9 February 2023

20 of the best films to watch in 2023

From Cocaine Bear and Barbie – starring Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie – to The Little Mermaid and Oppenheimer, and the latest instalments of Dune, Indiana Jones and Mission: Impossible, our critics pick the best releases slated for 2023.
Cocaine Bear (Credit: Universal Pictures)

Cocaine Bear (Credit: Universal Pictures)

1. Cocaine Bear

With a title so short and to the point that it makes Snakes on a Plane seem convoluted, Cocaine Bear is “inspired by” the true story of a black bear that swallowed a drug dealer’s stash of cocaine. The sad reality is that the bear died almost immediately afterwards. It was then stuffed and displayed in the Kentucky Fun Mall, and labelled “Pablo Escobear”. But in this raucous horror comedy, directed by Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2, Charlie’s Angels), our ursine hero rampages through a forest, attacking campers and criminals played by Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Alden Ehrenreich and the late Ray Liotta. If the viral trailer is anything to go by, Cocaine Bear should be a blast, although it probably won’t win many Oscars. (Nicholas Barber)

Released on 24 February

2. 65

The Jurassic Park / World franchise might have gone extinct with Jurassic World Dominion, but there are plenty more dinosaurs on the big screen in 65. Adam Driver stars as Commander Mills, a spaceship pilot “on a long-range exploratory mission” who crash-lands on a wilderness planet. It looks as if only one of his passengers has survived, a girl played by Ariana Greenblatt. But they aren’t alone. The twist is that they’re actually on Earth, 65 million years ago (hence the title). Does that mean Mills has travelled back in time? Or is he an alien who happens to look human? The film’s writer-directors, Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, are the co-writers of A Quiet Place, so they know a thing or two about lean, mean, survival thrillers involving showdowns between humans and hungry monsters. (NB)

Released on 9 March

3. John Wick, Chapter 4

Keanu Reeves returns as the assassin-but-hero John Wick, now scowling, kicking and killing his way across continents. He travels through Paris, Berlin, Osaka and other James-Bond like locations as if Bond were a hit man instead of a spy. This time the entire criminal world, including the High Table leaders who control all the crime organisations, seems to be after Wick. Because he was disloyal? Because he likes dogs too much? The plots hardly matter in this hugely successful, relentlessly fast action franchise. Wick stalwarts Laurence Fishburne and Ian McShane are back, too. (Caryn James)

Released on 24 March

4. Renfield

In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Renfield is the undead Count’s devoted servant, a madman who eats, flies and plots his escape from an asylum. But he gets a makeover in this horror comedy from Chris McKay, director of The Lego Batman Movie. Nicholas Hoult (The Great, The Favourite) has the title role. He is still doing his master’s bidding in present-day New Orleans, but, says McKay, Dracula is “the boss from Hell” in more ways than one, so Renfield prefers to spend time with a traffic cop played by Awkwafina. Hoult showed that he could handle monster-related romantic comedy in Warm Bodies, in which he was a lovestruck zombie, but the really intriguing casting is Nicolas Cage as a red-suited Count Dracula. File under “The Role he was Born to Play”. (NB)

Released on 14 April

The Little Mermaid (Credit: Disney)

The Little Mermaid (Credit: Disney)

5. The Little Mermaid

Disney’s remake of the 1989 animated classic is live action – or as life-like as a story about a half-human, half-fish princess can be. Halle Bailey, who sings with her sister as the group Chloe x Halle, plays Ariel, longing to grow legs so she can join her prince on land. The starry cast includes Melissa McCarthy as Ursula the sea witch, Javier Bardem as Ariel’s father, King Triton, and Daveed Diggs as Sebastian the crab (you can almost hear him singing Under the Sea already). Along with the original songs by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, there are four new ones by Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The director, Rob Marshall, is familiar with fairy tales, having directed the films Into the Woods and Mary Poppins Returns. (CJ)

Released on 26 May

6. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

In 2018, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse brought together numerous different animation styles to form a mesmerising pop-art masterpiece. It also brought together numerous different Spider-People. The wall-crawlers from various alternate realities included a new Spider-Man, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a familiar one, Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), and a Spider-Woman, Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld). But that was just the beginning. The sequel is due to span six parallel universes, and to feature 240 characters, many of them Spider-related: Oscar Isaac, for instance, provides the voice of the Spider-Man of the year 2099. The multiple realities in Everything Everywhere All at Once and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness may soon seem simple in comparison… (NB)

Released on 2 June

7. Asteroid City

Wes Anderson’s latest skewed take on the world is set in 1955 in a fictional US desert town where children and parents attend a Junior Stargazer/ Space Cadet convention. The official description says only that a cataclysmic event disrupts things, so I’ll go out on a limb and guess that the asteroid in the title has something to do with it. What we know for sure is that Anderson’s films – The Grand Budapest Hotel and The French Dispatch among his best – are illogical and weird in the most wonderfully imaginative ways, and that the cast is beyond spectacular, including Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Steve Carell, Margot Robbie and Willem Dafoe. (CJ)

Released on 16 June

8. Elemental

Pixar’s latest cartoon is set in Element City, a metropolis where everyone is made of one of the four classical elements: earth, water, air and fire. But what happens when a watery man (voiced by Mamoudou Athie) is attracted to a fiery woman (Leah Lewis)? Could things get steamy? The clever anthropomorphic concept is typical of the studio that made Inside Out, but the director of Elemental, Peter Sohn, says that his culture-clash romance is really about growing up as the son of Korean immigrants in a multicultural neighbourhood in the Bronx. That’s encouraging news. As Luca and Turning Red demonstrated, Pixar is currently at its best when filmmakers are allowed to put their own heritage on the screen. (NB)

Released on 16 June

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (Credit: Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Studios)

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (Credit: Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Studios)

9. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

It’s been 15 years since Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull came out – but now the 80-year-old Harrison Ford has dusted off his brown fedora for a fifth archaeological adventure. John Rhys-Davies is back as Sallah, who was in the first and third film, and John Williams is furnishing what he says will be his final score before retirement. But there are plenty of tantalising changes. Set in 1969, this is the only Indiana Jones film not to be directed by Steven Spielberg or based on a story by George Lucas (although the two are executive producers). James Mangold, who made Walk the Line and the last two Wolverine films, has taken over as director and co-writer. And he has brought in Mads Mikkelsen as a Nazi villain, Antonio Banderas as a new ally, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Indy’s god-daughter. (NB)

Released on 30 June

10. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

Having starred in the biggest film of 2022, Top Gun: Maverick, Tom Cruise moves straight onto what is bound to be one of the biggest films of 2023. It’s certainly got one of the biggest titles. Delayed by two years because of the pandemic, the sequel we’ll just call “Mission: Impossible 7” reunites Cruise with his usual co-stars, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson, and the series’ regular writer-director, Christopher McQuarrie. The espionage plot is still top secret, but what matter are the action sequences, and the stunts performed by Cruise himself. The biggie this time is “far and away the most dangerous thing we’ve ever attempted”, he promises: driving a motorbike along a narrow ramp and over a cliff, and then parachuting to safety. Goodness knows what he’s got in store for Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part Two in 2024. (NB)

Released on 14 July

11. Barbie

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. (CJ)

Released on 21 July

Oppenheimer (Credit: Universal Pictures)

Oppenheimer (Credit: Universal Pictures)

12. Oppenheimer

Tenet (2020) left many viewers scratching their heads, but 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. (CJ)

Released on 21 July

13. Challengers

Fraught romances – Call Me by Your Name and the recent cannibal love story Bones and All – are one of Luca Guadagnino’s specialties. Here it’s a love triangle on a tennis court. Zendaya plays Tashi, a former professional player and now the wife and coach of a champion, Art (Mike Faist), who is in a serious slump. When she urges him to begin his comeback in a low-stakes, Challengers tournament, his opponent turns out to be Tashi’s former lover and Art’s childhood best friend, Patrick (Josh O’Connor). It sounds like kiss-marry-kill, but the actors put in months of training to look like tennis pros, so actual sport is probably involved as well. (CJ)

Released on 11 August

14. Next Goal Wins

In 2001, Australia beat American Samoa at football, with a scoreline of 31-0. The American Samoan team was derided as the world’s worst footballers for years afterwards, but their fortunes changed when they hired Thomas Rongen, a determined Dutch-US coach. Their underdog story will be familiar to anyone who saw the 2014 documentary of the same name, an uplifting, Cool Runnings-style film that scored 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. But now it is being retold as a feelgood comedy drama, directed by Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok, Jojo Rabbit), and starring Michael Fassbender as Rongen. Football fans who were uneasy about last year’s controversial World Cup in Qatar might find that Waititi restores their faith in the beautiful game. (NB)

Released on 22 September

15. Dune: Part Two

You know what to expect from Denis Villeneuve’s follow-up to his 2001 extravaganza: Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides, Zendaya as his love interest, Chani, plus lots of sand and giant sandworms on the desert planet of Arrakis. The action-spectacle begins where Dune left off, with Atreides out for revenge against the enemies who attacked his family. Stellan Skarsgård returns as the evil Baron Harkonnen, with Austin Butler (Elvis) joining as his nephew. Whatever you thought of Dune – responses were split between impressed and disappointed – a new bit of casting could make the sequel hard to resist: Christopher Walken plays Emperor Shaddam IV and Florence Pugh is his daughter. (CJ)

Released on 3 November

16. Wonka

When did Willy Wonka meet the Oompa Loompas? How did he invent the Everlasting Gobstopper? These are just a couple of the questions that you probably didn’t ask when you were reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But whether you asked them or not, a prequel to Roald Dahl’s story is on its way. Following in the footsteps of Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp, Timothée Chalamet plays the planet’s best and most eccentric chocolatier. But the most appetite-whetting part is that Wonka is directed by Paul King, and written by King and Simon Farnaby, the team behind the wondrous Paddington 2. With a supporting cast that includes Olivia Colman, Rowan Atkinson and Matt Lucas, and with songs by Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy, Wonka could be just the golden ticket this Christmas. (NB)

Released on 23 December

PIC: Killers of the Flower Moon (Credit: Apple Studios)

17. Poor Things

Yorgos Lanthimos, one of the most exciting directors working today, creates a bizarre Victorian tale, reuniting with Emma Stone and screenwriter Tony McNamara, both from The Favourite. Based on the 1992 novel by Alasdair Grey, the story is a take on Frankenstein, with Stone as a suicidal woman whose unborn child’s brain is implanted in her revived body by a mad (needless to say) scientist. Willem Dafoe plays Dr Godwin Baxter and Mark Ruffalo is a cad with the Dickensian name Duncan Wedderburn. As he did in films like The Lobster, Lanthimos has shown he can pull off horrifying premises with the darkest humour. (CJ)

Released in 2023

18. Beau is Afraid

The surreal and supernatural have a tendency to intrude on family life in Ari Aster’s dazzling, idiosyncratic, psychologically fraught films (Hereditary, Midsommar). Joaquin Phoenix stars in his latest as Beau, who loses one parent and, while en route to see the other, encounters the kind of obstacles only Aster can probably dream up. Beyond that, the plot has been kept secret, but Nathan Lane and Patti LuPone also star, with Armen Nahapetian as teenaged Beau. The film had the working title Disappointment Blvd, but whatever you call it, Beau doesn’t seem like a happy guy. What Aster hero or heroine is?  (CJ)

Released in 2023

19. Killers of the Flower Moon

Martin Scorsese’s true-crime Western was in BBC Culture’s round-up of films to watch in 2022, but its release was pushed back, so here we are again – and the release date still hasn’t been confirmed. What we do know is that Killers of the Flower Moon is adapted from David Grainn’s book about the 1920s “Reign of Terror” in which at least 60 Osage Native Americans were murdered in Oklahoma. Jesse Plemons plays the FBI agent investigating the massacre, Robert De Niro is the cattle rancher suspected of masterminding it, Leonardo DiCaprio plays his nephew, and Lily Gladstone is his nephew’s Osage wife. Brendan Fraser and John Lithgow also appear in what is said to be a three-hour epic. It’s rumoured to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, but, again, that hasn’t been confirmed. Let’s hope it’s not in our previews next year, too. (NB)

Released in 2023

20. Maestro

Bradley Cooper is director, co-writer and star, playing Leonard Bernstein, the outsized conductor, composer (West Side Story) and celebrity who towered over the music world in the last half of the 20th Century. The film tells the story of Bernstein’s decades-long marriage to Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan) who knew all along that he was gay, well before the public. Maya Hawke plays one of their grown daughters. Egotistical musical geniuses seem to be a thing on screen now (see, Tár), but the most promising indicator here is that Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese are producers, a recommendation I’ll take any day. (CJ)

Released in 2023

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