10 Best Films 2023: Joseph Wade

Despite the best attempts of greedy studio executives, cinema survived 2023. Writing strikes, acting strikes, and streaming price hikes, spoke of an industry led by disconnected businessmen who were seeking one thing and one thing only: profit. In Hollywood specifically, artificial intelligence was suddenly elevated to the status of screenwriter and visual effects supervisor, while the developing streaming age birthed a new form of worker exploitation: not paying those who work on the things you’re selling. Artists, creatives, human beings, were suddenly expendable parts of the filmmaking process, all in the name of cutting costs to further inflate stock prices. The studio executives attempted to bite the hand that feeds, and for once they got burned. Months of strikes paused film production, film releases, and film promotion, guaranteeing better rights for all writers and actors under the WGA and SAG-AFTRA unions. Humanity prevailed, and despite the threats that lurk just around the corner, for now there is victory for the artists and dreamers.

The story of the films that did find their way to release in 2023 was a similar one, with good films made with artistic intent succeeding at what seemed like a higher rate than ever, and some of the great screen artists emerging from beneath the rubble of a pandemic-ravaged 3 years and all of the studio greed that permeated every inch of the industry. Masters like Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Joanna Hogg, Hayao Miyazaki, Ken Loach, Christopher Nolan and (by UK release dates at least) Steven Spielberg released new films in 2023, while rising talents Greta Gerwig, Bradley Cooper, Celine Song and Emerald Fennell brought their own unique filmmaking voices to the table, ensuring that cinema reached a creative height that few years can rival in our current century.

With so much creative talent driving big studio tentpoles and imaginative independents alike, the competition for a 10 Best Films of the Year list was stronger than ever. The following 10 selections are the films that have been deemed the most significant artistically and culturally; the films that mean the most, that feature the best mise-en-scene, that are thematically relevant and/or challenging; the movies that have inspired us, have made us think, have caused us to cry. By UK release dates, these are the 10 Best Films of 2023.

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10. Anatomy of a Fall

Director and co-screenwriter Justine Triet became just the third woman to ever win the prestigious Cannes Palme d’Or with her 2023 courtroom drama Anatomy of a Fall. The film, which tells of a woman (Sandra Hüller in a year-topping performance of love, regret and obligation) defending herself against allegations that she has murdered her husband, is both moving and tremendously well written, with some dialogue exchanges being among the most realistic and very best put to screen in 2023.

Anatomy of a Fall is a film that is great on the page first-and-foremost, but it is certainly not lacking sophistication in direction and specifically in the edit, the latter playing a key part in keeping us engaged, helping us to follow the complex information, and ensuring that Triet manages to fulfil her intention of implicating us in the trial alongside her heroine. The filmmaker wishes to tell of how our society is sexist in nature, and that pervading sexist attitudes uphold the structures that ultimately cost women when they need fairness the most. It’s a movie suited for our time, and one sophisticated enough to last.

It isn’t difficult to get swept along in the mystery and the drama of the story being played out in front of you, and Triet is intelligent in how she evolves her tale from a did-she-do-it to a more gendered thematic undertaking. There are long sequences of aggressive courtroom interrogations, scenes involving pacing barristers flapping their hands, while crime procedural elements are minimised. This all works to emphasise the truth underpinning this unique three-language release… that nobody ever believes women.

9. Maestro

Maestro Review

Bradley Cooper sprung upwards from the exciting foundations laid in his feature debut A Star Is Born (2018) to offer one of the year’s most cinematically astute and rewarding experiences, Maestro, his biopic of the United States’ first conductor to lead a major American symphony orchestra, Leonard Bernstein. It is a film as rich and detailed in the visual medium as the great composer’s work was in the audio realm.

Fronted on the screen by Cooper himself in a highly respectable lead performance, and supported with great conviction by Carey Mulligan in another awards-worthy turn to add to her ever-growing list, Bernstein and his lifelong partner Felicia Montealegre are the combined subjects of this emotive pseudo biopic, Cooper and screenwriter Josh Singer telling of their famous relationship that spanned decades and many a controversy. Maestro isn’t the all-angles Leonard Bernstein biopic that many had expected, and as such it has been met with negativity by those expecting Bernstein’s past controversies and music-making genius to be more deeply explored, but for the relationship drama that it is – and the way the conducting scenes function in conjunction with the developments in the central relationship – there is a lot to enjoy; the audio-visual elements working together to enrich the text beyond the page.

The greatest achievement of this Netflix Original film is without a doubt the cinematography. Matthew Libatique (who usually works with Darren Aronofsky) transitions from some of the best black and white shadow work in years to a colour palette similar to those of 1960s relationship dramas, all the while sticking to a boxed 1.33:1 frame that both encapsulates the real-life couple’s lives being lived out on people’s television screens and also lends this already cinematic visual offering an added sense of depth to every choice both within the frame and behind the scenes. This is one film that looks so fantastic and says so much without words that the visual elements of the filmmaking cannot be ignored; Maestro is simply too good to look away from.

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