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2023 has been the year everything got back to normal. Hahahha….oh man, had you there! As many people paying the slightest bit of attention know, “things” may never be “back to normal” again. But, let’s steer away from the big “normal” and steer our attentions to the world of cinema and also, let’s try to be a little more positive, shall we?

2023 was a damn fine year for movies. As our lead critic Chris Reed mentioned in his intro to part one of the “Hammer to Nail Best Films List,” a ton of fantastic independent (both in terms of financing and maybe moreso, in terms of creativity) dropped in 2023. Rather than rehash that, I want to cast a quick spotlight on some longtime HtN favorite performers who also graced the biggest of the big screens this year which for me, really relates back to why we all do the work we do for Hammer to Nail: to support up and coming filmmakers.

The most obvious call-up to the big leagues was Greta Gerwig who’s Barbie was a major zeitgeist moment for cinema. If anyone saw that coming, you’re a liar. Granted, Gerwig has been honing her directing/writing skills for a while now with Lady Bird, Little Women (2019) as well as Mistress America and Frances Ha which she co-wrote alongside husband Noah Baumbach, another “one of us” who earned his way to greener pastures over the decades.

But Gerwig has been around the indie film scene forever starring in all sorts of fantastic films such as Allison Bagnall’s The Dish and the Spoon, Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress, early Duplass Brothers’ Baghead and countless other films from the likes of Joe Swanberg, Ti West and Todd Solondz. I personally adored Barbie and aside from Bottoms I didn’t laugh harder in the theater all year. I don’t know if I have a right to feel this way but as a longtime fan and supporter of Gerwig, it was simply amazing to see her crush it with Barbie and I felt genuine pride. But, Greta wasn’t the only indie pal to light up the silver screen this year!

Fans of independent cinema no doubt did a “wait, isn’t that….” When they saw Macon Blair as Lloyd Garrison, J. Robert Oppenheimer’s put upon lawyer in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. Blair did a fantastic job, holding his own in a room full of blustery male energy lead by Jason Clarke. And a naked Cilian Murphy. Blair has steadily secured a niche as a go-to character actor who can do a ton with little dialogue. We love Macon Blair and it was, well, neat to see him in one of the biggest and critically revered films of the year.

Speaking of actors we adore, Pat Healy continues to pop up in mainstream cinema lending his gentle yet often cynical presence to scenes he appears in. This year, Healy brought his skills to Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon as Agent John Burger, one of the several lawmen in the film who’s angle is either clueless, nefarious or both. Healy has an everyman look about him but uses his acting chops like a scalpel to deliver cutting dialogue punctuated with stares that wordlessly ask “are you kidding me?” You gotta love seeing Pat Healy in big movies as well as in indie films and recurring roles on great TV shows like Better Call Saul, Station 19 and George and Tammy.

But perhaps the biggest moment of “one of us” finding their way to a bigger audience was the always fantastic Lily Gladstone who’s already snagged a Golden Globe nomination for Killers of the Flower Moon with an Oscar nod about as certain as they come. Gladstone has always been special as fans of true indie film can attest and recent indie output includes festival fave Quantum Cowboys, Fancy Dance, The Unknown Country and Freeland. These are all solid films that have truly great performances from Gladstone then, she just knocks it out of the park starring alongside Robert DeNiro and Leonardo DiCaprio in Killers of the Flower Moon. To quote a popular phrase with the kids, I love this for her.

Now, on with part 2 of our staff’s favorite films of 2023!

– Don R. Lewis


M.J. O’Toole


  1. All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt
  2. Afire
  3. Joyland
  4. Fremont
  5. Showing Up
  6. Godland
  7. Anatomy of a Fall
  8. Poor Things
  9. Passages
  10. The Sweet East

All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt


When I first saw Raven Jackson’s coming-of-age story All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt at Sundance, I was admittedly a little taken aback by its languid, non-linear narrative structure in this tale of a young black woman growing up in the South. But eventually, I found myself haunted by its random, yet beautiful, intimate, lengthy scenes – much credit to DP Jomo Fray’s sumptuous 35mm camerawork – that make up the essence of life itself. When I gave it a second viewing at NYFF, I finally realized that it wasn’t about the story as a whole, but the moments that make life itself, whether it’d be a father patiently teaching his daughter how to fish, a community coming together to put out a house fire, or a long, tearful embrace with an old love. In her astounding, quietly observed debut, Jackson carefully restructures time to chart the growth, loves, and heartbreaks of her characters, especially those of her main protagonist Mack (Charleen McClure as an adult; Kaylee Nicole Johnson as a child). Jackson also emphasizes how her characters interact with nature, making the muddy waters and dirt hills of Mississippi just as much characters as the quiet humans. All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt’s poetically observational approach to exploring life and interconnectedness makes it a powerful viewing experience. (MJ)

Melanie Addington


  1. Past Lives
  2. Quantum Cowboys
  3. Sisu
  4. The Boy and the Heron
  5. All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt
  6. Asteroid City
  7. Barbie
  8. Dicks the Musical
  9. Killers of the Flower Moon
  10. Suzume

Past Lives

Celine Song’s directorial debut, Past Lives, premiered at Sundance in January and has remained at the top of my mind ever since. While “genre-ified” as a romance, the film has little to do with what we expect of a romantic drama and more to do with the coming to terms with the paths not taken, the chances not lived, the intertwining of people in our lives and honoring the severance of that connection and what it could have been. The old adage of less is more is expertly on display, with Song setting the final scene of a powerful goodbye.


  1. Lynch/Oz
  2. This World is Not My World
  3. Still: A Michael J Fox Movie
  4. Little Richard: I am Everything
  5. Gloria Gaynor: I will Survive
  6. 32 Sounds
  7. The Stroll
  8. Your Fat Friend
  9. Judy Blume Forever
  10. The Disappearance of Shire Hite 


Deconstructing how one film can make an impact on a filmmaker such as David Lynch, director Alexandre O. Phillippe captures voices of other filmmakers and critics in Lynch/Oz to paint a colorful portrait. This lush documentary examines how The Wizard of Oz is ever present in Lynch’s catalogue. From the red shoes to Judy characters, Lynch’s interpretation of this 1939 classic is shared in a unique documentary that, as someone living in Kansas, I admired greatly. 


Jack Schenker


  1. Beau is Afraid
  2. Poor Things
  3. Killers of the Flower Moon
  4. Oppenheimer
  5. Boy and the Heron
  6. The Zone of Interest
  7. Past Lives
  8. Spiderman Across the Spiderverse
  9. Dream Scenario
  10. Anatomy of a Fall

Beau is Afraid

A still from BEAU IS AFRAID

Someone could tell me that Beau is Afraid was one of their least favorite movies ever and I would understand. Personally, no other film this year made me so excited and I hope A24 continues to write Ari Aster the blank check because he is one of the finest filmmakers of this generation. This is the most ambitious film of Aster’s career, which is no small feat considering the incredible Hereditary & Midsommar. Tonally walking a tightrope, every single moment is a total swing for the fences and I could not help but bask in the audacity of it all. Whether you hate or love Beau is Afraid, it is undeniable that the film is uncompromised. This feels like Aster’s full and insane vision and that is a beautiful thing to see in a theater these days. The transition into an animated world and what transpires in there is truly some of the funniest and most nightmarish content I have ever witnessed. The performances, especially from Joaquin Phoenix, were so eccentric and off kilter, and that script, I have no idea how it was written. It takes the work of a complete madman genius to take this from your mind, onto the page, and onto the big screen. 

Jonathan Marlow

Some say that the future of film is female (or female-identifying). Other say that film has no future at all. Who is to say which—if either, neither or both—is correct? With the “Number One Film of the Year” (box office-wise, a questionable metric at the very least) directed/ co-written by a woman, the “future” is now. Welcome once again to the days of future passed or, arguably, future’s recent-past.

Accordingly, in reverse-alphabetical order (by title), ten favourable moving-image selections:

Slow Shift, Shambhavi Kaul

Remembering Every Night, Yui Kiyohara

Penthouse, Line Klungseth Johansen [+ Vergard Dahle]

Patient, Lori Felker

Last Things, Deborah Stratman

Heliotrope, Janie Geiser

Geographies of Solitude, Jacquelyn Mills

Echolocation, Nadia Shihab

Constant, Sasha Litvintseva [+ Beny Wagner]

A Common Sequence, Mary Helena Clark [+ Mike Gibisser]

Each is endlessly inventive. Each was presented over the past twenty months at an Annual or Quarterly Report of Camera Obscura (with the exception of Remembering Every Night; Kiyohara’s earlier Our House alternatively screened). Limiting to those CO parameters, already a sampling of “favourites” film-wise or otherwise, or else this optimal list-of-ten could’ve included Naomi Yang’s Never Be a Punching Bag for Nobody and the Jacqueline Goss / Peggy Ahwesh “theoretical musical” OR119, among many wonderful and remarkable options.

The Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen-premiering Patient, in particular, shows the extraordinary range of what is possible within a relatively limited period of time (in this instance, a mere twenty minutes). Filmmaker Felker takes the viewer on a journey that initially suggests they’re in the realm of a carefully constructed narrative film. It then shifts into a tale with all of the hallmarks of a documentary. Then back to fiction. Or non-fiction, again. Perhaps somewhere ultimately in-between. In the end, what we’ve seen is an extraordinary hybrid that fails any easy classification. A reconstructed reality which reaches a grander truth?

The film is something of a sketchpad for an intended feature-length. Inevitably anticipating this and further work from Lori Felker—and, admittedly, all-of-the-above—as well. With the recent announcements of forthcoming Slamdance and Sundance programming, including new films by Brett Story, Jane Schoenbrun and others, the future of this future is promising, indeed.

Don R. Lewis


1. Past Lives
2. The Holdovers
4. Poor Things
5. Bottoms
6. Godzilla Minus One
7. May December
8. Asteroid City +the 4 short films Anderson did for Netflix
9. Barbie
10. American Fiction

– M.J. O’Toole (@mj_otoole93), Melanie Addington (@MelAddington), Jack Schenker (@YUNGOCUPOTIS), Jonathan Marlow (@aliasMarlow), Don R. Lewis (@ThatDonLewis)

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