Top 10 Films of the First Half of 2023
Surprisingly great top half of the year
It is time for everyone’s favorite semi-annual tradition, top 10 films of the year (so far)! The exercise is always a fun one, but I particularly enjoy the first half of the year lists to the full year lists. Since most of the Oscar hopeful films release in November, a lot of people’s year end lists all look the same. With the mid-year list, there is normally some serious variance from ranking to ranking, which makes things fun and allows for more films to be in the spotlight! So without further ado, here are my top 10 films of the first half of 2023:
10. No Hard Feelings
What the film is about - “On the brink of losing her childhood home, a desperate woman agrees to date a wealthy couple's introverted and awkward 19-year-old son. However, he proves to be more of a challenge than she expected, and time is running out before she loses it all.”
Why I loved the film - Movies to me aren’t always about how well made the film is or how well shot the film is, sometimes it is as simple as did you have fun watching it. For me, No Hard Feelings is the best example this year of the latter. How could a room full of other human beings laughing their butts off to a raunchy R-rated comedy not be one of my favorite theater experiences of 2023, so far? Reminiscent of a time when comedies ruled the cinema, No Hard Feelings is hilarious, sincere, an easy watch, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. This is the kind of comedy we often complain that the studious don’t make anymore. While yes, the film is raunchy, it actually lands the plane in a very sincere way that not a lot of comedies in this same category do.
9. You Hurt My Feelings
What the film is about - “A novelist's long-standing marriage is suddenly upended when she overhears her husband give his honest reaction to her latest book.”
Why I loved the film - Director Nicole Holofcener takes one moment at the beginning of this film & expands it into a rich text with more questions than answers. As those questions stew in your subconscious, you realize how special the film actually is. Normally we go into films wanting or asking to see something crazy on screen, but what you see in You Hurt My Feelings is nothing more than real life. In fact, the premise of the movie itself is solved 70% of the way through the film, but because the script is so breathed in and character centric, you don’t mind spending additional time with the characters. Sure, the stakes are low, but so are most days in real life. We get in these disagreements that feel like the end of the world, but we wake up the next day and life still goes on. This one is an absolutely delightful way to spend 90 minutes!
8. Fair Play
What the film is about - “An unexpected promotion at a cutthroat hedge fund pushes a newly engaged couple's relationship to the brink.”
Why I loved the film - There is yet to be a 2023 film that has made my skin crawl and heart race quite like Fair Play. From the opening scene to the closing shot, your emotions and feelings towards these characters and their sometimes questionably actions run wild. This may be Chloe Dormant’s directing debut, but you can’t tell from the command over the camera and the world that is built. Without getting into spoiler territory, there are parts in Fair Play that in other films would make you quickly say “well that is crazy” or “that would never happen in the real world”, but you never question things throughout the film because you so closely understand the characters and their motives. All the credit can’t go to Chloe Dormant’s direction though, because Phoebe Dynevor & Alden Ehrenreich’s unhinged performances are what suck you in and cause your attention to never wane.
Fair Play debuted at Sundance back in January, but has yet to actually be released publicly. Netflix bought the rights to the film, so there is hope that the film will be released on the platform later in the year. I have a strong feeling that it is going to take the world by storm once people see it. My favorite thriller of the year so far.
7. The Artifice Girl
What the film is about - “Special agents discover a revolutionary computer program that uses a digital child to catch online predators. However, they soon learn that the AI's inevitable advancement is far more rapid and incalculable than they ever could have imagined”
Why I loved the film - Sometimes even great films get lucky on when they were released. With all of the hype around AI and ChatGPT in our society, the Artifice Girl pivots from being a futuristic sci-fi film to being a commentary on the culture. The good fortune of The Artifice Girls is that it works much better as the latter than the former. The production is very simple - three scenes, the first 40 minutes long, the last two 25 minutes each. Each scene takes place in a single room and portrays conversations between two or three characters. It is one of the best examples since the Before trilogy of how cinematic intimate conversation can be. I am sure that hundreds of movies about AI will be made in the next few years, but few will be as great as this.
6. Asteroid City
What the film is about - “World-changing events spectacularly disrupt the itinerary of a Junior Stargazer/Space Cadet convention in an American desert town circa 1955.”
Why I liked it - While Wes Anderson is very hit or miss for me, this is a home run. After Asteroid City, I think I am finally starting to get the obsession that our culture has with Anderson. Only Wes could pull off some of the best visual gags of the decade while still raising so many existential questions. It is imperative that you watch a few other of his films prior to watching this. The audience needs to get a sense for his style & humor to appreciate this one.
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5. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
What the film is about - “When her family moves from the city to the suburbs, 11-year-old Margaret navigates new friends, feelings, and the beginning of adolescence.”
Why I loved the film - Probably the most tender and pure film of the year. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is about as good as dramedies get in this day & age. In preparation for this list, I re-watched the film to make sure my original thoughts stand, & they certainly do. I loved this film so much that I dedicated a whole post to it back in May, which you can check out below:
What the film is about - “The company behind the first smartphone, the BlackBerry, meets a catastrophic demise.”
Why I loved the film - The opening title card of the film reads as such “The following fictionalization is inspired by real people and real events that took place in Waterloo, Ontario”. Another way to interpret this is, “there is some stuff in the next two hours that will make some people mad”. Immediately we feel the tension and get the feeling we are in for a wild ride. Blackberry is shot like a wildlife documentary (think in the likes of The Office), so you feel like you are a bystander looking in on something that you aren’t supposed to see. Matt Johnson makes the intentional choice to use long lenses and shoot from far away so that it appears you are peering into this whole group of people and their way of life. The bigger the company gets, the further away the camera gets as access gets more closed off and it is harder to get close. And it its heart, that is really what the film is about, the more successful you get, the harder it is to not compromise your vision, morals, and ethics. Growing a company is easy, but doing it well is hard. For years the tech industry has abided by the principle “move fast and break things”. Throughout Blackberry you really feel the seams of that idea, both what it means philosophically and what it means practically.
For more context on the cultural moment we are in surrounding so many product movies coming out (Blackberry, Air, Flamin Hot Cheetos, Barbie, etc), check out my post on why we ended up in this place here.
3. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
What the film is about - “Miles Morales catapults across the Multiverse, where he encounters a team of Spider-People charged with protecting its very existence.”
Why I loved the film - Across the Spider-Verse not only expands the boundaries on what is possible for a superhero movie, but animation as a whole. Trust me, I am done with the super hero moment in our culture as well, but Spider-Verse is not that. This is artists pushing the boundaries on what is possible on the big screen and with technology. Every single image throughout the 138 minute run time could be captured and analyzed for hours for all of the intricacies and color. In fact, your head will get overwhelmed from how much color and unique styles get shown throughout the film. It is truly, a work of art, and will shape how stories are told for years to come.
2. Other People’s Children
What the film is about - “Rachel, 40 and childless, loves her life. When she falls in love with Ali, she becomes attached to his 4-year-old daughter, Leila.”
Why I loved the film - This is by far the least talked about great film of the year so far. Not afraid to admit that I wept like a baby the first time I saw this film (something this film has in common with my #1 film). Other People’s Children is a magnificent, nuanced look at a woman’s journey with motherhood & children. The film flows together like a cool breeze on a warm summer day, but is also self-aware about the messiness of being human. Without spoiling anything, this has one of the sweetest endings to a film that I have seen in quite some time.
1. Past Lives
What the film is about - “Nora and Hae Sung, two deeply connected childhood friends, are wrest apart after Nora's family emigrates from South Korea. Decades later, they are reunited for one fateful week as they confront destiny, love and the choices that make a life.”
Why I loved the film - Past Lives marked a first for me when it comes to movie watching - I saw it twice in theaters in the same weekend. Probably my favorite detail surrounding those screenings is the conversation I had with my wife after seeing the film together. If we see a movie together we always talk about it, but not to the length we did Past Lives, and that is the true power of this beautiful piece of art. The best films are the ones that evoke conversation and make you leave the theater going, “I just want to talk to someone about that”. Past Lives is the first film of 2023 to succeed in that.
While the film is filled with some of the most beautiful images and most stirring emotional themes/reflections in recent years, my favorite thing about it is actually how grounded in reality the whole thing is. Everyone is an adult and acts like an adult throughout the whole thing. This isn’t a movie about anyone trying to “steal away a girl” or “a girl thinking about running away with a guy” - it is so much more than that. For so long Hollywood has trained us to think in those terms and not in the terms of real life. Past Lives is only focused on reality - real feelings, real emotions, and real consequences. There is so much more that I could say about this film, but I have a feeling it will be in the discourse/academy award discussion for months to come, which will give me the opportunity to talk about it at length. For now all that matters is you should see this film - it plays SO well on a big screen. Take your friends. Take your spouse. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Well, that puts a wrap on the first half of the year in film! While the year is already half way over, still lots to look forward to in the back half of the year. In fact, every single one of my most anticipated films of 2023 is yet to be released, which you can read about below:
Until next time!
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