Top 10 2023


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Writing the yearly Top 10 is always tough. Thousands of films released, hundreds of films hitting the big screen, even more hitting the small screen. Then there’s straight-to-DVD and the film festival circuit. The more you watch, the more films you discover. It’s a treadmill.  

Film lovers are faced every year with the quandary of what to watch and what to skip. Which noisy hype beast should we jump on board and which underdog should we investigate. Cinema tickets are expensive and there’s only so many trips you can make in a working week. All you can do is see what tickles your fancy. Buy the ticket, take the ride. 

2023 will forever be the year of Barbenheimer. Nothing really comes close to the cinematic impact and scale folks turned out and talked about that unlikely pairing. But it’s also the year we finally got James Cameron’s Avatar sequel, the biggest Mission Impossible film to date, the return of Indiana Jones, the latest/probably last (see drama) Scream film, and of course Cocaine Bear. 

Pedro Pascal further expanded his status as beloved gay icon, whilst new recruits M3gan and Paul Mescal stole our hearts. Miyazaki came out of retirement, the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes raged, Gwyneth Paltrow had her day in court, and we lost the great William Friedkin amongst many many others. 

So without further ado, here’s The Forbidden Room’s Top 10 2023 … 

10. Barbie 

Greta Gerwig’s much anticipated big budget Barbie movie deserved all the hype it got. Camp, daft, hilarious, heartfelt fun, sporting sickly sweet production design and impeccable costuming. It’s a fantasy adventure overloaded with bubble-gum colours, self-aware humour, and dedication from every facet of its production.  

Gerwig managed to pull off the impossible: to make a Barbie film that was both a family friendly comedy and a critique of Barbie’s place in the modern world. A whole generation of young women just got their introduction to feminism and ideas like patriarchy without ever step foot in a classroom. Barbie is a stone thrown in a pond; harmless fun but the ripples will be felt for years to come. Winding up dude-bros the world over with its unabashed piss-take of fragile masculinity was just the icing on the cake. 

9. Infinity Pool 

Since his debut film Antiviral back in 2012, Brandon Cronenberg has went from strength to strength, striding out of his father’s shadow and carving a path of his own through genre cinema. With Infinity Pool Cronenberg offers up a dystopian vision of elite tourism. Its a kind of Paradise Lost for the wealthy and deranged where criminal penalties can be dodged by having them inflicted on a clone of the perpetrator instead. 

Mia Goth is electrifying, dragging the audience and holidayer Peter Skarsgard, down a rabbit hole of hedonism and murder. It’s a dreamy holiday atmosphere which quickly crumbles to reveal a nightmarish underbelly of violence, manipulation, and identity crisis. The moral/philosophical sink hole of unaccountable savagery is a fertile spot for a talent like Cronenberg, whose sophomore film Possessor reached a similarly spiritually nihilistic height. It’s a form of horror which eventually relents, but like its main character, you’ll walk away from the credits feeling chewed up and spat out. 

8. Saltburn 

Weird that a film so stupid got folks so riled up. Saltburn’s more outré moments straddle a fence between seen-before shock and absolute farce.  Emerald Fennel’s black comedy spends half the runtime persuading us it’s a dark sexy drama and the other half firing out such blatant moments of daftness, it’s impossible to take it too seriously.  

Folks should have spent less time talking about Barry Keoghan slurping cummy bathwater and more time lauding Rosamund Pike’s impeccable, tone-defining, comedy. There should be less spotlight on grave-shagging and more shouting about Fennel’s dialogue. Less pearl-clutching, more thirst. It’s a horny film which summons the nostalgia of an affluent boozy first year with 2000’s needle drops and smoky hangovers in cramped dorm rooms. The fantasy blossoms until the spectre of pure elitism and class warfare poisons the well, finding full-bodied manifestation in Barry Keoghan’s Oliver Quick. In years to come Saltburn will hopefully be remembered for what it truly is: one of the finest examples of contemporary high camp to grace the mainstream. 

7. Skinamarink 

Kyle Edward Ball’s debut feature polarised audiences when it dropped on Shudder back in January. Throughout 2023 the experimental Canadian film kept trending on X/Twitter as another bout of viewers invariably loathed it or loved it then took to social media to rant or rave.  

Whether good or bad, Skinamarink is an incomparable experience. Ball drops us in the shoes of a four-year-old who wakes up to find all the doors and windows in his house have disappeared along with his father. What follows is one of the most perfect nightmares put to film. The static angles focused on unassuming corners and walls, weird childish babbling, long takes of shadowy corridors, it’s all hugely evocative of childhood helplessness accumulatively resulting in a mood of absolute dread. Even without the demonic presence and eye-gouging, Ball’s resourceful debut is a near-silent tone poem of terror. Best viewed alone in absolute darkness with the volume cranked right up. 

6. Tar 

Cate Blanchett’s powerhouse turn as cold ambitious composer-conductor Lydia Tar rightfully earned her a host of awards, heaps of praise, and instantly made the character one of the most recognisable so far this decade. Todd Field’s script is a tightly wound masterclass in narrative control, capable of orchestrating quietly revealing serenity in tandem with wild flourishes of explosive drama. 

Field’s visual and narrative placidity allows moments of shock to sting when you least expect them. At first glance Tar is a seemingly innocuous film about fall from grace, yet its atmosphere of sheer unbridled psycho-sexual tension creeps to such a height that the fall is an inevitable, dreadful crescendo. Part biopic, part mystery, part ghost story (kind of), Tar is well worth seeking out. 

5. Saw X 

For Saw fans, the idea of a tenth instalment featuring original cast members felt like a pipedream and yet here we are. Set between the first and third films Saw X cleverly works around the death of its antagonist whilst finding fertile grounds for a more stripped back story. OG Jigsaw killer Tobin Bell delivers his finest performance of the franchise, spearheading this surprisingly emotional entry alongside fan favourite Shawnee Smith. Bell’s innate charisma has been the undeniable keystone of the whole franchise so putting him front-and-centre feels right but maddeningly overdue. Letting him riff off doomed apprentice Amanda throws up some surprisingly heartfelt scenes, but its the tightness of the story and the quality of the traps that help push it past any Saw sequel since the third. Basically, Saw X everything Saw fans could want. After botched reboots and spin offs, the franchise is finally back on track.  

4. Bones and All 

Luca Guadagnino’s cannibal road movie romance calls to mind the wrought love stories of Badlands, True Romance, and Wild at Heart but with a horror slant. Timothy Chalamet and Taylor Russell star as Lee and Maren, two young outsiders living in a kind of self-induced exile due to their undeniable hunger for human flesh.  

What starts as a kind of sad parable on addiction blossoms into a sometimes beautiful, sometimes horrifying, but always magnetic love story. Guadagnino’s ability to frame sheer shock and oddball grotesquery with unbridled empathy makes the film a surprisingly tender tale. Set on the fringes of late 80’s America, Bones and All is as much a slice-of-life documentary as it is a grotesque romance. Guadagnino’s attention to scenic detail, the different textures of his imagined America, and the passage of time become hypnotic. His ability to capture grotesque sensuality matched only perhaps by his work in Suspiria

3. Sisu 

Jalmari Helander’s Nazi bashing action extravaganza Sisu is easily one of the most explosive and cathartic experiences of 2023. The Rare Exports director has returned from a feature-film hiatus (his last film was 2014’s Big Game) with style, bursting back on the cinematic landscape with a pulpy ode to the Nazploitation genre. Jorma Tommila stars as a quiet goldminer who, after being robbed by Nazis, embarks on a rampage of creative carnage against the platoons of soldiers sent to take him down. 

Its a gorgeously shot piece of pulp which uses the natural beauty of the locations and minimal digital FX to give real earthy tactility to proceedings. Ingenius violence and crowd-pleasing set pieces litter a period action film so in love with its own seemingly indestructible main character you can’t help bu tget caught up in the fun. Hard not to hope for more. 

2. The Outwaters 

The best horror film of 2023 from the most intriguing newcomer, Robbie Joe Banfitch’s The Outwaters is in a class all on its own. The hallucinatory found footage film follows a group of friends who venture into the Nevada desert to record a music video, only to find themselves caught up in an otherwordly nightmare. The less said the better but Banfitch’s debut film is a tour de force of terror, expert editing, experimental imagery, and shock. It throws up mysteries and chills before falling headfirst into a blender of Lovecraftian carnage and metaphysical madness. A unique horror experience that will have you revelling at its beauty, cowering at its nightmarish realism, and hoping to Hell that Banfitch and co deliver another film ASAP. 

1. Beau is Afraid 

For his third feature film A24 darling Ari Aster chose to deviate from the horror genre with profound results. The surrealist black comedy odyssey Beau is Afraid isn’t for everyone and made a fraction of the waves (and money) Hereditary or Midsommar did. While it might be an acquired taste, Aster’s third film is his bravest, most heartfelt, honest, daring, hilarious, and creative yet. Equal parts adventure and panic attack, Beau is Afraid follows the titular Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) on a cross-America trip to attend his mother’s funeral. Along the way he encounters a host of colourful characters, bizarre circumstances, dreadful revelations, anxiety-inducing set pieces, and a giant cock monster. Its adventure done right to be honest. Aster’s latest is one of the most unique and absorbing  films I’ve seen in donks and a very easily-picked favourite of the year.  

Scott Clark 

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