Even more than last year, 2023 has had plenty of movies to offer cinema fans of many genres, almost shockingly so. Action blockbusters, sports dramedies, sharp indies, romantic comedies, and even the return of sex comedies to the big screen. The year is already half over, but it honestly feels like the year in film has only just begun.
Since this is our first midyear list since InBetweenDrafts kicked off last November, we decided to do something a little different than usual. Rather than hone in on just ten or so movies, we opened up this list to honorable mentions, as seen below in the #20-#11 picks. The year was just that good apparently, and our writers had plenty to recommend in addition to some of the more obvious, popular contenders. We also left out festival releases that haven’t officially come out yet, so our deepest apologies to Joy Ride (review for that to come) and who knows? Maybe even other folks will like Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny as much as I did once it opens in theaters this weekend.
The best movies of 2023 so far: Honorable mentions
#10 – BlackBerry
With the likes of Flamin’ Hot, Air, and Tetris, 2023 has featured a startling amount of docudramas less about famous people and more about pop cultural touchstones. The best of the bunch is Matt Johnson’s gripping tale of the rise and fall of the world’s first smartphone, created by the socially-inept Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and promoted by the socially-threatening Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton).
In what is basically a near-perfect blending of The Social Network and The Big Short, BlackBerry has the right pacing and dramatic punch to keep dialogue about cell service and Waterloo enthralling. That’s mostly due to the performances, especially from Howerton who takes the iconic rage he crafted on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and uses it to craft one of the most well-rounded personifications of the modern businessman since Gordon Gecko in Wall Street. Don’t let that distract you from Baruchel, who reworks his typecast adorkable persona into a cautionary tale about how the world can abuse any tech innovation for profit. Even in Canada. [Jon Winkler]
#9 – Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Proving faithful to the frank yet also encouraging tone of Judy Blume’s classic coming-of-age novel must have surely been a challenge. But writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig succeeds with ease, depicting preteen struggles with honesty and good humor.
All the famous scenes are here for those who remember reading the book while growing up, but the filmmakers also go above and beyond by giving some more nuanced material to the adult characters, leading to some heartfelt material addressing religious trauma and an especially poignant performance from Rachel McAdams. It all adds up to an entertaining and warm-hearted mix of comedy and drama that audiences of any age can get something out of. [Leonora Waite]
#8 – Blue Jean
Directed by first-time filmmaker Georgia Oakley, Blue Jean takes us back to England in the 1980s, at the height of Margaret Thatcher’s power when a bill was about to be passed to further stigmatize and endanger members of the LGBTQ+ community. Rosy McEwen plays Jean, a lesbian trying to hide that fact from her coworkers while maintaining a relationship with her girlfriend and community.
McEwen delivers a powerhouse performance that allows us to root for Jean no matter the fumbles she makes. Despite being set in a specific moment in history, part of Blue Jean’s strength is its ability to manifest timeless energy, holding up a mirror to viewers as a reminder that this type of bigotry is hardly a relic in time. The film blisters with anger but, crucially, also makes sure to shine a light on the love and growth that blossoms from queer communities. [Allyson Johnson]
#7 – Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
Honor Among Thieves is far from the first Dungeons & Dragons adaptation. But while those films focused more on the franchise’s lengthy volumes of lore, they managed to completely overlook what has made the tabletop game so special for so many players over the last half century. In contrast, directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley immediately tap into what makes D&D great: a bunch of dork nerds having a good time and trying their best.
That’s not to say the film lacks drama. Far from it. But anyone who has sunk dozens of hours into a campaign can tell you that a sporting event or small heist can carry just as meaningful of stakes as any confrontation with a dark wizard. And when your cast includes the likes of Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, and Hugh Grant giving it their absolute all regardless of how dark or goofy things get, you’re going to have a fantastic time. It may not have found the massive box office success Hasbro was looking for, but I couldn’t be more delighted. [Brogan Luke Bouwhis]
#6 – How to Blow Up a Pipeline
It’s rare that pulpy entertainment coalesces with righteous politics. But such a delicate balance — or, rather, such explosive chemistry — finds itself in Daniel Goldhaber’s electrifying eco-thriller/heist film, How to Blow Up A Pipeline. Inspired and influenced by Andreas Malm’s treatise of the same name, this tightly wound, hard-hitting, high-stakes ensemble piece goes hand in hand with Goldhaber’s keen eye for mixing suspenseful political activism with revealing and soft-eyed character beats, never forgetting about the critical humanity at hand, but also the lives in danger, both in the line of fire or from the looming aftermath of corporate malfeasance.
The result is a firecracker of a film, one that doesn’t shortchange crucial emotional drama amid blunt and infuriated politicking, and one that constantly allows us to feel the uncompromising weight of these young and socially-conscious characters’ revolutionary actions. Whether they set off that bomb or not. How to Blow Up a Pipeline is not merely one of the year’s most important movies, but also one of its best and most invigorating to boot. In other words, it’s a total blast. Or the bomb. Pick your poison. [Will Ashton]
#5 – Polite Society
With a dash of Jane Austen and martial arts, Polite Society is the action comedy coming-of-age story we didn’t know we needed. Directed by Nida Manzoor, the film focuses on Ria (Priya Kansara), a high schooler who wants nothing more than to be a stunt woman. She’s super close with her sister, Lena (Ritu Arya), who helps Ria film and upload videos of her attempted stunt moves. But when Lena becomes engaged to a mystery guy unexpectedly, her and Ria’s time spent together comes to a halt, leaving Ria reeling from what she perceives as a betrayal.
In order to get her sister back, Ria and her friends team up to get the dirt on the fiancé and his meddling mother and stop this wedding once and for all. With Bollywood-inspired dances, creative action sequences, and a moving portrayal of sisterhood and friendship, Polite Society is a fun romp that captures your heart and doesn’t let go until the very end. [Yasmin Kleinbart]
#4 – John Wick: Chapter 4
John Wick was never meant to spawn sequels and be a major franchise, yet here we are 10 years later with our favorite ex-hitman for John Wick: Chapter 4. Faced with the challenge of upping the ante in action design and breathtaking sequences, director Chad Stahelski also had the daunting task of bringing his silly world-building lore and pretenses to an emotionally satisfying conclusion.
Armed with a 90-million-dollar budget, a cast filled with familiar faces and welcomed newcomers, plus a near 3-hour run time, Stahelski attempts to accomplish the feat with an abundance of riches. John Wick: Chapter 4 bombards its audience with nonstop onslaught of some of the best action set pieces and stunt work ever put to film. Two sequences, the first including a one-take crane shot and the other involving, well, stairs are particularly spectacular. A few speedbumps of clunky dialogue and exposition are easy to overlook thanks to a dessert of amazing performances from Reeves, Yen, and the rest of the cast including one of the last performances from Lance Riddick before his untimely death. John Wick: Chapter 4 transcends its origins as passion project and delivers as a proper swan song for Baba Yaga. [Mike Overhulse]
#3 – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
As superhero media, especially within the MCU, starts to suffer from repetitiveness and a sense of soul-lessness, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 surprised audiences by wearing its heart on its sleeve. Yes, there’s still plenty of action, laughs, and needle-drop moments that have become synonymous with James Gunn’s directing and writing style. But they all become incredibly more effective when combined with an engaging and beautiful story.
Each of the space misfits we’ve collectively grown to love has to confront their past, their mistakes, and their flaws in this film. And as they “face the music” and begin imagining the next phase of their lives, they constantly help each other grow, even if that means growing away from one another. At its core, Guardians of the Galaxy has been a story about family, and Vol. 3 excels at showcasing the dynamics that make this crew the MCU’s signature “found family.” It’s a truly fitting farewell to the trilogy that I’m sure will stand the test of time, even many years after the superhero craze fizzles or morphs into whatever comes next. [Pedro Graterol]
#2 – Past Lives
Celine Song’s debut feature film, the luminous Past Lives, is an extraordinary look at the roads not taken and how the reminders of them can wound and heal in equal measure. Greta Lee and Teo Yoo star as childhood sweethearts who fall out of touch when Lee’s Nora emigrates with her family from South Korea to North America. The two will fall in and out of touch again over the course of over 20 years, until a fateful reunion in New York City.
Lee, Yoo, and John Magaro are all phenomenal, delivering layered performances befitting the deftly written script by Song. Softly lit so that every beat feels like a destined, cherished, memory, Past Lives is an empathetic, devastating, yet life-affirming depiction of how every relationship we make can alter the course of our lives. [Allyson Johnson]
#1 – Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
How do you top an unprecedented, stunning milestone in both film animation and the superhero genre? Simple, you just do it again with the sequel, but even better. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse may be a “Part 1” in a summer full of Part 1s (from Fast X to the upcoming Mission: Impossible release). But its achievements in superhero storytelling, thought by many to be on a severe decline almost inherently, are so high, so undeniable, there’s no question it belongs at the top or near the top of every similar midseason list out there.
Across the Spider-Versedoesn’t just push the boundaries of what’s possible with film, it will easily go down as a watershed moment inspiring the great artists of tomorrow who will grow up knowing that movies like this aren’t just possible, they’re only scratching the surface. [Jon Negroni]
Featured image is a custom illustration depicting movies courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment, A24, Lionsgate, and Marvel Studios.