2024 has arrived, and 2023 has left us with little more than music and cinema to celebrate. Perhaps you are one of the lucky ones who made it out of the last year intact, but for me this year was a disaster, let alone for many other folks. Whether you enjoyed the last year though, there was a surprising amount of compelling movies that came out despite a massive strike of two unions in the industry (solidarity forever). This season you might feel like you are drowning in end of year lists, or maybe you are avoiding these lists like the plague. There are many reasons to be skeptical of end of year lists, but for me I find them a useful guide for finding those movies I may have missed as well as a chance to find out what my peers are feeling passionate about. I considered asking the staff of the site to collaborate on a site wide top ten list, but that doesn’t really get at what I find useful about end of year lists nor does it entirely reflect the values of the site. Instead, I wanted to wrap up the year presenting a list of not just what we consider the BEST films of the past year, but rather to recommend some movies we loved but are worried might get lost in the shuffle of year end wrap ups.
This is not a complete list or a ranking. I simply asked folks to submit blurbs for movies they loved from this year they felt were not obvious. This does not mean I or the other folks who submitted don’t love some of the biggest movies that came out this year like Barbie or Oppenheimer or Spider-Man:: Across The Spider-verse, but hopefully you are aware those movie’s are great and do not need us to sell you on them.. For me, two of my favorite movies of the year I wrote about earlier in the year are, Past Lives and Passages, and I would love if you read those pieces. I have already endorsed those films in those pieces though, and both films seem pretty well represented in many lists across the internet (Passages could actually be getting more love than it is, so definitely check it out). For myself, it is also not a full list of all the movies I would implore you to find and watch like Bottoms or They Cloned Tyrone, these are just some of the films we were worried you might miss. Still, it is worth mentioning that I had no requirements for people who submitted, just that they write about what they wanted to write about. Thus not every movie listed might strike the reader as exactly under seen but they were important to the folks who submitted, so hopefully you will find their passion helpful as you make your way through the last years films. Thanks so much for reading and here’s hoping for a less chaotic 2024! Huge thanks to our contributors Claire Bamert, Michael Viers, Justin Lore and Julie Holland
How to Blow Up a Pipeline
One of the most engrossing thrillers of the year. Filled with a charming cast who showcase the severity of their situation, while also bringing well timed levity as needed. You may not learn everything the title promises, but it illustrates the community and shared dread that needs to be recognized when fighting the climate crisis. The true movie of the moment.
Character explorations of generally unlikeable people have gotten a bit stale in 2023. So how does Christian Petzold’s story of a petulant struggling author surrounded by both a fire and people giving him way more grace than he deserves charm so hard? It is really an engaging and empathetic story that is filled with the kind of reflection that suggests a bit of identification with Leon in all his narcissistic glory. Yes, there are some painfully cringe worthy moments in this movie but ultimately I think this is a very compassionate film and is better for it.
This film digs into your darkest feelings while also working well at a surface level if the emotional themes don’t resonate with you personally. With creepy imagery in a spooky setting Black Mold doesn’t shy away from some unexpected scares featuring unique takes on traditional fears. Most importantly, if a film is going to make me feel my feelings and address my own guilt and grief I also want there to be some decent blood and violence! With Black Mold I absolutely get that!
I suspect the relatively few folks who discovered this gem in 2023 may have come for Greg Turkington or Jeremy Allen White, but hopefully they were charmed by everything else this film has to offer. A very dry comedy that indirectly deals with the alienation of both PTSD and immigration, Fremont is a real gift with it’s beautiful black and white cinematography. I cannot remember the last film I saw that felt both restrained and a bit silly, but this one manages to draw me in even while being connected to legitimately painful human experiences.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
You may have already heard about Asteroid City, but did you know Wes Anderson directed 5 films this year. One feature and a set of 4 shorts adapted from Roald Dahl stories, all of which are available on Netflix. Chief among them is the title that shares the name of the collection being adapted. Henry Sugar is 40 minutes of concentrated Wes with eye catching, Production Design, Costume, Cinematography, and a collection of performances by first time collaborators Benedict Cumberbatch, Ben Kingsley, and Dev Patel. The dialogue is word for word the original story in its entirety and Anderson still manages to make the material his own. If you loved Fantastic Mr. Fox, then this is a must see.
A film that uses cliched true crime podcasting/vlogging and a healthy dose of “creepypasta” style weirdness as a springboard into the truly uncanny, Baby Blue is an unpredictable romp of a movie. Mixing found footage style shots with traditional filmmaking, Baby Blue is the story of a crew of floundering YouTubers who think they’ve found their big break in the urban legend of Baby Blue, a teenaged serial killer who captured the imagination of the country before dying by suicide. The film turns into a story of possession, obsession, and good old fashioned slasher madness. Anthony Turpel as the titular Baby Blue is especially chilling, coming off less as a hackneyed nu metal style serial killer and more as a deeply nihilistic and pessimistic greaser who sees no real meaning in life and simply kills because there’s nothing better to do. He’s genuinely charming and pleasant but reeks of a simmering violence just below the surface. The comparison to Bill Paxton’s Severen will inevitably come to mind, but Turpel is less interested in blood and gore than he is in proving that existence is essentially meaningless.
The Venture Bros.: Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart
I’ve been a die-hard Venture Bros fan since the beginning, and with only 7 seasons and a movie being produced in the last 20 years, we’re happy to get any crumbs we get. This is less of a plea for my fellow Cinepunx friends to watch the new movie and more of me hoping I can convince you to try this wonderfully weird TV show. What originally started as a skewering of Hanna-Barbara cartoons (most notably Johnny Quest) has become a beautiful, yet funny story about failure, trauma, and becoming the best version of yourself. We Venture Bros fans had our show taken away without warning, so the fact that we got this movie is a miracle. Let’s celebrate that miracle.
There were a surprising amount of incredible comedies that came out in 2023. This spot could be for Bottoms but hopefully you have seen that incredible slice of Gen Z insanity. I could also highlight one of my favorites’, Theater Camp. However, when it comes to films I found utterly hilarious that seem to have completely vanished from the public consciousness, none fit the bill more than Joy Ride. An incredible exploration of identity in a 2nd generation context, Joy Ride manages to be over the top hilarious with a viewpoint on the world. While focusing on a variety of female experiences, Joy Ride handles seriously a complicated arrangement of issues while delivering on character development and hilarity. . Yes, it also had an aspect that surprised me in a lot of movies this year, a beating heart that came just short of over the top sentimentality, but it was really it’s brand of raunchy humor that won me over.
The sex lives of trans women can be an overly complicated subject of our existence. This is especially true for the black trans women and sex workers at the center of this introspective doc, as well as the men who fuck them. They share stories about who loves them, how they are loved, and just how dangerous the stigma of their existence can be, in their own honest way.
The Hopewell Haunting
This is a film that builds its entire identity on minimalism: a simple premise (a bitter preacher comes face to face with something that confirms his faith in the worst way), four characters at most, two settings, and almost no dialogue. Yet, Dane Sears manages to craft an intensely unsettling film, using the implied and the explicit in equal measure to terrify. It’s a film that succeeds when by all rights it should fail before ever getting off the ground, and in the end leaves the viewer shook by the aural and visual assault it becomes. There’s moments of Evil Dead here and there, mostly with the use of unconventional camera angles and shots, but ultimately this is a film that stands on its own two feet.
Paul Matthews (Nicholas Cage) suddenly appears in every person’s dream and feels what it’s like to finally be the center of attention, for better and for worse. The film takes Cage’s meme energy and takes it to its natural conclusion to hilarious effect. A movie about cancel culture and the struggles to appreciate what you have.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Look y’all, I am as surprised to be writing this film into this list as you are to read me writing this film into this list. Like I said, the list has no rules, just movies we enjoy that are maybe getting less love than we feel they deserve. This was in fact a major release, and yet I have seen very few people discussing it, and to me that is an obvious shame. Now, I am very unfamiliar with the book. Perhaps the movie succeeds simply in being a faithful adaptation of an interesting and nuanced book. However, that does not explain away these truly incredible performances that had me laughing and crying in equal measure. All the expected beats are here: coming of age, difficult family dynamics, exploration of religion, criticism of the cesspool that is the American suburbs. Still, despite being based on a 53 year old book this movie feels fresh and alive and engaging. Being a human, especially a young woman, is sill difficult, and unfortunately the things we believe often make the experience more and not less complicated. I feel strange really pushing this movie, a general release family comedy. Still, I really think there are lots of folks who saw the name, vaguely remembered the book, and skipped it assuming they would find something utterly saccharine and boring. This is not that, and I think it deserves your attention.
Bury The Bride
Detailing the plot of this one would only serve to spoil an incredibly satisfying revelation but this is not the crusty hillbilly horror it sets up as. When this twist hit I literally shouted “hell yes!!” alone in my home. Weird shit happens in the desert and I promise you will not expect what is coming when you click play. Spider One is becoming a director to watch and his partner Krsy Fox, who is also the co-writer, absolutely shines alongside genre favorite Scout Taylor-Compton in the lead roles.
Not the only movie this year about the complicated struggles of single mothers in different economic situations, Earth Mama has the distinction. of not just being great, but also being the one I saw (sorry A Thousand and One). This film addresses foster care and poverty with a view at all times towards patriarchy and white supremacy, while telling a captivating and personal story. How a movie can be this cogent about difficult issues without ever spilling over into a message movie is beyond me. I understand that issues around adoption and foster care are complicated for people,. and thus a CW for those issues should be here as well as for addiction. While I am no expert on a lot of these experiences, as far as I could tell this movie managed some very difficult pressures and ideas while not making a spectacle of any of them which is an incredible achievement.
I Like Movies
Essential viewing for anyone who’s ever been a teenage cinema snob. Isaiah Lehtinen gives a brilliant performance as the naive Lawrence, who just wants to enjoy the movies he holds dear to his heart. No matter how it affects his relationship with his Mother, his best friend, or his new boss at the Video Store he just got a job at. At points I saw too much of myself in this than I was comfortable with, but was moved as I watched where the character goes. The closing night film at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival was a crowd pleaser that left me a blubbering mess.
Jon S. Baird’s Tetris came and went pretty fast at the beginning of 2023 and it’s a shame it did not get more love. This movie was tailor-made for me — Taron Egerton starring in a true-life story about the creation of Tetris? Yes, please. I wasn’t expecting so much drama, tension, and espionage involved with a video game. While watching this I often felt like it was a lite version of Halt and Catch Fire with an over-the-top tone and great performances. I had a smile on my face for the entire runtime, and if you’re a fan of Taron Egerton with a mustache and/or Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” then this will be a treat.
When Minato comes home from school disassociating, his mother Saori begins an investigation over who’s to blame. Told from multiple perspectives that will both haunt and amuse. Monster is a story about how hard it is to fit in, and how much harder it can be when you stand out.
What starts off as something out of an old west pulp comic (a man wakes up tied to a tree in the middle of a forest) quickly devolves into a smorgasbord of almost pornographic emotional violence. For 90 minutes, the viewer is treated to a ceaseless parade of cruelty upon our unfortunate protagonist Nolan, the man who finds himself in the unenviable position of being tied to a tree. When an apparently sadistic camper shows up and begins taunting him, Nolan is forced down a path of self reflection in order to figure out why he is where is. What results is a pitch perfect and utterly satisfying (albeit heartbreaking) film, with an ending that uses a tired horror trope to make the previous 80 or so minutes as delicious as a Cherry Coke on a hot summer day. It’s a rough watch for sure but the ending is absolutely worth it.
Happer’s Comet is one of the films on this list that is not just underseen but seems almost nonexistent in a lot of the film conversation, and it is not hard to understand why. The film focuses on a sleepy suburb in the middle of the night. Each scene develops as a kind of visual puzzle as you look to make some narrative sense of the often haunting images. There is very little drama or narrative to be found, but there is a perspective on America, the suburbs, and what is hidden under the surface that comes across quite clearly even without any dialogue. Some might call this a “tone poem” but if so then this is a poem with both a biting perspective and a whimsical respect for quiet beautiful moments. How could. movie a with very little dramatic events make me this emotional? Magic, perhaps.
Snoopy Presents: One-of-a-Kind Marcie
I’m not sure how many people are keeping up with the current slate of Peanuts cartoons being produced by Apple TV+, but they’ve been wonderful. Director Raymond S. Persi managed to make a beautiful, little cartoon about loving yourself for who you are by exploring one of the Peanuts’ most under-appreciated characters. Marcie, best known as being the right-hand person of Peppermint Pattie, is given a chance to shine. This cartoon will do so much to teach the youth about social anxiety and that it’s OK to be an introvert.
Mother, May I
Films that revolve around two people in a house basically working out a relationship can get a little tedious but it’s the performances that make this a must see. Kyle Gallner is absolutely gripping as Emmett who has come to clean out his late, estranged mother’s house. He is joined in this endeavor by his wife Anya, played by Holland Roden, who deftly executes a complete character transformation over the course of the film. This film feels less like a script acted out and more like a carefully choreographed dance that unfolds both visually and emotionally as darkness takes over and the lines between real and imagined become more blurry.
A Bunch of Amateurs
Before streaming, Cinema Clubs brought in droves of members who came together to share and discuss the art that inspired them. In present day Bradford England, the club is worse for ware, from their community space to the members themselves. But through all of their misfortunates and in-fighting. Their love for film and each other keeps them alive and strong. One of the most incredible underdog stories I’ve watched in years.
Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé
Miss Taylor isn’t the only one who took her blockbuster concert to AMC theaters. Beyoncé brings you a documentary taking you behind the scenes of everything that went into Renaissance being the Occasion of the Century. Showcasing the tireless effort of everyone involved beyond herself, while showcasing the concert in awe-inspiring fashion. Then you have moments like Dance Captain Amari Marshall coaching Blue Ivy to perform on stage with everyone, the two locking eyes on stage elevating one another. A euphoric cinematic event. If there’s any discussion still being had, Beyoncé has proven herself once again as the most prolific working artists of today.
Nothing about this list was meant to represent resentment or frustration, and yet here we are. Eileen belongs less on a list of below the radar films than in a column entitled “WHY YOU ARE WRONG ABOUT…” A major release that was underseen I suspect because so many decried it as terrible, I think it is rather misunderstood.. Eileen is a sapphic neo-noir with truly nightmarish elements, I think some went in expecting something more like Carol and less murdery. Make no mistake though, Anne Hathaway is the Femme Fatale of this film, and is stellar in the role. For me though, this movie hinges on a truly incredible turn from Thomasin McKenzie. Her performance is quiet but nuanced and really adds the kind of pathos the movie deserves. I would not go so far as to claim this is the best movie of the year (you know my jam is Past Lives) but I do think this movie deserves a second chance because it is quite good.