2023 has certainly been an interesting one; a really challenging 12 months for cinema, a year for the art and the industry that didn’t go the way anyone thought it would.
After barely surviving a mandatory shutdown in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the executive class running some of the largest film studios in the world decided that they weren’t quite ridiculously rich enough yet and furthermore they hadn’t taken enough liberties – financial, creative and moral – with those employed by them.
And so the actors and writers collectively said no and downed tools for five months in a dispute over pay (including residual payments in the age of streaming), working conditions, and especially the increasing threat of artificial intelligence being used to not only write screenplays based on algorithms but to steal the likenesses of actors (living and dead) and store them in perpetuity without just compensation.
With Hollywood productions quiet for half the year and none of the “talent” allowed to promote those movies that were completed prior to the strikes, we ended up with a more limited and less enthusiastically received slate of major releases. Not even superhero movies or franchise sequels fronted by Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise were guaranteed hits anymore.
Despite all this, 2023 ended up being a pretty good year for cinema, with plenty of examples of not only memorable blockbusters but of distinct filmmakers leaving their mark and under-represented communities providing vibrancy and freshness to a myriad of new stories. Based upon UK release dates, these are my 10 Best Films of 2023.
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10. You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah
2023 has been a great year for films about how Gen-Z processes their major life experiences, and this delightful, hilarious little film starring most of the Sandler clan (including Adam as an adorably schlubby dad) is up there with the very best.
As she approaches her her 13th birthday and the Jewish coming-of-age ritual, Stacy Friedman (Sunny Sandler) is determined to make her Bat Mitzvah the most perfect and memorable of her peer group, including that of BFF Lydia (Samantha Lorraine). But things get a lot more complicated as hormones, teenage crushes and petty but damaging psychological manipulation via social media enter the mix.
Five years ago, Bo Burnham made his memorable feature debut with Eighth Grade and told one of the most connective, visceral stories about becoming a teenager in years. Sammi Cohen’s film has the same aim but demonstrates how seismically culture has changed in just half a decade, all through a Jewish cultural lens. There may have never been a more challenging time to be growing up in an always-online age, and Alison Peck’s insightful script in addition to the across-the-board wonderfully naturalistic performances help to make this an unexpectedly profound crowd-pleaser.
9. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3
#JusticeforJamesGunn incarnate, the final chapter of the unlikeliest a-hole superhero team’s story shatters expectations and satisfyingly delivers on almost every level.
After years of defending the countless worlds together, the Guardians team has reached a precarious place. Their leader Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) has slumped into a depressed, alcoholic stupor after losing the love of his life Gamora (Zoe Saldaña), and Rocket’s (Bradley Cooper) past as a bio-engineered test subject comes back to haunt him in a very real way. Can the team come together one last time and save the galaxy, and themselves?
Marvel is seen as a pretty risk-averse studio and certainly much of their recent output has been received with a shrug from many viewers, but Guardians Vol 3 shows what happens when one of the best directors they partnered with is left to finish the story he wanted to tell. The action has never been more polished and visually dazzling, the performances from people and animated raccoons alike so honest and full of pain, Gunn’s love of animals so prominent as the team go up against a truly detestable figure who causes pain for the hell of it.
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