Following The Film Stage’s collective top 50 films of 2023, as part of our year-end coverage, our contributors are sharing their personal top 10 lists.

Last year was my first as an official resident of Madrid (where I’m wrapping up my MA in Cultural Theory and Criticism) and I’m happy to report the most extraordinary thing occurred: I fell in love with going to the movies again. I left New York City before movie theaters reopened in 2021, and the brief, in-between, time I spent in Honduras (one of the most dangerous countries in the world) made me even more of a movie recluse (insert Leo on the couch meme). Just when I felt like a jaded noir detective who’d fully embraced screening links, Madrid’s cinephile offerings slowly seduced me.

I saw 2022 gems like Aftersun inside a repurposed porn theater complete with velvet tapestry and a dog who sat a few aisles ahead of me, paid eight Euros for a double bill of the new Nanni Moretti and Woody Allen films (they unapologetically love him here), had my heart torn to pieces by Lily Gladstone watching Killers of the Flower Moon in a movie theater that’s been open since 1916, meaning newsreels of the real-life case might’ve played there. And truly, nothing beats the walk back home after a movie that left you speechless and you feel like only the trees of El Retiro Park might get you. I watched most of my top ten in movie theaters (two were streaming only, another opens here next month) and I remember every single one of those experiences, what I snacked on, and who I brought. Going to the movies has once more become a necessary ritual, I’m back at my temple. My couch will forgive me, I’m sure. 

Honorable Mentions: Past Lives, Killers of the Flower Moon, The Taste of Things, Scream VI, Tótem

10. Anatomy of a Fall (Justine Triet)

When a film reveals what seems like a crucial moment in its poster, it boldly asserts it’ll take you to unexpected places. It turned out, that the fall anatomized in Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or winner was not just the one that led to the man in the poster’s death, but his wife’s. She is played by a masterful Sandra Hüller, who goes from sudden widow to prime suspect in a crime based entirely on the fact that she was the wife. Hüller’s resolute look during court scenes where her character’s morals are mocked is a treat. They have her presence, but she will never give them her pain.

9. I Don’t Expect Anyone to Believe Me (Fernando Frías)

In 2020, Mexican writer Juan Pablo Villalobos, who had moved to Barcelona for grad school, published I Don’t Expect Anyone to Believe Me which went on to win the prestigious Premio Herralde. The novel is about a Mexican writer named Juan Pablo who moves to Barcelona for grad school and writes a novel that wins him the Premio Herralde. Then it was turned into a film by the brilliant Fernando Frías. Really to say more would be a disservice to an “edge of your seat” kind of film. Every scene, cut, and detail has the vibrancy of a finger furiously typing away as the action unfolds. It’s a masterful marriage of film and literature anchored by a perfect Darío Yazbek whose expressive eyes embody the spirit of the title.

8. Rotting in the Sun (Sebastián Silva)

It might be common to have directors who direct themselves, but in his delicious meta-satire, Sebastían Silva directs himself and plays himself. At least a version of himself who has all but given up on life and will let anyone know as he openly contemplates death by suicide at a nudist gay beach. His life is turned upside down by the pushy comedian/influencer Jordan Firstman (a delight, also playing a version of himself) who invites him to collaborate on a project and won’t take no for an answer. Sharply observed and realistic but never bitter, Rotting in the Sun tells one of the most affecting stories about queer loneliness I’ve seen (there’s another of those later on this list…) It’s a joy that Silva knew to balance his existential angst with Firstman, who becomes a sort of spiritual detective who’d warrant a franchise of his own.

7. The Eternal Memory (Maité Alberdi)

Maite Alberdi’s follow-up to the gripping The Mole Agent once again paints over a nonfiction canvas using the grand strokes of genre. In Agent, it was the detective film, and in Memory, the larger-than-life romance between Augusto and Paulina who have been together for a quarter of a century and living in the aftermath of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. In addition to their romance, Augusto, a journalist, and Paulina, an actor, also represent a generation of Chileans who ushered in progress and freedom after the brutal Pinochet dictatorship. Realizing his illness can take away short-term memories but bring back the nightmare of losing friends to the despotic Junta, makes a powerful case for Eduardo Galeano’s belief that “no history is mute.”

6. Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé (Beyoncé)

Attending Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour in Belgium this summer felt like being in the world’s biggest disco. I don’t remember a moment when my feet stopped moving, everywhere I turned people were smiling, dancing along, and singing with the luminous goddess onstage. But just as she did in the tour, where she sometimes acts as a kind of fabulous emcee rather than a diva, Beyoncé is a gracious deity dedicated to shining a light on the magnificent beings around her, on the community who inspire her beat. In the documentary, she celebrates the crew, her family, and even the people who created house music and the ballroom scene. She wouldn’t be who she is without them, there would be no renaissance without their legacy.

5. Passages (Ira Sachs)

When I know a friend of mine has seen Passages, I instantly quiz them: which character is most like me? Do they think I’m Franz Rogowski’s volatile Tomas who pursues his happiness at any cost? Or am I more like his husband Martin, acid slowly simmering within a delicate kettle as played by Ben Whishaw? One of my friends said they wished they weren’t Adèle Exarchopoulos’ lively Agathe, who jumps into the void, shatters into pieces, and prepares herself to repeat the cycle. Because I see so much of myself in these people and sometimes fear what I see, I’ve watched Passages more than any other film this year. I love being in the company of these characters. As to which one I identify with the most, all of my close friends have hit the nail on the head. I’ll leave you to guess. 

4. All of Us Strangers (Andrew Haigh)

How does Andrew Haigh know me so well? How is it that all his films seem to speak directly to my biggest fears, hopes, and kinks? This spiritual companion to Weekend plays like The Ghost and Mrs. Muir on ketamine. It’s tender, sophisticated, and has a twist of an ending that made me go “oh!” then “ow!” A portrait of the loneliness of Adam (Andrew Scott) a gay man of a certain age (who isn’t lonely because he is gay, as he explains), it stirred something in my soul that made me feel thrilled to feel seen, then exposed, then grateful. I was especially moved by Claire Foy, who plays someone from Adam’s past (the less you know, the better) who’s developed the ability to look back, observe regret, and gently take the lesson she was being taught rather than dwelling on what’s long gone. Hearing her whisper sing two lines from the Pet Shop Boys’ “Always on My Mind” made me weep like a child, that’s where this film will live from now on as well.

3. Barbie (Greta Gerwig)

I was nine years old when I played with my very first Barbie. We were on vacation in Los Angeles visiting family friends who had three daughters and when they invited us to play with them, I spotted the Dream House. By then it was very clear that, despite being the eldest of three boys, I wasn’t into “boy toys,” so I happily took the Pink Power Ranger my brothers weren’t into, and always asked for the princess toys in my Happy Meals. Although my parents were always fine with that, my father, much more than my mother who rarely obliged him in parenting decisions, drew the line at buying me an actual Barbie. Perhaps it would be too real then? I leaped from the floor to lose myself in the perfect pink world those girls invited me to. Watching Greta Gerwig’s beautiful ode to women felt exactly like that.

2. Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour (Sam Wrench)

There was one other occasion in 2023 when I lost myself in a world that felt perfect for a while and it was on October 13th at the first screening of Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour (lucky Friday, too!). Everyone knows I’m a Swiftie: I constantly talk/post about her, I have four Tay tattoos all over my body, and I even use her to teach my students, but not even I was expecting what this movie was like. For three hours, 300 strangers, mostly young women and girls, all decked in Tay merchandise, sang along and danced in the dark as Swift took us onto that stage with her. I smiled wishing a little girl who cried to “All Too Well” never endures the kind of heartbreak in the song, shimmied like there was no tomorrow to “Shake It Off,” and asked my friend to slow dance to “Lover” with me on the cinema aisle. Right there and then nothing could hurt me. To say this was the greatest movie theater experience I’ve ever had might sound a bit much, but the more I think about it, the truer it feels. I never felt so much love from so many people I’ll never see again all at once. The movie theater was our place, we made the rules.

1. Orlando, My Political Biography (Paul B. Preciado)

Many of the greatest films in 2023 were about the process of reclamation. Whether it’s the rightful remembrance of the Osage murders in Killers of the Flower Moon, reclaiming our right to change unapologetically in Past Lives, reclaiming our imperfections in Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé, reclaiming our free will in Poor Things. But only one film turned those complex and necessary processes into poetry and philosophy. Paul B. Preciado’s dreamlike documentary gave voice to countless trans people who are Virginia Woolf’s famous character, while also being political beings fighting for their right to be in the body they belong. No other film this year made me go down philosophical rabbit holes cleared up by pulling a tarot card, or made me gasp in awe of visual puns that felt like watching verses come to life. Here’s to more films unafraid to be cerebral and sexy, wise and unafraid to exist within uncertainty. Here’s to more films that remind us the personal and the political are but different styles of poetry.

Explore more of the best films of 2023.

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