is an A to Z listing of the best films on planet
earth in 2023, in our view. You may notice that the top earning
pictures are not necessarily the best films according to the critics. And,
it all depends on your tastes, as the movie going public.
Whatever way you
look at it, 2023 has been a fascinating, unpredictable year in cinema. From the excitement of the Barbenheimer phenomenon at the height of summer to a disappointing year for the long-dominant force of superhero movies, there has been plenty to talk about – and, more importantly, a vast array of wonderful films to enjoy in a vast range of genres and styles.
our view, one of the best releases along the lines of Rambo and Jango
Unchained, is Sisu.
A film that didn't get a look in with all the conventional reviewers.
Walt Disney Studios and
Bros. celebrated their 100th anniversaries in 2023. Many of the year's films were box-office bombs, attributed to high budgets and low marketing due to the 2023 Hollywood labor disputes.
The year saw an unusually large number of high-profile, big-budget films which subsequently under-performed at the box office, leading to the coining of the term
Some of the most prominent tent-pole films of 2023 which under-performed include:
Ant-Man and the Wasp:
Shazam: Fury of the Gods,
The Little Mermaid,
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts,
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One,
Blue Beetle, and
Many reasons have been given for the phenomenon, with one of the most common being the high budgets and thus increased thresholds for breaking even and making a profit.
2 The Super Mario Bros. Movie
4 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
5 Fast X
6 Spider-Man: Across Spider-Verse $690,615,475
7 The Little Mermaid
8 Mission Impossible: DeadReck P. I $567,535,383
Christopher Nolan's latest seems more firmly grounded. As he did in Dunkirk, Nolan revisits the past, this time with a more controversial story. Cillian Murphy plays J Robert Oppenheimer, the US physicist who became known as "the father of the atomic bomb" and wrestled with the morality of his work for the rest of his life. Because everything Nolan does is big, this biopic is shot in Imax and features dramatic on-screen explosions set in the desert of New Mexico, where the bomb was tested. Emily Blunt plays Oppenheimer's scientist wife, Kitty, with Florence Pugh as his former love, Matt Damon as the US Army General who led the Manhattan Project that developed the bomb, and Robert Downey Jr as Lewis Strauss, who orchestrated government hearings that questioned Oppenheimer's loyalty. Released on 21 July.
A three-hour, R-rated portrait of the father of the atomic bomb, where glossy Hollywood spectacle is largely eschewed in favour of dialogue-heavy security hearings, discussions of quantum physics in fusty universities and McCarthy-era political machinations – that Oppenheimer got anywhere near $1 billion at the box office is enough of a marvel, the fact it’s also the best film of the year is nothing short of seismic.
Cillian Murphy’s J Robert Oppenheimer is as fascinatingly evasive as his first initial – moving from active to passive in his own story, as the film urges viewers to pass their own judgment on his formidable legacy. Meanwhile, a never-better Robert Downey Jr is a scene-stealer as Lewis Strauss, stripping back his movie star charisma to fly under the radar with devastating effect (his frustrated smirk-cum-grunt during a tense group meeting is worth the price of IMAX admission alone).
But in truth, the real star is Christopher Nolan. While the Trinity test is the much-talked-about showstopper, there are daring narrative choices throughout. The framing of the infamous "destroyer of worlds" quote is not a filmmaker playing it safe, while the film’s final moments are horrifying in ways most horror movies could only dream of. Pacy, prescient and provocative, no other director could have made this film, this big, this well. A remarkable achievement. – Christian Tobin, Production Editor
Godzilla Minus One is a 2023 Japanese epic kaiju film directed, written, and with visual effects by Takashi Yamazaki. Produced by Toho Studios and Robot Communications and distributed by Toho, it is the 37th film in the Godzilla franchise, Toho's 33rd Godzilla film, and the fifth film in the franchise's Reiwa era. The film stars Ryunosuke Kamiki, Minami Hamabe, Yuki Yamada, Munetaka Aoki, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Sakura Ando and Kuranosuke Sasaki. In the film, postwar Japan deals with the emergence of Godzilla.
After the release of his film The Great War of Archimedes (2019), Yamazaki was appointed to make a Godzilla film. He subsequently spent three years writing the script, taking influence from Godzilla (1954), Jaws (1975), the films of Hayao Miyazaki, Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah (2001), and Shin Godzilla (2016). Yamazaki previously depicted Godzilla in Always: Sunset on Third Street 2 (2007) and a 2021 amusement park ride at Seibu-en. In February 2022, Robot publicized that Yamazaki would soon begin directing a kaiju film. Filming occurred primarily in Kantō and Chūbu from March to June 2022. Shirogumi handled the visual effects at their studio in Chōfu from April 2022 to May 2023.
The film premiered at the Shinjuku Toho Building on October 18, 2023, and was released in Japan on November 3, to celebrate the franchise's 70th anniversary. Toho's subsidiary Toho International later released it in North America on December 1. The film has grossed over $100 million worldwide against an estimated $10–15 million budget and accomplished several milestones, including surpassing Shin Godzilla as the most successful Japanese Godzilla film of all time. Western critics praised its visual effects, direction, story, characters, musical score, and social commentary, and compared it favorably to recent Hollywood films. It has received numerous accolades, including three Seattle Film Critics Society Awards, as well as a leading 12 nominations at the 47th Japan Academy Film Prize, and a nomination for Best Visual Effects at the 96th Academy Awards; making it the first Godzilla film to receive an Academy Award nomination and the first Japanese film to be nominated in that category. A black-and-white version, Godzilla Minus One/Minus Color, was released in Japan on January 12, 2024, while Toho International is set to distribute it in the U.S. on January 26.
Godzilla Minus One received critical acclaim. According to The Hollywood Reporter, American critics concertedly praised its tiny-budgeted visual effects, touching human drama, and the usage of the kaiju metaphor for social commentary, with many favoring it over recent Hollywood productions. CBR also reported that the film is widely considered one of the best films of 2023 and the greatest Godzilla movie ever
made. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 98% of 168 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 8.4/10. The website's consensus reads: "With engaging human stories anchoring the action, Godzilla Minus One is one kaiju movie that remains truly compelling between the scenes of mass destruction." Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 80 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "generally favorable" reviews. American audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale, and polls by PostTrak gave it a 92% overall positive score, with 83% saying they would definitely recommend the film.
All it took was a couple of photos: Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling rollerblading in retro-80s bubble-gum pink costumes as Barbie and Ken. The internet went wild and Barbie was suddenly one of the year's most anticipated films. Greta Gerwig, whose Little Women (2019) was both faithful to the book and refreshed with a 21st-Century sensibility, directs a film that promises to be both satirical – another photo shows Robbie in Barbie's little pink convertible – and meta, with Will Ferrell as an executive at the toy manufacturer Mattel. The trailer parodies 2001: A Space Odyssey, with classic, blonde pony-tailed Barbie towering over a throng of little girls as if she were that film's obelisk. It's fun so far.
Released on 21 July
Being based on a doll really hurt Barbie at the Oscars. Although the film was nominated for best picture, Greta Gerwig was snubbed as director and Margot Robbie left out of the best actress category, omissions that caused a flood of outrage on the internet and from their colleagues. The Associated Press called Gerwig's snub "one of the biggest shocks in recent memory". Some fans took it out on Ken. As USA Today pointed out, quoting a user on X, Ryan Gosling being nominated for supporting actor while Gerwig and Robbie were left out "kind of proves the point of the movie", that the patriarchy is still with us. Gosling, Ken himself, said in a statement: "There is no Barbie movie without Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie, the two people most responsible for this history-making, globally-celebrated film".
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PT I
After breaking records with Top Gun: Maverick last year, Tom Cruise returned to his other great action franchise in this seventh instalment of the long-running Mission: Impossible series. This time, IMF agent Ethan Hunt must tackle his most menacing threat yet: an AI weapon known only as "the Entity".
The weapon has been causing significant disruption to the world's digital infrastructure, and so, aided by his accomplices - including series newcomer Hayley Atwell - Hunt races to stop various nefarious players from accessing the key to control it.
The film is the first half of a planned two-parter, but audiences needn't worry about being short-changed – there are more than enough high-octane stunts and anxiety-inducing moments to set pulses racing, and the film adeptly tees up its successor while offering a satisfying narrative arc of its own. With several thrilling set-pieces and more breathtakingly death-defying stunts from Cruise, this is the epitome of popcorn cinema.
- GUARDIAN REVIEW 24 MAY 2023
He is one mean motherfucker you don’t want to mess with!” The memo arrives too late for the Nazis. When they clap eyes on the mean motherfucker they mistake him for a harmless old gold miner. “Get down on your knees, grandpa,” one orders, laughing so hard that he doesn’t notice the hunting knife entering his skull through his left ear and exiting out of the right. And that’s just for starters.
For the rest of this extravagantly violent and cheerfully entertaining action film from Finland, director Jalmari Helander treats us to a comedy of deaths: a lavish grisly feast of Nazis meeting their maker in outrageous and wildly silly ways that had the audience I watched it with shrieking with laughter. [It's like a western set in WWII along the lines of Jango Unchained]
Sisu is set in 1944, towards the end of the second world war. It opens with a granite-faced miner striking gold in the middle of nowhere. But setting off on horseback heading to the city, satchel full of gold, he meets a convoy of Nazis rolling out of Finland. You might think there’s zero mileage left in the movies for psychopathic Nazis, but Helander finds a newish and sort-of-interesting angle here with his portrayal of Germans at the fag end of the conflict: war-addled and woozy, dressed in torn uniform with dead eyes and grimy faces. The game is up, and they are nihilistic.
That said, none of them is exactly burdened with character complexity. That goes for the miner too: he turns out to be a legendary Finnish soldier called Aatami, so tough that he can plunge his hand deep into his own innards to pull out shrapnel. Earlier in the war, the Russians nicknamed him the Immortal, and he’s played by Jorma Tommila, a strong though not quite commanding presence. Like John Wick in a spaghetti western, Aatami takes out the Nazis one by one.
Everyone speaks here in accented English – “get off zeee horse” – which the film gets away with. Firstly, because there’s very little dialogue and secondly, because everything here feels a bit tongue-in-cheek in a Tarantino kind of a way. It’s super fun entertainment, which mostly disguises the fact it’s not going to stick in the mind for long.
GQ MAGAZINE 25 MAY 2023
The first time Jalmari Helander saw First Blood at the local theater in his small Finland village of Jokela, he couldn’t wait to become John Rambo. He remembers immediately going home to run around the forest near his house armed with all the Rambo essentials—bow and arrow, head band, huge knife—mimicking the stoic ‘80s warrior. As he grew older and eventually became a filmmaker, the movie remained his north star and biggest inspiration, particularly the moment in which Rambo takes a sewing kit out from the bottom of his knife and begins stitching up his lacerated arm on the edge of a cliff.
“I was so blown away by the scene,” Helander says on a recent Zoom call inside his office, framed by a massive First Blood poster hanging on the wall behind him. “I wanted to make an homage to that, but in a more badass way.”
It’s a tall order to make a film more badass than one of the greatest action movies of all time, but four decades after that fateful trip to the movies, Helander has thrown his hat in the ring with Sisu, his third feature film, which hit theaters last week. It’s a 90-minute, visceral gut-punch and the latest exercise in lean action filmmaking.
In the mold of Helander’s cinematic hero, the film follows Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila), a grizzled gold prospector and former military commander whose family was slaughtered during World War II. In their absence, he’s lived a solitary life as a ruthless, vengeful killing machine, roaming Finland’s countryside with his horse and loyal pooch and embodying the movie’s title, which Helander says best translates as “a white-knuckled form of courage and unimaginable determination that manifests when all hope is lost.”
The setup for his eventual rampage is, like the best action movies, simple and effective: At the end of the war, a Nazi battalion makes a scorched-earth retreat through Lapland, a snowy, northern region of Scandinavia, where it encounters Aatami and attempts to steal his hefty haul of gold. Big mistake.
Soon, Aatami unleashes carnage on his Aryan pillagers—shooting, stabbing, and bludgeoning the—provoking their SS leader into a series of deadly escalations. Throughout their cat-and-mouse game over the barren wilderness, Aatami unleashes hell with a creative imagination for gory retribution, decapitating, slicing, and grenading Nazis to smithereens, his mythos growing with each gratuitously depicted death. As an overt tribute to Rambo’s guerilla resourcefulness, Aatami even cauterizes his own abdominal gashes with gasoline, barbed wire, and matches.
Sisu’s unkillable, journeying protagonist and meat-and-potatoes plot has garnered comparisons to Mad Max: Fury Road and John Wick, recent, sturdy examples of no-frills, high-octane action. And it continues the trend of graying screen veterans (Bob Odenkirk in Nobody, Gerard Butler and Liam Neeson in… everything) taking matters into their own hands. The reaction so far—first at the Toronto Film Festival’s Midnight Madness, then throughout European theaters—has been gleeful and raucous. But Helander’s historical tilt and deliberate style distinguishes Sisu from other old-man Hollywood epics, leaning into his country’s expansive beauty while exemplifying its forgotten strength in the mid-20th century. Aatami is, essentially, a symbol of Finland’s masculinity—quiet, humble, and strong. “If I put it shortly,” Helander says, “the message of the film is: ‘Don't fuck with the Fins.’”
The idea for Sisu came to Helander on one of his daily, 12-kilometer morning walks. A couple years before the pandemic, he had been ruminating about the Nazis’ scorched-earth methods in 1944 and realized they would make ideal villains in a story he’d wanted to pursue about a man who strikes gold in Lapland. “These two ideas suddenly clicked together,” says Helander, who lives about 25 miles north of Helsinki. “90%of all my good ideas come when I’m walking and thinking about something else. They almost never come sitting at the computer.”
Though writing a script often takes him years, Helander says the lockdown forced him into an angry and dark place, giving him the strength to pen Sisu in two months. Not long after finishing, he called Tommilla about portraying his silent warrior, hoping to lean on the veteran Finnish actor to pull off a sympathetic but violent figure with hardly any speaking lines. “I had total confidence,” Helander says. “It's not that easy to not have dialogue and still be able to tell the story with just your body and face and eyes. I don't even understand what the casting process would be if I didn't know Jorma.”
The pair had met when Tommila began dating Helander’s sister. Upon becoming brothers-in-law, Helander cast him (as well as Tommila’s son) in his first two movies, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale and Big Game, using their father-son dynamic to build out the emotional foundation of his action-heavy dramas. But this role required a different mindset for Tommila, who immediately connected with playing an older man beaten down by the horrors of war. “The guys who were actually in war were present when I was a kid, and there was something interesting and mystic about them,” Tommila tells me. “I knew really well what type of man they became after the war.”
Tommila spent a year getting in shape for what would be the biggest physical test of his career. He began by swimming and horse riding, gaining confidence and flexibility for the taxing and demanding scenes ahead. All the while, he paid special attention to strengthening his hands. “All the men back then were doing field work or forest jobs, and I wanted to look like that,” he explains “I got into the mindset of a man who doesn't use any machines. Everything he does is by himself.”
As he developed his script and went into production, Helander knew he’d need to be creative and blunt with his various death sequences, especially on a limited budget. Which is why, perhaps unsurprisingly, Aatami starts the killing spree with a dagger straight through the head of a Nazi soldier after the group threatens to kill him. In a matter of seconds, he’s dismantled the remaining three soldiers surrounding him, using their weapons against them and turning a dirt road into a bloodbath. Naturally, Helander used a healthy mix of practical effects and fake blood on set that he’d later enhance, to often-ludicrous [Tarantino] proportions, with a VFX team.
The subsequent setpieces only grow more intense, distinguished by their sudden cuts and chapters that sometimes describe literally Aatami’s next obstacle, like a minefield into which he lures various Nazis. Throughout this battle of attrition, Helander insisted on keeping the action in Lapland, emphasizing the nothingness around Aatami and his quest to trade in his gold. “It was really important for me to be in a location where there's basically no place to hide,” he says. “You don't have trees, the landscape goes on and on, and you’re totally alone there.”
As a native of Finland's west coast, Tommila embraced the vast plains, where he’d previously spent time hiking and skiing alone, even “sleeping in the snow,” he says, because of its peacefulness. “There are some guys who become crazy about Lapland in a way. They just want to be there as much as possible,” Helander says. “Jorma is like that.”
In the midst of writing Sisu, Helander didn’t think much about John Wick, but it’s not hard to see the comparisons. In the same way Keanu Reeves’ assassin boasts a notorious reputation in the underworld, Aatami’s own legend—hastened by his escapes from sure death—quickly spreads throughout the remaining Nazi ranks. And then there’s Wick’s laconic demeanor, uttering only the bare minimum and letting his gun do the talking. Wick spoke an estimated 380 words in the last installment; Helander puts Aatami’s dialog at an exaggeratedly sparse (but not far off) “ two sentences."
The most notable connection, however, is the inclusion of Aatami’s trusty hound aiding his killer companion through ravaged land. Originally, he wanted his hero to have a more vicious looking pet, but when a producer saw Tommila’s own dog, Sulo, a Bedlington Terrier, in the background of a photo, he suggested using him instead. In a story with little exposition and character background, having an affectionate and loving scene partner became an important emotional device. “That tells you something about Aatami,” Helander says. “It helps that Jorma had a relationship with him and he knows the dog really well.”
If there’s one element he won’t try again, though, it’s working with horses. Throughout production, Tommila and the animal trainers had little luck keeping their equine friend still and settled, and at one point, Helander recalls the horse galloping 11 miles off the set, dropping all kinds of props from its saddle. “I'm pretty sure some day there's going to be some tourists finding a lot of gold and being happy—before they take it back and realize it's not real.”
Following the movie’s rock concert-like premiere in Toronto last year, Helander has been impressed by other passionate reactions throughout his homeland and surrounding cities. Last month in Brussels was “like being in a really big football match,” he says. “People were throwing toilet paper rolls and they had whistles and horns.”
The aggressively positive response (uncharacteristic for his countrymen, according to the usual stereotypes) has been meaningful for Helander, knowing his movie offers a different perspective on the war and his people’s ability to fight for itself.
As Sisu continues its theatrical rollout in the United States, Helander says he’s received a few opportunities to direct Hollywood scripts, but he’s most excited about another Finnish movie he’s developing that he promises will be “even more badass” than Sisu.
“Finland has always been an underdog, because we have been under the forces of Russia or Sweden,” adds Tommila, who recalls a Finnish moviegoer calling him a national hero. “How we became an independent country is the idea of Sisu.”
that's it, one heck of a lot of potentially superb entertainment. But of
these only a handful will make it as top movies and only one will be the
appropriate we also quote and reference the views and reviews of others for the purposes
of fair comparison.
a film does not make the grade, but is still included to critic where it
could have been great, as a guide for directors and producers - but where
some things not quite right.