20 of the best films to watch in 2023

12. Oppenheimer

Tenet (2020) left many viewers scratching their heads, but Christopher Nolan’s latest seems more firmly grounded. As he did in Dunkirk, Nolan revisits the past, this time with a more controversial story. Cillian Murphy plays J Robert Oppenheimer, the US physicist who became known as “the father of the atomic bomb” and wrestled with the morality of his work for the rest of his life. Because everything Nolan does is big, this biopic is shot in Imax and features dramatic on-screen explosions set in the desert of New Mexico, where the bomb was tested. Emily Blunt plays Oppenheimer’s scientist wife, Kitty, with Florence Pugh as his former love, Matt Damon as the US Army General who led the Manhattan Project that developed the bomb, and Robert Downey Jr as Lewis Strauss, who orchestrated government hearings that questioned Oppenheimer’s loyalty. (CJ)

Released on 21 July

13. Challengers

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

Released on 11 August

14. Next Goal Wins

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

Released on 22 September

15. Dune: Part Two

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

Released on 3 November

16. Wonka

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

Released on 23 December

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

17. Poor Things

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

Released in 2023

18. Beau is Afraid

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

Released in 2023

19. Killers of the Flower Moon

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

Released in 2023

20. Maestro

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

Released in 2023

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