Best Movies of 2023... So Far

Currently, The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023) is the highest grossing film of the year. It's the first theatrical release of this calendar to achieve a billion-dollars worldwide. It's the first time that any movie studio has attempted to bring the video game franchise to the big screen since 1993. The 30-year gap is the result of the 1993 live-action adaptation being such a failure. Video game adaptations over the past 30 years have been hit or miss, but mostly miss. It wasn't until five or so years ago that the pendulum began to swing back in the other direction. For Nintendo, the success of Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019) really put the wind in their sails to return to the Mario Bros. game and bring it back to cinema. This time, instead of live-action, Nintendo decided to make it an animated feature, aimed at children and families. It also benefited from being released earlier in the year where there was no competition to stop it from bulldozing its way to a billion.

When it comes to films about super-powered people, one can't ignore the comic-book movies from Marvel and DC Comics that made it to the big screen and either succeeded or sank. The biggest headline on the positive side is Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023). Not only was it a critical hit, it also doubled what its predecessor made back in 2018. It's likely to be nominated for an Oscar like its predecessor and likely win again for Best Animated Feature. This will also be in spite or due to the recent controversy regarding how badly the animators were treated during the film's production. The other biggest headline on the negative side is The Flash (2023), which bombed at the box office. A lot of people have speculated as to why, but the controversy surrounding Ezra Miller and their allegedly criminal acts are likely a reason.

Throughout the year, sometimes certain, cinematic trends will emerge, often by happenstance. This year, there have been a handful of films about how certain corporate products came to be. Essentially, these films are biographical pictures or biopics about men who run or work at specific companies and these biopics detail the process in creating a new product. Two of the four major ones getting the most acclaim, and even some people advocating for awards consideration, include Air (2023), directed by Ben Affleck, which is about how Nike came up with the Air Jordan. The second is Blackberry (2023), which is a Canadian film about the rise and fall of the titular cell phone. Two others include Apple TV's Tetris (2023), which is about the titular video-game, and Hulu's Flamin' Hot (2023), which is about a man who claimed to have invented the snack known as Flamin' Hot Cheetos.

Whether or not something like Air will got any kind of awards consideration like an Oscar is unlikely. What's more likely is the film Past Lives (2023) getting nominations at the end of the year or for the next Oscars. It's the first to be a possible contender. It helps that the film is distributed by A24, which is a company that cleaned up at the last Academy Awards. Unlike last year, there probably won't be many or any films released prior to July 4 that will get that kind of recognition. Martin Scorsese's Killers of the Flowers Moon (2023), which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May will likely get nominated but it won't come out in theaters until October. Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer (2023) will also likely get recognized at the Oscars, but it won't get released till July 21.

It should be noted that Jane Fonda was in four films this year: 80 for Brady (2023), Moving On (2023), Book Club: The Next Chapter (2023) and Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken (2023). Neither of which are notable for any other reasons, as each quickly came and went. What also came and went were the films featuring Gal Gadot who also appeared in four films this year: Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023), Fast X (2023), The Flash (2023) and Heart of Stone (2023). Technically, Heart of Stone won't be released until August. Unfortunately, her first three flicks were not well received. Hopefully, Heart of Stone will be better.

Here are my best films of the year, so far:

10. EXTRACTION II by Sam Hargrave - Chris Hemsworth proves himself an action star in the traditional sense with a literal run-and-gun thriller that features some incredible shootout sequences, including a signature, simulated, long, continuous take that goes for 20 minutes. It's the rare sequel that is better than the first. It's certainly better in terms of some of the character dynamics, motivations and optics. It's not necessarily a better story but it felt better as far as the emotional stakes were concerned.

9. THE COVENANT by Guy Ritchie - In a lot of ways, it's different from any other film Guy Ritchie has made. Given that I haven't been a fan of a lot of Ritchie's recent films, something different is strangely refreshing, even though it could be seen as yet another example of military propaganda, or a kind of jingoism. Yet, this film is actually critical of the military in various ways, certainly critical of xenophobia or Islamophobia within the military's ranks. It's also mostly critical of foreign policy that resulted in a lot of Muslim people who assisted military operations be abandoned in Afghanistan after military operations were pulled out.

8. MARS ONE (MARTE UM) by Gabriel Martins - Every year, each country around the world submits one film to the Academy Awards, as its best representative. This was the submission from Brazil. It focuses on a Black family, struggling with social and economic issues that threatens to tear them apart. Each of the four members, the father, mother, son and daughter, get their own story lines that expose those various issues. It's understated in a lot of ways but very powerful in others. The title refers to a failed corporate venture whose shadow looms over this family.

7. LONESOME by Craig Boreham - This film is another in a growing list of queer Australian films that have been released not only over the course of the past 40 years but just in this year alone. It very much feels like a mix of Midnight Cowboy (1969) and My Own Private Idaho (1991) with a protagonist, just as mysterious and just as alluring as Jon Voight or River Phoenix.

6. ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET by Kelly Fremon Craig - The adaptation of the novel by Judy Blume centers on a prepubescent girl who moves from New York City to New Jersey. She then is introduced to a new group of friends who all are waiting for their menstruation period. It's a very sweet and gentle coming-of-age focusing on a young female protagonist, which is rare for a mainstream Hollywood film. However, the title refers to the fact that the film is also about growing up in a mixed religion household where the mom comes from a Christian background and the father comes from a Jewish background. A good amount of drama arises from the conflicts between the families of both backgrounds.

5. POLITE SOCIETY by Nida Manzoor - In a lot of ways, this film feels like the result of comic book culture having thoroughly infiltrated mainstream culture. This feels like an adventure for a comic book heroine, minus the super-powers. In a few small ways, it feels like an ode to stunt-people, particularly stunt-women who may not get the recognition they deserve. Mainly though, it feels as if this film is saying, "What if Quentin Tarantino was a British-Pakistani woman?" Not being an overwhelming fan of Tarantino, I still like the result of that question.

4. CREED III by Michael B. Jordan - I don't think this film is as good as Creed (2015), which ignited the Rocky film franchise in an absolutely incredible fashion. This is good for Jordan's directorial debut. It's also the first entry in the Rocky franchise not to feature its creator, Sylvester Stallone. While he might have been missed, this film is buoyed fine without him. It could be argued as instead of sequel to that franchise, it's a spiritual sequel to Just Mercy (2019), the film Jordan did about a falsely incarcerated Black man. As such, it provides an amazing platform for Jonathan Majors who plays Damian Anderson, a recently released inmate with a chip on his shoulder. Majors proves himself a talented actors both emotionally and physically and he practically makes this film his own.

3. JOYLAND by Saim Sadiq - This is the official submission from Pakistan to the 95th Academy Awards for Best International Feature. It didn't get nominated but it did make the shortlist, which is the first time that the country has done so. The film is about the patriarchal society in Pakistan and how it affects men and women who don't want to live by the assigned rules for the two traditional sexes. It especially explores the effect on people who are gender nonconforming, transgender and a sexual minority. It also delves into discrimination within the LGBTQ community itself, which is also rare in a film, be in mainstream or independent.

2. OF AN AGE by Goran Stolevski - This film could be paired with the other film on this list, Lonesome, as this film is another queer Australian film. It's very much a gay coming-of-age story that is very much comparable to Andrew Haigh's Weekend (2011). There's also this immigrant experience aspect to the film that didn't feel as prominent during my initial viewing, but there's a comparison to be made to the recent film Past Lives (2023) by Celine Song in terms of this idea of what gets left behind and the strong connections that people can feel toward things from which they're separated. The idea of longing that so many queer and even immigrant people feel is very much present here.

1. A THOUSAND AND ONE by A. V. Rockwell - The directorial debut of Rockwell and the first leading role for R&B singer-turned-actress, Teyana Taylor is about a single mother in the inner city trying to take care of her son. Back in the 90's, there used to be more films about the African American experience, which included some coming-of-age stories. American cinema hasn't really provided much of those kinds of stories recently or within the past 20 years. The closest that I could put up to this one is Precious (2009) and Moonlight (2016). There are certainly aspects of both here. This film doesn't dwell in drugs, poverty or even homophobia as those aforementioned films do. It's also not as cynical about the idea of Black mothers as those aforementioned films either. Rockwell doesn't idealize the Black mother either. She instead taps into something else that is more profound.


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  2. How do you think the decision to make it an animated feature aimed at children and families contributed to its success, especially in comparison to the previous live-action attempt?


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