Despite two major union strikes, an ever-shifting schedule and an international film community still finding its feet after the emergence of COVID-19, 2023 turned out to be a tremendous year, with great new works from some of our greatest filmmakers to unexpected gems to a highly anticipated two-film event that actually lived up to expectations. As the year draws to a close though, my greedy eyes are already turning to the year ahead and what exciting films we have to look forward to.
Firstly, to get two things out of the way...
Because Australian release dates are an ever-increasing mess, some of the best films of the 2023 award season aren't out in Australia until the first months of 2024, so technically they should be on this list. Rather than give each their own entry though (which would have just taken up the whole list), I want to just quickly mention them here. I've seen 'All of Us Strangers', 'May December', 'Perfect Days', 'Monster' and 'Anatomy of a Fall', and can vouch for each being absolutely brilliant. I'm also desperate to see 'The Zone of Interest', 'The Holdovers', 'Priscilla', 'Ferrari', 'The Iron Claw' and 'The Color Purple'. All these great films are going to make for a busy start to the Australian film calendar.
Despite Disney stepping mostly away from 2024, there's still a lot of franchise sequels coming out this year. Some I do single out in this list, but I thought it would be worth mentioning them here, things like 'Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes', 'Deadpool 3', 'Joker: Folie à Deux', 'Beetlejuice 2', 'A Quiet Place: Day One', 'Kung Fu Panda 4', 'Inside Out 2', 'Bad Boys 4', 'Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire', 'Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire'... and that barely scratches the surface. Considering the diminishing returns of franchise blockbusters this past year, I'm cautious about pretty much all of these (and frankly, dubious about most of them), but they're worth mentioning nonetheless.
Now, on with the list.
This honestly feels like the biggest film on this list, the second part of Denis Villeneuve's gargantuan adaptation of Frank Herbert's sci-fi masterpiece. The first part was stunning, a visually awe-inspiring achievement that captured so much of what makes the book intriguing and arresting, but as anyone who has read Herbert’s novel knows, the second half is significantly more insane than the first. If Villeneuve sticks the landing, audiences will be in for a real shock, both for the scale of this thing, where Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) will stand and ultimately what 'Dune' as a whole is actually about. It should be maniacal and magnificent.
After making history with his Oscar-winning masterpiece 'Parasite', beloved South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho returns to science fiction with this highly anticipated adaptation of the novel by Edward Ashton, where a man on a colonising mission to a far-off planet finds he can be regenerated with his memories intact if he should die. Director Bong and actor Robert Pattinson is an absolute dream pairing, along with Stephen Yeun, Naomi Ackie, Toni Collette and Mark Ruffalo. Considering how idiosyncratic and terrific his previous sci-fi efforts have been ('Snowpiercer' and 'Okja'), it'll be thrilling to see what Director Bong does with the weight of a major studio behind him.
One of the two films on this list delayed due to the Actor and Writers Strikes in 2023, 'Challengers' could not tick more of my boxes if it tried - a sexually-charged semi-queer drama set in the world of tennis, starring Zendaya, Josh O'Connor and Mike Faist, directed by Luca Guadagnino, with a score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. I remember watching the trailer on the bus, and I was so overwhelmed by it, I felt like I was watching something pornographic in public. And considering Guadagnino has never missed, this should be a sumptuous delight.
I should also point out that, with the delay releasing 'Challengers', Guadagnino has gone and shot another film, an adaptation of William S. Burroughs’ novel 'Queer' with Daniel Craig, so we may be getting two films from Guadagnino in 2024.
If anything on this list could be bigger than 'Dune: Part Two', it’s this: George Miller's follow-up to his jaw-dropping 2015 masterpiece 'Mad Max: Fury Road'. Leaving the character of Max behind to give us the origin story for the last film’s breakout character, 'Furiousa' sees Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role, with Chris Hemsworth stepping into the male co-star (but probably not heroic) position. Details are rightly minimal on this one, but the trailer suggested this will probably induce some sort of collective religious experience. We weren’t prepared for 'Fury Road'. We’re fully prepared for 'Furiosa'.
I'm including this film on this list because... well... it’s just so wonderfully bizarre that it exists. A follow-up to the 1996 blockbuster hit 'Twister', one that its star Glen Powell insists is neither a sequel nor a remake, and is director Lee Isaac Chung's follow-up to his Oscar-winning wonder 'Minari' (2020), it all just seems insane. As with so many films on this list, we don’t really know what this film will be about, but at the very least, let's hope it's as great a piece of dumb fun as the original. With as unexpected a person as Lee Isaac Chung at the helm, I kinda think it might be.
This really could go so many ways. The idea of a sequel to the Oscar-winning monolith 'Gladiator' seems foolish, but then Ridley Scott has done the foolish thing before, and at the very least, this should be intriguing. What really makes this tantalising is the calibre of the cast, which includes giants like Denzel Washington, recent breakout stars like Pedro Pascal, and most intriguing of all, Oscar-nominee Paul Mescal in the lead role as Lucius, the nephew of Joaquin Phoenix's Emperor Commodus from the first film. Mescal, probably the best actor of his generation, has always been reticent to step into a blockbuster project, but has done here for Sir Ridley Scott. It may just be so he can work with one of the best directors in the world, but it may also be because this could be a much richer, much more powerful film than we’re expecting.
To get some things out of the way - I cannot stand the stage musical on which this is based, I do not understand why they need to structure this as a two-part film, and on further reflection, I’m not that enamoured with the way director Jon M. Chu handled the direction of 'In The Heights' (despite what I wrote at the time). So why am I including this on my list? Well, everything we know so far suggests this is a big production, and it's been a long time since we had a true musical epic. It’s also been in development for years, so seeing it will probably feel like a sense of catharsis at least. And the casting of Cynthia Erivo and Ariana Grande is equal parts inspired and intriguing in so many ways. I’m most sceptical of this film more than any on this list, but despite my dislike for the material, I am genuinely curious to see what the hell this thing is going to be.
It’s been a good long while since we had a feature film from British director Steve McQueen ('12 Years A Slave'). His last film 'Widows' was a box office disappointment but an absolute banger of a film, so there’s a lot of anticipation for 'Blitz', his meticulous recreation of the London Blitz bombings during the Second World War. McQueen is both writer and director on the film, with Saoirse Ronan, Harris Dickinson, Stephen Graham and Kathy Burke in the cast, and considering the masterful and astute way McQueen has dealt with the past in his previous films, this should be one of the event films of the year.
Writer and director Alex Garland has been pushing towards something big since he started directing his own films, particularly with his beautifully ambitious sci-fi horror 'Annihilation' (2018). With 'Civil War', it looks like Garland has stepped up his game. Just from the trailer, which suggests a future where the United States has once again collapsed into an inter-state civil war, this film looks enormous, not just in terms of its action but its potential social and political commentary. It also places Kirsten Dunst as the lead, with Wagner Murou, Nick Offerman and Jesse Plemons in supporting roles, which should be reason enough to get excited.
It's entirely possible this won’t come out in the next 12 months, but it would be remiss of me not to include the next collaboration between director Yorgos Lanthimos and actor Emma Stone, especially following the slam-dunk of 'Poor Things'. All we know at this stage is that the film, originally called 'AND', is an anthology film co-written by Lanthomos and his longtime collaborator Efthymis Filippou, and that Stone is joined by Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau and Joe Alwyn, but with the success of all of Lanthimos' films, anything new from the director and his new longtime collaborator should be considered an event.
Again, it’s unsure whether we will see this in 2024, but this may low-key be the film I am most looking forward to in the near future, Chilean director Pablo Larraín's biopic on the final days in the life of legendary opera singer Maria Callas. 'Maria' rounds out Larraín's unofficial trilogy of biographic melodramas on iconic women of the last century, starting with the magnificent dark opera 'Jackie' (2016) and followed by the unusual gothic chamber piece 'Spencer' (2021), both films I absolutely adored. Like those films, 'Maria' will feature a showcase central performance with Angelina Jolie playing Callas, and if 'Jackie' and 'Spencer' are anything to go by, this should be an opulent, unusual and totally captivating way to close out this strange trilogy.
Honestly, I’ll believe that 'Megalopolis' exists when I’m actually sitting in a cinema and the final credits are rolling. Not only does it mark the long-awaited return of legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, not only is it his dream project that he’s been developing since the 80s, not only is it a gigantic sci-fi epic, not only did Coppola finance the film entirely on his own to preserve full creative control, but it will also be his last film. And apart from this and its remarkable cast (including Adam Driver, Aubrey Plaza, Laurence Fishburne, Kathryn Hunter, Jason Schwartzman and Forest Whitaker), we know next to nothing about it. Isn’t all that enough though to justify its place on this list?
I wasn’t sure whether to include this on my list, mostly because it feels the most precarious. 'Paddington' was an unexpected delight and 'Paddington 2' is a masterpiece, but while Ben Whishaw does reprise the titular role and co-writer on the first films Simon Farnaby is once again on co-writing duties here, director Paul King isn’t directing this one, handing the project over to music video director Dougal Wilson. There’s no doubt that much of the aesthetic and emotional success of the first two films is down to King’s extraordinary direction, but let’s not forget that we turned the cinematic Paddington into a mocking meme before he arrived and charmed our hearts. If we’ve learned anything from the past, it’s not to underestimate this series.
So there’s a look at some of the films I’m excited to see in the next 12 months. That said, I’ve barely scratched the surface, and that’s just the ones we know about. We still have all the great films that will emerge from Sundance, Cannes, Venice and Toronto, those independent, arthouse and international gems that will likely trump pretty much every film on this list. If the next twelve months are anything like the last twelve, we have a great year of cinema to look forward to.