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Sunday 7 January 2024


This year, I've been doing my best to keep track of all the movies I've seen as I've seen them. It's become a great way to get a good idea about how this past year in cinema has fared. And compared to last year, it hasn't exactly fared the best. Blockbusters bumbled and streamers were stripped. It says a lot that a couple on my Top 10 - and many worthy titles in my honourable mentions - came out in 2022 in other territories. That doesn't mean there hasn't been some stellar trips to the cinema, but not as many as last year. I'll actually give my star rating this time too, just to provoke angry (or politely worded) messages in the comments section. Here's my full rundown...

Another good point to keeping a log like this is that I think I've kept on top of all of the major releases, save for a few that came out towards the end of the year. I've yet to catch The Boy and the Heron - one of my most anticipated movies - which saw a Boxing Day release over here. As did Taika Waititi's long-gestating Next Goal Wins. I'm sure there are others, but I don't think they're as egregious as what I missed last year. Had I seen Living () or Triangle of Sadness () when they were released, there's a chance they would've featured in my Top 10 of 2022. And Aftersun () is such a perfect movie, I'm sure it would've topped it. Elvis () came nowhere close.

But the biggest event I missed was the Coronation. In case you didn't know, we crowned out new King this year. It was a time of pomp, circumstance and deflection from more serious political matters. At least we'll likely have a general election in the next couple of months. That regal and patriotic tone didn't really really translate to our entertainment media, with the best of British cinema mostly being about working class struggles and low-key personal dramas. Scrapper, How to Have Sex and Empire of Light are all very much worthy of a watch. Less so is the King of the Kitchen Sink Ken Loach's last ever movie, The Old Oak, but we'll get to that later.

The awards season at the beginning of the year was a rapturous delight. With a few notable exceptions (Green Book, Crash), I can usually agree with the Academy's choice of best film, or at least see where they're coming from, but I can't recall the last time the actual Best Film winner lined up with my own personal best of the year. Perhaps Return of the King in 2004? Everything Everywhere All At Once's accolades were very well deserved, but I've also noticed something strange in the month's since; its reputation seems to have grown. Usually, when a film wins Best Picture it garners something of a backlash; "Who even saw CODA?", "Is Crash or Green Book really all that?", "Forest Gump over Pulp Fiction or Shawshank Redemption?"... You get the gist. As for the Daniel's bizarre masterpiece, I and many others would still rank it as one of the best movies of the 21st century.

A few notable movies won't be on this list due to the UK's delay in release schedules - a caveat I feel I have to repeat each year. The Holdovers, Poor Things and All of Us Strangers are awards-botherers that I'm really excited to see when they come out over here within the next few months. While I'm hearing a lot of buzz surrounding Poor Things - and Scorsese's Killers of the Flower Moon has a lot of love from critics - I reckon it's Christopher Nolan's time to shine with Oppenheimer being my bet to win best picture. That being said, I can see a director/picture split might be in the cards with Nolan taking Best Director and Poor Things best film - the academy have liked 'weird' in recent years so it's not outside the realm of possibility. Either way, I can't see my personal fave matching up like it did last year.

Along with keeping a tally on the movies I've seen, I've also done the same with TV shows. I've not seen all that I've wanted to see what with the continual swapping around of streaming services and the fact that they take a lot more out of my limited free time and poorly upkept sleep schedule, but I've seen enough to devote a separate (much smaller) post about them. That - along with my Best Game rankings - will likely come in the next few days or weeks, so stay tuned for that. Until then, let's get on with my Top 10 movies of 2023. Click on the posters or hotlinks to see where you can watch or stream each of them in your country.


One of the most shockingly inventive teen horrors of the year, Talk to Me () stars Australian actress Sophie Wilde (who with Netflix's Everything Now and Sky's The Portable Door is having a great year) as Mia, a teenager grieving the death of her mother. At a party, one of her friends suggests a party game; talk to the dead. This is rather inventively executed not with a Ouija board but with a plastered hand, supposedly containing the severed appendage of a real-to-goodness psychic. Naturally, things go tits up when the younger brother of her best friend stays connected a little too long and gets possessed by a nefarious spirit. What follows one surprisingly brutal and disturbing tale.

Viscerally directed by twin brothers Danny and Michael Philippou, it marks a exciting turn in their careers. The Australian duo got their start making shorts on their highly popular YouTube channel RackaRacka. Their comedically satirical skits and pre-scripted pranks are filled with out-of-the-box ideas and an ever-increasing understanding of makeup and special effects. Some of them are well worth a watch, even if you'll never be the same after witnessing Ronald McDonald's extreme Mukbang. Regardless of what you witness on their channel, Talk to Me is a much more focussed and impressive display of their talents. A must see for genre fans.


I wasn't a fan of Martin Scorsese's previous film The Irishman. It epitomised the unrestrained carte-blanche approach Netflix gave its creatives resulting in an overlong crime drama that was, quite frankly, dull. Killers of the Flower Moon () is only 4 minutes shorter at 3 hours 26, but it doesn't drag nearly as much as his previous effort. In fact, I thought it was rather great overall.

If there's any justice, Lily Gladstone's Mollie Burkhart will win her a coveted acting Oscar. She plays the daughter of the Osage Indian Tribe who, after discovering large deposits of oil, become richer and more influential than the white men who leech of them. This wealth also makes them a target. Systematically, Mollie's family die off one-by-one taking her and her white husband Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio) closer to being the sole heirs of the fortune.

The first half rumbles with intensity as Ernest woos Mollie - seemingly in earnest - as her family falls like flies around her. Ernest's Uncle William, a respected member of the community masterfully played by Robert De Niro, vows to investigate offering a princely sum for any information. However, by the movie's second half the investigation turns into a courtroom drama which slows down the pace considerably but doesn't let up on its quality. The entire film focusses on Ernest who, without giving too much away, is something of a complex antagonist. We see two sides of him, not knowing how sincere he is on each and Leo plays up to that. Considering how this criminally under-told true story plays out, part of me wishes it was told through Mollie's perspective, but what it here is one of Scorsese's best in years.


I'm not as big of a Christopher Nolan fan as most people. I find him too particular in his methods to truly resonate, and too playful in how he messes with his stories' timelines. Don't get me wrong, he's made some excellent movies where these become an asset - Inception and Memento in particular - but when it comes to his smaller more dramatic movies, I find it takes a lot away from the picture as a whole. I felt the 3 hour, 3 day, 3 week gimmick added nothing to Dunkirk other than make it strangely disjointed and isolating and the clever time manipulation of Tenet took precedent over an otherwise pedestrian action thriller yarn. Oppenheimer () does suffer from this too. Each era is shot with different colour gradings edited together in a way that don't always gel cohesively. Arthouse asides to the greater cosmos provide little understanding of the inner workings of an otherwise straight-laced man. So why have I not only placed this in my Top 10, but have predicted to win many an accolade come the awards season?

The answer is that the central drama is good. Really good. It may not always make sense to jump around Oppenheimer's life, but the juxtaposition between before, during and after the creation of the atomic bomb offers a necessary contrast to his conflicting involvement with the project. Cut to Robert Downey Jr's portrayal of American politician Lewis Straus whose cavalier attitude to their new weapon of mass destruction is as alarming as his attempt to use it for political points. Both he and a quietly exceptional Cillian Murphy in the titular role deserve some acting accolades and I suspect they will get it.


Speilberg's ode to his childhood, which released wide in the UK in January, is a lot less serious than I was expecting. The Fabelmans () is essentially a coming of age film about a boy obsessed with movie making which is something I can very much relate to. It is also a highly biographical fictionalised account of Spielberg's own childhood which mythologises his youth in much the same way he would do with any protagonist he directs. It could come off as self-serving and narcissistic but it is anything but. The tone is light-hearted and sentimental but unafraid to depict uncomfortable moments, particularly when his carefree mother played by the Oscar-nominated Michelle Williams is on screen.

Some of the visual jabs about the business (especially in the final shot which I won't spoil) give an insight to the cheeky experimentalism the director has had throughout his career. You need that to recreate the Sistine Chapel's God Creating Adam with an alien and a boy. Or an architect narrowly saving his coiled whip from a falling stone door. Or the introduction of a giant beast by the wobbling of a cup of water. Or... you get the gist. And excellent film from one of my favourite directors.


You will never see a sweeter movie this year than Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (). Us Brits had to wait 'til February to see it, but it's earlier release in the US meant it was eligible for Oscar consideration. It was nominated for Best Animated Movie and deserved its place amongst the much-lauded likes of Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish and Turning Red. With it's  mixed-medium mockumentary style, it had to go through hoops to prove it passed the animation threshold so its nomination alone was very much a win.

Building from a series of sweet YouTube animated shorts, the quaint mockumentary features a talking tchotchke living the quiet life with his grandma in an empty house. When the owners of this house moved, the rest of Marcel's family were swept up the humans' belonging leaving these two bobble-eyed shells behind. When a new young couple move in, they use their movie-making skills to record their daily life eventually putting them on the path to find the tiny missing family. Warm, unassuming and nothing short of delightful.


Marvel may have had a sub-par year overall, but the best of the whole cinematic universe did return this past summer to remind audiences why we should care. Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3 () has more genuine laughs than any other in Phase 4, has more emotion, more inventive action - it's just better in every way. After the events of Part 2, the gold-skinned Sovereign leader, Ayesha, has sent her son Adam Warlock out after the Guardians for revenge. He doesn't succeed, but he does manage to mortally wound Rocket Raccoon in the process. Distraught, Starlord and the gang search for the man who made the little Raccoon what he is, uncovering yet another hissable villain with a god complex. The best the MCU has been since Endgame, and a movie that gives me hope for James Gunn's plans for DC. 

In Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (), we get a spectacular example of a sequel done right. Into the Spider-Verse was a revelation instantly making all other animated movies look old-hat by comparison. Part two of the proposed trilogy does it even better. Playfully voiced by Jason Schwartzman, the development of villain-of-the-week The Spot from a humorously benign antagonist to a truly terrifying villain is deftly portrayed in an immensely entertaining fashion. Even the complex relationship between Myles Morales and Gwen Stacey has enough heart and soul to tug at the emotions while still going to some genuinely unexpected pacing. It's been a long time since I had zero clue where a story was headed but I honestly was on the edge of my seat. I have no doubt the upcoming (and delayed due to the SAG and WGA writers strike) final act of the trilogy will be just as amazing.


Past Live () is one of those unassuming gems that truly touches your soul by seemingly doing so very little. Twelve-year-old Nora moves from Seoul to Canada leaving her best friend Hae Sung behind. Many years pass by, but neither has left each other's mind. When they reconnect over the internet, they begin to unearth feelings they know deep down to be unattainable. Ostensibly a series of conversations, each one as succinct and wistful as the need to be, it keeps you glued to screen in one of cinema's most touching and real romantic dramas. 


Brandon Cronenberg, son of the inimitable David Cronenberg, is on track to make just as big a name for himself as his father. His two previous films, Antiviral and Possessor, showed the progression of an increasingly confident filmmaker with some wild ideas up his sleeve. He also wrote Infinity Pool (), a fever dream of a movie about a struggling writer and his wife on a resort holiday in a barbaric yet thankfully fictional tropical country. James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) is said writer, and when he gets in trouble with the law he is sentenced to death. Except this would be an optics nightmare for the small island state looking to fleece out some tourism money. Their workaround is to clone the accused and have them executed instead. If you have the money for it that is. 

You can imagine what hijinks the uber-wealthy would get up to if they could simply pay their way out of a death sentence. And when consentual sodomy carries the same exact penalty as wanton murder, then there's no limit to the depravity of the hedonistic. This comes in the form of the sensational Mia Goth in yet another terrifyingly unhinged role that marks her as the current evil queen of horror. The satire is as strong as the hallucinogenic horror making it the best of its genre this year. I look forward to what Cronenberg brings us next.


More often than not, it has been the smaller films that have wowed me this past year and Charlotte Regan's feature-length debut Scrapper () did just that. After the death of her terminally ill mother, twelve-year-old Georgie (a perfectly scrappy Lola Campbell) devises an elaborate ruse to convince the social workers that her uncle is now looking after her. In truth, she is alone pretending like she's living her best life. In her mind, she's devised a fantasy in which she could see her mother again if only she could build a ladder up to the sky.

Her bubble is burst when her biological father Jason returns from Ibiza where he was working as a ticket seller in between partying. Harris Dickinson, who continues his impressive run of roles after Triangle of Sadness, Where the Crawdads Sing and See How They Run (not to mention the upcoming buzz surrounding The Iron Claw) portrays the young father with a sweet vulnerability underneath a chavvy bravado that makes an otherwise unlikeable personality very sympathetic indeed. Scrapper is humorous, heartfelt and heavy all at once, taking the working class kitchen-sink genre into magical realism territory with aplomb. A wonderfully assured and affecting debut.


Apple TV really need to up their advertising game as, much like their surprise best picture winner CODA, John Carney's latest goes unfairly under the radar. His back catalogue is astounding and he does it again with Flora and Son (), another Irish slice of life where music makes everything better. Flora (Bono's daughter Eve Hewson in a breakout performance) is a tough single mum who had her son Max at a young age. She spends her time pining for her lost youth while the actual youth in her care gets in trouble on the streets of Dublin. When she finds an acoustic guitar in a dumpster, she restores it to give it to Max as a belated birthday present but his rejection of it sparks her to take online lessons herself from a failed American singer-songwriter (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Through this newfound relationship with music, she learns to connect with her son and find a purpose in her life.

Like all of Carney's work, it's troubled central characters are portrayed honestly, warmly and compassionately leaving you with a great big smile on your face by the time the credits roll. His previous film, Sing Street from 2016, has been a regular re-watch for me and is quickly becoming an all-time favourite. I can't see this - or any film released this year - reaching that status, but Flora and Son still earns my number-one spot in my oh-so personal Top 10.


65 () is basic action adventure that's just about watchable. 65 million years ago, an alien space craft crash landed on Earth a few short days before that infamous meteor hit killing off the dinosaurs. Adam Driver plays the pilot of this ship, with the only other survivor being a 9-year-old girl who speaks a different language. They have to travel through the dangerous wilderness to the escape pod dodging pre-historic beasties as they go. Some set pieces are nice and tense, while others rely too heavily on jump scares over actual ones. A movie you've no doubt seen without actually seeing it, so save yourself the money.

You've likely seen Gareth Edward's The Creator () too, but here its many obvious inspirations merge together into a cohesive and well-rounded whole. The scars of a war between humans and artificial intelligence has devastated the planet, and robots are forced to live in exile. The person who invented them referred to as The Creator has been given a godlike status by these outcasts and talks of his new secret weapon spreads hope among them. Joshua, a human undercover mercenary played by John David Washington is tasked with its destruction, only to find that it has been given the form and personality of a little ten-year-old girl. There are many subtle nods to other movies such as Spielberg's A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Blade Runner or even the likes of Apocalypse Now and Paper Moon, but it still manages to be its own thing. I found it to be an exciting and highly entertaining watch.

Marvel's movies haven't been doing so great since a snap was undone in Endgame. While I found them mostly enjoyable, Phase IV has ben scattershot and unfocused as if each instalment existed to usher in something new but never actually getting anywhere; a young Avenger here, a big bad there - it was missing its own singular identity in much the same way as Phase I but with a shit-tonne of expectation piled on. Phase V begins with Ant Man & the Wasp: Quantumania () and introduces a fully-fledged Kang the Conqueror, only tiny. Banished to the Quantum Realm, he's taken over this micro-civilization and in his efforts to make it back to the big place, manages to pull Scott Lang and his entire family in instead. It's a more cohesive and entertaining beast than some of the naysayers would have you believe, but it feels as small as the world our hero's find themselves in.

With the MCU being a boys club for so long, the creatives struggles for their female-lead outings are well documented. Captain Marvel struggled to apply depth and personality to an almost invincible hero, while Black Widow came too late to make it meaningful. Both of them felt like a continuation of the male-lead superhero formula. The Marvels (), while firmly sitting within the company's creative slump, is a female lead superhero flick that for all its faults attempts to do that concept justice. It is aimed at women, with a woman's perspective and a woman's tastes while still being accessible to men (or at least this man). Cat infestations, musical interludes and some very relatable fangirling are the orders of the day and they do it with an entertaining fashion. Iman Vellani's Ms. Marvel is the standout of the central trio while Brie Larson's Captain Marvel has some actual personality written into her. The main plot is slight, with little stakes or contextuality with the overarching narrative of the MCU's Phase V but the set pieces and character dynamics at play were more than enough to have me leaving with a smile on my face.

In previous years, Marvel has flooded the market with its slew of superhero movies. Not once did it put out four - yes four - in the same year. That's what marked the end of the DC Extended Universe as we know it. And whether it was the wet squib of an end being nigh, superhero fatigue or Warner Bros complete mismanagement in all areas, all four of them were box office duds. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom () is forgettable fluff marred by multiple reshoots, delays and the minor controversy of the terrible actress that is Amber Heard. Even an interesting team-up between our hero and the first movie's big bad didn't come along with the heft and hilarity it should have. It's the last one before James Gunn reboots it all, making it all the more pointless. 

Blue Beetle () was more enjoyable, but still suffers from being defunct before it was released. It's the most generic, inoffensive comic book movie of the last decade, pilfering from much better movies to provide a mildly diverting Frankenstein entry of the DCEU. Part Spider-Man, part Iron Man, part Deadpool, part Batman, the most interesting thing about it is the Mexican family dynamics. I know a lot of these faults are comic-book accurate, but this iteration's first appearance was 2006 - he was derivative then, and he's derivative now (his 1939 debut as a pill popping police man was vastly different). Fine enough for a first watch but not much there for repeat viewings.

I had low expectations going into The Flash (). While the DCEU has had some interesting entries, too many have been abysmal (mainly those associated with Zack Snyder who botched the release schedules and removed all semblance of fun). To my surprise, The Flash is one of the better ones, even with the behind-the-scenes scandals. Despite Ezra Miller's questionable handling of fame (to put it very mildly), they are still a charismatic Barry Allen. The unscrupulous resurrection of dead actors and the even more unscrupulous use of digitally scanned and uncredited AI extras are a disconcerting pretence to what the profession may become, proving that this year's strikes are necessary. Nevertheless, this undeniably negative background noise was not enough to make me dislike the film, despite thinking I would going in.

Much like The Flash, I was wary about Shazam: Fury of the Gods () before I gave it a go in the comfort of my own home. I really liked the high-spirited nature of the first film making it one of the better films coming from the DCEU, but the low review scores for its sequel and those behind the scenes shake-ups at Warner Bros gave me pause. Now that I've seen it, I feel it deserves better than those reviews gave it credit for, being just as much breezy fun as the first. It did, however, lose some that heart along the way. Zachary Levi's Shazam take up more space than his teenage alter ego resulting in Asher Angel's more earnest take on Billy Batson being unfortunately side-lined. I wonder how James Gunn's new creative role in the DCEU will affect these movies going forward. His Suicide Squad sequel was the best of the lot (as is his Guardians for Marvel), but the current state of flux does this universe - and Warner Bros. coffers - no favours. Fury of the Gods is still worth a watch if you catch it on streaming or TV, and it's miles better than either version of Justice League. 

For years, the coming of age tale has mostly been told by boys. There are a few exceptions made for the girls (see Lady Bird), but this year we have two of the best and each aimed at a different stage in their development. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (), based on Judy Blume's best-selling young-adult novel, shows us the awkward growing pains of the titular teenager winningly played by Abby Ryder Fortson. From period pains to growing breasts, the movie doesn't shy from conversations young girls (and perhaps boys) need to hear and it does so in a warm and entertaining fashion.

You can't really say the same for How to Have Sex (), Molly Manning Walker's striking drama about a group of British teens on a clubbing holiday in Malia, Crete. This rite of passage focusses on Tara (an excellent Mia McKenna-Bruce) who tentatively wishes to lose her virginity. What follows is a subtle portrayal of a young woman's disappointing first time, sensitively told from all angles. Certainly not for younger teens, but perhaps older girls (and definitely boys) need to see it. An exceptionally affecting drama.

Of late, each new Wes Anderson movie seems to be more Wes Anderson-y than the last. After the Parisian anthology of the French Connection, the Japanese scrap yards of Isle of Dogs, and the unspecified European setting of The Grand Budapest Hotel, the unmistakeable director returns to the US with Asteroid City (). Set in the 1960s, a menagerie of personalities congregate towards a dustbowl town in the middle of the Nevada desert where a meteor fell many years ago. It has not only become a roadside destination, but the location of astrophysicist research. A junior stargazing event is taking place, but little do they know that a strange event will soon change the course of their lives. 

There is a framing device that makes the above story fictional even within this world. It is a stage play, and the writing of it is also depicted in a TV show narrated in Twilight Zone fashion by Brian Cranston. The reason for this is a little confounding and somewhat impenetrable even if it does add quite a bit of deadpan humour and Wes Anderson-isms. It's presented in a way that it must be there for a reason. My take on it is that it's about an actor's experience in modern Hollywood. One of the characters, played by Scarlett Johansson, is a famous actress with nods to Marylin Monroe. Another is a widowered war photographer who could be seen a stand-in for the paparazzi, the press and the conflict between "serious" and "scandalous" stories. Events later transpire to force them into lockdown with no means of contact with the outside world, mirroring what happened to everyone these past few years.

Throughout it all, whether it be the stage play, the TV show or the narrative device in between, there's a layer of B-movie artifice. There are nods to Mars Attacks, Independence Day and Road Runner, as well as thematic hark backs to his own work (most notably Moonrise Kingdom). It's a bit more confused than his previous work, but with a great cast, trademark deadpan humour and palpable sense of whimsy, it remains a great time at the cinema.

A trio of last year's Oscar-baiters that saw the cinema screens on our shores this past year. Babylon (), Damien Chazelle's ode to old Hollywood is something of a chaotic mess. It tells a fictional tale of certain personalities navigating through an industry in flux as the birth of "talkies" changes everything. Basically, it's Singing in the Rain made serious. And scandalous. Chazelle is a great director, and there are single scenes here and there that prove it; Margot Robbie's character turning on the waterworks during her first on-camera scene, the tense scene of a crew trying to clean audio while adjusting to new technology, Brad Pitt's has-been leading man witnessing a packed audience spontaneously laugh at his new movie's love scene - there's some great stuff here. It's a shame that everything around them is unconnected, disjointed, overwhelmed by (admittedly great) music and stuffed with shocking scenes only there for shock's sake. And with the trying 3-hour running time, I'm sad to say it all makes Babylon something of a dud in my eyes.

Tár (), on the other hand, is movie that's more entertaining to think about than it is to watch. It's a slow-moving character study of a very flawed conductor played to perfection by Cate Blanchette that delights as much as it drags. It opens on a 20-minute interview scene, the kind you'll get on a university's YouTube channel (much like Oxford U) which tells us a lot about our main character who's brimming with self importance. The same narcissistic personality is reinforced throughout its two-and-a-half hour runtime until an inciting event catches up with her in the final act. In a bubble, every scene can be dissected and poured over to bring up multiple conversations about gender roles, cancel culture and the death of the author but together it's something of a riveting slog, if one can describe anything as such.

Mostly set in the barn of a devout Amish community, Sarah Polley's Women Talking () deftly portrays the struggle of abused women. The women in this community have been waking up bleeding, bruised and sometimes pregnant but when it's revealed that this is not the work of god, but the abusive men around them, they all have a choice to make; do nothing, stay and fight or leave. The movie is entirely about their discussion over these choices and how their religion comes into conflict with it. Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy deserve every accolade they've been given, but the whole ensemble is a smorgasbord of powerful performances. More than this, Baron Munchausen, Go and Dawn of the Dead actress Sarah Polley has proved to be an accomplished filmmaker and screenwriter in her own right, getting a lot out of something so little. I'm glad it won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. I can't think of any other as worthy as this.

I believe the British Isles have had an exceptional year for cinema, regardless of which country it came from. Some even features prominently on my Top 10. These three may be smaller, flawed movies that could easily be bypassed by the recommendation algorithms, but I reckon they're worth a watch. Based on a true story, Bank of Dave () stars Rory Kinnear (Men) as a local businessman from Burnley who set up his own bank to aid the ordinary folk in his community after the 2008 financial crash. It is a light-hearted and wholesome take on a story that, by all accounts, perhaps wasn't quite that but it's an easy watch for sure. A by the numbers British drama debuting on Netflix during the dumping ground that is the first month of the year. 

Empire of Light () is a strangely bland character study from Sam Mendes who in part is based on his personal experiences frequenting at an aging cinema with his mother in the seaside town of Margate. Set during the Thatcherite 80s, Olivia Colman plays Hilary, duty manager at the crumbling Empire theatre. She suffers from bipolar disorder but seemingly has it under control until she embarks on a love affair with new recruit Stephen (Michael Ward). This leads to some rather unpleasant situations that are out of her control. The love of the cinema is warmly shown on screen, and while the personal tale is affecting, it goes on for a couple of scenes too long. I counted two perfect endings before the final one came about, as if the director didn't know whether this was about the nature of cinema to everyday people or the the more direct character study of a woman in crisis. Either way, it's a solid if unmemorable watch.

In case you don't know, Ken Loach is a respected staple of British cinema. His odes to the working class are equal parts angry, understanding and heartfelt putting forth sympathetic portrayals to those usually left behind. From the bird-loving misfit son of an abusive family in Kes to the troubling unemployment benefits during the austerity era in I, Daniel Blake, his films have tackled uncomfortable subjects specific to this country. His last film before retirement, The Old Oak () does that too, but somehow misses the mark on its anger, understanding and heart. TJ, a pub landlord in County Durham - an already deprived area of the country - befriends a Syrian refugee named Yara among increasing tensions and xenophobia of his regulars. We see the casual racism, but not the consequences of it. One particularly harsh encounter involving Yara and an angry mother is turned of a dime a scene later as the two become friends. The resident racists come off a ignorant and childish reflections of their increasingly impoverished circumstances, not single-minded and vicious followers of a harmful ideology like is often be the case. It ultimately makes for a sweet and hopeful movie, but not entirely a real one which is something the director is best known for. Perhaps he wanted to go out with a particularly uplifting wish fulfilment of a movie and the result isn't bad per se, but it doesn't hit the same as much as his better films.

I have had a distain for Barbie ever since my older sisters forced my He-Man to marry her and do the dishes instead of hunting down monsters and saving Eternia like he should be doing. Yet, the hype for Barbie () was so astounding that it peaked even my interest. It has some great talent behind it, with director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird, Little Women) always being one to watch, and her hubby Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha, Marriage Story) on co-writing duties. The result is one of the most bizarre mainstream movies in some time. It is meta to the nth degree as Barbie begins to suffer negative thoughts in her pink and perfect world. Concerned, she chooses to visit the real world to "fix" it. None of the crazy logic is explored - you just have to go with it - and it's a testament to the writing that you do wholeheartedly. In many ways, it borrows from those high concept family movies of the 90s like Stay Tuned or Last Action Hero, but with as much biting and self-derogatory satire as you can stuff into its run time. Worth the hype. I'm still taking a point off for Eternia's sake though.

Regardless of the overall movie, you can count on Joaquin Phoenix to do something interesting in the acting department. Nevertheless, Beau is Afraid () is definitely not for everyone. Ari Aster's third movie is a nightmarish fever dream about some truly uncomfortable topics. Phoenix stars as an incredibly anxious man living in what can only be described as a dystopian hell scape. Upon returning to his inner-city complex after a therapist session, events around him spiral out of control to such an extent that he misses his flight to visit his mother. While stolen keys in a neighbourhood comprised of a veritable party of intimidating crazy folk just outside his door (not to mention the rotting bodies lying around and a naked serial stabber on the loose) is a good enough excuse, it's evident that there's some relief there too. In a twisted, Kafka-esque comedy of errors, Beau is knocked over by a car then taken to the more subtly disturbing suburbs to recuperate before embarking on an odyssey to some surprising places. 

Critics have naturally compared Beau to Eraserhead and oedipal tales from Greek mythology, but I noticed a fair amount of Alice in Wonderland in there too, not least due to Aster's seeming obsession with decapitation. The agency-free lead bumbles into insane situations before futilely defending himself in front of a kangaroo court much like Alice's self-defence for painting flowers red. It's not for everyone. At three-hours, it's a little too long to be in the presence of such a frustratingly passive protagonist and the absurdity is almost impenetrable for casual viewers, but it is deliberately like this which is very much my thing. Described by Aster as a "Jewish Lord of the Rings, but he's just going to his mom's house", I enjoyed it greatly, but I much prefer his previous two masterpieces. If you liked it even a little bit, I recommend Todd Solondz's highly underrated Palindromes from 2005.

When it comes to Napoleon (), I'm not sure what was going through Ridley Scott's mind when he put together this biopic of France's most famous dictator. When it comes to the battle scenes - of which there are many - we can see the flashes of cinematic brilliance we all know the man is very capable of. When it comes to the drama, however, it's almost portrayed like a farce. Joaquin Phoenix, who I thought would be perfect in the role, is truly miscast. He brings a timid, unsure and almost guilt-ridden performance to a man who was written to be self-serving and narcissistic. When you have a man who proclaims his victories on the battlefield and his reign as Emperor of France to be pre-ordained, his panicked look over his warring army seems at odds with this mindset. As is his strained and needy relationship with Vanessa Kirby's Josephine Bonaparte. There's some truly dire dialogue in there too ("You think you are so great because you have boats."; "Destiny has brought me this lamb chop!") which almost made me guffaw in the theatre, but overall Napoleon is just OK. I wanted it to be more than that.

Comedy has officially made a come back. Kind of. There were three standouts this year, each harking back to some the sex-obsessed mindset of the early 2000s. Bottoms () is a teen comedy that could have been lifted straight from this era. For those who grew up in that era of American Pies, Eurotrips and Get Over Its you'll be in for a very familiar movie with dashes of the Gen-Z mindset thrown in. High Schoolers PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (The Bear's Ayo Edebiri, who's having a great year) are best friends but are firmly a part of the unpopular crowd. In an effort to lose their virginities to their cheerleader crushes, the two start a women-only fight club under the guise of self defence. The slapstick comedy, one-liners and strangely surreal scenes come thick and fast making it one of the better out-and-out comedies of current times. It may delve too deep into bizarro-world for my liking - particularly during its graphic finale - but there's enough here to perhaps push it into becoming a modern classic.

No Hard Feelings () is an out-and-out sex comedy. In the 2020s. Who'd have thought? Starring critical darling Jennifer Lawrence gamely revealing more than just her comedic chops, the movie is just as raunchy and depraved as the ones that came out twenty years ago. The plot - a rich couple hire a girl to sleep with their socially awkward son before he heads of to university - is contrived and a little gross, but the two leads put in a lot of effort to make it all likeable. Fun enough, but not exactly high art though.

Ayo Edebiri also has a role in the surprisingly fun Theatre Camp (). Instead of the 2000s teen comedy or the 2000s sex comedy, this one is a 2000s mockumentary in the same vein as Christopher Guest's Best in Show or A Mighty Wind. After some unfortunate strobe lighting causes camp founder  Joan (Amy Sedaris) to convulse into a coma, her frat boy influencer of a son with his own YouTube channel takes over. The remaining staff (including hypersensitive Ben Platt and Ayo Edebiri who's winging it for the pay check) do their best to keep the camp afloat but hilarious tragedy keeps coming. Anyone with even a passing interest in musical theatre will get more out of it than any other, but I reckon it's one of the best comedies of the year.

While the horror line-up wasn't as stellar as last year when a whopping 4 entered in my Top 10, there were some good ones. These three mark the more entertaining side of the genre where, despite being rated 15 by the BBFC, are in my estimation suitable for the braver teenagers out there. Based on a Stephen King novel, The Boogeyman () has some impressively scary set pieces as a scary monster terrorises the two daughters of a grieving psychiatrist, but by the time the action-packed finale kicks in, it has long run out of original ideas. Still, it's a decent watch over Halloween.

Or at least it would be had the far superior Cobweb () not existed. A young bullied boy lives in fear of a monster crawling through the walls of his house, but when it starts to speak to him in the middle of the night claiming to be his imprisoned sister, he builds up a strange affinity towards her. His strange-acting parents played by Lizzy Caplan (Cloverfield, The Disaster Artist) and Antony Starr (The Boys) on exceptionally batty form are hiding something, but are they the ones we should fear, or the creature in the walls? At once incredibly chilling and oh-so camp, Cobweb is one of the best little horrors of the year.

Being a slick Blumhouse horror that looks like it cost a lot more than it did M3GAN () was a surprise viral sensation with the TikTok teens at the beginning of the year. It's success is entirely due to the uncannily creepy doll at the centre, created with a mix of puppeteering and live performance by a young dancer named Amie Donald. It aims to be a rollercoaster ride that teens can also enjoy rather than a full-on scary gore-fest - which is no knock, there is room for such films - and this does it well enough. Apparently, it was going to be the exact opposite before the Megan dance went viral with a younger crowd and the decision was made to cater for them. Other than a few underdeveloped plot points and some underwritten characters, you'd never know. Not quite as good as Gerard Johnstone's last directorial effort, 2014's Housebound, but on the back of these two projects he deserves to not have to wait 8 years to helm a new one.

One of the most fun I've has in a movie theatre post-pandemic, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves () is a light-hearted winner of a fantasy flick - more so if you're nerdy enough to play the tabletop role playing game. I've been a Dungeon Master for three years now, and if you are too you can see the dice rolls in every plot point, the failed skill checks in every bad scrape, the turn order of every fight. It's a story one could see running with a group of friends every other Saturday night, but with just the right amount of tweaks to make it work for a two-hour Hollywood movie. It does dip a little in the mid section which doesn't really further the plot but it's a great time nonetheless. One of the best big-budget movies in year of disappointing ones.

It may have recovered financially after a slow opening at the box office, but Elemental () itself never does. The metaphor of elements as immigrants is a confused one that doesn't quite work at least in the context of this movie's plot. When the immigrant daughter of a fire person meets a building inspector made out of water, they begin to fall in love as they strive to save her father's shop from closure. The stakes are weak, with the imminent stress of the shop played as relatively low while the logistics of literal fire and water falling in love seems remarkably high - and it plays out the exact opposite. Like, how would this couple even work? Surely any closeness would result in the death of each other. Or perhaps the steam caused will make a cloud baby... Do I really want to be thinking about this too deeply? The answer is no, but I do anyway. With the jokes being low-bar and the plot unsatisfying, the only thing I can unequivocally say is good is the animation. Not unredeemable, but a poor effort from the powerhouse that once was Pixar.

Another poor effort is Dinsey's own Wish (). What was once intended to be a glorious celebrations of the company's 100-year anniversary fizzled into a generic, derivative and ultimately unsuccessful animated "classic". Ariana DeBose voices Asha, a resident of the Kingdom of Rosas who, on the cusp of her 18th birthday, wants nothing more than to be the apprentice to the land's benevolent ruler and wizard supreme Magnifico (Chris Pine). He has kept the land safe from harm, welcoming all immigrants under the proviso that they gives him their biggest wish, and their memory of it. There is a possibility he might grant them, but as Asha finds out that is not entirely the case. Magnifico is a paranoid ruler, unwilling to grant a wish he deems even remotely dangerous, and resistant to return the memories of them to their owners. An errant wish upon a star catapults her on a quest to return those wishes and free the citizens of Rosas from its false utopia. There are many nods to other Disney classics, such as Pinocchio's wishing star, magic mirrors and seven friends sporting the thinly veiled personalities of the seven dwarfs. It's not a total wash, but Wish still isn't all I wished it could be.

Evil Dead: Rise () may be a more gruesome, less tongue-in-cheek take on Sam Raimi's gore-fest, but it doesn't skimp on the sloshy blood and gore that's become the franchise's defining feature. In the brisk 96 minutes, we get to meet a relatable off-beat single-parent family and a recently pregnant aunt deal with demons in a soon-to-be condemned apartment building. This is no shack in the middle of the woods, and the movie makes great use of this location but I would've liked to see what chaos could unfold had the deadites escaped its confines into the streets of Los Angeles. Once the skin-bound Book of the Dead is found, the movie doesn't let up and seemingly no-one - be it neighbours, family members or children - is safe. The barely connected moments that book-end the film play much more how I feared it could be, with shallow characters and obvious set pieces, but it does show some striking imagery that telegraphs the unrelenting tone of the film. Much better than I was expecting.

David Gordon Green reboots another respected horror franchise with The Exorcist: Believer (), and much like each entry into his Halloween trilogy there's some interesting stuff here, but not enough to make for a satisfying continuation. It begins decently enough, as two families hunt for their missing daughters over three days but half way through this measured pacing and tone shifts into something more ridiculous halfway through. And that turning point is the return of Ellen Burstyn's Chris MacNeil. To be honest, her involvement could've been interesting and they even touch upon her potentially compelling relationship with the off-screen Regan. Unfortunately, this tangential link to the original movie is ultimately superfluous in an otherwise uninventive possession movie. Another waste of an important genre IP.

Along with HBO's The Last of Us, video game adaptations have finally found something of a mainstream respectability. At least financially if not critically. My teenage nephew thinks Five Nights at Freddy's () was the best thing ever this past Halloween, despite inexplicably being given a 15 rating by the BBFC. There is some good stuff in there, but I found it more than a little boring. The costumes and effects were there as were the jump scares, but genuine frights were far and few between. A film all about the iconography. In this respect, I guess it's a perfect adaptation of the vastly overrated game series.

Telling the true story of Jann Mardenborough, Gran Turismo () is not exactly what you suspect from a video game movie. Or from District 9 director Neill Blomkamp. As an avid gamer, Cardiff-based Mardenborough wins a competition set up by Sony to induct a Gran Turismo player into the world of endurance racing at Le Mans 24 Hour. It's an underdog story we've all seen before even if it is true (although there has been some controversy over what it's changed or omitted coming to the big screen). Fine enough fare, but similar films (like Ron Howard's Rush) do it better.

A behemoth at the box office, The Super Mario Bros Movie () does so by being true to its source. For better or worse. The plumber is more recognisable to today's youth than Mickey Mouse after all. Then again, the folks behind the Minions don't go too far into the extra mile to make something truly special. The plot careens forward like a Mario Kart race with little room for the characters or story to breathe. Miles better than the 1993 live-action attempt but when you factor everything in, a lot less interesting in my opinion.

Along with the feature-length Black Mirror series 6 episode Beyond the Sea, I've noticed a welcome trend of smaller British sci-fi stories about relationships and how they're affected by technology. In Foe (), the ever excellent Paul Mescal gets recruited on a multi-year mission to mars leaving his wife Saoirse Ronan behind. To keep her company, the government have offered a replacement husband; a robotic copy known as an AI substitute. When the Mars mission comes to an end, the complicated interpersonal nature between the three unleash some uncomfortable questions about each other. I may ultimately be a  relationship drama gussied up with mild sci-fi trappings, and the slow narrative may put some people off, but with some powerful performances on screen I was riveted from beginning to end.

If Foe has similarities to Black Mirror's Beyond the Sea, Fingernails () is much like the fourth series' Hang the DJ. In the near future, a company can tell true love by testing fingernail samples. Anna (the always good Jessie Buckley) and Ryan (Jeremy Allen White) are one of the few couples that score a positive, but Anna isn't so sure. Her doubts increase when she gets a job at the love testing facility and meets Amir (Riz Ahmed) with whom she falls for too causing the complex technology and their relationships to come in doubt. Much like Foe, Fingernails is much more about the inter-personal dynamics and how technology gets in the way. The cast are great as always, but I found the story to be slightly muted as if the concept meant more than the characters. Still a good watch if you have Apple TV, but unlike other movies on the service (like CODA, Wolfwalkers, Killers of the Flower Moon or Flora and Son), it's not one to rush out and get it for.

The same can be said for the Netflix UK exclusive T.I.M. () which is also reminiscent of a Black Mirror episode, though not as directly as the others in this section. Abi (Georgina Campbell) and Paul (Mark Rowley) take on a prototype manservant; an AI created to look and feel like a living human being. Named TIM, an acronym for Technologically Integrated Manservant, he has control over all of the electronics in their new country home. He also develops an unhealthy attachment towards Abi and a resentment towards Paul and the couple's strained marriage. As you can expect, the love triangle quickly turns sinister as we re-tread themes of rogue technology but it's overall done well here. Eamon Farron's titular robot is a standout.

A forgettable and inoffensive spy action film, Ghosted () sees the unlucky-in-love Chris Evans fall for super spy Ana de Armas only to get kidnapped in a convoluted case of mistaken identity. The two stars certainly have an on-screen chemistry I'd like to see more of, but ultimately Ghosted is a by the numbers action flick that does just enough to keep Apple TV subscribers happy for another month. And no more than that.

On the other end of the spy-game spectrum, you'll find some spectacular action in Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning () - as always - but rather disappointingly the plot leaves a lot to be desired. The big threat is an AI algorithm called The Entity that has control over the world's technology to such an extent that it can successfully imitate people over coms or remove suspects from video footage in real time. While AI is more than ever a topic in need of serious discussion in the real world, what it is here is nothing more than a rogue supervillain straight from a 90s action movie. You almost expect it to have a wireframe avatar spewing villainous monologues or something. Instead they chose the next best thing; Esai Morales' motivationally confused Gabriel. He's The Entity's number one man doing all the dirty work needed by the corporeal computer code. A high-concept 90s sci-fi actioner in a 2020s package. Still good, but if Mission Impossible 2 didn't exist it would be my least favourite in the franchise.

Netflix movies are all over the place in terms of quality, but for the most part they're inoffensive and likeable fare. Happiness for Beginners () fits firmly in that camp being a slightly above average romantic comedy with some likeable leads. Ellie Kemper (The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt) stars as a recently divorced singleton who joins a multi-day hiking holiday only to find her little brother's best friend (Luke Grimes of Yellowstone) is there also. The two form an increasingly sweet yet predictable bond that brings on a smattering of the warm and fuzzies. The laughs are low and the otherwise likeable supporting cast is underused but the chemistry between the two leads is what makes it more than your usual by-the-numbers rom com.

If you want something more than that from the genre, check out Love at First Sight () which is also on Netflix. It's a really sweet romantic comedy that does good on both aspects of the genre. When Hadley (Haley Lu Richardson of The White Lotus) travels to London to attend her estranged father's wedding, she meets the utterly charming Brit Oliver (Ben Hardy of Bohemian Rhapsody and X-Men: Apocalypse) returning home from his studies in the States. The two hit it off immediately, and through a series of bad luck, it seems like they would never meet again. That is, until an omnipresent Narrator (Jameela Jamil of The Good Place) subtly intervenes. The magical realism isn't over done, allowing for the palpable chemistry of the Ben and Haley to shine through. Like the best of such movies, it will leave you with more than a smattering of the warm and fuzzies. A surprisingly great addition of Netflix's unparalleled and varied repertoire.

I wanted to like this new version of Disney's Haunted Mansion (). The original cinematic take starring Eddie Murphy was a disappointment but still managed to be an adequately spooky time - even scary - for the little ones at Halloween. This new take has about all the life of the nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine inhabitants of the titular abode and not even the wasted cast can save it. After buying a derelict mansion dirt cheap, struggling mum Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) moves in with her annoyingly timid son Travis (Chase Dillon) before being scared by hauntings enough to hire a bunch of psychics, priests and paranormal investigators to get rid of all those pesky ghosts. What follows is remarkably uninventive, unfunny and basically uninteresting, making Owen Wilson's previous ghostly dud - the remake of The Haunting way back in 1999 - look like a masterpiece.

Halfway across the other side of the spooky kids film spectrum is Neflix's We Have a Ghost (). A hark back to supernatural family films of the 90s starring Anthony Mackie and David Harbour. Mackie, after another failed business venture, moves his family into a crumbling house that just so happens to be haunted by the spectre of Harbour's Ernest. His youngest son, Kevin, who is already a bit of an outcast, manages to befriend this spirit eventually proving to the world at large that ghosts are real. Among the hoopla, Ernest becomes a celebrity which makes solving his murder even harder. Kevin, played by Jahl Di'Allo Winston, is a little undefined and reserved as a character which goes against the broad strokes brought by the rest of the cast. It does have some stand out moments that, with a little tightening of the script could've made for a spooky Halloween classic for all the family in the vein of Casper or The Frighteners. As it is, We Have a Ghost is just a pleasant, forgettable watch.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny () is decent enough yet superfluous Indy sequel that has just as much baffling decisions as it does decent ones. Setting it in the paradigm shifting year of 1969 was a good idea, and the central MacGuffins of the magical spear that killed Jesus and Archimedes' titular dial are perfect foils for adventure. It's a shame that the movie as a whole is nothing more than average. It's overly long, with too many similar action sequences that drag on and on while the one interesting location that actually has something to do with archaeology - the undersea shipwreck - is rushed over with little going on to make it memorable. Regardless, Indy's familial relationships are so well conceived and tenderly touched upon that I wish it could've had more to do with the overall plot.

In relation to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it is a more consistent movie which in my mind makes it the better one. However, there's nothing in it as good as the University chase sequences yet nothing nearly as bad as Shia LeBouf pretending to be Tarzan. It's not like there aren't excesses and leaps of logic here - and whether you can go with them will be the deciding factor on whether you like the movie or not - but what's here teeter precariously on the edge of in-universe plausibility instead of jumping over it like Kingdom. There's the basis for a great film here, yet Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is just good. And that's not what we want from this good doctor.

Set in the 1930s, Invitation to Murder () stars a discontented florist named Miranda Green (a never-better Mischa Barton looking remarkably different from her OC days) who is one of six people to get a mysterious invitation to the private remote island of a billionaire named Lewis Findley. He is nowhere to be seen, but his servants make sure they're all well taken care of, until one of the guests turn up dead that is. Being a highly intelligent and boisterous murder mystery fanatic, Miranda takes charge in uncovering the whodunnit like in one of her Agatha Christie books. An entertaining if slight murder mystery that's worth a watch if you have a lazy Sunday afternoon to spare.

But why settle for a copycat when you can have the real thing? A spooky retelling of one of Agatha Christie's least told whodunits, A Haunting in Venice () changes location from the English countryside of Woodleigh where the novel, Hallowe'en Party, takes place to the more cinematic likes of Venice. As a movie, it's a lot more subdued affair than the star-studded opulence of Murder on the Orient Express or Death on the Nile and all the better for it. Perhaps director Kenneth Branagh took my criticisms of last year's entry (as detailed in my rundown of the movies of 2022) to heart.

The story sees a retired Poirot coaxed out of his routine by an old friend to debunk a psychic séance at a famous Opera singer's stately abode. It is Halloween and there's more than just a great storm brewing. There is murder! Despite the spooky stylings, A Haunting in Venice is still a murder mystery at heart. Kenneth Branagh directs with a light touch, emphasising dark claustrophobia and imposing shadows over the brightly lit computer generated backgrounds of the last two, and while I would've like a more gothic feel, it fits the tone he was going for. Being one of Christie's lesser known books, it's good to see it finally get a big-screen adaptation.

It appears that every year, Neflix releases a couple of movie primed for that Oscar glory. So far, the only streaming service to win Best Film for their original content is Apple TV when CODA scored the top price. This year Apple's biggest bet is Killers of the Flower Moon while Napoleon crashes and burns. So out of The Killer and Maestro from their biggest competitor, which one is which?

While David Fincher's The Killer () isn't nearly the disappointment Napoleon was, I can't see it earning a single nomination this awards season. It stars Michael Fassbender in an attempt to provide character to a cold contract killer as he episodically navigates through the aftermath of a fumbled job. It is filled with Fincher's precise filmmaking which has become his trademark at this point, but by having a deliberately deluded and self-important voice over narrate the vast majority of its run time, I can't say I connected with it as much as I wanted to. I understand why it's made like this; the cool, calm and collected stereotype is turned on its head in a horrifically violent and almost farcical way, but you understand much of the killer's character beyond this, even when his professional life bleeds into his personal one. I can see a great movie in there, though, and I suspect a second or third watch will make me appreciate it all the more, and the fact that I'm enthusiastic to do that says a lot about the film.

Bradley Cooper's second directorial feature, Maestro (☆), is far more likely to rack up its fair share of ceremony invitations. It it's going to win any of those golden statuettes, it will be in the acting categories for sure. Cooper's turn as the famed musical composer Leonard Bernstein is transformative, and not just because of that other award its likely to win; Best Makeup. He embodies the role as a closeted gay man married to a remarkably understanding wife played by Carey Mulligan (who's sure to earn a Supporting Actress nom). As the years pass by, Cooper portrays each era with a different filmic technique, including aspect ratio and colour grading which belies an otherwise generic retelling of its subject's life story. Worth it for the craft on show, if not the necessary the final product.

I saw two small coming of age British movies this year that differ drastically in quality. Based on his semi-autobiographical short film Infinite, Connor O'Hara's Kindling () is a wonderfully touching drama about of group of young men returning from university to spend one last summer with their dying best friend. Played by George McKay in the 2016 short, Sex Education's George Sumner takes on the terminally ill Sid in a feature that subtly shows his declining health and its emotional effect on the friends he knew from birth in a believable way. It was unfairly left out of the previous year's London Film Festival, only finding a showcase in Shanghai of all places but those of us in the UK can now watch it for free on BBC iPlayer and it's well worth tracking down if you have a box of tissues at the ready.

A small independent theatre local to me housed a screening of the zero budget Rudy () a few months ago followed by a Q&A with its director Shona Auerbach. She gave us the winning 2004 weepie Dear Frankie which is currently streaming on Disney+ if you want to give it a go. Her belated second feature, which was entirely self-funded, took ten years to get to where it is and in that time some of the cast has passed away, grown up, got married and generally lived their lives. The most famous name in the cast is Darren Day, a single father looking after two girls; the young Tissy and the teenage Rudy. When the still-grieving family opens up their failing farm house as a B&B in a bid to earn more money, they let in an aging and eccentric ex-ballerina who in her own way turns the family upside down. You can tell this is a zero-budget feature with all the tell-tale signs of a rushed filming schedule, amateurish acting and unambitious shot construction, but with ten years to wrap themselves around the edit and something like Dear Frankie on her resume, Auerbach could've done the film better. With a more focussed approach, Rudy may have turned out to be an affecting coming-of-ager. As it stands, it lacks the means to say what little they set out to.

A very Shyamalan take on the home invasion horror, A Knock at the Cabin () is a surprise win for the notoriously hit-or-miss director. When a gay couple and their young adoptive daughter go on vacation in the middle of the woods, they are interrupted by four doomsday cultists that believe god is testing them. They must perform one horrific act else the world will end. It's remarkably silly in the best way with a good turn from Dave Bautista as one of the bible-thumping intruders. 

A lot has been said about the casting of Halle Bailey as the casting of Ariel in the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid (). In actuality, it was actually a perfect choice. She has the right amount of naiveté and determination not to mention a stunning singing voice. Even when during the character's non-verbal segments, she not once delves into cringy pantomime. Ariel's rebelliously bratty yet sweet, doggedly determined yet ignorant, love-struck yet loveable character is a hard role to pull off and I think she did it perfectly.

On the negative side, it's baffling how the filmmakers for these live-action remakes categorically mis-understand the story they're adapting. There are some bizarre choices, musical omissions and new numbers that don't hold a candle on the original. Why replace the highly entertaining Le Poisson musical number with a dull-as-dishwater dirge of a lament sung by Price Eric? I will give them this; at least these ne numbers kinda fit in, unlike the new songs for Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin (thank you Alan Menken) but Lin Manuel Miranda is no replacement for Howard Ashman.

Going straight to Dinsey +, Peter Pan and Wendy () is a surprisingly drab and slightly sinister take on Disney's version of J.M. Barrie's play. It's another one of those live-action remakes that misunderstands the point of the original tale. Peter Pan was about the differences between boys (Peter) and girls (Wendy), the imagination of youth and the necessity of growing up. Everything about Never Never Land was pure Boy's Own Adventure and how it's missing something important with the lack of femininity. By having girls be a part of the Lost Boys, it undermines this intent.

It's not as if new things can't be done with the property while still keeping the original point intact. The 2003 adaptation - which is far, far better - even gives Wendy more of her own personality and agency. That movie supposes that Peter himself is something of a god of sorts who has created his own world for his own amusement. He is a childishly selfish person that learns to put his friends first by the end of the movie. That doesn't happen here. Peter is portrayed as an outright hero through-and-through which not only makes Wendy's action scenes a little pointless, but makes both characters all the more boring for it. Watch that underrated 2003 version instead.

After being stuck in development hell thanks to Disney buying out Fox and closing Blue Sky Studios, Nimona () finds new life a Netflix, and the result is a winner. I have little faith in Blue Sky's output before they went the way of the Ice Age, but Nimona could've wholly redeemed them (if it's vision was to be the same that is). A mis-understood shapeshifting demon child named Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz) befriends a city knight (Riz Ahmed) framed for murdering the Queen with a hope to exact some mischievous revenge of her own. What follows is a surprisingly heartfelt and affecting adventure that rivals most any animated movie released in cinemas this year. It even surpasses all of Disney's output. Cult classic status awaits.

Taking on an inventive style that is defining the best animation of this era, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem () makes good use of its punky faux-claymation aesthetics. Our heroes in a half shell - actually voiced by teenagers for once - venture out above the sewers for the first time in search of some excitement. What they get is a cabal of mutant bad guys lead by Ice Cube's Superfly who has a bone to pick with the insect-swatting humans. A younger, more comedic portrayal of April O'Neil (The Bear's Ayo Edebiri) joins them in an entertainingly chaotic adventure flick that's a lot better than you're probably expecting. Not Spider-Verse levels of greatness, but almost.

I caught the mostly wordless No One Can Save You () on Disney+ towards the end of the year - much later than everyone else. I had heard some buzz about it when it surfaces in September but, with it's rather generic title and the glut of horror movie noise coming from other films at that time it managed to slip my mind. When I did catch it, I was wowed. Booksmart's Kaitlyn Dever, in basically a one-woman show, delivers a gut punch of a performance as she desperately tries to survive an alien invasion while battling the inner demons of a traumatic moment in her past. By the time the movie ends, her shocking backstory and emotional arch is fully understood by the viewer with all credit going to her and the tight direction of Brian Duffield. Don't sleep on it like I almost did.

Considering I hadn't really heard of The Offering () before I took a punt while scrolling through YouTube's movie rental section, I was surprised by how high the production value was for this unassuming horror. Set in a funeral home located in a Jewish area of New York, lapsed Arthur returns to his estranged father's business with his pregnant English wife Claire. During their strained stay a dead body arrives that just so happens to hold a terrifying demon inside and in true horror fashion he gets loose causing all kinds of havoc. The sets and set pieces are very well done, with handsome cinematography and great acting (the cast includes fellow Brit Paul Kaye), but the characters aren't all created equal. Their lack of complexity is more than made up for with the demonic shenanigans that grows increasingly intense right up until its climax. It deserved more than a straight-to-rental release.

The Tank () turns out to be a very fun creature feature, but you'd never know it if you couldn't make it past the dire opening moments. Set in a remote area of Oregon (which looks suspiciously like New Zealand) a family of four have inherited an isolated cottage complete with the titular water tank which hides a horrific secret. The first half drags on like nothing else. Nothing much happens and this family don't make for the most exciting company. That is until the shit hits the fan when a group of  terrifying salamander-like creatures terrorises them. From then on it's a rip-roaring time. 

Going back to the ever-spotty Blumhouse, There's Something Wrong With the Children () is a horror that's more than a little confused over its presentation. The story revolves around a childless-by-choice couple (Margaret and Ben) on a remote woodland getaway with their married best-friends and their two young children. When they uncover a ruined brick house in the woods, the two sprogs start acting strange and creepy but only Ben notices. The out-of-place editing deliberately using a brash 80s style (think Mandy or Stranger Things) is at odds with the slow-build atmosphere the movie was perhaps originally going for. There is an idea of a good movie here, and with a more appropriate edit the childless-by-choice conflict could be a decent horror allegory. As it is, the movie's director (or editor) doesn't understand itself enough for it to be anything other than a disappointingly hollow experience.

I talked about Ti West's Pearl (), the last-minute follow-up to his surprisingly excellent slasher X last year, but I made sure to see it again when it hit UK theatres in March - a good five months after the US release. This stylised prequel is a must see for horror fans, and cinema junkies alike. It's proven to be a spring-board to Mia Goth's rise as an actress and it's well deserved. Her unhinged portrayal of the titular Pearl translates well to her role in Brandon Cronenberg's Infinity Pool - one of my favourite movies of the year. Like that, I'm sure Pearl is destined to be a cult classic. Much more so than X.

When it comes to Scream VI (), there's no denying that the first of these reboots (requels?) sold me on the formula again after the first lot of sequels lost me by bringing more and more cheese with every instalment. Much like Scream 2, VI takes place in a university, but having that learning establishment be set in New York gives it a whole new vibe. The killer(s) are more brazen here, stalking victims in the open and killing them in front of many a jaded inner-city onlooker. It doesn't go as far as I'd like with this concept, and the final reveal is a little tired but there's no denying there's a lot of life in this ghostface yet.

Eli Roth's Thanksgiving () is a bloody slasher film that's as much fun as it is stupid. And it is really, really stupid. The year after a manic Black Friday turns deadly, a masked killer is on the loose targeting those who were there. It's a very 90s type of slasher, with a don't give-a-fuck attitude to its gory and inventive killings. Victims are little more than blood bags the way they comically dismember with such ease and that just adds to a tone that doesn't go too far into parody. It's based on one of those fake trailers Roth made for Tarantino and Rodriquez's Grindhouse feature film in 2007. That trailer was designed to look like a rough, degraded film print from the 70s with this original movie acting like a modern remake of that fictitious film. It's perhaps the best real movie to come from those trailers being an enjoyably daft horror.

I was not expecting to enjoy The Pope's Exorcist (). It was promoted as one of those po-faced based-on-true-events horrors that think they're more important than they are (The Conjuring, I'm looking at you). While it sure is based on the memoirs of Father Gabriele Amorth, it is not that self-important all. This is a full-on pulpy affair with spooky house tropes and over-the-top exorcisms that border on parody. The good kind of parody. Russel Crowe has fun with Amorth's playful personality which does enough to endear the character to the audience, even if the plot he finds himself in can't quite do the same. I hope it goes further with this kooky tone in the already-announced sequel.

Once intended to be a serious entry in Universal's Dark Pictures Universe before the failure of 2017's The Mummy put the kibosh on that, Renfield () is a fun, comedic take on Bram Stoker's infamous vampire. Nicholas Hoult channels the charming yet posh neurosis of Hugh Grant as he plays the titular familiar to Nick Cage's needy yet still terrifying Count Dracula. The two interact like they're in a toxic relationship, and Renfield begins to realise this when he attends a support group for victims of such things. What follows is more of a comic-book actioner than an all-out horror as Ben Schwartz's criminal nepo baby and Akwafina's incorruptible cop join in on the fun, but what fun it is.

Directed by Jon Wright of Grabbers fame, Unwelcome () is another one of his unassuming B-movie horrors that take you on one hell of a ride. After a home invasion scares a young couple out of the city of London, they move into a quaint inherited house in the Irish countryside. With a baby on the way, the idyllic place soon becomes the stuff of nightmares when they discover that the goblin-like Red Caps of Irish folklore are real, and have set their sights on the baby. The fantastical creature feature that makes up the second half is a little at odds with the home invasion of the first, and while the special effects are passable, the compositing seems a little too fake - perhaps deliberately so. Think Finian's Rainbow but as a horror. The cast is likeable and it is a damn good time as a whole but something in me wanted it to be a little more like the chaotic carnage of Gremlins than it was.

While I haven't read the book this movie is based, I have read a number of others by its author Tom  Holt (I recommend Falling Sideways and Little People). He reads like a mixture between Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams with a quirky, very British sense of humour in his sarcastic urban fantasies. I knew enough of his work to know I had to watch The Portable Door () when I saw previews earlier in the year. Exclusively streaming on Sky's on-demand platform Now TV in the UK, it stars Patrick Gibson (The OA) as Paul and Sophie Wilde (who's having a hell of a year with this, Netflix's Everything Now and Talk to Me) as Sophie who have found themselves working together ina a low-level department of a magical firm. Their business ins somewhat intangible, but from what I can gather they deal in fate, pre-destination and other undisclosed magical machinations. It appears that a corporate conspiracy is a foot at the CEO's son has taken over after his father mysteriously disappears, and John and Sophie have embroiled themselves deep. Co-starring Christoph Waltz, Sam Neil and Miranda Otto, this UK-Australian co-production is a great time if you can get past the natural quirks of its premise.

The DreamWorks Renaissance came and went with Puss in Boots: The Final Wish () being the only banger of a movie they released in the UK this year (it had a February release). It's been over a decade since the infamous feline starred in his own movie and almost two since his first appearance in Shrek 2, but his charm and wit hasn't slowed down one bit. The animation is sublime, with a look so painterly you can see the brushstrokes, and the cast bring it their all as always. It also has a top-notch and surprising emotive story to back it all up, it's no wonder it was in the running to win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars. An all-time classic in my view.

That cannot be said for Ruby Gillman: Teenage Kraken (). The rubbery animation looks like something Nickelodeon would put out twenty years ago (think Jimmy Neutron) and the story is just as trite. Basically Mean Girls meets The Princess Diaries meets The Little Mermaid, Ruby is a seemingly normal yet unpopular teenager who discovers she's not only a Kraken, but heir to the ocean's Royal Family. When it turns out that one of her bullies is an evil mermaid (yes, they're evil creatures here), she discovers she is key to resolving the eons-old conflict. I have three nieces, all of whom sit firmly in the movie's target demographic. None of them liked it. I hated it. I expected more after the wins that were Bad Guys and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. Ruby Gillman is a big miss.

Also called Bright Colours: The Movie by the more jaded of my circle of friends, the Trolls movies all seem like they're going to be terrible. Honestly, I have something of a small soft spot for them. Now on it's third film, Trolls: Band Together () sees peppy Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and blue Branch (Justin Timberlake) search for the latter's family after it's revealed they were all in a boy band together when they were young. It's little more than an excuse to make fun of Timberlake's time in NSYNC which quickly turns into a rescue mission. You see, these talented trolls have been targeted by some famous pop stars to they can syphon their lifeforce to give them talent. Don't think too hard. Just look at the pretty colours and be happy. I and my nieces were.

You know what, I can't remember much abut Rebel Moon: Part One - A Child of Fire (). Zak Snyder's newest Netflix flick is an over-bloated mess of re-used ideas that's a struggle to get through all 133 minutes of its run time. Beneath some detailed visuals, expressive action and impressive practical effects, the movie has absolutely nothing going for it. Essentially, it's another undisclosed remake of The Seven Samurai but in space as a member of a raided farming planet joins forces with the wanted rebel hiding out among them to travel the galaxy to fight back. Except the stick-carrying farmers are so weak and the multi-fleet Empire rip-offs are so strong I can't imagine they'd make much of a dent. You'd have to keep imagining too as the film's not even over yet. The conclusion is coming in March. I'm not sure I'll be watching.

River Wild () is a remake of a mid-90s film that I feel should be considered a classic. Starring Meryl Streep who, on a river rafting holiday with her family, turns badass action heroine when Kevin Bacon's unhinged bank robber collide with them during his getaway. I still quote "Ahoy the shore" to welcome bemused friends on the other side of the street. This grittier remake (though going by its advertising, you wouldn't know it going in) stars Adam Brody in the Kevin Bacon role. It doesn't quite live up to the highs of the original, primarily because motives are revealed fairy quickly removing any interesting character dynamics the first half the original film had. Had it reached cinemas, I'd consider it a sub-par bomb you shouldn't waste your money on. As it's straight to Netflix it's a background movie that's decent enough to distract you from whatever you were supposed to be doing for a couple of hours.

Emerald Fennell's second feature after Promising Young Woman got mildly slated by movie journalists. A main part of that is because expectations were so high after that incredible award-winning debut. Saltburn () was never going to be as good. I, however, very much like this very British class satire with a touch of Talented Mr Ripley. Barry Keoghan stars as Oliver Quick who weens his way into the private lives of the wealthy Catton family. While staying at their huge family estate - the titular Saltburn - his fixation with their eldest son Felix becomes ever more unsettling. Not only does it straddle the line of good taste, but jumps over it with abandon. And I'm all for it. It may not be as good as Promising Young Woman, but I reckon it to be a solid second album from Fennell.

Considering the fate of the entire world is at stake, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts () feels strangely low-key. And for some reason I kinda enjoyed it a lot more than I was expecting. More so than any other in the series since the original (or the only great one - spin-off Bumblebee). It's nothing special - I did score it low for a reason - but the relatively simple and predictably tired story is in stark contrast to the overblown cacophony of the previous films. I wouldn't pay money to see it, nor would I choose to see it again, but considering how low I hold most others in the franchise I was left entertained. Bumblebee is still the best, though. By far.

The Whale (), with its single-location tale of a morbidly obese man on his deathbed, is a stunning actorly piece that I would imagine had more impact when it was performed on stage years prior. Regardless, Darron Aronofsky's much-talked-about movie is nevertheless deeply affecting. Brenden Fraser, playing the titular role of Charlie, deserves all of the accolades he's been getting, much more so than Austin Butler's over-hyped portrayal of Elvis (I don't rate that movie highly at all). Seeing the mixed reviews, I do think that a lot of critics didn't understand the movie, giving it a lukewarm reception, not to mention its snub for a best picture nomination at several awards shows. I even read one think piece thinking it was about the "instant gratification" of modern life. I don't know what film they were watching, but if anything, it's about how isolating and world-warping the modern world can be. Charlie gets no sort of gratification from overeating. In fact, it's slowly killing him; suicide by fried food.   

As for the name of the movie, I don't think it is referring to Charlie at all. It being a derogatory term for an obese person is just an extra layer. The whale is in fact his estranged teenage daughter, Ellie (an intense Sadie Sink) who he's been desperately trying to reconnect with in his final days. Like how Ishmael single-mindedly searches for Moby Dick - a book often referenced in the film - she is his the only thing he can think about to the detriment of everyone around him. It takes a cynical mind to think this tale is about smart phones, social media or Uber Eats. It's so much more than that. An essay's worth even... as long as it tells your truth.

If there was one cinema release heading into the holidays that was sure to give you some festive feels, it was going to be Wonka () and despite some trepidatious thoughts clogging up my cynical mind in the month leading up to its release, I was pleasantly surprised. Directed by Paul King, who coats the film with the same light and whimsical tone he gave both Paddingtons, Wonka encapsulates a lot of what made the 1971 film so special. The songs, written by The Devine Comedy's Neil Hannon, are classically theatrical, occasionally harking back to those memorable and imaginative tunes we all sung in our youth. Timothée Chalamet makes for an expressive, upbeat and somewhat naïve Wonka before all those betrayals lead him to close his factory to the outside world. You can see subtly him put that fragility in the character, yet in this story at least he comes out triumphant. A winning way to spend a festive afternoon with the family.

But this year wasn't all hover-chocs and rainbow candy. There were some real stinkers. Here's my pick for the absolute worse I had the misfortune to sit through.

WORST 5 OF 2021


A forgettable kids animation from the folks behind Tad the Lost Explorer and Capture the Flag, Mummies () somehow became a surprise success. Financially anyway. Despite being set in London, the Spanish creatives behind it tended to not care about accurately depicting the city or the Englanders within it, but when you consider how they portrayed Egyptian culture it seems we got off lightly. Three mummies are loose on the streets of London and they're in search of an old ring that's just an excuse for some wacky hijinks. Had this released in the 80s, it would've been a failed Filmation TV pilot that was repackaged as a straight-to-video movie to recoup some of its costs. Its success was only because no other family-friendly fare found its way to the cinemas during the Easter holidays.


Being the second remake of Stephen King's short story, this iteration of Children of the Corn () was supposed to be released in 2020 - even getting a very brief run in select US cinemas. Alas, the pandemic meant it wouldn't go wide until this past May. Was it worth the wait? In a word; no. While I feel none of the movies in this long-running franchise are anything special, I always wish they were. The premise of a bunch of murderous, adult-killing, Corn-worshipping kids is a creepy one but none of them have capitalised on that premise. The original and each of its remakes are, in my opinion, better than any of the sequels. They at least try. I even have a soft spot for the slightly more true-to-the-book 2009 TV movie.

This one, however, takes the prequel route, detailing how the kids take over the small Texan town (filmed in Australia) and the two leads do enough to make for some campy fun - Elena Kampouris puts on the ultimate terrified face while Kate Moyer is commandingly sinister as the gender-swapped Isaac substitute Eden. They can't save the terrible dialogue though, and with its rushed editing and ludicrous CGI, it is more of a TV movie than the TV movie that was the last remake.


Meg 2: The Trench () is perhaps the most stupid mainstream movie I've ever seen. Hiring Ben Wheatly - who has directed some stellar work in the past - made me think something more would come from this franchise, but it doesn't lean into the silliness of its concept enough to allow you to turn off your brain and go with it. I was cringing during the entire runtime. 


Never have I rolled my eyes so many times at a move. I had read in a magazine interview that Robert Rodriguez wanted Hypnotic () to be his take on a tense Hitchcockian thriller. Instead, the insane plot device of a cabal of criminals using hypnosis to make innocent people do their bidding beggars belief. Now, if a different approach was taken to the concept it could've been done better. Hell, the X-Files season 3 episode Pusher did just that. But with Hypnotic's huge leaps in logic, twists upon twists and really poor turns from Ben Affleck and Alice Braga, the simple fact that it was ever made beggars belief even more so. Avoid.


Kudos to the filmmakers for being the first to take advantage of Pooh's induction into the public domain, but Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey () is absolute dog shite. After being abandoned by Christopher Robin, the animals at the 100 Acre Wood turn psychotic, eat Eeyore and murder their former friend when he shows up to introduce his new wife. Then, a bunch of no-names are given an excuse to visit and get pipped off one-by-one in the most uninventive way ever. There is an attempt at professionalism - the freshly-Botoxed actors try their best at least some of the time - but ultimately it's complete trash.

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  1. I'm truly in awe at this epic review. I'm impressed just that you managed to watch so many films and remember them!

    I only saw a few this year. I liked Oppenheimer for the same reasons you did, and disliked the filmmaker's excesses in much the same way.

    Napoleon I agree was a big disappointment. I don't blame Scott for trying to pack so much in - and then tie it up with a ribbon of commentary - but the fact that the latter had to be delivered as literally as a series of end cards shows that the project was misconceived. The scope and ambition of his life was so absurd that it really demands a full (and expensive TV series) - two or three hours simply isn't enough.

    Not that I'd have appreciated extra servings of this particular telling - it was dour and joyless. I agree the dialogue was clunky and the performances a let down, but on top of these I'd add that the washed out colours in so many scenes created sensations of alienation and detachment from a tale which should be engrossing and absorbing. Whatever you think of the morality of Napoleon's career, it was history at its most dramatic and this film did that no service whatsoever.

    The Mario movie was better than I feared and worse than I hoped. I really liked the opening half hour - I thought that the brothers were given a surprisingly rich set of aims, relationships, and adversity. The comedy was well judged, everything looked great, and Pratt and Day (despite the controversy) inhabited their characters very well. This section was, for me, pretty close to Pixar quality, and I'd have happily watched a film where they never left Brooklyn!

    Inevitably though they had to move on to the Mushroom Kingdom and this is where things started to dip for me. Separating Mario and Luigi, who had great rapport, robbed the film of its warmest human element, and Toad and Peach made for poor replacements. Peach in particular was a bit too self-consciously a hyper-competent action girl. I can well understand their desire not to make her a damsel, but I think they perhaps should have given her some relatable flaw: perhaps really played up her loneliness and sense of isolation from her subjects? I thought a good gag might have been if all the Toads were actually slightly afraid of her martial prowess, but I doubt Nintendo would have signed off on that.

    The various action scenes and escapades were individually competent but suffered from hyperactivity - one or two could easily have been cut to make room for more relationship development, I think, rather than breathlessly moving from one to the next. As it is, the plot feels like it's both moving too fast and dragging at the same time. This part isn't bad per se but it's more at a Dreamworks level of competent kids' adventure movie compared to what came before.

    Things do pick up again towards the end and the film does a decent job of tying the crescendo with its themes and character development. All things considered I definitely didn't regret seeing it but I do find myself grieving a little for the all-time classic I sensed it could have been during its opening.

  2. Thx Biffman 101 :) Its good to see what movies can be watched by me to complete 2023 year.


  3. Great list, many of your pick I agree with.

    Just a small note: Ezra Miller uses they/them pronouns.

    1. you are correct, the actor does use they/them as they are enby like janelle monae (glass onion) and sam smith. its unfortunate what happened with them, and the film tbh, decent concept tho. (my big gripe was the "stylistic cgi" that the director claims was not budget related)