“Let’s hope such a seismic 12 months behind the screen doesn’t overshadow what’s been on it. For 2023 has been one of the best years in recent memory for the art of cinema. As ever, we hope our list, voted for by more than 100 contributors, works as an invitation to dig beyond those films blessed with multimillion-pound marketing muscle and giant awards-season promo budgets, to find new films and directors rather than simply those that shout the loudest.” — Isabel Stevens, BFI Sight & Sound
=38. All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt
Raven Jackson, US
Raven Jackson’s lyrical stream-of-consciousness debut comprises vignettes that span several decades in the life of a Black woman in Mississippi, each showing her connection to the earth.
=38. Earth Mama
Savannah Leaf, US
Without preaching or editorialising, Savanah Leaf ’s compassionate, poetic debut depicts a care system that’s stacked against poor American single mothers, with a subtle, sullen and understated performance by newcomer Tia Nomore.
=38. The Holdovers
Alexander Payne, US
Consciously evoking the cinema of mid-budget early 70s Hollywood, Alexander Payne’s high-school heartwarmer, starring a never-better Paul Giamatti, is every bit the equal of the films that inspired its aesthetic.
=38. The Killer
David Fincher, US
Michael Fassbender stars as a hitman who becomes a target himself after a job gone wrong in David Fincher’s intriguing, freshly staged procedural, a film which entertains and unsettles at the same time.
=38. Menus-Plaisirs les Troisgros
Frederick Wiseman, US
The 93-year-old Frederick Wiseman patiently examines every facet of the eponymous French three-Michelin-star kitchen in this four-hour documentary feast for the senses, with delectable diversions to vineyards, fromageries and farms.
=38. Our Body
Claire Simon, France
Comprehensively cataloguing the events in a Parisian gynaecology ward, this observational documentary gains added poignancy when Claire Simon steps in front of the camera for her own treatment.
=38. A Prince (Un Prince)
Pierre Créton, France
French ‘cineaste-peasant’ Pierre Creton’s portrait of the lives of gay horticulturalists in rural Normandy is a spellbinding, formally innovative curio. Jozef van Wissem, who scored Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), supplies another otherworldly soundtrack.
Sofia Coppola, US
Graceland becomes Heartbreak Hotel for a young Priscilla Presley in Sofia Coppola’s melancholic, utterly gorgeous tale of young love turned sour by Elvis’s alienating superstardom.
Tina Satter, US
Tina Satter’s exacting recreation of whistleblower Reality Winner’s FBI interrogation is a tense, expertly modulated study of state control and the vulnerability of truth-tellers, starring an impeccable Sydney Sweeney.
=38. Rye Lane
Raine Allen Miller, UK
This vivacious south London-set romcom channels genre classics as its flirtatious, quick-witted pair race around the city in a whirlwind 24-hour narrative heavy on high jinks and belly laughs.
Makoto Shinkai, Japan
A whirlwind of tentacled monsters, interdimensional portals and talking chairs make up this stunning supernatural fantasy by the director of Your Name, but its more grounded moments are just as beautiful.
Lois Patiño, Spain
The Spanish director probes spiritual and cinematic boundaries with a symphonic, shapeshifting voyage through a Buddhist temple in Laos and a seaweed farm in Zanzibar.
=38. Trenque Lauquen
Laura Citarella, Germany, Argentina
This languorous, two-part shaggy-dog story, about the search for a missing woman from the titular Argentinian town combines outlandish sci-fi elements with grounded characterisation, for a wonderfully off-kilter triumph.
=34. The Human Surge 3
Eduardo Williams, Argentina
Cutting between groups of young friends in Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Peru, Argentinian director Eduardo Williams shoots the low-key interactions using an eight-lens VR camera, to disorienting but mesmerising effect.
=34. Infinity Pool
Brandon Cronenberg, Canada
Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth excel in Cronenberg Jr’s outré satire of the super-rich, in which a striking sense of style enriches a lively kill-your-clone concept.
=34. One Fine Morning (Un beau matin)
Mia Hansen-Løve, France, Germany
Juggling care duties for her daughter and stricken father, Léa Seydoux’s single mother gains a rush of new love in Mia Hansen-Løve’s stealthy, sublime portrait of life’s sea changes.
=34. The Taste of Things
Tran Anh Hung, France
Benoît Magimel and Juliette Binoche sauté up a storm in this delightfully sweet romance between a man and his cook, which features many a mouthwatering scene.
=31. Hit Man
Richard Linklater, US
In Richard Linklater’s strange, multilayered comedy, whose surface charm belies a pervasive sense of callousness, Glen Powell gives an audaciously on-point performance as a nerdy philosophy professor masquerading as an assassin.
Angela Schanelec, Germany
Angela Schanelec is on typically enigmatic form with this series of poetic visual riddles, which draws loosely on the myth of Oedipus – perhaps confusing, but never frustrating.
=31. Talk to Me
Danny and Michael Philippou, Australia
This social-media-age teen horror grabs the attention with the help of an evil ceramic hand that allows the living to be possessed by disembodied spirits.
=26. The Beast
Bertrand Bonello, France
A focus on omnipresent AI makes this era-hopping sci-fi, starring Léa Seydoux, Bonello’s most topical film to date.
=26. Beau Is Afraid
Ari Aster, US
Joaquin Phoenix sets off on a surreal journey through the United States to visit his overbearing mother in Ari Aster’s Oedipal epic.
=26. The Delinquents
Rodrigo Moreno, Argentina
Rodrigo Moreno’s three-hour heist movie is a low-key comedy epic, with time aplenty for playful interludes and dead-ends.
=26. The Fabelmans
Steven Spielberg, US
Critics, fans and other armchair therapists will enjoy the keys Spielberg’s gratifying movie memoir provides to the director’s larger-than-life, era-defining entertainments.
=26. Rotting in the Sun
Sebastian Silva, US, Mexico
Sebastián Silva plays a version of himself in this mordantly meta satire, which draws uneasy parallels between social media and drug addiction.
=24. The Boy and the Heron
Hayao Miyazaki, Japan
Miyazaki’s mystical new film – which will no longer be his ‘last’ – is a thrilling, frenetic experience that gradually opens itself up to something massive, even apocalyptic.
=24. Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell
Pham Thien An, Vietnam
Vietnamese writer-director Pham Thiên Ân’s hypnotically paced debut is an odyssey about a young man who travels to the countryside following a family tragedy.
Christian Petzold, Germany
Love and jealousy simmer as a forest fire grows in Christian Petzold’s satirical statement about love and its devastating power.
=20. La Chimera
Alice Rohrwacher, Italy
Josh O’Connor plays a melancholic tombarolo who loots artefacts from ancient Tuscan burial sites in this joyous work of folk magic.
=20. Evil Does Not Exist
Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Japan
Hamaguchi Ryūsuke follows Drive My Car (2021) with an ambiguous, elegantly told story of a lakeside community’s resistance to an intrusive corporate ‘glamping’ development.
=20. Return to Seoul
Davy Chou, France
A woman takes a trip from France to Seoul in search of her birth parents in this shapeshifting story of identity and self-exploration.
=17. How to Have Sex
Molly Manning Walker, UK
This winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes is an exuberant but devastating take on female friendship and teenage sexual awakening, seen through the lens of a chaotic Greek holiday.
=17. Last Summer
Catherine Breillat, France
Catherine Breillat is in typically provocative form here, as a well-respected lawyer begins an affair with her teenage stepson.
Lila Avilés, Mexico
Lila Avilés’s dazzling film takes a child’s-eye view of jubilation and tragedy in the build-up to a party for her dying father.
=15. Fallen Leaves
Aki Kaurismäki, Finland
In Aki Kaurismäki’s bittersweet cinephile romance, love represents the possibility of transcending – or at least surviving – the grinding reality of life under capitalism.
We said: “More than three decades have passed since Aki Kaurismäki’s so-called Proletariat Trilogy but not much has changed. In Fallen Leaves, the world is still various shades of grey and teal, livened up by the occasional splash of vivid colour: a woman’s bright red blazer, a dumpster of deep blue. Lonely men and women still toil away their days at dreary and precarious working-class jobs. After clocking off, they still go to bars where they drink and smoke and talk to each other in comically clipped sentences – if they talk at all, that is. Kaurismäki’s characteristic nostalgia has its narrative advantages: when Ansa (Alma Pöysti) gives Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) her phone number, had she typed it into his mobile instead of writing it down on a piece of paper, the wind couldn’t have blown it away.” (Giovanni Marchini Camia, S&S online)
=15. Saint Omer
Alice Diop, France
Based on a real-life infanticide court case, Alice Diop’s fiction feature debut is a haunting drama that plays on deep maternal anxieties.
We said: “This film is a remarkable feat in numerous ways. The acting is uniformly superb, even when it’s simply dispassionate testimony that’s being dispatched. Kagame plays Rama in a state of continual displacement, ill at ease at dinner with her mother, uncomfortable on the streets of Saint-Omer and conspicuous in the courtroom; Guslagie Malanda, as the defendant Laurence Coly, evokes profound pain through the tiniest cracks in her expressions and voices as she revisits traumatic memories.” (Leila Latif, S&S March)
=13. Asteroid City
Wes Anderson, US
Wes Anderson’s charming 1950s-set sci-fi features an ensemble cast, alien invaders and a dizzying ‘play within a TV show within a film’ structure.
We said: “A one-car pioneer town, somewhere in the parched wilds of the California-Nevada desert, in the fresh-faced postwar years of the expanding American empire, on the third rock from the sun. This remote outpost, and the few days we spend there with a ragtag group of visitors both scheduled and unscheduled, lend Wes Anderson’s latest world-rebuilding confection more dramatic unity than perhaps any of his previous ten cavorting cine-capers… The name ‘Asteroid City’ may be a sci-fi come-on for this dreaming toehold in the desert, but the film precisely evokes that time when America’s frontier was moving from the West to the skies above.” (Nick Bradshaw, S&S Summer)
Todd Field, US
Cate Blanchett gives a career-best performance in this sly, scabrous symphony, as a monstrous conductor losing her grip on power.
We said: “Tár is a slow dive into the increasingly alienating psychology of Lydia Tár, a world-famous orchestra conductor. It moves to a rarefied tempo: philharmonic politics, contested cello solo auditions and live-recording contract negotiations for one of Mahler’s more daunting works. It is replete with classical-music-world in-jokes and casually caustic namedrops… It has absolutely no business being even remotely watchable, and yet here it is, one of the most grippingly brilliant films of the year, featuring, in Cate Blanchett’s mesmerising central turn, a truly irreplaceable star performance.” (Jessica Kiang, S&S March)
12. All of Us Strangers
Andrew Haigh, UK
Andrew Haigh’s time-slipping film is a deeply affecting, supernatural exploration of the profound consequences of grief and homophobia.
We said: “Adam (Andrew Scott) is cruising the past, seeking meaning and connection, an unlocking, a release, a path. He is a blocked writer but also a traumatised queer person reckoning with the intimate and profound consequences of structural homophobia and his parents’ deaths. He wants to go home and to find a home and needs to learn the difference between the two.” (Ben Walters, S&S Winter 2023-24)
11. Close Your Eyes
Victor Erice, Spain
Victor Erice’s first feature in 30 years deals with the disappearance of a fictional actor and explores loss, grief and the exquisite power of cinema.
We said: “The unfussy elegance of Erice’s filmmaking remains as fresh and clear as ever. It’s a contemplative style, allowing his superb cast time and space. It’s a film made by, and about, true believers in the transcendent potential of sound and image… Erice has dreamed in light an extraordinary ambition for what film, certainly his films, can strive for. As his characters gaze up at the screen, and out, perhaps for the final time, at their audience, it’s hard to envisage a more emotionally overwhelming farewell, if that’s what Close Your Eyes becomes, from a vital, too-often missing, force in world cinema.” (Leigh Singer, S&S online)
10. May December
Todd Haynes, US
A housewife’s scandalous past is probed in this dark comedy that explores the thin line between truth and self-delusion.
We said: “Fiction and fact, self-delusion and self-truth are given a dangerous edge in Haynes’s film, which, ultimately, isn’t so much about Gracie’s actions as it is about society’s appetite for demonstrations of compunction, even where none is felt. If society demands its martyrs, Gracie both dazzles and irritates by refusing to be one.” (Ela Bittencourt, S&S December)
9. Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World
Radu Jude, Romania
Radu Jude’s rude, relentless and original provocation skewers the managerial classes as it speeds through late-capitalist Bucharest.
We said: “Funny, fierce, unstoppable, Radu Jude’s latest film is quite simply essential viewing for anyone trying to survive the world as we now know it. It’s one woman’s life caught at a gallop, as our hero Angela (instant star Ilinca Manolache) motors around Bucharest running down tasks for a production company while keeping ahold of what personal freedoms she can. Galvanized by Jude and his lead’s humour and weaving in not-too-distant visions of the past, the formally brilliant film shows how Angela’s resilience becomes one kind of rebellion.” (Nicolas Rapold, S&S online)
8. Anatomy of a Fall
Justine Triet, France
This sharply intelligent Palme d’Or-winning psychological drama puts a wife on trial for the violent death of her husband.
We said: “Sandra maintains her innocence, but is such a shrewd, worldly woman that ‘innocent’ is not a label that suits her. In every sympathetic reaction, a sliver of manipulation; in every flash of hot temper a glimpse of something cold… Between the absolute poles of ‘guilty’ and ‘not guilty’ lies a many-shaded spectrum of culpability and complicity. In vivid, clean lines, Anatomy of a Fall navigates this moral morass and exposes the absurdity of trying to pluck from it a simplistic, binary verdict.” (Jessica Kiang, S&S December 2023)
Ira Sachs, France
Franz Rogowski shines as Tomas, the controlling director at the centre of Ira Sachs’s thorny, pleasurable exploration of a destructive love triangle.
We said: “The relationships in Sachs films are tangled, porous and shifting and the stories’ interest lies in investigating the messy permutations of these jostling wants and needs, the bounds of individual understanding and agency, and the subtle uses of cooperation, hypocrisy and sacrifice… Passages is interested in asking whether what seems like sharing information might in fact be avoiding conversation; whether what seems like patience might in fact be co-dependence; whether what seems like happy-go-lucky impulsiveness might in fact be a way of asserting distance and control with undesired consequences.” (Ben Walters, S&S September 2023)
Greta Gerwig, US
You won’t find a biting critique of Mattel in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, but the committed performances of its plastic, fantastic leads help sell the film’s kitschy self-mockery.
We said: “Some gags land, some fall flat, but the film’s snappy tempo, its willingness to dip into pointlessly spectacular asides – a disco dance party here, a beach-side Battle of the Kens there – keeps things shiny and fun. Invoking a modish aesthetic spiked with Tupperware artifice, the film abounds in kitschy rear-projection screens and plastic waves. Spurts of animation give a gonzo effect to scenes of physical comedy. Even when the script winks too much, or when the girl-bossing grates too hard, Robbie and Gosling’s committed performances keep the film afloat.” (Beatrice Loayza, S&S )
Christopher Nolan, US
Christopher Nolan’s serious, scholarly epic about ‘the father of the atom bomb’ J. Robert Oppenheimer revolves around verbose courtroom confrontations, but the beautiful visual touches – and Cillian Murphy’s grave, introspective performance – put it among the director’s best.
We said: “Oppenheimer is meticulously concrete in its recreation of its world, from Berkeley classrooms to the Trinity test bomb, seen pieced together like a giant Rubik’s sphere. But it is also an intensely symphonic film, naturalism intermittently disrupted by expressionistic flourishes, bringing it closer than expected to John Adams’s 2005 Los Alamos opera Doctor Atomic. Ludwig Göransson’s score runs continuously throughout; his screeching strings and obsessive ostinatos sometimes detract from the dialogue, but they bring unifying flow to a film constructed on a principle of discontinuity.”
4. Poor Things
Yorgos Lanthimos, Ireland, UK, US
Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest film, a Frankenstein story full of sex and humour – and even hope – won the Golden Lion at Venice. It is on a larger scale than anything he has made, but loses none of his strangeness and wit.
We said: “A film that gives pleasure in every fantastical frame – pleasure to the eye, pleasure to the soul – this dazzling suite of dirty minded delights is set in not-quite-reality during an era of never-quite-was. But particularly for women, and particularly for men, the poor things, its accuracy about the here and now gives its macaroon swirls an acidic sting – in both senses: formaldehyde and LSD. Few are the films that make you think and feel and laugh this much; even fewer are the ones that send you skidding out with your whole demeanour reset to remember just what a splendid, absurd thing it is to have a body and a mind, and a big, dumb, glorious world on which to set them loose.” (Jessica Kiang, S&S Winter 2023-24)
3. Past Lives
Celine Song, US
In its wistfulness, its evenhandedness and its acknowledgement that instant chemistry is not the be-all and end-all of love, Celine Song’s first film quietly, brilliantly subverts the conventions of romantic comedy.
We said: “Remarkable is the sympathy Song extends to all three characters. The spectre of the driven woman still unsettles us, especially if men are sacrificed along the way. Even more unusual is the balanced treatment of the two men, the gallantry allowed them. They both desperately want the same woman, but are ready to give her up if that’s what she wants. As a consequence, we feel their longing, inhabit their desire, without having to take sides. The sadness is that choices are made, feelings hurt, but love – in this case an unembittered love – lingers.” (Molly Haskell, S&S Winter 2023-24)
2. The Zone of Interest
Jonathan Glazer, UK, Poland, US
A stark, mesmerising portrait of a German commandant and his family at Auschwitz.
We said: “A defining quality of Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest – essentially the domestic drama of a Nazi officer and his family, stringently confined to their worldview – is the sound-designed tumult of Auschwitz: like the ambient machine hum of an industrial park near a field, dotted with gunshots, yells, screams. The camp is heard but barely glimpsed in the film, its smokestacks and watchtowers peeking above the walls of SS officer Rudolf Höss’s house and grounds; the sounds as heard in the film are the opposite of deafening, they are distant, blurred, their horrors pushed to the absolute periphery of indifference.” (Nicolas Rapold, S&S Winter 2023-24)
1. Killers of the Flower Moon
Martin Scorsese, US
Scorsese’s late masterpiece is an epic story told in intimate terms about the systematic robbing and murder of the Osage of Oklahoma in the 1920s.
We said: “Slowly, from beneath the shiny carapace of authorial familiarity, another film emerges: one that is grave, delicate, wary. It is the story of the Osage themselves, forced to witness their own eradication and powerless to stop it. And at its moral centre is Lily Gladstone’s Mollie Burkhart: a woman torn between the family she was born to and the one she has made. For all the fire-and-brimstone imagery, Scorsese’s peculiarly Catholic sensibility is perhaps most visibly written on these bodies, and Mollie’s in particular.”