Aaron’s Top 10 Favorite Films of 2023 So Far

Aaron Neuwirth lists his favorite films of 2023 so far, featuring event films, indies, international features, and more!

It’s never a bad problem when I have too many options to consider for my favorites of the year at just the midpoint. Even with a few notable blockbusters, there’s plenty of good stuff to find whenever simply taking a closer look, and that’s what I’ve come up with thanks to the variety of films I’ve had a chance to see so far in 2023. Of course, with “movies being back,” there’s no reason not to catch up with 2021 and 2022, which also offered plenty of titles. Still, here we are at the end of June 2023, and I’ve come up with a list of features reflecting the best the year has had to offer cinematically, so far. This list includes major studio flicks, some solid indies, and a few international films. Most were released theatrically; others could be found on various streaming services. The focus is on movies released in the U.S. between January and July, not counting films that have yet to be released and 2022 awards players that expanded wider this year.

Favorite Films So Far:
(Reviews Linked When Applicable)

10. Chevalier

Much like last year’s Mr. Malcolm’s List, here’s a period-set costume drama that resists any urge to feel stodgy. Not hurting is director Stephen Williams and screenwriter Stefani Robin’s efforts to bring this largely unknown true story to light. Plenty of entertainment and intrigue prevail in this story of an illegitimate son of a slave and a French plantation owner who would grow up to be a celebrated violinist-composer. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is terrific in a film that had him learning to play his instrument and even become a capable fencer. All this is in service to watching a man push through barriers and impress many, including Marie Antoinette, by showing Black excellence off to a high class. Not a bad way to build up to the French Revolution in a film so skillfully made. (Now on Hulu)

9. Polite Society

The story of a British-Pakistani (Priya Kansara) girl with aspirations of becoming a stunt woman, only to be sidelined by her older sister’s impending marriage to a man she believes could be a part of a sinister family. This movie rocks. It’s bursting with life, and even on a small budget, director Nida Manzoor injects plenty of style and fun into the proceedings. Taking a page from filmmakers ranging from Edgar Wright to Robert Rodriguez to Guy Ritchie to Jackie Chan, this is a coming-of-age action-comedy that manages to fit in plenty of wit and heart to go along with the heightened reality on display. On top of that, seeing a film that embraces the cultures on display goes a long way for representation when considering how well utilized this aspect is while still being combined with cool fight scenes, big comedic moments, and relatable core themes. (Now on Peacock)

8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Putting the still terrific Black Panther: Wakanda Forever aside, the Marvel Cinematic Universe may rule headlines, but the films haven’t felt as impactful in the past couple of years as they once had in the realm of blockbuster dominance. Leave it to writer/director James Gunn to deliver a fantastic swansong for both his tenure with Marvel (he will now be guiding DC) and this iteration of the Guardians. Emotional beats run rampant thanks to a heavier focus on talking raccoon Rocket and his traumatic past. However, it doesn’t stop this movie from delivering in all the ways one wants from a Marvel-themed space opera. The film is very funny, full of creative action, incredibly detailed in its innovative production design, and plenty of weirdness thanks to Gunn’s sensibilities. Even if there’s a bittersweetness to the proceedings, this third Guardians film goes out with a bang, complete with another rocking soundtrack to go with it. (Now in theaters)

7. Beau is Afraid

Speaking of weird, Ari Aster has returned. This time, he traded up dread-laden folk horror for something more psychologically disturbing. Aster also teamed up with Joaquin Phoenix to deliver a wild central performance as a man who exists in a living nightmare involving the lingering threat of an overbearing Jewish mother. Whether or not Aster just needed a way to create a cinematic therapy session to deal with his own issues, this 3-hour A24 epic is an incredibly off-the-wall piece of art designed to be analyzed and debated. It’s also exceptionally well crafted when considering the production design on display as we visit some distinct settings in the characters’ unique worlds. On top of all that, when the film isn’t aiming to be tense, it’s often hilarious watching how many scenes play out or what the various supporting actors are doing to further complicate things for Beau. (Now on VOD)

6. Asteroid City

There’s a world where this film grows in my estimation as time moves forward, as Wes Anderson’s latest nesting doll-like package of a cinematic endeavor has plenty of layers to explore and so many performances to consider. When attempting to measure what he’s after and just how effective it is in speaking to the nature of the 50s, themes of today that reflect the past, grief, the art of stage production and acting, Asteroid City may look like a farce but offers so much to a viewer hungry for more than just visual idiosyncrasies. Plus, true to form, Anderson has a huge ensemble cast and uses them well to get plenty of laughs. Naturally, that humor is supported by the lived-in quality of a group of quirky individuals that range from a war photographer to a method actress to scientists to even a curious alien. Blending cosmic ideas and the bright pastel palette of another era, Anderson continues crafting fantastic films in a way only he can accomplish with such delight. (Now in theaters)

5. Past Lives

Celine Song’s debut feature film is a strong one. A quiet meditation on the relationship between childhood friends and the lives they could have had together if not for circumstances that separated them, this is a film where nearly everything comes together in the best of ways. Strong performances from leads Greta Lee and Teo Yoo, rounded out by a crucial supporting turn from John Magaro, I can very much admire a film that feels so assured in how to handle being a romantic drama. It helps that so much of this comes from all the parts working well together, including clever camera work from Shabier Kirchner, whose decisions in framing come into play in very appropriate ways. Unassuming, yet very deliberate in its choices, for a low-key character study, it’s quite an exciting watch to see how this plays out. (Now in theaters)

4. Rye Lane

Another relationship story that emphasizes the place and time in which these characters occupy, Rye Lane is a story about bad break-ups that happens to be a lot of fun. Both stars (David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah) are up to the task of giving well-rounded performances that lean into the comedy of it all, while director Raine Allen-Miller stages the film in very visually dynamic ways. Working with South London as a setting, Rye Lane explores this area through the use of color and an acknowledgment of the culture in this area, letting the film grow beyond a lesser version that could have been staged like a sitcom stretched out to movie length. As it stands, this film is very fun and likable, with a great understanding of how to use the trappings of this genre to its advantage. (Now on Hulu)

3. A Thousand and One

This list now has three films in a row that came out of the Sundance Film Festival with strong recognition, and for good reason. A Thousand and One was my favorite of the bunch, and it’s for similar reasons. A powerful performance from Teyana Taylor sits at the center, along with excellent work from Josiah Cross, who plays the 17-year-old version of her son. The dramatic storyline combines this engrossing tale of a mother who chooses to kidnap her son out of foster care to raise him herself with the evolving landscape of 90s New York City to great effect. There’s a great sense of care in the work going into how to put the different ideas of this film on display, thanks to what writer/director A.V. Rockwell has to offer. A Thousand and One does all it needs to when commenting on gentrification, class, race, and more without taking away from the more personal story taking place. Plus, this film still has my favorite score of the year, making this indie drama feel larger in scope. (Now on Peacock)

2. John Wick: Chapter 4

After seeing John Wick: Chapter 4 a second time, I thought: “Maybe I should just see this movie every weekend until it’s no longer in theaters.” Granted, I only have so much time for seeing 3-hour features (and we’ve had quite a few lately) in theaters, but it speaks to just how well-assembled this fourth entry in the killer action franchise is. It’s the best in the series and one of the best modern American action films this side of the modern Mission: Impossible movies. Comparisons to Mad Max: Fury Road (one of the very best films of the 2010s) are fitting, as the latest entry in the Keanu Reeves assassin series really packs a punch. Yes, it’s gloriously violent, as we witness all sorts of elaborate fights, shootouts, and chases in this very stylized world that result in the deaths of A LOT of people, but it goes deeper than that. Director Chad Stahelski clearly has so much love for cinema history that you can’t help but admire how he can reference filmmakers ranging from David Lean to Walter Hill to Sergio Leone. The cinematography, alone, is gorgeous, with every shot in this film being interesting and so much vibrancy shining through. And, of course, this is another super fun, ridiculous action film that finds Reeves’ Baba Yaga trying to survive the world around him by any means necessary. (Now on VOD)

1. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

I’m not sure I have a better way to sum up my feelings about this spectacular film than what I already said in my review. “Somehow, this incredible sequel has not only matched what that previous Sony Pictures Animation film delivered but surpassed it. Bursting with color, multiple animation styles, and a ton of innovation for the sake of deepening what can be done with comic book movies, it would only go so far if the film wasn’t also entertaining, funny, and fitted with proper emotional stakes. This movie has all of that, as it’s a blast to watch and will ideally push others further regarding the limits of imagination.” Seeing Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy’s worlds grow more expansive while watching the capabilities of this series become even more ambitious is just incredible. How the second half of this story, Beyond the Spider-Verse, could up the game even further is a genuine curiosity. Still, even if it just matches what’s accomplished here, that’s more than enough to enjoy, given the efforts taken to deliver a film that provides further challenges of what it means to be Spider-Man. (Now in theaters)

***

Runners Up (Alphabetical): Air, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster, BlackBerry, Creed III, Evil Dead Rise, How to Blow Up a Pipeline, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Knock at the Cabin, R.M.N., Sisu, Suzume, You Hurt My Feelings

Bonus – Favorite Non-2023 Films Seen For The First Time (Alphabetical): Avengement, Chicago, Dragons Forever, Eega, Frantic, Furie, Gorgeous, Gridlock’d, The Guns of Navarone, In Cold Blood, Inland Empire, Joint Security Area, Last Hurrah for Chivalry, The Learning Tree, Living in Oblivion, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Martin, Marty, Mona Lisa, The Music of Chance, Orlando, Orpheus, Nothing But a Man, The Remains of the Day, Road House, The Rules of the Game, Sansho the Bailiff, Shattered Glass, Smooth Talk, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, The Wedding Banquet

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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