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101 Gems and More of the Best of 2023

Ingrid Bergman and Mathias Wieman in Roberto Rossellini’s Fear (1954)

Several notable best-of-2023 lists have appeared over the past few days, and we’ll get to those in a moment. First, though, no other list of movies in the world is more anticipated, picked apart, fretted over, and celebrated than the Greatest Films of All Time poll that Sight and Sound has been conducting just once every ten years since 1952. And no one analyzes the results more thoroughly than filmmaker, media artist, and critic Kevin B. Lee. To mark the first anniversary of the 2022 poll, Sight and Sound has posted all of Lee’s monthly Poll Position columns that have been appearing in print all year. In the June issue, Lee wrote that last year’s poll “may be remembered as marking a historic shift towards a more diverse and globally representative cinema.”

A new list, 101 Hidden Gems, offers further evidence of broadening horizons. Sight and Sound has asked critics and directors who cast the only vote for a film that went missing on all the other ballots—and there were more than two thousand of them last year—to write a few words on the film they believe to be among the ten greatest films ever made, even if no one else does. “Hailing from every continent but Antarctica and spanning more than 120 years, this selection is, in its way, as representative of the riches of cinema history as that other list we released at the end of last year,” write the editors.

Mike Leigh argues the case for Winsor McCay’s six-minute animation How a Mosquito Operates (1912), an “enduring masterpiece of early cinema.” Frederick Wiseman calls Leslie Pearce’s The Dentist (1932) “a great porno film because it leaves everything to the imagination of the viewer.” Guy Maddin suggests that, even though no one else dared to, “Buñuel would’ve been happy to inscribe his name in the credits” for Desire Me (1947). The late Terence Davies wrote: “Along with Mildred Pierce (1945) and Humoresque (1946),” Curtis Bernhardt’s Possessed (1947) “features one of Joan Crawford’s best performances.”

Roberto Rossellini’s Fear (1954) is “perhaps the darkest and most hopeless film from the master forerunner of modernity,” writes Michelangelo Frammartino. Critic Eugene Kwon calls Han Hyungmo’s Madame Freedom (1956) “a fascinating work within the context of South Korea’s celluloid history.” S. S. Rajamouli, best known for directing last year’s global sensation RRR, recently showed K. V. Reddy’s Mayabazar (1957) to the kids in his family: “They laughed, smiled, and sat through the entire film without blinking an eye.”

“Any of Bruce Baillie’s films would be my choice,” writes Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who settles for Quick Billy (1970). João Pedro Rodrigues, who cast the lone vote for Absences répétées (1972), declares that Guy Gilles is “a much better filmmaker than Truffaut, Rohmer, Rivette, or Chabrol, but [he] remains unjustly forgotten.” For Roberto Minervini, Jorge Sanjinés’s The Principal Enemy (1974) is “the finest example of Latin American revolutionary cinema.” Béla Tarr’s Family Nest (19709) is a “movie that I will never forget,” writes Abel Ferrara. “It’s the nuclear family as the ultimate weapon of mass destruction; the origination and obliteration of all life and drama.”

Sky Hopinka calls Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989) “an intricate and beautiful work which synthesizes so many exciting and daring approaches to the filmmaking process—nonfiction, ethnographic and otherwise.” Luca Guadagnino calls Idrissa Ouédraogo (Samba Traoré, 1992) “one of the greatest directors of the modern era.” To Radu Jude, Lucian Pintilie’s An Unforgettable Summer (1994) “looks like a mix of a John Ford western and a Miklós Jancsó film and it offered Kristin Scott Thomas her best part ever.” John Michael McDonagh recommends Sai Yoichi’s Marks (1995) and “wonders how many other great Japanese films continue to languish in obscurity.”

Back to the Best of 2023

Vulture critics Bilge Ebiri and Alison Willmore have drawn up their 2023 top tens, and as the editors note, “not one movie choice made the other’s list.” Willmore’s list is full of surprises (Robbie Banfitch’s “found-footage Mojave Desert freakout” The Outwaters, Tyler Taormina’s Happer’s Comet), Ebiri’s less so, which of course doesn’t make it a lesser list. His #1 is Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, “a dense, big-swing condensation of a 600-page biography about one of the most important men of the twentieth century and about (in the movie’s own words) ‘the most important fucking thing to ever happen in the history of the world.’” For Willmore, “there’s been no better movie to encapsulate the year, and no better movie, period, than Kelly Reichardt’s matchless Showing Up, which is all about making art in a world that also requires you to make money.”

The best film of the year for Time’s Stephanie Zacharek is Fallen Leaves from Aki Kaurismäki, “the master of the deadpan humanist comedy, the type of picture that people may think of as merely odd or charming. Yet so much of life is made up of little revelations that form the core of who we are.” Rolling Stone’s David Fear counts down twenty favorites all the way to Past Lives. With her debut feature, playwright Celine Song “takes what appears to be a simple story of unrequited love and gives it the depth, the feeling, and the emotional scope of something that feels so much larger than just a film.”

“Of all the feature filmmaking debuts this year,” writes the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday, “the most triumphant is Cord Jefferson’s adaptation of Percival Everett’s novel Erasure, about an African American writer’s attempt to game the racist parameters of the white liberal publishing world, while simultaneously dealing with some gnarly family issues.” American Fiction, starring Jeffrey Wright, is Hornaday’s top film of 2023. ScreenCrush editor, New York Film Critics Circle Chair, and the author of a new book, Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever,Matt Singer writes of his top choice: “It feels like I write this every time [Martin] Scorsese releases a new movie lately, but it’s arguably more true of Killers of the Flower Moon than ever before: If it is the last movie he makes, it is a perfect exclamation point on an incredible career.”

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