Whether you're in need of some films to line up for the holiday season, or simply want to recap the (somewhat tumultuous) year that was in Hollywood – this is Vogue's round up of the 15 best movies of 2023
It was a year of strikes, postponed releases, and one all-time, world-historic box office bonanza. What did it all add up to? In the end, somewhat improbably, an extremely good year for movies. There were sleeper indie hits (Past Lives), absorbing French courtroom dramas (Saint Omer and Anatomy of a Fall), worthy horror diversions (M3gan and Talk to Me), and big, must-see awards season event films (Maestro and Killers of the Flower Moon).
In short, the year offered something for everyone. Here are our 15 favourite movies of 2023. Time to catch up on the ones you missed.
You’d be well within your rights to think there’s no way a film about a robot doll who busts out TikTok dance moves between murders could be one of the best of the year. But if it’s a rollicking good time at the movies you’re looking for, then M3gan delivers in spades. (When I went a few weeks after it opened, the cinema’s response to its bonkers blend of horror and comedy was loud enough to rival a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.) A special shout-out should go to Allison Williams for her performance as the engineer behind the titular cyborg, delivered with just the right amount of campy bewilderment – and just like Williams, the film knows exactly what it is and what it’s trying to be. Leave your prejudices at the door and let yourself be carried away by the dulcet tones of the robot’s unhinged cover of Sia’s “Titanium”. – Liam Hess
Set in the northeast of England during the late 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher’s proposed Section 28 legislation helped fuel a growing climate of homophobia within schools, Blue Jean follows a gay teacher, Jean (played in a knockout performance by Rosy McEwen), who lives a double life. First, she’s forced to negotiate how to handle the arrival of a queer student who seems to have a sixth sense about Jean’s sexuality, and then, the subsequent tensions with her girlfriend over the hostility of the world surrounding them. A moving, deeply atmospheric character study of its protagonist’s struggle to come to terms with her identity – and cleverly laced with nods to the consequences of Jean’s story within the wider world – the film marks McEwen and director Georgia Oakley as serious talents on the rise. – Liam Hess
From the opening scene of a woman and baby walking along a beach under ominous moonlight, Saint Omer pulls you into its eerie, elegant universe and keeps you there until the very final shot – you instinctively know it’s the work of a masterful filmmaking talent. That talent is Alice Diop, the French documentarian who took home the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival last year for her first narrative feature. Meeting Diop’s sensitive gaze are the two lead actors, Kayije Kagame (as a journalist who becomes obsessed with a grim murder trial and travels to a regional town to watch it unfold) and Guslagie Malanda (as the woman taking the stand to explain murdering her own 15-month-old child by leaving her on a beach), whose delicate performances during the extended, dialogue-heavy courtroom scenes make for some of the most gripping cinema of the year. Saint Omer touches on a handful of weighty themes – loneliness, motherhood, race and justice – but the gentle way it explores them is just as riveting as the topics themselves. – Liam Hess
The Quiet Girl
I was bewitched and then overwhelmed by this quiet, lovely Irish film, which scored a surprise nomination for International Feature at the 2023 Oscars. Based on the story Foster by Claire Keegan, it is about a nine-year-old named Cait who is sent by her neglectful, overwhelmed parents to nearby childless relatives for a summer in the Irish countryside.
It’s a simple tale about loneliness and reticent need, but it swells with feeling and somehow never tips into maudlin sweetness. Young star Catherine Clinch holds an entire world in her mute, expressive face, and the middle-aged couple who looks after her (played by Carrie Crowley and Andrew Bennett) channel an incredible compassion even as they are hemmed in by circumstance and family obligation. I defy you not to be moved to tears by the end. – Taylor Antrim
A Thousand and One
A Thousand and One is the knockout first feature from filmmaker AV Rockwell that took home the Grand Jury prize at Sundance in January. It stars a commanding Teyana Taylor as Inez, a mum who steals her son, Terry, away from foster care and raises him in Harlem through the hardscrabble period of 1990s and early-2000s New York. Taylor brings a natural authenticity to a difficult role – a story of survival, essentially, of a Black woman dedicating her life to a gifted son who is freighted with a terrible history. Atmospheric, gritty and heartbreaking, with a standout performance from its lead that is sure to generate awards season buzz. – Taylor Antrim
One Fine Morning
It’s always a pleasure spending a couple hours in the intimate, meticulously observed world of Mia Hansen-Løve, and One Fine Morning is the latest, and finest, example. Léa Seydoux has shone in an impressive gamut of roles the past few years (The French Dispatch, France, No Time to Die, Crimes of the Future), and here she’s at her unfettered, barefaced, pixie-cut best. She plays a single working mum in Paris who is patiently juggling caring for her young daughter and her ageing father, a former philosophy professor whose health is deteriorating.
She’s nearly given up on a love life when she embarks on an affair with an old friend who happens to be married. Each plot thread follows leisurely from there in expected ways but without any high-key drama; indeed, nothing major really happens. Books are packed, assignations are had, many hospitals are visited, tears of both joy and sadness are shed. There are highs and lows, and in between, characters walk or take the bus and metro. But it’s often the gentle accumulation of moments and details that comprises a life, and here humour, sorrow, disappointment and affection are tenderly rendered and weighted perfectly in a film that feels completely lived-in. – Lisa Wong Macabasco
Return to Seoul
The unusual and unexpectedly powerful Return to Seoul covers familiar subjects – identity and finding your way – through a refracted lens. It’s centred on 25-year-old Freddie, who was born in South Korea but given up for adoption to French parents as an infant, and who is played with confidence and simmering restlessness by first-time actor Park Ji-Min. Freddie winds up in Seoul seemingly by chance and seeks out her biological parents with the same accidental spirit.
The character evades all stereotypes: she’s quiet but not especially polite, speaks only French (some halting English) and is unafraid of chaos. She’s not wholly likeable, and the film, which was written and directed by young French filmmaker Davy Chou, wisely meets Freddie on her own terms, never judging nor pitying her. Return to Seoul jumps in time and charts Freddie’s course toward adulthood and a connected sense of self. It’s a patient movie that deepens as it goes – and the finale is stunningly humane. – Taylor Antrim
Would it be fair to say that nobody quite knew what to expect when Greta Gerwig’s Barbie hit cinemas in July? We’d all seen and made note of its Kubrickian first teaser trailer – released all the way back in December – and endured a lengthy press tour that involved a lot of pink, plus Ryan Gosling saying things like, “I’ve had this Kenergy, if you will. And this Kenergy is alive in me now.”
As it turned out, Barbie had all of those flavours and more: something for the film nerds (Gerwig has cited The Wizard of Oz and Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg as other inspirations), for lovers of campy absurdism, for die-hard Barbie apologists, and for the feminists who have always found the doll problematic. Also mixed in are genuinely moving performances from Margot Robbie and America Ferrera, and very funny turns from Gosling, Kate McKinnon, Issa Rae, Simu Liu and Michael Cera. (More of him in everything, please!) By God, Gerwig pulled it off – and with more than $1 billion in global box office receipts to show for it. – Marley Marius
Even when factoring in the Barbenheimer effect, the box office stats for Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer are staggering: the film has now made over $950 million worldwide, an extraordinary feat for a three-hour-long biographical drama based on a historical figure. But perhaps the most cheering fact is that audiences have been flocking to see a film that – despite what many expected, given the subject matter and director – focuses less on spectacle and more on the moral ambiguities and psychological torment of its central character. (The fact that Nolan and lead actor Cillian Murphy, who is all but a shoo-in for a nod at next year’s Oscars, manage to make this intimate character study as gripping as any thriller is astonishing in and of itself.)
Every element of Oppenheimer – the accomplished performances of its ensemble cast, the puzzle pieces of alternating timelines woven together by editor Jennifer Lame, the chilling soundtrack by Ludwig Göransson, the exhaustive scrutiny of Hoyte van Hoytema’s camera as it charts every inflection of Murphy’s face – is as perfectly calibrated and delicately complex as the nuclear bomb itself. It’s a rare and welcome example of a director at the top of his game meeting deserved box office success, and warrants every accolade it will receive come awards season. – Liam Hess
Talk To Me
There may not be many new ideas in horror, but the fun and unbearably tense Talk to Me reminds you that it hardly matters. This is a demonic possession story with a hook: a group of Australian kids film and post themselves while in the grip (literally, they use an embalmed hand) of spirits and it becomes a social media craze. The metaphor is both obvious and brilliant – possession as narcotic, as party drug. But Mia (Sophie Wilde), who is mourning her mother, takes it too far and becomes hooked, maybe perma-possessed. The talented directors, siblings Danny and Michael Philippou, know how to deliver shocks and keep a sometimes shaky story moving. Talk to Me is both a blast and 90 thoroughly draining minutes. – Taylor Antrim
Past Lives – superb and romantic – is the first film from playwright Celine Song, and it debuted to raves at Sundance in January. It’s a highly personal story of a young woman named Nora, played as an adult by Greta Lee, who immigrates to the US with her family when she’s 12, leaving a neighbourhood boy, Hae Sung, behind in Seoul. She and Hae Sung reconnect online 12 years later and then again in person when Nora is in her thirties and married, living in New York’s East Village. Past Lives is a patient, transporting portrait of romance and thwarted love, with themes of friendship, ambition and regret. A humane and lovely portrait of how people change – and how they don’t. – Taylor Antrim
Killers of the Flower Moon
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Killers of the Flower Moon is based on David Grann’s book of the same name. It’s about the murders of members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma – some of the wealthiest individuals in America after oil was discovered on their land. The book described how the initial investigation was badly mishandled by the FBI, prompting a young J Edgar Hoover to reassign it to a young Texas Ranger. The Martin Scorsese version of the story (backed by Apple) premiered to raves at Cannes after being delayed from 2022 to allow for more editing time. Many have thrilled at seeing Robert De Niro and DiCaprio share the screen, but our enthusiasm is reserved for the amazing Lily Gladstone, who gives the film its quiet moral weight. – Chloe Schama
Anatomy of a Fall
Undoubtedly the best courtroom drama I’ve seen since… A Few Good Men? The Verdict? Hollywood comparisons don’t apply to this fascinating, subtle, and extremely French study of culpability and marriage and just possibly murder. In an isolated alpine chalet in France, the husband of a novelist is found dead from a fall. His wife, Sandra, played magnificently by the German actor Sandra Hüller, is immediately under suspicion, claiming to have been asleep when it happened. The two had had vicious fights over emotional issues (their son was left partially blind after an accident) and jealousy (both are writers, though only she is published). The fissures of their marriage come to light in a trial in which a prosecutor is vicious in his attempt to pin a guilty verdict to Sandra, even as she seeks to give a ruthlessly honest account of a relationship that had spun out of control. The stakes climb inexorably higher to the intensely moving end. – Taylor Antrim
Five years (!) after the release of A Star Is Born, Bradley Cooper returns to the director’s chair with Maestro, his long-gestating portrait of composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, in which he also stars. Carey Mulligan appears opposite him as the elegant Felicia Montealegre, Bernstein’s wife, while the likes of Matt Bomer, Maya Hawke, Sarah Silverman, Josh Hamilton, Gideon Glick, and Miriam Shor play supporting roles. (The film’s screenplay was loosely based on Famous Father Girl, the 2018 memoir by Lenny and Felicia’s eldest daughter, Jamie.) It’s a thrilling, sophisticated and moving examination of a marriage – one riven by creative ambition and Bernstein’s untrammelled thirst for life. – Marley Marius
Todd Haynes, a proven master of the modern melodrama, delivers a captivating triple character study with May December – a movie dense with references both cinematic and pop-cultural (Joseph Losey’s The Go-Between, Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and Winter Light, and the case of Mary Kay Letourneau are all touchpoints), and yet utterly its own thing. Set near Savannah, Georgia, in 2015, it follows an actress named Elizabeth (Natalie Portman, never better) as she prepares to play Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Julianne Moore, sublime), a semi-professional baker who, some 20 years earlier, made national headlines for her affair with Joe, a 13-year-old friend of her son’s.
When Elizabeth arrives at their home, Gracie and Joe – now an emotionally stunted, 30-something X-ray technician (played by Riverdale’s Charles Melton, a revelation) – are living a relatively quiet life with their nearly grown children. But her increasingly depraved attempts to understand the Atherton-Yoos’ relationship threatens to upend it entirely. – Marley Marius
Originally published on Vogue.com