It’s been an eventful 2023 for international TV and film. As the strikes shut down Hollywood and streamers retrenched from the mega-spends of the Covid era, shows and movies from far and wide came were already in demand like never before, as viewers look to new countries for inspiration. Call it the Squid Game effect, or whatever you want, but neither subtitles nor geographical boundaries are an impediment to content getting seen any more. Here, we run down each Deadline International journalist’s top pick from the year, for the most part avoiding spoilers (there are some though, so this is a fair warning). You’ll find big-ticket U.S. fare, Japanese anime, restaurant TV dramas and Australian newsroom stories among our eclectic selections.
And for more on the top new non-U.S. titles for the year, be sure to check out our fortnightly Global Breakouts strand, featuring shows from Turkey, South Korea, Denmark, New Zealand, South Africa and Italy among others. For now, read on…
Anatomy Of A Fall (France)
Melanie Goodfellow, Senior International Correspondent
My movie of the year is Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall, starring Sandra Hüller as a German writer standing trial on suspicion of murder after her husband falls to his death from a high window in their remote chalet home in the French Alps, with the key witness being their visually impaired young son.
I discovered Triet with her 2013 debut feature Age Of Panic. The storyline of a journalist juggling her work with the maelstrom of home life and two young children in the background chimed at the time. I’ve been hooked ever since. I first interviewed Triet for her second film In Bed With Victoria, when it was the opening film of Cannes Critics’ Week in 2016. It was pre #MeToo and women were still struggling to make it into the Official Selection Competition. That year just three of the 20 Palme d’Or contenders were women. The previous year, just two female directors had made the cut. Frustrated by this state-of-affairs quietly decided I would only interview female directors that Cannes and Triet was one of them.
Ten years on, it has been a joy to witness Triet’s fourth movie Anatomy of a Fall win the Cannes Palme d’Or as well as its box office and awards season success since. The film has chimed once again, this time for its dissection of a marriage and maternal bonds as well as its exploration of the outside gaze on a woman. The screenplay may be more sophisticated and Hüller’s performance worthy of an Academy Award nomination at the very least, but the same raw take on reality that I found in Age of Panic remains.
Top Boy (Netflix, UK)
Jesse Whittock, International TV Co-Editor
There’s a reason why The Wire is my favorite TV series of all time — its relentless dedication to character and reality over plotting, motivation over gratification. It’s the same reason Netflix’s Top Boy has been one of my top shows of the past decade. The complicated story of east London estate drug kingpins Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kane Robinson) and their on-off friendship came to a head this year with the fifth and final season (and the third on Netflix).
It was a quieter, more localized affair than the all-action season 4, which took viewers out of Hackney and into Morocco’s underworld, but still provided great drama, some Suella Braverman-goading social commentary and fantastic guest roles for a terrifying but hilarious Barry Keoghan and Brian Gleeson playing Irish mobsters. The lack of BAFTA and International Emmy nominations for Walters and Robinson over the years is nothing short of a disgrace, and here they manage close off their intertwined stories with a bang.
The series, famously brought back from oblivion through the backing of hip-hop star Drake, has launched the careers of acting talent such as Micheal Ward and Jasmine Jobson, and this season showcases the emerging talents of Dudley O’Shaughnessy and Araloyin Oshunremi, the latter playing an angry and scared teenager adapting to life in care. Jobson’s heartbreaking turn as high-ranking dealer Jaq is another high point. I did consider several shows not from my home country for this article, but the chance to say goodbye to the closest thing the UK has to The Wire is one I couldn’t pass up.
Four Daughters (Tunisia)
Zac Ntim, International Reporter
After a three-year hiatus, Tunisian filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania returned this year with her latest project, the formally inventive and confident documentary feature Four Daughters. The film debuted at Cannes, where it was one of two documentaries to earn a coveted spot in the main competition. In August, Tunisia selected Ben Hania’s doc as its official entry for the Best International Film Oscar race, the third time the director has been chosen for that honor, following 2017’s Beauty and the Dogs and 2020’s The Man Who Sold His Skin, which went on to earn an Oscar nomination. Both of those earlier films were narrative dramas, and there are dramatic elements in Four Daughters, too.
The film tells the story of Olfa, a working-class Tunisian woman who has raised four girls: Ghofrane, Rahma, Eya, and Tayssir. After the Arab Spring led to the ouster of Tunisia’s dictator in 2011, Islamic fundamentalism surged in the country. Olfa’s eldest – teenagers Ghofrane and Rahma – were swept up in the religious fervor and disappeared in 2015. Only later did it emerge they had joined ISIS in Libya and had been married off to militant leaders. The case attracted massive media attention in Tunisia and across the world.
As Ben Hania’s doc kicks into gear and the subject matter offered up, it’s easy to believe you’ve found its number. On first watch, I almost immediately discarded it as another re-enactment film centered around conventional talking-heads-style confessionals. And then Ben Hania played her strong hand. To fill in the absence of the two eldest daughters, she had hired professional actresses to play their ‘roles’ in the doc alongside the real-life family. There is also a fictional sub-in for Olfa when the scenes have become too raw, creating a unique hybrid of fiction, documentary, and a behind-the-scenes perspective. This technique is not entirely new: Think back to something like Cheryl Dunye’s groundbreaking New Queer Classic, The Watermelon Woman, for example. But coupled with the subject matter and Ben Hania’s sharp camera, the audience is provided with a distinct sense of intimacy with this family and their extremely painful circumstances.
Succession (HBO, U.S.) / Poor Things (U.S.)
Andreas Wiseman, International Editor
Succession is probably the best English-language series of the last five years, and certainly my favorite in that period. There’s little new left to say about a show that permeated the cultural zeitgeist to such an extent, but what a ride it was. Shakespearean ‘til the last, it was a towering achievement by the hyper-talented Jesse Armstrong and his flawless cast, and yet another example of why HBO remains the gold-standard (and it’s not particularly close).
Discovering Poor Things in Venice was a similar treat. The ingenuity and creativity leapt off the screen. It was a truly unique visual and thematic feast and superbly acted by all. Emma Stone has never been better and Mark Ruffalo was an absolute hoot. The film deserves all the plaudits it gets and is a welcome reminder of the type of original and daring auteur work that can still be championed by a studio division.
Tiger Stripes (Malaysia)
Liz Shackleton, Contributing Editor, Asia
It’s not just the fact that this is the first film I’ve ever seen that features hijab-wearing Malay tweenies as the protagonists that made Amanda Nell Eu’s debut feature Tiger Stripes stand out for me. It’s also how relatable the characters are, even in the midst of a fantastical body horror tale. As we watch these girls discuss their first periods, try on bras and descend into the kind of self-righteous playground exclusion and bullying that tweenagers seem to do so well, we’re struck with the universality of the young female experience. But then we’re hit with the body morphing terror that the lead character, played by newcomer Zafreen Zairizal, is forced to go through as she enters puberty, all executed in a deliciously lo-fi way, which Eu says is a homage to the Malaysian myths and horror films she grew up with.
After premiering in Cannes, where it won the Grand Prize in Critics Week, the film has been travelling constantly and was also submitted as Malaysia’s entry for Best International Feature at the Oscars. Eu has also had a highly publicised clash with Malaysian censors, distancing herself from the cut of the film they approved for a local Oscar qualifying release. Her biggest objection is that they cut out “the very joy of being a young girl in Malaysia” and she has a point.
While all the young cast were good, it’s the joy and physicality of Zairizal’s performance that stood out most for me – from the opening where she performs an exuberant TikTok dance, right to the final scenes where her metamorphosis is complete. Eu and Zairizal capture both the fun bits and the agony of being a 12-year-old girl in the age of social media. I can’t wait to see what they both do next.
The Sixth Commandment (BBC, UK)
Jake Kanter, International Investigations Editor
You can keep your Successions and your Crowns, my unexpected TV discovery of 2023 was an altogether more parochial affair. The Sixth Commandment premiered on the BBC in July, with the four-parter telling the unsettling story of Ben Field, a young man who murdered a retired British teacher in the rural idyll of Stowe. Based on a true story, the charismatic Field inveigled his way into the life of Peter Farquhar through what seemed an unlikely love story. Field was eventually convicted of killing Farquhar in 2019, four years after misleading, drugging and suffocating the former teacher.
In the hands of A Very British Scandal writer Sarah Phelps, the limited series deftly and delicately unfurls, planting viewers in the shoes of Farquhar as we too are duped by Field’s fabrications. In his breakthrough role, Éanna Hardwicke is a charming and dazzling presence, but the hideous reality soon reveals itself and we are left feeling as gaslit as the victims of his deception.
Farquhar is brilliantly portrayed by Timothy Spall. He is a man ill-at-ease with his sexuality, who tragically lets his guard down for the wrong lover. His story lingers long in the memory.
The Newsreader (ABC, Australia)
Caroline Frost, Weekend Editor
Following its popular debut in 2021, the second season of The Newsreader sealed its place in the affections of fans far beyond its native Australia. Airing on the Roku Channel in the U.S. and on the BBC in the UK, the show went global via distributor Entertainment One. The ABC drama follows the personal and professional tribulations of journalists and crew within a 1980s Australian TV newsroom.
Real-life incidents in the newsroom’s Melbourne backyard as well as global events like the 1981 wedding of Charles and Diana provide the backdrop while the soft rock soundtrack and big perms of the era bring waves of nostalgia, but the show doesn’t shy away from some cringe-making portraits of how a newsroom operated 40 years ago, with themes including male-female dynamics, hidden sexuality, reporting ethics and ruthless ambition. At its centre are Sam Reid (Lambs of God) and a formidable Anna Torv (Manhunter, The Last of Us). Unsurprisingly, both she and the show have won a host of Australian industry awards, and a third season is set for 2024.
Like its comedic compatriot Colin From Accounts, The Newsreader is evidence of a new confidence of Australian creatives in tapping into their native cultural sensibility with world-pleasing results. Torv spoke to the UK’s Radio Times magazine of her delight in this renaissance Down Under: “One of the reasons I love working here is you’re all in it together and there’s no hierarchy. That stems from money, and the fact it’s not a billion-dollar business here. We still have that attitude. It’s collaborative, you take it seriously, but not too seriously. Now we’re taking it just that step further, where we’re allowed to care.”
My Mum, Your Dad (ITV, UK)
Max Goldbart, International TV Co-Editor
There have been a number of successful new formats since The Traitors’ runaway success, but this one struck a serious chord. Dubbing My Mum, Your Dad as ‘Love Island for older people’ is an easy win and likely helped producers when drawing up the show’s pitch deck, but the claim does ITV’s new entertainment hit injustice.
Based on Greg and Haley Daniels’ HBO Max original, My Mum, Your Dad is pitch perfect in tone, bringing a sweet balance between allowing audiences to get to know the contestants, challenges and healthy doses of drama — seriously, if you thought an edge-of-your-seat, will-they-won’t-they was reserved for the under-30s then just watch the Martins do battle over Monique and Tolullah in the infamous ‘love square.’ Having the contestants’ kids watch from an adjoining house while ‘playing god’ was also a nifty twist, never overdone and instead lending even more heart to the adults (I defy you to stem the flow of tears when star-of-the-show Martin H is reunited with daughter Jessica).
But more than all this, My Mum, Your Dad succeeds in showcasing on-screen elements of diversity and vulnerability rarely seen in the now-hyper-idealized world of Love Island and co: loneliness, rejection, betrayal and fear of failing to find someone. Each character’s story involved these themes in some way, and each was teased out as the show drew on. With a second season in the offing and international sales aplenty, My Mum, Your Dad could yet be around for a little while. Give it a try, it’s a hell of a lot more than you think.
The Boy and the Heron (Japan)
Diana Lodderhose, International Features Editor
The best films are those that linger with you long after the credits have rolled and this year, The Boy and the Heron was that film for me. Touted as legendary Japanese animator and Studio Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki’s last film, it’s a touching story about grief and love, life and death, the bond between a boy and his mother and dealing with one’s past, all the while laden with the director’s trademark magic and fantastical elements.
It’s the tale of a young Mahito who, after losing his mother, follows a heron into a tower and enters a world shared by the living and the dead. As to be expected with Miyazaki, The Boy and the Heron refuses to shy away from some deep themes but they are handled so carefully that the audience feels they are carried safely through his journey.
I was fortunate enough to see the film with my husband and three children during the London Film Festival earlier this year and, although my youngest couldn’t quite read the subtitles, no one’s eyes strayed from that big screen for two hours. That’s the magic of this film and of Miyazaki’s storytelling – it’s not only language-agnostic, but it’s ageless. My five-year-old was enchanted by the magical creatures and what she termed as “the funny grandmas.” My nine-year old, an art obsessive, loved the skilled animation. Meanwhile, my 11-year-old said he loved the storyline and how it “takes unexpected turns.”
For me, nothing gives me greater pleasure than to enjoy a totally original and smart film – in another language nonetheless – in the cinema with my whole family. In a world filled with sequels and algorithms, what is better than cinema at its purest? If this is indeed Miyazaki’s last film, it’s an apt conclusion to an amazing career.
Dreaming Whilst Black (BBC, UK)
Stewart Clarke, SVP, Content, International
Dreaming Whilst Black was the TV show that 2023 needed. Dealing with very real issues, it asked awkward questions and looked into the sometimes exploitative film and TV business. But unlike other ‘industry’ shows, it never felt inside baseball, and it delivered profound messages with such humor, class and heart, that after six short episodes, the ride was over too soon.
The series follows would-be filmmaker Kwabena (Adjani Salmon) as he and film school friend Amy (Dani Mosely) try to get his passion project made. With a day job in recruitment, he’s also trying to get signed by an agent, and get a toe-hold in the business. As a Black man in London, however, he encounters a world of micro (and macro) aggressions and full-on racism, including from the white saviour (Isy Suttie) running a scheme for young talent and a colleague who brings him on stage for a toe-curling hip-hop duet. With an arc that plays out over the series, the show often has the look and feel of a drama. As our protagonist grapples with whether he should make the film the mostly white industry expects of a young Black filmmaker or the one he actually wants to make, the tension is amped up.
Writer-actor-director Salmon co-wrote the series with writing partner Ali Hughes. He turns in a performance that has you rooting for his character from the off. Fantasy daydream scenes where Kwabena behaves how he would like to in the face whatever madness is in front of him open a new dimension for our lead, as does the presence of his two alter egos. Played by Salmon, they manifest as a buttoned-up career guy and a no-compromises Black radical and are on hand to offer deliciously conflicting life advice.
The making of the show is in itself a story of perseverance in this industry. Starting as a web series, it was brought to TV by Big Deal Films, Dhanny Joshi and Thomas Stogdon’s UK indie. A pilot bowed on the BBC in 2018 to widespread acclaim. Tastemaker prodco A24 then came on as co-producer for the full series, which dropped in summer 2023 in the UK. A U.S. deal took it to Showtime and other international sales have stacked up. Swerving any spoilers, it’s safe to say that where season one ends, the story is perfectly poised for season two and beyond. Funny, dramatic, meaningful… we need to see where Dreaming takes our hero next.
The Bear (Hulu/FX, U.S.) / Boiling Point (BBC, UK)
Baz Bamigboye, International Editor-At-Large
FX/Hulu’s The Bear served up the most delicious fare in its second season. Each episode was akin to experiencing a sort of cuisine ecstasy, where the senses shivered with excitement as each storyline unfolded. We paid rapt attention to the ups and downs of Jeremy Allen White’s emotionally bewildered chef Carmen ‘Carmy’ Berzatto and his attempts to turn what was once a sandwich cafe into a more upscale destination. We followed his kitchen crew: Ayo Edebiri’s sous chef Sydney, Abby Elliott as Carmy’s sister Natalie and Lionel Boyce’s pastry chef Marcus, who took a trip to Denmark to master his craft, and then there was the heart-stopping tension over the gas inspection.
And let’s not forget that standalone episode featuring a stunning guest star turn by Jamie-Lee Curtis. A split second of a scene in that episode gave a hint of what was coming for Ebon Moss-Bachrach’s pain-in-the-butt Richie Jerimovich. Then it happened. Richie went off to observe the art of fine dining under the tutelage of staff at a Michelin-starred “best restaurant in the world” run by Olivia Colman’s Chef Terry. You see Richie waking up to the knowledge that was imparted, and the way that he actually utilizes what he’s gained has become a touchstone moment of television.
Across the pond in Blighty, the BBC and Ascendant Fox enjoined Philip Barantini’s It’s All Made Up Productions to create another restaurant-set TV drama, from his gripping directorial feature debut, Boiling Point. That was set in a restaurant in trendy Hackney, East London where top chef Andy Jones, played by the excellent Stephen Graham, simmers towards a steaming breakdown, followed by a heart attack, as he attempts to cope with a dysfunctional staff and rebellious diners. In the four-part series, Barantini and screenwriter James Cummings shift their attention to Andy’s sous chef Carly, played by Vinette Robinson, who’s now head chef at a new venture called Point North. Her kitchen crew are played by Hannah Waters, Áine Rose Daly, Stephen McMillan and Alice Feetham and each presents an extremely tasty dish of woe, as do newcomer staff such as washer-upper Johnny Bale, played by Stephen Odubola (perhaps my sympathies went out to him because it reminded me of my time washing up at a Chinese restaurant in Richmond, Surrey) and Steven Ogg’s oleaginous — and definitely shifty — sous chef Nick.
The Bear and Boiling Point are vastly different but they share a common goal, which is to create such mouthwatering shows that we book for second, and third, helpings. The world of the kitchen is, in actuality, telling us not so much what we eat, but who we are.
Can we have some more, please?
Lessons In Chemistry (Apple TV+, U.S.)
Nancy Tartaglione, International Box Office Editor
Based on Bonnie Garmus’ bestselling 2022 novel of the same name, Apple TV+’s Lessons in Chemistry is set in the early 1950s and centers on Elizabeth Zott (Brie Larson, also exec producing), a brilliant woman whose dream of becoming a full-fledged scientist with a PhD is put on hold after she experiences a terrible trauma as a student. When she later finds herself fired from her position in a lab rife with misogyny, she accepts a job as a host on a TV cooking show and sets out to teach a nation of overlooked housewives – and the men who are suddenly listening – a lot more than recipes. There’s also a poignant love story in the mix.
I’ll admit It took me a minute to warm up to the limited drama series, not because of anything to do with the great acting or terrific period-set production values (and I love anything that spotlights cooking), but because the second episode (no spoilers) so devastated me that I needed a beat to continue. I wondered how could you ever move on from such a heart-wrenching event — and one a dog felt responsible for, to boot. But I’m so glad that I continued with it. The character of Zott is admirable, and her soulmate Calvin Evans (Lewis Pullman) a gem. The dog, Six-Thirty (voiced by B.J. Novak in one episode), is a keeper of the finest kind.