Darkling and queerdos, it's that time of year again... yes, February, because it takes me a few weeks to catch up and call it on my favourite new movies of 2023! While the Oscars circle their usual A-list of prestige movies, audiences cram watch anything that's nominated and we wait for a likely Oppenheimer sweep, these are the movies that most tickled me in 2023. Some are nominated. Many are not. Many are horror or queer, and all are fabulous.
20. Red, White, and Royal Blue (Matthew Lopez, USA)
Cheesy, dumb, eminently predictable gay rom-com set in the highest halls of Anglo/American power and I loved it just for that (and its two charismatic leads).
19. Blackberry (Matt Johnson, Canada)
Slick bio-dramedy following the rise and fall of the world's clickiest cult cell phone.
18. Rotting in the Sun (Sebastián Silva, USA)
In-your-face, sex-positive black comedy starring its director alongside influencer Jordan Firstman. It's odd, demented, disturbing, and often wildly funny.
17. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (James Gunn, USA)
Yeah, a Marvel movie made my top 20 of the year. Please take a picture in case it never happens again! Whether you're a Guardians fan or not (I loved the first, the second not so much), it's a high-energy space opera that is self-contained from the rest of the MCU.
16. Barbie (Greta Gerwig, USA)
Why didn't I rate the year's biggest hit higher? Because I preferred the next 15 films. But I also loved Barbie, a big, pink sweet fantasy pleasure packed with laughs. It also takes a huge risk in giving its two main arcs/journeys to Ken and Gloria (America Ferrera). Of course, they're the ones who got Oscar nods, so I guess some folks got it. And of course, now and always, Team Weird Barbie.
15. Passages (Ira Sachs, France)
Flipping the usual narrative, Passages sees Tomas step out on his husband for a woman, exploring all the nuances, back-and-forth, and messed-up feelings that follow. While I would have preferred a story that delved into polyamory, that would be a different film. The one we got is still brilliant.
14. Anatomy of a Fall (Justine Triet, France)
I'm pretty sure someone in France is kicking themselves for not making this the country's entry to Best International Feature, but its cartload of nominations is well-earned. I've been a Sandra Hüller fan since Toni Erdmann, but holy hell, I was not ready!
13. Oppenheimer (Christopher Nolan, USA)
It's a bit too long, but when it hits you, it hits hard. I'm not a fan of court dramas in general, but it says something that both Anatomy (above) and the other half of the Barbenheimer phenomenon are on this list.
12. Dream Scenario (Kristoffer Borgli, USA)
A24 + Nicholas Cage = One of three superb Kafka nightmares that came out in 2023. This is the most bittersweet one. Make of that what you will.
11. Infinity Pool (Brandon Cronenberg, Canada)
What would humans do to each other with no consequences? Cronenberg the younger's sci-fi horror show invites us to find out with awesome performances from Alexander Skarsgard and the current queen of scream, Mia Goth.
10. Beau Is Afraid (Ari Aster, USA)
Kafka Pt 2. Looking for a relaxing evening in? Right. Beau Is Afraid is NOT that movie. Probably the most unsettling film on the list, though to call it 'horror' is kind of reductive. Joaquin Phoenix is stellar, while Patti LuPone will haunt your dreams.
9. American Fiction (Cord Jefferson, USA)
And completing the Venn diagram of Kafkary, Jeffrey Wright gives probably a career-best performance as an author sick of being pigeon-holed by the culture war and self-serving white 'liberals' looking to commercialize 'the Black experience.' It's hilarious, it's unnervingly on point, it'll make you hate Reddit even more, and it deserves every accolade.
8. Knock at the Cabin (M. Night Shyamalan)
A gay horror Sophie's Choice narrative with apocalyptic consequences? I was dreading it would go wrong, but oh, it went so, so right! Anchored by superb performances across the board, and Shyamalan's best direction in years.
7. Humanist Vampire Seeks Consenting Suicidal Person (Ariane Louis-Seize, Canada)
Hands down, winner, Best Title of 2023! Also, a hilariously twisted and intelligent vampire tale set in Quebec. Put it between Ginger Snaps and Let the Right One In.
6. When Evil Lurks (Demián Rugna, Argentina)
From the director of the criminally underrated Terrified, this freaked me right out in the best way. The scariest movie of the year, it finds the perfect balance between grimness and wonder, keeping hope just in sight to create a masterclass in horror pacing.
5. Saltburn (Emerald Fennell, UK)
Even if that scene has been spoiled for you already, Saltburn packs a heady punch. I could watch Jacob Elordi endlessly, but that's not the point of this dark, funny tale of queer lust wrapped around lust for the finer things. Extra points for landing one of my favourite Britpop stars, Sophie Ellis-Bextor on the US singles chart for the first time (with a 21yo song!). Oh, and if you liked it, my book Puppet Boy might be up your alley. Shameless plug over.
4. Nuovo Olimpo (Ferzan Özpetek, Italy)
Lost love, cinema, gorgeous rooftop terraces, and beautiful men? This is one of the most Almodovar films that isn't made by Almodovar. If it's been circling your Netflix list for a while, move it to the top when you're in the mood for a complex gay romance or a stay-at-home date movie.
3. Talk to Me (Danny and Michael Philippou, Australia)
I'm not sure what it says about South Australia that it produces so many great horror films (The Babadook is an Adelaide-based film too), but holy hell. Talk to Me opens with a killer bang and despite never letting up, somehow finds time to deliver a satisfying metaphor of addiction and grief that never feels on the nose. Thank the directors and star Sophie Wilde for that.
2. Poor Things (Yorgos Lanthimos, Ireland)
Is it a fantasy? Comedy? Sci-fi? Frankenstein redux? It's all these things, and it's my pick for Best Picture at this year's Oscars. Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo give career-best performances in the film Lanthimos was meant to make. To say more would spoil the fun!
1. All of Us Strangers (Andrew Haigh, UK)
I watched Greek Pete for the first time this year and to chart Andrew Haigh's career from that, through Weekend, to Looking, and 45 Years to this magical realism masterpiece is quite something. What does Queer cinema even mean anymore? If All of Us Strangers is any indication, infinite possibilities. And I'll say this once. Do not watch this with anyone you're not comfortable ugly crying in front of. Or do. It's worth it.