50 new films of 2023 – movie reviews and trailers

“Steven Spielberg’s cinematic love letter to his parents, to the craft of making movies and, frankly, to himself, arrives on the silver screen endorsed by a raft of Academy Award nominations,” said Brian Viner in the Daily Mail. And “they are well-earned”. The Fabelmans has been described as “semi-autobiographical”, but it is more “seven-eighths”, and offers “a compelling insight” into how the most commercially successful film-maker of all time became enchanted with the medium that would make him a household name. 

The story begins in 1952, with young Sammy Fabelman (effectively Spielberg) going to the cinema for the first time, to see The Greatest Show on Earth. He is “both riveted and horrified by a train crash scene”, and replicates it at home with his toy train set. Eventually, his arty mother (Michelle Williams) suggests that he film the crash using his father’s 8mm movie camera, rather than endlessly reenact it. The hobby takes root, and we follow Sammy for the next decade or so as he moves with his family from New Jersey to Arizona and finally California, honing his filmmaking skills along the way. The film is “suffused with warmth, tenderness and charm”, and has “a great deal of gentle humour”, as well as some fine performances, from Gabriel LaBelle (as the teenage Sammy) and Williams in particular.

This could easily have become “sentimental and soggy”, said Deborah Ross in The Spectator – yet another “magic of the movies” slog. Thankfully, it’s much more than that. “It’s about family, and the complexity of family, and it’s intensely personal, moving, absorbing and full of love.” It doesn’t follow a plot per se, but is rather composed of a series of memories – which works well, as every scene adds “to its cumulative power”. It is “a bit cheesy”, but you will “leave the cinema smiling from ear to ear”. 

In the 52 years since Spielberg’s debut feature Duel, “broken homes have emerged as the great constant in his work”, as has the recurring image “of an awe-struck face, upturned and saucer-eyed in the light”, said Robbie Collin in The Daily Telegraph. This film serves as a “breath-catchingly tender” origin story for both. With it, Spielberg shows he is still, at 76, “the boy cradling an entire medium in his hands”. I do worry, though, that this is one of those films that offers “yet another example of awards season being out of step with popular taste”, said Mark Kermode in The Observer. It’s not that “I didn’t like The Fabelmans; of course I did – I’m a film critic! But it’s also possibly the most lavishly mounted home movie ever made.” That, in the end, is both “its great strength and its fatal weakness”.