The 10 best movies of 2023

Auteur cinema entered a twilight phase with the returns of Moretti, Kaurismäki, Loach and Erice. Meanwhile, Hollywood indulged in innocuous criticism of the system, with the success of ‘Barbie’ becoming a new milestone

the Fabelmans
Michelle Williams and Mateo Zoryan in 'The Fabelmans.'
Álex Vicente

Nanni Moretti rides through the streets of Rome on an electric scooter, shortly before attending a catastrophic meeting with Netflix, which will refuse to produce his new project for not conforming to its narrative dogma — “it lacks a what-the-fuck moment,” the platform scolds him — and being saved in extremis by a South Korean production company, which in turn will make the new geopolitics of the cultural sector quite clear. It will not be the most representative image of this year’s cinema, nor the most subtle, but it is one of the most congruent to define the stupor of the old European auteur cinema in 2023. A Brighter Tomorrow, Moretti’s latest film, arrived tinged with melancholy. It predicts that this form of filmmaking is on the path to extinction, just as the communism preached by its protagonists became a precious relic in the face of neoliberal drift, a useless souvenir to store in the attic next to the vinyl collection.

We must not be catastrophists: there are enough examples among 2023′s releases to dictate that auteur cinema will not disappear, but it will be deeply transformed when those old masters are missing. We detected a more crepuscular imprint than usual in the new films by Moretti or Aki Kaurismäki (Fallen Leaves), representatives of a generation that is approaching 70 years of age, and even more in those by Marco Bellocchio (Kidnapped) or Ken Loach (The Old Oak), who are already approaching 90 and entering the final stretch of their filmographies. The same was true of the long-awaited return of the veteran Víctor Erice (Close Your Eyes) and, beyond European borders, in the latest releases from Steven Spielberg (The Fabelmans), Hayao Miyazaki (The Boy and the Heron) or Martin Scorsese (Killers of the Flower Moon), with which it would appear that a farewell is beginning, or so it seemed to us.

Scorsese’s case allows us to detect more clearly the contempt for American greed contained in his past films, although at times, rather than criticizing its effects, he seemed to glorify them. Killers of the Flower Moon leaves no room for doubt. Despite its much-discussed runtime — at 206 minutes, it led a trend to exceed three hours of footage that included Babylon, Oppenheimer and even John Wick 4 — the film was a welcome antidote to the proliferation of product films: Air, Tetris and, of course, Barbie. The undisputed champion of the year, launched with a history-making campaign, was this cocktail of broad-brush genre studies and innocuous criticism of the system, tinged with nostalgia for the capitalism of yesteryear and, despite its flashes of wit, replete with fallacies that would not stand up to the test of logic. The doll that was emblematic of sexism in the 20th century magically became a feminist icon in the 21st. J. L. Austin theorized it as the performative function of language: if I say it, it will come true. With one exception, the British philosopher warned: if the “criteria of authenticity” fail, the action will not be completed. Fortunately for Mattel, we live in the age of cognitive dissonance.

The best films of 2023 chosen by EL PAÍS critics

Fandango e Sacher Film

A Brighter Tomorrow

His films can be hit-and-miss, but there is always something pleasant about reencountering the cinema of that singular gentleman called Nanni Moretti. I am guaranteed a smile, his hallmark imagination, and a bittersweet style to present his unusual vision of people and things. Moretti possesses a personality that is as intelligent as it is identifiable to portray the lights and shadows of this complex thing called life. The director continues to believe in the survival of a rational left that is not indebted to jaded and mendacious slogans, subversive in the name of truth, even if it is uncomfortable. CARLOS BOYERO

And also: Oppenheimer, by Christopher Nolan; One Fine Morning, by Mia Hansen-Løve;The Fabelmans, by Steven Spielberg; Not Such an Easy Life, by Félix Viscarret; The Eight Mountains, by Felix Van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch; Andrea’s Love, by Manuel Martín Cuenca; They Shot the Piano Player, by Fernando Trueba; Jokes & Cigarettes, by David Trueba; and Coup de chance, by Woody Allen.

Trenque Lauquen

In Laura Citarella’s film and the Buenos Aires indie collective Pampero Cine, many paths and references cross, from Michelangelo Antonioni to Violeta Parra, but with a single purpose: that of narrating. We are introduced to a territory as real as it is fictitious, fertile with imagination and life. This film of over four hours follows the path of a woman who one day decides to leave, and two men who are looking for her. Mysteries, intrigues, adventures, romances... everything fits in this movie-river brimming with genres (science fiction, thriller, comedy), wit, and happiness. ELSA FERNÁNDEZ-SANTOS

And also: Fallen Leaves, by Aki Kaurismäki; Close Your Eyes, by Víctor Erice; The Fabelmans, by Steven Spielberg; Anatomy of a Fall, by Justine Triet; Killers of the Flower Moon, by Martin Scorsese; Creatura, by Elena Martín; Pictures of Ghosts, by Kleber Mendonça Filho; Asteroid City, by Wes Anderson; and All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, by Laura Poitras.

Anatomy of a Fall

The forensic analysis of a murder — or of a suicide — becomes something much more interesting, ambitious, and complex: the forensic analysis of a couple, of a way of establishing a romantic relationship, of a way of being in society, and even of a way of being artists and of linking their professional writing with the people around them. Justine Triet and Arthur Harari compose a gripping script that is both a legal thriller and a moral drama about guilt, envy, remorse, freedom, and sexism, and the director shines on many occasions with her treatment of cinematographic language, sound, and movement. An artistic and powerful look in which Sandra Hüller, her actress, applies the finishing touch. JAVIER OCAÑA


Close your Eyes

Nowadays, nobody narrates or films or tells stories like this. A film from another time — and this is a compliment — alien to any trend or academy, Close Your Eyes breathes in a different way and this sublime particularity should be celebrated: this breath goes hand in hand with the disappearance of a way of making, viewing, and living cinema. The echoes of Erice’s (few) previous films — of the unfilmed journey in El Sur, of Ana Torrent’s eyes, of the unproduced script for La promesa de Shanghai (that dreamy prologue with that wonderful texture!) — merge with the echoes of both himself and his friends. And memory, always memory, lodged in the sound and light of a cinematographer. J. O.

And also: Monster, by Kore-eda Hirokazu; The Banshees of Inisherin, by Martin McDonagh; Killers of the Flower Moon, by Martin Scorsese; Oppenheimer, by Christopher Nolan; Babylon, by Damien Chazelle; 20,000 Species of Bees, by Estibaliz Urresola; Upon Entry, by Rojas and Vásquez; and A Brighter Tomorrow, by Nanni Moretti.

Decision to Leave

Between the summits of noir and the abysses of amour fou, Park Chan-wook’s film carries dissociation and contrast in its two-headed identity: a cruel poem where a mountain reformulated as a crime scene rhymes with a high tide transformed into a place of sacrifice. In the shadow of Hitchcock, the South Korean director explores ambiguity in depth and uses the thriller as a false clue to talk about obsessive love, in a formalist exercise that oversaturates each shot with information and condemns his characters to burn in the same fire. JORDI COSTA

And also: La Piedad, by Eduardo Casanova; Sparta, by Ulrich Seidl; One Fine Morning, by Mia Hansen-Løve; Trenque Lauquen, by Laura Citarella; Asteroid City, by Wes Anderson; The Fantastic Golem Affairs, by Burnin’ Percebes; Orlando, My Political Biography, by Paul B. Preciado; The Boy and the Heron, by Hayao Miyazaki; and Samsara, by Lois Patiño.

Orlando, My Political Biography

Someone believing their biography had already been written by Virginia Woolf nine decades ago sounds like an egomaniac. On the other hand, as Paul B. Preciado specifies: it is not only his, but that of many other people. And it is to them that this creative documentary is addressed, a free-flying film that shatters formats, enjoys an Orlando who was born in literature as a character and who, in the hands of Preciado, a first-time director, becomes a polyhedral tapestry, an icon to which many people who feel that masculine and feminine are political and social fictions adhere. Even so, the militancy of the documentary falls short of its poetry and its surrender to love for humanity. GREGORIO BELINCHON



In her risk and her courage in talking about female sexuality in an unusual, accurate, and vibrantly uncomfortable way for the spectator, Elena Martín manages to combine the complicated duality of pleasing the public — which has proven to be more than prepared for films of this boldness — and the critics. The director also embodies Mila, the protagonist, a victim of the repression of her desire. But Mila is not the victim of child abuse, nor does she suffer from any trauma: herein lies one of the film’s great successes. Intimacy, sexuality, feminism, desire, the human body... Creatura faces up to it all. Moreover, it doesn’t lose sight of the fact that it is fiction, that it must entertain. G. B.

And also: Past Lives, by Celine Song; Robot Dreams, by Pablo Berger; Pictures of Ghosts, by Kleber Mendonça Filho; Fallen Leaves, by Aki Kaurismäki; Decision to Leave, by Park Chan-wook; Society of the Snow, by Juan José Bayona; Trenque Lauquen, by Laura Citarella; Anatomy of a Fall, by Justine Triet.
Lifestyle pictures / Alamy / CORDON PRESS

The Fabelmans

Delving into his family history, Steven Spielberg directs one of those late-career films that allow us to reread an entire filmography in a new light. The devoted mothers of some of his movies are replaced here by a fragile and imperfect woman, his own progenitor, just as the nuclear family of the American myth gives way to a dysfunctional and fiercely human tribe. The director speaks of art as an instrument to reach truths that cannot be expressed in words and reveals some intimate wounds — from the maternal-filial trauma to his imperfect assimilation as a Jewish child — as mainstays of his cinema. ÁLEX VICENTE


One Fine Morning

Already firmly established in her mixture of delicate naturalism and playful autobiography, Mia Hansen-Løve authors a study, inexplicably light and luminous, on the cycles of death and resurrection that mark every existence. On the passing of our elders, the preamble to our own, and on the possibility of starting over even at the most inopportune moment. A stealthy wonder. Á. V.

And also: Anatomy of a Fall, by Justine Triet; Decision to Leave, by Park Chan-wook; De Humani Corporis Fabrica, by Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor; Creatura, by Elena Martín; A Brighter Tomorrow, by Nanni Moretti, Tár, by Todd Field; Orlando: My Political Biography, by Paul B. Preciado; and The Animal Kingdom, by Thomas Cailley.
Nueve Cartas (EFE)

20,000 Species of Bees

Under the conventions of the proposal, indebted to labs and film schools, Estibaliz Urresola paints a complex family portrait. The helplessness of a transgender girl in the face of social constructs that perpetuate her assignment as a boy is as significant as the reactions of incomprehension from her loved ones towards her, mediated by their own vital frustrations. From its title to its denouement, 20,000 Species of Bees reminds us that the supposed problem of difference lies in the tortuous acceptance by a vast majority of the hell of uniformity. ELISA MCCAUSLAND AND DIEGO SALGADO

And also: The Killer, by David Fincher; Flash, by Andy Muschietti; Sister Death, by Paco Plaza; The Eternal Daughter, by Joanna Hogg; Irati, by Paul Urkijo Alijo; M3GAN, by Gerard Johnstone; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, by Jeff Rowe & Kyler Spears The Substitute, by Diego Lerman; and Past Lives, by Celine Song.

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