The 15 Best Straight-to-Streaming Movies of 2023

The best films of the year didn't only play on the big screen, as Michelle Williams' latest stellar performance, an Oscar-nominated documentary and a playful vampire flick all show.
Sarah Ward
December 18, 2023

In a perfect world, all films would get a run on the big screen everywhere that shows them. Alas, that isn't the world that we live in. But just because a feature misses a season at the cinemas in Australia — playing at film festivals before hitting digital, perhaps, or made for and only ever set to stream — that doesn't mean that it can't be a gem, as our picks for the 15 best straight-to-streaming movies of 2023 makes plain.

Indeed, the finest films of the year didn't only play on the silver screen. See: Michelle Williams' latest stellar performance, an Oscar-nominated documentary and a playful vampire effort from the director of Spencer, plus new treats from Wes Anderson, inventive horror movies, standout biopics and revived franchises, too. In fact, even cinephiles who basically live at their local picture palace know that theatres aren't the only place to catch the year's standout flicks.

After we surveyed the best straight-to-streaming movies of 2023's first half in June, we've now done the same from across the entire year. Make your own popcorn, grab a drink, get comfortable on your couch, and there's your next at-home movie night — or 15 — taken care of. (And yes, we're bunching Anderson's recent shorts together and counting them as one project, because that's how they are best watched.)

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SHOWING UP

Kelly Reichardt and Michelle Williams are one of cinema's all-time great pairings. After 2008's Wendy and Lucy, 2010's Meek's Cutoff and 2016's Certain Women, all divine, add Showing Up to the reasons that their collaborations are an event. Again, writer/director Reichardt hones in on characters who wouldn't grace the screen otherwise, and on lives that rarely do the same. With her trademark empathy, patience and space, she spends time with people and problems that couldn't be more relatable as well. Her first picture since 2019's stunning First Cow, which didn't feature Williams, also feels drawn from the filmmaker's reality. She isn't a sculptor in Portland working an administration job at an arts and crafts college while struggling to find the time to create intricate ceramic figurines, but she is one of America's finest auteurs in an industry that so scarcely values the intricacy and artistry of her work. No one needs to have stood exactly in Showing Up's protagonist's shoes, or in Reichardt's, to understand that tussle — or the fight for the always-elusive right balance between passion and a paycheque, all while everyday chaos, family drama and the minutiae of just existing also throws up roadblocks.

Showing Up couldn't have a better title. For Lizzy (Wiliams, The Fabelmans), who spends the nine-to-five grind at her alma mater with her mother (Maryann Plunkett, Manifest) as her boss, everything she does — or needs or wants to — is about doing exactly what the movie's moniker says. That doesn't mean that she's thrilled about it. She definitely isn't happy about her frenemy, neighobour and landlord Jo (Hong Chau, Asteroid City), who won't fix her hot water, couldn't be more oblivious to anyone else's problems and soon has her helping play nurse to an injured pidgeon. Reichardt spins the film's narrative around Lizzy's preparations for a one-night-only exhibition, including trying to carve out the hours needed to finish her clay pieces amid her job, the bird, advocating for a liveable home, professional envy and concerns for her alienated brother (John Magaro, Past Lives). The care and detail that goes into Lizzy's figurines is mirrored in Reichardt's own efforts, in another thoughtful and resonant masterpiece that does what all of the filmmaker's masterpieces do: says everything even when nothing is being uttered, proves a wonder of observation, boasts a pitch-perfect cast and isn't easily forgotten.

Showing Up streams via Google Play, YouTube Movies, iTunes and Prime Video.

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ALL THAT BREATHES

Pictures can't tell all of All That Breathes' story, with Delhi-based brothers Nadeem Shehzad and Mohammad Saud's chats saying plenty that's essential. In the documentary's observational style, their conversation flits in and out of the film — sometimes, there's narration, too — giving it many meaningful words. Still, the images that Shaunak Sen (Cities of Sleep) lets flow across the screen in this Sundance- and Cannes-winner, and also 2023 Oscar-nominee, are astonishing. And, befitting this poetic meditative and ruminative doco's pace and mood, they do flow. All That Breathes' main pair adore the black kites that take to India's skies and suffer from its toxic air quality, tending to the creatures' injuries. As Sen watches, he adores them as well. Viewers will, too. Indeed, if there wasn't a single syllable uttered, with the movie just leaning on cinematographers Ben Bernhard (Talking About the Weather), Riju Das (14 Phere) and Saumyananda Sahi's (Trial by Fire) sights, plus Niladri Shekhar Roy ('83) and Moinak Bose's (Against the Tide) sound recording, the end result still would've been revelatory.

This film trills about urban development, its costs and consequences, and caring for others both animal and human — and it chirps oh-so-much. It notes how everything that the earth's predominant inhabitants do has environmental impacts for the creatures that we share the planet with, including quests for economic dominance and political control. All That Breathes peers on as its subjects' tasks get harder even as they earn global attention, receive more funding and build their dream hospital. It sees how they put the majestic kites' wellbeing above their own, even as the numbers of birds needing their help just keeps growing. This is a documentary about animals falling from the skies due to pollution, two siblings trying to help them soar again, why that's so vital and what the whole situation says about life on earth — and it's vital and spectacular viewing.

All That Breathes streams via Binge.

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THE WONDERFUL STORY OF HENRY SUGAR, THE SWAN, THE RAT CATCHER AND POISON

Fresh from stepping into a play as a live production in a TV show in Asteroid City, and also flicking through a magazine's various articles in The French Dispatch before that, Wes Anderson now gets an author sharing his writing in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. The 39-minute short film features Ralph Fiennes (The Menu) as Roald Dahl, who did indeed pen the tale that gives this suitably symmetrically shot affair its name — the book it's in, too — with the account that he's spilling one of several in a film that enthusiastically makes Anderson's love of layers known in its playful structure as much as its faux set. So, Dahl chats. The eponymous Henry Sugar (Benedict Cumberbatch, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) does as well. And, Dr Chatterjee (Dev Patel, The Green Knight) and his patient Imdad Khan (Ben Kingsley, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) also have a natter. The stories within stories within stories (within stories) share the fact that Khan has learned to see without his eyes, Chatterjee couldn't be more fascinated and Sugar wants to learn the trick for himself — to help with his gambling pastime.

In his three decades as a filmmaker, Anderson has only ever made both features and shorts with one of two people responsible for their ideas: himself, sometimes with Owen Wilson (Haunted Mansion), Noah Baumbach (White Noise), Jason Schwartzman (The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes) and/or Roman Coppola (Mozart in the Jungle) contributing; and Dahl. With the latter, first came Anderson's magnificent stop-motion Fantastic Mr Fox adaptation — and now The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar sits among a series of four new shorts based on the author's work. This is still a dream match, with the director's beloved jewel and pastel colours, dollhouse-esque visuals, moving sets, love of centred framing and dialogue rhythm all proving a treat in this account of personal and spiritual growth. The cast is as divine on-screen as it sounds on paper, too, especially Cumberbatch and Patel. The next in the set, the 17-minute The Swan, pushes Rupert Friend (High Desert) to the fore in a darker tale about a bully. Throw in The Rat Catcher (about a small village with a vermin issue) and Poison (charting a life-and-death situation in British-occupied India) — each similarly 17 minutes in length — and there's only one thing to do: package them together as an anthology film.

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, The Swan, The Rat Catcher and Poison stream via Netflix. Read our full review.

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EMILY THE CRIMINAL

Enterprising, astute, intelligent and accepting zero garbage from anyone: these are traits that Aubrey Plaza can convey in her sleep. But she definitely isn't slumbering in Emily the Criminal, which sees her turn in a performance as weighty and layered as her deservedly Golden Globe- and Emmy-nominated portrayal in the second season of The White Lotus — something that she's been doing since her Parks and Recreation days anyway. Indeed, there's more than a touch of April Ludgate-Dwyer's resourcefulness to this crime-thriller's eponymous figure. Los Angeles resident Emily Benetto isn't sporting much apathy, however; she can't afford to. With $70,000 in student loans to her name for a college art degree she isn't using working as a food delivery driver, and a felony conviction that's getting in the way of securing any gig she's better qualified for for, Jersey girl Emily breaks bad to make bank when she's given a tip about a credit card fraud ring run by Youcef (Theo Rossi, Sons of Anarchy). Her simple task: purchasing everything from electronics to cars with the stolen numbers.

Writer/director John Patton Ford makes his feature debut with this lean, sharp, keenly observed and tightly paced film, which works swimmingly and grippingly as a heist thriller with plenty to say about the state of America today — particularly about a society that saddles folks starting their working lives with enormous debts, turning careers in the arts into the domain of the wealthy, and makes even the slightest wrongdoing a life sentence. Emily the Criminal is angry about that state of affairs, and that ire colours every frame. But it's as a character study that this impressive film soars highest, stepping through the struggles, troubles and desperate moves of a woman trapped not by her choices but her lack of options, all while seeing her better-off classmates breeze through life. As she usually is, Plaza is mesmerising, and adds another complicated movie role to a resume that also boasts the phenomenal Ingrid Goes West and Black Bear as well.

Emily the Criminal streams via Binge and Netflix.

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EL CONDE

What if Augusto Pinochet didn't die in 2006? What if the Chilean general and dictator wasn't aged 91 at the time, either? What if his story started long before his official 1915 birthdate, in France prior to the French Revolution? What if he's been living for 250 years because he's a literal monster of the undead, draining and terrifying kind? Trust Chilean filmmaking great Pablo Larraín (Ema, Neruda, The Club, No, Post Mortem and Tony Manero) to ask these questions in El Conde, which translates as The Count and marks the latest exceptional effort in a career that just keeps serving up excellent movies. His satirical, sharp and gleefully unsubtle version of his homeland's most infamous leader was born Claude Pinoche (Clemente Rodríguez, Manchild), saw Marie Antoinette get beheaded and kept popping up to quell insurgencies before becoming Augusto Pinochet. Now holed up in a farm after faking his own death to avoid legal scrutiny — aka the consequences of being a brutal tyrant — the extremely elderly figure (Jaime Vadell, a Neruda, The Club, No and Post Mortem veteran) is also tired of eternal life.

The idea at the heart of El Conde is a gem, with Larraín and his regular co-writer Guillermo Calderón plunging a stake into a despot while showing that the impact of authoritarianism rule stretches on forever (and winning the Venice International Film Festival's Best Screenplay Award this year for their efforts). The execution: just as sublime in a film that's both wryly and dynamically funny, and also a monochrome-shot visual marvel. A moment showing Pinoche licking the blood off the guillotine that's just decapitated Antoinette is instantly unforgettable. As Pinochet flies above Santiago in his cape and military attire in the thick of night, every Edward Lachman (The Velvet Underground)-lensed shot of The Count — as he likes to be called by his wife Lucia (Gloria Münchmeyer, 42 Days of Darkness), butler Fyodor (Alfredo Castro, The Settlers) and adult children — has just as much bite. El Conde's narrative sets its protagonist against an accountant and nun (Paula Luchsinger, Los Espookys) who digs through his crime and sins, and it's a delight that punctures. As seen in the also magnificent Jackie and Spencer, too, Larraín surveys the past like no one else.

El Conde streams via Netflix.

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FLORA AND SON

No filmmaker believes in the power of music quite like John Carney. In Flora and Son, the Once, Begin Again and Sing Street writer/director again lets his favourite refrain echo, this time with an Irish single mother, her rebellious teenage boy and the American guitarist who she pays to give her lessons via zoom. The eponymous Flora (Eve Hewson, Bad Sisters) feels like she's never had an adulthood of her own after falling (swiftly, not slowly) pregnant at the age of 17 to musician Ian (Jack Reynor, The Peripheral) — whose big claim to fame is that his band once opened for Snow Patrol — then being a mum through their relationship highs and lows. When she salvages a thrown-out instrument for now-14-year-old Max (Orén Kinlan, Taken Down) but he doesn't want it, she decides to give it a try herself. It's an escape from simply getting by, arguing with Ian, coping with Max's run-ins with the law and young mother-style existential malaise. It could be a path to a new future, too. And, with her teen also into music — but hip hop, rap and EDM, or whatever will impress his crush (feature first-timer Alex Deegan) — it's a way to bring Flora and son closer together.

Music is in Hewson's blood given that she's the daughter of Paul Hewson, aka U2's Bono, with the Behind Her Eyes and The Knick star well-cast — and magnetic, and also endlessly charismatic — as the forthright, sweary, just-trying-to-get-by Flora. There's both yearning and energy in her electrifyingly lived-in performance, and in the melodic and soulful tunes that her character pens with teacher Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Poker Face) via video chats as they reflect upon their lives, loves, hopes and dreams via songwriting. Flora and Son boasts lovely performances all round, in fact. Kinlan is a dynamic find who deserves many more credits on his resume, Gordon-Levitt charms quietly and softly, and sparks fly when Carney gets the latter in the same space as Hewson through an easy but nice visual touch. The movie's moniker makes plain where its heart belongs, though, as Flora and Max learn not just about themselves but about their complicated bond with each other by making music. As always with this filmmaker's work, the original soundtrack is sublime. Also, the mood feels like a warm but clear-eyed hug.

Flora and Son streams via Apple TV+.

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RUSTIN

After Selma, One Night in Miami and Judas and the Black Messiah arrives Rustin, the latest must-see movie about the minutiae of America's 60s-era civil rights movement. All four hail from Black filmmakers. All four tell vital stories. The entire quartet boasts phenomenal performances, too — complete with a Best Supporting Actor statuette for Judas and the Black Messiah's Daniel Kaluuya, plus nominations for his co-star Lakeith Stanfield and One Night in Miami's Leslie Odom Jr (Selma's David Oyelowo was robbed). Colman Domingo, an Emmy-winner for Euphoria and Tony-nominee for The Scottsboro Boys, deserves to join that Academy Awards list for his turn as Rustin's eponymous figure. His performance isn't merely powerful; it's a go-for-broke portrayal from a versatile talent at the top of his game while digging into the every inch of his part. Domingo doesn't only turn in a showcase effort in a career that's long been absent on-screen leading role, either; he's everything that Rustin hangs off of, soars around, and lives and breathes with. Focusing on Bayard Rustin, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom director George C Wolfe's latest feature already had a riveting and important tale to tell, but Domingo proves its stunning beating heart.

Rustin's namesake holds a place in history for a wealth of reasons, but here's one: it was at the event that he conceived, organised and gave almost everything he had to ensure took place that Martin Luther King Jr have his "I Have a Dream" speech. That moment at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963 will never be forgotten. Nor should Rustin's efforts in ensuring there was a protest —  a historic demonstration with more than 200,000 attendees, in fact— to begin with against overwhelming pushback. Dr King (Aml Ameen, I May Destroy You) is a supporting player in this film, which explores the behind-the-scenes hustle and bustle from idea until the day, as well as Rustin's fight not just against racism but also homophobia as an openly gay Black man (including the battles he's forced to wage among his fellow crusaders for civil rights). Even while only covering a sliver of his subject's life, Wolfe largely takes the traditional biopic route, working with a script by Julian Breece (When They See Us) and Dustin Lance Black (an Oscar-winner for Milk); however, the potency of the Rustin's deeds and struggles, the importance of everything that he was rallying for and Domingo's electrifying lead performance all make his movie anything but standard.

Rustin streams via Netflix.cp-line

EARTH MAMA

Add Savanah Leaf's debut feature to 2023's phenomenal first films from female directors, slotting in alongside Aftersun and Past Lives. Earth Mama mightn't riff on her own story as those two movies do for their filmmakers, but the former Olympic volleyballer and Grammy-nominee for Best Music Video (for Gary Clark Jr's 'This Land') does still draw upon reality to potent and empathetic effect. In 2020, Leaf and actor Taylor Russell (Bones and All) co-directed documentary short The Heart Still Hums, which dedicated its frames to single mothers forced to interact with the child welfare, fostering and adoption systems. In fiction, focusing on one young mum with two kids that she's desperate to reunite with and a third on the way, that's Earth Mama's story as well. Leaf won Best Debut Director at the 2023 British Independent Film for the confident and revelatory end result, which feels as initiate and raw as cinema gets — and, while firmly telling a social-realist tale about the plight of women in its protagonist's situation, balances its bleakness with hope, a sense of community, and astute and insightful doses of magical realism.

Tia Nomore also makes a staggering debut herself as Gia, the 24-year-old whose pain at being away from her son Trey (Ca'Ron Jaden Coleman, This Is Us) and daughter Shaynah (Alexis Rivas, another first-timer) seeps from her pores. Getting their family back together isn't simple, though, as the authorities splash their disapproval at everything Gia does: her history wth drugs, which she's in recovery for; her new pregnancy, especially given that she isn't in a stable relationship; and being late to her supervised once-a-week sessions with kids, despite the fact that she's doing her best to meet all of child services' demands while also keeping her job. In some of the movie's visually brightest moments that come tinged with the surreal, Gia works in a mall photo store helping to take happy snaps of beaming couples and their offspring; immortalising their perfect dream is how she makes a living, while constantly chasing her own. There's poetry to Leaf's imagery, anger in her survey of how Black women are treated and defiance in Gia's determination — plus both complexity and compassion everywhere.

Earth Mama streams via Google Play, YouTube Movies, iTunes and Prime Video.

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HUESERA: THE BONE WOMAN

The sound of cracking knuckles is one of humanity's most anxiety-inducing. The noise of clicking bones elsewhere? That's even worse. Both help provide Huesera: The Bone Woman's soundtrack — and set the mood for a deeply tense slow-burner that plunges into maternal paranoia like a Mexican riff on Rosemary's Baby, the horror subgenre's perennial all-timer, while also interrogating the reality that bringing children into the world isn't a dream for every woman no matter how much society expects otherwise. Valeria (Natalia Solián, Red Shoes) is thrilled to be pregnant, a state that hasn't come easily. After resorting to praying at a shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in desperation, neither she nor partner Raúl (Alfonso Dosal, Narcos: Mexico) could be happier, even if her sister Vero (Sonia Couoh, 40 Years Young) caustically comments that she's never seemed that interested in motherhood before. Then, two things shake up her hard-fought situation: a surprise run-in with Octavia (Mayra Batalla, Everything Will Be Fine), the ex-girlfriend she once planned to live a completely different life with; and constant glimpses of a slithering woman whose unnatural body movements echo and unsettle.

Filmmaker Michelle Garza Cervera (TV series Marea alta) makes her fictional narrative debut with Huesera: The Bone Woman, directing and also writing with first-timer Abia Castillo — and she makes a powerfully chilling and haunting body-horror effort about hopes, dreams, regrets and the torment of being forced into a future that you don't truly foresee as your own. Every aspect of the film, especially Nur Rubio Sherwell's (Don't Blame Karma!) exacting cinematography, reinforces how trapped that Valeria feels even if she can't admit it to herself, and how much that attempting to be the woman Raúl and her family want is eating away at her soul. Solián is fantastic at navigating this journey, including whether the movie is leaning into drama or terror at any given moment. You don't need expressive eyes to be a horror heroine, but she boasts them; she possesses a scream queen's lungs, too. Unsurprisingly, Cervera won the Nora Ephron Award for best female filmmaker at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival for this instantly memorable nightmare.

Huesera: The Bone Woman streams via Shudder.

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ROBE OF GEMS

In the very first moments of her very first feature as a director — after working as an editor on films such as 2012's Post Tenebras Lux and 2014's Jauja — Natalia López demands her audience's attention. She earns it and ensures it as well, and looking away while Robe of Gems unfurls its story is impossible afterwards. To kick things off, a patient and painterly glimpse at the rural Mexican landscape comes into sight, fading up and bringing more and more dusty grey details with it with each second. Then, without the frame moving, a frenetic man is seen bashing and slashing through the plants. Next, it becomes apparent that there's a reflection as part of the image. And, it's also quickly evident that viewers are seeing someone else's vantage as they look on at the landscape. In fact, a couple peers out, in the middle of getting intimate (and immediately before flinging wooden furniture around, strewn pieces flying everywhere). With the 'start as you mean to go on' maxim in mind, it's a helluva opening.

López does indeed begin as she goes on, in a film that scored her 2022's Berlinale's Silver Bear Jury Prize. The pivotal villa belongs to Isabel's (Nailea Norvind, Julia vs Julia) family, and offers somewhat of a respite from a marriage that's splintering like that thrown-about furniture, with the clearly well-to-do woman settling in with her children Benja (first-timer Balam Toledo) and Vale (fellow debutant Sherlyn Zavala Diaz). But tension inescapably lingers, given that the onsite caretaker María (newcomer Antonia Olivares) is unsettled by the disappearance of her sister, a plot point that makes a purposeful statement. The police are investigating, the cartel has a local presence, corruption is an ever-present force, and the gap between the wealthy and not-so is glaring. Progressing carefully from that powerhouse opening, Robe of Gems quickly seeps under your skin — and as its first visuals make abundantly clearly, every second is a marvel to look at.

Robe of Gems streams via Prime Video and Madman on Demand.

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CASSANDRO

The story of luchador Saúl Armendáriz hits the screen in Cassandro, which takes its title from the American-born Mexican performer's ring name. As writer/director Roger Ross Williams (Life, Animated) works through with help from his charismatic star Gael García Bernal (Werewolf By Night), Armendáriz first came to wrestling in a mask — as an amateur living in El Paso but heading over the border to Juarez to get scrapping — then made a big switch to take on an exótico identity. That's where the openly gay competitor not only found himself, but also earned fame. He takes convincing, however, as this affectionate and thoughtful feature unpacks. Of course he wants to be able to express himself, bounce between the ropes with glamour and joy, carve out an accepting space and have crowds showering him with love. But exóticos have been traditionally positioned to lose. Dressed in drag, they've been used to show up the masculine strengths of their opponents. That homophobic situation isn't one that Armendáriz wants to embrace, but trainer Sabrina (Roberta Colindrez, A League of Their Own) thinks that he could make a difference, subvert the trend, stand out and become a better wrestler.

Frequent documentarian Williams, who won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short for Music by Prudence, knows a great story — and stellar talent. Cassandro has both, including Armendáriz's rise to become the 'Liberace of Lucha Libre', the many ups and downs on that path, his relationship with his mother Yocasta (Perla De La Rosa, Villa, itinerario de una pasión), and Bernal's layered performance in his shoes and spandex. There's both passion and heartbreak in the actor's portrayal — shyness as Saúl and blossoming confidence as Cassandro as well — in another of Bernal's big career highlights. Indeed, he puts in a tour-de-force effort as the film explores Armendáriz's devotion to his mum; his complicated feelings about his absent, disapproving dad (Robert Salas, Family Portrait); his secret liaisons and not-so-clandestine love for married fellow luchador Gerardo (Raúl Castillo, The Inspection); his flirtations with the assistant (Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio aka Bad Bunny, Bullet Train) to his key promoter (Joaquín Cosio, Narcos: Mexico); and what it means to get a shot in the ring with icon silver-masked El Hijo del Santo (as himself).

Cassandro streams via Prime Video.

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THEY CLONED TYRONE

Jordan Peele's Get Out and Us would already make a killer triple feature with Boots Riley's Sorry to Bother You. For a smart and savvy marathon of science fiction-leaning films about race in America by Black filmmakers, now add Juel Taylor's They Cloned Tyrone. The Creed II screenwriter turns first-time feature director with this dystopian movie that slides in alongside Groundhog Day, Moon, The Cabin in the Woods, A Clockwork Orange, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and They Live, too — but is never derivative, not for a second, including in its 70s-style Blaxploitation-esque aesthetic that nods to Shaft and Superfly as well. Exactly what drug dealer Fontaine (John Boyega, The Woman King), pimp Slick Charles (Jamie Foxx, Strays) and sex worker Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris, The Marvels) find in their neighbourhood is right there in the film's name. The how, the why, the specifics around both, the sense of humour that goes with all of the above, the savage satire: Taylor and co-writer Tony Rettenmaier perfect the details. Ignore the fact that they both collaborated on the script for the awful Space Jam: A New Legacy, other than considering the excellent They Cloned Tyrone as a far smarter, darker and deeper exploration of exploitation when the powers that be see other people as merely a means to an end.

On an ordinary day — and amid vintage-looking threads and hairstyles, and also thoroughly modern shoutouts to SpongeBob SquarePants, Kevin Bacon, Barack Obama, Nancy Drew and bitcoin — Fontaine wakes up, has little cash and doesn't win on an instant scratch-it. He chats to his mother through her bedroom door, tries to collect a debt from Slick Charles and, as Yo-Yo witnesses, is shot. Then he's back in his bed, none the wiser about what just happened, zero wounds to be seen, and going through the same cycle again. When the trio realise that coming back from the dead isn't just a case of déjà vu, they team up to investigate, discovering one helluva conspiracy that helps Taylor's film make a powerful statement. They Cloned Tyrone's lead trio amply assists, too, especially the ever-ace Boyega. Like Sorry to Bother You especially, this is a comedy set within a nightmarish scenario, and the Attack the Block, Star Wars and Small Axe alum perfects both the humour and the horror. One plucky and persistent, the other oozing charm and rocking fur-heavy coats, Parris and Foxx lean into the hijinks as the central threesome go all Scooby-Doo. There isn't just a man in a mask here, however, in this astute and inventive standout.

They Cloned Tyrone streams via Netflix.

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NO ONE WILL SAVE YOU

Thanks to Justified, Short Term 12, Booksmart, Unbelievable and Dopesick, Kaitlyn Dever has already notched up plenty of acting highlights; however, No One Will Save You proves one of her best projects yet while only getting the actor to speak just a single line. Instead of using dialogue, this alien invasion flick tells its story without words — and also finds its emotion in Dever's expressive face and physicality. Her character: Mill River resident Brynn Adams, who has no one to talk to long before extra-terrestrials arrive. The local outcast due to a tragic incident from her past, and now living alone in her childhood home following her mother's death, Brynn fills her time by sewing clothes, making models of her unwelcoming small town like she's in Moon and penning letters to her best friend Maude. Then she's woken in the night by an intruder who isn't human, flits between fighting back and fleeing, and is forced into a battle for survival — striving to save her alienated existence in her cosy but lonely abode from grey-hued, long-limbed, telekinetic otherworldly interlopers with a penchant for mind control.

With Spontaneous writer/director Brian Duffield's script matched by exacting A Quite Place-level sound design and The Witcher composer Joseph Trapanese's score, this close encounter of the unspoken kind is a visual feat, bouncing, bounding and dancing around Brynn's house and the Mill River community as aliens linger. Every single frame conveys a wealth of detail, as it needs to without chatter to fill in the gaps. Every look on Dever's face does the same, and every glance as well; this is a performance so fine-tuned that this would be a completely different film without her. Bringing the iconic 'Hush' episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to mind, No One Will Save you is smartly plotted, including in explaining why it sashays in silence. Just as crucially — and this time recalling everyone's favourite home-invasion film, aka Home Alone — it's fluidly and evocatively choreographed. There's also a touch of Nope in its depiction of eerie threats from space, plus a veer into Invasion of the Body Snatchers, all without ever feeling like No One Will Save is bluntly cribbing from elsewhere. The result: a new sci-fi/horror standout.

No One Will Save You streams via Disney+.

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RYE LANE

When Dom (David Jonsson, Industry) and Yas (Vivian Oparah, Then You Run) are asked how they met, they tell a tale about a karaoke performance getting an entire bar cheering. Gia (Karene Peter, Emmerdale Farm), Dom's ex, is both shocked and envious, even though she cheated on him with his primary-school best friend Eric (Benjamin Sarpong-Broni, The Secret). It's the kind of story a movie couple would love to spin — the type that tends to only happen in the movies, too. But even for Rye Lane's fictional characters, it's a piece of pure imagination. Instead, the pair meet in South London, in the toilet at an art show. He's crying in a stall, they chat awkwardly through the gender-neutral space's wall, then get introduced properly outside. It's clumsy, but they keep the conversation going even when they leave the exhibition, then find themselves doing the good ol' fashioned rom-com walk and talk, then slide in for that dinner rendezvous with the flabbergasted Gia.

It's easy to think of on-screen romances gone by during British filmmaker Raine Allen-Miller's feature debut — working with a script from Bloods duo Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia — which this charming Sundance-premiering flick overtly wants viewers to. There's a helluva sight gag about Love Actually, as well as a cameo to match, and the whole meandering-and-nattering setup helped make Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight an iconic trilogy. That said, as Rye Lane spends time with shy accountant Dom, who has barely left his parents' house since the breakup, and the outgoing costume designer Yas, who has her own recent relationship troubles casting a shadow, it isn't propelled by nods and winks. Rather, it's smart and savvy in a Starstruck way about paying tribute to what's come before while wandering down its own path. The lead casting is dynamic, with Jonsson and Oparah making a duo that audiences could spend hours with, and Allen-Miller's eye as a director is playful, lively, loving and probing. Rom-coms are always about watching people fall for each other, but this one plunges viewers into its swooning couple's mindset with every visual and sensory touch it can.

Rye Lane streams via Disney+.cp-line

CONFESS, FLETCH

Since Mad Men had Don Draper want to buy the world a Coke to end its seven-season run back in 2015, comedy has been Jon Hamm's friend. He's the ultimate TV guest star, building upon stints in 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation while Mad Men was still airing with Toast of London, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Curb Your Enthusiasm, on a resume that also includes The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, Childrens Hospital, Medical Police, Angie Tribeca, The Last Man on Earth and Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp as well. So, casting him as the new Irwin Maurice 'Fletch' Fletcher couldn't be an easier move. Having fellow Mad Men standout John Slattery (The Good Fight) also appear in the latest flick about the investigative reporter, and the first since the Chevy Chase-led movies in the 80s, is another winning touch. Even if that reunion wasn't part of the film, Hamm is so entertaining that he makes a killer case for a whole new Fletch franchise — on whatever screen the powers-that-be like — with him at its centre.

Hamm clearly understands how well he suits this type of character, and the genre; he's a comic delight, and he's also one of Confess, Fletch's producers. Superbad and Adventureland's Greg Mottola directs and co-writes, scripting with Outer Range's Zev Borow — and ensuring that Hamm and Slattery aren't the only acting highlights. Working through a plot that sees Fletch chasing a stolen artwork, discovering a dead body, and both looking into the crime and considered a suspect himself, the film also features engaging turns by always-welcome Twin Peaks great Kyle MacLachlan and Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar gem Annie Mumolo. There have been several attempts to revive Fletch over the past three decades, including separate projects with Ted Lasso duo Bill Lawrence and Jason Sudeikis — on the page, the character spans nine novels but viewers should be thankful that this is the action-comedy that came to fruition, even if it skipped cinemas everywhere but the US.

Confess, Fletch streams via Paramount+ and Binge.

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Looking for more viewing highlights? We also rounded up the 15 top films of 2023, and another 15 exceptional flicks that hardly anyone saw in cinemas this year — plus the 15 best new TV series of 2023, another 15 excellent new TV shows of 2023 that you might've missed and the 15 best returning shows as well.

And, we've kept a running list of must-stream TV from across the year, complete with full reviews.

Also, you can check out our regular rundown of film and TV streaming recommendations, which is updated monthly.

Published on December 18, 2023 by Sarah Ward
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