15 December 2023

HUNGER’s top films of 2023

From the latest David Fincher flick to debuts by young British filmmakers, these are Hunger’s top cinema picks of 2023.

May December gave us a subtle satire of our obsession with tabloid scandals. Scrapper will be remembered as one of the best explorations of childhood in a long, long time. And Saltburn delivered a modern update on The Talented Mr Ripley. 2023’s contribution to the silver screen has been a good one: there was something of an erotic renaissance, a lot of pink, and it felt like a landmark year for breakthrough talent. From Rotting in the Sun to Fingernails, these are our favourite films of 2023, in no particular order. 

How to Have Sex 

Molly Manning-Walker’s debut feature film is pretty much one of the only films to get the trauma that comes with sexual assault right. Following three teenage girls on their first “girls holiday” in Crete — something similar (if not the same) has been a fixture of most Brit’s formative years — the film explores consent and the minutiae of female friendship without ever being overwrought. It’s funny as well as being subtly tragic, and its star Mia McKenna-Bruce gives one of the most effortless performances of 2023. 

May December

If someone was going to satire how we take other people’s trauma and milk it for profit, it would be Todd Haynes. In May December, Haynes takes his style cues from the cheesy, made-for-TV films that would be the obvious medium when it comes to a story like Mary Kay Letourneau’s, which the film is loosely based on. The film’s melodramatic tone is by no means an accident. Add in a career best performance by Natalie Portman and a star-making display from Charles Melton — who, funnily enough, found fame on Riverdale — and it’s the perfect recipe for one of the best films of the year. It’s satire done in such an artful way that other recent entries into the genre (Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up comes to mind) look kind of rubbish in comparison. 

Scrapper 

In Scrapper, newcomer director Charlotte Regan joins forces with Molly Manning-Walker, who’s DoP this time, to create one of the most poignant explorations of the child’s perspective in years. What Scrapper does so beautifully is blend that characteristic British “grittiness” with moments of genuine joy. It never takes itself too seriously and features yet another great performance by Harris Dickinson as Georgie’s estranged father.

The Killer 

While this might prove controversial given The Killer didn’t go down as well as some of David Fincher’s previous offerings, we really liked it. There’s an inkling that the auteur is being a little tongue in cheek with it’s soundtrack — track after track by “film bro” favourites The Smiths — and it’s unparalleled in its slick style. There’s moments of humour, and any doubts we did have about the narrative have been firmly quelled after reading an article which framed the whole film as an exploration of the gig economy. Sold. 

Earth Mama 

Following Gia — a pregnant single mother with two children in care — as she fights to get her family back together, Earth Mama is one of the more heavy films we’ve seen this year. Its strength, however, is how it always manages to keep in sight that glimmer of hope. Based on the short film The Heart Still Hums by Earth Mama’s director Savannah Leaf and none other than actor Taylor Russell, it could also spell out the Bones and All star getting behind the camera more in 2024. 

Passages 

What could be more French than a throuple? Though it’s a wildly dysfunctional one, it’s a throuple that’s at the core of Ira Sachs’ Passages, which follows how a gay couple’s marriage is thrown off course when one of them (newcomer Franz Rogowski) begins an affair with a young woman (Blue is the Warmest Colour’s Adèle Exarchopoulos). Passages is a character study in the truest sense of the word, never afraid of depicting just how toxic its lead is. It also features Ben Wishaw, which is always nice. 

Barbie 

It wouldn’t be a list of 2023 films without mentioning Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, which took the UK by storm in July. Fun, pink and with an extensive scene of Ryan Gosling singing, it’s accessible explorations of how hard it is to be a woman in today’s society felt like a much-needed remedy to this year’s fixation on putting as much labour into your physical appearance as possible… Hello Ozempic! Hello “clean girl” aesthetics! 

Rye Lane 

Taking one of the most reliable traits of the romcom – setting the whole film over the course of one day – Rye Lane is a much-needed update on one of the most loved genres. Not only does Rye Lane feature Black leads (David Jonsson, who you might have seen in Industry, and Vivian Oparah) but it’s a genuine joy to watch. It’s sweet and has comedic moments that tap into the zeitgeist… They meet in a gender neutral loo. 

Blackberry

David Fincher’s The Social Network set the precedent for films about tech, and in the nearly fifteen years that have passed since its release, nothing has really come close. Except Blackberry. Matt Johnson’s film about the rise and fall of the smartphone is by no means taking style cues from Fincher: it opts for faux-cinéma-vérité documentary style, making it resemble a feature length episode of Succession. But like The Social Network, it does a brilliant job at making what could be a fairly boring subject wildly fun to watch. Best of all, it features a whopper of a performance by It’s Always Sunny’s Glenn Howerton. 

Theater Camp

True or false: people who did drama tend to be annoying. The answer is true, and it’s evidenced no better than Theater Camp, a mockumentary about one in upstate New York. Featuring a slew of the best young talent in the comedy scene — American Vandal’s Jimmy Tatro, Bottoms’ Ayo Edebiri and Shiva Baby’s Molly Gordon — it’s a good laugh and hopefully an insight into what comedy films of the near-future might look like. We love Adam Sandler, but we can’t rely on him anymore. 

Wingwomen

Charlie’s Angels, but French. Kind of, anyway. Featuring Adèle Exarchopoulos and Mélanie Laurent (who also directs), Wingwomen is what action films probably should look like. It’s a little more scaled back than similar efforts coming out of the US, and that allows the human relationships that are at the core of Wingwomen to be at the forefront. 

Fair Play

With 2022’s Deep Water and now Fair Play, it’s a good time to be a horny person. Taking the key tenets of the erotic thriller and transposing it into the world of a cut throat financial firm, Fair Play serves up the perfect mix of sex and the exploration of deeper questions about gender roles. Starring Bridgerton’s Phoebe Dyvenor and rising star Alden Ehrenreich — who popped up in both Cocaine Bear and Oppenheimer this year — Fair Play is best enjoyed as part of a sexy double bill with 2022’s Sanctuary

Saltburn

Saltburn was one of the most divisive films of the year. For us, it was much-needed fun with a healthy dose of homoerotic undertones (or overtones). Basically 2023’s answer to The Talented Mr Ripley, it follows Oliver (a consistently brilliant Barry Koeghan) over the course of one summer at the country house estate inhabited by the eccentric Catton family. Shagging some soil? Check. Going ham on some bathwater? Check! We reckon that in due course Saltburn will become a cult classic. Everyone just needs to take themselves a little less seriously. 

Rotting in the Sun

Featuring satires of influencer culture and privilege, Rotting in the Sun is essentially The White Lotus on steroids. Super stylised, Rotting in the Sun manages to find the sweet spot when it comes to depicting suitably 2023 subjects in a way that still manages to be timeless. It’s bold, memorable, and you can tell it doesn’t really care if it stands the test of time or not. Also, it features unsimulated sex scenes and “anywhere between 30 to 600 penises”. 

Fingernails

Starring Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed (with a cameo by Luke Wilson) Fingernails is 2023’s answer to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s not quite so heart wrenching (and it’s not quite as good either) but it’s a fun, sweet watch that comes to some of the same tear-jerking conclusions about love. Also, for a film that’s based around ripping your fingernails off, it actually doesn’t rely too much on the gross-out factor of doing so to keep its audience amused. We’d say that’s a feat. 

  • Writer Amber Rawlings
  • Banner Image Creditt How to Have Sex / Film4

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