The 12 Best Movies You Might Have Missed in 2023

From “The Haunted Mansion” to “Magic Mike’s Last Dance,” these are the movies to catch up on this year

2023 was a great year for movies, both big and small. The year of “Barbenheimer” tended to suck everything into its orbit and, alongside the SAG-AFTRA strike made promoting movies difficult throughout the industry.

That being said, if you’re looking for films to catch up on before the calendar switches to 2024, we’ve got you covered. These movies didn’t make our Best of the Year list (though they all are equally fantastic), but were ones that we hoped got a bit more love than they did upon release. There’s something for nearly every genre from historical romance (“Emily”) to drama’s with dance (“Magic Mike’s Last Dance”). We even have something for horror hounds (“Cobweb”) and horror hounds who have kids (“The Haunted Mansion”).

Here are 12 movies you might have missed this year and are worth a watch if you’re sick of revisiting “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer.”

“The Haunted Mansion”

Haunted Mansion
Disney

Hot take, but Justin Simien’s take on “The Haunted Mansion” got screwed over. Not only did it have a late July release – the perfect time of year to release a haunted house movie, note the sarcasm – but it also came out just two weeks after the SAG-AFTRA strike started, leaving only Simien available to promote the movie at all. But for those who actually saw the movie, it was a refreshingly spooky and heartfelt tale about loss and grief, with a heavy amount of Haunted Mansion Easter eggs thrown in for Disney nerds.

LaKeith Stanfield is fantastic as the melancholy Ben Matthias, anchoring an ensemble cast of characters that were just so charming, particularly Rosario Dawson and Chase Dillon as a mother/son duo who buy the titular haunted mansion. For all the ways Disney is haphazardly attempting to shoehorn IP into their features, “The Haunted Mansion” felt like it had reverence for the Disneyland ride while also telling a good story, first and foremost. The ending sequence, involving a cat, is one of the most beautiful moments I’ve seen all year. Go watch it on Disney+ now! -Kristen Lopez

“Sanctuary”

Sanctuary
Courtesy of TIFF

It’s been hard to discuss why I adore this movie because, while I liked the whole thing, I swooned for it in the final act, and the twisty-turny journey is part of the whole appeal. “Sanctuary” is surprisingly tender for a psychological thriller about a dominatrix trying to make her ex-client recognize her full value — even if that’s half his multi-million dollar salary. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more unflinchingly intimate duo this year; Margaret Qualley and Christopher Abbott fully commit to exploring the pleasure and pain, both physical and emotional, of the power plays between two people going toe-to-toe and feeling out each other’s sharpest edges. It’s compelling, character-driven and a little bit freaky, and it’s one of my favorite movies of the year, even if I can’t tell you why. –Haleigh Foutch

“Nimona”

"Nimona"
“Nimona” (CREDIT: Courtesy of Netflix)

Troy Quane and Nick Bruno’s “Nimona” is one of my favorite animated features this year, and I didn’t see it coming at all. It tells the story of a knight (voiced perfectly by Riz Ahmed) accused of a horrible crime and how he teams up with an outcast (voiced by the equally great Chloe Grace Moretz) to clear his name. The blending of an old-fashioned medieval tale with the futuristic world on-screen leads to some breathtaking animation but, more than anything, the voice cast makes you fall in love with the characters (it helps that ND Stevenson’s source material is incredibly strong).

Moretz’s Nimona and Ahmed’s Ballister are reminiscent of an ‘80s actioner – two people who believe they don’t have anything in common and are forced to work together. Along the way, Nimona inspires him to loosen up and Ballister helps Nimona realize she can trust people. There’s also a fun montage in here that’s so great and, again, if you love ‘80s/’90s movies you’ll feel the inspiration. -Kristen Lopez

“Cobweb”

cobweb
Lionsgate

One of the biggest blunders of the year had to be Lionsgate releasing “Cobweb” in August instead of closer to Halloween. True, they had put all their trick-or-treat candy in on “Saw X,” but “Cobweb” will rightfully be reclaimed as a cult classic in the years ahead and “Saw X” will just be another “Saw” sequel.

Suffused with palpable dread and big-time autumnal vibes, “Cobweb” feels less like a straightforward horror film and more like a dark fable. A family, led by a pitch-perfect Lizzy Caplan and Antony Starr, have a precocious young son (Woody Norman) who begins to suspect that his family is far darker than he’s led to believe. Like, he might have a hidden sister who is stuck in the crawl space. And from that old trope, perhaps best immortalized by the “The Thing and I” section of “The Simpsons’” annual Halloween episode, gets new life thanks to the whip smart script by Chris Thomas Devlin and stylish direction by Samuel Bodin. It didn’t make much money and the critics, at least initially, were decidedly mixed. But like a secret sibling trapped in the walls of an old house, “Cobweb” will have its day. –Drew Taylor

“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

Mark my words, in 10 years the youths will discover this movie and presume it was a massive hit! And as well it should have been. The adaptation of Judy Blume’s most seminal work should be on numerous lists regarding the best films for kids ever made. Kelly Fremon Craig’s script is sharp and modern, even though the film is set in the 1970s. Abby Ryder Fortson is the best child star of the year as Margaret, the titular girl going through all the hallmarks of adolescence. Rachel McAdams complements her beautifully as Margaret’s mother who, despite being an adult, is still finding herself and growing into her identity. A movie destined to put a smile on your face and will help a generation of young girls grow into adulthood. -Kristen Lopez

“Medusa Deluxe”

Medusa Deluxe
A24

A24 has an uncanny knack in turning even the smallest, strangest cinematic artifact into a grand experience worthy both of discussion and a limited time capsule collection on A24’s extremely popular online shop. But that kind of excitement escaped “Medusa Deluxe.” Instead, A24 dropped it on PVOD and into theaters on the same day without much fanfare. This is a shame because “Medusa Deluxe” absolutely rules.

It can best be described as a murder mystery set at a hairstyling competition. Oh, and it is meant to look like it was captured in a single, unbroken take. Imagine the obsession with oddball characters and overlapping dialogue of Robert Altman with the technical virtuosity of Alfonso Cuaron and you’re close to the general vibe of “Medusa Deluxe.” It’s charming, exciting and oddly moving. It deserved to be seen in a big theater with a rowdy crowd (this is how we saw it, back at Fantastic Fest in 2022). Watch “Medusa Deluxe” however you can. It’s a blast and announces the arrival of a major new talent in writer/director Thomas Hardiman. Give this man a budget and watch him soar. –Drew Taylor

“Sharper”

sharper-julianne-moore-2023
“Sharper”

Crafting a con drama is a tricky needle to thread, but director Benjamin Caron’s “Sharper” did just that. The film is a twisty drama telling three seemingly disparate stories that all converge into a very unique whole that’s a lot of fun to watch. If you enjoyed “Focus” from a few years ago, look at this as its slightly more dramatic cousin. Sebastian Stan, Julianne Moore and Justice Smith are fabulous; Stan and Moore in particular whose chemistry on-screen is pure fire. Not to mention, any movie that includes a needle drop and dance sequence to “Dirty Laundry” deserves recognition. If you have Apple TV+ this is one of the better movies they released this year. -Kristen Lopez

“The Royal Hotel”

"The Royal Hotel"
“The Royal Hotel”

Australian filmmaker Kitty Green followed up her excellent “The Assistant” with “The Royal Hotel,” a movie that is even better. “The Royal Hotel” follows two young women (Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick) as they take a job at a hotel in the remote Australian outback. (The titular hotel is run by a nearly unrecognizable Hugo Weaving, the patron saint of Australian genre filmmaking.) What makes “The Royal Hotel” so stellar, which was based on actual events, is how Green masterfully ratchets up the tension to an almost unbearable degree.

Things become so suffused with dread that you wonder how either of the young women (or, indeed, anyone in the audience) is going to get out of there alive. One of the movie’s central images is a pickled snake curled around the inside of a mason jar. Even when subdued, there’s still an element of danger. Anchored by two of the year’s finest performances and beautiful, sun-bleached cinematography by Michael Latham, “The Royal Hotel” deserved to be a sensation. The fact that it wasn’t speaks more to the movie going public (and, perhaps, its halfhearted marketing) than it does to the film. –Drew Taylor

“Cat Person”

Cat Person
Sundance Institute

As much as I love “Fair Play,” Netflix’s splashy and wickedly delicious look at gender dynamics, I wish there was enough room for the equally subversive “Cat Person” in those conversations. Director Susannah Fogel and screenwriter Michelle Ashford adapt Kristen Roupenian’s New Yorker article into a bitingly witty story that touches on not just gender issues in relationships but also how our current true crime obsession and glamorizing of dead women is affecting relationships in general.

Emilia Jones plays Margot, a movie lover who meets the older Robert (Nicholas Braun). Their relationship starts out normally, but from there Margot can’t seem to shake the feeling that something…anything…is wrong with Robert. Braun and Jones are so perfect in their respective roles, with the audience putting Robert, as a character, through a prism of their own personal experience. Everyone knows a guy like him. And, yet, as Margot continues in the relationship, her own experiences color how she interacts with him leading to a lot of blurry questions about consent and how much we give of ourselves (and how much we hold back) when we’re starting to say, “Maybe I like this person.” It’s a movie you’ll think about long after the credits roll and we should have talked about it all this year. –Kristen Lopez

“Magic Mike’s Last Dance”

Magic Mike's Last Dance
Warner Bros.

“Magic Mike’s Last Dance” is the third film in the “Magic Mike” trilogy, reuniting star Channing Tatum with director Steven Soderbergh. (Soderbergh merely shot and edited the sequel, “Magic Mike XXL,” but handed directing duties off to his longtime #2 Gregory Jacobs. This was during his odd and short-lived “retirement.”) Originally meant as an HBO Max exclusive, “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” was also the first Soderbergh movie to get a wide theatrical release in five years. And yet the film, which saw Mike travel to London to put on a live show produced by a new love (Selma Hayek), was poorly marketed and poorly reviewed (it’s got a lackluster 48% on Rotten Tomatoes) before floping at the box office.

But it’s just as good as the two earlier entries in the unlikely franchise – formally adventurous, beautifully photographed and actually moving. It was the perfect final note to this series and proof positive that Soderbergh is one of the great filmmakers working today. Not all of his movies are appreciated like they should be, at least initially. People will come around to “Magic Mike’s Last Dance.” Hopefully sooner rather than later. –Drew Taylor

“Emily”

“Emily” (CREDIT: Everett Collection)

Frances O’Connor’s directorial debut came and went in limited release earlier this year, and if you’re a literary buff you should be seeking it out like a rare book at the library. Emma Mackey stars as Emily Bronte, the famed author of “Wuthering Heights,” who is presented in the film as a social outcast. Mackey is astounding as the meek Emily, desperate not to be perceived as weird by her family, especially her older sister, Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling). She finds herself drawn to the town’s new curate (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and the pair soon embark on a relationship that leads to Emily’s greatest work and biggest regret.

On the one hand, “Emily” is incredibly sexy, in the vein of other costume dramas like Ang Lee’s work. On the other, it has no qualms with ripping your heart out, as should be expected considering all the Bronte sister’s work. Mackey and Jackson-Cohen have phenomenal chemistry and I just love everything about this film. I’ve watched it several times since it came out and I expect it’ll be in regular rotation from here on out. -Kristen Lopez

“How to Blow Up a Pipeline”

How to Blow Up a Pipeline
(Neon)

Equal parts activist statement and heist movie homage, “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is incredibly effective as both. Inspired by Andreas Malm’s 2021 book of the same name, the film turns a manifesto (no characters or plot) into a gripping thriller about a crew of young environmental activists who fight back through methods of property sabotage, including the central mission to blow up a pipeline.

Director Daniel Golhaber (“Cam”) speaks openly about the influence of “Ocean’s 11,” which is evident in the spiderweb style overlapping narratives that weave in and out of the film’s driving action. The title tells you the premise and the payoff, and the film makes the most of it, craftily revealing the crew’s origins and the all-too-real horror stories that drove them to such explosive action, intercut with the pulse-pounding moments when the crew constructs, places and detonates their bombs. -Haleigh Foutch

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