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The major box-office successes of the year notwithstanding (we see you, “Barbenheimer”), 2023 saw many outstanding independent films come out to rival (or surpass) the quality of big-studio releases. Fortunately, in this 21st-century of ours, there are many theatrical distributors and streamers willing to showcase the work of unique cinematic voices. New directors like Cord Jefferson (American Fiction) and Celine Song (Past Lives) found themselves part of the conversation alongside veterans such as Wes Anderson (Asteroid City), Greta Gerwig (Barbie), Todd Haynes (May December), Yorgos Lanthimos (Poor Things), Christopher Nolan (Oppenheimer), Martin Scorsese (Killers of the Flower Moon), and Justine Triet (Anatomy of a Fall), to name but some of the apparent awards contenders. It is a glorious time to be a cinephile.

Which is what we at Hammer to Nail are here to discuss. Below, the critics from our site list their own personal favorites of the year, which may or may not include some of the top financial draws. The team comprises site editor Don Lewis, editor-at-large Matt Delman, lead critic Christopher Llewellyn Reed, and critics Melanie Addington, Jessica Baxter, Bears Fonté, Jonathan Marlow, M.J. O’Toole, and Jack Schenker. Expect the unexpected (we are, after all, devoted to covering indie and ultra-indie cinema). Most importantly, enjoy this list as much as we enjoyed watching the films on it. We’ll be splitting this mega-list into two parts, so check back for our other half.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed

Bears Rebecca Fonté 

  1. Cobweb
  2. Eileen
  3. River
  4. Barbie
  5. Infinity Pool
  6. Caligula (Recut & Restored)
  7. The Creator
  8. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
  9. Leave the World Behind
  10. Problemista

A still from COBWEB

Cobweb (dir. Kim Jee-woon)

For many ex-thespian society members, 2023‘s comedy hit Theater Camp felt like a little bit of home. But for me, given the number of failed productions of Noises Off I’ve worked on, the amount of backstage romances I have experienced or seen crumble before my eyes as I tried to direct once-lovers to be in love again, and the idea of trying to pull off a production that the world seems conspired against, Cobweb captures the imagination and then runs off with it. Perfectly constructed like strands of a web that crisscross but buckle under the weight of the sheer amount of madness packed into this film. The plot of the dark comedy has a little something for everyone and plays out with the joy of cinema that seems far too absent on the American screen since the 1970s. From South Korean director Kim Jee-woon, Cobweb premiered in the US at Fantastic Fest.

Christopher Llewellyn Reed

Films listed alphabetically….


Revoir Paris (dir. Alice Winocour)

The November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, France, came as a shock to a nation that was by no means new to grief. Earlier that same year, the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were the site of equally horrendous violence. In her latest film, Revoir Paris, French director Alice Winocour (Proxima) uses that historical backdrop to examine trauma and recovery among survivors, exploring the importance of human connection and shared experience as aids to healing. Winocour—whose own brother, Jérémie (to whom she dedicates the film), survived the real-world attacks—is never concerned with the why and how of what happened. Her cinematic eye is squarely on the way in which damaged souls mend their broken hearts and minds. It’s a marvelous study of a vital topic, anchored by a brilliant actress, Virginie Efira (Other People’s Children).


A still from KING COAL

King Coal (dir. Elaine McMillion Sheldon)

From Appalachian filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon (Recovery Boys) comes King Coal, a complex ode to her regional roots—here represented by Southwest Pennsylvania, Eastern Kentucky, Southwestern Virginia, Western North Carolina, East Tennessee, and the entirety of West Virginia—in which the history of coal exploitation mingles with ethnography and reflections on the present. Weaving in and out of memory and time, the director crafts a spectacular montage of images and sounds that explore both local pride and trauma. A mere 78 minutes, the movie feels simultaneously brisk and comprehensive. King Coal proves aesthetically stunning while also holding our attention as cultural anthropology. McMillion Sheldon pulls off the impressive feat of making such a specific documentary a meditation on the state of the nation as a whole (without any form of heavy-handedness to alert us to what she is doing). Lush in presentation and sober in meaning, the film is an artistic triumph.

Matt Delman


  1. Afire
  2. Poor Things
  3. The Zone of Interest
  4. Anatomy of a Fall
  5. May December
  6. Past Lives
  7. The Boy and the Heron
  8. Fremont
  9. The Holdovers
  10. The Delinquents

The Zone of Interest (dir. Jonathan Glazer)

If I have to read the phrase ‘the banality of evil’ one more time I think I’ll throw my phone into the Hudson river. Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest plays like an evil Jacques Tati movie, but there is nothing banal about it. Each year I look for films that push the boundaries of cinematic storytelling, and Glazer has done so here, with a clinically horrific holocaust experience. It’s quite unlike other holocaust films of the past, but it’s atypical perspective reminded me of Brady Corbet’s Childhood of a Leader, or even the fictional videogame “Solution” from the novel Tomorrow, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, in which players must unwittingly build widgets in a factory in exchange for information about the task they are performing, which is later revealed to be machines for the Third Reich. The cinematography by Lukasz Zal (Cold War) brings attention to the framing, the viewer’s eyes darting around the screen to fully take in the mise-en-scene. When you’re not agape at the juxtaposition of country living with concentration camp, you may be equally floored by the infrared scenes in which a young German girl hides apples for the starving jews to find. A small act of kindness amidst one of the worst atrocities in the history of the world. With the blessing of the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum, which makes a surprise appearance, Glazer has a next-level achievement on his hands.


  1. Kokomo City
  2. The Gullspang Miracle
  3. 32 Sounds
  4. Stamped from the Beginning
  5. The Disappearance of Shere Hite
  6. Orlando, My Political Biography
  7. Break the Game
  8. Invisible Beauty
  9. The Mother of all Lies
  10. A Still Small Voice

Jessica Baxter


  1. Bottoms
  2. Poor Things
  3. May December
  4. Cora Bora
  5. Past Lives
  6. The Royal Hotel
  7. Dumb Money
  8. Dicks: The Musical
  9. Cat Person
  10. You Hurt My Feelings


  1. Your Fat Friend
  2. Lynch/Oz
  3. Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God
  4. Albert Brooks: Defending My Life
  5. Pamela: A Love Story
  6. Renaissance: A Film by Beyonce
  7. Wham!
  8. The Stroll
  9. Still: A Michael J Fox Movie
  10. A Disturbance in the Force

A still from BOTTOMS

Bottoms (dir. Emma Seligman)

I wish I could go back in time and show this movie to myself as an “Ugly, Untalented Gay” freshman in high school. But Bottoms does so much more than make Queerdos feel seen. This baby has LAY-YERS. It follows traditional Horny Teen Comedy beats, as it skewers its influences. Despite the premise of “losers tricking hot women into sleeping with them,” director Emma Seligman and co-writer/star Rachel Sennott (Shiva Baby) manage to utterly annihilate the male gaze by humanizing the hot girls. IMAGINE THAT. Bottoms also presents a progressive feminist lens concurrently with satirizing boilerplate white feminism. All this subtext served in a hilarious tight 90 minutes.

– Bears Rebecca Fonté (@BearsFonte), Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm), Matthew Delman (@ItsTheRealDel), Jessica Baxter (@tehBaxter)

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