As 2023’s credits roll, we look back at the films that made their mark on us this year.
1. The Teachers’ Lounge
With his simple “snowball” narrative, Iker Catak touches in a very well-balanced fashion upon other complex issues that one can find in many school environments all around the world, such as respect for privacy, the discrimination of minorities, bullying, the role of overbearing parents and, more broadly, the boundaries of the teachers’ efforts.
2. The Promised Land
Nikolaj Arcel’s 18th century-set drama is a moving tale of love, despair and hatred, which unfolds in the rugged landscape of the Danish heaths
3. 100 Seasons
Giovanni Bucchier has gifted us with an intense emotional journey—combining tenderness, irony, anger, and a sense of doom together with his immense love for art in all its forms, including theatre, dance, music, literature and, obviously, film.
4. Shadow of Fire
Shinya Tsukamoto’s bleak but urgent anti-war film shows how so much suffering can take away our ability to make lasting connections
Most of the weight of this Luc Besson film is carried by Caleb Landry Jones, but it’s an endearing tale and beautifully told.
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
Despite being very familiar with Michael J. Fox’s self-deprecating sense of humour, I was surprised at just how inspiring and even funny this documentary proved to be. The one thing this film does not exude is any sense of self-pity. As Fox himself states, that’s just too boring. He’s an inspiring character who is unflinchingly honest as he goes through the two parts of his life that he is most known for – his rise to Hollywood stardom and the earth shattering Parkinson’s diagnosis he received at the height of his success. Still is moving and uplifting.
The hype-o-meter for Oppenheimer was so big that I thought there was surely no way it could live up to expectations. I was pleasantly surprised though that for the most part it did. While the technical aspects were typically impressive, the performances were what I admired most, especially from our own leading man Cillian Murphy who carried the emotional weight of the film on his shoulders.
Matt Johnson’s biopic charts the rise and fall of one of the world’s first smartphones – the Blackberry (remember those?). Boasting two outstanding lead performances from Jay Baruchel (restrained) and Glenn Howerton (intense and occasionally off the wall) BlackBerry is highly enjoyable and at times does the impossible by eliciting feelings of sympathy towards members of a wealthy software company.
Kristoffer Borgli’s English language debut is a scathing critique on modern society’s obsession with celebrity and internet fame. Veering between tragedy and hilarity, Dream Scenario blends some genuinely touching moments with others of cringe-worthy embarrassment. Add Nicolas Cage’s best performance in years to the mix and you’ve got an ingenious film that is unfortunately far too reflective of the world we currently live in.
Sick Of Myself
Kristoffer Borgli again! I’ve given high praise to Dream Scenario but I actually enjoyed Sick Of Myself even more. The two films have quite a bit in common. Both were directed by Borgli, both were released in 2023 and each of them explore the unhealthy obsession that so many people now have with fame and online celebrity. I probably enjoyed Sick Of Myself a little bit more because I knew nothing about it in advance and I was impressed with Borgli’s ability to make me care for what on paper would doubtlessly come across as a very unsympathetic lead character. Huge praise too for Kristine Kujath Thorp too for bringing this character to life and I hope to see more from her. Sick Of Myself had me shaking my head and laughing my face off at the same time.
Ballywalter is about finding hope in the most unlikely of places and watching it grow and grow. Seanna Kerslake and Patrick Kielty are absolute magic together. One of the best casting duos I have ever seen, and their relationship is what makes this film so special. It is beautiful in every single way. If this is what Prasanna Puwanarajah has managed to pull off in his directorial debut, there are exciting times ahead.
A stylish and edgy look at the psychology of a hitman for hire. Michael Fassbender stars as an assassin with a twist. We never find out his name – which makes his tabula rasa approach as to why he kills, even more believable and intriguing. There is a lot of internal dialogue – all acted out to a deafening, pounding, soundtrack. I hope you like Trent Reznor and The Smiths.
Beau is Afraid
179 minutes is a big ask but Beau is Afraid is well worth the commitment. As an individual beset with delusions, paranoia and clinical anxiety, Beau’s life is an endless series of crisis after catastrophe. Nothing seems to go his way. He is literally the unluckiest person in the world with a hellish mother to boot. Not the film for you if you’re trying to work on thorny family issues.
Sick of Myself
Sick of Myself is a stark comment on the dangers of social media and how the endless desire for clickbait evolves into a multi-faceted monster – a Hydra with mutating, drooling, snarls – a beast that can never be sated and one that grows infinitely more grotesque with each ‘like’ and every mundane comment.
Anatomy of a Fall
A writer, Sandra Voyter living in an isolated chalet in the French Alps, finds herself accused of murder when her husband falls from a third-floor window to his death.
Finally, a turkey……
Lola was a dud for me. The story was dreary and nonsensical. With a film where its only cohesive thread involves ‘found footage’, Lola needed to be able to take a humorous swipe at not taking itself too seriously but failed miserably. I thought (hoped) it was going to be a hybrid of Ex-Machina and La Jetee, but no. Unlike Brideshead, this is a film that will not be revisited.
This film brings a zany stoner-comedy tone to the empire-building biopic genre. Plus, for a period piece of this scale, it’s practically a micro budget. This film is skillfully executed on every level by Matt Johnson. This includes the glib, impressively observed script he co-wrote with producer Matthew Miller, to Johnson’s unique pacing as a director as well as his perfect casting choices. This includes casting himself; he embodies the emotional core of the company, Doug, with an excruciatingly lovable charm. This film is the sharpest character driven film I’ve seen in quite some time.
Longford legends Robert Higgins and Patrick McGivney wrote and directed this masterful film so early in their careers, however, it’s bubbling with an undercurrent of emotion and maturity. The writing is sharp and warm, the performances strong and complex, and there’s a polish to the delivery that outshines the modest budget. This film brings Friday Night Lights vibes to the Midlands, as Cian Reilly is a local GAA player who, after a spat outside a nightclub, gets a diagnosis meaning he should no longer play.
Laura Moss’s striking and tense horror looks at bodily autonomy, motherhood, and codependent female relationships in the most visceral and unusual way possible. The strangeness begins when a vegan morgue technician successfully reanimates the body of a little girl. The girl’s mother, a nurse in the same hospital, finds out, and the pair struggle to keep her alive. This process involves them harvesting biological materials from pregnant women, which, as you can imagine, leads to some pretty bleak places. The writing is surprisingly empathetic, the visuals stunning and the soundtrack is just as haunting as the premise.
Best Documentary: The Deepest Breath
This documentary is visually arresting, immersive, bold, and a masterclass in storytelling. Set in the world of ocean diving, director Laura McGann follows Italian freediver Alessia Zecchini on her quest to break a world record in freediving. Laura intersperses actual footage with recreations and in person interviews to recall a tense and shocking series of events that will leave you… holding your breath.
Oof. This was a year where I thought I had my top 5 carefully planned out, and then a few last-minute bangers came along and put things in disarray. Damn you, good films! Still, here’s what I’ve landed on. For now, anyway…
Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool is one of the most unhinged, terrifying and gripping movies I’ve seen in a long time. A terrifying rumination on colonialism, exploitation and incel culture that does not feel out of place in a world recently ravaged by QAnon. Mia Goth secures her scream queen credentials here (if anyone was in doubt).
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
A fun and inventive fantasy film that serves as a much-needed reminder that movies based on existing game properties can be good! Dungeons & Dragons is also smart enough to avoid hand-holding, letting its audience piece things together and generally not letting the lore get in the way of a good time: which, come to think about it, is also what a good D&D session should look like. There’s also something particularly apt in having John Francis Daley (aka Sam Weir from Freaks and Geeks) as on half of the directing team. Now, if any sequels could properly lean into the queer subtext just longing to be text, I would be very happy indeed.
Killers of the Flower Moon
Martin Scorsese’s damning depiction of the real-life murders of many members of the Osage Nation in the 1920s will probably affect people for many reasons: for me, it was the frank and unflinching representation of domestic violence as a pervasive issue directly relating to the wider economics of the establishment and continuation of the United States. A frequently difficult and frustrating watch, Scorsese plays around with his well-established gangster genre to ingeniously create an important commentary on settler-colonialism. If there was one place it falls down it might be in the lack of exploration of the Osage women themselves, but I suspect that requires another director to adequately address those challenges.
While Clock may not be a stand-out in certain ways, I really admired this psychological science fiction’s ambition and investigation of some complex and intersecting issues. Diana Agron is Ella Patel, a successful career-driven woman who is in many ways living her best life: the biggest barrier being that many of her friends and family question her decision to stay childless. In an attempt to conform to these societal expectations she enrols in an experimental trial which promises to “fix” women’s biological clocks. As the world changes and disintegrates around her, her desires and fears become entangled in even more confusing and terrifying ways.
A new welcome holiday staple for my Christmas viewing! Alex Payne’s The Holdovers is a gorgeously shot period piece which never feels out of place. It’s Christmas 1970 and Paul Giamatti’s history teacher, Paul Hunham has been selected (once again) to oversee the borders remaining at school over the winter holidays. Cue hi-jinks as the uptight teacher clashes with the rag-tag group of stragglers, then get ready to feel the holiday warmth as Paul learns more about the boys than he previously expected. Poignant and with plenty of laughs, it’s a twist on a classic formula with a lot of heart.
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret
Yet another fabulous ’70s period piece from the year, and a reminder that Judy Blume can always make me cry.
The Deepest Breath
An astonishing Irish documentary which feels like a punch in the gut (for many reasons) with unbelievable footage of what must be one of humanity’s most dangerous sports. Seriously makes free climbing look tame in comparison.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
This electric, unpredictable sequel stylishly balances a barrage of comedy with compelling drama, seamlessly building on the strengths of its predecessor and pushing the boundaries of animation in new directions. A third installment is eagerly awaited.
Anatomy of a Fall
A perfectly crafted, powerhouse courtroom drama which is gripping from start to finish. Deservedly cleaned up at the European Film Awards.
Visually stunning, this hilarious black comedy doesn’t put a foot wrong. Boasts a brilliant ensemble of performances lead by the always excellent Emma Stone.
This beautiful, delicate romantic drama is subtle, raw and relatable. Bring the tissues.
Killers of the Flower Moon
Masterful filmmaking, exposing a human tragedy with epic scale. Earns its runtime.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
It’s the hope that kills you. Starts out a passable, nostalgia-fuelled adventure romp before careening off into desperate absurdity… rubbish.
I felt so good after watching Declan Recks’ film, I love films about women and women’s friendships and this was just such a beautiful example. Set in Kerry, it was just such a gorgeous film to watch, I think my favourite Irish film of the year.
3. No Hard Feelings
The mid-budget big-name rom-coms are back with a vengeance. I think people often assume that if you are in anyway interested in film academically, then you must look down on crude or ‘low-brow’ film but I adored this. Jennifer Lawrence has been criminally overlooked as a comedic actor, I hope we get a million more films like this from her.
2. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
I have never been the biggest fan of Wes Anderson films but I think his style suits short form down to a T. I have never been so completely gripped to a screen in complete wonder before, the acting, direction and cinematography were just on point. Coupled with Roald Dahl’s writing it was just a wonderful piece of film.
1. Past Lives
It was perfect. I could write a whole article about this film, so I will just say that it is perfect. I cannot recommend it enough.
Turkey of the Year. Oppenheimer
I know this is going to sound pretentious and like I am trying to be different but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t like it. The audio was horribly mixed, the pacing was awful, I didn’t care about a single character, I just hated it.
A stunningly simple concept – take the audio recordings of a tense yet maddeningly vague encounter with law enforcement and use it as a script with no changes – makes for one of the most engaging and at times odd and downright uncanny, not to mention uncomfortable, dramas of the year. A great central performance and some fun tricks in the filmmaking (the “redacted” sequences for example) elevate this to a quietly brilliant little true events adaptation that often feels anything but.
A lot of big talk this year about the return of the erotic thriller with the tepid Fair Play, but if you want a film that actually encompasses both aspects of that genre category, this is the one. Two phenomenal lead performances, a relentless, almost unwatchable level of sustained tension throughout and a nice rebuttal to the strange internet puritanical children who maintain sex scenes add nothing; here they’re where most of the character development is demonstrated. It is by no means always an enjoyable watch but a deeply worthwhile one and a fascinating exploration of a lot of messy emotions and disquieting themes. It also has a single, perfectly executed joke about ugly children.
The Pope’s Exorcist
Big Russell faffing about Italy on an adorable little vespa, going to important meetings in the Vatican – which is clearly just Trinity College – and doing it all with a comedy accent while expecting us to take seriously that this is nominally based on a real person. Despite said “based on…” nature, this most accurately feels like a film adaptation of a videogame. Or rather about three different games as the genre and tone of the film flails wildly from scene to scene. Part Tomb Raider, part Assassin’s Creed, part ’80s action-comedy buddy-cop and (I guess) a sort of horror film at points out of a sense of legal obligation in order to avoid some kind of false advertising claim. There were obviously better films this year, but few can claim the same pound-for-pound levels of entertainment as this one. I hope they make all 199(!) of the sequels teased by the ludicrous ending.
The Five Devils
It’s been a good year for sad gay films and while this probably isn’t the saddest or the gayest, it’s nonetheless a very visually pretty and chilly, Alpine-set mysterious family drama. Dreamlike and magical-realistic, this exploration of mothers and daughters, violence and small town horror is arguably stretched a bit thin in its attempt to squash as much in as it does; but a really flawless cast, striking location work and a unique vibe more than carry it for the runtime. Your mileage may vary if the unreality it commits to is something you’ll bounce off but if you’re in the market for what a more Julia Ducournau-y Petit Maman could look like, this should fill that hypothetical and highly specific niche.
Cade: The Tortured Crossing
Much like the act of watching the film itself; you may see this inclusion and rightly ask “is this a joke?”. And the answer to both is “I don’t know, only Neil Breen can answer that”. There is no world where you could reasonably argue that this film is good by any sensible metric but Breen’s unique personal style has only continued to evolve in stranger and ever more alien ways. A narratively incomprehensible, shambolically produced, green screen nightmare of a film that serves as a fever dream from the mind of its creator made flesh and left for the rest of us to dissect and ponder over (and in the case of the packed IFI screening; howling with laughter consistently throughout). Don’t watch it alone and don’t expect to understand it or why or how it was allowed to happen.
An enthralling look into the soul of humanity, half played out like a classic Western – its menacing threat builds and throbs, and bubbles over into understated violence and dynamite psychology that chews up the narrative and spits it out.
Achingly familiar childhood memories of when the lights went out and night took over. A gorgeous coupling of sound and image lull you into that otherworld fuelled by imagination and the need to flee reality.
This is obviously what happens at all hairdressing competitions. Gloriously full of sharp stabs of humour, this is Agatha Christie getting her hair done by Peter Strickland. Bursts of a sassy score and dazzlingly coloured frames; all delivered with a sneaky back-combed mis-direction.
The Old Oak
Apparently Loach’s last film (hopefully not) – a beautiful story of compassion, Loach pulls focus on austerity in the UK’s North East and the plight of refugees – and lets human nature takes it course. His ultimate message is always about connection. Needless to say, I left the cinema in tears. A fitting end to a great storyteller’s filmmaking.
Sometimes, it’s always about the performance – Mia Goth throttled the screen this year in a pair of rocking films – a controlled turn on a sixpence centrepieces Cronenberg’s slick body blows in Infinity Pool. And the maniacal channeling of Dorothy pursuing the anti-Yellow Brick Road in Pearl sees Goth pull out all the punches (and pitchforks).
The most, perhaps the only, daring Christopher Nolan film. The popular myth of the atomic bomb being a necessary evil is obliterated on the biggest canvas possible – a $100-million blockbuster. Its political nuance and emotional complexity is the stuff this writer would never have expected of Nolan, and leads to what is handily the film of the year.
2. Killers of the Flower Moon
Scorsese is daring and confrontational by habit at this point, so his film on indigenous genocide and the corrupting hold of colonialism comes as less of a surprise than Nolan’s coup. What is surprising is the lengths to which he refuses to treat any of the evils of colonialism as surprising or suspenseful. To present them as such would find him participating in an all-too-prevalent collective amnesia. He readily rejects this and holds the audience and himself to account in the process.
3. Asteroid City
Another favourite director of undergraduates the world over, Wes Anderson found his career losing steam in the late 2010s through a series of misguided globe-trotting self-caricatures. Asteroid City sees him return to the States, and to the melancholy and self-loathing that brought his early films to life, before they got suffocated by all the twee. A return to form – and his Roald Dahl shorts on Netflix aren’t half-bad either!
4. Anatomy of a Fall
A taut and unpredictable courtroom drama, which refuses to scrub out the roles that subjectivity and storytelling play in the pursuit of justice.
5. John Wick: Chapter 4
2023 was the year of the three-plus-hour cinema experience, and John Wick: Chapter 4 refused to take its foot off the gas pedal for the entirety of its runtime. A feat of action cinema that does the impossible by failing to leave its audience feeling an iota of fatigue.
Many viewers were shocked to learn that Lydia Tár wasn’t a real person, yet the truly stunning thing is that for two and a half hours, she is. Blanchett creates such a vivid portrait of a poisonously destructive conductor that it’s impossible to not be drawn into her life, a trap that makes you feel complicit during her personal and professional immolation. Part black comedy, part ghost story, Tár is a shockingly powerful turn from director Todd Field.
Killers of the Flower Moon
An unblinking look into one of the most jaw-droppingly evil conspiracies ever set into motion. There’s no heroic narrative here but Scorsese tries to reconcile how a man who willingly helps to murder a community can be deluded enough to still claim to be capable of love. An epic in scale and length, Lily Gladstone gives one of the greatest performances of the year as a woman constantly being destroyed yet always retaining her dignity.
Christian Petzold skewers the “tortured artist” as he shows the smug self-importance of a writer who never writes, who resents his friends for having the ability to enjoy themselves without making excuses. Paula Beer is such a radiant performer that it wouldn’t be surprising if they didn’t require any artificial lighting on-set.
Steven Spielberg may be the most famous film director in the world but his semi-autobiographical Fabelmans implies that this may have come at a great personal cost. Equal part charming and damning, this is no accursed “love letter to cinema” but a confession from someone trapped within it, the tragedy of being a creative. Also features an all-timer David Lynch turn.
A bisexual meltdown delivered by a trio of the greatest younger actors working today. As Franz Rogowski destroys two relationships at once it’s impossible to draw your eyes away, not least in part due to the fantastically steamy energy on-screen, a definitive rebuttal to the “sex-scene discourse” that haunts social media.
For a three hour long biopic, Christopher Nolan has once again shaken genre expectations and created something so enthralling. One of Cillian Murphy’s finest hours and that final sequence would only work with the likes of his chillingly icy blue eyes conveying the anxious guilt of Oppenheimer.
Celine Song has developed something so mesmeric in its simplicity and its subtle power with Past Lives. The acting is simply incredible in how vulnerable the characters come across and how your own expectations change as the narrative progresses. The last sequence is beyond cinematic and left me stunned. The dialogue is also poignantly beautiful.
I really adored Scrapper and completely disagree with the criticisms levelled against it for its tonal/stylistic shifts throughout. Charlotte Regan has the potential to follow in the footsteps of Lynne Ramsay and Andrea Arnold with her own spin on social realism whilst being unique in her filmic choices. Lola Campbell and Harris Dickinson were perfect casting choices.
The Eternal Daughter
As a continuation of sorts of The Souvenir, The Eternal Daughter had me transfixed. One cut in particular almost made me gasp aloud in the cinema. Joanna Hogg and Tilda Swinton are such a tour de force of a creative pairing. Tilda playing multiple characters is very Tilda. It was an ethereal experience and felt very personal in using a ghost story template in expressing love, loss and memory.
John Wick: Chapter 4/Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One
I had never seen a John Wick nor a Mission: Impossible film until this year. Neither had interested me over the years and I decided to finally delve into both respective cinematic worlds after their latest entry’s respective release in 2023. I binged them all and was hooked. The steps to the Sacré-Cœur and train sequences; cinema at its finest.
Nobody says “yeah” quite like Keanu Reeves and nobody runs as incessantly as Tom Cruise.
This year had some pretty stellar films that I’d thoroughly recommend if anyone is stuck for something over the holidays. Here’s my top 5 for 2023.
Oppenheimer is one of the most prescient films and important films of the century thus far. It’s a harrowing character study and a startling reminder of the cost of human progress. It highlights the dangers that lurk beneath the surface, and how preserving our individual humanity and thwarting the oppression of people can give rise to some of the most horrific weapons and actions. Cillian Murphey brings a beguiling humanity to Oppenheimer that’s nothing short of mesmerizing.
Ridley Scott’s visionary biopic of one of history’s most divisive and iconic figures. David Scarpa’s script distills Napoleon’s life to its human core, the myth and legends are cast aside revealing a rash flawed man who is besotted with Josephine and torn between her and his patriotism.
Killers of the Flower Moon
Martin Scorsese’s late-stage masterpiece, that shows the brutality of greed. DiCaprio’s performance is electric as a man caught in a deep spiritual conflict between his ambition and his love for his wife.
This was a smart fun drama in the vein of the social network or the big short. Paul Dano is an absolute treat as internet market guru Roaring Kitty.
Fincher’s cerebral character drama about an assassin’s existential crises is a taught and refreshing take on a well-trodden genre. Fincher’s film is a masterclass in craft and Fassbender’s chilling performance is nothing short of hair-raising.
5. Theater Camp
The mockumentary is a genre that to my surprise just doesn’t get utilised as often as it should. That being said, Theater Camp, which is based on the short film of the same name by Nick Lieberman, is already without a doubt one of the clear standouts in the genre. With an astoundingly funny ensemble cast of Broadway stars like Ben Platt (of Dear Evan Hansen fame) and Noah Galvin, this is not just a film for the musical theatre nerds. It’s an uproariously funny, sharply directed feature debut that utilises its mockumentary style to the fullest, and also boasts one of the best (and funniest) original songs of the year.
4. John Wick: Chapter 4
For a franchise that started off a little too self-serious and generic within the action genre, I never expected the fourth instalment to be one of the best films of the year. With Chapter 4, director Chad Stahelski claims his spot as one of the best action filmmakers currently working, with a near 3-hour long non-stop thrill ride featuring some of the most creative and well-shot action to hit the screen over the past few years. Keanu Reeves shines in the title role that while seemingly simple on the surface, contains a surprising amount of humanity, resulting in a film that works on not just a popcorn-action level, but also as a very sincere celebration of the character and this near-decade long franchise.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
When it comes to the current state of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it feels like such a breath of fresh air to see a film in the franchise with so much heart and genuine emotion. James Gunn’s swan song to everyone’s favourite band of misfit superheroes feels like a proper conclusion in a franchise that seems to never want to end. Equal parts hilarious, heartwarming and gut-punching, it’s a rare franchise blockbuster that feels like the director had full control over his project, making it stick out like a sore thumb (in a very good way) among the apparently never-ending barrage of films and TV shows in the current era of the MCU. Is it the best film to come out of the studio? I think it might just be.
2. How to Blow Up a Pipeline
Provocative, riveting and impeccably made, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is the type of white-knuckle thrill ride that just sinks its claws into you and never lets up. It’s a real gem of a sophomore feature from writer/director Daniel Goldhaber that blows most high-budget thrillers out of the water with its seamless interweaving of narratives and masterclass in tension-building. It’s criminal how under the radar this one went, as it deserved a much bigger audience than the one it got.
1. Rye Lane
Taking the formula created by beloved British rom-coms like Notting Hill and Love Actually and expanding on it for a Gen Z audience, writer/director Raine Allen-Miller’s debut feature is one of the most charming, refreshing rom-coms of the past decade. With a distinct, vibrant visual aesthetic and two chemistry-filled performances in Vivian Oparah and David Jonsson, Rye Lane is the ultimate feel-good film of the year; an oh-so romantic walk-and-talk through the streets of South London that will undoubtedly make your heart soar. It’s hard to walk away from this one without a massive smile on your face.
Turkey of the year: Cocaine Bear
With a title and premise like Cocaine Bear, you would be right to expect one of the most ridiculous films of the year, one that prioritises the sheer amount of absurdity and fun that comes from a bear going on a wild, drug-fuelled rampage. It’s such a shame however that this is not what Elizabeth Banks’ film is. Instead, what we have here is a colossal failure in every aspect it attempts to be: it’s not funny enough to be a comedy; not scary enough to be a horror; and most importantly, not exciting or thrilling enough to be an action film. It’s an unfortunate misfire of a film that should’ve been something completely different; wasted potential in every sense of the word.
Brian Ó Tiomáin
1. The Eight Mountains
A visually rich and profoundly moving story of a childhood friendship between two boys in a remote mountainy area in Italy. After the friendship is terminated, the film moves to a brief encounter years later when both are now young men and seem to have very little in common. There follows a longer encounter years later again as men in their thirties during which we return to the long shadow cast on both by the relationships they have had with their fathers.
2. Fallen Leaves
A Finnish Rom Com, untypical of the genre but works very much on its own terms. Despite melancholic undertones and the self-sabotaging actions of one of the main characters, the film is ultimately hopeful. Really good understated performances from the two lead actors who are both struggling to deal with issues in their own lives.
3. And So This is Christmas
A seasonal documentary from Ken Wardrop. Five stories of what Christmas means to five different people of varying ages. The director succeeds in getting authentic and heart felt testimonies from each. The story telling element of the film is masterful as we cut from one story to another. However, it was a pity that there was no story from the immigrant population featured in the film. The film does not shy away from dealing with tragedy. It was a difficult watch at times but also a testimony to human resilience and hope in the face of very challenging situations.
4. Past Lives
A Korean film directed by Celine Song in a very impressive debut. The film, like The Eight Mountains explores how a close childhood friendship can be formative and cause us to re-visit what might have been. I liked the fact that the story evolved in an organic way but yet was not predictable.
This film features a very impressive performance by Emma Mackey in the lead role. While there is very little information available around Emily Bronte’s personal relationships, the film imagines her life including her romantic life in a very credible manner given the constraints she would have lived under. The film also reminds us that Emily Bronte was an exceptionally good poet.
Honourable Mention: Afire from German Writer/ Director Christian Petzold.
When people ask you what Cocaine Bear is about, tell them it’s about an hour and a half. No seriously, has a title ever been more spot on? And all year, has a disciplined duration ever matched the source material better? Has Ireland ever stood in so effectively for the American wilderness? Have I run out of questions? Perhaps?
It would have been fitting if this movie had benefited from the same grassroots groundswell that it depicts riding to the rescue of beleaguered retail chain Game Stop. Nonetheless the film delightfully captures the brief window when Wall Street and financial experts were confounded by a popular revolt in the stock market, where ordinary folk followed the off-kilter investment advice of one astute outsider to rousing effect.
Or this is where you scream. Five Nights at Freddy’s may have slightly stolen its thunder and eclipsed it at the box office but I’d put M3GAN up for the title of scariest toy to embark on a killing spree this year. Blumhouse turn up trumps again.
Talk to Me
Yup. Horror films are still the realm of sleeper hits and this sharp piece of work plunged a cast of unknowns into the unknown when they start dabbling with an embalmed hand as an occult parlour game becomes an underground craze. Immersion into the idea is complete and while there may be some understandable complaint about an ending more befitting a short film, this is still a superior horror.
Killers of the Flower Moon
I’ve got a lot of horror on my list and really isn’t this another one? It’s a slow-motion sink into a moral morass as oil and blood flow and drown the American dream. Others on here will surely sum up the plot but if I could sum up the feeling – it’s an ill feeling.
Turkey – Thanksgiving
I gotta fess up. I’m doing this purely for the word play rather than any real hatred for the film. It’s a pretty serviceable slasher. But this was too good an opportunity to pass up. I mean Turkey/Thanksgiving. Come on. There are far worse films out there but gosh there’s enough negativity in the world right now. So heckle and giggle your way through this or Cocaine Bear and have a whale of a time.
Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece blew us all out of our seats with this gem of a movie. From the opening scene right throughout, we are left with the uncomfortable feeling that something terrible is going to be witnessed. The directors best work to date. All the ducks in a row here.
2. Anatomy of a Fall
Justine Triet presents us a with a well-rounded engaging drama from start to finish. Sandra Huller gives a natural yet powerful performance as an accused women trying to prove her innocence and question her relationship at the same time. Well deserving of the Palm D’or 2023
Its such an unusual treat to get a chance to explore in depth the back story of a brilliant character from a popular indie horror movie. The amazing Mia Goth plays the younger version of Pearl, the Killer Octogenarian from the slasher movie ‘X’. Mia chews up the scenery in every insane scene as we witness all her characters emotions, loves ,dreams, failures and eventual psychosis that was always there just under the surface.
4. Killers of the Flower Moon
A powerful and thought provoking movie from one of the greatest directors of all time, Martin Scorcese. The story stays with you long after you leave the cinema. It’s a story from Americas dark past concerning pure greed and corruption that needed to be told.
5. 406 Days
One of the most powerful documentaries that I have ever seen. A well-made and moving account of a very sad and shocking series of events that happened on our doorstep. The protest by the laid-off Irish Debenham employees after the company ceased trading in this country. It’s a story told by strong women and men that stood up for themselves for fairness and justice from an employer they gave everything to for many years only to be betrayed at the eleventh hour. This piece of filmmaking hits all the senses with a punch.
The Exorcist: Believer
As a genre movie this film possibly does more than Jordan Peele’s last film (Nope) to turn the horror genre on its head in terms of race. I always regret my picks on these lists so this year I’m purely going for ambition and this movie goes big with religion and trope.
Todd Haynes almost always delivers and this time he gives us a fascinating look at the damage and stunting that happens with a male/female-May/December (an age disparity that we never consider normal) relationship. All the performances are impeccable, and Haynes also adds a racial power dynamic that often goes untold in relationship powerplays. In doing so the film makes us consider ALL the power imbalances in relationships.
Leave the World Behind
Absolute GenX movie porn: Julia Roberts. Ethan Hawke, and Kevin Bacon in a movie in 2023, yes! Mahershala Ali is also exquisite in this Netflix film executive-produced by Barack and Michelle Obama that may be warning us about the origins of the imminent end of the world?! Besides its possible whitewashing of racism as a bad mood in a way that we are supposed to digest as either incendiary or just bad writing—I’m still undecided—this film still has enough gravitas (mainly the young daughter who serves as canary in coal mine) to keep things interesting.
More movies about writers writing please, especially Black woman writers! If this movie inspires people to read Isabel Wilkerson, fantastic! If this film gets people to consider more seriously what’s happening in Gaza now (although it has nothing specifically to do with Gaza, if you’re paying attention—it has everything to do with Gaza) even better. Ava Duverney’s power as storyteller and historian truly shines in this film as do all the A-list performances.
Little Richard: I Am Everything
Please no more Elvis movies. Listen to Little Richard: (and Sister Rosetta Tharpe and, and, and…) He. (They. Are.) Is. Everything.
A life-changer. There’s nothing like it.
Elemental beauty and harshness. Saw this in IMAX and it was mind-altering.
No film this year entertained me more. We all knew Julianne could take us there, but who knew Natalie had it in her?!
A Thousand and One
A full-strength Women’s Picture. Teyana Taylor gives my favourite lead performance of the year.
Cool, incisive, and extremely moving when it reveals what it’s really about.