Well, that’s another year over. As with most years, 2023 has left us with a huge legacy of films, some great, some terrible and many in between. It’s also shown further proof that physical media’s ‘death’ has been greatly exaggerated with a new label, Radiance, impressing collectors already with their first year of releases and the old stalwarts delivering a veritable torrent of excellent discs and box sets. I watched and reviewed a lot of boutique Blu-rays this year but I didn’t come close to covering everything I wanted to watch. Needless to say, my already vast ‘to-watch’ list has grown into an unholy behemoth that I will likely never conquer.

If you’re interested in what I saw in 2023 and beyond, I try to keep tabs of everything I watch, new or otherwise, at Letterboxd. It’s a cool site if you’re not aware of it, offering a social network for film geeks and a place to track the films you’ve seen or want to see.

As usual for this time of the year, I’ve compiled a list of my favourite new and old films, as well my favourite physical media releases of 2023, and I’ve asked my fellow writers to do the same.

Below are the top 10s and other lists of the year from a handful of our contributors. As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments section and feel free to include your own lists.

I’ve included links to reviews when available.

David Brook

Top 10 New Releases (going by widespread UK release dates, though I caught a few of these early at festivals and such)

10. Pamfir – This strikingly well-shot Ukrainian crime drama, with an animalistic, elemental edge, snuck under the radar somewhat when it was released last year. The core narrative offers nothing new, perhaps, but it’s tough, gripping and very well put together and performed.

9. Power Alley – This isn’t actually out yet but I think it’s one to look out for, after I caught a festival screening of the film. It’s a bold drama about female friendship and abortion rights in Brazil. It’s unflinching in its depiction of the issues at hand but filled with vitality and humanity, preventing it from feeling grim.

8. Past Lives A nuanced and natural romantic drama, this lived up to the hype it’s been receiving from critics around the world. I found I could closely relate to some elements of the film, helping it connect deeply, but it’s a beautiful film, no matter how you approach it.

7. The Eight Mountains – Intimate yet epic, this story charts the friendship of two boys and later men as they help each other to find themselves and their place in the world. Taking its time, gradually unfolding against the grand vistas of the Italian Alps, it’s a quiet but sweeping drama that I found transfixing.

6. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On This blend of live action and animation is a philosophical charmer that could easily have felt overly twee or struggled to make the transition from a series of shorts to feature length. However, it works a treat and is a thought-provoking, heart-warming pleasure to watch.

5. River – I’ve written a full review of this that isn’t due to post for a couple of weeks (I got my screener very early) but I couldn’t help but include River in my list. Like the makers’ previous film, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, it takes a high concept surrounding time loops and uses it as a base for a light, charming comedy.

4. Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry – This isn’t out until March but it played at a couple of festivals and is well worth waiting for. It’s a beautiful, quiet, occasionally wryly funny late-blooming love story. It’s refreshingly frank and unvarnished but still manages to be touching and sweet in its own unique way.

3. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse – I loved the first film so I was very much looking forward to this and it didn’t disappoint. Like its predecessor, Across the Spider-Verse is a visually striking, inventive, emotionally satisfying and thrilling ride that had me desperate to find out what will happen next with the franchise.

2. Four Daughters – Apologies for adding another title that’s not actually out yet but this film totally floored me when I caught it at a festival screening. Four Daughters is a truly fascinating documentary about adolescence, independence, abuse, indoctrination and more. It centres around tough subject matter but a unique approach that brings in aspects of performance and a form of dramatic therapy makes it mesmerising and deeply thought-provoking rather than brutally depressing.

1. Love According to Dalva – This is another film that sadly came and went with little fanfare. I thought it was stunning though and recommend everyone to track it down on streaming. Love According to Dalva takes a sensitive look at a young girl coming to terms with the aftermath of years of abuse. It’s tough but focuses on rehabilitation rather than the abuse itself, making for a profoundly moving experience that isn’t as unwatchable grim as you might expect from the subject matter.

Honourable mentions – The Boy and the Heron, Godzilla Minus One, Killers of the Flower Moon, John Wick: Chapter 4, Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves, Polite Society, Sisu

Notable films missed or not released in the UK yet – Poor Things, May December, The Zone of Interest, Anatomy of a Fall, The Holdovers, Asteroid City

Top 20 Older First Time Watches
* Click on the links to read full reviews when available

20. Pandora’s Box
19. A Moment of Romance
18. Smooth Talk
17. Wanda
16. Cutter’s Way
15. The Big Gundown
14. She Shoots Straight
13. Typhoon Club
12. Le Combat dans l’île
11. Man on the Roof
10. Ga-Ga: Glory to the Heroes
9. The War of the Worlds: Next Century
8. Il Sorpasso
7. Burning Paradise
6. The Dead Mother
5. The Seventh Curse
4. In the Heat of the Night
3. Arsenic and Old Lace
2. The Shop Around the Corner
1. Royal Warriors

Honourable mentions – The Philadelphia Story, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Vagabond, Never Take Sweets From a Stranger, Fists in the Pocket

Favourite Blu-Rays of the Year

Top 20 Single Title Releases

20. The Dead Mother – Radiance
19. The City of Lost Children – Studiocanal
18. Walking the Edge – Fun City
17. Welcome to the Dollhouse – Radiance
16. Run, Man, Run – Eureka
15. The Bullet Train – Eureka
14. Typhoon Club – Third Window
13. The House That Screamed – Arrow
12. Targets – BFI
11. Pandora’s Box – Eureka
10. Wanda – Criterion
9. Man on the Roof – Radiance
8. All That Heaven Allows – Criterion
7. The Big Gundown – Indicator
6. Smooth Talk – Criterion
5. Cross of Iron – Studiocanal
4. Jacob’s Ladder – Imprint
3. Cutter’s Way – Fun City
2. Martin – Second Sight
1. Brotherhood of the Wolf – Studiocanal

There were so many great discs released this year – with plenty of worthy titles that didn’t make the cut. I went with Brotherhood of the Wolf as my number one title though because the sheer volume of material was gobsmacking. Yes, most of it had appeared on various older releases, but we’ve never had all this material together on a UK disc and I was also surprised at how little crossover in stories and information there was between the countless of hours of commentaries, documentaries and interviews. Plus the transfer is impeccable. Bravo Studiocanal.

Honourable mentions – Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife – Indicator, Broken Lullaby – Indicator, In the Line of Duty IV – Eureka, Lady Reporter – Eureka, God of Gamblers – 88 Films, Royal Warriors – Eureka, State of the Union – Indicator, She Shoots Straight – Eureka, Twilight – Second Run, Black God, White Devil – Mawu/Radiance

Top 10 Multi-film Boxsets

10. Magnificent Obsession – Criterion (comes with the original film too)
9. Commedia All’Italiana – Radiance
8. Tod Browning’s Sideshow Freaks – Criterion
7. Cosa Nostra: Franco Nero in three Mafia Tales by Damiano Damiani – Radiance
6. Hopping Mad: The Mr Vampire Sequels – Eureka
5. The End of Civilization – Radiance (* I haven’t finished watching it yet but what I’ve seen of the first two discs is incredible)
4. Andrzej Zulawski: Three Films – Eureka
3. Wakaliwood Supa Action Vol 1. – 101 Films/AGFA
2. Directed by… Walter Hill – Imprint
1. Bruce Lee at Golden Harvest – Arrow

Though newcomers Radiance have the most entries in my list, it was Arrow’s Bruce Lee at Golden Harvest that had to take the overall title. Of course it’s very much playing to my tastes, but there’s such a vast array of extra material and alternative cuts here, it deserves all the credit it can get. Plus, it contains one of the best special features I’ve had the pleasure to have seen, Final Game of Death. This unique and epic piece digs deep into Lee’s original vision for Game of Death and the material that remained from the original shoot, as well as providing an attempt at cutting it together as closely to what it’s believed Lee wanted. I can’t praise it enough.

I’d like to add that I’m only one man, so can’t watch every disc or boxset released each year. Notable sets I’d like to mention that look amazing but I haven’t got around to watching yet are Radiance’s World Noir Vol. 1, 88 Films’ Fight Back to School Trilogy and Long Arm of the Law set, Vinegar Syndrome’s Lost Picture Show, Criterion’s Small Axe, Arrow’s Enter the Video Store and Four Film Noir Classics Vols. 2 & 3, Shout Factory’s Shaw Brothers Classics sets, Indicator’s Universal Noir #2, Mexico Macabre, From Hollywood to Heaven, Tod Slaughter and Michael J Murphy sets. I will note that I’ve been slowly chipping away at that last one mentioned and, whilst the films haven’t blown me away yet, I’ve found them strangely fascinating and the extras help you appreciate what went into making these ambitious micro-budget films.

Honourable mentions – Essential Film Noir Collection 5 – Imprint, The Royal Tramp Collection – Eureka

Andy Goulding

2023 Films I’ve Yet to See to Which I’m Most Looking Forward: The Boy and the Heron, Fallen Leaves, Showing Up, Anatomy of a Fall, The First Slam Dunk, Bottoms, Killers of the Flower Moon.

Honourable Mentions:

Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One – Although the plot about malevolent AI is silly even for this franchise, the action sequences still continue to impress enough to carry it.

Rye Lane – An enjoyable and inventive Rom-Com, scuppered only slightly by an increased adherence to genre tropes in the final stretch.

Air – A solid example of a film that makes a series of meetings compelling, Air breezes by on a sharp script and good performances.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse – Another visually inventive, good-humoured and well-paced Spider-Verse film, denied a place in my top 10 largely due to the fatigue I feel in relation to both superheroes and multiverses.

Lola – A nifty, low-budget Sci-Fi which takes a fairly well-worn premise and makes it feel fresh. A handful of original songs by Neil Hannon are the icing on the cake.

No Bears – Another fascinating glimpse of Iranian culture through the eyes of the politically-oppressed Jafar Panahi, who again appears as a fictionalised version of himself.

Never Be a Punching Bag for Nobody – Delightful documentary from Galaxie 500 frontwoman Naomi Yang, exploring intertwined themes related to an East Boston boxing gym, the history of its neighbourhood and Yang’s own troubled past.

Blue Jean – Brilliant British drama about a gay PE teacher in 1980s Newcastle and the detrimental effects of Thatcher’s Section 28 on the life of her and her friends.

Shortcomings – Confident directorial debut from the multi-talented Randall Park, who crafts an amusing but weighty indie-spirited comedy around one of the most insufferable lead characters imaginable (in a good way).

Pamela, A Love Story – I’ve watched a lot of great documentaries this year but sadly none of them quite made it into my top 10. This look at the life and career of Pamela Anderson, made with Anderson’s full cooperation, came closest. A real eye-opener in terms of 90s and 00s attitudes, Anderson is an extremely engaging and likeable presence and guides us through a sometimes harrowing story with consistent good-humour.

Top 10 Films of 2023:

10. Suzume – Makoto Shinkai’s response to the devastating 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, Suzume manages to combine a sense of whimsical fantasy with hefty themes of life and death in a way which is never disrespectful to the subject matter but which allows for it to be tackled in an entertaining fashion. I’ve sometimes found Shinkai’s past work a tad overwrought but in Suzume he finds a winning balance between humour and drama, with characters like a malevolent kitten and a human who has been transformed into a broken chair adding a witty, fantastical edge. The animation is fantastic, particularly the scenes of Suzume and her companions working to prevent the encroachment of supernatural wormlike forces that cause earthquakes, and the character animation of the galloping chair, which never stops being funny.

9. Past Lives Celine Song’s extraordinarily assured debut film Past Lives finally gives us a sober exploration of the way in which we shape our own lives which is never cold nor clinical but also avoids the evocation of supernatural forces or fatuous fairy dust fantasies like fate and destiny. Song recognises the beauty, sadness and wonder in the enormity of a lifetime’s events and she manages to put across that feeling without having to introduce artificial flourishes. The cleverness of Song’s screenplay is in how it never once puts too much significance on what could have been but also never diminishes the influence that fleeting connections can have on our subsequent lives. Although it remains refreshingly grounded in its approach to its subject, Past Lives does not shy away from the beauty of the world around us. It’s a fantastic debut that takes an original and affecting passage to emotional engagement with its audience. For those for whom it succeeds, it does so handsomely.

8. Polite Society – I really enjoyed Nida Manzoor’s TV comedy series We Are Lady Parts so when I heard that she’d made a feature film I was excited. Polite Society turned out to be even better: a crowd-pleasing Action Comedy with plenty of fights and elements of the Heist genre thrown in. The film exists in a heightened reality which combines social realism with sudden bursts of over-the-top action and preposterous plot twists. It never once cops out by portraying these moments as dreams or merely the viewpoint of the protagonist, and in refusing to do so it delivers a satirical critique of arranged marriages that refuses to pull its punches, literally or figuratively.

7. Pearl – I was not a fan of Ti West’s Horror film X but I was sufficiently intrigued by details of its prequel Pearl to give it a look. I’m so glad I did because I absolutely loved Pearl. The origin story of X’s elderly villain, the film delves back into Pearl’s youth on a Texas homestead, her dreams of escape by achieving stardom intertwined with telltale signs of her psychopathy. The latter overwhelm the former as Pearl’s dreams crumble and she begins to hit out at those she sees as having done her wrong. Inspired by the classic Hollywood aesthetic, Pearl’s grisly developments are offset by its sumptuous pastiche of Technicolor melodrama and Mia Goth is extraordinary as the title character, her lack of an Oscar nomination rightly causing an uproar. The already iconic final image is a perfect summation of the film’s unsettling mix of desperate, melancholy Horror and camply excessive Black Comedy.

6. May December – Loosely inspired by the Mary Kay Letourneau scandal of the 90s, Todd Haynes’ May December depicts a marriage between Gracie, a woman who went to prison for the rape of a 13-year-old boy, and Joe, her now of-age victim. This already uncomfortable union is rocked further by the arrival of a famous actress named Elizabeth who is due to portray Gracie in an upcoming film and wants to get to grips with her character. What could’ve been entirely lurid in the hands of a lesser director becomes a fascinating, multilayered Psychodrama under Haynes’ superb guidance. Haynes’ boldest step is to introduce an ongoing vein of dark humour that at times becomes fully absurd, as in an already widely memed moment involving hotdogs. The film wears its influences on its sleeve, with Ingmar Bergman’s Persona being filtered through a knowing daytime soap aesthetic with remarkable results. The central trio of performances are excellent, with Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman receiving deserved praise but the majority of the awards buzz going to a revelatory Charles Melton.

5. Love According to Dalva – An extraordinarily assured, deeply moving debut from French director Emmanuelle Nicot, Love According to Dalva follows the story of a twelve-year-old girl who was kidnapped and sexually abused by her father. Although the subject matter sounds overwhelmingly bleak, the film itself focuses on the aftermath and rehabilitation of the titular Dalva, with an astute examination of the effect the experience has had on her which completely avoids melodrama or sentimentality. The film has a concise 83-minute runtime and uses every one of those minutes to explore its themes with laudable realism that works on the emotions without ever feeling manipulative in the slightest. A stunning debut that should be more widely seen.

4. Somewhere in Queens – Ray Romano’s directorial debut took me completely by surprise. Though I’ve never been a fan of the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, I’ve always liked Romano as a comedian and thought he nailed his comparatively straight role in The Big Sick. Somewhere in Queens turned out to be a layered, complex comedy-drama with a surprisingly dark undercurrent. It’s a film that reminded me of another underrated favourite, Tom McCarthy’s Win Win, as in both films a basically likeable character makes a series of reprehensible decisions with the intention of helping his family but at the expense of someone else’s wellbeing. Romano and Mark Stegemann have written an exceptional screenplay and Romano also gives a great lead performance. I thought about this film a lot after watching it and can’t wait to see it again. It’s a low-key affair rather than a big crowdpleaser, which may explain why it went so under the radar, but I can’t wait to see it again.

3. Asteroid City – My biggest u-turn of the year came with Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City. On first watch I thought Asteroid City was finally a Wes Anderson film that was too arch and overstuffed with ideas even for an Anderson devotee like me. On a rewatch a few months later I absolutely loved it. I can well understand how a film this ambitious and narratively bizarre would just get on some people’s nerves as it did mine the first time but clearly I was just in the wrong mood. The Chinese boxes structure, which examines the main narrative as if it is part of a TV documentary about its own creation which somehow also openly acknowledges the artifice of the whole enterprise, seemed clever, playful and original the second time round. The screenplay which had at first seemed dry suddenly played as hilarious. Perhaps most importantly, I found the emotional core which initially seemed to be missing altogether, and which Anderson’s detractors regularly complain is missing from his films. Make no mistake, Asteroid City is one of Anderson’s most beautiful films, with Robert Yeoman’s colour cinematography absolutely leaping from the screen. But there’s so much beneath the surface too and for those who love Anderson’s idiosyncratic style, it’s a joy to discover those layers, even for those of us who missed them the first time.

2. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On Based on the character created by Dean Fleischer Camp and Jenny Slate who starred in a trilogy of short animations between 2010 and 2014, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On takes a seemingly limited concept and creates a hilarious, endearing and deeply moving feature film from it. Following the relationship between human documentarian Dean and the tiny anthropomorphic shell he finds living in his Airbnb, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On touches on themes of family, loss, friendship and community through a series of beautifully staged vignettes (ostensibly Dean’s short films about Marcel) that build towards a larger story about Marcel’s longing to be reunited with his family who were accidentally taken away by one of the property’s former inhabitants, leaving only Marcel and his grandmother Connie, who is succumbing to dementia. There’s such overwhelming warmth in this film. It is aware of its own absurdity but refuses to ever approach its subject with an arch detachment. Jenny Slate is terrific as the voice of Marcel, absolutely nailing the conversational tics that make her character so real despite everything, while Isabella Rossellini is an inspired piece of casting as Connie. The film maintains such a winning intimacy across its 90 minutes but its small story leaves a large emotional impact. It’s a treasure of a film and I was smiling all the way through it, even when the tears were also threatening to flow.

1. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Judy Blume’s 1970 novel Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret has long been a source of comfort and inspiration for young female readers dealing with the horrors of puberty. For that reason above all, it has also long been a source of controversy. The subject of numerous bans since its publication, elements of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret such as its frank examination of religion have been a cause of overwrought hand-wringing by those who favour indoctrination over freedom of choice, but above all it is clearly the empowering way in which Blume gives a voice to young girls that has so frightened generations of patriarchal pummellers. Even as it gradually becomes less controversial, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret still feels like a quiet revolution because, though it can and should be read by all, it is very pointedly aimed at that most underserved audience of burgeoning young women. Given the personal connection that Blume feels to this most personal of novels, she has long held out granting permission for a screen adaptation. But when she was approached by Kelly Fremon Craig, who’s charming and thematically-connected debut The Edge of Seventeen Blume had already seen and loved, Blume knew that the time to help guide Margaret to the big screen had finally come. The result of that half-century wait is a glorious screen version of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret that avoids pretty much every pitfall imaginable to create a film that is accessible across the board but which doesn’t lose that hint of a text being surreptitiously passed round by an adoring, oppressed group of readers taking back their power.

Honouring Blume’s source material by remaining largely faithful to it, Fremon Craig’s screenplay is riveting. Funny without relying on gags, moving without ever being saccharine, relevant without being heavy handed, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret breezes by so enjoyably that you don’t even realise how effectively the emotional resonance is being layered in. One scene in a restaurant bathroom reduced me to tears before I even knew what had happened, and it did so through small, realistic character moments and not an iota of manipulation. Given the weight of bigotry and hypocrisy coming from the other side of the fence, Blume would’ve been well within her rights to create something more biting and derogatory. That she chose not to shows her good taste and dedication to what’s right for the story, a lead that Fremon Craig follows admirably. There are sure to be some critics of this adaptation who complain it is “woke” but, frankly, their diametrically opposed position in this case must be defined as “asleep”. It took 53 years to get Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret from page to screen, and every one of them was worth the wait. This is celluloid so rich with detail, love and care that you can almost smell the pages of a beloved, well-thumbed book emanating from the screen.

Top 20 First Watches:

20. The Spy in Black (1939)
19. Scandal Sheet (1952)
18. Ill Met by Moonlight (1957)
17. Rififi (1955)
16. Drunken Master (1978)
15. Local Legends (2013)
14. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)
13. Hard Boiled (1992)
12. The Man Who Laughs (1928)
11. The Long Day Closes (1992)
10. Eve’s Bayou (1997)
9. El Sur (1983)
8. A Damsel in Distress (1937)
7. Dance Craze (1981)
6. A Bunch of Amateurs (2022)
5. The Reckoning (1970)
4. Company (1970)
3. Gone to Earth (1950)
2. Annie Get Your Gun (1950)
1. Ride the Pink Horse (1947)

George Pursall

In no particular order (it would be far too hard to choose!) here are my top ten home video releases of the year!

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4K Limited Edition (Second Sight)
For a film that has had such a long and varied history of home video releases, Second Sight managed to knock it out of the park with what now feels like the final, definitive release of this untouchable horror classic. While overflowing with extras and a doorstop of a book, the real star here is the 4K restoration itself. Brimming with clarity and vivid detail, the most crucial thing is that the film’s down-and-dirty aesthetic hasn’t been lost along the way. An essential release.

Fill ‘Er Up With Super (Radiance)
If you want a masterclass in how to launch a boutique home video label, you don’t need to look much further than Radiance’s superlative 2023. Jumping out of the starting blocks with a wide and varied collection of releases, the one that made the most impact on me was Fill ‘er Up With Super, Alain Cavalier’s bittersweet exploration of male friendship. To my mind, the film represents what Radiance seem to be all about – releasing beautiful, high-quality releases of films that you have’nt heard of, but then soon turn out to become instant favourites. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us in 2024.

Oppenheimer 4K
Christopher Nolan was apparently very hands-on with Oppenheimer’s home video release and, watching the final result, it’s clear to see. Boasting jaw-dropping picture quality along with a room-quaking soundtrack, this was the A/V release of the year. The film isn’t half bad either!

The Criminal Acts of Tod Slaughter (Indicator)
Indicator continue their mission of bringing to light the lost, undiscovered gems of British cinema, and in their gorgeous release of the films of 1930s horror icon Todd Slaughter, they hit the ball right out of the park. Each film is dark and deliciously fun, with not a bad one among the bunch. Add in a ton of contextualising extras, and horror fans may well believe they have died and gone to heaven.

Mexico Macabre (Indicator)
The Todd Slaughter boxset wasn’t the only horror gem released by Indicator this year. Their collection of mid century Mexican horror can easily stand tow to toe with some of Hammer’s finest. If you are a fan of the legendary British studio’s output, you’ll find lots to love here. Quite possibly the surprise hit of the year.

After Hours (Criterion)
Finally, Martin Scorsese’s criminally underrated and little seen After Hours found itself the recipient of a decent home video release via Criterion – and in 4K no less! Hilarious and crackling with energy, this is truly one of Scorsese’s gems. If you haven’t seen it, check it out as soon as you can.

Psycho Boxset 4K (Arrow)
This feels like a horror holy grail. Arrow somehow managed release all four Psycho movies in one beautiful boxset. While the first film still towers above the rest, the boxset proved that the rest of the films in the franchise are certainly worthy of appreciation. Hopefully this release will allow them to finally step out from under the first film’s colossal shadow.

The Big Gundown (Indicator)
Never before having a home video release in the UK, Indicator more than make up for lost time with this stunning release of Sergio Sollima’s brilliant spaghetti western. While not as well known as Sergio Leone’s work, this deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. A beautiful release of a stunning film.

Welcome to the Dollhouse (Radiance)
Todd Solondz’s hilarious yet bitterly sad look at childhood received a wonderful release from Radiance earlier this year. The limited edition sold out very quickly and it isn’t hard to see why – this is quite simply one of the best films of the 90s.

The Wicker Man 4K (Studio Canal)
Another horror classic received what felt like its definitive home video release this year. While the newly restored footage from the ‘final cut’ is never going to match the quality of the rest of the film, Studio Canal’s 4K restoration more than makes up for it. As chilling and haunting today as it was upon its first release, those breathtaking final moments have arguably never looked as good as they do now.

Leon Vegas

Top 10 Films of 2023

2023 was a fantastic year for cinema. Where previous years have had their fair share of hits and misses, I found 2023 to be one of the most consistent years in quite some time. There’s so much I would have loved to see before making a finalised top 10, so this will miss some of the big hitters like Past Lives, Anatomy of a Fall, The Boy and the Heron and of course, the critical darling Meg 2: The Trench. Let’s dive into my ten favourite films of 2023.

10. Knock at the Cabin – M. Night Shyamalan isn’t a filmmaker I’m in love with, but I’m always rooting for him. With Knock at the Cabin, he delivered my favourite film of his since Unbreakable. A single-location thriller with outstanding performances across the board, standouts include Dave Bautista proving he’s more than a wrestler-turned-wannabe-actor and Rupert Grint in a menacing supporting role. Oozing with style, feeling like a 90s thriller in the best ways, Knock at the Cabin is a return to form for M. Night and absolutely worth a watch.

9. The Killer – With David Fincher’s latest, audiences were torn. Some found it stylish, some found it lacking in character. I had a blast with the film and I’d honestly go as far to call it Fincher’s first true comedy film. Constantly ridiculing its Patrick Bateman-esque character who’s so convinced he’s the best contract killer out there, when in reality, he constantly fumbles every situation he finds himself in, in increasingly hilarious ways. Fincher’s trademark visuals are here, but there’s something so refreshing about a Fincher film that doesn’t take itself as seriously as others. Highly recommended.

8. Marcel the Shell with Shoes on – An underrated pick and technically a 2022 film if you live in the States, we only received Marcel in UK cinemas earlier this year and it was delightful to experience. One of the most endearing films I’ve watched on the big screen in a long time, it made me laugh, it made me cry, it’s gorgeously animated and I can’t suggest this one more. It’s the warm cosy blanket we all need from time to time.

7. Barbie – Greta Gerwig’s Barbie took the world by storm this year, and for good reason. It’s one of the most creative blockbusters we’ve received in years, with a colour palette that makes you want to live in the world these characters inhabit, an Oscar worthy turn from Ryan Gosling, a soundtrack comprised of bangers and most importantly, it’s fun! With how serious a lot of modern blockbusters can be, it was nice to watch a film under two hours that wanted its audience to have a good time, and I definitely did!

6. The Outwaters This one was a blind buy for me via Vinegar Syndrome’s Partner Labels and I was sold entirely from the cover art that had the text “CLOSE YOUR EYES. WE DARE YOU” as the title repeats itself multiple times like Craven’s The Last House on the Left. What I found when I checked it out this Halloween was a found footage film unlike many I’d ever seen. This micro-budget feature has a pace to it that’s almost unrivalled (there’s one found footage film I liked for this reason even more!) and the final half an hour can only be described as a found footage version of 2001: A Space Odyssey. This won’t be for everyone but I loved it!

5. Skinamarink Following on from The Outwaters, here’s my favourite found footage horror film of the year! First time director Kyle Edward Ball delivers on a film that’s unlike anything I’ve seen before. Skinamarink is the closest thing we’ll ever get to somebody who isn’t David Lynch turning dreams into nightmares. The atmosphere of this film is something else, the sound design is top-notch and this one’s been playing in my head ever since I first watched it earlier in the year. A fantastic film.

4. BlackBerry – Matt Johnson is one of the unsung heroes of the Canadian film industry. After blowing up from his dark comedy found footage film The Dirties and his VICE series Nirvanna the Band the Show, Johnson tackled something nobody expected, a biopic about the creation of the most popular phone of yesteryear, the BlackBerry. With some of the best performances of the entire year, especially from Johnson himself and Glenn Howerton, who would probably be my pick for Best Actor, BlackBerry is a hilarious recounting of something that might not have needed a film made about it, but I’m sure glad there is one.

3. Godzilla: Minus One – I’m a pretty huge kaiju movie fan and while I’ll always have a soft spot for everybody’s favourite turtle Gamera, I think the Godzilla franchise is the most consistent when it comes to delivering a good time. The original ‘54 film isn’t a fun watch and part of me always hoped that one day, we’d get a film that rivals that film in terms of tone and sheer horror. In 2023, for ‘Zilla’s 60th anniversary, Minus One was released and for my money, it’s the best Godzilla film out there. The human characters in kaiju movies are known for being less than stellar, but Minus One humanises everybody in a way that brought me to tears on multiple occasions during my viewing. It’s a film with awe-inspiring spectacle but my favourite moments were with two characters opening up to each other, or forming a plan to take down Godzilla. It’s an absolutely stellar film and one everybody should see.

2. John Wick: Chapter 4 In many ways, I wanted to have this at number one. I’ve seen it five times, gushed about it in a review on this site and it never leaves my mind. While there is a film that does indeed take one spot higher, I’d almost like to call these two spots a tie as I love the films equally. Alas, one had to come second and that’s the best action film of the decade, John Wick: Chapter 4. I find myself revisiting the Scott Adkins ‘Killa’ sequence once every week at least. Everything about this works magnificently. The action is exhausting in the best ways possible. Everything flows like butter, it’s a visual feast in every single manner, the soundtrack is full of high-energy jams, it’s a fitting conclusion to a quadrilogy of the best action films ever put to screen. John Wick: Chapter 4 is everything. If you haven’t seen this for some reason, go and check it out!

1. Beau is Afraid – My favourite film of the year is probably going to be a contentious one and with the exception to the legendary John Waters, I don’t think anybody else will have this at the top of their Best of the Year list. Ari Aster’s first two features, Hereditary and Midsommar have gone down as modern horror classics, with incredible performances, iconic visuals and cemented A24 as a household name in the horror scene. Then Beau is Afraid comes along, being A24’s most expensive production at the time, running for over three hours and almost revelling in the fact that it’s going to divide audience members. Similar to The Killer, this can be taken extremely literally by many, but I saw it as a comedy from beginning to end and it delivered the hardest laughs of the year and I’ve seen the film about six times now. Joaquin Phoenix as a momma’s boy who can’t speak for himself is the funniest thing in the world to me, there’s reveals and segments that I don’t want to spoil for the uninformed which are the definition of the word “bonkers”, it operates almost as a prank on the audience while still being one of the prettiest films of the decade. In a similar way to how people read Tom Green’s Freddy Got Fingered as a joke on the studio that financed it, Beau is Afraid feels like Aster making a film that was destined to fail at the box office, but would amass a large cult following. It’s too difficult to put into words how excellent this film is and I’m pretty sure there’s readers out there who have seen the film and absolutely hated it. It’s one of those films that will not work for everyone but checked all of the boxes for me. If you have three hours spare and you want to watch something unlike anything else out there, check out Beau is Afraid.

Top 10 Discs of 2023

10. It Follows – Second Sight Films (UHD)
9. The Chucky Collection – Arrow Video (UHD)
8. May – Second Sight Films (Blu-ray)
7. Hellraiser: Quartet of Torment – Arrow Video (UHD)
6. The Psycho Collection – Arrow Video (UHD)
5. Aftersun – MUBI (Blu-ray)
4. The Lighthouse – Arrow Video (UHD)
3. John Wick: Chapter 4 – Lionsgate (UHD)
2. After Hours – Criterion (UHD)
1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre – Second Sight Films (UHD)

Top 10 First Time Watches of 2023

While the year was excellent for both new releases and physical media, I also checked off some titles that have been on my watchlist for a while, some of them for years! In this section, I’ll highlight my ten favourite first time watches of 2023 (excluding releases from this year, of course).

10. Mysterious Skin (2004) [dir. Gregg Araki] – Prior to watching Mysterious Skin this year, the only Araki film I’d seen was Smiley Face, a stoner comedy that I’d argue is one of the greatest comedies of the 2000s. A comedy, Mysterious Skin is not. Instead, it’s a heartbreaking tale of two men who both experienced abuse by their Little League coach when they were young and how this affected their lives. It doesn’t flinch away from some really upsetting and disturbing content, but I found myself absolutely captivated from start to finish and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance as Neil had me in tears throughout. When I decided to press play on MUBI, I didn’t know what I was in for and even though it’s a tough sell, it’s an excellent film that I’m glad I checked out. 2024 is the year where I need to see more of Araki’s work, as I love the two I’ve seen!

9. Vortex (2021) [dir. Gaspar Noé] – With exception to David Lynch, who hasn’t made a film in quite some time, Gaspar Noé is arguably my favourite working filmmaker. Each one of his films offers something different, unique and completely and utterly him. Even in a filmography as varied as Noé’s, Vortex stands out as a film that doesn’t have graphic content or flashing lights, but instead a human tale of two people suffering with illnesses. It’s the feature acting debut of the master of giallo, Dario Argento, who gives an utterly tremendous performance as a man with a heart condition, and his wife, played by Françoise Lebrun, who suffers from dementia. It’s not a fun watch in any regard, but it’s an extremely powerful viewing where Gaspar continues with his split-screen style that began in Lux Æterna. It’s another tough sell due to the upsetting subject matter, but I couldn’t recommend this one more.

8. May (2002) [dir. Lucky McKee] – When the offer came up to check out Second Sight Films’ Blu-ray for this earlier in the year, I jumped at the opportunity as May had been on my watchlist for years. I’m so glad I checked it out, because it shot right to the top of my “I need to show this to everybody” list of films. If you didn’t read my review (which I’ll link here), May follows… May, a social outcast who has a hard time connecting to people, but becomes increasingly more and more obsessed with a man named Adam, after seeing his hands one day. As the film goes on, May becomes more attached to Adam and without giving away too much, the film flows between different genres in such a flawless way that I was beyond impressed. It’s hilarious, it’s sad, it’s creepy, it’s creative, it’s everything I could have wanted from a film like this. Although I gave it a 9/10 in my review, I could easily see myself bumping this up to a 10/10 in the future. Check it out, as well as the Second Sight release which is stellar!

7. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012) [dir. John Hyams] – Before watching this film, I wasn’t familiar with two subjects. First, the Universal Soldier franchise, and second, direct-to-video action films. I’d seen the first Universal Soldier years back but remembered virtually nothing, but I’d heard that you could jump into Day of Reckoning and still have a good time, so me and my friend Brady checked it out early in the year and I was completely floored. Day of Reckoning is probably one of the greatest direct-to-video films ever made, and I’ve expanded my horizons quite a bit since seeing it. It stars modern action legend Scott Adkins, as well as returning cast members Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren and this film kicks ass. It’s one of the most violent action films I’ve watched in my life, and the element that really surprised me, beyond the fantastic action, was the direction. John Hyams, son of Peter Hyams takes influences from all different corners of cinema, whether it’s Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, Noé’s Enter the Void, the work of David Lynch and Haneke’s Funny Games just to name a few. It’s lean, has a genuinely compelling performance from Adkins and it’s something that any fan of action needs to seek out immediately.

6. Killer Joe (2011) [dir. William Friedkin] – A few months ago, we lost a titan of the film industry, Mr. William Friedkin. Listing off the countless classics the man made would have me here forever, he’s worked in all genres and while I’ve not loved everything I’ve seen from Friedkin, he’s one of the directors I admire the most. After his passing, I wanted to clear up some blind spots in his filmography and decided to check out his 2011 feature Killer Joe and although this might be a controversial take, this might be my favourite Friedkin. Killer Joe follows a family of rednecks who form the most idiotic plan known to mankind, to kill a family member to collect the insurance to pay off debt collectors. From the get-go, the film is hilarious and by far the funniest film I’ve watched from Friedkin. It’s also the second collaboration between Friedkin and writer Tracy Letts, who work extremely well together. While I don’t want to spoil everything, I’ll just say that the events that transpire after the plan begins are both hilarious, disgusting and vile in equal measure. The entire third act has one of the most disturbing sequences I think I’ve ever seen, but it’s also darkly comedic due to Friedkin’s direction. Seek this one out if you’re okay with never looking at fried chicken the same way again.

5. Red Rocket (2021) [dir. Sean Baker] – Director Sean Baker has made some of my favourite films to come out in the past decade. In 2015, he shot Tangerine on an iPhone 5S and created what I’d consider an underrated Christmas classic. In 2017, he crafted one of the most human features of the 2010s with The Florida Project. And in 2021, he released what I’d consider to be his best film yet, Red Rocket. The film follows Mikey Saber, an ex-porn star who returns to his hometown in Texas and stays with his wife, who he hasn’t seen in years and promises to help with rent around the house. Immediately from the get-go, Mikey is fascinating to observe, thanks to a revolutionary performance from Simon Rex, who prior to Red Rocket, was known for his work in the Scary Movie franchise. Yes, I don’t blame you for assuming the worst when you hear that, but I’m not kidding when I say that Rex’s performance in Red Rocket is up there as one of my favourites for the decade so far. As Rex works on making money to pay for rent, he becomes enthralled with a girl who works at a donut shop nearby. I don’t really want to say much more, but the film takes a dark but oddly comedic turn as we follow Mikey and this girl, Strawberry, even though every scene they spend together makes you want to physically recoil. It contains some of the best cringe comedy I’ve seen in quite a while, and while it follows one of the most repulsive protagonists in recent cinema, Baker’s direction gives what could have been a disturbing, gross and exploitative tale into something that’s hilarious, creative and visually stunning. It’s one of my favourite character studies of the decade so far.

4. The Boxer’s Omen (1983) [dir. Kuei Chih-Hung] – Earlier in the year, I decided to dive into the work of Shaw Brothers Studio, primarily known for their martial arts features from the 60s, 70s and 80s. My favourite films I’ve discovered from SB are their horror features though, such as The Oily Maniac and Seeding of a Ghost. However, no Shaw Brothers film can compete with the utter insanity of The Boxer’s Omen. It’s a film that’s difficult to put into words. On paper, the narrative is basic and paper thin, a gangster wants vengeance for a boxer who paralysed his brother. But where the film really shines is with the gonzo creativity on display where it turns into a full-blown body horror film. It’s the most Lucio Fulci film that was never made by him. It’s full of goo, it’s unlike anything else out there. Absolutely worth your time, the ShawScope Vol. 2 release from Arrow Video contains the film, and it’s absolutely worth picking up for The Boxer’s Omen alone!

3. Mad God (2021) [dir. Phil Tippett] – Phil Tippett’s Mad God is one of the most uncompromising visions I have ever witnessed from a director. Created over the course of thirty years, it’s a testament to creativity if I’ve ever seen one. A stop-motion odyssey that follows an assassin as he travels through a hellish underworld with all sorts of horrifying creatures, violence and things that will make your skin crawl. It’s quite possibly one of the most depressing and bleak worlds I’ve witnessed in a film, but it captivated me from start to finish in a way that few films can. The animation is stunning, Tippett really makes this world feel lived in and it’s the type of film you can smell (and trust me, it’s not a nice smell!) and completely believe it exists in the reality the film establishes. It’s really out there and like a lot of films on my list, won’t be for everyone but if you’re in the mood for an animated film that’ll challenge you, probably make you feel uncomfortable but will hopefully engage you in the same way that it did for me, then check out Mad God.

2. Cure [1997] [dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa] – I covered one of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s earliest films for Blueprint earlier in the year, The Guard from Underground (which you can read here) and the reason I checked that out was due to my experience watching Cure. Constantly hailed as one of the greatest horror-thrillers ever made, I finally got the chance to check it out this year and can completely understand the love this one gets. It follows a detective who’s trying to figure out why a series of crimes has been occuring in Japan, where people are murdered and are found with an X carved into their neck. I don’t want to give away anything plot-wise, as this film works so well if you go into it as blind as humanly possible. All I’ll say is, without Cure, I don’t think we’d have any of the major J-horror films that exist today such as Audition, Ringu, Ichi the Killer or anything of that sort. While it’s not as graphic as some of the film’s mentioned, it’s easily the most terrifying due to how well Kurosawa understands fear. In the same way that David Lynch can bring dream logic to life on screen, Kiyoshi can instill fear into every viewer with a long tracking shot on a beach or a simple shot of a lighter. It’s one of the scariest films I’ve ever watched in my life and if you haven’t seen this one, check it out now. There’s a Criterion Collection release in the States, but in the UK, Eureka released a solid disc that I’d recommend.

1. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! [1965] [dir. Russ Meyer] – My favourite new discovery of the year is a Russ Meyer film. Once hailed by John Waters as ‘beyond a doubt, the best movie ever made. It is possibly better than any film that will be made in the future’, Faster, Pussycat! is one of the greatest motion pictures ever assembled. It follows a trio of go-go dancers who want to kidnap and murder everybody in their sight. It’s ludicrous, was made for $45,000 and will not appeal to everybody out there. For me, though, it was everything I could ask for out of a film. It oozes with style, has some of the most incredible dialogue ever uttered out of the mouths of human beings (“I never try anything. I just do it. And I don’t beat clocks, just people. Wanna try me?”) and feels like a film that only Russ Meyer could have made. I almost find it difficult to put into words how fantastic this film is, but it’s beloved by many for a reason, there’s nothing quite like it. It’s the definition of a cult movie, something that would go on to inspire filmmakers like the aforementioned John Waters, Quentin Tarantino and has been referenced or parodied in so many pieces of media that it’s hard to list them all. When The Simpsons references your film, you know you’ve done something right. Out of every film on this list, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! might be the most inaccessible for those who aren’t into low-budget cult films, but still, I implore you to give this one a shot. You might not love it, but it’s impossible to deny how unique and full of energy it is. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to track down the insanely out-of-print Blu-ray so I can preserve this gem of a film for the rest of my living days.

John Kirk

Favourite Blu-Rays of the Year

Best single title releases

10. Morgiana – Second Run
9. Full Circle: The Haunting of Julia – BFI
8. Buster Keaton – 3 Ages – Eureka
7. After Hours – Criterion Collection
6. Elegant Beast – Radiance
5. The Shivers of the Vampire (tie with all of the other Jean Rollin releases: The Rape of the Vampire, The Night of the Hunted, Fascination, Lips of Blood, and Two Orphan Vampires) – Powerhouse Films/Indicator
4. Messiah of Evil – Radiance
3. Targets – BFI
2. Touch of Evil – Eureka Masters of Cinema
1. Texas Chain Saw Massacre – Second Sight

2023 brought us so many outstanding titles and, in truth, there are so many other releases that could have easily got into my top 10 too. I’ve focused on the releases that have stuck with me the most. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of my favourite movies – it’s certainly my favourite horror film – and Second Sight’s release was a delight with a stack of new and archival extras, a gorgeous and insightful book and, best of all, an astonishing transfer – you can feel the Texas heat evaporating through the screen.

It was a strong year for genre releases, particularly horror, and other favourites were the initial entries in Powerhouse Films/Indicator’s excellent Jean Rollin series, with the films looking the best they ever have and accompanied by a wealth of on-disc extras and fantastic booklets, and Radiance Film’s outstanding release of the fabulously atmospheric Seventies film Messiah of Evil.

I could have picked any of the Radiance releases but focused on my two favourites, the other after Messiah of Evil, being the incredible Elegant Beast, which felt like a precursor to Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite.

Honourable mentions:

Laurin – Second Run
Dance Craze – BFI
The Big Gundown – Powerhouse Films/Indicator
Black God White Devil – MAWU films
Mausoleum – Treasured Films
Early Christopher Nolan films (Memento and Following) – 101 Films
Twilight – Second Run
Cutter’s Way – Fun City
Big Time Gambling Boss – Radiance Films
Martin – Second Sight
Picnic at Hanging Rock – Second Sight
Carlito’s Way – Arrow
Gregory’s Girl – BFI
Interrogation – Second Run
Muriel Box films (The Passionate Stranger, The Truth About Women, Rattle of a Simple Man) – StudioCanal
The Wicker Man – StudioCanal
Pinocchio – Criterion Collection
Fill er’ up with super – Radiance
A Moment of Romance – Radiance
Circus – Criterion Collection (tie with the other UK disc debuts for Chaplin films)
Gothic – BFI
The Kiss Before the Mirror – Powerhouse Films/Indicator
Django – Cult Films
Matewan – 88 Films
The Terror / The Little Shop of Horrors – Film Masters
Director’s Company Editions (The Guard from Underground, Door 1 and Door 2, Typhoon Club) – Third Window Films
The Hot Spot – Radiance Films
The Fall of Ako Castle – Eureka

Best multi-film boxsets

10. Katsuhito Ishii Collection – Third Window Films
9. Jerzy Skolimowski: Walkover, Barrier, Dialogue 20 40 60 – Second Run
8. Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams – Arrow
7. Magic, Myth and Mutilation: The micro-budget cinema of Michael J Murphy 1967-2015 – Powerhouse Films/Indicator
6. Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers (Freaks/The Unknown/The Mystic) – Criterion Collection
5. Andrzej Zulawski: Three Films – Eureka Masters of Cinema
4. World Noir Vol. 1 – Radiance
3. The Criminal Acts of Tod Slaughter: Eight Blood and Thunder Entertainments 1935-1940 – Powerhouse Films/Indicator
2. The End of Civilization: Three films by Piotr Szulkin – Radiance
1. Bruce Lee at Golden Harvest – Arrow

This was also incredibly difficult, there were so many fantastic boxsets released in 2023.
Bruce Lee at Golden Harvest was the standout release for me – outstanding restorations of the late great star’s Hong Kong kung-fu films, hours and hours (and hours!) of informative and insightful special features, beautiful packaging and a brilliant book. It would have been nice to have the new restoration of Enter the Dragon in the set too, but at least we got the strong previous disc of the film from Warner Bros (who also released that very film on 4K just a few weeks after the Arrow set came out). Arrow’s Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams, was also a personal favourite – it features some low budget gems from Charles Band’s Empire International Pictures.

Radiance and Indicator vied for my favourite label of the year and that’s down to the consistent quality of their releases. Two boxsets from each label feature in my top ten and they’re all excellent – from the first-time watch gems of Piotr Szulkin and the World Noir boxset from Radiance to the classic British horrors of Tod Slaughter and the micro-budget, sometimes terrible and sometimes really something special, cinema of Michael J Murphy. Any of Radiance’s four boxsets from their debut year could have featured though, and likewise the other Indicator boxsets I reference below were also incredibly strong and unlucky to miss out.

Honourable mentions:

From Hollywood to Heaven: The Lost and Saved Films of the Ormond Family– Powerhouse Films/Indicator
Mexico Macabre: Four Sinister Tales from the Almeda Films Vault 1959-1963 – Powerhouse Films/Indicator
Universal Noir #2 – Powerhouse Films/Indicator
Psycho Collection – Arrow
The Lukas Moodysson Collection – Arrow
Cosa Nostra: Franco Nero in Three Mafia Tales by Damiano Damiani – Radiance Films
Hellraiser Quarter of Torment – Arrow
Creeping Horror – Eureka Classics
Blood Money: Four Western Classics Volume 2 – Arrow
Identification Marks: None and Hands Up! Two films by Jerzy Skolimowski – BFI
The Pete Walker Sexploitation Collection – 88 Films
Worlds: Selected Works by Ben Rivers – Second Run
Ghost Stories for Christmas Volume 2 – BFI
Short Sharp Shocks Volume 3 – BFI
The Long Arm of the Law Parts 1 & 2 – 88 Films

Best special features

– The Final Game of Death feature-length video essay (Bruce Lee at Golden Harvest boxset, Arrow)
– Murphy’s Lore, three part documentary (Magic, Myth & Mutilation The Micro-Budget Cinema of Michael J Murphy 1976-2015 boxset, Powerhouse Films/Indicator)
– Short films (The End of Civilization: Three films by Piotr Szulkin, Radiance)
– Mausoleum commentary by Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw (Mausoleum, Treasured Films)
– Tony Rayns on Thunderbolt (Thunderbolt, Powerhouse Films/Indicator)
– Power of Imagination and The Pursuit of Possibilities, two 60 minute discussions (Hellraiser Quartet of Torment, Arrow)
– Escape to the Silver Globe documentary (Andrzej Zulawski: Three Films, Eureka)
– The Legacy of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre documentary (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Second Sight)
– What the Blood Moon Brings: Messiah of Evil, A New American Nightmare (Messiah of Evil, Radiance Films)

There have been so many entertaining and informative special features that this list could run on forever, so I’ve focused on a few that I gleaned the most from.

Arrow’s Bruce Lee at Golden Harvest boxset is stacked with extras and many other special features could have featured in this list. I’ve focused on the four hour video essay that uses the reaming the footage filmed of Bruce Lee for the movie, to create the most full version of the film that Lee was making before his sad passing, together with insights. It’s a first rate extra – building on an earlier reconstruction of the film using the available footage of Lee, also included on the disc.

Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw have provided some corking commentaries and the one was one on Treasured Films’ Mausoleum disc was one of my personal favourites. Any extras featuring the pair are amongst the first I go to and this was no different, packing so much information, insight and analysis into the film’s runtime.

Tony Rayns is another expert who is amongst the first extras I’ll focus on for discs he features on and his overview of Thunderbolt, on the Powerhouse Films/Indicator release was amongst his best, for the richness of his knowledge and the amount I learnt about the film and those involved.

Likewise the two 60 minute discussions on Arrow’s recent Hellraiser Quartet of Torment set were fascinating too. Power of Imagination features film scholars Sorcha Ni’Fhlainn and Karmel Kniprath talking about Hellraiser and the works of Clive Barker. The Pursuit of Possibilities looks at the queerness of Hellraiser and the importance of Barker as a queer writer, and features horror authors Paula D. Ashe and Eric LaRocca. Arrow have started to include a few of these discussions on some of the UK and US releases and they’re always a welcome addition.

The short films on Radiance’s Piotr Szulkin sets were fantastic, inventive and great accompaniments to the director’s three films, and the other documentaries on my list are ones that I enjoyed either for their details and insights or the behind-the-scenes footage.

Best first-time watches

Elegant Beast (Radiance)
All of the Piotr Szulkin films – War of the Worlds: Next Century, O-Bi, O-Ba: The End of Civilization, Ga-Ga: Glory to the Heroes (Radiance)
On the Silver Globe (Eureka)
Carlito’s Way (Arrow)
Red Sun (Radiance)
Show Me Love (The Lukas Moodysson Collection, Arrow)
The Day of the Owl (and the other three in the Cosa Nostra: Franco Nero in Three Mafia Tales by Damiano Damiani, Radiance)
The Facts of Murder (World Noir Vol.1, Radiance)
The Brainiac (Mexico Macabre: Four Sinister Tales from the Alameda Films Vault 1959-1963, Powerhouse Films/Indicator)

This year has been a great one from a first-time watch perspective for me, particularly some real treasures of Italian, Eastern European and Asian cinema.

It’s tricky to pick an absolute favourite of the year, but I think it would be between the first three on my list. Elegant Beast is a masterpiece, everything coming together from the acting to the cinematography and production design.

The Piotr Szulkin films were revelations for me, I knew very little about the films before Radiance, who also released Elegant Beast, announced their boxset. All three were outstanding gems that had more invention, ideas and design than many modern films.

On the Silver Globe, directed by Andrzej Zulawski, has long been on my to watch list (the director’s Possession is a personal favourite) and it didn’t disappoint. The first hour or so in particular is outstanding and worth the price of admission alone. Eureka’s now out of print limited edition boxset of three Zulawski films, which contains On the Silver Globe, was a brilliant release. All three films now have standalone editions.

Carlito’s Way is a film I’ve planned to watch since the late 90s. I’ve owned it on VHS and DVD but have never got round to watching it – I’m a big fan of Brian de Palma, Al Pacino and Sean Penn, so I can’t really explain why I hadn’t watched it until Arrow’s limited edition Blu-ray release. This was another one that was worth the wait – it’s a gripping story filled with wonderful performances, and the finale set in Grand Central Station is one of the best final acts I’ve seen for some time.

The films I want to conclude on are the Radiance films releases of Damiano Damiani films – the Cosa Nostra boxset is excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed all three films. It was unlucky to miss out on my top 10 (two other Radiance boxsets pipped it to the post, but in all honesty they’re all first rate). Radiance have started 2024 with another Damiani film, Goodbye & Amen, and I look forward in hope that they continue to release more of his films in the future.

Favourite labels

Rather than write a traditional top 10, here are my thoughts on some of my favourite labels – all of which have brought us some fantastic releases this year.

Radiance Films had an incredibly strong first year, releasing some outstanding boxsets and individual releases. From indie American cinema, Robert Altman films, and one of the best Seventies horrors, to a growing collection of great films from across the globe – Italian, Polish and Japanese cinema in particular – their first year was as strong as some label’s 10th year. The quality of the films, their restorations and the well-curated extras, cement this as a contender for my favourite label of 2023.

Powerhouse Films/Indicator have long been a favourite of mine and my other contender for label of the year in 2023. I’ve followed them since their debut releases. They had another strong 12 months, particularly if you’re a fan of horror – Jean Rollin, Tod Slaughter and Michael J Murphy films in particular – but they also brought us more classic noir, some Mexican horror gems, a classic Western and more.

Eureka and 88 Films brought their ‘A Game’ to Hong Kong cinema releases, both bursting at the seams with some phenomenal releases. Eureka also brought us excellent editions of the great silent feature Pandora’s Box, more Buster Keaton, and the definitive release of Orson Welles’ first-rate noir Touch of Evil, amongst others – with special mention for their amazing Andrzej Zulawski boxset. 88 Films brought us more Jean Claude van Damme, Chuck Norris, Italian horror and crime films, and the first of two Pete Walker boxsets too, and whilst I haven’t featured as many 88 Films releases in my discs of the year, that’s more due to the quality from labels across the board than anything else.

Second Sight’s releases were incredibly strong – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was my release of the year, but they also brought us outstanding editions of George A Romero’s Martin, one of my favourite recent horrors, It Follows, excellent crime biopic Chopper, Peter Weir’s adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock and David Cronenberg’s recent effort Crimes of the Future amongst others.

Second Run had a strong year with several releases in my top 10s; but any of their releases could have featured. They only release one title a month but it continues to be one of the first I look out for. Each disc is well curated, with insightful on disc and booklet features and they frequently introduce me to directors and films I’ve either not come across or have longed to be acquainted with.

The BFI have gone from strength-to-strength and this was another strong year, with excellent Flipside label releases, more Ghost Stories for Christmas, and a lovely Yasujiro Ozu boxset to name a few. They also brought us some music curios and one of my all-time favourite British films, Gregory’s Girl. Their early releases for 2024 also look good.

Arrow released some excellent boxsets during the year, several featuring in my top 10, as well as a new and expanded version of their Hellraiser boxset and a great Psycho set. Their early announcements for 2024 are very good if you have a multi-region player or are in the US with some brilliant exclusives, but I’m hoping their UK announcements will pick up again soon, as we seem to just be getting 4K versions of sets they’ve already released on Blu-ray so far (aside from the delayed Inside the Mind of Coffin Joe set, originally due out in late-2023). The year is early though.

Criterion Collection continued to release some gems during the year, including UK debuts for their Charlie Chaplin sets, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio and Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture House, plus the Tod Browning set which I adored and which features in one of my top 10s. I just wish we’d get more than two releases a month and that they’d review their pricing – their discs are getting ever more expensive compared to the likes of Radiance and Powerhouse Films/Indicator, amongst others, who give us releases that are just as strong (I’d argue at times stronger), limited edition and far more competitively priced.

Radiance Films weren’t the only new player on the block – Treasured Films brought us three strong releases; The Last Hunter, Satan’s Little Helper, and Mausoleum; and Malombra Films will also be one to watch in 2024 after their decent debut with the Italian film The Sex of Angels (Mario Bava’s The Road to Fort Alamo is their first release of the new year). US label Film Masters also released their first four region free special editions – three double bills (The Giant Gila Monster/The Killer Shrews, The Terror/The Little Shop of Horrors, and Beast From Haunted Cave/Ski Troop Attack) and the 1934 adaptation of The Scarlet Letter.

Finally, 2023 was the year we lost the Network label which is incredibly sad. They released some real gems of British TV and cinema, reacquainting me with old friends and introducing me to many more with a number of first-time watches. Their demise is a real loss to the boutique DVD and Blu-ray market.

In Closing

I’m going to skip the group consensus this year as I didn’t get many new release lists and a lot of the home entertainment lists weren’t ranked. I think the lengthy write-up gives a good idea of what we thought of 2023 though.

I’d like to thank all the writers who contributed as well as all of the writers who’ve helped fill Blueprint: Review with a wealth of reviews this past year.

So that’s it for 2023. Keep visiting the site for our thoughts on the latest home entertainment releases (and the rare cinematic releases that we get around to). Let us know your thoughts about the best and worst of the year below or on social media.

Happy New Year!

About The Author

Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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