THE BEST OF 2023

OUR TOP FIVE FILMS OF THE YEAR

YEAR IN REVIEW
By Charlie David Page
17th December 2023

What a rollercoaster ride for film lovers 2023 has been - while we've seen some epic (and much-anticipated) tentpole films, the smaller indie gems are becoming fewer and farther between, making them harder to find... but it doesn't mean they're not out there! So, members of SWITCH have compiled their top five films - with plenty of diverse choices from the past 12 months.

This year, the rules have changed: it can only be five films, and it has to have been released in Australian cinemas in 2023 - and, for the first time, we're also including films that were released on streaming services in Australia in the past year! So take a look for yourself and let us know what you think!

JUMP TO...
Daniel Chris Ashley Liz Jake Dave Joel

DANIEL LAMMIN
Daniel
5
'OPPENHEIMER'
An overwhelming, crushing experience, jaw-dropping in its scope and precision, devastating in its portrait of the pursuit for knowledge weaponised for the pursuit for power. Christopher Nolan's work post-'Batman' has been amongst his finest, but 'Oppenheimer' feels unlike anything he has made before, vital and immediate and daring. As each incredible second passes, you feel the building weight of it begin to crush you until, as it drops its spectacular final beat, you’re ultimately buried alive by it. The fact that this is only number 5 on my list should suggest just how good the other four are, when ‘Oppenheimer’ is such a singular, towering achievement.
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4
'AFTERSUN'
I saw Charlotte Wells' astonishing debut for the first time over a year ago now, and I’m still haunted by it. There’s the calm confidence of her direction, the way she lets us sit in the many gentle moments of joy and sadness. There’s Paul Mescal's indescribable performance, the kind that will be talked about forever. There’s the way it builds, so carefully, towards its final cataclysm, where the quiet of the film cracks open and you're assaulted with the pain of those gone, with not knowing or understanding, of memories rewriting themselves before your eyes. And there’s one of the most devastating and awe-inspiring final images in any film of the last decade.
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3
'TÁR'
Todd Field's shockingly black comedy felt immediately monolithic, cinema as a piece of mid-century brutalist architecture. It insists on remaining aloof as it observes the ego-driven misdeeds of Cate Blanchett's maniacal conductor, not because it doesn’t hold judgement over her but because it’s more interested in the judgements we come to. It’s a puzzle we will be endlessly debating, but in the decades to come, will surely be seen as a titan of U.S. cinema and among the most damning (and intentionally hysterical) incitements of the endless hypocrisies woven into our cultural institutions.
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2
'THE BOY AND THE HERON'
It was hard to temper expectations for 'The Boy and the Heron', the unexpected return of perhaps the greatest living filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki. We had accepted the end of his career with 'The Wind Rises', and it was hard to imagine him crafting a more definitive an ending to his extraordinary career. And then you watch this towering work of art, this monumental achievement, where this great artist interrogates the life he has lived, the towers he has built, the figures real and imagined he has met, what world he had inherited and what world he will leave behind, all through the lens of the art form he has mastered. It’s an impossible film, impossible in its depth and its scope and its scale, in the dreamscapes it runs through and its uncompromising humanity. It’s about as close to life itself as any film has been able to capture.
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1
'THE FABELMANS'
In the last year, we’ve seen some of our greatest filmmakers meditating on the legacy their work will leave, obviously in 'The Boy and the Heron' but arguably also in Martin Scorsese's monumental 'Killers of the Flower Moon'. What Steven Spielberg achieves with 'The Fabelmans' though somehow transcends even those two incredible films. Rather than viewing his childhood and the beginning of his love affair with cinema through a sentimental lens, he mediates on the function and the cost of art in the lives of artists and those closest to them, the responsibilities that come with such a gift, the cost in pursuing it, the consequences of artistic creation. Seeing ‘The Fabelmans’ for the first time was a transcendent, almost out-of-body experience. I saw a filmmaker who has meant so much to me ripping open the heart of who he is, uncompromising in his interrogation of himself and his art form. And I just cried and cried and cried. ‘The Fabelmans’ came out in Australia only five days into 2023, and despite all the incredible films I have seen since, nothing has been able to take its spot as my favourite film of the year.
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CHRIS DOS SANTOS
Chris
5
'SALTBURN'
After 'Promising Young Woman', I was ready to throw myself into whatever Emerald Fennell directed next, and 'Saltburn' more that delivered. A deliciously messed-up romp with stellar performances from Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi and Queen Rosamund Pike. I just want to lose myself in it again and again.
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4
'KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON'
Few directors this late in their career can craft something as magnificent as Martin Scorsese. If 'The Irishman' was his swan song, 'Killers of the Flower Moon' is his magnum opus. An epic, brutal historical western spanning three and a half hours - and Scorsese never loses his audience. It’s an important story that will never lose its relevancy and is truly one of the best films of the decade.
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3
'THEATER CAMP'
A hilarious love letter to the us theatre nerds. Just pure unapologetic glee; it’s non-stop comedy. The music is the perfect balance of homage and comedy - a few of the songs even made it into my Spotify Wrapped. It’s a great ensemble cast and a fantastic mockumentary, an absolute pure delight.
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2
'SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE'
A follow up to the critically acclaimed and box office hit 'Into the Spider-Verse' was always going to be a challenge, but they more than delivered with 'Across the Spider-Verse'. Jaw-dropping animation, an engrossing story, and a film that perfectly encapsulates what we all love about the web-slinger. I can’t wait to see how they end this beast of a series, but this epic yet again changed animation forever.
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1
'RENAISSANCE: A FILM BY BEYONCÉ'
Beyoncé is the world’s greatest performer. She is doing it like no one else, and has changed the music industry in ways I don’t think we are even aware of. From visual albums to her previous concert films, she has more than proven her legacy - but 'Renaissance' cerements it. The film documents not just the performances but the creation process of the entire tour. The editing and cinematography are not just the best for a concert film, but cinema period! This is one of the defining cinematic experiences of the 21st century.
ASHLEY TERESA
Ashley
5
'RENAISSANCE: A FILM BY BEYONCÉ'
2023 will be remembered, music-wise, for the year Taylor Swift obliterated charts, tour grosses, and concert film box office records; however, it should be remembered for 'Renaissance,' a portrait of one of the most important female artists of our time finding liberation in her 40s, a period where many singers are discarded for a shiny new thing. Key moments from her recent world tour are impeccably edited into one coherent experience (there are about 10 outfits that flash on screen during one song alone) and intercut with behind-the-scenes moments that put into perspective just how big a feat the tour was to pull off – and how effortless Beyoncé makes it seem. It’s also a revealing and raw look into the creative process behind one of our most polished public personas; Beyoncé warns in the song 'Alien Superstar' to "don't even waste your time trying to compete" with her, knowing full well that her rare moments in the spotlight give her an untouchable air of perfection. Seeing these two different sides to the star in 'Renaissance' helps to make her feel more alive than ever. A new gold standard for concert films has been set.
4
'JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4'
I have already written at length about how much I adore the 'John Wick' series, and the relief I felt when it went out with its best instalment was only second to the complete adrenaline high of the film’s non-stop final act. A vehicle battle at the Arc de Triomphe! A fistfight under a waterfall in a club! A 5am mêlée on the 220 stairs of the Sacré Coeur! A goddamn flamethrower/gun hybrid! Chad Stahelski takes each set piece up to 11 with insane camera tricks and deafening sound effects (John’s opening punches are still the loudest thing I have heard all year), imbuing that giddy sense you only get from world-class action filmmaking. What a way to end a series!
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3
'OPPENHEIMER'
It’s a testament to how great a year 2023 was for film when a masterpiece that redefined the way I look at cinema is only coming in at number 3 on this list. Adapted from the biography 'American Prometheus' by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, 'Oppenheimer' is a 3-hour epic that is, without a doubt, the best work of director Christopher Nolan's career. By some miracle, it keeps a dizzying number of plot and thematic threads afloat across the whole runtime – complete with a presentation shift from colour to black and white – without ever being difficult to follow. On the contrary, it’s a thrilling and exhilarating experience that has left me feeling completely floored each time I have seen it. As the threat of nuclear war looms closer than ever, not only is 'Oppenheimer' a timely nihilistic take on the nature of mankind and its future, but it’s also one of the most important films released this century.
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2
'ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED'
Photographer, activist, and all-around living legend Nan Goldin has lived a life as crazy and colourful as the subjects of her art. With Nan's boycott of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry after her own OxyContin addiction as its backdrop, 'All the Beauty and the Bloodshed' is a portrait of her life that simply needs to be seen to be believed. It’s a fearless piece of documentary filmmaking about a fearless woman actively biting the hand that feeds her artistry, consequences be damned - the Sackler family, key players in the ongoing opioids crisis and the key target of Goldin's boycott, are regular donators to some of the most famous museums in the world. This is filmmaking designed to challenge, to inspire, and to enrage, and not a day since I watched it has gone by where I haven’t thought about it.
1
'PAST LIVES'
Have you ever had that all-consuming and emotionally annihilating moment of seeing an experience you have lived through brought to life on screen? I may not be an immigrant finding her way to Canada – and back into the life of her first object of affection – but the idea of "right person, wrong time" has been a particularly haunting one as I enter my 30s and see many people in my life hit major relationship milestones. Those wanting a 'Before' Trilogy, destiny-will-bring-us-back-together romance need not apply for 'Past Lives'; it is, in fact, the complete antithesis to Richard Linklater's masterworks. The only romance here is the one Nora and Hae Sung project onto one another, the last gasp of childhood idealism – and even as it becomes obvious they aren't meant to be together, watching them grow up and repeat a cycle of goodbyes, each one for its own new reason, is heart-wrenching. Celine Song's beautiful debut film is one I constantly want to revisit, but one that I am fully aware will destroy me emotionally each time I do.
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LIZ MAEVE
Liz
5
'SCRAPPER'
'Scrapper' is a heartwarming film following the independent 12-year-old Georgie when her absent father Jason turns up to enter her life again. It’s a lovely feature debut(!) by writer-director Charlotte Regan with an earnest script and performances. While Harris Dickinson (Jason) is fantastic as usual, Lola Campbell as Georgie absolutely steals the show. To see a young actress at 12 with such maturity, understanding and care in stewarding her character, she’s definitely someone to watch in the coming years.

The best way to describe 'Scrapper' is a warm tearful hug from a loved one – making it a lovely film to wrap up the year of 2023.
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4
'BEYOND UTOPIA'
'Beyond Utopia' is a documentary directed and edited by Madeleine Gavin following Pastor Kim, who assists North Korean defectors on a dangerous journey to freedom. The documentary features months of footage from hidden cameras, archival footage and more – all cut together by Gavin with astute kindness and heartbreaking honesty.

It’s a masterpiece in filmmaking and if you only got to watch one documentary (or even film) this year, 'Beyond Utopia' is a great choice. I cannot recommend this film enough.
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3
'JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4'
'John Wick: Chapter 4' was a masterclass in modern action filmmaking and lighting your blockbuster movies properly! Jokes aside, 'JW4' was a brilliant franchise expansion and farewell to one of the best action characters in the last decade, and it was unthinkable this franchise was almost rejected for development at first.

My top highlight is the stunning cinematography by Dan Laustsen, a thoughtful and evocative portrait of John Wick’s world and psyche. Drenched in vibrant colours and featuring multiple staircase fall gags, yes, I still stand by my Letterboxd review months ago (March 2023) that ended with "inject this into my eyeballs right now".
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2
'SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE'
'Across the Spider-Verse' was groundbreaking for both Comic Book Movies (CBMs) and animation. I was impressed with how the script balanced the introduction of multiple new characters while keeping the multiverse and CBM storyline fresh in a time of media fatigue for both. The animation pushed the boundaries of the medium yet again, and I absolutely admire the mammoth team effort and thought put into developing the different universe art styles.

5 out of 5, no notes. An event that transcends space and time. Something I will be very annoying about to my grandkids to remind them constantly that I was there to see it on opening night.
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1
'RENAISSANCE: A FILM BY BEYONCÉ'
Well... my life trajectory changed right there in that cinema seat at 12pm on a weekday. 'Renaissance' is a brilliantly crafted concert tour film and documentary following Beyoncé's "world" tour (there were only European and North American dates). I adore live concert documentation and believe it’s one of the most underrated and difficult crafts. 'Renaissance' shines a spotlight on this by documenting a massive tour production with a crew of hundreds. The editing is an absolute highlight – a technical marvel piecing together archival and live footage with an astute balance of comedy, pacing, and visual spectacle.

'Renaissance' is a victory lap for Beyoncé, showcasing her sheer genius in her artistry and reminding us of her legacy in the entertainment industry.

JAKE WATT
Jake
This is less of a "best movies of 2023" list and more of a compilation of the films I was able to watch this year between juggling a one-year-old and an office job. Aside from the evaporation of my free time, my tastes have changed, too. I shy away from graphic violence and super-depressing themes (this from someone who gave four stars to Isabella Eklöf's 'Holiday' and Sandra Wollner's 'The Trouble with Being Born' a few years ago), struggle to sit through long tentpole films ('Killers of the Flower Moon', I’m looking at you, 'Oppenheimer' gets a pass) and have minimal patience for superhero schlock.

Anyway, this is what I watched and dug this year...

5
'THE POPE'S EXORCIST'
I have no idea why Russell Crowe has been starring in B-grade flicks for the last few years. I’m guessing it’s easy money. Or he thinks it's fun to shoot in nice locations around the world. Or someone is blackmailing him.

Ostensibly based on true events, with Crowe playing Father Gabriele Amorth, who claimed to have performed over 50,000 exorcisms, Julius Avery's 'The Pope's Exorcist' is an '80s-set horror flick that replaces the actual pontiff of the time, Poland's John Paul II, with an unnamed Italian Pope played by Franco Nero, the original 'Django'. If that doesn’t give you some idea of the vibe, nothing will, unless it’s Crowe riding around the Spanish countryside (the movie was actually shot in Ireland) on a motor scooter half his width.

'The Pope's Exorcist' is not a good horror film but, unlike David Gordon Green's terrible 'The Exorcist: Believer', Avery's movie works perfectly as a comedy, both intentionally and unintentionally. I was laughing hard from the moment Russell Crowe says "bène" (he alternates between speaking Italian and using an "Italian" accent), to the appearance of a demonically-possessed child (who is inexplicably voiced by Yorkshire actor Ralph Ineson) and the film's batshit crazy Catholic action thriller ending that compiles seemingly every supernatural trope.

4
'FAIR PLAY'
The feature debut of writer-director Chloe Domont, 'Fair Play' tells the story of a young, engaged couple whose secret relationship stands in violation of their Manhattan hedge fund management firm's non-fraternisation policy. Both eagerly seeking to climb the corporate ladder, Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) work as analysts for an unfeeling, Machiavellian boss, Campbell (Eddie Marsan).

It's important to note that Domot's film isn't really about finance, it's about the relationship at the heart of it. You could swap in various other industries and the core themes - psychological thrills, the impact of capitalism on morality, toxic relationships - would remain the same (whereas, say, J.C. Chandor's 'Margin Call' is about corporate greed and the actions of banks during the 2008 crisis). 'Fair Play' isn't just about not mixing business with pleasure, it’s about power struggle and ego. Instead of uplifting, Luke tears Emily down, and instead of knowing where he is needed in the relationship and in the office, he tries to regain the power that he feels he deserves through any means possible.

3
'GODLAND'
Set in the late 19th century, the film follows a Lutheran priest from Denmark (Elliott Crosset Hove) who journeys to Iceland to oversee the establishment of a new parish church, only to have his faith tested by the harsh conditions of an unfamiliar landscape. The Dane also clashes with his assigned Icelandic guide, Ragnar (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson).

'Godland' has more than a touch of Werner Herzog to it. Very meditative pacing and bold directing choices from Hlynur Pálmason ('A White, White Day'), who is not afraid to let Maria von Hausswolff's camera linger on something spectacular for long periods of time. For some reason, I really like movies set in nature in that sort of cold wet coastal climate. Outside of that, it’s a pretty interesting commentary on colonialism, something I don't think I have ever seen in the context of Iceland before, as well as the fragility of faith in the face of nature.

Did I mention that this is one of the most beautifully photographed films I've watched in a long time? That long, macro-to-micro pan and hard-cut to a volcano? As Martin Scorsese would say, this is cinema.

2
'PAST LIVES'
Starring Greta Lee, this intimate drama follows Nora, a New Yorker whose world gets shaken up when a friend from her childhood in Korea comes to visit. After reconnecting with Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) as an adult, she’s forced to confront how her life could have been different if her family hadn’t immigrated to the U.S. and she hadn't married Arthur (John Magaro). Although the movie is primarily told from Nora’s perspective, 'Past Lives' takes the time to flesh out both Hae Sung and Arthur’s characters.

The acting by Greta Lee and Teo Yoo emphasizes all the underlying things transpiring just beneath the dialogue and interpersonal interactions. Parts of 'Past Lives' are in Korean but no subtitles are needed to read body language. It's beautifully written, acted, and directed. It's sad but not depressing, just emotionally honest. The film explores Nora's pain as she grapples with her past and what could have been, as well as her husband's pain and patience, knowing his wife needed to come to terms with this. It's like a more optimistic, less soul-destroying riff on Andrew Haigh's '45 Years' and a perfect film for anyone who ever bumped into a high school crush and realised you still shared chemistry.
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1
'DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOUR AMONG THIEVES'
With coherently shot action scenes, clever set pieces, an excellent cast (the way Hugh Grant delivered lines like "You look like a well-read fisherman... with secrets" made me smile) and a great-looking fantasy world, 'Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves' was by far the most entertaining new film I watched in 2023. What I enjoyed the most about it was how sincere it is. There were so many moments where a lesser movie would’ve undercut an emotional beat with a stupid "well, that just happened" joke or a moment of humiliation. Directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley respect their characters while also letting them be really funny, without undermining the world building or plot. That quality is amazingly refreshing in a modern adventure movie.

I liked this movie so much that I'm still tempted to buy 'The Art and Making of Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves' by Eleni Roussos every time I walk past my local Dymocks bookstore.
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DAVE LEE
Dave
5
'JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4'
Without a doubt, one of the all-time defining action flicks. Slick choreography, spectacular cinematography, and a killer story. Without hyperbole, the movie holds two of the greatest action scenes ever, that’ll be talked about constantly in the future. The three-hour runtime breezes by like an assassin (or 20) through a windshield.
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4
'BARBIE'
A pure delight! Bright, bubbly, effervescent, hilarious. One of the funniest movies in years and one of the most emotional, touching and meaningful. Clever parody, punchy commentary — it’s in your face, it’s daring, it’s powerful, it packs huge punch! The surprise of the year.
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3
'SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE'
This is what it must have been like to see 'Snow White' in 1937. 'Across the Spider-Verse' is a revelation and one of the greatest-ever achievements of U.S. animation. A work of art and artistic genius. A truly groundbreaking feat of cinema.
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2
'OPPENHEIMER'
Christopher Nolan fires on all cylinders. A brisk three-hour epic that's as beautiful as it is harrowing. A stark character study, a message, a warning that leaves you with existential dread. A deep, haunting, complex movie that demands exploration of thought and emotion. Superb filmmaking all round.
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1
'BABYLON'
Damien Chazelle crafts an absolutely turgid, insanely repugnant masterpiece. A hate letter to Hollywood, that somehow reminds us how much we love cinema despite its depraved history. It’s not for everyone and is (obviously) highly divisive, but I loved every bat-shit crazy moment of this romantic nightmare.
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JOEL KALKOPF
Joel
5
'THE BOY AND THE HERON'
Hayao Miyazaki goes for one last swan song in this mesmerising, bewildering and fantastical tale. While it takes some time to get going and doesn't reach the heights of some of his earlier work, Miyazaki is ever as explorative and doesn't hold back when raising the questions of what it means to live. He wants to leave a legacy that spans beyond his art and perhaps beyond our comprehension, and in doing so he's made a final film that lives on in the memory of the brilliance we have witnessed.
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4
'BABYLON'
I have continued to go back and forth on this film to decide whether it is daringly brilliant, or brazenly obnoxious - and I think it’s a bit of both, which is why it just works. My most revisited soundtrack of the year supports this wild ride into 1920s Hollywood that is just as dark and tragic as it is entertaining. It takes guts to essentially make a prequel to 'Singin' in the Rain', and while it holds no candle to its predecessor Damien Chazelle still manages to delightfully continue his trend of exploring ambition beyond our dreams and circumstances. As a bonus, it also contains my scene of the year when they first try to film on the soundstage with disastrous consequences.
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3
'TÁR'
A renowned concert conductor unravelling under the cloud of cancel culture, Cate Blanchett is absolutely brilliant as the maestro monster. This high position on my list has so much to do with Blanchett’s performance, who portrays a struggling artist grappling with the demise of power. It’s perfectly shot, containing some of the best set designs and mise en scène this year. It never quite goes where you expect it to go - or rather, it never shows you what you think it's meant to. Director Todd Field consistently plays with the audience and manipulates much like his protagonist, culminating in a film that is an absolute standout.
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2
'OPPENHEIMER'
One half of the Barbenheimer craze that swept the world, this latest from Christopher Nolan is cinema at its finest. The brilliance of Dr Oppenheimer is matched by Nolan in how he crafts and moulds his film that even this "biopic" is nothing like we’ve seen before. Nolan takes the pride and unrivalled guilt that envelops Oppenheimer and uses it to play with the genre to startling and overwhelming results. The scope is enormous, and yet it’s the still character moments from an ensemble cast as big as a nuclear bomb that truly define the film. It is a profound and captivating film, which speaks volumes to Nolan's ability for a story that is mostly men talking in rooms. I barely blinked in the 3-hour runtime, and I’ve barely stopped thinking about it since - what more can one ask for?
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1
'THE FABELMANS'
If there is one man whose art therapy session I would love to be a fly on the wall for, it would be Steven Spielberg. Arguably one of the greatest filmmakers of his - or any - generation, what a privilege it was to be invited into his semi-autobiographical home, and witness parts of what made the man he turned out to be. The cinematic fire that’s lit inside Sammy when he watches his first feature film, and the parallels of viewing his own work from a personal perspective are certainly not lost on me. Like any great story, there is tragedy and drama, but the sweetness and perseverance in how he rises from the ashes can be an inspiration to us all. Spielberg rarely does any wrong, and this is no exception.
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