It’s wild that we don’t have more recognition for the art of casting. Casting directors have a guild with an Academy branch, but not their own Oscar category. While the work can often seem alchemical or opaque to outsiders, casting directors are really in the first line of storytellers who collaborate on a film; they have to see and expand on a director’s vision for the film’s world and find the actors who will embody what the filmmakers aim to create. So IndieWire is bringing back an old pre-pandemic feature to celebrate the storytelling work of casting.

We reached out to a number of the film industry’s top casting directors to ask them to nominate one outstanding work from this year. As it turns out, though, the casting directors we spoke to had lots of films with casting they loved this year. “Being asked to write about the best cast film of 2023 is like asking me to choose my favorite child,” Kate Rhodes James, the casting director of “Napoleon,” told IndieWire.

It was a sentiment shared by many of the casting directors we talked to who wanted to make sure they shouted out multiple films with pitch-perfect casting. Lucy Bevan, who alongside Allison Jones and Oscar Koç cast “Barbie” this year, thought that Ellen Lewis and Rene Haynes did an outstanding job on “Killers of the Flower Moon”: “The combination of highly established actors alongside vivid faces that I have never seen before tell the story and establish the place,” Bevan said.  

Destiny Lilly, one of the casting directors behind “The Color Purple,” pointed out that sometimes a great movie is about its casting, the ways in which personas can very consciously play off each other or the way an actor can show a whole other set of skills from what audiences are used to seeing. She was drawn to the casting choices made by Kharmel Cochrane, who not only put the pieces of “Saltburn” together but also the sweet romantic comedy “Rye Lane” — “Kharmel did an amazing job casting the lead actors Vivian Oparah and David Jonsson [in ‘Rye Lane’]. They have palpable chemistry and the whole film is really enjoyable. Oparah and Jonsson are stars in the making,” Lily said. 

Much praise was handed to everyone who cast Sandra Hüller, who did star work in both “Anatomy of a Fall” and “The Zone of Interest.” Mindy Marin, the casting director behind “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” called her “a towering, thundering talent.” Meanwhile, Susan Shopmaker, who cast a set of incredible actors to be the dregs of Barton boarding school in “The Holdovers,” found the work on “About Dry Grasses” and “Oppenheimer” — cast by Pinar Gök and John Papsidera, respectively — to be impressive. “Both immersed me in the worlds they created,” Shopmaker said. 

“Immersive” was a virtue across the board for the casting directors we spoke to. Whether it’s a distinctive, open, and soulful quality that Dixie Chassay found for the actors who walk the strange world of “Poor Things”; or Nicole Daniels and the rest of the “Priscilla” casting team finding just the right actors to echo the denizens of Graceland; or Shayna Markowitz’s work with a cast that builds a whole life behind the Bernstein family in “Maestro,” great casting is in recognizing how actors can help build out the world of the film.  

As Rhodes James said, “I don’t feel that casting has to be tricky or difficult to be of worth. It’s the ability to see something in an actor that will tell the story the director wishes to tell. That’s the skill. Shouldn’t be important how we get there, just that we get there.” 

Below, see how 11 great films this year got there, as spotted by some of the top casting directors in the industry. 

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