Cinema Beyond Cinemas: the 10 Best Films of 2023

Still from “How to Blow Up a Pipeline.”

I don’t look at too many top 10 film lists anymore, but I usually check out J. Hoberman’s, if only for continuity’s sake. I’ve been reading him since the 70s when he was writing reviews for the Village Voice and I was first beginning to take movies seriously, if not as an art form, at least as an almost nightly distraction from reading Thucydides and Racine. Hoberman wrote about films I hadn’t seen and saw new things in the ones I had. This year Hoberman seems to have raised a white flag (don’t try that on the IDF), at least to half-staff.  When asked by Film Comment to submit a least of his 20 favorite films, Hoberman wrote back: “Can’t endorse any of the year’s big films. Didn’t see enough of the others to list 10, let alone 20.” I felt the same way. I had no interest in seeing Barbie or Oppenheimer. There’s something obscene when a film about the making of the atom bomb racks up a billion dollars at the box office. And I didn’t seek out too many smaller films. How can cinema compete with the images streaming on TicToc, Twitter and Instagram hourly from Ukraine, Gaza, school board meetings in Oklahoma, cop body cam footage from Memphis or city-destroying flood in Libya? Still, I did manage to come up with a list of 10 worthy films and had to trim four or five off to make the cut. As an alternative to the techno-fetishism of Oppenheimer, I recommend The Compassionate Spy, a documentary about the Los Alamos physicist Ted Hall, who leaked the design for the Fat Man plutonium bomb to the Soviet Union, under the entirely correct belief that no one country should have a monopoly on city-destroying weapons. Instead of post-feminist pretenses of Barbie, I’d recommend Kelly Reichart’s deceptively modest Showing Up, a film she directed, co-wrote and edited on a budget less than one-tenth of Barbie. Showing Up is a meditation on the making of art in a world that no longer seems to care. Instead of dolls, Michelle Williams, perhaps the greatest working actress in American films, molds female figures out of clay and hopes they come alive (show up) out of the unpredictable fires of a kiln. Unlike the dolls of Barbie, WIlliams’s figures exist beyond commerce, in the weird world of cultural grants and boutique art shows, largely aimed at potential patrons and other artists who “show up” hoping their own work isn’t “shown up.” Strip the title from Mstyslav Chernov’s remarkable documentary 20 Days in Mariupol and you could almost think you were viewing scenes from Gaza. Much of the film is shot from a hospital under siege or instead ambulance as they race down cratered streets, dodging sniper fire and artillery to retrieve wounded children, teens, mothers and grandmothers. The film rightly shocked American audiences when it premiered on PBS, audiences which now seem desensitized to the similar horrors in Gaza. I’ll say a final word about Chile 76, Manuela Martelli’s searing portrait of life under Pinochet’s dictatorship and the ways in which ordinary Chileans resisted in extraordinary ways–a fitting rebuke to the ghastly shadow of Kissinger cast on their country.

A Compassionate Spy
Directed by Steve James

Chile ’76
Director: Manuela Martelli

Geographies of Solitude
Directed by Jacquelyn Mills

How to Blow Up a Pipeline
By Daniel Goldhaber

King Coal
Director: Elaine McMillion Sheldon

Lakota Nation v. The United States
Directors: Jesse Short Bull and Laura Tomaselli

Director: Albert Serra

Rewind and Play
Director: Alain Gomis

Showing Up
Director: Kelly Reichart

20 Days in Mariupol
Director: Mstyslav Chernov

Other films that linger in the memory: Afire (Christian Petzold), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson), Anatomy of a Fall (Justine Triet), The Eight Mountains (Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch), Fallen Leaves (Aki Kaurismäki), The Killer (David Fincher), Killers of the Flower Moon (Martin Scorsese),  Past Lives (Celine Song), Youth (Spring) (Wang Bing)…Four films on the yet-to-see list: The Boy and the Heron (Hayao Miyazaki), Poor Things (Yorgos Lanthimos), Godzilla Minus One (Yamazaki) and Zone of Interest (Jonathan Glazer).

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3