The best films of 2023: From ‘Past Lives,’ ‘Across the Spider-Verse’ and ‘The Holdovers’ to ‘Poor Things’


Stills from ‘​​Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ and ‘The Holdovers’ to ‘Poor Things’

Stills from ‘​​Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ and ‘The Holdovers’ to ‘Poor Things’

A landmark year at the movies, as audiences came back to the theatres in droves, and Hollywood (read: Barbenheimer) set the box-office alight, despite reeling from the impact of the strikes. Some favourites such as All of Us Strangers, The Zone of Interestand The Boy and the Heron have been omitted from this list not having found a release in India yet, but here’s our pick of the best English and international films of 2023:

Also Read | The best English TV shows of 2023: From ‘Succession’, ‘Bear’ and ‘The Last of Us’ to ‘Gen V’

Past Lives

A still from ‘Past Lives’

A still from ‘Past Lives’

Celine Song’s bewitching directorial debut left us with an emotional wreckage that we might never quite recover from. Featuring star turns from Greta Lee, Teo Yoo and John Magaro, Song’s film takes a devastating look at the lives of two old friends and their reunion years later, as the story spans decades and continents in the most graceful of fashions. Highlighting the Korean concept of In-Yun, this almost-romance that traces the inexplicable pleasure and pain of unrequited love and missed chances was the breakthrough success — and best film — of the year.

The Holdovers

Is Paul Giamatti ever better than when he’s in an Alexander Payne film? Nearly 20 years after they first collaborated on Sideways (which remains my favourite film of the 2000s), the actor-director duo is back with a gorgeous slice-of-life comedy set in a boarding school in the ‘70s. Along with Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and newcomer Dominic Sessa make up a motley trio who captivate us throughout this old dog of a Christmas charmer – but not in the way you might think.

​​Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

What superhero fatigue? This sequel toInto the Spider-Verse (2018) upped the stakes, introduced a bunch of endlessly inventive supporting characters, and then threw the multiverse kitchen sink at us in a dazzling display of animated wizardry. Setting up a grandstand finale for next year’s Beyond the Spider-Verse, the film will also face off in a fascinating two-way race with Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron during the upcoming awards season for best animated feature honours.

Anatomy of a Fall

A still from ‘Anatomy of a Fall’

A still from ‘Anatomy of a Fall’

A German novelist is charged with murder following the mysterious death of her French husband, and the only reliable witness happens to be blind. The case goes to court and a verdict is delivered, but is it the right one? Lead actor Sandra Hüller is spectacular in Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or-winning thriller, which examines the total breakdown of a marriage through the eyes of a murder-mystery, while posing some intriguing questions along the way.

Also Read | Indian cinema in 2023: Theatrical highs, star vehicles and some experiments

Blackberry

Among a number of films in 2023 that were biopics of famous products (Air, Tetris, Flamin’ Hot, even Barbie…), this take on the rise and fall of the Canadian smartphone that was once desired by mobile users (and networks) globally, made for deeply-engrossing viewing. The Blackberry bubble, which was eventually destroyed by Apple and the iPhone’s ascent to the big leagues, should serve as a cautionary saga to several tech behemoths; director Matt Johnson also brilliantly casts actors Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton to rousing effect in a comedy-drama that sadly went under the radar this year.

May December

A still from ‘May December’

A still from ‘May December’

Todd Haynes expertly brings to life this dark, puzzling drama about tabloid culture and our perverse fascination with it, along with three fantastic performances from Julianne Moore, Natalie Portman and Charles Melton. Based on the much-publicised real-life case of Mary Kay Letourneau, the script always stays complicated, deceptive and almost sinister, keeping us guessing right till the very end. Voyeurism never quite felt this sophisticated.

Oppenheimer

Armed with a haunting Cillian Murphy, Christopher Nolan gave us his most personal and political film yet, which was as fascinating as it was flawed. A testament to the skill of his writing, the monumental achievement in creating an immersive experience that is not often witnessed in biopics cannot be overstated. Oppenheimer was a game-changer that broke box-office records, and contributed to the movie event of the year with the Barbenheimer phenomenon.

Also Read | The best films of 2022: From ‘Aftersun’ and ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ to ‘RRR’

Killers of The Flower Moon

A still from ‘Killers of The Flower Moon’

A still from ‘Killers of The Flower Moon’

Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and Lily Gladstone deliver some of their best work in Martin Scorsese’s grim and grisly Western tracing the horrific Oklahoma murders of several members of the Osage Nation, adapted from David Grann’s bestselling book. Bristling with multiple layers of subtext and some not-so-easy answers, Scorsese delivers a true Hollywood epic with this part-historical, part-murder mystery, part-romance, and part-rumination on morality that showed why he’s still a master of the art form.

Monster

Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda gives us a poignant drama that brings together a single mother, her son and a teacher, with fractured perspectives that keep questioning our understanding of the narrative. Monster is heartbreaking, fragile and vulnerable all at once; has any other film ever showcased so delicately that we cannot ever judge someone without being in their shoes?

Poor Things

A still from ‘Poor Things’

A still from ‘Poor Things’

Yorgos Lanthimos’ adaptation of Alasdair Gray’s 1992 novel stars an astonishing Emma Stone in a riveting ensemble cast that also includes Mark Ruffalo and Willem Dafoe. After films such as Dogtooth, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Lobster and The Favourite, you never really know what to expect from Lanthimos as he concocts this dark potion of science, sex and humour with outstanding craft, while Stone is magnetic as she jumps through multiple bizarre hoops to bring her filmmaker’s mad vision to life.

Honourable mentions: Air, Maestro, The Delinquents, Passages, Barbie



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