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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

10 for '23: My Favorite Films From the Year of the Rabbit



1) A Thousand and One

Movie poster for A Thousand and One

A Thousand and One is a captivating human drama starring Teyana Taylor as Inez, a fiercely determined mother dedicated to shielding her son Terry from the foster care system. Beginning in 1994 when Inez is released from prison and goes in search of 6-year-old Terry (Aaron Kingsley Adetola), the storyline follows their decades-long evasion of social services while hiding out in an illegal apartment in Harlem. With falsified documents, Terry is able to attend school and live the life of an unassuming youth, despite his mother's sporadic volatility and regular Giuliani-era harassment from police. Written and directed by first-time filmmaker A.V. Rockwell, A Thousand and One is a bittersweet coming-of-age story of inequity and perseverance. Taylor imbues Inez with a vulnerability that burns with unwavering dedication, tempered by the wisdom of a woman who has weathered life's storms, while Will Catlett portrays teenage Terry as a young man burdened by a past far heavier than his years. Heart-wrenching yet remarkably well-constructed, Rockwell's film is an ode to unwavering love, the unbreakable bond between a mother and child and the inexhaustible resilience that characterizes the human spirit.


Watch the trailer: A Thousand and One



2) All of Us Strangers

Movie poster for All of Us Strangers

All of Us Strangers is an ethereal and evocative British drama starring Andrew Scott as Adam, a London-based screenwriter adrift in existential haze—grappling with decades-long grief and profound introspection. A chance encounter with an enigmatic neighbor named Harry (Paul Mescal) sparks an exploration of desire in Adam, as he treks to rural England in search of his childhood home. Here he encounters the apparitions of his late father (Jamie Bell) and mother (Claire Foy)—retaining the same youthful vitality they possessed the day they passed away decades earlier. The ensuing narrative balances Adam's rekindled fellowship with his loving parents with his burgeoning relationship with Harry, as the film masterfully blurs present and past in a dreamlike labyrinth of memory, longing and tenuous reality. Written and directed by British filmmaker Andrew Haigh (Lean on Pete, 45 Years), All of Us Strangers boldly illustrates the experience of confronting ghosts, both literal and metaphorical, while reconstructing a fragmented mosaic of self-identity. Adam's spectres of regret and unspoken truth provide their own unique form of salvation, while helping to deliver one of the most emotionally impactful British films in recent memory.


Watch the trailer: All of Us Strangers



3) The Zone of Interest

Movie poster for The Zone of Interest

The Zone of Interest is a darkly compelling historical drama that follows German SS officer Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), commandant of Auschwitz, and his family as they construct a seemingly idyllic life in a house adjacent to the infamous concentration camp. While Höss, his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) and myriad servants attend to daily affairs of home and garden, concentration camp horrors abound just beyond the walls of their property—with only fleeting visual and auditory clues to the atrocities at hand. The storyline hones in on Höss' professional responsibilities, as he pines for advancement within the Nazi party and is ultimately promoted to deputy inspector of all concentration camps—requiring a relocation to Berlin that serves as a point of turmoil within the family. Loosely adapted from the novel by Martin Amis and directed by British filmmaker Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Under the Skin), The Zone of Interest is an unquestionably captivating portrayal of domesticity existing in the immediate shadow of barbarity. Glazer's film unfolds with chilling precision, employing starkly beautiful visuals to convey a deeply wrought illustration of evil infiltrating the fabric of daily life, masked as familial comfort and mundanity.


Watch the trailer: The Zone of Interest



4) American Fiction

Movie poster for American Fiction

American Fiction is a unique and incisive comedy-drama starring Jeffrey Wright as Thelonious "Monk" Ellison, a novelist-professor frustrated by his lack of literary success. Spurred on by his agent Arthur (John Ortiz) to embrace the publishing industry's exploitation of racial stereotypes, Monk fabricates a cliche-ridden memoir entitled "My Pafology"—only to see the book gain enormous success. Forced to embody his alter-ego, Stagg R. Leigh, to the media, Monk struggles to reconcile his disdain for the superficial with the acclaim suddenly heaped upon him. Surrounded by sycophants and facing unforseen consequences, he grapples with the ethical dilemma of profiting from a work he created as a parody, all while his "true" novels remain languishing in obscurity. His personal life suffers as well, including relations with his mother Agnes (Leslie Uggams), sister Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross) and brother Cliff (Sterling K. Brown), as the lines between Monk and Leigh blur and public scrutiny pushes him to a point of ultimate reckoning. Written and directed by first-time filmmaker Cord Jefferson, American Fiction is a darkly comedic exploration of race, art and the complexities of identity—borderline outlandish yet wonderfully compelling every step of the way.


Watch the trailer: American Fiction



5) Oppenheimer

Movie poster for Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer is a grand biographical depiction of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), the "Father of the Atomic Bomb", through a life-altering journey shrouded in brilliance and devastating consequence. The storyline traces Oppenheimer's path from a troubled yet intellectually-charged childhood to the helm of the Manhattan Project—where he leads a team of elite minds under immense pressure to build the world's first atomic bomb in the race against Nazi Germany. Oppenheimer's efforts are given expansive coverage, working alongside myriad specialists in the realm of physics, engineering and military oversight—including a close partnership with Leslie Groves (Mat Damon), Major General in the US Army Corps of Engineers. The film's dramatic tension culminates in the Trinity test, the historic first detonation of an atomic weapon, before delving into the troubled waters of public acclaim, political scrutiny and McCarthy-era inquisitions into his loyalty to the United States. Adapted from Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin's book "American Prometheus" and directed by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Interstellar), Oppenheimer is a dense and intricately assembled masterwork, highlighted by Murphy's tour-de-force performance and Nolan's unwavering commitment to intellectual and emotional depth.


Watch the trailer: Oppenheimer



6) Fremont

Movie poster for Fremont

Fremont is a deeply affecting black & white drama about an Afghan woman named Donya (Anaita Wali Zada), a former translator for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, now residing quietly in California. Wracked by insomnia and guilt over leaving her family behind in Kabul, Donya toils her days away in a menial role at a fortune cookie factory. In the evenings she shares her frustrations with a fellow Afghan refugee in her building named Salim (Siddique Ahmed), both waiting endlessly to speak with a therapist for asylum seekers. In an unexpected turn at work, Donya is thrust into the role of fortune writer, crafting messages of hope amidst the wreckage of her own life. Initially hesitant, she soon pours her emotions into these slips of paper, sending them out to the world like silent pleas for compassion. Manipulating her way into a therapist's office and securing his services is a second step on her path to reclamation—before a chance encounter with a fellow Afghan initiates a symbolic pilgrimage towards rediscovering her identity. Written and directed by Iranian–British filmmaker Babak Jalali, Fremont is an evenly-paced yet wonderfully nuanced human drama, replete with a warmth and optimism that illuminates the human spirit's capacity for healing.


Watch the trailer: Fremont



7) Afire

Movie poster for Afire

Afire (Roter Himmel) is an indelible German drama that follows two friends, a writer named Leon (Thomas Schubert) and a photographer named Felix (Langston Uibel), as they vacation on the Baltic Sea in the holiday home of Felix's family. Arriving at the cottage near Ahrenshoop, the two men are surprised to find a friend of the family named Nadja (Paula Beer) already on the premises—her warm and relaxed demeanor of little solace to the uptight Leon. He remains detached and plods through a manuscript for his new novel, despite constant frustrations, while Felix enjoys a more relaxing period of leisure. When Nadja brings her lifeguard boyfriend Devid (Enno Trebs) to the house, Felix strikes up a friendship with the genial youth while Leon withdraws—though Nadja gradually melts Leon's icy inclinations with her kindness and brutal honesty. Things evolve rapidly as Leon's book editor arrives to review his progress just as an encroaching forest fire draws near—the plot delivering surprising turns as each character is ultimately forced to confront the true nature of their feelings and behavior. Written and directed by German filmmaker Christian Petzold (Phoenix, Transit), Afire is a poignant and thought-provoking viewing experience—one that deftly explores the depths of human connectivity in all its intricate dynamics.


Watch the trailer: Afire



8) The Holdovers

Movie poster for The Holdovers

The Holdovers is a wistful and engaging comedy-drama starring Paul Giamatti as Paul Hunham, a classics professor at an all-boys private school in rural Massachusetts circa 1970. A strict authoritarian with his students at Barton Academy, Hunham is generally reviled throughout the school community, particularly due to his harsh grading and overly stern attitude. Tasked with supervising the "holdover" students remaining on campus through the holidays, Hunham seizes the opportunity to oversee a quintet of misfits—rebellious senior Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) chief among them. Head cook Mary Lamb (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), grieving the loss of her son in Vietnam, remains behind as well—eventually joining Hunham and Tully to form an unlikely trio bound by newfound camaraderie. Thrown together by circumstance, their shared story becomes one of surprising discovery—each inspired by the others' strength and resilience. Their bond deepens further during a spontaneous trip to Boston, as Hunham embraces the city's history, Angus finds inspiration in its diverse culture and Mary enjoys reconnecting with her sister. Directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways, Nebraska), The Holdovers blends wistful humor with poignant human drama, weaving a tapestry of personal transformation and the power of shared experience.


Watch the trailer: The Holdovers



9) Killers of the Flower Moon

Movie poster for Killers of the Flower Moon

Killers of the Flower Moon is an epic re-enactment of the dark history of the Osage Nation in 1920s Oklahoma, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Ernest Burkhart, a rancher whose Osage wife Mollie (Lily Gladstone) holds a vast fortune in oil wealth. The prosperity shared by Mollie and her fellow tribe members originates in mineral rights dating to the discovery of oil deposits on their land—their newfound fortune attracting both opportunists and predators. When World War I veteran Burkhart arrives at the nearby ranch of his uncle William "King" Hale (Robert DeNiro) in 1919, he becomes smitten with Mollie while simultaneously committing a series of armed robberies against the Osage. After their marriage, Burkhart is soon swayed by King to participate in the clandestine murder of multiple Osage, including family members of Lillie's in order to consolidate his eventual inheritance. These killings draw the attention of the Bureau of Investigation and Agent Thomas Bruce White Sr. (Jesse Plemons)—a dramatic turning point that casts a long shadow of suspicion throughout the community. Based on the novel by David Grann and directed by Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull, Goodfellas), Killers of the Flower Moon sheds light on a shameful chapter in American history while delivering a powerful exploration of greed, betrayal and the enduring pursuit of justice.


Watch the trailer: Killers of the Flower Moon



10) 20 Days in Mariupol

Movie poster for 20 Days in Mariupol

20 Days in Mariupol (20 днів у Маріуполі) is a harrowing Ukrainian documentary that serves as a firsthand account of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022. The film follows a team of Ukrainian journalists who remain in the port city of Mariupol while under bombardment—witnessing the unthinkable yet determined to share the truth with the world. Mstyslav Chernov, a young filmmaker making his feature debut, operates alongside veteran reporter Evgeniy Maloletka and a local fixer named Vasilisa Reva as they navigate a city crumbling under siege. Through Chernov's raw, handheld lens we witness the dismal costs of war: fearful children huddled in bomb shelters, mothers clinging to hopes of survival, fathers bravely standing guard over their homes—death and destruction at every turn. Chernov and his team serve as observers as well as participants in this unfolding tragedy, risking their lives to reach survivors, document atrocities and transmit their reports to the world. Their unflinching footage lays bare the brutality of the Russian invasion, revealing the grim reality of modern warfare. Chernov's film carries the weight of their experiences and the stories of those left behind—a searing indictment of war, a heart-wrenching tribute to the victims and a powerful display of human perseverance.


Watch the trailer: 20 Days in Mariupol


 

HONORABLE MENTION


Leave the World Behind

Movie poster for Leave the World Behind

Leave the World Behind is a chillingly imaginative apocalyptic thriller starring Ethan Hawke and Julia Roberts as Clay and Amanda Sandford, a Brooklyn-based couple on an impromptu weekend getaway to Long Island. With their children Archie (Charlie Evans) and Rose (Farrah Mackenzie) in tow, the Sandfords secure an idyllic retreat on a secluded estate—only to be visited in the nighttime by a stranger named G.H. Scott (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter Ruth (Myha'la Herrold). The Scotts claim to be the owners of the house seeking refuge from an unexplained blackout that has plunged the entire region into darkness, leaving them desperate for shelter. As communication channels systematically deteriorate and basic necessities become scarce, an uneasy alliance forms between the two families—forced to cohabitate while struggling to make sense of ominous sounds and mysterious spectacles. Adapted from the novel by Rumaan Alam and directed by Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot, Homecoming), Leave the World Behind is an ambitious and thought-provoking rendering of a society teetering on the brink of collapse. Esmail delivers impressive set pieces and unnerving suspense to this tale of real-world horror—unafraid to embrace ambiguity in his depiction of inexplicable crisis and the fragile bond between sanity and survival.


Watch the trailer: Leave the World Behind



Fallen Leaves

Movie poster for Fallen Leaves

Fallen Leaves (Kuolleet Lehdet) is a wry and bittersweet Finnish-German romantic comedy-drama starring Alma Pöysti as Ansa, a middle-aged supermarket worker living a life of stark solitude in Helsinki. One night, Ansa meets an equally lonely construction worker named Holappa in a dimly lit karaoke bar—each recognizing a glimmer of hope in the other despite initial awkwardness and contrasting personalities. Their budding romance is challenged by myriad obstacles, however, as fate seems determined to extinguish their flickering flame of hope. Lost messages mingle with missed opportunities, and Holappa's struggle with personal demons threatens to derail their fragile connection. Yet amid these challenges, moments of quiet tenderness blossom while defying the odds with a resilience that suggests a touch of serendipity. Written and directed by Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki, Fallen Leaves evokes a dance of lonely hearts—a bittersweet waltz where hope and hardship entwine. With a nod toward American filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, Kaurismäki has crafted a leisurely tale of day-to-day existence beset by discovery, quiet resilience and optimism. It's a subtle, poignant observation of two souls finding connection in the mundane and their own shared understanding.


Watch the trailer: Fallen Leaves



Anselm

Movie poster for Anselm

Anselm is a mesmerizing documentary feature that captures the life and work of esteemed German artist Anselm Kiefer. Renowned for his large-scale paintings and sculptures, Anselm is distinguished by his exploration of history, memory and existence through a complex engagement with cultural, philosophical and historical references. Director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire, Paris Texas) takes audiences on a journey through Anselm's world, utilizing both 2D and 3D formats—the 3D segments highlighting the epic scale of Kiefer's canvases and the vastness of his studio complex in Barjac, France. The film seamlessly weaves together Kiefer's artistic journey with pivotal moments from his life using archival footage, interviews and dramatized scenes featuring his son Daniel playing a young Anselm. We see how his experiences in World War II Germany, his fascination with mythology and literature, and his relationship with his father all heavily influenced his artistic expression. Wenders's masterful direction and the film's stunning visuals (tip of the hat to cinematographer Franz Lustig) elevate Anselm beyond a conventional biography, transforming it into a genuine cinematic experience and a profound reflection of the world at large.


Watch the trailer: Anselm



Scrapper

Movie poster for Scrapper

Scrapper is a heartwarming British comedy-drama about a bright and independent 12-year-old girl named Georgie (Lola Campbell) who has crafted a life of wonder and solitude within her London flat. Left alone after the death of her mother, Georgie steals bicycles with her friend Ali (Alin Uzun) to afford food while fabricating an uncle caretaker to social services in order to maintain her independence. Georgie's carefully constructed world is disrupted, however, when her estranged father Jason (Harris Dickinson) returns unexpectedly, hoping to rebuild a life together. Initially resistant to his presence, Georgie ultimately finds herself navigating a new dynamic as she and Jason begin to uncover a deeper understanding of each other while forging an unlikely connection. Alongside Lola Campbell's captivating portrayal of Georgie, Harris Dickinson delivers a raw and earnest performance as Jason, a man grappling with his own demons while seeking the promise of redemption. Written and directed by British filmmaker Charlotte Regan, in her directorial debut, Scrapper unveils the raw beauty of second chances and the quiet power of shared vulnerability in the face of life's chaos.


Watch the trailer: Scrapper



If You Were the Last

Movie poster for If You Were the Last

If You Were the Last is a light-hearted and charming science fiction romantic comedy starring Anthony Mackie and Zoe Chao as Adam Gherrity and Jane Kuang, astronauts stranded on a malfunctioning spaceship far from Earth. Their mission has gone awry, and with dwindling resources and little hope of rescue, they face the bleak reality of spending their remaining days together in the vast emptiness of space. As they cope with their predicament, Adam and Jane grapple with contrasting personalities and perspectives: the optimistic Adam tries to find humor and purpose in their situation, while the pragmatic Jane struggles with feelings of despair and isolation. Despite their differences, they must learn to rely on each other for survival and emotional support. This forced cohabitation leads to unanticipated conversations, comedic moments and even the possibility of love blossoming in the most unlikely of circumstances. Directed by Puerto Rican-American filmmaker Kristian Mercado Figueroa, If You Were the Last is a genuinely touching escapade given an enormous boost by the sheer force of chemistry between the two leads—their smoldering adoration is palpable as they find humor, solace and destiny amidst the stars.


Watch the trailer: If You Were the Last


 

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Air, May December, The Royal Hotel, Monster, Anatomy of a Fall, Showing Up, The Iron Claw, To Kill a Tiger, Past Lives, Poor Things, To Catch a Killer, Priscilla, Godzilla Minus One, The Pigeon Tunnel, The Killer, Io Capitano, Flora and Son, Passages, Maestro, Beyond Utopia, The Starling Girl, Napoleon, Butterfly Vision, Saltburn, Barbie, The Deepest Breath, Foe, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Geographies of Solitude, The Unknown Country, The Burial, No Hard Feelings, The Teachers’ Lounge, 32 Sounds, Tetris, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, Are You There God? It's Me Margaret, Talk to Me, The Promised Land, BlackBerry, Frybread Face and Me, Dream Scenario

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