Now here’s an interesting piece of trivia: for the second year in a row, a first-time feature has topped our best films of the year list (in this case, Celine Song’s “Past Lives,” last year, it was Charlotte Wells’ “Aftersun”). That makes our cheeky little kick-off line — “just how good were this year’s debut features? One of them has already been crowned our best film of the year, and it’s got plenty of company” — both easily repeatable (copy, paste, done) and simply true.

But, more than that, it proves an adage we’ve been touting for years: the art of cinema is alive and thriving. There are always good movies. There are always good directors. And there are always rising stars worthy of attention. This year is no different. Last year wasn’t either. And we’re feeling pretty good about 2024.

Among the best first features of 2023: festival favorites, awards contenders (and, in the case of “American Fiction,” “A Thousand and One,” and “Blue Jean,” already certified award winners), genre offerings, personal histories, and at least one film that hinges on the best fake K-pop band you’ve ever seen. The films included here could easily stand as a best-of list of the year, full stop, no superlatives necessary, and we hope that you enjoy them in that spirit.

Christian Blauvelt and Ryan Lattanzio also contributed to this article.