Lists are stupid: My top 10 films of 2023

Tom Davidson
5 min readDec 28, 2023

The good news is that in 2023 Film Twitter discourse has evolved from ‘the death of cinema’ to a much more palatable ‘death of comic book movies’ (although I think this too has been exaggerated, despite the colossal bombs of The Marvels and The Flash).

Overall I would argue that 2023 has been one of the best years in recent memory for films.

We’ve had works by Scorsese, Nolan, Gerwig, Fincher, Mann, Kaurismaki, Scott, Lanthimos, Glazer, Wenders, Payne and more.

Not seen: Beau is Afraid, All of us Strangers, The Boy & the Heron, Saint Omer, Infinity Pool, Rotting in the Sun, Reality, Priscilla, Ferrari

Honourable mentions: How To Have Sex, How To Blow Up A Pipeline, Fallen Leaves, Barbie, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, Passages, The Future Tense.

10. Anatomy of a Fall

What if Marriage Story, but it was a courtroom drama about an alleged spousal murder only witnessed by the couple’s blind son? Perhaps a touch long at two and a half hours, nonetheless this Palme d’Or winner shows a fascinating intricacy of both plot and character, the latter thanks in huge part to the commanding, chimeric central performance of Sandra Huller who veers naturally between stubbornness and frailty. Features the year’s best animal performance by Messi the dog. Some of Justine Triet’s camerawork is bit too showy/dramatic but I find it very easy to forgive because of the overall filmmaking on clear display here. A home run of a movie. But did she do it?

9. Perfect Days by Wim Wenders

I’ve seen some entirely valid criticism of Wim Wenders’ slice-of-life look at a monk-like near-mute Tokyo toilet cleaner, calling it saccharine and overly sanitised. Maybe a second watch will dampen my excitement levels but I watched Perfect Days with an absolute grin on my face, excitement not just at the film (Wenders digs into his road movie past, offers up some delightful needle drops and is characteristically patient), but that after years of misfires, perhaps art house cinema’s greatest ever director is back at the top table. Repetitive but delightful.

credit: Neon

8. Smoke Sauna Sisterhood by Anna Hints

I didn’t watch enough documentaries in 2023 to give them their own list but Smoke Sauna Sisterhood deserves a spot in my overall list. A painterly but cinematic look at modern femininity and all that entails; from body image issues, to sexual abuse; from childhood, to childbirth and, of course, from romance, to heartbreak. And all done through simple conversations with women as they cleanse themselves in an Estonian smoke sauna.

Read my full review here.

7. May December by Todd Haynes

A thinly-veiled telling of the Mary Kay Letourneau case, where a 34-year-old woman abuses a 12-year-old boy before beginning a long-term relationship with him and fathering his children. I have some reservations over Julianne Moore’s performance (this is a film all about performance and projection) but it is Natalie Portman who steals the show, playing an actress befriending Moore and digging for insight into the start of her twisted relationship with her much-younger husband (an incredible film debut by Charles Melton). Darkly funny, melodramatic but also earnest and moving. A work of genius.

6. The Goldman Case by Cedric Kahn

Three sublime French courtroom dramas in less than a year! There’s this, Saint Omer and Anatomy of a Fall. The Goldman Case doesn’t yet have a UK release and I sort of stumbled into it at the London Film Festival but I was absolutely taken by it. Easy to dismiss as a reenactment of a famous/infamous French criminal case, there is some subtle, bravura filmmaking here, a pressure-cooker of a film that reminded me most of 12 Angry Men’s overwhelming sense of claustrophobia and tension. I eagerly await UK distribution news.

(Interesting fact, Goldman’s defence barrister is played by the co-writer of Anatomy of a Fall)

5. Poor Things by Yorgos Lanthimos

Barbie by way of Frankenstein (with lots of sex thrown in). A steampunk-infused look at feminism and agency. It’s also bloody good fun, an absolute joy to look at, impeccably acted and just a blast of a movie. Some might dismiss it as ‘Barbie for grownups’ and there is some crossover in themes but that’s fairly reductive and also unfair on both Barbie and Poor Things. Also, for one thing Gerwig’s plastic doll movie doesn’t have Willem Dafoe going balls-out as a mad scientist whose progeny refer to him as ‘God’. Emma Stone is transformative and she and Lanthimos have the makings of a brilliant director-actor partnership.

4. The Zone of Interest by Jonathan Glazer

A film so abstract it’s difficult to really quantify and therefore judge against others, but I settled on fourth place (although I am very keen to rewatch). A chilling look at humanity’s capacity to ignore the horrors that surround them and a film that will probably only grow in power in the coming years. A Holocaust movie like no other that has been rattling around in my brain ever since I watched it. Bold, austere, difficult, demanding. In short, a Jonathan Glazer movie.

3. Oppenheimer by Christopher Nolan

I do not understand anyone who said this movie ‘dragged’! I had the pleasure of seeing it twice in the cinema (the first time in IMAX) and the three hours absolutely flew by. Oppenheimer is the first time Christopher Nolan has taken on a historic figure, adapting the film from the book American Prometheus. The decision to show the movie in flashback from courtroom scenes (a la The Social Network) was a screenwriting gamble that pays off. The first time I wasn’t sure I needed the Lewis Strauss addendum (despite RDJ’s brilliant performance) but the second time I saw why Nolan stuck with it, because he is casting a wider net than just Oppenheimer’s guilt and responsibility for the bomb, but also at the aftershocks that continue in society to this day and the ongoing fight between science and politics, personal interests and, gulp, planetary ones. The score rips too.

I wrote about the ‘Barbenheimer experience’ for the Evening Standard here.

2. Past Lives by Celine Song

Fuck me, this broke me a bit. A devastating look at missed connections and lost love. Sort of an In The Mood For Love for the new generation (whether it has In The Mood’s staying power remains to be seen). Contains several scenes whose simplicity belies their power (not least the heart-stopping ending that, on the face of it, is just two people waiting for a taxi in silence). Greta Lee won’t win any major acting awards but hers is the subtlest and maybe even hardest performance out of the pack (against Stone, Gladstone and Huller).

1. Killers of the Flower Moon by Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese may be feeling his mortality but with Killers of the Flower Moon he is still firing on all cylinders. An epic-but-intimate look at just one facet of the Native American genocide through a twisted love story between Ernest and Mollie Burkhart. An incredible achievement with an ending that sees Scorsese confront his own inadequacy as a filmmaker and storyteller.

Read some of my thoughts on Killers of the Flower Moon here.

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Tom Davidson

31-year-old journalist living in south westLondon trying my hand at some film writing as and when