10 Best Films 2023: Sam Sewell-Peterson

5. Godzilla Minus One

Godzilla Minus One Review

Making the big lizard relevant again by setting his latest appearance in the immediately post-WWII setting of the original film and piling on the social commentary, Godzilla Minus One for once made the humans even more compelling than the titular Kaiju.

In the aftermath of WWII a former pilot (Ryunosuke Kamiki) wracked by guilt starts a new life in a still fragile Tokyo just as a newly atomically-mutated Godzilla begins a path of destruction across Japan. Soon, a massive counter-offensive brings ex-service personnel back to the fight, hoping to bring down the monster while there is still something left of their cities.

What has been achieved visually on a $15million budget by writer-director-VFX designer Takashi Yamazaki is really quite astonishing, but what makes this stand out from its wider franchise is the care and attention paid to making the human characters interesting and their hellish experiences as hard-hitting as possible. Godzilla, as a symbol of the worst horrors mankind has created, has rarely packed such a punch.

Recommended for you: Showa Era Godzilla Movies Ranked (1954-1975)

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

You don’t need to be an eleven year-old girl to be moved by the universal humanity of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, but if you are, or once were one, it could have a profound change on your life outlook.

Adapting Judy Blume’s frank and beloved coming-of-age novel, we follow Margaret (Abby Ryder-Fortson) who has to move with her family from her comfortable life in New York near her supportive grandmother (Kathy Bates) to the suburbs where she falls in with a new group of friends fascinated by and competitive about the upcoming onset of puberty. The usual teenage worries, combined with a crisis of faith caused by her parents’ differing beliefs and her life suddenly been upended, leaves Margaret with questions about who she is and how she will navigate her future.

Kelly Fremon Craig was last seen directing a slightly older-skewing but just as heartfelt coming-of-age movie, The Edge of Seventeen, and here she proves adept at sensitively bringing Blume’s source material to life, ensuring it is not sanitised and that every character is flawed and sympathetic while developing and expanding some roles from the book (notably Margaret’s mother Barbara, played here by Rachel McAdams). The cast bring such warmth and unfussy realness to their roles, and the story as a whole can catch you off guard in how wise its messages can be and how efficiently it can reduce you to a blubbering mess.

3. Return to Seoul

Return to Seoul Review

Cultural alienation has been a big theme over the past few years, from Lulu Wang’s The Farewell to Celine Song’s Past Lives. Return to Seoul has more of a cynical and bitter edge to it, and you genuinely cannot predict where its unlikeable but fascinating protagonist will end up next.

Davy Chou’s film discusses people who feel their culture and heritage is mismatched through a decade of Korean-born, French-raised Freddie’s (Park Ji-min) experiences. She decides to return, seemingly out of the blue, to the country in which she was given up for adoption a quarter of a century earlier, and with the help of an accommodating friend (Guka Han) she succeeds, though things go far from the way she expects.

“Why are you so sad?” Freddie is asked at a key turning point in the story, and may never be able to truly answer. We are dropped back into Freddie’s life at various points as she finds success and makes a whole heap of mistakes throughout her 20s. This is one of those films where its eventual endpoint cannot be predicted, as it constantly wrong-foots you as you’re trying to decipher this often abrasive enigma of a character brought to such vivid life by first-time movie actor Park Ji-min.

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