Well folks, welcome to July and the second half of the year! Time flies, doesn’t it? Somehow, we’re halfway through 2023. As most of you know, it has been a rough start to the year for me, and like with last year and a different personal tragedy, time is both incredibly slow and relentless in its speed, as you might imagine. Anyway, now that we’ve reached July, it’s time (at least for a certified nut like me), to continue sizing up the year. As such, today you’ll be able to take a look at what the cinematic highlights for the year have been for me. I’m at 140 films seen so far (not counting an embargo or two), though even with that lofty number there are a few things I need to catch up on (notably Past Lives). Such is life, right?
Below, you can see what I feel are the best films and performances of the first half of 2023. My one rule here is yet again that it must have been released in January, February, March, April, May, or June. So, while that includes this past weekend’s releases, since they hit before July 1st, any movies from the 2023 Sundance Film Festival that have not come out yet remain ineligible, sadly. The same goes for the Tribeca Film Festival, as well as things I’ve seen that haven’t been released into theaters yet, like Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, for example. Other than that, all of the flicks are on the table. Now, read on to see who and what made the cut for me this time…
These are the ten best performances of the year so far:
9. Charlie Day in Fool’s Paradise
8. Viola Davis in Air
6. Matt Damon in Air
5. Morgan Freeman in A Good Person
3. Jennifer Lawrence in No Hard Feelings
1. Florence Pugh in A Good Person
(Honorable Mentions: Ben Affleck in Air, Taron Egerton in Tetris, Jake Gyllenhaal in Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant, Jon Hamm in Maggie Moore(s), Judd Hirsch in iMordecai, Michael B. Jordan in Creed III, Laurie Metcalf in Somewhere in Queens, Nick Mohammed in Maggie Moore(s), Ray Romano in Somewhere in Queens, and Alyssa Sutherland in Evil Dead Rise)
Here now are the top ten films of the first half of 2023, with a quote from my reviews for each:
10. No Hard Feelings
No Hard Feelings is a good movie made better by the absolutely committed central turn from Jennifer Lawrence. We all know she’s an amazing dramatic actress, and she’s done comedy before at times within films, but this is her first full-on comedy. She absolutely aces it, leaning in and embracing the raunch. Moreover, she elevates the light drama aspects. Without question, she’s the best thing about the flick, which is wildly entertaining, if occasionally uneven.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is one last ride with a team you’ve grown to love. Moreover, Gunn has made this Rocket’s story, which invests you in a CGI raccoon more than you’d ever expect. To that end, it’s worth noting that there are several harrowing scenes involving animal endangerment, albeit of the computer generated variety. It’s not done in a manner that’s offensive, but if you’re an animal lover, it’s going to be intense. That’s more evidence of how Gunn gets you to identify with his characters. The agony and the ecstasy, the heartbreak and laughter, it’s all here, just sandwiched within a sci-fi sequel in the MCU.
How to Blow Up a Pipeline is razor sharp with its lean and impactful story. Following a group of anti-heroes as they potentially engage in domestic terrorism is a fine line to walk, but this movie does it shockingly well. Whether it actually inspires any change or not is another story, but as just supremely effective filmmaking? It’s an unqualified success.
My take on Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves? It’s a hoot. This film is a lot of fun, full of wit and a sense of creativity. It’s a little long, running over two hours, but very funny and easily won over even someone like myself who doesn’t usually dig on fantasy. From start to finish, it’s a really enjoyable lark. Chris Pine is a riot, while filmmakers John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein prove that they’re some of the most interesting storytellers around. If this is the start of a new film franchise, count me very much in.
6. Creed III
Creed III is not just one of the better sequels in the franchise, it’s a coming out party for star Michael B. Jordan as a director. Sure, it also marks the official exit for Sylvester Stallone from what was initially the Rocky movies, but it’s charting its own path. His lack of a presence would have sank a lesser flick, but here, while he would have been welcome, it does feel like they made a good choice for the future, with potentially more installments still to come.
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie could have been a depressing experience, but Fox himself refuses to let it be anything like that. In fact, when asked directly if this is going to be a documentary about an actor who got sick, he says no, that that’s boring. He would be right, and in making the film about his entirety, we get a fuller meal. The doc is better for it, while managing to be funny and even uplifting, in addition to more than a bit sad.
4. Cocaine Bear
Cocaine Bear is an absolute blast. It makes no bones about being anything other than a zany action comedy about what happens when a bear in the woods gets into some cocaine. Hilarity and insanity ensues, with a game cast, as well as a director clearly enjoying herself, letting it all play out to the extreme. It tickled me pink from start to finish, resulting in my favorite film experience of the year so far.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is an incomplete work, but the part we’re given here is downright spectacular. We’ll see it presumably wrap up in Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse next year, which I promise you will feel an eternity away. Despite a running time closing in on two and a half hours, which is massive for animation, there’s so much momentum you’ll be stunned when it ends. There are no spoilers to be found here, but the flick contains so many surprises, when the “to be continued…” title card comes up, you may well gasp.
A Good Person is Braff working in a whole new key. To be sure, having a muse in Florence Pugh changes the dynamic a bit, though it’s certainly not the only factor. It just seems like he’s telling a more mature story. His emotions and sense of humor are still fully in evidence, flowing through each character, but here, there’s tragedy compounded on to it all. It easily could have turned into a mess, or rang false, but that’s decidedly not the case. It all builds to a satisfying conclusion that had me openly weeping.
Air is far more than just the best “dad movie” in years, or even just a sports flick. Utilizing the story of Nike pursuing a partnership with a rookie Michael Jordan, we get a testament to believing in yourself, believing in others, and standing for something. It takes real talent to invest you in the tale of a shoe salesman, the underdog aspect of an eventual billion dollar corporation, and the budding career of a legend you barely see, but Affleck and company pull it off in spades. It runs like clockwork and never ceases to be a delight.
As a bonus, here are a few awards for the first half:
Best Director – Ben Affleck for Air (runner-up: Joaquim Dos Santos, Justin K. Thompson, and Kemp Powers for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse)
Best Actor – Morgan Freeman for A Good Person (runner-up: Matt Damon for Air)
Best Actress – Florence Pugh for A Good Person (runner-up: Jennifer Lawrence for No Hard Feelings)
Best Supporting Actor – Glenn Howerton for BlackBerry (runner-up: Chris Messina for Air)
Best Supporting Actress – Scarlett Johansson for Asteroid City (runner-up: Viola Davis for Air)
Best Adapted Screenplay – Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (runner-up: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3)
Best Original Screenplay – Air (runner-up: A Good Person)
Best Animated Feature – Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (runner-up: Elemental)
Best Documentary Feature – Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie (runner-up: It Ain’t Over)
Best Production Design – Asteroid City (runner-up: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3)
Best Cinematography – Air (runner-up: Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant)
Best Costume Design – Asteroid City (runner-up: The Flash)
Best Film Editing – Air (runner-up: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse)
Best Makeup & Hairstyling – Evil Dead Rise (runner-up: Air)
Best Sound – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (runner-up: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny)
Best Original Score – Elemental (runner-up; Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny)
Best Original Song – Peaches from The Super Mario Bros. Movie (runner-up: I Hate Myself from A Good Person)
Best Ensemble – Air (runner-up: How to Blow Up a Pipeline)
What are your favorite films and performances so far in 2023? Let us know!