NME Best fillms of 2023

It’s been a tricky year for film lovers – striking actors and writers meant some of the tentpole releases got kicked down the road – but there was still a lot to get excited about. From Barbenheimer to Taylor Swift’s pop-tastic tour of the multiplex, plus plenty of under-the-radar indie gems, we were always spoiled for choice at the box office – even if Hollywood was busy picketing it.

As a result, compiling this list was really tough. So tough, in fact, that we’ve had to make the actors promise to strike again in 2024 so we can revisit those that didn’t make it this time around. You’re welcome.

Alex Flood, Commissioning Editor (Film + TV)

Contributors: Paul Bradshaw, Rhian Daly, Liberty Dunworth, Alex Flood, Jesse Hassenger, Victoria Luxford, James Mottram, Kevin EG Perry, Gary Ryan, Lou Thomas, Andrew Trendell, Kyann-Sian Williams, Sophie Williams.

‘The Fabelmans’

20 ‘The Fabelmans’

Director: Steven Spielberg

This stylishly shot period drama was semi-autobiographical and loosely based on the monolith of modern cinema Steven Spielberg’s own coming of age as young Sammy Fabelman battled the challenges of adolescence, a less than typical family life, anti-Semitism and bullying, using his love of film as a tool to make sense of the world around him.

Gabriel LaBelle made a career-making star-turn as Sammy, brimming with all the nervous energy and endless nerdy ambition of the young Spielberg, with the movie truly made by a devastating portrayal of his eccentric but tempestuous mother and Paul Dano as the doting but pragmatic dad and the tensions between them.

You’d expect nothing less than a visual cinematic feast from the man who invented the blockbuster showing you what first inspired him – including his DIY attempts at a Western and war epic as a teen – and The Fabelmans practically came with the smell of popcorn. Another one for the ages.

Did you know? David Lynch took a lot of convincing for his cameo portrayal of the cantankerous Western director John Ford, but mutual pal and Twin Peaks icon Laura Dern talked him round. One of his conditions on appearing in the movie was to have Cheetos in his dressing room.

Like this? Try this: Saving Mr Banks (2013), Catch Me If You Can (2002). AT


19 ‘Bottoms’

Director: Emma Seligman

In her follow up to 2018’s excellent Shiva Baby, director Emma Seligman showed why queer cinema is currently in its boom era. Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri played PJ and Josie, two gay BFF high-schoolers desperate to lose their virginity before college. Their solution? Start an all-female fight club and meet the girls of their dreams. The club brought more attention than they bargained for though, and set up an energetic comedy that refreshed teen movie tropes with a modern perspective. Edebiri and Sennott were the types of best friends we all wish we had in high school, while Havana Rose Liu and Kaia Gerber were excellent as the popular girls with more going on than people expected. Influenced by popular queer classic But I’m A Cheerleader, Bottoms achieved the delicate balance of having characters that feel empowering while also displaying endearing humanity.

Did You Know? Retired NFL player Marshawn Lynch, who plays teacher Mr G, took on the role because he regretted his reaction to his own sister coming out.

Like this? Try this: But I’m a Cheerleader (1998), Whip It (2009). VL

‘Return to Seoul’

18 ‘Return To Seoul’

Director: Davy Chou

In his 2016 debut feature-length film Diamond Island, Davy Chou used unknown actors to build out his cast. In his latest movie, Return To Seoul, he used the same tactic for lead character Freddie – and struck gold with Park Ji-min. The visual artist-turned-actor provided the beating heart for the film, delivering a phenomenal performance as a French-Korean adoptee returning to her homeland for the first time.

Deeply affecting and emotional, Return To Seoul grappled with ideas of identity and family, using Freddie as its vessel. It found her, despite feigning indifference, in search mode – for her birth parents and, as it revisited her over the course of eight years, for her true identity. Each time the movie met up with her, she was in a new phase of reinvention, chaotically racing through life as she tried to find answers that felt heartbreakingly just out of reach.

Did you know? Newcomer Park Ji-min didn’t want to be in the film originally – until Chou agreed to let her work on the script with him.

Like this? Try this: Tigertail (2020), Aftersun (2022). RD


17 ‘Scrapper’

Director: Charlotte Regan

You could feel a whirlwind of emotions thunder out of Charlotte Regan’s debut feature film Scrapper: rage, loss, and untameable, sherbet-bright youthful joy – all at once. Yet despite all this, it remained direct and concise in its message. The film followed the story of the headstrong Georgie (Lola Campbell) whose mum recently died; the 12-year-old is soon living alone in a council flat and keeping up appearances in front of her school friends.

Mirroring fragments of Regan’s own experience of growing up on an estate alongside other working-class families, Scrapper distilled years of both pain and wonder into something truly touching. The push-and-pull tension between Georgie and her neighbour Ali (Alin Uzun) felt genuinely reflective of formative childhood friendships, and introduced us to two brilliant rising comedy stars. Crucially, to have these characters say wild and wickedly funny things you can absolutely imagine people their age saying felt like a real joy.

Did you know? In an interview with The Guardian, Regan revealed that leading lady Campbell shunned on-set catering and would only eat Greggs or McDonald’s while filming. Fair enough, we say.

Like this? Try this: Rocks (2019), The Florida Project (2017). SW

‘Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour’

16 ‘Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour’

Director: Sam Wrench

Filmed over three nights at the Sofi Stadium in Los Angeles, The Eras Tour is much more than just a concert movie – it’s a towering testament to all that Taylor Swift has achieved in her singular journey to the very summit of modern pop. Featuring music from nine different albums, three hours of non-stop choreography and no less than 16 costume changes, the gorgeously-shot film eloquently captured just what made The Eras Tour itself such a record-breaking success – from the epic, constantly-mutating production design to the spine-tingling power of all 10 minutes of ‘All Too Well’. Not only that, but Swift’s decision to do a deal directly with cinema chain AMC and release the film while still on tour may just have revolutionised the way musicians do concert films and single-handedly saved theatres facing a threadbare, strike-hit release schedule. Taylor Swift – is there anything she can’t do?

Did you know? In its opening weekend, the film accounted for 70 per cent of North American box office grosses.

Like this? Try this: Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé (2023), Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense (2023). KEGP

‘Meet Me In The Bathroom’

15 ‘Meet Me In The Bathroom’

Directors: Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern

Based on former NME journalist Lizzy Goodman’s epic mega-tome of the same name telling the oral history of “Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001–2011”, this big-screen companion came along with help from directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern (who also helmed the magnificent documentary and concert movie Shut Up And Play The Hits about that not-so-final LCD Soundsystem gig) Meet Me In The Bathroom is 107 minutes of pure indie nostalgia.

With previously-unseen footage – including some moving clips of Interpol’s Paul Banks quietly walking through the debris of 9/11 – MMITB found the real meat of the book and snapped, crackled, and popped with all the piss, vinegar and ripped jeans of the Stateside wake-up call brought to the world by way of The Strokes, LCD, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV On The Radio and more. It was a thrilling snapshot of an era that was pre-broadband and before smartphones took hold. An ode to living in and for the music as much as possible.

Did you know? Goodman’s original book came about from six years, 200 interviews and thousands of hours of chatter.

Like this? Try this: Shut Up And Play The Hits (2012), Live Forever – The Rise And Fall Of Brit Pop (2003). AT

‘Talk To Me’

14 ‘Talk To Me’

Directors: Danny Philippou, Michael Philippou

It’s quite hard to come up with an original horror concept these days. From psychotic dolls to murderous aliens with supersonic hearing, we’ve pretty much seen it all at this point. So when the Philippou Brothers ditched their lucrative YouTube career to bring us Talk To Me, a genuinely fresh and vibrant scary movie, it was all the more impressive. Starring Sophie Wilde as an anxious teen who gets possessed when she overdoes it during a party game involving an embalmed hand, this creepy stomach-churner from Down Under had less in common with the modern, quiet-quiet-bang blockbusters and more to do with Jordan Peele’s new school of spine-tingling chillers. Think Insidious, if it was directed by Ari Aster. We can’t wait to see what the Philippous do next.

Did you know? As a child, Wilde was so afraid of the dark that she made her mum put salt rings around her bedroom door to ward off demons.

Like this? Try this: It Follows (2014), Hereditary (2018). AF

‘John Wick: Chapter 4’

13 ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’

Director: Chad Stahelski

Following a strong three outings already, John Wick: Chapter 4 had a lot to live up to – and fortunately for fans, the final result was even more epic than expected. Centred around the iconic hitman’s continuing quest to defeat The High Table of elite assassins, this fourth instalment took the franchise to new heights with its stunning visuals and mind-bending stunt choreography.

While still a traditional action movie at its core, Wick’s ability to effortlessly transition between sub-divisions of the genre – from spaghetti Western to samurai flick, throwing in a nod to 1970s gang classic The Warriors – allowed it to transcend its medium. That said, it never lost its identity by straying too far from the series’ original charm – retaining the same quiet coolness and witty one-liners that made us first root for Keanu Reeves’ slick operator nearly a decade ago.

Did you know? Following edits to the script by Reeves, Wick says only 380 words throughout the entire film. His longest line of dialogue is: “You and I left a good life behind a long time ago, my friend.”

Like this? Try this: The Equalizer 3 (2023), Drive (2011). LD


12 ‘Passages’

Director: Ira Sachs

When married gay German director Tomas (Franz Rogowski) had sex with young teacher Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos) after the wrap party of his latest film, it began a complex, devastating chain of events. Tomas’ innate selfishness and monstrous ego eventually ruined his marriage to Martin (Ben Whishaw) and caused great upset in Agathe’s life, while wreaking havoc on those close to them, such as Agathe’s parents. In intelligent and sympathetic scenes of agonisingly frank and honest relationship drama, we were left in no doubt about how brutal the realities of love, sex and desire can be, especially if caught in a love triangle in which one party is a deeply unpleasant arch-manipulator. Passages made for a knotty, challenging drama with strong sex scenes and much emotional devastation, superbly acted by its three stars and expertly crafted by director Ira Sachs, perhaps otherwise best known for his bittersweet NYC love story Love Is Strange.

Did you know? There are several biographical similarities between Tomas and the late German film director R.W Fassbinder, an extraordinary talent who lived an emotionally turbulent life before his death in 1982 aged 37.

Like this? Try this: Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2013), Love Is Strange (2014). LT

‘Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse’

11 ‘Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse’

Directors: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson

In a time of supes fatigue, the second Spider-Verse film set itself (spandex-clad) head and shoulders above the rest as 2023’s most inventive and visually-dazzling blockbuster, mashing up different animation styles with ease. Spider-Man Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) teamed up with Spider-Woman Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) to vanquish portal-opening villain the Spot (Jason Schwartzman), and prevent him from tearing worlds apart. Along the way, he encountered a Spider-Society featuring over 200 variants of web-slingers, including a pregnant Spidey (Issa Rae) and Daniel Kaluuya’s scene-stealing turn as a Sex Pistol-esque Spider-Punk (‘Arachny/ Araneae in the U.K.’ anyone? Yes, that joke came from the Dad-Verse). Apart from the eye-candy and relentless creativity, it was funny, touching, and crammed with so many details that it rewarded multiple viewings. Despite clocking in at 140 minutes, making it the longest animated movie ever, it ended on a very human cliffhanger dilemma that left us craving more.

Did you know? The film’s detour into the Lego Universe was animated by a 14-year-old, who was headhunted after impressing producers when he re-created the movie’s trailer in the aesthetic of the beloved bricks.

Like this? Try this: The Mitchells vs. The Machines (2021), The Lego Movie (2014). GR

‘Asteroid City’

10 ‘Asteroid City’

Director: Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson has a reputation for producing glassed-in dollhouse replicas of human drama, but his recent films have grown ever more expansive – to the point where Asteroid City, in its handmade way, wound up taking on life, the universe, and everything. A story of familial grief, set in a tiny desert town hosting a science convention for bright young minds, pulled back the curtain on its own creation; it turned out what we were watching was a TV show of a theatrical production about the making of the play that forms the actual plot of the movie. This might sound clinically meta. But beneath the stunning technical triumphs of ensemble-packed camera pans and impeccable set design that Anderson and his crew continually achieve, was a nagging question of whether the characters (or Anderson himself) could actually fulfill any of their hopes, dreams, or visions. Blessedly, the phrasing of this question was often very funny. Ultimately, Anderson was reflecting, with true grace, on the cosmic smallness and uncertainty that surrounds us.

Did you know? Though the movie was steeped in mid-century Americana, the Arizona desert town was built from scratch in Chinchón, Spain, outside of Madrid.

Like this? Try this: Bad Day At Black Rock (1955), The Misfits (1961). JH

‘How To Have Sex’

9 ‘How To Have Sex’

Director: Molly Manning Walker

Watching Molly Manning Walker’s debut How To Have Sex, you could practically feel frissions of anxiety vibrate through the screen. Having scooped the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes Festival in May, the British indie film generated buzz for its bitingly assured and complex depictions of consent, teenage friendship and sexual pressures. It offered a form of voyeurism – the adrenaline-pumping simulation of peeking behind the curtain of a familiar story: a messy, post-GCSE holiday framed largely around drinking and partying.

Led by a remarkable and empathetic Mia McKenna-Bruce, How To Have Sex excelled in how it tackled uncomfortable questions and complicated emotions head-on. It managed to hold several themes in its hands and examine each one with equal, unflinching consideration, adding up to a gripping and weighty watch. A carefully told story, delivered by an excellent young cast.

Did you know? For the film’s nightclub scenes, the speakers were shut down entirely as the cameras rolled. This meant that the main cast were asked to “shout as if there was loud music playing, which sounded absolutely ridiculous,” McKenna-Bruce told NME earlier this year.

Like this? Try this: Waves (2019), Eighth Grade (2018). SW

‘Rye Lane’

8 ‘Rye Lane’

Director: Raine Allen Miller

Rye Lane wasn’t your average studio romcom. It wasn’t flashy. It wasn’t unrealistic or sensationalised. It didn’t boast an all-star Hollywood cast. But it was great anyway. Following two London strangers in Dom and Yas (played by David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah) who, over the course of 82 charming minutes, realised they were perfect for each other, director Raine-Allen Miller’s lo-fi gem reworked a tired format into a visually inventive and engaging treat. Quirky camera angles and lurid splashes of colour exaggerated the ill-fitting pair’s early courting – and the hilarious flashback scenes made for a few satisfying chuckles. Elsewhere, Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia’s brilliant writing brought the two very-different character’s interesting traits to the fore in a relatable way – and created a story that could make anyone believe love is waiting right around the street corner.

Did you know? Colin Firth, Michael ‘Big Shaq’ Dapaah and Munya Chawawa all have hilarious cameos.

Like this? Try this: Love Beats Rhymes (2017), Yesterday (2019). KSW


7 ‘Barbie’

Director: Greta Gerwig

When future historians look back at 2023, the pages of their books are all going to be pink. Greta Gerwig made a box-fresh musical comedy about a toy finding her place in the real world – sharply written, perfectly played by Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, and polished to a bubble-gum shine – but that’s not really the point. For one whole summer, cinemas across the world were sold-out by fans wearing DIY Barbiecore. Chain stores ran out of pink T-shirts. Arguments about feminism and the patriarchy found their way into primary school classroom conversations. Barbenheimer turned the weirdest double-feature ever planned into a cultural phenomenon. A quick vault over the billion-dollar box-office mark saw Gerwig break records for a female director. Nobody could stop singing ‘I’m Just Ken’… Wherever you were in 2023, and whatever you were doing, we were all just living in a Barbie world.

Did you know? The Barbies originally all had rigid “paddle hands”, that they weren’t allowed to bend. The idea was scrapped after a few terrible camera tests.

Like this? Try this: Francis Ha (2012), Little Women (2019). PB

‘Evil Dead Rise’

6 ‘Evil Dead Rise’

Director: Lee Cronin

In the seemingly bottomless pit of potential franchise reboots, Sam Raimi’s much-loved zombie series was an obvious candidate. The latest movie, 2013’s Evil Dead, had been a box office success – and fans were already petitioning for the return of undeniably dodgy TV series Ash vs Evil Dead since its cancellation in 2018. Ready to plunge a rotting fist through this already fertile ground was filmmaker Lee Cronin, an avid follower of Raimi’s originals. And, surprisingly, his ultra-gory first-rate shocker was just as good. Fast-paced and funny, the new film followed two estranged sisters whose reunion was cut short by the rise of flesh-possessing demons who slowly picked off them and their surrounding family in a Los Angeles tower block. Not a cabin-in-the-woods chiller like its forebears, then, but this novel twist on a much-loved format still proved one of the year’s best horror films.

Did you know? The practical effects team used a whopping six and a half thousand litres of blood throughout the movie.

Like this? Try this: Barbarian (2002), Terrifier 2 (2022). AF


5 ‘Pearl’

Director: Ti West

The middle chapter of Ti West’s soon-to-be-finished horror trilogy cut through expectations like a freshly sharpened axe. Where 2022’s X raked ‘70s porn tropes, the prequel took several steps back to the early days of cinema – with a gorgeous grindhouse ode to The Wizard Of Oz that played more like flipping through a family photo album with the cast of Psycho. However great Mia Goth was the first time around (playing two characters at once, one buried under a layer of OAP latex), she eclipsed it here in one of horror’s greatest ever performances as the star-eyed, occasionally-sadistic younger version of X’s geriatric killer. Several scenes found their way into 2023’s finest; the local audition, the scarecrow dance… but it was Goth’s unbroken six-minute monologue, and her frozen face in that final shot, that made sure Pearl really buried itself somewhere deep and disturbing.

Did you know? West wanted to shoot in black and white before A24 execs told him they had too many monochrome movies on the books already.

Like this? Try this: X (2022), The House Of The Devil (2009). PB

‘Killers of The Flower Moon’

4 ‘Killers Of The Flower Moon’

Director: Martin Scorsese

Based on real events, Martin Scorsese’s latest movie was a true masterpiece. Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio shone in a tale of the Osage Nation in 1920s Oklahoma, who were manipulated and murdered by White opportunists seeking to gain mineral rights. Simmering with tension, a bloody chapter in America’s history was portrayed with unflinching honesty by all involved. Robert DeNiro captivated as the despicable William ‘King’ Hale, the mastermind behind the murders, while Gladstone astonished as Mollie Kyle, an Osage woman who showed both grace and grit as she fought her oppressors. In the middle of it all was DiCaprio as Mollie’s husband Ernest, an ex-soldier who suspected his Uncle William wasn’t working in his best interests bit failed to do anything about it. This epic film filled with rage and intrigue proved Scorsese shows no signs of slowing down in his seventh decade of filmmaking, remaining as relevant now as he always was.

Did You Know? Star Lily Gladstone was about to leave acting, applying for a data analytics course at the moment Scorsese requested a meeting with her.

Like This? Try This: The Irishman (2019), There Will Be Blood (2007). VL


3 ‘Tár’

Director: Todd Field

Talk about passing the baton. Awards magnet Cate Blanchett shone as troubled composer Lydia Tár in Todd Field’s complex, challenging look at creativity and ‘cancel culture’. Playing the ‘maestro’ for the Berlin Philharmonic, it was a volcanic performance from the elegant Australian as she expertly essayed her character’s slide towards a full-on meltdown. As for Field, who hadn’t made a film since 2006’s Little Children, he plunged us into the high-stakes world of classical music with such detail, we came out feeling like we’d studied at Julliard for four years. From Tár’s brilliant take down of a woke student – all shot in one take – to the horror-like vibes that flow across one scene set in a dilapidated tower block to the surreal, ambiguous finale, it was a dense, delicious ride that dealt with power, sexuality and control. A true portrait of the artist, warts and all, this was truly one of the greats of 2023.

Did you know? Cate Blanchett took piano lessons and studied online masterclasses by Soviet conductor Ilya Mussin to prepare.

Like this? Try this: Maestro (2023), Blue Jasmine (2013). JM


2 ‘Oppenheimer’

Director: Christopher Nolan

Sure, Barbie might have won the Barbenheimer battle at the box office – $1.44billion to Oppenheimer’s measly $950m – but Christopher Nolan’s atom bomb epic triumphed where it truly matters: on this list. Telling the story of America’s physics genius who kicked off the Cold War when he unwisely invented nuclear weapons before trying to put Schrödinger’s cat back in its box, this intense biopic got us all thinking about the world’s fragile political situation – and how it could disintegrate at any moment. Thanks to Cillian Murphy’s awards-worthy performance – and some very fun supporting turns from Matt Damon and Tom Conti, alongside the less-fun but equally impressive Emily Blunt – the film told a compellingly human story too. Margot Robbie’s fantastic plastic dream dominated summer, but Oppie’s impact will undoubtedly last far longer than a season.

Did you know? Murphy huffed so many fake cigarettes on set – Oppenheimer chained them his entire life – that he said his next role definitely won’t be a smoker.

Like this? Try this: Dunkirk (2017), The Imitation Game (2014). AF

‘Past Lives’

1 ‘Past Lives’

Director: Celine Song

Past Lives, the directorial debut from playwright Celine Song, asked: “What if?” What if you reconnected with your school crush after not seeing them for 12 years? What if, another 12 years later, they came to see you for the first time since you were kids? What if things didn’t end with a big Hollywood romance ending?

Where other filmmakers would’ve been tempted to use Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung’s (Teo Yoo) story as a template for big drama and grand gestures, Song took a quieter approach. It’s part of what made Past Lives so enthralling – its soft way of moving forward mirroring the lingering feelings between its two central figures. There might have been few dramatic peaks here, but it still hooked you in entirely, the awkward tension between the reunited pair simmering at just the right level as Song’s story unfolded with masterful, subtle precision.

Did you know? Actors Teo Yoo and John Magaro only met for the first time when they filmed the first scene they share in the movie – making Hae Sung and Arthur’s first meeting their own too.

Like this? Try this: Soulmate (2023), The Farewell (2019). RD

The post The 20 best films of 2023 appeared first on NME.


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