role that awaits her as Abby in The Last of Us' second season. It’s really intelligent, highly skilled filmmaking and storytelling that also deserves praise for the ballsy finale that is bound to polarize its viewers.

Where you can watch it: Disney+ (Worldwide), Hulu (USA).

40. The Killer

Director: David Fincher

Genre/s: Thriller/Action Length: 1 Hour 58 Minutes Language: English Country: USA

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Tilda Swinton, Charles Parnell, Arliss Howard, Kerry O’Malley, Sophie Charlotte, Sala Baker

Synopsis: After a routine hit goes wrong, a hired assassin (Michael Fassbender) is forced to tie up all loose ends with both himself and his employers as he looks to make a clean break from it.

My Take: Fincher’s latest has drawn mixed reactions from fans and critics alike, and it’s understandable to see why. Its plot can appear too simplistic, its protagonist lacking any noticeable depth and it is a prime example of style over substance. So why does it feature here? Because I had an absolute blast with it. Although sold as a serious, brutal action thriller from a very serious auteur, The Killer just so happens to be Fincher’s funniest film to date, his unofficial first comedy (ok it’s not a comedy but it has serious fun with itself). Following the protagonist who is listed simply as ‘The Killer’ (Michael Fassbender), we are offered a tour of his life – the routines that he takes, the rules that he must follow in order to be the perfect killing machine that he tells us, nay, assures us that he is. But we never quite see that. He’s a talented killing machine for sure, but throughout The Killer, we see him consistently breaking his own rules through missteps and what would looks to be incompetence. He makes dumb decisions all the time. For all we know, he has been a faultless killer in the past, but here, we only see the failures that will eventually push him into early retirement. Seeing as Fincher is known to be a maddening perfectionist (he did over 90 takes of the famous opening scene in Social Network), but here, it appears Fincher is in on the joke, a tongue-in-cheek self-reference to a character who strives for perfection but never quite achieves it. It’s brutal, relentless and as said before, can be quite funny, never taking itself too seriously. It also features a fight scene in a house which is one of the best fight sequences I’ve ever seen. Love it or hate it, The Killer is Fincher at his most playful, most simplistic; a minimalist hitman movie in the same vein as Melville's Le Samourai (1967) and Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai (1999) and I loved the shit out of it regardless of its imperfections.

Where you can watch it: Netflix (Worldwide).

39. Scrapper

Director: Charlotte Regan

Genre/s: Comedy/Drama Length: 1 Hour 24 Minutes Language: English Country: UK

Cast: Lola Campbell, Harris Dickinson, Alin Uzun, Laura Aikman, Ambreen Razia, Aylin Tezel, Olivia Brady, Asheq Akhtar, Cary Crankson

Synopsis: Georgie (Lola Campbell), a 12-year-old secretly lives at home alone following the death of her mother. Although seemingly content with her current living situation, she is forced to welcome the arrival of her estranged father Jason (Harris Dickinson), whom she has never met.

My Take: A coming-of-age story not just for its 12-year-old protagonist (An incredibly talented Lola Campbell in her screen debut), but one for her father (Harris Dickinson) as well. Scrapper is a film about grief, about growing up, about forgiveness, and about the importance of family. It could’ve so easily been a grim, gritty exercise in English misery porn taking place on a poor, pretty dodgy estate. It could’ve also been an obnoxiously whimsical movie with precocious children far too precocious to really be taken seriously. But Charlotte Regan creates a lovely balance of real emotions, heartwarming revelations and witty humour that lets Scrapper have its very own identity. There are a few moments where the film is in danger of being far too quirky for its own good, but thankfully the story and themes at the heart of Scrapper, strengthened by the incredible chemistry of its stars in Campbell and Dickinson, push it into territories where its impossible not to fall in love with everything it sets out to achieve. Harris Dickinson is among my favourite young actors working right now. His experience and most importantly, instincts allow for his scene partner in Lola Campbell to be the brightest star of the film. It’s one thing pulling a wonderful performance out of an inexperienced child actor, but it’s another thing entirely for that performer to showcase if they have something truly special. Lola Campbell exhibits all the hallmarks to become a great actress in the future – a performance filled with such a natural sense of what the scene needs and thanks to her director and co-stars' trust in her, is allowed to elevate scenes that feels true to not only her character, but her as a performer as well. Scrapper is lovely from start to finish, a real diamond in the rough waiting to be discovered.

Where you can watch it: Showtime, Paramount+ (USA), Stan (Australia), Most VOD Platforms (USA, UK, Australia).

38. How to Blow Up a Pipeline

Director: Daniel Goldhaber

Genre: Thriller Length: 1 Hour 44 Minutes Language: English Country: USA

Cast: Forrest Goodluck, Ariela Barer, Sasha Lane, Kristine Froseth, Lukas Gage, Jayme Lawson, Marcus Scribner, Jake Weary

Synopsis: Varying motives and backgrounds bring eight individuals together in Texas, where they plot to destroy an oil pipeline.

My Take: Sometimes you want a film that does exactly what it says on the tin. And that's what you get with How to Blow Up a Pipeline. It’s a furious call to action that never hides its agenda - showing us those who are directly impacted and fed up with the lack of positive change in the climate crisis, and that it is now time to take a serious stand before it’s all too late. Inspired by the non-fiction novel of the same name by Andreas Malm, Daniel Goldhaber creates a film where the stakes are always high, the tension always past breaking point and thanks to his phenomenal ensemble cast, they’re able to give us a film filled to the brim with compelling characters and their all too real motives. The time for talking appears to be over, and if you’re not fighting for the planet in order to inherit a better future, you might just be part of the problem. Not just one of the angriest films of 2023, but also one of the most important.

Where you can watch it: Hulu (USA), Netflix (UK), Stan (Australia), Most VOD Platforms (USA, UK, Australia).

37. Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie

Director: Davis Guggenheim

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 35 Minutes Language: English Country: USA

Synopsis: An intimate portrait of the beloved star’s rise to fame as well as # the heartbreaking but inspiring journey of his battle with Parkinsons.

My Take: Our love for Michael J. Fox is never-ending. Ever since he first charmed us all in Family Ties, he’s been a staple of so many people’s happiest TV and film memories from the schlocky B-grade fun of Teen Wolf to the underrated Spin City and of course, as Marty McFly in Back to Future, which remains as one of my favourite film series ever. So when Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s diagnosis arrived, it broke all our hearts, especially when it took turns for the worst. But Still doesn’t want us to feel sorry for him. Instead, it wants us to celebrate him, savour every happy memory he gave us as well as admire the man he has become, the battle he continues to fight and the important work he does in raising awareness about Parkinsons - raising funds in hopes of eventually curing, as it currently stands, an incurable disease. Featuring some of the best editing I’ve seen for a documentary, Guggenheim’s kaleidoscopic portrait of a man forced to pivot and adapt to the bad hands dealt to him, is among the most engaging films of the year. Precise, wholesome and genuinely inspiring. Michael J. Fox is as special as they come.

Where you can watch it: Apple TV+ (Worldwide).

36. Four Daughters

Director: Kaouther Ben Hania

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 47 Minutes Languages: Arabic/French/English

Countries: France/Tunisia/Germany/Saudi Arabia

Synopsis: One day, two of Olfa’s daughters disappeared and joined an extremist Islamic group. Filmmkaer Kaouther Ben Hania enlists two actresses to fill the void left by them, allowing them to confront both the happy and traumatic memories they shared with one another, ones that possibly pushed them away, and what could hopefully bring them back together.

My Take: Documentaries have certain abilities that may not be afforded to most fictional, straightforward films. They’re able to tap into real people, into their real stories and ultimately, provide true snapshots into the human condition unlike anything else the medium is ever able to truly do. Sure, circumstances and viewpoints of the filmmakers can alter the truth in what is being shown to us and very few documentaries are ever completely objective. But once in a while, you get a special film that allows for its subjects to take objectivity and subjectivity and blend them into their own thing, allowing the filmmakers and us the viewers, insight into unique viewpoints and perspectives. Take for example Joshua Oppenheimer’s groundbreaking The Act of Killing (2012). We are provided with the facts of the Indonesian Mass Killings of 1965-1966. By providing one a prolific perpetrator to showcase his "heroics" through a means of recreating scenarios through any genre he wishes, we see the twisted, skewed perspective of a demon convinced that his actions were indeed heroic (also check out his companion doccie The Look of Silence). Claude Lanzmann’s mammoth Holocaust documentary Shoah (1985) simply just listens to its subjects as survivors, witnesses and perpetrators speak. With The Four Daughters, Kaouther Ben Hania allows for her subjects to revisit both the joys and trauma that have shaped their present day lives. By enlisting two actors to play the parts of the daughters/sisters who left, allows them to confront their own memories - reenacting them how they remember it, or the choice to change things with the hopes that it’ll bring them back. It’s powerful filmmaking that provides both wish fulfillment and a chance for its subjects for some closure as they look back on what was and what could’ve been. Up for the Academy Award for Best Documentary at this year’s Oscars, it’s proof of just how powerfully immersive the medium can be.

Where you can watch it: Most VOD Platforms (USA).

35. Manticore

Director: Carlos Vermut

Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 55 Minutes Languages: Spanish/Catalan Country: Spain

Cast: Nacho Sánchez, Zoe Stein, Aitziber Garmendia, Catalina Sopelana, Albert Ausellé, Vincenta Ndongo

Synopsis: A frightening obsession is awakened in videogame designer Julián (Nacho Sánchez) after saving his neighbour’s child from a fire in their apartment.

My Take: In what is one of the year’s most disturbing films, Nacho Sánchez delivers one of the great performances of 2023 that is also one of the most challenging in Carlos Vermut’s latest film. Secrets and obsessions are strongly implied rather than explicitly shown and that is what makes Manticore so effective. On the surface, we follow a flawed protagonist who we can easily see ourselves in, but beneath the surface lies a monster, unclear as to what form it is about to take, wishing that it is not what we dread, yet know it to be. It’s a skilled piece of writing as much as it is in performance, creating a tragic character completely oblivious to the doom he has potentially written for himself - the monster he is in the process of either quelling or strengthening. It’s truly a stunning performance, one that is locked entirely within his eyes as we see a man desperately trying to understand why this is happening to him and how he can keep it hidden before it bursts out. Newcomer Zoe Stein is excellent as Diana as well, a woman preparing for the looming tragedy of her dying father, and also the budding love interest of the protagonist who could potentially save him from the fate he is heading towards. It’s a truly unnerving viewing experience that makes it one of the most genuinely scary films of the decade so far.

Where you can watch it: Most VOD Platforms (USA).

34. Afire

Director: Christian Petzold

Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 42 Minutes Language: German Country: Germany

Cast: Thomas Schubert, Paula Beer, Langston Uibel, Enno Trebs, Matthias Brandt

Synopsis: Leon, a struggling writer (Thomas Schubert) meets Nadja (Paula Beer), a surprise guest at his friend Felix’s (Langston Uibel) family holiday home. Leon finds himself distracted by not only Nadja’s passion for life, but also her brutal and honest assessment of his current work in progress, something that forces him to come to terms with his own insecurities as an artist and as a person.

My Take: I’m a sucker for films about the creative process, especially ones centered around writer’s block (or any sort of creative blockage really). Creatives can be very sensitive creatures, we can trap ourselves in our own heads, completely shutting out the feelings and needs of others around us as we continue to place added pressure on ourselves. In Afire, Leon (Thomas Schulbert) does just that. But he’s not the sensitive creative you’d expect. He’s sensitive, sure, but only to criticism. Otherwise, he’s an asshole. He’s rude, shoots down his fellow creative’s ideas, makes assumptions of people and teases them behind their backs when he thinks he knows better. He’s perfectly performed and written, giving us an ugly character who is oblivious to the impending, literal danger of an encroaching forest fire heading their way. It’s a fascinating drama about the people we take for granted, imploring us to be wary of our surroundings before we lose it all.

Where you can watch it: The Criterion Channel (USA), BFI Player (UK), Most VOD Platforms (USA, UK).

33. Reality

Director: Tina Satter

Genre/s: Thriller/Drama/Documentary Length: 1 Hour 23 Minutes Language: English

Country: USA

Cast: Sydney Sweeney, Josh Hamilton, Marchánt Davis, Benny Elledge

Synopsis: Based entirely on the FBI interrogation that took place at American intelligence leaker Reality Winner's (Sydney Sweeney) home, the woman who released unauthorized intel to the press regarding Russian involvement in the 2016 US elections.

Adapted from her own stage play of the same name, Tina Satter blurs the lines of reality (pun intended) by reenacting the interrogation between FBI agents and American intelligence leaker Reality Winner (Sydney Sweeney). Completely subversive in style and structure, Reality merges elements of documentary filmmaking with that of a tense thriller. All the dialogue is lifted entirely from the FBI transcript from start to finish, redacting lines, leaving unintelligible dialogue up in the air just as it is in the transcript. When I say this is a literal adaptation of the text, I mean that literally. Sydney Sweeney is astonishing as Reality Winner. Although all the dialogue is there for you as it happened, the cast still needs to interpret the scene how it possibly felt and happened. Sweeney delivers more than I could ever have expected, guarding her vulnerability and fear as best as she can as the walls continue to cave in on her, before finally breaking. It’s an extraordinary, breathless performance that suffocates and unfurls in real-time. Unbearably tense, Reality is thrilling filmmaking from a director worth keeping an eye on as well as further proof of just how versatile Sydney Sweeney can be.

Where you can watch it: MAX (USA), Binge (Australia), Most VOD Platforms (UK, Australia).

32. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

Genre/s: Comedy/Drama Length: 1 Hour 46 Minutes Language: English Country: USA

Cast: Abby Ryder Fortson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Benny Safdie, Elle Graham, Amari Alexis Price, Katherine Kupferer

Synopsis: Adapted from the beloved novel of the same name by Judy Blume, Are You There God? follows Margaret’s journey of self-discovery through friends, family, spirituality and of course, puberty.

My Take: I love a good coming-of-age movie. Regardless of where and when they’re set, or who they’re about, they always carry universal themes all of us have encountered at one point or another: why, how, who, when, what. These are some of the questions we find ourselves asking about a multitude of things that could unlock the door to finally discovering who we are through the successes and failures that await us. Here, Margaret (played by the incredibly charming Abby Ryder Fortson) does just that. Suddenly moving to New Jersey from New York City with her parents (Rachel McAdams and Benny Safdie) and away from her beloved grandmother (Kathy Bates), she finds herself in a new territory, one that will force her to want to explore who she is and who she will eventually want to be. Are You There, God? Feels like the ultimate coming-of-age story that covers all the travails of being a kid on the cusp of adolescence. And although our protagonist is a young girl going through the pitfalls of being a young girl in the 1970s, it feels all too real and all too relatable regardless of time, setting and most importantly, gender. We have all had those crushes we were kinda ashamed of, the bossy leader of the friend group dictating what we do next, the either brief or extended relationship with religion (here, Margaret tries to figure out if she will identify as being Jewish like her father or Christian like her mother), and finally, when will we get our period/grow our first armpit hair so we can finally fit in with all the other kids and finally be normal? Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret. is as funny, joyful and as wholesome as a film can get, never alienating its audience as it catches up with familiar readers as well as newfound audiences.

Where you can watch it: Netflix (SA), Starz (USA), Prime Video (UK), Most VOD Platforms (USA, UK, Australia).

31. The Iron Claw

Director: Sean Durkin

Genre/s: Drama/Sport Length: 2 Hours 12 Minutes Language: English Countries: USA/UK

Cast: Zac Efron, Jeremy Allan White, Harris Dickinson, Holt McCallany, Maura Tierney, Lily James, Stanley Simons

Synopsis: The true story of the Von Erich wrestling family and the tragedies that both strengthened and shattered their bonds during the 70's and 80's.

My Take: They say the Von Erich family is cursed. And to be honest, it’s easy to think that. Constantly stalked by tragic misfortunes, Sean Durkin creates a loving tribute to not just the wrestling legacy they created, but the unbreakable bond between brothers whose inescapable relationship with this said-curse tied them together, and tore them apart. Touching on themes of family, toxic masculinity and mental health, Zac Efron leads a sensational ensemble as its kind, unofficial patriarch, dueling with the cruel obsessiveness of its official patriarch in Fritz (Holt McCallany), a bully of a father creating sibling rivalries that push them towards his own failed dreams as a wrestler. There's a great moment where Lily James’ character Pam is on a date with Kevin (Efron), she teases him for the obvious fakeness of wrestling and asks how a champion emerges considering it all feels so pre-arranged. Kevin goes on to tell her that depending on your ability, your personality and overall work ethic, athletes are rewarded with these championships. And that’s just what this film feels like for Efron. He’s endured personal tragedies and hardships that have nearly literally killed him over the years. He always had the ability but was just never offered the opportunity. The Iron Claw finally feels like his reward, a performance for the ages that is so very demanding both physically and emotionally, delivering one of the most delicately nuanced performances of the year with some of the most devastating deliveries as well. It's a tough watch, The Iron Claw is easily one of the greatest and most impactful sports movies ever made.

Where you can watch it: In theatres (UK), In theatres from 15 March (SA), Most VOD Platforms (USA, Australia).

30. Falcon Lake

Director: Charlotte Le Bon

Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 40 Minutes Languages: French/English Countries: Canada/France

Cast: Joseph Engel, Sarah Montpetit, Monia Chokri, Arthur Igual

Synopsis: A shy French teenager (Joseph Engel) experiences the joys and pains of growing up when he befriends an older girl (Sarah Montpetit) while on a family vacation in Canada.

My Take: Cleverly playing with the moody ambiance of a ghost story as well as the raw truthfulness of neorealism, Falcon Lake is a coming-of-age tale about the pains of being a teenager and the inevitable young love that goes with it (I was this close to referencing the band The Pains of Being Pure at Heart…gotcha). It’s an incredibly impressive debut from Charlotte Le Bon that’s so sincere - an honest depiction of both friendship, lust and the love we would dream about when we were just arriving at our teenage years. Its mystical atmosphere tows the line between gothic horror and the aforementioned neorealism, creating a film that keeps your expectations in the dark. It feels so close to home and thanks to the authentic, nuanced performance of its leads (Joseph Engel & Sarah Motpetit), Charlotte Le Bon’s Falcon Lake is both beautiful and haunting.

Where you can watch it: Most VOD Platforms (USA, UK).

29. 20 Days in Mariupol

Director: Mstyslav Chernov

Genre/s: Documentary/War Length: 1 Hour 35 Minutes Languages: Ukrainian/Russian/English Country: Ukraine

Synopsis: A team of Ukrainian journalists are trapped in the city of Mariupol as the Russian invasion begins. With the window for escape closing fast, they remain behind to capture the chaos unfolding.

My Take: 20 Days in Mariupol takes us to the frontline of the Ukrainian/Russian conflict. Chernov’s film immerses us deep within the crossfire of a war, placing us on the ground and seeing the effects that it has on the innocent lives caught in the crossfire. It’s documentary filmmaking that doesn’t just feel like an observation of history in the making, or the suffering of its subjects, but feels deeply personal as Chernov and his team feel a sense of journalistic duty to cover what is happening as well as the instinctive need to escape to safety. It’s the portrait of a city dying, its innocent voices being snuffed out as we watch on helplessly. Brutal, relentless and absolutely terrifying, 20 Days of Mariupol is as vital as the medium can get.

Where you can watch it: Most VOD Platforms (USA, UK).

28. Sanctuary

Director: Zachary Wigon

Genre/s: Thriller/Drama/Comedy/Romance Length: 1 Hour 36 Minutes Country: USA Language: English Country: USA

Cast: Margaret Qualley, Christopher Abbott

Synopsis: Power dynamics twist, turn and swap hands as Hal (Christopher Abbot) attempts to end his relationship with dominatrix Rebecca (Magaret Qualley) following the inheritance of his father's hotel empire.

My Take: Call it my toxic trait, but relationship movies about couples fighting are my bread and butter. There’s just so much that can be said and observed when a couple is brought to their knees (so to speak), with their survival instincts kicking in to reveal the ugly truths underneath the surface, never to be hidden again even if things are resolved. Sanctuary plays on that, but what Zachary Wigon does so well is just how much information he decides to share with us from the get-go. Characters know way more than we do about one another, making already-known revelations about one another feel that much smarter as it is revealed to us organically, never allowing for any of the drama to be forced or fake. But when new information is revealed to one another, both truths and lies, Sanctuary has a blast throwing everyone off guard; its characters more than us. It’s an erotic thriller that prays on the vulnerabilities of its dual protagonists, and despite its initial desire to be the anti-romcom, Sanctuary secretly has the sweetest center – one that is as soft as it is razor sharp, desperately wanting its fucked up lovers to kiss and make up.

Where you can watch it: Hulu (USA), Binge (Australia), Most VOD Platforms (SA, UK, USA, Australia).

27. Rotting in the Sun

Director: Sebastián Silva

Genre/s: Comedy/Thriller/LGBTQIA+ Length: 1 Hour 49 Minutes Languages: Spanish/English Countries: Mexico/USA

Cast: Sebastián Silva, Jordan Firstman, Catalina Saavedra, Mateo Riestra, Martine Guiterrez, Gustavo Malgarejo, Juan Andrés Silva

Synopsis: After surviving a near-death experience at a nudist beach, filmmaker Sebastián Silva meets social media celeb Jordan Firstman. After incessant nagging from Jordan as well as Sebastián’s bout of writer’s block, Sebastián reluctantly agrees to help Jordan with a show he wants to develop. But when Sebastián suddenly goes missing, Jordan arrives in Mexico City, determined to find him.

My Take: What starts as a raunchy odd-couple comedy about writer’s block, turns into a tense detective whodunnit thriller. Playing the role of himself as the film’s protagonist, Sebastián Silva is an awkward, miserable, grumpy artist stuck in a creative rut. After taking a chance of holidaying at a gay nudist beach recommended by a colleague, Sebastián finds himself in more uncomfortable waters figuratively and literally. After nearly dying trying to save a drowning Jordan Firstman (playing himself here as well), he gets stuck with him. Jordan’s obnoxious love for life annoys Sebastián, but in an effort to just give something to the people nagging him for ideas (his manager and HBO), he finds himself having to collaborate with Jordan. And before too long, Sebastián goes missing, sending the film in strange, thrilling and hilarious directions you will not expect. Rotting in the Sun is essentially a comedy of errors, a film based entirely around misunderstandings through personal boundaries, language barriers and the inability to see past one’s own ego. It’s also not just about dicks (both literally and figuratively - featuring the most penises I saw in a single movie last year and since 2020's Zola), but it's also a clever satire on class that I can best describe as being a gay gonzo Parasite (2019). WARNING: Contains extremely explicit content, including real, un-simulated sex.

Where you can watch it: MUBI (USA, UK), Most VOD Platforms (USA, UK).

26. Godzilla Minus One

Director: Takashi Yamazaki

Genre/s: Action/Adventure/Drama/Sci-Fi Length: 2 Hours 4 Minutes Language: Japanese Country: Japan

Cast: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Minami Hamabe, Yuki Yamada, Munetaka Aoki, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Sakura Ando, Kuranosuke Sakai, Sae Nagatani

Synopsis: Set in post-war Japan, Koichi (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a Kamikaze pilot suffering from survivor’s guilt after escaping from an encounter with Godzilla at the end of the war, looks to redeem himself as they must stop the return of the famed monster, now bigger and angrier than ever.

My Take: Depending on who you ask, the Godzilla universe is a bit of a mixed bag. We have had everything from bang average, to so bad it’s good, to so bad it’s bad and finally, legitimate classics; namely the original that started it all way back in 1954. So with yet another reboot, one not connected to the initial reboot of 2016’s Shin Godzilla or any of the existing monster-verse films in both Japan and Hollywood. It’s actually really hard to make a good monster movie. They can't just rely on a cool, scary creature as its focal point to make it a great movie. It needs to be orbited by human characters with real stakes that we can latch onto, buy into their stories and ultimately root for them. Godzilla Minus One is one such movie that strikes this balance so very well. We've been subjected to way too many monster movies that prioritize one for the other, often resulting in forgettable plot-driven affairs that forget how to tell a truly compelling story. Taking Minus One back to post-war Japan is a stroke of genius, allowing its characters and heartbreaking backstories of survivor’s guilt to guide the narrative down a path where we finally give a shit about what happens to the humans and not just the monster. It's not just a plot-driven Godzilla movie, but actually character-driven, and it's bloody good at that, something that can be really rare in the genre. It's by far the most emotionally resonant and effective Godzilla movie that feels more human than monster, making it the best of the franchise, going as far as even trumping the groundbreaking 1954 original. Also, the fact that this cost less than $15 million to make actually fries my brain.

Where you can watch it: It was in theatres, streaming and physical release dates are pending.

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