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The top 50 movies of 2023 – Part I, with trailers

Mark Walsh reveals his top 50 movies of 2023. In this first part, he counts down from 50-26. Look out for part II, coming soon.

Time to look back on another year that was dominated in the summer by the Barbenheimer phenomenon. But 2023 hasn’t just been about fantastic plastic and an atomic apocalypse; while they’ve helped to get people back into cinemas, it’s been another veritable feast of quality cinema. If I was rating films on this list out of 10, then everything here warrants at least an eight and if you like the sound of any of these and haven’t seen them, then these 50 represent my personal recommendations of what to catch up with from the past 12 months. Enjoy!

50. Napoleon

Ridley Scott does scale about as well as anyone, so of course the battle scenes in the biopic of the French Emperor are clean, efficient and physical, but he also allows Joaquin Phoenix and Vanessa Kirby the space to flesh out their characters and serves up some of the year’s most entertaining dialogue.

49. The Lesson

National treasure Richard E Grant is the cantankerous heart of this quiet thriller, about a literary great grappling with his latest novel. Daryl McCormack and Julie Delpy also star but it’s Grant who keeps Alice Troughton’s secluded potboiler very watchable.

48. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

Comedy partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Pineapple Express) turn their hand to animation with a brisk and distinctive version of the origin story of the sewer-dwelling mutants with a fondness for pizza and a rat for a mentor (voiced here by Jackie Chan).

47. Missing

Shot from the perspective of watching a computer screen, using the same principle as 2018’s Searching, this standalone sequel is even more effective than its predecessor at delivering pulpy twists and turns as a teenage girl searches online for her mother.

46. The Creator

It feels increasingly rare to get big-budget original sci-fi these days, so a huge thank you to Rogue One and Godzilla director Gareth Edwards for stepping away from the franchises and making an epic on a medium budget. John David Washington is the ex-special forces agent tasked with ending a war between humans and AI.

45. Klokkenluider

Actor Neil Maskell’s darkly comic debut as a director has shades of Ben Wheatley and Martin McDonagh with his tale of a whistle-blower, his wife and their disenfranchised bodyguards hiding out in a house in remote Belgian countryside. Jenna Coleman is an entertainingly sweary newspaper executive.

44. The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry

Contrasting but compelling performances from Jim Broadbent and Penelope Wilton are at the heart of this drama about a man setting of on a long-distance walk on the spur of the moment. Wilton in particular mixes empathy and exasperation to great effect as Harold’s perplexed wife.

43. Reality

Tima Satter adapts her own play for the screen, based on a re-enactment of an FBI arrest using a transcript of the events. Sydney Sweeney plays Reality Winter, a US intelligence officer questioned at her own house by federal agents in a manner that’s constantly just over the edge of unsettling.

42. The Whale

Brendan Fraser donned prosthetics for Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of Samuel D. Hunter’s play to portray the college professor with morbid obesity working from home while being visited by his friend and carer, his estranged daughter and an oddly persistent Christian missionary.

41. Women Talking

Sarah Polley’s drama, inspired by real life events in an isolated religious community, has one of the year’s best casts – including Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, and Frances McDormand – as the community’s members debating how to react when the men abusing them are arrested.

40. Fingernails

A good year for Jessie Buckley, who appears opposite Riz Ahmed in this genre mash-up, a romantic black comedy drama with sci-fi trappings. Luke Wilson runs an institute testing whether love between couples is real with an unusual test, while Buckley begins to question its results.

39. Cocaine Bear

Director Elizabeth Banks delivers one of the year’s most shamelessly entertaining films, which takes a loose real-life inspiration – a bear unwittingly ingests a huge amount of cocaine and spins it to graphic, no holds barred effect. Also features Ray Liotta in one of his final screen roles as the drugs kingpin seeking his missing product.

38. Infinity Pool

Brandon Cronenberg continued to explore similar themes to his father David but with his own sensibility and style. Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth are the husband and wife drawn into the dark secrets of a society’s unusual justice methods in this stark sci-fi horror.

37. Close

Lukas Dhont directs and co-writes this tender, quietly affecting story of two teenage boys with a close relationship whose friendship is disrupted by the judgements of others. It’s a valuable examination of young relationships that is likely to leave not a dry eye in the house come the end.

36. Asteroid City

If Wes Anderson’s celebrity casts, featuring new (Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson) and returning names, get any bigger his films will simply be a two hour credits sequence. For now his particular brand of sharply stylised whimsy continues to charm; an overly complex story meta-structure the only slight drawback.

35. Nimona

An animation that came from the now defunct Blue Sky Studios closed when Disney acquired Fox, thankfully this charming animation blends genres with its mix of knights in a near-future alternate world. Riz Ahmed is the knight attempting to clear his name with the help of Chloe Moretz’s shapeshifter.

34. Typist Artist Pirate King

The film that opened this year’s Cambridge Film Festival is another fascinating work from one of British cinema’s most distinctive voices, Carol Morley. Monica Dolan is outstanding as artist Audrey Amiss, with Kelly McDonald playing her psychiatric nurse on a fictionalised road trip.

33. Anatomy Of A Fall

Sandra Hüller is the wife whose husband is found dead next to their chalet in the Alps, but did he fall or was he pushed? The possibilities are examined in a satisfyingly complex courtroom drama which sees both Sandra and her son in the witness box.

32. Guardians Of The Galaxy: Vol. 3

There’s been a fair amount of criticism for Marvel movies since Avengers: Endgame but I thought The Marvels was a lot of fun and the elements of Rocket’s story here are as good as the MCU has delivered in any phase. A fitting trilogy closer for the group of unlikely misfits.

31. Scrapper

Charlotte Regan’s feature debut, about a girl whose estranged father returns after her mother dies, is full of inventive moments and has a scrappy charm, not least from performances as Harris Dickinson as the returning father and Lola Campbell as his fiercely independent daughter.

30. Fallen Leaves

Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s style is probably best described as “extreme deadpan”, and he’s at his subtly eccentric best with his unconventional love story between a lonely supermarket shelf-sticker and am alcoholic building site worker, and their attempt to overcome repeated misunderstandings.

29. Broker

Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters) turns to South Korea for his latest inspiration, a road movie comedy drama steeped in the director’s usual themes of family and inspired by the Korean baby boxes, which allow children to be given up for adoption anonymously.

28. Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves

One of the year’s biggest surprises, this attempt to translate the role playing game is a hugely fun romp that has well-defined quests and never takes itself too seriously. Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez and Hugh Grant are among those seemingly getting paid for enjoying themselves.

27. Dream Scenario

Nicolas Cage is a balding college professor who suddenly starts appearing in the dreams of millions of people. Cage on top form is always a particular pleasure and that’s the case here, as he leans into the thrill of celebrity before realising the possible darker consequences of what’s unfolding.

26. Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie

This documentary from Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) mixes clips of the Back To The Future star’s career with illuminating interviews with Fox himself, disarmingly frank about his diagnosis and coming to terms with Parkinson’s disease.

Want more?

When you’re done with this lot, look out for Mark’s previous guides to the top movies of 2022 (part I and part II), 2021 (part I and part II), 2020 (part I and part II), 2019 (part I and part II) and 2018 (part I and part II), plus a guide of the best movies of the first 20 years of this century (part I and part II). Phew!

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