It’s been quite a year for film.
When the year began, the industry was still struggling with post-pandemic malaise and covid shutdowns and slowdowns. Studios and theatres fretted over low turnouts in 2022. Then the American film industry ground to a halt, crippled by a writer’s strike that lasted 148 days with SAG-AFTRA following suit with a strike that lasted 118 days. All of this could have seemingly spelled an end or a massive negative shift for the industry as we know it. Instead, we saw a year of some of the most beautiful and unique films of recent years and crowd turnouts to new blockbusters that seemed unthinkable the year before. There was a huge rejection of bland superhero releases this year, with audiences clearly keen to head to the cinema to see huge, unique films by some of the industry’s most audacious directors. It’s a fantastic and encouraging sign for the future of cinema.
So, as already mentioned, there were a ton of excellent films this year. But there were some that resonated more than others - to us at least. They are represented here. Note that the films on this list were shown in Germany or had their release dates in the German film calendar of 2023.
Greta Gerwig’s Barbie was the surprise (or maybe not so surprising) smash of the year. Demonstrating to big studio’s (men) everywhere that a female director could spearhead a billion-dollar hit, this film exploded onto the scene and entered the public lexicon almost instantly. Humorous, sumptuous, ridiculous and surprisingly heartfelt, Barbie is a testament to Gerwig’s power as a filmmaker and Margot Robbie’s timeless charm - and of course, the delight that is Ryan Gosling. The cinematography and practical production is outstanding and it’s just so wonderful to actually laugh in the cinema again. Ken’s discovery of the patriarchy is one of the great comedic sequences in modern film. We’d tell you to go watch it, but you probably already have.
Another masterpiece for the ages from beloved, revered, and adored filmmaker Miyazaki. Reminiscent of the director’s greatest films like Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle, but somehow still as creative as them despite the man being in his 80s, The Boy and the Heron is one of the best of the year. If this really is Miyazaki’s final word, then it’s a conclusion worthy of his legacy. After losing his mother during the war, young Mahito moves to his family's estate in the countryside. There, a series of mysterious events lead him to a secluded and ancient tower, home to a mischievous grey heron. The music is sensational, the animation is sublime, the voice cast for the Japanese and English-dubbed versions are superb - it’s a perfect package of a film. Watch it and love it.
Tina Stater is one of the most remarkable and talented artists in the world today, so I suppose it shouldn’t be all that surprising that her first film is also remarkable. Based on the FBI interrogation transcript of American intelligence leaker Reality Winner - which actually comes up on the screen during certain sections - this is a tight, lean film. Starring Sydney Sweeney in perhaps her greatest performance to date, this is a troubling, unsettling, and beautifully made chamber piece. The film rigidly adheres to the actual recording that the FBI men made on the day Reality Winner lost her freedom, and it is a powerful indictment of the precarious times we live in. The men who enter Reality’s home aren’t interested in truth, for them it’s about retribution. It is deeply troubling seeing how they enter this woman’s home, confine her to an almost empty space in her house and very slowly strip her of everything. This is a really excellent HBO drama. Go see it.
A blockbuster unlike any other - and proof that audiences will turn out in droves for a taut, challenging drama over a bland superhero film - Oppenheimer is easily one of the year’s best. A haunting courtroom drama that spans decades, Christopher Nolan has achieved something remarkable with his latest film. And central to its power is the indelible Cillian Murphy delivering the most complex, nuanced and powerful performance of the year. The supporting cast is also stunning, with a surprising and delightful turn from Robert Downey Jr. as the Salieri to Murphy’s Oppenheimer. The film itself is a long and challenging one, but a central horrifying scene depicting a nuclear test is one of the greatest moments in film this year.
3 and half hours sounds like a daunting watch, but it’s stunningly riveting in the hands of the master of cinema. Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon is an unflinching and deeply disturbing film. Recounting the murders of the Osage community following the discovery of oil on their land, this is one Scorsese’s most violent, and all the more terrifying for it. The abhorrent violence inflicted on the Osage is all the more chilling when considering the real-life murders themselves. It is a powerful reflection on the bloody history of America, and a dire warning for us all to heed the lessons of the past. One would think that all-out performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro would be the most captivating in a Scorsese film, but Lily Gladstone’s quietly devastating performance as Mollie Burkhart is the central heart of this American epic.
This year’s best films had a fair few moments of heartbreak, but nothing as wrenching as Andrew Haigh’s All of Us Strangers. Starring two of Ireland’s finest, Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal, this romantic fantasy is a truly unique spectacle. A profound examination of deep grief through a fantastical lens, the film explores the lonely connection formed by two men who live in the same near-empty tower block in contemporary London. Adam (Andrew Scott) however is dealing with the loss of his parents, both of whom died in a car accident. However, after returning to the suburban town where he grew up, we realise that he is visiting them in his childhood home just as they were 30 years before. Andrew Haigh is famous for his grounded, beautiful work (Weekend and 45 Years are just heavenly), but to see him handle a love story with ghostly elements is truly special. Be prepared to cry, like, a lot.
This is some confident, classic filmmaking right here. A courtroom procedural that manages to succeed in various genres simultaneously. Winner of the coveted Palme d’Or, Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall follows the aftermath of an apparent murder. In an isolated mountain chalet near Grenoble, Sandra Voyter’s husband is discovered dead in the snow by their visually-impaired son. It’s unclear whether it was an act of suicide, an accident, or indeed murder. What unfolds is a lengthy courtroom drama, one in which every facet of Sandra’s relationship with her husband is scrutinised in what is perhaps the best script of 2023. Sandra Hüller’s performance is absolutely riveting and the twists and turns of the narrative are oh so very gripping. An intricately layered, surgically controlled drama, this is filmmaking that needs to be seen.
An arresting tour-de-force from Icelandic filmmaker Hlynur Pálmason, Godland is unlike any other film this year. Set at the end of the 19th century, Lucas, a young Lutheran Danish priest, is sent to a remote part of Iceland to oversee the establishment of a new parish church - a territory of Denmark at the time. A formidable journey through unforgiving landscapes unfolds, one in which Lucas’ resolve and grasp on reality are challenged. He’s an arrogant man of god, blind to the hatred his colonial presence instils. This examination of faith and clash of cultures is the central power of this gripping drama, and it is told with a visual style that is unmatched in 2023. Godland is a transfixing journey into the heart of colonial darkness - one in which the terrifying power and arresting majesty of the natural world take centre stage.
Yorgos Lanthimos is without a doubt one of the most exciting voices in cinema today, and this is the most extraordinary addition to his filmography since The Lobster (or maybe even Dogtooth). Telling the story of Bella, a Frankenstein-like creation with the mind of a baby and the body of a woman, this film is a breathtaking exploration of what it is to be human - and all the oddities, delights and eccentricities that come with it. Unwaveringly creative and profoundly funny, and featuring two of the year’s best performances from Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo, this is a surprisingly emotional journey told with the most eccentric visual flair seen in anything for years. Bella is an extraordinary character in an extraordinary film, and we experience this wild and wonderful world through her eyes, equally as in awe at all of its splendour and horror. Go see it so that you can start looking forward to the second viewing.
Alice Rochrwacher’s La Chimera is an astonishing wonder of a film. So uniquely clever, ambitious, well-crafted and written. There’s nothing quite like it. A deeply moving and funny meditation on our attitudes toward life, love and death and told with a touch of magic that unearths truths about Italy’s past. Everyone has their own Chimera, something they try to achieve but never manage to find. For the film's band of merry miscreants, thieves of ancient grave goods and archaeological wonders, the Chimera means redemption from work and the dream of easy wealth. For the film’s star, the ever-wonderful Josh O’Connor, the Chimera looks like the woman he lost, Beniamina. To find her, Arthur challenges the invisible, searches everywhere and even goes inside the earth. It is such a unique gem of a film, entirely emblematic of Rohrwacher’s unique voice and spectacular filmmaking.
Aki Kaurismäki’s beautifully understated Fallen Leaves is a love story for our times. Employing deadpan humour and boasting remarkable performances from Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen, the film plastered a smile on our faces for all of its (perfect) 81 minutes. Though a love story at its heart, it remains one of the most cogent anti-war films of recent years. Set in a seemingly alternate reality in the autumn of 2024 (landlines and tube radios abound), broadcasts throughout the film cover the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And it is here, in this affecting juxtaposition, that the power of this Finnish masterpiece lies - the characters’ act of love a defiant protest of Russia’s assault on normalcy.
A beautiful meditation on love, lives lost and the immigrant experience, Celine Song’s Past Lives is a masterful debut feature from an exciting new talent. Told with confident simplicity, the story of Nora and Hae Sung’s love is a powerful one. Wrest apart at a young age following Nora’s emigration from South Korea to the U.S., the two reunite decades later for one fateful week in New York City. Anchored by a stunning performance from Greta Lee, Past Lives’ modest and humble locations give it a feeling of profound authenticity in 2023. It is a romantic masterpiece, told simply and brimming with poetry. There are many reasons why this is our film of the year, too many to list here, but you owe it to yourselves to see it.
Go watch ‘em.
Honourable mentions: How to Have Sex, A Thousand and One, Asteroid City, Henry Sugar, Afire, Anselm, You Hurt My Feelings, The Killer, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Saltburn
PLUS some films we’re excited for in 2024: May December, The Zone of Interest, Dune: Part Two, Joker: Folie à Deux, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, Challengers, Nosferatu, Twisters, MaXXXine, Gladiator 2, Mickey 17, The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim.
Ciao Zooliners & Happy New Year!