It’s almost Independence Day at the time of me writing this, which means we just passed over the halfway mark of 2023. Every half year, I like to take a little time to reflect on what I’ve seen for movies so far in the first six months. I’ve watched a lot of stuff this year, almost to the point where I’m embarrassed to type the numbers out – 380 movies in total according to my Letterboxd, with 62 of those being movies released in 2023. That second number could fluctuate depending on what you consider a 2023 release because film rollouts in this era can be so odd.
Which begs the question as to whether 2023 has been a good movie year so far, and to that I answer that I think so, especially given that the first half of a particular year generally is the weaker half. I’m already anticipating a long list of movies for the remainder of 2023, from Awards contenders like Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon and Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest (both of which received significant praise from audiences at the Cannes Film Festival in May) to blockbuster fall movies like Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two and Gareth Edwards’ The Creator – and of course the inevitable Oppenheimer/Barbie doubleheader.
But I’m not talking about the future today, I’m talking about the past. 2023 has already had quite a few spectacular releases, many of which I’d be surprised if they aren’t still high on my list towards the year’s end. I noted a particularly strong year so far for blockbusters, especially considering those branching beyond the superhero genre – which in recent memory has dominated in terms of box office performance year in and year out. While not making my list today, Creed III and Elemental were surprisingly gratifying and rewarding experiences from tentpole franchises and studios to see in theaters, while arthouse pictures like Rye Lane and Sick were glorious (or deranged) examples of what you can do with a smaller budget if you have the right talent.
And as always, I wasn’t able to see everything before making this list. Past Lives never released in a theater near me so that’ll have to wait for the year’s end list, while I also have my eye on the VOD release dates for You Hurt My Feelings, Sisu, and others, a few of which I can’t wait to see and certainly could’ve been on my list today.
There’s not much else to comment on before revealing my ten favorite movies so far in 2023. Of course, it’s all subjective and everyone has different points of reference to take from when making their own lists annually. I like all of these movies to varying degrees, and I can’t wait to watch them for years to come. As always, I’ll link to reviews for each movie under their blurbs.
10. Beau is Afraid
“It’s tough to anoint someone as the next big thing. Sure, there have been examples in the past of legendary directors hitting big on their debut feature projects, all the way back to Orson Welles crafting one of cinema’s crowning jewels in Citizen Kane to as recently as Greta Gerwig turning out Lady Bird her first time in the director’s seat. But to pick out the one that may hover over everyone else feels like an impossible task – and yet Ari Aster, *keyword* before the release of Beau is Afraid – felt like the one emerging from the overflowing stream of new, innovative auteurs.
And for good reason, too. After all, Hereditary is a defining work of the last decade and feels like a pivoting point for obscene, boundary-pushing horror filmmaking, and Midsommar felt like the final stamp of approval that Aster needed in order to flaunt any idea he had to the highest bidding studio. He’s crafted two movies that, even if you struggle to wrap your arms around them (like I do occasionally), rightfully announce him as an unusually distinct visionary moving forward. And with this new fame and larger-than-life title that he’s gained since his feature debut in 2018 comes the ability to call your own shot – and Beau is Afraid is the shot that will either vault him to legend status or have him taking a studio paycheck directing the new Disney+ exclusive.” Beau is Afraid review
“Sometimes, these lean and concise, single location thrillers can be right up my alley – and other times that can feel completely dull and stale by the time the title sequence rolls around. I wasn’t all too worried about this issue leading into Sanctuary, given that actors Margaret Qualley and Christopher Abbott have strikingly high success rates in my personal estimation, and that I feel obligated to see anything NEON Films chooses to distribute considering their previous releases.
But Sanctuary was still coming from a relative newcomer, director Zachary Wigon, whose past work I’m not too familiar with because the only feature credit to his name is a directing and writing one back in 2014 for a small film titled The Heart Machine. Needless to say, I felt rather blind going into Sanctuary beyond the acting styles of the two leads and an idea of what NEON Films releases generally consist of.
And I’m relieved to feel like Sanctuary is another singular piece of work that feels like a breath of fresh air in a constant glut of studio franchise work. I wasn’t too surprised to find myself liking the technical work and the craft within the movie, but I was excited to see a tried genre piece done in such a new and unique fashion.” Sanctuary review
8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
“I’m not offering any new insight when I saw that Marvel Studios has been at a crisis point for the last few titles now. The gooped up Ant-Man: Quantumania and bloated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever only instilled more fear that Marvel had lost its cultural step and that they didn’t seem ready to bridge the old with the new post-Endgame. I’m not sure Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 dispels these notions entirely, but it’s certainly a step up and is quite possibly the best the institution has offered since the last Avengers property.
And frankly, I’m not sure whether I should be surprised as I write that. After all, James Gunn has been one of the more reliable directors for Marvel since he introduced the wacky space patrol back in 2014 – a movie that I wrote about earlier this week and continues to be the best example of Marvel trying to rip off Star Wars – and he’s shown a reliability to cut through some of the tensionless fodder MCU movies normally bring; his comedic timing seems to be the only comedic timing that works inside this universe without breaking the truly cinematic moments.” Guardians of the Galaxy 3 review
7. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
“Boundless filmmaking can be so hard to come by. I’ve always felt that to be the best way to describe movies from Richard Linklater, Greta Gerwig, Amy Heckerling, Kelly Fremon Craig, and others. They play within the fundamental and foundational rules of making feature length movies, but the concepts of traditional storytelling techniques and conflict feel absent from their movies – and there’s a wistful, and frankly delightful, feeling to each of these filmmaker’s releases.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. is the sophomore movie from director Kelly Fremon Craig, and it’s another outing from her that fits snuggly into this category that I listed above. Maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise given that Fremon Craig’s first film, The Edge of Seventeen, is such a remarkably fitting movie for this mold as well, but I was anticipating seeing just how far she would be able to take stylistic filmmaking like this into a new effort.” Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. review
6. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse did something I’m not sure I’ve seen in years – redefine multiple genres with one swing. Since its release in 2018, animated and superhero movies have been trying to live up to the Miles Morales origin story that exploded with color and original ideas not usually flowing through the corporatized moviemaking landscape. It actually reinvented the wheel rather than tweaking a few numbers in the formula and repackaging it under some neat animated sequences: Into the Spider-Verse felt wholly original and couldn’t be compared one-to-one with anything that had come before it.
But with all commercially successful IP movies, there has to be a second one. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is that sequel and is finally set to hit theaters five years after the first. Miles and Gwen are back, and they’re sharing the screen with a handful of new and returning characters ready to take on new ideologies of the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.” Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse review
5. Asteroid City
“Asteroid City is the newest movie from Wes Anderson, his 11th movie in total and his latest to receive rapturous applause from critics and stars in attendance at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Wes Anderson’s movies always seem to be in conversation with one another so I’m always interested in seeing the response for his films after their premiere. He’s such an admired filmmaker that the reception is never bad, but there seemed to be a more natural and authentic feeling of excitement from those leaving the screenings at Cannes than there has been with his last couple releases.
And that perked my ears up because it’s been a few features since I’ve really thoroughly enjoyed one of Wes Anderson’s movies. I’ve admired the craft and technique for each, but recently he seems more interested in the artifice that goes into the making of his movies – the sets and costumes feeling like their own characters, themselves – but the narratives have felt absent of the same emotion that brought me to his movies in the past.” Asteroid City review
4. Master Gardener
“Legendary director and screenwriter Paul Schrader continues to do his own thing and work at his own pace. A veteran of the scene now going on fifty years, Schrader’s made tackling the male psyche his bread and butter – a personal interest that he seems determined to get to the center of with each film. As of late, he’s worked through men in crisis and at turning points midway through their lives, and with Master Gardener, he’s working at the same high clip that he’s been at for years.
For someone so deeply interested in the same narrative ideas and tonal reflections, it’s nice to see Paul Schrader continuously able to peel back new layers with each effort. That’s not to say that Master Gardener feels completely unlike First Reformed and The Card Counter, but you’re able to watch this without feeling like you’re being force fed the same themes of broken men trying to find their way back to society.
Perhaps this is in large part due to the fact that Master Gardener is significantly more colorful and hopeful than the previous two films. Joel Edgerton infuses his character, Narvel, with an unrelenting sense that he’ll be able to break free from the demons that are following him from his past. It’s a nice upbeat shift from the doomed feelings you get watching Ethan Hawke and Oscar Isaac being consumed by the forces bearing down on them.” Master Gardener review
“Whenever I get the age old question of “What’s your favorite movie ever?” I generally try to preface my answer by saying it’s hard to quantify hundreds of screenings and Blu-ray playbacks into a single film – before ultimately stating that it’s probably The Social Network. Sure, maybe that choice says a bit about the cynicism hiding inside myself given that it’s about teens unable to be self-deprecating while suing each other for rights over a multimillion dollar idea, but it’s that combination of self-loathing personal incapabilities and witty dialogue that makes it such a rewatchable film.
Now I can state that I’ve never seen a movie fully accomplish what The Social Network was able to, but I think we’ve come as close as ever with BlackBerry – the movie about the meteoric rise and sensational fall of the BlackBerry phone, and those incompetent souls who managed to gain just a small sliver of power off of it.
Not much was known about the production of BlackBerry until it was put on the big screen in front of viewers at film festivals. This was mostly due to its lower register cast and crew who hadn’t amount to many widely released films yet. But due to the quality of BlackBerry, and its ripping and roaring script that had me howling for moments on end, the movie has become a sort of sensation, not unlike the early 2000s phone that the plot is based on.” BlackBerry review
2. John Wick: Chapter 4
“A few months back, I felt that I may have reached nirvana during a screening of a certain movie at a local theater. Sure, maybe a bit hyperbolic, but also quite accurate of how I felt seeing three hours of nonstop, pedal to the metal action that truly transformed what I thought that genre could conceive of. Obviously, I’m talking about John Wick: Chapter 4, which I just recently bared witness to for a second time and can finally confirm is a certified work of art.
At the time of first laying eyes on this movie, I planned to write a full length review tackling what I thought was an incredibly engaging three hours of spitfire gun-fu, but I wasn’t sure I was fully prepared to break down what I also thought was such an engaging and viscerally overwhelming experience – so I laid off. But now I’m ready to navigate this expansive, breakneck iteration of what may be the best action franchise of this century.” John Wick Chapter 4 review
1. Falcon Lake
“Falcon Lake is the debut movie from director, writer, and actress Charlotte Le Bon. The movie has garnered wide acclaim over the past few months as it has traveled from festival to festival, most notably at Cannes in 2022, where it screened in the Directors’ Fortnite section and was eligible for the Caméra d’Or for best feature directorial debut.
I had seen the movie appear in a handful of year end lists last year, mostly by critics that were either based overseas or had the ability to get their hands on it at one of these festivals. I knew that I wanted to check it out at some point, but I wasn’t sure when the movie would be readily available to audiences – either screening in theaters or on VOD at home.
And many movies like Falcon Lake unfortunately get lost to time because of this fluctuating availability depending on where you live and what services are available to you. If it wasn’t for my endless scrolling through VOD platforms, there’s a chance it would’ve slipped through the cracks. And that would’ve been a travesty because Falcon Lake is quite fantastic.” Falcon Lake review
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