It’s hard to believe that we’re already halfway through 2023! Film wise, we have only just begun the Summer blockbuster season. There are still a ton of movies left to go, but I thought it would be good to take a look at the top half and year and see which films make the top of the list so far. I’m sure there are plenty of films left to consider as we head into summer only then to be followed by the big Fall Oscar Season race. But after about 160 new films logged this year so far, I think we can come up with a solid list of the best of the best so far. In the spirit of fairness, I am only going to add films that have actually been released, either theatrically or streaming. I will omit any of the festival films that have yet to be available to the general public. Many of these will have their chance to enter the race later this year, so we’ll go ahead and table them and keep the scope limited to what is actually available to watch.
There’s been quite a few films that almost made the cut, and were it a less stacked year would probably make the list. Films like “Air: Courting a Legend” which I really enjoyed and gave really high marks in my rating got edged out by some better films that stand a little taller. Yes, “Guardians of the Galaxy 3,” “Dungeons and Dragons,” and “The Super Mario Bros Movie” also almost made the top 10, the latter being a blast in the theater despite some narrative misgivings. It pains me to leave “John Wick Chapter 4“ and “Chevalier” off the list, two movies that could probably crack the top 15 pretty easily and will still be in contention as we continue through the year. The last few contenders that almost made it are “Sisu” and “The Blackening,” two films that deliver terrific theatrical experiences but aren’t quite good enough to best out some of the other stronger contenders. Sorry, Snyderbros. “The Flash” barely cracks the top 50 this year for me, and did not make the cut.
Let’s take a look at the 10 best films of 2023 so far!
Yeah, this one beat out the aforementioned “Air” despite that film receiving slightly higher marks on its rating. “Blackberry” is by far the smartest and most engaging film of the nostalgia fueled, how did this get made brand era we’re in. This is largely due to the incredible lead performances by Glenn Howerton and Jay Baruchel paired with the smart execution of Matt Johnson’s direction. “Blackberry” is also thematically different than the others of its kind, namely in the way that it is a critique of capitalism and greed instead of a celebratory commercial for it. “Blackberry” is one of the most enjoyable films of the branding era of film, and I’m rooting for Howerton to make it all the way to the awards season this year. Yeah, he’s that good.
Read our review here.
9. “Sanctuary “
The most twisted Romcom of the year, “Sanctuary” floored me with is sharp dialogue and sexually charged love story. This is another film that is elevated by incredible performances, a theme we’re going to see quite a bit throughout this list. Margaret Qualley and Chris Abbott are perfect, their strange chemistry oozing with seduction and taboo kinks that, while not for the faint of heart, feel grounded and real. Sure, this is a twisted, psychosexual thriller and a love story for the sickos, but I haven’t stopped thinking about “Sanctuary” since I left the theater, and lasting impression makes this film one of the best of year. I’m sure it says more about me and my tolerance for the strange and kinky, but “Sanctuary” is actually smarter than the sexually charged premise would have you believe, and worth checking out if you’re into that sort of thing.
You can read our review here.
8. “How To Blow Up A Pipeline “
The “Ocean’s 11” of environmental terrorism, “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” absolutely rips. A beautifully crafted, tense thriller that unfolds and puts the puzzle together with each new perspective. While the messaging is direct and abrasive, the craft and thrilling pacing allows for it all to go down smooth and keep you on the edge of your seat from moment it begins. It is simply gripping, and despite giving you what seems like the full picture at the start, still manages to keep you guessing until the very end. It explores the individual motivations that bring different people from wildly different walks of life together for a common goal. “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is triumphant fight the power manifesto, one that packages its strong messaging in an explosive thriller that never lets up once it gets ahold of you.
7. “You Hurt My Feelings”
Films about nothing tend to be an acquired taste, and “You Hurt My Feelings” is very much about the small things that steamroll into big problems. But even though big problems are relatively small, as the film deals with the consequences of little white lies we tell ourselves and our loved ones to keep them unharmed from the truths. “You Hurt My Feelings” may be a simple, small dramedy, but it is deeply funny and well crafted. Once again, the writing and direction are refreshing and purposeful, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus is at the top of her game. This one is a hidden gem of Sundance, one I’m sure a lot of people didn’t see but most certainly should. It isn’t flashy or loud; it’s a very quiet, contained comedy that relies on sharp dialogue and a strong performance from Dreyfus to succeed. But it has some resonating themes that I found to be evergreen, and it makes the list for all of the things it does well.
Read our review here.
6. “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret”
What a wonderful, emotional, touching film. “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret” is a near perfect adaption of the acclaimed novel, one that hits all the right notes of a coming of age story and captures the honestly and genuineness of its source material. While very funny, its vulnerable characters and unfettered approach to its subject really makes the film stand tall among its peers. It perfectly captures the best and worst parts of growing up while also capturing the best and worst parts of being an adult and a parent. This a near perfect film for me, and don’t let the lower ranking fool you. “Are You there God, It’s Me Margaret” is one of the best films of the year and it’s not even close.
Read our review here.
5. “I Like Movies“
This is one for me, guys. “I Like Movies” is a small independent Canadian film that is made by cinephiles for cinephiles. I don’t know that this one will be as accessible as the rest of the films on the list, but “I Like Movies” felt like a film made for me specifically. Irreverent, engaging, and laugh out loud funny, the film is a throwback to the retail work comedies and would feel right at home between “Clerks,” “Waiting,” and “Empire Records.” The deep cuts and meta jokes about film and television hit all the right beats for those that get them, and “I Like Movies” just feels like a breath of fresh air for a film buff like myself. I don’t know that this one is for the average movie goer, but I think there may be enough of everything else (jokes, fun characters, solid narrative, work place relatability) to be worth checking out even if you only kind of like movies.
4. “A Thousand and One”
This film absolutely floored me. “A Thousand and One” brings a city to life over the years of its ever changing landscape, and is an announcement performance from Teyonna Taylor. She is a tour de force here, and brings a wealth if emotion and talent to the role. I almost missed “A Thousand and One” at Sundance and I am so glad that I was able to check it out. The film is packed with emotional gut punches that never feel manipulative, and A.V Rockwell beautifully frames the setting as a way to bring the city to life as we follow the lives of the people that inhabit it. “A Thousand and One” will leave you in tears, and understands its themes with masterful execution. This is a great one and I’m hoping it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle as we head into Awards season later this year.
3. “Rye Lane”
I’m not one for RomCom as it is often my least favorite genre, but “Rye Lane” is a vibrant slap in the face for what the genre could be. A delightful day in the life love story that masterfully captures the devastating wreckage of heartbreaks and breakups, as well as the joy of falling in love and discovering someone new. “Rye Lane” doesn’t even need to reinvent the wheel to feel inventive and fresh, either. It unfolds to formula almost beat for beat, but is so alive and engaging it acts as an enhancement rather than a detriment. “Rye Lane” is also hilarious, and the film’s leads are so enjoyable to watch and their chemistry so electric you can’t help but root for Yaz and Dom. I loved this love story. “Rye Lane” is truly one of the best films of the year so far, and in a world that seems to be a never ending stream of doom, this is the kind of film that reminds you it’s not all bad. If you’re looking for a shot of pure dopamine, “Rye Lane” has what you need.
2. “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”
Sure, “Across the Spiderverse” is almost too much movie at once; an overstimulation of visuals and narrative world building. But anything that revolutionizes its genre and demonstrates a mastery of animation is worth being herald as one of the best films of year. Though overwhelming and adding to the overabundance of multiverse stories recently, “Across the Spiderverse” is a mesmerizing movie going experience that is bound to leave a long lasting impression on anyone who watches it. On visuals alone it deserves to be in the top 10, but then the creators when and made sure there was a deeply layered, emotionally complex narrative underneath the flash of individually animated Spider-people. The hype is real, “Across the Spiderverse” isn’t just one of the best animated films of the year, it’s one of the best films period.
1. “Past Lives“
Out of 160 films this year, there just isn’t a better one than “Past Lives.” There is immense beauty in simplicity, and the profound humanism and connection of love and loss and goodbyes over the span of 24 years is so deeply resonating on so many levels it’s astounding that such a small film has so much to say about who we were, who we want to be, who we dream we should have been, and the people that pass through our lives at each point. Celine Song delivers a breakout screenplay and directorial debut, one that I am confident will sweep all critics awards this year and will probably make its way into the Best Picture race. This is a film that speaks to the emotional human connection we all share, the deep inescapable effects of relationships that flourish and die and rinse and repeat. “Past Lives” is so emotionally empathic and grounded, and it reminds us all that our lives are more complex than we give them credit for and don’t always need happy endings or implausible coincidences to make that a reality. This is a perfect film.