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22 December 2023

The 20 best films and TV shows of 2023

Our choice of the year’s essential screen entertainment.

By New Statesman

Film

Tár (Todd Field)
Cate Blanchett is a powerhouse in this provocative film – part dark comedy, part surreal horror – about a female conductor mired in controversy, which turns a cool, sceptical eye on morality in the digital age.

Killers of the Flower Moon (Martin Scorsese)
The director’s tenth film with Robert De Niro is a three-and-a-half-hour epic set in the 1920s, exposing the crimes inflicted on the Osage people of the Great Plains. It’s also a masterpiece drenched in blood and oil.

May December (Todd Haynes)
Two titans of the screen, Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore, are locked in an unacknowledged duel in this melodrama from the Carol director, loosely based on the Mary Kay Letourneau tabloid sex scandal.

Anatomy of a Fall (Justine Triet)
The French director’s work of Hitchcockian suspense poses a single question: did he fall or was he pushed? Not just a psychological thriller, not quite a courtroom drama, it has a depth that transcends genre.

[See also: Writing for children is hard and they need good books more than ever]

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
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The Eternal Daughter (Joanna Hogg)
The great chameleon Tilda Swinton plays both mother and daughter in this creepy companion piece to Hogg’s previous films The Souvenir and The Souvenir: Part II.

Reality (Tina Satter)
With a script taken verbatim from an FBI interrogation transcript of the intelligence leaker Reality Winner, this is 83 minutes of smart, gripping, disorientating cinema.

Rye Lane (Raine Allen-Miller)
The British romcom finally finds its post-Richard Curtis feet in this assured, witty and utterly charming emotional roller-coaster ride across south London.

Oppenheimer (Christopher Nolan)
Nolan’s three-hour biopic of the atom bomb, starring Cillian Murphy as a haunted J Robert Oppenheimer, is a classier, more grown-up outing than we’ve come to expect from the trickster director.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret (Kelly Fremon Craig)
This miraculous adaptation of the Judy Blume classic understands all that is excruciating – and uniquely special – about teenage girlhood. Watch it and weep.

Return to Seoul (Davy Chou)
Park Ji-min, a visual artist with no acting experience, plays a French-Korean adoptee visiting Seoul for the first time in her twenties. Made in less than a month on a modest budget, this is a work of genius.

[See also: Ridley Scott’s fast and furious Napoleon biopic]

Television

Succession (Sky Atlantic/Now)
Jesse Armstrong deftly delivers a sweeping, scathing indictment of power, ambition and corporate greed in modern America through a family story of deeply human specificity. This bruising final season secured the series’s status as a stone-cold classic.

Happy Valley (BBC)
Sally Wainwright’s swaggering Western of Yorkshire’s Calder Valley gave us pitch-perfect dialogue, bleak humour and a masterful, flinty performance from Sarah Lancashire that kept viewers longing for more, even after a seven-year break.

Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland (BBC)
Is this the best television ever made about the Troubles? The film-maker James Bluemel resists tired narratives of the conflict to focus on its human tragedies and sectarianism’s destructive power.

Wild Isles (BBC)
In this awe-inspiring series, the reigning king of nature documentaries, David Attenborough, delights in Britain’s beasts, from barnacle geese to baby seals.

The Last of Us (Sky Atlantic/Now)
A parasitic fungus is using humans as hosts, and Joel (Pedro Pascal) must help the planet’s potential saviour, 14-year-old Ellie (a blazing Bella Ramsey), cross the US. A zombie series that’s about the alive, not the undead.

The Bear (Disney+)
The frenetic, propulsive tale of an award-winning chef, played by Jeremy Allen White, struggling to turn around his late brother’s chaotic sandwich shop returns for a funny and wise second series that’s somehow even better than the first.

Time (BBC)
The second series of Jimmy McGovern’s drama is a hard but deeply rewarding watch. A claustrophobic horror show set inside a women’s prison, it contains stand-out performances that are sure to win awards.

Colin from Accounts (BBC)
This layered will-they-won’t-they comedy begins as all the best romances do: medical student Ashley flashes forty-something Gordon, causing him to run down a stray dog, making them reluctant doggie co-parents.

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel (Prime Video)
Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino lets herself run wild in this, her magnum opus. Alongside trademark family set-pieces and screwball dialogue, the ambitious final series breaks out of its format, pulling off multiple timelines and bonkers flights of fancy.

Evacuation (Channel 4)
James Newton’s revelatory programmes about the fall of Kabul last year, which put us in the middle of the biggest British airlift since the Second World War, contain unforgettable testimony from those who were on the ground. An unmissable, invaluable documentary.

[See also: The New Statesman’s 20 best books of 2023]

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This article appears in the 07 Dec 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Special

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
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