While Barbenheimer was undoubtedly the biggest movie story of 2023, the year in film was one jam-packed with dozens of truly great movies—not all of which managed to generate the nonstop headlines or mainstream traction that an iconic doll and the “father of the atomic bomb” did. It was a stellar year for first-time directors as well, as evidenced by films like Emily, The Unknown Country, and A Thousand and One.

If you’ve seen Barbie, Oppenheimer, and many of the year’s higher-profile movies, here are 15 that you maybe haven’t seen that are definitely worth your time.

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Between Air and BlackBerry, business origin stories had a big year in 2023. While the latter got less press (possibly because of the former’s star-studded cast of Oscar winners), BlackBerry is arguably the more riveting of the two. Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) is the cofounder and CEO of Research in Motion, the continent’s first wireless data technology developer, with a passion for creating an internet-enabled smartphone. Eventually, with the help of Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton), a ruthless negotiator who holds grudges and refuses to take no for an answer (or else), they manage to launch the world’s first smartphone, the BlackBerry, while narrowly avoiding a hostile takeover. But being at the top typically comes with an expiration date, and BlackBerry traces both the challenging rise and devastating fall of the company. Given the status symbol that the “crackberry” was for about a half-dozen years in the early aughts, the bootstrap backstory of their operation is fascinating. But it also makes lots of room for some seriously deadpan comedy and gives Howerton what might be the juiciest role of his career. Consider this our “for your consideration” Oscar endorsement for his work.

Ear for Eye

In 2018, at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, British playwright Debbie Tucker Green debuted Ear for Eye at London’s Royal Court Theatre. This film, Green’s sophomore effort, is essentially just a filmed version of that staged production—but in an experimental style that effectively conveys what it feels like to live the Black experience in today’s world, both in England and America, across every generation. It also serves as an important reminder that “anger”—a feeling which is so often, and wrongly, weaponized—can be just what is needed to enact change.


For more than 20 years, Frances O’Connor has been a familiar face to fans of British period dramas, having played Fanny Price in Mansfield Park (1999) and the title character in Madame Bovary (2000). So it seems appropriate that she’d make her debut as a writer-director with this “biopic” of Emily Brontë, which takes plenty of fun creative liberties to paint the famed author as a rebel outcast who bucks convention and the restrictions placed on women at the time to follow her passion and write Wuthering Heights.

Flora and Son

Ever since writing and directing the Oscar-winning 2007 film Once, John Carney has been the go-to filmmaker for feel-good, music-driven movies—and Flora and Son is his latest offering. Dubliner and single mom Flora (Eve Hewson) is feeling constantly at odds with her teenage son Max (Orén Kinlan). Desperate for a way to reel in his rebellious behavior, she buys him an acoustic guitar with the hope that it might ignite his creative side. Instead, it’s Flora who ends up learning to play, with the help of Zoom tutor in Los Angeles (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Though her plans for Max don’t work out exactly as she planned, ultimately they find their own way to reconnect through the bond of music.


There’s something mysterious happening just beyond the frame in Hlynur Pálmason’s Godland, but the less you know going into the film the better. A Danish priest journeys to a remote part of Iceland to help build a new church and get to know—and photograph—the people who occupy this vast and brutal landscape. But the more he learns about the place, the further he begins to stray from his mission and mores. It’s a bleak film, to be sure, yet it also holds space for moments of humor, making for a surprising cinematic experience.


Jim Gaffigan delivers an Oscar-worthy performance (yes, really) in this strange but oddly beautiful sci-fi dramedy that made some noise at SXSW. Cameron Edwin (Gaffigan) is the son of a famed scientist but is living a quiet life in Ohio as the host of a children’s show that no one is really watching. Just when his life starts to go to hell—his wife (Better Call Saul’s Rhea Seehorn) wants a divorce, and he’s about to lose his job—mysterious events change its course. When a piece of a rocket lands in his backyard, it reignites his long-held dreams of becoming an astronaut, and he hatches a plan to rebuild the aircraft. Ultimately, what seems like a hopeless endeavor turns into the shake-up that his life needed in this surreal treat of a film that has shades of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.


The premise of Michel Franco’s Memory seems a bit preposterous: Sylvia (Jessica Chastain) is a social worker and single mom whose past traumas have led her to build up a carefully constructed world so that she can continue to move forward, care for her child, and keep her struggles with alcohol in the rear-view mirror. On a rare night out, she attends her high school reunion and is followed home by a former classmate, Saul (Peter Sarsgaard). When she finds Saul still standing outside her home the next morning, it’s clear that he is mentally unwell and can’t remember where he is or how he got there. In what might seem like a questionable decision, Sylvia—who has a distinct memory of Saul but has blocked out much of her abusive younger years—invites him into her home and life. Despite Sylvia’s deep emotional wounds and Saul’s mental health and memory issues, the two find an odd and comforting kinship. In the hands of lesser actors, the setup could become maudlin; but Chastain and Sarsgaard, who are both generating Oscar buzz for their performances, elevate the film to unexpected emotional heights.

Past Lives

Writer-director Celine Song’s feature directorial debut is a moving romantic drama about Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo), two childhood friends in South Korea who lose touch when Nora’s family relocates to America. Over the span of the next two decades, they reconnect on a couple of occasions—first via social media and video calls, and eventually in person in New York, where Nora (now married) is living. Despite the years apart, their connection has only seemed to strengthen as they talk honestly about their lives, the decisions they made, and how things might have turned out differently for them both. Past Lives is beautiful in its simplicity, with a range of emotions exchanged with every look and tiny gesture. The film earned five Golden Globe nominations, including Best Picture–Drama, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and a Best Actress nod for Lee.

The Quiet Girl

Nine-year-old Cáit (Catherine Clinch) is The Quiet Girl of the title—a youngster who is essentially ignored by her neglectful parents, who have a house full of kids they don’t seem particularly attached to. When Cáit’s mother learns that she is pregnant yet again, she and her husband decide to send their young daughter to spend the summer living with a distant cousin, Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley) and her husband Seán (Andrew Bennett). While Eibhlín is instantly warm and welcoming, Cáit has trouble breaking out of her shell—particularly when she inadvertently butts heads with Seán. Ultimately, both adults realize that Cáit is a broken, albeit special, child and the three form a loving bond. But just when Cáit starts settling into her new routine, her parents write about wanting her back (now that her new sibling is born). It’s a simple enough tale but one that is wrought with emotion and buried secrets on both sides.

The Royal Hotel

In 2020, we named Kitty Green’s The Assistant as one of the 20 Most Underrated Movies of the Past 20 Years. The Royal Hotel reunites Green with that earlier film’s star, Julia Garner (Ozark). In this case, the action moves from a movie studio’s toxic workplace to the middle of nowhere in Australia’s Outback. There, best friends Hanna (Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick) are leisurely backpacking their way through the country when they run out of money and look for jobs to replenish their bank accounts. When they’re offered the chance to live and work at the remote Royal Hotel, Liv only sees the upside. Hanna, however, has her guard up, as something doesn’t seem right to her about the whole setup. Her apprehensions only grow stronger once the pair begins working at the hotel bar, where Hanna is regularly subjected to abusive, misogynistic, and disturbing behavior. Liv, on the other hand, embraces the rough atmosphere—a decision that will come back to haunt both young women. Garner, as always, is excellent—especially in her ability to portray the kind of girl you don’t want to mess with.


Actor/comedian Randall Park (Fresh Off the Boat, WandaVision) proves that he’s a triple-threat with this feature directorial debut, based on Adrian Tomine’s graphic novel. It’s an utterly charming romantic dramedy that’s focused on three California twentysomethings—Ben (Justin H. Min), his live-in girlfriend Miko (Ally Maki), and his best friend Alice (Sherry Cola)—who find themselves traveling across the country at different times in order to find out who they really are and what they want. Even if that means picking up and starting over. Park successfully manages to avoid typical contemporary rom-com tropes, telling a unique kind of love story that reminds audiences that the ending you’re hoping for at any one point in life isn’t always the one that is going to make you happy. It’s clever, relatable, and breezy and features a stellar cast of up-and-coming actors.

The Starling Girl

Eliza Scanlen (Sharp Objects, Little Women) yet again proves herself to be one of the most talented young actors working today as Jem Starling, a 17-year-old who is struggling to define the person she is, and wants to be. While she has grown up as part of a Fundamentalist Christian community in Kentucky, her burgeoning womanhood has her worried that she’s having feelings and acting in such a way that is incongruent with her long-held religious beliefs. It’s a coming-of-age story but a dark one that at many points becomes hard to watch—yet feels important given the state of the world.

A Thousand and One

A.V. Rockwell’s A Thousand and One—yet another feature directorial debut—nabbed lots of headlines when it premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize. It had a small release in theaters in late March but has definitely reentered the chat now that the film world is discussing possible awards contenders. The decade-spanning drama follows the life of Inez de la Paz (Teyana Taylor), a convicted thief who, upon being released from prison in 1994, sees her son Terry (played by Aaron Kingsley Adetola, Aven Courtney, and Josiah Cross at various ages), who is now living in foster care. When Terry ends up in the hospital, Inez is able to quietly visit and speak to him, where he shares his vivid memory of being abandoned by her at the age of 2. Impulsively, Inez asks if he’d like to come home with her and, when he tells her yes, the two must reinvent themselves a bit in order to stay together. Though she only takes Terry from Brooklyn to Harlem, it feels like a world away—and a world that keeps changing over the next 10-plus years. A Thousand and One is a story about the resilience of family and the unconditional love that exists between parents and children, but it’s also a critique of a rapidly changing—and gentrifying—New York City, which has become inhospitable to the individuals who have always called it home. Ultimately, it’s about the complicated concept of “home.”

The Unknown Country

More than a year before Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon arrived in theaters and placed Lily Gladstone at or near the top of many lists as a very real Best Actress Oscar contender, she was flexing her muscle both in front of the camera and as part of the writing team on The Unknown Country. The film, written and directed by Morrisa Maltz in what is yet another impressive feature directorial debut to arrive this year, the movie follows Tana (Gladstone), a grieving young woman who receives an unexpected invitation to a family wedding and travels from Minnesota to South Dakota to attend—and to reconnect with her family and their Oglala Lakota roots. The film also works as a sort of mystery, as Tana is determined to retrace the journey her grandmother took many years before and find the mysterious spot where an old family photo was taken. It’s a trek that takes her to unexpected places, both literally and emotionally, and may ultimately help her to heal.

You Hurt My Feelings

Going all the way back to Walking and Talking (1996), Nicole Holofcener has always been a writer-director who isn’t afraid to explore the female experience in some of the most brutally honest and authentic ways. You Hurt My Feelings is just the latest example of that. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is as funny and fabulous as ever as Beth, a writer who inadvertently overhears her husband Don (Tobias Menzies) sharing his true opinion of his wife’s latest book to a friend and is just as injured as if he had revealed he was having an affair. While honesty in a marriage is often held up as the gold standard, the film makes the convincing case that lying to some because you love them is sometimes required. As usual, Holofcener’s perceptiveness and equal parts honest and laugh-out-loud funny take on what’s required to maintain relationships in today’s world is spot-on.


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