What’s Worth Seeing – or not – from 2023

As another year draws to a close, the film industry is still coming to terms with the impacts of two devastating strikes that brought production in Hollywood – and beyond – to a standstill for months. With Hollywood studios investing upwards of a billion dollars a year in the UK film industry, the walkouts by writers and actors – largely over streaming rights and the use of artificial intelligence – even had an impact on Britain’s service-industry-heavy economy.

But while film slates have been delayed – globally and in the UK – there were enough productions already in the pipeline for the BFI to boast that it’s been a record year for nominations and wins for Lottery-funded features at major festivals and awards shows. The head of the BFI Film Fund, Mia Bays, says the previous high of 113 nominations in 2011 has been smashed with 130 nods going to films including Rye Lane, Scrapper, How To Have Sex and Pretty Red Dress.

However, commercially, the most successful films of the year included the two elements of the much-hyped Barbenheimer summer rivalry, with Barbie topping the global box office and Oppenheimer coming in a creditable third – sandwiching the Super Mario Bros. Movie.

It was, unsurprisingly, another year where distributors relied on franchises and familiar characters, with both Marvel and DC churning out more superhero films and the Fast and Saw brands each reaching their tenth – or X – outings.

Marvel owner Disney, though, is seen to have underperformed in 2023, with some of its big hitters disappointing at the box office. Disney’s 2023 got off to an embarrassing start with the anti-climactic Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (which makes an appearance in our own “worst of the year” list, although it did scrape into the global box office Top 10) and ended with the underperforming The Marvels. But it wasn’t only the Marvel brand that let the studio down; Wish was a subpar animation and even live-action blockbusters, including the return of Indiana Jones in The Dial of Destiny failed to deliver.

But while the octogenarian Harrison Ford didn’t match up to the nostalgia, when he reprised his role as the much-loved archaeologist, two veteran directors in their 80s delivered on expectations; Sir Ridley Scott’s Napoleon had all the energy of his earlier films, while Martin Scorsese is already in the running in the upcoming awards season for his native American crime drama Killers of the Flower Moon.

And even if audiences don’t seem that interested in them anymore, the 2024 awards shows will certainly be keeping the industry on its toes, as the Oscars wait to see whether it’ll be another good year for streamers – after Amazon’s Everything Everywhere All At Once swept all the main awards in 2023. But many industry watchers will be keeping a closer eye on the Golden Globes, as they continue their attempt to win back their reputation as the biggest party in town and second only to the Oscars. After allegations of racism and corruption forced their organisers, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, first to reform and then to sell themselves to the Hollywood mogul Todd Boehly, the new bosses managed to secure a last minute TV deal, but will anyone be watching? With lawsuits over claims of sexual harassment and racial discrimination continuing to dog the Golden Globes, the new team behind the awards still have a long way to go to convince the public – and the stars that feed them – that they’re a safe – and credible – bet into the future.

But with the New Year being a time to look both forwards and backwards, and mindful of the fact that I haven’t seen everything available in 2023, here are my recommendations for What’s Worth Seeing – or not – on the big screen and small screen – if the inclement winter weather encourages you to stay at home, rather than head to the cinema!

What's Worth Seeing from 2023...

...on film ...on TV
AIR - A film about how a sportswear company designed a shoe to try to woo an upcoming star into a sponsorship deal - in a sport you might not even have any interest in - turns out to be a slam dunk, with sharp writing, top performances from an all-star cast and pitch-perfect 1980s nostalgia.BLUE LIGHTS - A thoroughly compelling piece of TV drama which will shock, surprise and delight fans of police procedurals and character dramas alike. Perhaps the only downside of this exemplary ensemble piece is that it's likely to put anyone who sees it off ever wanting to be a police officer.
OPPENHEIMER - Christopher Nolan's biopic about the creator of the atom bomb might have lost the box office battle with the bubble-gum social satire of Barbie, but it was a superior piece of film-making, with Nolan's control of a sprawling narrative, through a fractured time-line and mixing colour with B/W.COLIN FROM ACCOUNTS - While Hollywood does meet-cute, Australia does meet-surreal, as our protagonists first encounter each other after he runs her dog over while she's flashing him a boob. The sitcom that develops from this unlikely genesis has warmth, wit, heart and honesty.
NAPOLEON - Sir Ridley Scott throws everything at the screen for his biopic of the diminutive French leader, as Joaquin Phoenix delivers a surprisingly humorous performance as he builds his empire and his family.DREAMING WHILST BLACK - A satirical look at the British entertainment world through a young black writer trying to break into a largely white industry, it's charming, enlightening, fresh and funny.
SCRAPPER - Charlotte Regan's debut is about the most heart-warming and life-affirming film you will ever see about bereavement and family estrangement. At its heart, 12 year old Lola Campbell is a revelation in this profound, authentic film that's never patronising but isn't always entirely convincing.BLACK OPS - Like Colin from Accounts and Dreaming Whilst Black, Black Ops is a top notch sitcom created by leading cast members. It mixes oil-and-water genres of fish-out-of-water comedy and crime thriller, with the bonus element of exposing institutional racism without patronising or alienating white people.
WOMEN TALKING - Rarely does a film's title so accurately describe the content, but it's what these women are talking about that makes it so compelling. When the men leave an Amish community to do some business in town, the women have a chance to stop and consider whether this is the life they want.HAPPY VALLEY - Season 3 of Happy Valley brings to an end an epic face-off between a police sergeant and the thug who murdered her daughter. But while Sarah Lancashire's no-nonsense officer is chasing her nemesis, she's also trying to keep the streets clean of criminals - and her family together.
JUST MISSED THE CUT: The latest chapter in Tom Cruise's Mission Impossible franchise, Dead Reckoning, Part One, wasn't up with the best, but he's always entertaining and it sets us up nicely for Part Two. Babylon was a visual feast, which pushed its own ambition and the audience's patience just a little too far. Martin Scorsese highlights a little explored period of American history in Killers of the Flower Moon but he takes about an hour longer than he needs to do so.JUST MISSED THE CUT: Other shows worth seeking include the BBC's dramatisation of the aftermath of the Brink's-Mat robbery in The Gold, Simon Bird's wickedly funny portrayal of an aspiring religious cult leader in a satirical sideswipe at fundamentalist religion in Everyone Else Burns and the Coen-esque thriller Boat Story, which effortlessly blends extreme violence with jet black comedy, becoming just a little too arch, as it approaches its conclusion.

What was not Worth Seeing in 2023...

...on film ...on TV

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA - The Ant-Man franchise began with with one of the strongest films in Marvel's cinematic universe, but the diminutive hero's latest outing is a veritable Christmas Turkey, which - both visually and narratively - would be more at home in a computer game. The very premise of the character becomes meaningless in the quantum realm. Maybe sacking their villain because actor Jonathan Majors was convicted of assault can save them from having to take the franchise forward.

BETTER - My best TV show of the year was a police drama and so was my worst. Committing the all-too-common writing crime of failing to live up to its own potential, it tries to be clever but misses at every beat. A story about a crooked cop who wants to turn over a new leaf, it could've been interesting, but a clunky plot, on-the-nose dialogue, weak performances and - above all - unlikeable characters doing illogical things - ensured that Better should have been - well - better.
THE EXPEND4BLES - A handful of cheap laughs aren't enough to lift an unnecessary fourth outing for this group of ageing action heroes - now joined by a bunch of young comrades, thereby undoing the entire premise of the franchise. It's part predictable, part preposterous and all derivative.MARYLAND - Again, a fascinating premise is wasted, with 2 sisters discovering their mother's been leading a double-life only after learning of her unexpected death. Everything is neatly and cynically designed to fit the plot. The best thing about it is that it's only 3 episodes so it doesn't waste too much of your time.
THE MIDDLE MAN - An interesting premise is wasted in this illogical, incoherent attempt to set a Scandi-noir comedy in the US, without including any comedy - or any Americans. It's billed as a “bizarre and absurd look at Trump’s USA” – this anachronistic release is indeed bizarre and absurd – but not for the reasons it thinks.CLEAN SWEEP - This Irish crime drama appears to have it all – drugs, murder, sex-trafficking, infidelity, school bullying, everyday family shenanigans and PTA politics. But it's tied together so cackhandedly that every twist and turn leaves you rolling your eyes rather than reeling with surprise.
BARBIE - I accept that for half of the population, this would be in the list above, but for many men, it's a hateful, misanthropic attempt to reject the patriarchy by doing exactly what women are trying to fight - belittling, oppressing and supressing the other sex. If you want equality, this is the way to embolden enemies, rather than make peace.BOILING POINT - If you take the best ingredients out of a meal, it won't work. The same is the case if you remove the best ingredients from a good film when you adapt it for TV. An insightful study of a stressful restaurant kitchen becomes little more than a soap opera, with box-ticking characters in the kitchen while Stephen Graham mopes around at home.
WISH - Rather than being a male/female divide like Barbie, above, this one is probably a parent/child divide. And as above, the film-makers might find me a bit curmudgeonly or accuse me of wilfully misunderstanding the message. But what's presented as a feel-good musical animation about a young girl's attempt to help her community secure independence from a controlling dictator actually plays out like a spoilt brat of a misbehaving child feeling aggrieved at not being allowed to get away with breaking the rules. TIME (Series 2) - Season 2 of Time also suffers from losing Stephen Graham, as the original examination of prison life through the experiences of a new inmate and his guard is replaced by an examination of three prisoners at a women's jail. This is a rare case of Jimmy McGovern dropping the ball as the insightful drama of the first series becomes unfocussed and dull, with two of the three protagonists unable to earn much sympathy from the viewers and most of the plot twists feeling arch.
JUST MISSED THE CUT: An interesting and unsettling premise, bursting with potential, as you might expect from M Night Shyamalan, is wasted, as you're left thinking, "Was that it?" in the underwhelming Knock At The Cabin. The Son, is a disappointing follow-up to Florian Zeller's The Father; it's ultimately a nihilistic drama about a dysfunctional family, whose main message seems to be "there's not even any point trying." And the second Jason Statham film on this list is another sub-par effort from a usually bankable director, as Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre plays like a derivative and tone-deaf crime caper that deservedly went straight to the small screen in the UK.JUST MISSED THE CUT: It's worth mentioning that when time is of the essence, I tend to avoid TV that I suspect might end up being more than a chore than a delight, so most of what I watch is good enough that the worst of it might feel a little put out at being on a list like this. Rather than being the worst of the year, it's the worst that I saw all year. And almost earning a place on that list would be Archie, which put me off Cary Grant films, taking the shine off the Hollywood legend without replacing it with anything particularly enlightening, and the third - and hopefully final - season of Amazon's initially fascinating sci-fi comedy Upload, which jumped the shark in Season 2.