Critic’s Choice: TOP 5 FOR 2023

Sometimes it feels like I chart the course of my whole year via the movies. My calendar is marked by film festivals (DOXA, VIFF), major releases (Super Mario, Barbenheimer), retrospective film showings (Showa Godzilla at the Cinematheque, Back to the 80s at the VIFF Centre) and shooting/editing dates for the films that I cut (Mercy, Christmas at The Chalet). This year, there was even the off-screen drama of TWO major Hollywood strikes as guilds for both the writers (WGA) and actors (SAG-AFTRA) brought filmmaking across North America and even much of the western world to a standstill for months in the pursuit of improved compensation and better protections against evolving AI. Needless to say, living life at 24 frames a second can be exhausting, even when fuelled by ample servings of popcorn.

That being said, one of my favourite holiday work-tivities is going back and reflecting on all the events I’ve covered, filmmakers I’ve chatted with, and movies I’ve reviewed. It was a tougher task than usual this year to compile my annual Top 5 titles, hence the extra “honourable mentions”. With 2024 fast approaching, let’s look back on some of the finer offerings of Canadian Cinema in 2023.



5) Satan Wants You

Documentarians Steve J. Adams and Sean Horlor deftly mine the story behind the origins of the “Satanic Panic” that swept North America in the 1980s. Bestselling book Michelle Remembers kicked off this witchhunt with its claims that Victoria, BC native Michelle Smith suffered horrific abuse at the hands of a satanic cult, her memories only revealed via controversial “memory recovery” therapy performed by therapist Lawrence Pazder. The resulting media frenzy kicked off a wave of similar “memory recoveries” that convinced a gullible public that satanists were lurking beneath every suburb. Unable to gain access to the main players (one dead, the other declined to be interviewed), the duo speak to family members, friends, and investigators to piece together the story behind the story and the deception therein. 

Superbly crafted with style to spare, Satan Wants You is a potent and chilling reminder that the scariest demons are the real-life ones that stoke fear in us for their own personal gain.


4) I’m Just Here for the Riot

This doc by documentarian duo Kathleen Jayme and Asia Youngman is fascinating not so much for its recount of how the 2011 Stanley Cup riots started and played out, but for its deep dive into the digital mob that formed afterwards. Hungry for justice after being embarrassed on a world stage, angry Vancouverites promptly scoured photos and video of the riots, many posted to Facebook and Twitter by the rioters themselves. It didn’t take long for the most active rioters to be named, shamed, then criminally charged for their reprehensible actions.

Riot casts a wide canvas, interviewing police, bystanders and rioters on their reflections of that night and why things played out why they did. It’s compelling, thought-provoking stuff that will make anyone in the 604 area code nervous the next time the Canucks get within spitting distance of the cup…


3) Bystanders

A searing modern chamber drama, Bystanders subverts audience expectations with its nuanced tale of a group of friends struggling to come to terms that a highly respected member of their group may have raped someone. Sides are taken, bonds are tested, and there’s no running away from uncomfortable situations in this isolated winter cabin.

Films like this live or die by the strength of their casts and director Koumbie has assembled a crack team of young thespians who give the material the weight and pathos it deserves. Unfortunately underrated, but highly recommended by this reviewer.


2) Stellar

In what just might be the the most strikingly spiritual films of the year, Stellar subverts the disaster genre by having its characters be oddly at peace with the impending end of the world. As they casually bond over drinks at a nondescript bar as the world inevitably crumbles outside, the lines between armageddon and a more cosmic shift in existence become ever more blurred, suggesting that seemingly tragic endings are merely a means to new beginnings. A forest fire on a galactic scale if you will.

There’s plenty to mine here and the film remains startingly accessible despite its often esoteric nature. A film to experience with your heart in your mouth.



Adult Adoption

Ellie Moon shines as both writer and star of this modern-day parable of an ex-foster child attempting to fill the familiar hole in her life via “adult adoption” whereby older adults can essentially mimic the parent-child relationship. It’s not as rosy as advertised of course as she finds a disappointing lack of parental nurturing in her chosen surrogates.

Simple in execution and strong in spirit, Adult Adoption positions its writer and star as an emerging voice to watch.



A deliciously evil turn by Emily Tennant complimented by striking cinematography elevates this psychological thriller above the confines of its genre and budget. In an era riddled with economic hardship, spiralling depression, and legalised assisted death, Zoe.mp4 raises uncomfortable questions while engaging in even more excruciating bloodletting.

Despite questionable morality and shaky world-building, Jeremy Lutter’s sophomore feature pushes enough buttons to burrow itself deep into your mind where it’ll likely live on rent free, especially if you’re a zillennial.


I didn’t actually review Matt Johnson’s latest film, opting instead to pen an article on why Blackberry was so important to the future of Canadian cinema. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t include it somewhere in this list. Johnson directs a stellar cast (including himself) who despite some iffy hairstyling, bring the thrilling story of the legendary rise and brutal fall of the Waterloo-based smartphone country to vivid and gritty life.

More uniquely entertaining Canadian stories like this need to make it to the screen if CANCON ever expects to have a future beyond whatever Ottawa legislates.




When not penning pieces for Hollywood North Magazine, I work as a film editor and Mercy was the first feature-length film where I received sole editing credit (I had worked as an assistant for many years and had previously apprenticed under Tony Dean Smith as co-editor on Dangerous Game: The Legacy Murders).

I won’t review it here since I lack any ability to be objective, but being able to cut a feature starring the legendary Jon Voight and being able to attend its premiere at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre this past April was the highlight of my year. Check it out on Paramount + when the holiday specials finally wear thin.

1) Municipal Relaxation Module

It’s only six minutes long, but this little gem that I discovered at this year’s Vancouver Short Film Festival managed to score a rare 10/10 on our patented* maple-leaf rating system. No spoilers here, except to say that Matthew Rankin’s short gem proves that sometimes the simplest and most relatable ideas can completely win over an audience and make them leave the theatre smiling.

Happy New Year and see y’all in 2024!

*Not actually patented

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *