Sundance 2024: Best of the Fest – 10 Favorites from the Mountains |

Sundance 2024: Best of the Fest – 10 Favorites from the Mountains

by Alex Billington
February 5, 2024

The 2024 Sundance Film Festival has wrapped up after another invigorating 10-day in-person event held up in the Utah mountains, along with an online counterpart during only the second half. Now it’s time to present our annual Best of the Fest list from the 2024 selection. I was able to catch a total of 51 films this year (my full list on Letterboxd), half of them at screenings in Park City & SLC, the other half virtual screenings. This is my 18th year covering Sundance, and this fest still has a special place in my heart. It was so nice to be back again. I am presenting one big list of my 10 favorite films – a mix of a few documentaries and narrative features. All 10 of these below are worth watching, and I highly recommend seeing them on the big screen whenever it’s possible. Watching all of these with an audience really makes a difference. I also recorded a podcast talking about many of the Sundance films (good and bad). Below are my favorites, the films that connected with me the most and have remained on my mind all the way up to the end of the fest.

It’s always my priority while at Sundance to go see as many films as I can. Even if I don’t love every film I watch, I’m just curious to see what makes each of them so unique. Some other films that I missed and still need to catch up with: Love Lies Bleeding, Ponyboi, Girls Will Be Girls, Reinas, Frida, In a Violent Nature, Handling the Undead, and Winner. This fest always programs some of the most innovative and interesting films ready to watch each year. I appreciate how much they try to focus on the most creative work by new filmmakers. I also encourage all movie lovers to make time for documentaries – don’t ignore them, they’re all too often lost in the mix. They deserve to be seen, too! There’s a few I’ve added to my picks below, but I also recommend: Gaucho Gaucho, Devo, Luther: Never Too Much, As We Speak, Daughters, Never Look Away, and Union. I’m always grateful to Sundance for letting me attend the festival with a press badge and grab tickets to the public screenings, it’s an exciting time that makes me happy every year. Glad to be back…

While I saw many films that I enjoyed (my full list of 51 here), there are always some I missed even though I heard good things about them. But these are my favorite films from this year’s fest from those that I did see.

Alex’s Top 10 Favorite ~Sundance 2024~ Films:

The Outrun
The Outrun
Directed by Nora Fingscheidt

Saoirse Ronan – still making my heart flutter. Still delivering phenomenal performances. The Outrun was my last film of the festival and it ended up being my favorite of the festival. All I want to do is talk about how this film is the epitome of what cinema can and should be. The way it utilizes precise sound design as part of the plot, the way the editing represents her scattered, fragile mind; the way the cinematography is a part of the healing process; the way Ronan’s performance must be everything all at once, yet still feel like there’s an arc to it. She must grow by the end, yet we can only understand that growth by understanding more about her, and we can come to understand her through this editing that can seem a bit overwhelming at times. But there’s a point to it. What German filmmaker Nora Fingscheidt pulls off is breathtaking – all aspects of filmmaking playing in harmony to tell a riveting, exhilarating, touching story of a woman growing up and trying to let go of the addictions that have given her comfort but kept her restrained most of her life.

It’s What’s Inside
It's What's Inside
Directed by Greg Jardin

THIS FILM!! Blew me away. It’s one of the best sci-fi / horror / genre creations in a long time. Featuring an ingenious concept, near perfectly executed, along with a fun cast of newcomers all doing their best playing multiple roles. I can’t say what happens or what the trick is, I won’t even say “what’s inside” the suitcase, there’s nothing more I want to discuss regarding the plot. You just HAVE to wait and see for yourself. Don’t ruin the experience! Don’t read anything more about it! The only thing I can talk about here is how amazing the world premiere screening experience was. The audience went wild! Everyone was losing it! This is what great cinema is all about. These are the kind of moments I live for at festivals. I’m still thinking back to that night at Sundance, all of us sitting down about to see a film shot in secret that no one knew anything about. What would it be? THIS kick ass sneaky, tricky mystery thriller that instantly earned its place in Midnight film history. Whenever you see this, bring as many friends as you can over for an unforgettably good time.

Dìdi (弟弟)
Directed by Sean Wang

Another Sundance coming-of-age classic. Another film I can say I thoroughly loved from start to finish. And it’s also the big moment when filmmaker Sean Wang confirms he is a totally kick ass new filmmaker who is about to go on to have an extraordinary career. Before that happens, though, it is absolutely worth taking the time to watch and enjoy Didi. It may be “yet another coming-of-age” film but it’s filtered through Sean Wang’s lens and thus becomes something unique in the pantheon of great cinema. I loved watching Izaac Wang’s performance as Chris Wang, though everyone in the cast is memorable. I admit I’m a sucker for good coming-of-age stories (especially from Sundance) and this one really hit the spot. Though beyond my personal bias, it’s nonetheless still an exceptionally well-made film that not only nails the performances, the humor, and the honest emotions, it’s also is an amusing time capsule back to the days of AIM and MySpace.

Will & Harper
Will & Harper
Directed by Josh Greenbaum

A wonderful documentary film that has the potential to change the world. This received the biggest standing ovation out of any film that I saw at Sundance this year, and I’m always moved being in the audience during these genuine moments at the film’s premiere. Will & Harper is the story of Will Ferrell and his good friend Harper as the embark upon a road trip driving across America. The film is a watershed moment for the trans community, as Will tells the story of how his friend of 27 years – a comedy writer from “SNL” – revealed that she was a trans woman just a few years ago. Filled with questions and a bit of uncertainty, Will decided to ask her if she would join him on a drive around America, so that they could catch up, he could ask his dumb questions, and learn about what life is like for her now. They also got a filmmaker, director Josh Greenbaum, to join them. And away they went – topped off with a great soundtrack of road trip songs, this is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever encountered about buddies and life and everything else inbetween.

Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story
Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story
Directed by Ian Bonhôte & Peter Ettedgui

Another documentary that left me a mess after watching it – I was wiping away tears almost the entire time. This one is so moving because it’s not just a story about a great actor, it’s a story about a family man, about someone who was extraordinarily brave – about a real hero. Everyone knows about Christopher Reeve, what happened to him, and how he spent half of his life in a motorized wheelchair after ending up paralyzed from an accident while riding a horse. This beautiful documentary doesn’t try to build this up, it opens with this moment – the rest of the film is spent exploring his life before & after, his two great loves, his incredibly lovely family, and everything else he accomplished in his life. It’s a wholesome, uplifting, encouraging story about tenacity and strength, about perseverance and generosity. I’ve been thinking about it almost every day since watching, because it had such a strong emotional impact on me and everyone else who saw it during Sundance. Don’t miss this one whenever it gets released, a must watch doc about a hero on and off screen.

Directed by Rich Peppiatt

An Irish rap musical comedy! F*&k yes! This knocked me out and then lifted me right back up for another round. What a blast! While it may not be as good as what Sundance regular John Carney creates, it’s pretty close, with as much style and substance and great music. Writer / director Rich Peppiatt proves he’s got a knack for energetic, stylized, localized filmmaking that seriously kicks ass. I laughed so much watching the music teacher guy fall in with these youngsters and become a part of their hip hop group as “DJ Próvaí“, rolling right into their reckless ways and realizing the best way to express himself as an Irishman is loud and proud. The most unique and impressive part about this film is how it acts as a love letter to Ireland and the Irish / Gaelic language, shamelessly defending it and fiercely proclaiming it is something to be proud of and feature. Maybe even some people who don’t care for musicals will still enjoy watching this one. It’s possible.

A Real Pain
A Real Pain
Directed by Jesse Eisenberg

One of the most endearing & thoughtful discoveries of Sundance 2024 is the film A Real Pain, the second feature written and directed by Jesse Eisenberg (following his directorial debut When You Finish Saving the World from Sundance 2022). Perhaps one key reason why this film is particularly good is that it’s a very personal film for Eisenberg – he has Polish roots and the film is about two cousins who reconnect on a tour in Poland starting from Warsaw. They eventually try to find their grandmother’s old house in a small town in Poland, and Eisenberg revealed during a Q&A during the festival that this is actually the very real house this his own grandmother used to live in, too. The two lead performances in the film, featuring Kieran Culkin as Benji Kaplan and Eisenberg as David Kaplan, are two of the most memorable and impressive of any at Sundance this year. As much as I enjoyed watching this film, its power is in how it remains on your mind well after viewing – I kept thinking about it over & over, always wanting to talk about it with others.

Sasquatch Sunset
Sasquatch Sunset
Directed by David Zellner & Nathan Zellner

This absurdly bizarre, utterly hilarious, one-of-a-kind nature documentary is unquestionably a highlight of the festival. Sitting in the big Eccles Theater venue with 1000+ people watching this play out goes right up there with some of my all-time favorite Sundance experiences. The latest creation of the Zellner Brothers, Sasquatch Sunset is a dialogue free story of a Sasquatch (aka “Big Foot”) family, following them as the roam around, forage, sleep, eat, crap, fight, and get into trouble with other animals in the forest. It’s as crazy and as wild and as funny as it sounds, though of course it won’t be for everyone… I already got into arguments about it during the festival, which actually only made me love the film even more. The Zellners’ commitment to making this as realistic and as believable as possible, including shooting in real forests with full-on, hand-made, hairy Sasquatch suits, is part of its brilliance. Hiring actual actors including Jesse Eisenberg, Riley Keough, and Christophe Zajac-Denek to play the main roles is also what makes it amazing. This film is another example of how hysterically bonkers cinema can be when you let filmmakers do whatever they want.

Directed by Josh Margolin

June Squibb is the best!! Thelma ended up being one of the most popular and beloved Sundance 2024 hits – deservingly so because it’s wonderfully wholesome and amusing. Step aside Tom Cruise, 93-year-old actor June Squibb is the new Ethan Hunt in this heartfelt story of an old-timer getting back at scammers. When she gets caught up in one of these tricky phone scams and loses all her money, she teams up with her friend Ben (played by the late Richard Roundtree in a fantastic supporting role) to find them and take them down. Even though it takes some time because she’s rather old and slow and doesn’t know how to work a computer or much else anymore. Not only is the screenplay perfectly enjoyable and so delightful, there are filmmaking flourishes that give this adventure comedy a serious edge. Even if it’s not as innovative as some of the other films at Sundance, all that matters is it’s still a good film that will leave you smiling by the end.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh! He’s still got it! The more I think back over the festival and which films really stood out, this one continues to stay on my mind. Presence is Steven Soderbergh’s version of the Sundance 2017 favorite A Ghost Story. It’s told entirely from the POV of a mysterious ghost haunting a house who is trying to tell the new residents something, though that’s hard when you can’t say anything or even be seen by anyone. It’s eerie and chilling, with a few incredible tense moments, though it’s not that scary and that’s not a bad thing. It’s still as compelling to watch even if the ghost isn’t some evil monster that wants to kill everyone. Lucy Liu leads the cast, though the best performances are from the actors playing her two kids in this: Callina Liang and Eddy Maday. Yet another Sundance film from this year that is best experienced if you know nothing about it going in, saving the reveals and everything else for that moment when you begin watching. The most chilling part of this film is not knowing where it’s going next or what will happen to the characters.

I also recorded a podcast chat about Sundance films with Aaron Neuwirth on his Out Now Podcast – listen to that episode here. And check out my other favorite films list on my Letterboxd page. Thanks for following.

For other Sundance 2024 best of the fest lists mentioning more films we didn’t see or didn’t include here, check out these other websites: The Verge’s AI afterlife, robot romance, and slow-burn slashers: the best of Sundance 2024, Harpers Bazaar’s 16 Must-See Movies Out of Sundance Film Festival 2024, THR’s 15 Best Films of Sundance 2024, NPR’s 14 New Films to Look Forward To, Rolling Stone’s 10 Best Movies From the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, and Vulture’s 15 Best Movies We Saw This Year at Sundance. Our list isn’t the only list of favorites from Sundance! There are many other great films from this year that deserve your time & attention whenever they show up in your neighborhood. Keep an eye out for any/all of the films. I always recommend watching any film from the Sundance line-up if it sounds interesting to you, and many of these will likely show up at other festivals before playing in art house theaters. Make time for as many as you can.

You can find all our Sundance 2024 coverage and reviews in this category. This wraps up our coverage of the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, our 18th year in a row at this festival. We’ll be back again next year. You can also find more thoughts on many films posted on my Letterboxd. Another year of many fantastic films.


Find more posts: Feat, Lists, Review, Sundance 24

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Oppie & Miles & Nora & Arthur – Alex’s Top 10 Favorite Films of 2023 |

Oppie & Miles & Nora & Arthur – Alex’s Top 10 Favorite Films of 2023

by Alex Billington
January 5, 2024

“The world is changing. Reforming. This is your moment.” Another year, another Top 10. After watching more than 400 films throughout 2023 (always logging everything on my Letterboxd for anyone curious) it’s time to share my final selection of My Top 10 Favorite Films of 2023. I try to watch as much as I can and give myself time to catch up with any extra films at the end of the year, but my favorites can come from anytime in 2023. I fell hard for all the major ones – Oppenheimer, Spider-Verse, Past Lives, Poor Things, and American Fiction. Before anyone asks about the ones missing: I’m not that big on Killers of the Flower Moon (it’s good not great), I quite like Anatomy of a Fall but it didn’t make the cut, Godland and The Eight Mountains are on last year’s Top 10, Saltburn is bad (yeah it’s meh), and Godzilla: Minus One is great also didn’t make the cut. I stuck to my gut and chose these 10 that made me passionate for cinema all over again.

For the previous year’s Top 10 of 2022 list, topped by EEAAO of course, click here (also 2021 + 2020). You can check out my selection of Favorite Movie Posters from 2023 with a look at some of the best cinema art.

A few notes: this is a list of my favorite films, not the best films of the year, these are the ones that I love for my own reasons and I’ll try to explain why with each one. As always, I wish I had so much more to time to watch/rewatch films, and see every last film that played in 2023, but that’s impossible so this is just what I decided to run with. Also – my film selection is based on the date when I originally saw the film at a public event, including film festivals (Venice, Sundance) or public releases limited or otherwise. This is not based on only films released in 2023, but the ones I experienced in 2023, and is a good representation of the best cinema has given us, in my opinion. I’m always a bit nervous to finalize my list, but these are all films I love.

#1. La Chimera directed by Alice Rohrwacher

La Chimera

Arthur and his band of Tombaroli. I watched this film three times at three festivals in 2023. It’s that good. There are two songs performed in the film by an Italian folk singer and when the first one kicks in (the song about the “Tombaroli”), I get chills every time. I adore this film. It’s magical, mystical, and special in about 100 ways. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I don’t think anyone else can even attempt to replicate Alice Rohrwacher’s filmmaking. Truly one-of-a-kind. La Chimera is a mesmerizing, alluring journey through the afterlife – exploring the idea of souls and humanity traversing across time from generation to generation. I am in awe of the performance by Josh O’Connor as Arthur, one of my all-time favorite performances. There’s an aching longing that he embodies so perfectly, while maintaining his sense of appreciation for life as he rolls around the Italian hillsides with the Tombaroli. The shot-on-film cinematography by the French DP maestro Hélène Louvart is also heavenly. I can watch this film over & over & over and never tire of it.

#2. Oppenheimer directed by Christopher Nolan


“Are you saying that there’s a chance that when we push that button… we destroy the world?” Yes, indeed there is. This might just be Christopher Nolan’s Magnum Opus. It’s an incredible movie. I wasn’t sure if he would pull this off, it’s such a precarious and dangerous story to tell, yet he aced it. A monumental work of cinema and storytelling. The moment I knew it would be on my Top 10 actually hit me during my second viewing. I went to see it in IMAX (after the initial press screening in a regular cinema) and they cranked the volume and when that “Can You Hear the Music” track kicks in and it cuts to the shot of the clouds over the German city while Oppie’s living in Europe, I was completely taken away. My whole body was shook to its core by Ludwig Göransson’s one-of-the-best-of-all-time scores (yes, seriously) perfectly complementing this intricate story of a complicated intellectual and his destructive creation. And that is just one part. Cillian Murphy’s performance is flawless, the set design and production design is extraordinary, the editing are breathtaking. This is the kind of cinematic experience I live for, and once again, Nolan has made my Top 10.

#3. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse directed by Joaquim Dos Santos & Kemp Powers & Justin K. Thompson

Across the Spider-Verse

It does not bother me at all that this is only “half of the story,” it’s a phenomenal work of art and completes a strong arc with Gwen anyway. The first Into the Spider-Verse was on my Top 10 of 2018, and I’m happy that the sequel is as good as, if not better, than that masterpiece. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is the they-actually-went-and-did-it sequel that lives up to the heart & soul of the original, and again breaks the barriers of visual storytelling by pushing everything further than it has before. I wrote a glowing review when it first came out: “It’s the epitome of cinema as a visual medium, an eye-popping blend of comic book fundamentals, animation (all styles / techniques / formats), and modern storytelling concepts. As always with cinema, story is key – and the filmmakers know this and care deeply. They’ve also outdone themselves in creating one of the most mesmerizing and psychedelic works of art in cinema.” I love how the colors and the stylistic choices in every scene represent the emotions of the characters and what they’re feeling as they go through a moment in their story. I can’t wait to find out what happens next in Beyond the Spider-Verse.

#4. Past Lives directed by Celine Song

Past Lives

What a film. What a beautiful film. What more can I add to the discourse that hasn’t already been said by everyone else who adores this touching film from writer / director Celine Song. I am still so astonished that this is her feature debut, but it also goes to show she really has an eye for cinematic storytelling. There are a few shots that I can never forget just because the cinematography is so lovely to look at, so softly and warmly capturing the moment with a great amount of intimacy focused on Nora. It’s her story after all. I had to watch this film twice before really settling into my appreciation of it, and accepting it as such a moving work of art that does work as well on repeat viewings. I got hit hard by emotions both times when it gets to that end scene, where Nora walks Hae Sung out to his Uber at the end of his trip to NYC. That’s the power of great cinema. Absolutely an iconic performance from Greta Lee taking on Nora, but I also need to praise both John Magaro and Teo Yoo in holding their own with grace as her two great loves. Such charmers.

#5. Poor Things directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

Poor Things

Bella Baxter! Woman of the year! Heartbreaker! Love-maker! Pastéis enjoyer! Ha ha. This film SLAYS. The press screening at the Venice Film Festival was one of the year’s best experiences because you could almost touch the buzz wafting in the air with everyone loving it more & more as it played. Which is not a common occurrence in a room full of snobby critics, to be frank. I also watched this film two times at two different festivals to confirm it holds up and it does. And the audience loved it the second time as well. One of the best performances ever from Emma Stone, though I always think she’s exceptional. At first she doesn’t seem that refined… until you watch her progressively mature and begin to “grow up” over the course of the film, becoming more empowered and insightful as she surfs the waves of patriarchy. The strange score by Jerskin Fendrix is so inexplicably odd yet nicely adds to the weirdness of the whole film, and it’s hard to forget after hearing it. A total knock out, sex-positive, feminist, fearless, freaky creation from the mind of Yorgos Lanthimos. I still think the opening 30 minutes are rough, but other than that, this is a genius film.

#6. Perfect Days directed by Wim Wenders

Perfect Days

A-ha! This is another of my personal favorites from Cannes back in May (my full review) that I haven’t been able to get off of my mind all year. The peace and calm of this film is deeply inspirational and so moving for me. I am profoundly drawn to the Buddhist philosophy found within, the way it shows us how Hirayama has left his life of luxury and wealth to live a simple life, doing the job that no one wants to do yet still finding happiness in every moment. I love that he takes photos of trees. I love his little apartment that he cleans up every day. I love how humble and heartfelt he always is dealing with any situation. Koji Yakusho really does deserve all the awards and accolades for his performance as Hirayama in this, it’s the most soulful and rejuvenating performance in any film of 2023. The soundtrack is great, all of his favorite oldies that make his days brighter. Another film I’ve been recommending and encouraging anyone watch whenever they can.

#7. American Fiction directed by Cord Jefferson

American Fiction

Have a laugh with Monk as he sets out to prove his point about how dumb everyone is right now. This film! Such a joy to watch, some of the best laughs of the year. Such a smart script that slices through the bullshit to show everyone how much the conversation around media right now is total nonsense. Yes of course the meta commentary is obvious, especially considering this is Cord Jefferson’s feature directorial debut, and we have to wonder if he’s thinking about what everyone is saying about this film in the context of what the film is literally about. Jeffrey Wright is always great in any role, no matter how big or small (love him in Wes Anderson’s films), but he’s especially remarkable in this film. Not only does he need to ace the Stagg R. Leigh persona on top of his regular performance, he also needs to hold all the emotional weight of someone going through this and dealing with the loss in his family. I also really do appreciation the more emotional, grounded side of the story about his family and budding romance, it adds depth to the film & Monk’s story.

#8. The Holdovers directed by Alexander Payne

The Holdovers

A new Christmas classic. Yep, it’s already a classic. I watched this film again during Christmas just to see if it holds up to that acclaim, and it really does. There’s just something so cinematically warm and wholesome and endearing about it, even though it’s set during a cold winter. The performances, the vintage 70s vibe, the snowy setting, the soundtrack and song choices, the story about these three lonely people going through the holidays trying to make sense of their lives. How much of a difference good friends and good cheer and good moments can make. A shining example of how to make a great film where everything works together. Paul Giamatti is hilariously unforgettable as the stodgy Paul Hunham, Dominic Sessa is impressive and endearing in his first ever big screen role as Angus Tully, though my favorite performance is still Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Mary Lamb. Her “mhmms” will live on in my mind forever. I’ve been recommending this film to everyone this winter. 🎶 “Crying never did nobody no good, no how… That’s why I don’t cry…” 🎶

#9. The Taste of Things / The Pot au Feu directed by Anh Hung Tran

The Taste of Things

I’m still not sure if this new English title holds up. The Taste of Things is all too bland for such an elegant film. I prefer it as The Pot au Feu, which is what it originally screened under at Cannes this year (though I also don’t care for the longer French title La Passion de Dodin Bouffant). Nonetheless, this magnificent film is one of the best food films ever made. Perfect from start to finish, with some of the finest cinematography all year. Gorgeous shots galore, everything’s framed so perfectly. I actually think it’s better than most of the other food films that other critics reference when they compare this one. Juliette Binoche plays Eugénie with just the right amount of confidence and sophistication, an unforgettable character and incomparably great chef. Benoît Magimel as the Dodin Bouffant also brings his charm to the table to match her, as their chemistry is vitally important in making the heart of this film beat so vividly and so passionately. I may not want to try every dish she makes, but that doesn’t make me like this any less. That pear shot is an all-timer.

#10. The Monk and the Gun directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji

The Monk and the Gun

Another wonderful surprise from the second half of the year. Bhutanese director Pawo Choyning Dorji returns with his second feature film after Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, and its even better with a more potent message. Aside from how terrific it is to see more stories from the tiny mountain country of Bhutan told authentically from the Bhutanese side (which is what makes this one particularly unique), this film becomes something more meaningful once it gets to the core of what it’s trying to convey with this story of “the monk and the gun.” The performances are all exceptional, especially by Tandin Wangchuk as Tashi and Deki Lhamo as Tshomo. As the film plays out (why does he need this gun?) and the story unfolds, I started to feel more and more invigorated by what I was watching, where it was going, what it was trying to say. They don’t know what you to know that this film makes fun of American ideals, but it does so in such a wholesome and uplifting way it’s hard not to be completely charmed by this film. Absolutely worth a watch.

BONUS! Mars Express directed by Jérémie Périn

Mars Express

Another animated movie that deserves to be mentioned alongside all the other movies in this Top 10. Yes, of course I already have Across the Spider-Verse on here, but animation is awesome (and it’s for anyone of any age to enjoy) and so is this movie. I haven’t stopped thinking about this since first catching it at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival back in May. It has stayed on my mind all this time and stands out. Mars Express is a spectacular, thrilling, visually engaging modern animated sci-fi movie. It’s a futuristic noir detective story about robots and AI and technology, borrowing plenty from the classics Ghost in the Shell & Blade Runner, but still delivering something entirely unique in its own ways. Not enough people have been able to see it yet, following its premieres in Cannes & Annecy last summer, but I think the buzz will grow with more time. The characters are memorable, the whole experience is riveting and even better watched on the big screen if at all possible. This is the excellent sci-fi cinema I look forward to encountering and it is worth discovering.

More 2023 Faves: Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron, Sam Freeman & Ng Choon Ping’s Femme, Richard Linklater’s Hitman (tore down the house in Venice), Chloe Domont’s Fair Play, Laura McGann’s The Deepest Breath, Roger Ross Williams’ Cassandro, Molly Gordon & Nick Lieberman’s Theater Camp, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie (yep!), Jeff Rowe’s Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, and Charlotte Regan’s Scrapper.

I could discuss all of my favorites endlessly, so if you ever want to chat about cinema, just ask me something about any of them. You can always find all of my ratings and additional thoughts on every film I watched in 2023 on my Letterboxd profile. There are always a few other films I did not get the chance to watch last year due to time constraints, but I still try to catch as many films as possible that my colleagues have been talking about. I am always watching new work throughout the year, seeking out the most exhilarating cinema – films that leave me in awe. If you have questions or thoughts about my Top 10 picks (or anything else), please get in touch: @firstshowing or Now let’s dive right into 2024 with hope for what lies ahead.


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Venice 2023 Recap: My Top 8 Favorite Films – Lanthimos & Linklater |

Venice 2023 Recap: My Top 8 Favorite Films – Lanthimos & Linklater

by Alex Billington
September 19, 2023

Each year, I am honored to have a chance to return to the beautiful city of Venice in Northern Italy to attend the Venice Film Festival and catch the latest films premiering there. This year’s festival is now finished, so it’s time to present my picks of my favorite films from Venice 2023. I’ve chosen 8 of the best of the fest films that deserve to be highlighted. This was my seventh year returning to Venice, I even stopped by back in 2020 during the pandemic as I didn’t want to miss it. In total, I watched around 32 films at Venice this year, and while it wasn’t the most spectacular line-up, I am always glad to have the chance to dive into this entrancing selection of new cinema every year anyway. The best of the festival this year, Poor Things, is also the same film that went on to win the Golden Lion top prize, awarded by a jury featuring the filmmakers Damien Chazelle, Jane Campion, Mia Hansen-Løve, Martin McDonagh, and Laura Poitras. I always do my best to watch as many films as I can, hoping to find the hidden gems and surprises amidst a diverse line-up.

As always, I keep my Letterboxd page updated with screenings and comments daily. And I have also been posting thoughts, photos, and more updates on my main Twitter account @firstshowing during the fest. And I’ve been writing reviews for a number of the films as well, already published over the last few weeks. Digging into the 2023 film selection, I prefer Priscilla over Maestro, despite both films being quite strong. Michael Mann’s Ferrari is good, at least I liked it quite a bit, though with time I have forgotten it. Nikolaj Arcel’s The Promised Land with Mads Mikkelsen is also really good, though quite depressing. I don’t think Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Evil Does Not Exist is that good, it’s half of a film with a bad ending. I did not care for the Ross Brothers’ film Gasoline Rainbow at all, it’s junk. The Hungarian film Explanation for Everything is a surprising revelation, an underrated discovery, worth a watch even though it’s quite long. And Timm Kröger’s The Theory of Everything is a fascinating Austrian film, but too confusing to be great. I’m always up for chatting about any of the films from the festival, even the ones I didn’t like can be discussed further.

Below are my Top 8 films from the 2023 Venice Film Festival; these are the films that I enjoyed the most, or those that I couldn’t stop thinking about, and I hope everyone else gives them a look, too. My favorites:

Poor Things – Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

Venice - Poor Things

This certified Golden Lion winner is also my #1 film of the 2023 festival. And it’ll most likely find a spot somewhere on my Top 10 of the year as well. Yorgos! Yorgos! Yorgos! Everything about this film is fresh and fun and spunky and sultry. It’s witty and bold, a remarkably powerful modern feminist fable. It borrows from Frankenstein at the start, but it’s much more of an Alice in Wonderland-esque journey through the different realms of sex and satisfaction. I wrote in my glowing review that “it might be the raunchiest film of the entire decade…?!” With all the pointless debates on social media about sex scenes & nudity in cinema, Lanthimos has decided to dance in & decidedly say – screw that, sex is an important part of life and here is my glorious film taking us on a grand journey of sexual awakening & womanly emancipation. Emma Stone is outstanding, another unforgettable role in her remarkable oeuvre (she might end up winning a second Oscar for this performance). And the wickedly distinct score from Jerskin Fendrix adds another layer of mad genius to the cinematic experience. All-in-all a truly marvelous work of art from Greek maestro Yorgos.

Hit Man – Directed by Richard Linklater

Venice - Hit Man

Richard Linklater’s Hit Man is THE surprise hit of the festival this year. It was so exciting to experience this press screening, it’s rare to ever see a big crowd of tough European critics laugh this much and this loudly at an American comedy. But that enthusiastic vibe with the audience all in on this one is part of why it was such a delightful movie to discover late in the festival. Co-written by both Richard Linklater and Glen Powell, and directed by the masterful Richard Linklater, the story is actually based on a real guy named Gary Johnson. It’s yet another one of these bonkers how-is-this-true stories about an undercover cop. Aside from reminding the audience that “hitmen don’t really exist”, it flips a few of the tropes around, and borrows others but is playful with them in a way that enhances the entertainment. Best of all, Powell’s performance in this is one for the ages. It’s going to cement him as a massively talented movie star, capable of performing any role – serious, geeky, charming, sexy, weird, or wacky. He pulls off so many little roles in this, and he’s a perfect match with co-star Adria Arjona. Sexiest couple on screen this year? Yep, it’s true.

Daaaaaali! – Directed by Quentin Dupieux

Venice - Daaaaaali!

Dali! C’est un fou!! Absolutely loved Quentin Dupieux’s Daaaaaali!, such a delight. And it’s only 77 minutes long!! Mad crazy genius filmmaking from one-and-only Quentin Dupieux remixing the myths of Salvador Dalí, using different actors to play the quirky artist as he bumbles around for an interview. Or rather, as he tries to avoid an interview. It’s hilarious in about 100 different ways. Everyone at my Venice press screening laughed & laughed & laughed. I don’t even know what the point of the whole film is, but who cares, I just know I enjoyed it immensely. One of Dupieux’s best wacky films, with an unforgettable set of performances. Still chuckling thinking about him and all the crazy lines he has. You’ll never forget the way he pronounces his own name. You’ll never forget the mustache, or all the kooky things he does in this film. It’s not really a biopic, it’s more of an experimental let’s-fuck-around-like-Dali-did creation meant to make us laugh at how absurd and eccentric genius artists can be. I want to watch it again!! It plays so well with an engaged crowd.

The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial – Directed by William Friedkin

Venice - The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial

I can’t stop thinking about how incredible this screenplay is (let’s talk about it!!), and how amazing all of the performances are bringing it to life on screen. I already wrote about this in my full review. Yes, it’s a story told many times before in a few other films (based on based on Herman Wouk’s 1953 play of the same name, also based on the novel The Caine Mutiny by Wouk). And it doesn’t do anything new or different in terms of style or cinematography. But I will continue to talk about William Friedkin’s version of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial as one of the best plays as a film I’ve ever seen. It all takes place in one room, and it’s all about this one court martial, yet it’s as riveting and as smart (even moreso) as any Hollywood movie with massive sets and gigantic budgets spent on CGI or wardrobe. Kiefer Sutherland is exceptional as Queeg, Jason Clarke is also great again as another attorney (after Oppenheimer), Jake Lacy is unforgettable as Maryk. Whenever it gets released, I think it’s important to read between the lines with what’s really going on (and what Friedkin is actually commenting on) and analyze the final scene for more than only what is said.

Woman of… – Directed by Michal Englert & Malgorzata Szumowska

Venice - Woman of...

Another gorgeous film I can’t get off of my mind. I was profoundly moved by Michal Englert & Malgorzata Szumowska’s Woman of…, originally known as Kobieta z… in Polish. It is not easy to tell the entire life story of one person, nor is it easy to capture their heart and soul and feelings and sufferings and joys and experiences in a coherent and captivating story that anyone can connect with. Yet that is what this film has done, and even though it may not be as completely impactful in the end as it could be, it is still a superbly groundbreaking, elegant film about a trans woman in Poland. Starring a vibrant Malgorzata Hajewska as Aniela. Above all, the film deserves special praise for the astonishing cinematography, shot by co-director Michał Englert. Every single shot is lovely, but there are a few that took my breath away, framed perfectly with light shining through in just the right way. It’s awe-inspiring work that should be studied in great detail. It compliments the story by allowing a few stunning rays of light to shine in to Aniela’s life, to remind us how even in the toughest moments, expressing yourself honestly is always beautiful, always enlightening.

Priscilla – Directed by Sofia Coppola

Venice - Priscilla

This is one film where the more I think about it, the more it remains in my mind – even a week after first watching it. While they can’t rightfully be compared, along with Bradley Cooper’s Maestro, this film really stands out. Sofia Coppola’s film is an elegant, intimate retelling of the Elvis story – but it’s not really about Elvis of course. It really surprised me, better than I was expecting, though of course Coppola has this same light touch with her films when I think back about everything she’s made. Priscilla is actually quite light and sweet, all solely from Priscilla’s perspective, never drifting off to anything else with Elvis or anything that isn’t about her own experience with him while at Graceland. Cailee Spaeny as the young “Cilla” Beaulieu is tremendously good, deserving of the Best Actress Award from the festival. Jacob Elordi is also fantastic as Elvis Presley, in a role that is the complete opposite of Austin Butler in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis movie; never grandstanding or overwhelming, only playing the part as the sweet Elvis who seems to have a wild side that we (or rather Priscilla) never actually gets to see. It’s another highlight within Sofia Coppola’s filmography.

The Killer – Directed by David Fincher

Venice - The Killer

Even though pretty much everyone agrees that David Fincher’s assassin film The Killer doesn’t really try to do anything new or different, it’s still a damn good film. It’s hard to deny that. There’s just something about Fincher’s refined, meticulously precise filmmaking that fits nicely with a story about a refined, meticulously precise hitman. Plus it has Michael Fassbender being a slick, calculating badass who is always trying to stay ahead of everyone else. I just want to drift into the cinematography by DP Erik Messerschmidt and admire the perfectly shot, perfectly lit scenes. I’ll fully admit this is the main reason I am looking forward to rewatching The Killer, even if it’s at home on Netflix (so be it). There’s an impressive amount of gripping tension as “The Killer” makes his way around the world (and back) pulling off kills and staying ahead of everyone else every step of the way. Even if his killing isn’t your jam, watching him meticulously control & manage evidence and figure out how to outsmart all those that think they might outsmart him is engaging. I am choosing this one because it’s still better than a number of other bad films I saw at the festival this year.

Love Is a Gun – Directed by Hong-Chi Lee

Venice - Love Is a Gun

One of my favorite discoveries at the 2023 festival was this Taiwanese film, marking the feature directorial debut of a Taiwanese actor named Hong-Chi Lee. He has starred in many acclaimed Taiwanese films, but this is his first time behind the lens making one. There’s something about his style and his minimalistic filmmaking choices that really impressed me. Love Is a Gun tells the story of a young reformed gangster known as “Sweet Potato”, who returns to his small town after finally getting out of prison. As with every story about this kind of person returning, he’s quickly whisked back into the gangster lifestyle, even though he’s hoping to not fall back into his old ways. However, this film makes some subversive choices and allows him to pushback against this, going in some unexpected directions. It’s also just a beautiful film, with some seriously stunning cinematography. I hope Hong-Chi Lee keeps making more films, as I’m certain he’ll only get better and better with everyone he makes – and will probably end up winning the Palme d’Or or Golden Lion or some other major prize one day soon. Keep an eye out for this film – here’s the festival promo trailer.

Recapping the entire festival, it was another good year but I actually prefer the 2022 line-up more. There were a number of iconic all-timer films in 2022 (last year’s favorites here), with only one or two in 2023. Poor Things and Hit Man have earned their place in cinema history, but how many other films have? Venice programs such a wide variety of exciting cinema that of course they’ll inevitably have a few duds in the mix. Not everything that is super artsy turns out good, and some filmmakers are more interested in confounding experimentation than anything smart. I did enjoy watching most of the 2023 selection, though I found a few of the more prominent films to be mid – Ava DuVernay’s Origin, Matteo Garrone’s Io Capitano, Agnieszka Holland’s Green Border, Bradley Cooper’s Maestro. They’re not the truly incredible films they could be, but they’re also not bad films either. I did hate Bertrand Bonello’s The Beast, which is some incomprehensible trash. And the Opening Night Italian submarine film Comandante was also terrible. I’m still sad that Luca Guadagnino had to pull Challengers, because that would’ve been the perfect film for the festival to kick off with. I’m always so lucky to cover this festival as press every year anyway. Thanks for reading my thoughts.

And that’s it for Venice 2023 (aka #Venezia80), wrapping up our updates from the fest for this year. As already mentioned before, Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things won the Golden Lion – find the full list of 2023 awards winners here. My coverage wraps up with this list of favorites and final thoughts on the films this year. I’m very much looking forward to returning to Venice again in 2024, one of the best festivals in the world. I’m always ready to spend more time in this iconic Italian city and immerse myself in the latest films.


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