Best of 2023 So Far: An Ode for the Spring Specialty Indie Titles

Kenny Miles covers his top picks for the best independent, arthouse, and international films of 2023 so far.

As summer is in full swing and people reflect on the first half of 2023, I wanted to appreciate a unique type of movie that opens in the first half of the year and deserves moviegoers’ attention – the indies, arthouse, and international films. Many of these movies are challenging for publicity, hard to market, and have difficulty garnering critical attention, which is vital for tiny movies that can thrive with exuberant reviews and stronger word of mouth. They may also not get the best attention due to screenings that took place during the previous awards cycle, meaning they’ll have been forgotten by the time they receive a proper theatrical release.

These indie movies are spring releases dumped in no man’s land after the Oscar ceremony but before the summer movie season. Are they films from last year or this year? Where do these belong? Are they worthy of not being forgotten? One of the best movies from last year’s Telluride Film Festival is the still unreleased The End of the World, the documentary about writers who graduated from Bennington College and their impact on culture. It’s a must-see for Gen Xers. As the traditional blockbuster season is in full throttle, spring has always been a low-key great time to see indies. This is an excellent time for discovery and a real treat for art-house audiences. Have some fun catching the following titles:


Director Saim Sadiq’s Cannes award winner was re-introduced during Sundance the week of Oscar nominations. Its release felt like a hail-mary pass of hitting it big with a sneak 5th slot for an Academy Award. (Ireland’s A Quiet Girl, which prevailed, is a worthy nominee.) And it had to wait for a release after the Oscars. Some movies can get screwed by waiting for awards season to conclude. Something very special can be found in this delicate, groundbreaking queer love story.


This feels like the ultimate Film Twitter movie of the moment that came and went at TIFF and was forgotten about even when it opened. Melissa Barrera and Paul Mescal have genuine chemistry, and the modern update of the plot is topical with a US/Mexico border immigration story. The musical score from Nicholas Brettel sizzles as one of the best musical compositions so far this year. Carmen is ambitious and lavish for a little indie. The dance numbers and that fight scene were the highlights.

The Eight Mountains

Honestly, I didn’t love it when I saw it, but I admired the Cannes Award winner. The longer I spent thinking about it, my admiration increased. Directors Felix Van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch craft an intimate story about childhood friends who grew up. The setting within the Italian Alps and the Himalayas is a backdrop to the peaks people climb and overcome. The very strong first half leads to a bit of a lag in the second half, but the drama leads to a very satisfying conclusion.

See Also: Aaron’s Top 10 Favorite Films of 2023 So Far

Showing Up

No movie was underappreciated than Kelly Reichardt’s indie drama Showing Up. In fact, as numerous indie films screen as a one-week wonder, it quietly played in Denver’s Esquire Theatre for over a month! The versatile Michelle Williams anchors the low-key character study about humanity, art, and creativity with some of the most poignant scenes involving a pigeon. Just as compelling, Hong Chau continues the momentum of her era, and I hope we see more of her in movies.

The cast of How to Blow Up a Pipeline

How To Blow Up A Pipeline

Based on the book, the best dramas unfold like a thriller if the tension is elevated with precise editing and a pulsating score, like in Daniel Goldhaber’s How To Blow Up A Pipeline. A lean indie is so radical that it feels like a throwback to the days of 90s kinetic filmmaking with a sense of urgency. The ensemble worked well together, especially Ariela Barer and Lukas Gage. One of its strengths is how it builds tension. A very strong and uncomfortable political message was the point.

Enys Men

Mark Jenkins made a little movie called Bait that I randomly watched at 2019’s Denver Film Festival and was booked for SXSW in 2020, accompanied by a score. It would have broken out at the latter film festival but still hasn’t received distribution. This isolating and moody slow-burn art house phycological thriller/horror is what Skinamarink wanted to be.


Lionsgate acquiring this at last year’s TIFF and opening it semi-wide in April was shrewd and commendable. This movie had one job to do, and did it well. The film is a bloody good time. I appreciated the lack of dialogue, allowing a more visual story to take place and expand the possibilities. Having exit polled the audience, it played very well, with laughs and cheers during the crisp sound design entirely on display in Dolby Atmos.


This under-the-radar historical drama has stuck with me since my Telluride viewing last Labor Day weekend and is a perfect example of a Criterion Channel selection. Filled with long shots and deliberate pacing, A low-key Kierkegaardian epic masterfully conveys the dark themes with poignancy. It gets very weird in the best way, too. I am due for a re-watch to consider it one of 2023’s best movies.


Technically set during Christmas, but R.M.N. doesn’t get you in the festive spirit. Cristian Mungiu’s moody and disturbing melodrama is about a family’s turmoil set in the background of a society on edge. It feels timeless and timely during a season as bleak as winter. The lengthy town hall sequence and the final scene still haunt me months after my initial watch.


There you go. An island of misfit movies where studios don’t know what to do offers a sense of wonder waiting to be discovered. Many of these titles should be on VOD. I hope we can reflect on some of these worthy movies that deserve to be on your first half of the 2023 list. Consider this an FYC plea.

Written by
Kenny admired film criticism as a child when his mother wrote a positive review of Home Alone in his small town Arkansas newspaper and defended it against angry Letters to the Editor. Kenny Miles loves to talk about movies especially the cultural impact of a film, if something is overlooked by Hollywood, or whatever business trend has captured the Entertainment Industry’s attention, specialty releases, an auteur director, a unique premise, branding, and THE much infamous "awards season." Kenny currently lives in Denver, Colorado and is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society critics group. When he isn’t writing, Kenny channels his passion working as an events marketing coordinator. He spends many Friday nights exit polling for CinemaScore (and his opinions are his own).

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