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8th February 2024

The best films of 2023

What’s more prestigious than the Oscars? Our Film Section’s 2023 round up. It’s a list directors can only dream of being a part of
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The best films of 2023
Photo: Nathan Engel @ Pexels

The year 2023 was defined by the cultural event of ‘Barbenheimer’ and in that sense, our list may look like many others. However, as a list put together by the collective opinions of our writers (each gave a weighted top 5 which came together to make our list), it is also completely unique.

It reflects the diverse taste of a student population who still have space for blockbusters but are more and more gravitating towards grounded independent film. Similarly, throughout the list there is a clear desire for originality as even the franchise choices go to unexpected places. So, beyond the cultural behemoth that was ‘Barbenheimer’, 2023 reminded us of the power of film to speak to contemporary issues and put young people at the centre of the conversation.

12. Priscilla (dir. Sofia Coppola)

Credit: PRISCILLA @ Mubi

In Priscilla, Sofia Coppola reframes the story of beloved pop culture icons, Priscilla and Elvis Presley, following Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis. Retrospectively, Coppola’s sublime storytelling successfully narrates the experience of Priscilla, capturing the glittering and glamorous exterior while opening Pandora’s box to an uncomfortable address of the abuse she endured at Graceland.

By Ella Green

11. Anatomy of a Fall (dir. Justine Triet)

Credit: ANATOMY OF A FALL @ Picturehouse Entertainment

Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall takes truth and contorts it until everything is down to perspective, playing with the ambiguity of guilt that is so key to the courtroom drama. Set in the idyllic snowy mountains, a death pierces the family unit and suddenly the wife of the victim is the primary suspect. What follows is a dissection of the death, with their visually impaired son as the only witness and a fractured marriage as practically the only evidence. Sandra Hüller plays the accused in a tightrope walk of a performance which leaves the audience guessing and is one of the best of the year.

By Daniel Collins

10. Saltburn (dir. Emerald Fennell)

Credit: SALTBURN @ Warner Bros. Pictures

Emerald Fennell’s first release since her award-winning debut Promising Young Woman, Saltburn is a psycho-sexual thriller which updates The Talented Mr Ripley story with a distinct, seductive weirdness. This film’s luxurious production and compelling performances have already garnered a fierce cult following. Particularly, the nostalgic ‘00s indie-sleaze’ of Sophie Canale’s costume design. The turn-of-the-millennium retrospective that is Saltburn‘s earworm of a soundtrack has produced a cultural phenomenon hardly avoidable across social media. Whilst not the top of our 2023 list, Saltburn is undoubtedly one of the most talked-about and divisive films of the year.

By Evan Meikle

9. The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (dir. Francis Lawrence)


After an eight-year hiatus since the conclusion of the original Hunger Games franchise, the latest instalment, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, finally hit cinemas. As a devoted Hunger Games fan, this cinematic masterpiece fulfilled years of anticipation, captivating my heart and those of fellow fans hungry for more thrilling content. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes intricately blends the origins of the formidable President Snow with the evolution of the Hunger Games, showcasing an extraordinary display of creative imagination. We were left enthralled by the captivating cinematic voyage that played out on the big screen.

By Grace Hilton

8. Killers of the Flower Moon (dir. Martin Scorsese)

Credit: KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON @ Paramount Pictures

Killers of the Flower Moon is a portrait of pure white supremacist evil and a 200-minute-long sustained punch in the gut. It documents the murders of members of the Osage Nation and takes us into the lives of the perpetrators, not pulling any punches in depicting their dismissive evil. Robert De Niro is terrifying as the mastermind behind the murders, and Leonardo DiCaprio as his stupid, cowardly but actively complicit nephew is great too. However, the real star of the show is Lily Gladstone, who viscerally embodies the pain of the Osage community in my personal favourite performance of the year.

By Dominic Hayes

7. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (dirs. Joaquim Dos Santos, Justin K. Thompson and, Kemp Powers)

Across the Spider-Verse marks the next chapter in the animated superhero saga, continuing the story of Miles Morales, Gwen Stacy and the wider multiverse. The film has gained both critical and box-office success alongside the high accolade of coming 7th on our list.

By Daniel Collins

6. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (dir. James Gunn)

Credit: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3 @ Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was not only one of Marvel’s best films of the year, but of 2023 as a whole. Following the disaster that was Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, I was sceptical of the new direction Marvel was taking Phase Five, but was more than pleasantly surprised with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. The film is emotional, loaded with heavy themes and harrowing moments. However, don’t let this put you off! James Gunn brilliantly balances humour with melancholy. The soundtrack was spectacular yet again, overall it felt like the perfect conclusion to the trilogy.

By Imogen Mingos

5. Past Lives (dir. Celine Song)

Credit: PAST LIVES @ A24

Past Lives is the painstakingly beautiful story of two childhood friends reconnecting after years apart. Celine Song’s debut film demonstrates her ground-breaking talent as it’s so delicate yet impactful. In Kermode & Mayo’s Take, Song related theatre to Buddhism, explaining the immense level of devotion required for the art of theatre. She perfectly embodies this in Past Lives with every line and every scene feeling purposeful.

Song crafts these intricate relationships with great care, writing one of the best lines of 2023 – “You’re dreaming in a language that I can’t understand”. We cannot forget the quietly gut-punching performances from Greta Lee and Teo Yoo. Not only is their chemistry undeniable, but the intimacy in their fleeting glances truly reflects In-yun, the Korean concept of two individuals fated for one another. Song is sure to become a star director.

By Natalie Ghebru

4. Rye Lane (dir. Raine Allen Miller)

Credit: RYE LANE @ Searchlight Pictures

Rye Lane is your typical love story. Out of context, this isn’t adequate praise for a film at all – and you’d be right. But the beauty of Rye Lane lies in its simplicity. There’s nothing overly complex about its storyline. Yet the cinematography, location choices and set design radiates a quiet confidence that makes this love story stand up with some of the greats.

The art of coincidence is what makes this film so joyous: I mean who meets their potential significant other in a gender-neutral toilet? By the end, you’re left with a wistful hope that for us singletons the beauty of meeting a significant other is apparently not as complex as imagined. Rye Lane perfectly captures the difficulty of building meaningful connections between people nowadays. It’s not a challenging watch, but what’s the harm in a film that just warms the heart?

By Jacob Robinson

3. Barbie (dir. Greta Gerwig)

Credit: BARBIE @ Warner Bros. Pictures

Greta Gerwig brought sparkle, pop music and existentialism to our screens last summer whilst audiences bought their hyper-pink outfits to match. Barbie was one of the biggest and most talked about films of the year, earning over $1 billion at the world box office. Gerwig’s film heavily contributed to pop culture last year bringing words such as “sublime” and the neologism “Kenergy” to the table.

Whether you thought its discussion of feminism was enlightening or flat as Barbie’s own two feet, there’s no denying that Barbie’s curiosity about the outside world got people thinking about the impact of “patriarchy” – spotlighting how women and even men are disenfranchised under the rigid social order. All in all, Barbie is a jovial film exploring what it means to be a woman in the 21st century and is a great celebration of femininity throughout the generations.

By Daniella Alconaba

2. How to Have Sex (dir. Molly Manning Walker)

Credit: HOW TO HAVE SEX @ Mubi

As a young woman, I’ve grown tired of radical yet unproductive endings such as the ‘all-men-must-die’ narrative and the overly idealised ‘after all, my girlfriends are the best’ trope. How to Have Sex stands in contrast to this and uses a soft, calm and realistic approach to address even highly politicised issues of sexual consent, allowing viewers to empathise with protagonist Tara (Mia McKenna Bruce)

How to Have Sex might be challenging to watch – it left me feeling as if trapped in a bell jar – but it is never overwhelming. Ultimately, like Tara, I just wanted the turbulent summer in her memory to end. This immersive experience increased my awareness that no one should feel forced to speak up about their traumas, even though it is generally considered the right thing to do. The film also shows how hard it is for the victim’s friends to recognise their struggles in changing environments, rather than accusing them of selfishness. 

If you enjoy realist, documentary-like films that capture the nuanced and often unspoken emotions of young adulthood then How to Have Sex should be next on your list.

By Cynthia Dong

1. Oppenheimer (dir. Christopher Nolan)

Credit: OPPENHEIMER @ Universal Pictures

What can we say about Oppenheimer that hasn’t already been said? It’s been recognised as one of the best films of 2023 by almost everyone up to the Oscars voting body and it clearly represents the peak of Christopher Nolan’s career. Personally, I can understand why it’s been characterised as such.

One of Oppenheimer‘s clear highlights is its script, containing three hours of build-up to an explosive third act which still keeps the viewer engaged by ratcheting up the tension ever so slowly. The film’s features are carefully thought out, so much so that every rewatch (I’m on my fifth, I don’t want to talk about it) adds a new takeaway to the viewing experience. I’m still stuck on the recurring, reverberating sound of feet stomping in the gymnasium scene as an auditory representation of Oppenheimer’s realisation of the consequences of his actions. It’s details like these that add up to create a layered, multifaceted film which can support endless rewatches.

Oppenheimer is getting heaps of well-deserved praise for Cillian Murphy’s performance. Murphy never feels tempted to stray into excess; instead, he manages to keep his performance understated while still embodying the character of Oppenheimer and serving as the heart of the film. His role combines well with stellar turns from the supporting cast, who help to create fully realised performances even from characters who don’t seem to have much to do with the script (we love you Rami Malek!).

However, the film’s central strength is its thematic resonance to our current political climate. The final scene is absolutely harrowing in its portrayal of the continued dangers that nuclear weapons present for humanity, and stays with you long after the credits roll. Overall, it’s the strongest moment of a film which manages to draw all its pieces together into a powerful, propulsive whole.

By Freya Calder

Daniella Alconaba

Daniella Alconaba

Film and TV Editor for The Mancunion

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