Best Films of 2023 . . . so far

The essential films of the year to date: from EO to Mission: Impossible

By Brian Bowe

As a great man once said: “Whoa, we’re halfway there. Whoa-oh, livin’ on a prayer.” The prayer, in this case, is that of cinema; and so far, our prayers have been answered – hallelujah! 2023 has already delivered some amazing pieces of cinema – as well as some absolute stinkers. Hollywood has bounced back, after managing to successfully clear the COVID hump; in fact, the global box office grew 27 per cent in the first quarter of 2023.

However, let’s not pop the corks just yet. The films generating these big numbers are the kind of CGI drivel you should ignore. Franchise filler like Super Mario Bros., Fast X, The Little Mermaid and, the worst of a bad bunch, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, crowd the box office charts.  

For now, though, you can breathe easy as our list of the seven best films from 2023 (so far) digs beneath the blockbuster behemoths – well, all but one – to this year’s hidden gems. Here you’ll find donkeys, babies, courtrooms and a psychologist office – Oh, and an all-pervasive AI program that seeks to wreak havoc on the world. Da movies!

7, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Kathy Bates of "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret"
Kathy Bates (Image credit: Wikimedia)

Eleven-year-old Margaret moves to a new town and starts to contemplate everything about life. Questions of identity, one’s place in the world, and what brings meaning to life soon brings them closer together than ever before.

Kelly Fremon Craig’s debut, The Edge of Seventeen, was a sleeper hit back in 2016. It managed to capture the trials and tribulations of teenagedom with a healthy supply of wit and charm. Now she’s back with this faithful and quirky adaptation of Judy Blume’s YA classic. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret boasts top-notch performances from Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates and newcomer Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret. It’s packed with laughs and has plenty of heart; it’s the kind of clever, fun-for-the-whole-family film that we seem to be in short supply of these days.

6. You Hurt My Feelings

Julia Louis-Dreyfus starred in "You Hurt My Feelings"
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Image credit: Wikimedia)

A novelist’s long-standing marriage suddenly turns upside down when she overhears her husband give his honest reaction to her latest book.

You Hurt My Feelings marks Nicole Holofcener’s long-awaited return to the director’s chair. It’s been ten years since she made Enough Said. Since then, she’s been busying herself with writing gigs, from Can You Ever Forgive Me? to Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel. Starring Julia Louis Dreyfuss and Tobias Menzies as a married couple, You Hurt My Feelings explores a betrayal that’s as trivial as it is absolutely hilarious. It’s hard not to draw comparisons to Woody Allen; Holofcener, too, is interested in the misery of upper-middle class New Yorkers, much to our amusement.

5. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Part One

Ethan Hunt and the IMF team must track down a terrifying new weapon that threatens all of humanity if it falls into the wrong hands. With control of the future and the fate of the world at stake, a deadly race around the globe begins.

Tom Cruise (Image: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia)

Ah, yes, the dreaded “Part One.” Joining the likes of Dune and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse, films which have also elected to split their stories into piece meals, Mission: Impossible is here to elevate the blockbuster genre, one part at a time. However, while Tom Cruise’s latest outing, Top Gun: Maverick, relied on old school schmaltz, Dead Reckoning ramps up the action to a head-spinning degree. It perhaps falls short of Fallout, the crown jewel of the franchise, but there’s a couple of action sequences here that rank among Cruise’s best.

4. EO

Thanks to the Banshees of Inisherin, donkeys have become Hollywood’s newest and brightest stars. Move aside, Zendaya, take a hike, Chalamet – it’s the year of the donkey! The latest entry into the Donkey Cinematic Universe is Jerzy Skolimowski’s powerful four-legged odyssey, EO.

A retelling of Robert Bresson’s classic Au Hasard Balthazar (1966), this 86 min film follows one little donkey across Europe, and it’s through him (or her – the  jury is still out on that matter) we witness the state of the world in all its beauty and pain. Skolimowski’s command of craft is a joy to behold, his wild stylistic choices make EO a donkey you don’t want to miss.

3. Broker

The film follows two brokers who sell orphaned infants, circumventing the bureaucracy of legal adoption, to well-off couples who can’t have children of their own. After an infant’s mother surprises the duo by returning to ensure her child finds a good home, the three embark on a journey to find the right couple, building an unlikely family of their own.

Hirokazu Kore-eda, director of “Broker”

Director Hirokazu Kore-eda has a history of using melodramatic plot structures to craft detailed and delicate character studies. His film       Shoplifters won the Palme d’Or at Cannes back in 2018, while Like Father, Like Son (2013) and Still Walking (2008) rank among my favourite films of the last 20 years. This year, Kore-eda has quietly delivered the seemingly underrated Broker, which is everything you could ask for; its characters are presented with such compassion and understanding that you can’t help but come to love them.

2. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

An interconnected documentary about the artist and activist Nan Goldin told through her slideshows, intimate interviews, ground-breaking photography, and rare footage of her personal fight to hold the Sackler family accountable for the opioid crisis.

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is both a celebration of life and a chronicle of society’s failure to protect it. How it manages to weave multiple stories — intimate and global, old and new — and never lose focus is astonishing. Laura Poitras’ film is a major achievement in documentary filmmaking. It’s no surprise it took home the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival – the first documentary to claim the festival’s top prize.

1. Saint Omer

Alice Diop, director of “Saint Omar”

This courtroom drama follows Rama, a novelist researching her upcoming book, as she attends the trial of Laurence Coly, a young woman accused of killing her 15-month-old daughter. Testimonies from witnesses and Coly’s own words soon shake Rama’s convictions.

Through its knotty and challenging material, Alice Diop’s narrative debut – her previous film, Nous, won the Best Documentary Film award and the Encounters prize at the Berlinale in 2021 – Saint Omer captures both the brain and the heart. Put quite simply, it’s electrifying filmmaking. Diop’s direction is so patient and precise – unblinking takes and without an ounce of whizz-bang camerawork. It does away with the clichés one associates with the courtroom genre. It’s an angry yet deeply humane film. In short, Alice Diop’s Saint Omer sets a sky-high bar for the best of 2023. Slam down your gavels – Case closed!