Best Films of 2023

A look back at the best movies of the year

By Brian Bowe

Look, I don’t want to cause alarm, but 2023 is over! Or, at least, it’s nearly over; thankfully, there’s still time to draw up countless ‘Best of’ lists, for it is my most cherished of Christmas traditions. 2023 has been a jam-packed year for movie fans: from a new Wes Anderson (make that five new ones, if you include his foray into Netflix shorts) to the much anticipated Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. It didn’t matter if you were a Swifty or a Scorsese head, cinema in 2023 had you covered.

You might notice a Barbenheimer-sized hole in the following list. But fear not, for that hole is filled with films I deem to be far superior to Hollywood’s two-headed hydra, a double feature which, for all the hype and publicity failed to truly excite me. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, however, had me hootin’ and a hollerin’, and is the only true tentpole blockbuster to make my top ten. You won’t find any Marvel efforts here: both Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and The Marvels were D.O.A., and while Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 brought some spark back to the Superhero genre, it wasn’t enough to ignite much interest. 

Before we kick off our list, I want to give an honourable mention to Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things, which I had the pleasure to see during its festival run. It’s not due out in Ireland till January, so keep your eyes peeled come the new year. The film was produced by the Irish company Element Pictures, and won the Golden Lion, top prize, at the 80th Venice International Film Festival. Like the director’s most recent film, The Favourite, Poor Things is both cheeky and charming throughout. A feminist twist on Pygmalion with steam-punk trappings, the film stars Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, and, in the lead, Emma Stone, whose performance here will no doubt earn her another Oscar nomination.

10. Passages

In Paris, filmmaker Tomas (Franz Rogowski) embraces his sexuality through a love affair with a young woman (Adèle Exarchopoulos), an impulse that blurs the lines that define his relationship with his husband (Ben Whishaw). Grappling with contradicting emotions, Tomas must either embrace the confines of his marriage or come to terms with the relationship having run its course. 

If, like me, you have a soft spot for films where the lead character makes the worst decisions imaginable and hurts everyone around him and never learns any lessons, then Passages is for you. It’s cruelly well-observed and darkly humorous throughout. It also looks great, very few films shot on digital look and feel like Passages. And while Whishaw and Exarchopoulos do well, this is Rogowski’s film, and he makes a meal of it in the best way possible. 

9. Love Life

The film follows the loves of Taeko (Fumino Kimura) and her husband Jiro (Kento Nagayama) who are living with her young son Keita (Tetta Shimada). However, their serene world is shattered when a tragic accident reunites Taeko with Park (played by Atom Sunada), Keita’s long-lost father who is both deaf and homeless. 

Kôji Fukada, renowned for his award-winning film Harmonium, brings us this quietly captivating and thoughtfully paced family drama that portrays the intricacies of navigating life after a devastating tragedy. While the premise might seem ripe for melodrama, Fukada steers the narrative in a more understated direction. Both gentle and gorgeous, Love Life is a perfect Sunday afternoon watch. 

8. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

Ethan Hunt and his skilled IMF team find themselves on a perilous mission to prevent a catastrophic new weapon from falling into the wrong hands. The fate of humanity hangs in the balance as they race against time and Tom Cruise’s dwindling ability to de-age himself. 

Dead Reckoning Part One joins the ranks of blockbusters telling their stories in bite-sized portions. However, it takes a different approach than one might expect, opting to amp up the action to dizzying heights instead of relying on nostalgic sentiment like Top Gun: Maverick (which I thoroughly enjoyed, mind you). While it may not quite reach the level of intensity seen in Fallout, this instalment boasts a few action sequences that undoubtedly rank among Cruise’s most titillating. 

7. EO

EO is a mesmerising 86-minute film that serves as a reimagining of the renowned Robert Bresson classic, Au Hasard Balthazar (1966). This tale follows the journey of a small donkey as it traverses across Europe, offering a unique perspective on the world around us. 

Now while that premise sounds soft and sweet, EO is one animal picture that is definitely not aimed at kids. It’s through the eyes of this enigmatic creature we are exposed to both the exquisite beauty and profound anguish that exists in our society. Spoiler alert: It’s grim! Fans of the director’s (Skolimowski) past work will feel right at home; his masterful artistry shines throughout the film, especially in the film’s bold and unconventional stylistic choices.

Talk to Me star Sophie Wilde, courtesy IMDb

6. Talk to Me 

The film follows a group of teenagers in Australia who discover they are able to contact spirits using a mysterious severed and embalmed hand, only for things to go too far… Dun… Dun… DUN!!

Talk to Me has to be the best horror film of the year. It’s earned close to 100m at the box office (worldwide) which, when you compare that to its budget of just 4.5m, is pretty astounding. Directors Michael Philippou and Danny Philippou, who made their name on YouTube with short horror skits, get to flex their muscles here. Talk to Me is full of wonderfully-crafted spooky set pieces; you can really feel the film-making smarts behind the scares. It helps, too, having a performer as game as Sophie Wilde, she’s terrific. 

5. Evil Does Not Exist

Takumi and his daughter live in Mizubiki Village, close to Tokyo. One day, the village inhabitants become aware of a plan to build a glamping site near Takumi’s house, offering city residents a comfortable escape to nature.

Topping Drive My Car – which earned the Japanese director an Oscar back in 2022 – seemed an impossible task, but with Evil Does Not Exist, Ryusuke Hamaguchi gives us an environmental drama so precisely made, so quiet and confident. Hamaguchi tackles the frustrations of modern life with such elegance and empathy and, to the best of my knowledge, no one does it better. At the time of writing, this one has yet to get an Irish release date, so keep an eye on your local cinema listings.

4. Broker

The storyline revolves around a pair of brokers who navigate the complex world of orphaned infants, providing an alternative path to parenthood for affluent couples struggling with infertility. However, their plans take an unexpected turn when a determined mother re-enters the picture, instigating a heartwarming journey to find the perfect match and creating an unconventional bond that transforms their lives forever.

Nan Goldin visionary artist and advocate

Hirokazu Kore-eda – director of modern arthouse classics Like Father, Like Son (2013) and Still Walking (2008) – is known for his adeptness in utilising melodramatic plot structures to create intricate and nuanced character studies. This year, Kore-eda graced us with a gem. Its characters are presented with such compassion and understanding that you can’t help but come to love them.

3. All The Beauty And The Bloodshed 

A documentary exploring the life and legacy of Nan Goldin, a visionary artist and advocate. Through evocative slideshows and intimate conversations, All The Beauty And The Bloodshed gives us a glimpse into her relentless battle to bring justice to the Sackler family, who played a role in America’s devastating opioid epidemic.

This film has stayed with me ever since I saw it back in January. It’s a celebration of life and a chronicle of society’s failure to protect it. But it’s also a brilliant and compelling examination of Goldin’s work through the years. It is wholly affecting and wonderfully made – how director Laura Poitras is able to weave multiple narratives, subjects and timelines and never lose focus or pace is incredible. 

2. Killers Of The Flower Moon

The less you know about Martin Scrosese’s latest picture the better. So let’s keep this description relatively broad. Based on a novel by David Grann, the film is set in 1920s Oklahoma, focusing on a series of murders of Osage members and relations in the Osage Nation after oil was discovered on tribal land. 

Martin Scorsese (Berlin Film Festival 2008)

You have to take festival reviews with a pinch of salt. So when good word came from Cannes this year about Killers Of The Flower Moon, I kept my expectations in check; The Irishman seemed like a culmination of the great director’s career – what else was there left to say? Well, a lot – 3.5 hours worth, to be exact. With Killers Of The Flower Moon, Scorsese brings us not only a brilliant prestige epic, but his best film in decades. DiCaprio hits it out of the park, but even more incredible is Robert De Niro, who turns in a proper performance – he’s going for it, accent and all! At the heart of the film, however, is Lily Gladstone as Molly. A shoo-in for an Oscar nom, her stoic and restrained character contrasts sharply against the evil that surrounds her. Yes, it’s a long film, but more importantly, it’s a very good one.

1. Saint Omer

Rama, an aspiring novelist diving into her latest book research, becomes immersed in the trial of Laurence Coly, a young mother facing charges for the tragic demise of her 15-month-old child. As witness testimonies and Coly’s own profound words unfold, Rama’s previously held beliefs are shaken to their core, leading her down an unforeseen path of uncertainty and introspection.

Saint Omer had me completely engrossed. The two lead performances are excellent and Diop’s direction is really well executed. Though its knotty and challenging material – based on a true life case – might put people off, and courtroom dramas are not everyone’s cup of tea, I found this to be totally electrifying. It’s an angry yet deeply humane film. For something centred around an event so upsetting it’s so beautifully made. Nothing this year has impressed me more than Alice Diop’s narrative debut.