The 10 Best Films You Didn't See in 2023

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Dec 12, 2023

Canadian films feature prominently in this year's collection of hidden gems, with striking new voices and visually rich filmmakers making their presence known. From family vacations that turn into personal growth and development to time travellers landing in the Hammer, the future of Canadian film feels healthy and assured.

Outside of the Great White North, our American friends down south make an expected appearance, while Finland, Mexico and the UK all deliver films that may have been glossed over in our cinemas, but deserve our attention nonetheless.

Every year, great films fly under the radar, and although it's impossible for every deserving film to receive the spotlight, Exclaim! has compiled 10 of this year's best films you probably haven't heard of. Check them out below, and read about Exclaim!'s other favourite films and music of 2023 here.

The Deepest Breath
Directed by Laura McGann

This documentary about freediving — where swimmers go as deep as they can without any breathing apparatus — is paced like a true crime mystery, where director Laura McGann withholds key information about the fate of the central figures until the very end. It leaves viewers grappling with fascinating questions about why people are willing to risk their lives for such an inane pursuit. Every time a diver emerges from the water with purple skin and bulging eyes, either unconscious or gasping for air, I have to ask myself: why?
Alex Hudson

Dicks: The Musical
Directed by Larry Charles
(VVS Films)

At a holiday party for film critics, Dicks: The Musical was the film I argued about the most with my fellow nerds. They insisted that it wasn't funny, only stupid; I contended that its stupidity is exactly what makes it so funny. Dicks bravely dangles its gross-out humour in the audience's face, baffling viewers with inane weirdness before descending to new depths of depravity in the final act, gleefully breaking the most disgusting taboo them all. Go ahead — try to guess which taboo I mean.
Alex Hudson

Falcon Lake
Directed by Charlotte Le Bon
(Yellow Veil Pictures)

There's a horror to Falcon Lake that's unexpected in a coming-of-age film but also oddly fitting. It follows a family vacation where young Bastien (Joseph Engel) — 13 going on 14 — is forced to share a room with his mom's best friend's 16-year-old daughter (Sara Montpetit), and both are faced with a longing and emotions never experienced before. Through Bastien, we experience the terror that first love and growing up can produce. Charlotte Le Bon uses her artistic background to create a film that's stunning, moody and atmospheric, and together with the delicate performances of the ensemble, Falcon Lake is an assured stylistic debut with tremendous heart and understanding. 
Rachel Ho

Fallen Leaves
Directed by Aki Kaurismäki
(Films We Like)

Early front-runners in the Oscars' Best International Film category this year have included The Zone of Interest, Anatomy of a Fall and The Taste of Things; hidden among them is Finland's submission to the Academy, Fallen Leaves. A quiet and gentle almost-love story between two middle-aged people caught up in bored and isolated lives, Aki Kaurismäki continues his exploration of working-class life in Finland with a patient romance for the ages. Never becoming more or less than the mundanity of the everyday, Fallen Leaves doesn't pity nor does it sympathize with its subject. Instead, their anti-social, perpetual singledom is simply left to exist perfectly and imperfectly. 
Rachel Ho

Huesera: The Bone Woman
Directed by Michelle Garza Cervera
(Elevation Pictures)

A breathtaking achievement, Huesera is the feature debut by director Michelle Garza Cervera that considers what it would look like to find that motherhood isn't all it's cracked up to be. Natalia Solián delivers a strikingly raw performance as Valeria, a young woman who, after achieving the life society teaches is the feminine ideal, finds her body literally and painfully militating against it. Huesera is lyrical and expository as it weaves a bone-chilling kind of horror into the mundanity and practicalities of femininity, and as it builds up to its thesis that there are many ways to be a woman, the film becomes a delicate battle cry. 
Alisha Mughal

Infinity Pool
Directed by Brandon Cronenberg
(Elevation Pictures)

Similar to The White Lotus, Infinity Pool lampoons rich people on vacation — but the main difference is that Brandon Cronenberg has inherited his dad David's warped cinematic sensibilities, so he pushes his story down a much more sinister path full of murder and fever-dream orgies. It's a canny commentary on the exploitation perpetrated by the one percent, and the fact that it's so fun to watch makes us all complicit.
Alex Hudson

Relax, I'm from the Future
Directed by Luke Higginson
(Game Theory Films)

Time travel movies can always be a bit prickly, especially when examined too deeply; it's easy for plot holes to appear and logic to prevail. Luke Higginson's Relax, I'm from the Future finds its way around pesky rationalism by effectively taking the piss out of the genre while still being a legit entry into it. Rhys Darby's aloof charm drives the film forward as Casper, a time traveller returning to the 2020s to prevent catastrophe (and visit some local Hamilton hot spots in the process). Darby's chemistry with Gabrielle Graham's Holly, his present-day friend and confidant, drives the film with their heartfelt fish-out-of-water exchanges and comedic beats. A strong debut from Higginson that demonstrates a bold and unique voice. 
Rachel Ho

Directed by Adrian Murray
(Vortex Media)

Elevated by some of the most interesting editing and camerawork choices of the year, Retrograde occupies a precarious place in the cinematic world: kind of dull with a smidge of pretension, but somehow wholly hilarious and entirely compelling. Following 20-something Molly Richmond's (Molly Reisman) battle with the Ontario traffic ticket appeal system, Adrian Murray's second feature finds the dry amusement in everyday occurrences. Beyond that, though, Murray perfectly distills that almost-purgatory phase where it feels like everything is of the utmost importance while also being frozen in a standstill, waiting for your true life to begin. 
Rachel Ho

Rye Lane
Directed by Raine Allen-Miller
(Searchlight Pictures)

Using the Before Sunrise framework, director Raine Allen-Miller crafts Rye Lane, an immensely entertaining romantic comedy that tells the tale of two strangers, Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah), travelling across South London to steal back a copy of A Tribe Called Quests's The Low End Theory. The film's charm shines through the undeniable chemistry of its magnetic leads and the culturally authentic world they inhabit. Offering a fresh take on familiar genre tropes, Rye Lane is a vibrant and crowd-pleasing reminder of the common barriers to finding real love. 
Courtney Small

Something You Said Last Night
Directed by Luis De Filippis
(Elevation Pictures)

Something You Said Last Night follows Ren, a twenty-something aspiring writer reluctantly attending a lakeside vacation with her lively and loving Canadian-Italian family. Through gorgeous cinematography and excellent writing, the film exhibits a delicate balance of tenderness, boredom and unease as it offers an intimate portrayal of the family's dynamic. Director Luis De Filippis subtly incorporates Ren's experiences as a trans woman without making it the dominant narrative around her character or perpetuating common tropes. There's a lot that resonates in De Filippis's feature debut, and it shows incredible promise for her career ahead.
Marie Saadeh

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