Movie Midterm - My Favorite Movies of the First Half of 2023
We are only 6 months into the year, and the cinematic landscape has been jam packed. I felt like I was at the theater more in the first half of this year, than all of the last couple of years. The exciting part is, we still have so much more to experience.
Quick Note: Due to my location and/or financial situation, I haven't been able to watch every movie released this year that I wanted to, so there will be gaps in this list. Some of those films were not available to me, and some were just too expensive to justify the cost. I'm sure at least a few of those would have made the list, but they were not one of the 24 films released so far in 2023 that I have seen (which also includes short films and documentaries). There will be three honorable mentions, and 10 of my favorite films of the year. After that, I will list every film that was released this year that I have seen, that way you can see what I had to choose from!
Honorable Mention 1 - Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: Once and Always
Is this objectively a good movie? No. The only good Power Rangers movie is the one from 2017. But this has all the right ingredients for long time fans. Returning cast members, easter eggs, and closure on an actor whose life ended in tragedy. The dialogue is corny, the acting is wooden, but the heart is there. This isn't for everyone, but if you watched Power Rangers as a kid, you will find something to love here.
Honorable Mention 2 - Splinter
Marc Bernardin's crowd sourced short film is one of the most intriguing things of the year. It is a unique premise and the short run time gives you a lot to think about. This would make an excellent feature film, let's just hope Bernardin can make that happen. If he does, I hope most of the cast can be retained. The kid would probably be recast, but let's hope that Yetide Badaki in particular sticks around. She is a massive talent. This is a little bit of a psychological thriller, a little bit of a drama, and a little bit science fiction. I hope everyone gets to see this one day.
Honorable Mention 3 - No Hard Feelings
This movie would be nothing without Jennifer Lawrence. Her sheer will, charisma and screen presence made this film into something. The rest of the cast is serviceable, especially Andrew Barth Feldman who holds his own opposite Lawrence. It isn't quite as raunchy as the trailer makes it out to be, but it is a nice character study about loss, love, and moving on. It's worth a few laughs, and would be a fun rental for date night.
10. Creed III
Michael B. Jordan's first turn as director was a pretty successful affair. His strength comes in knowing where he wants the cinematographer to put the camera, and how a fight should be portrayed. Anime fans should appreciate what he was doing here. The story is a bit predictable, but all the talent involved* made it believable. The story doesn't suffer from the exclusion of Sylvester Stallone as Rocky, though you could see where they could have fit him in. I don't know if there will be a Creed IV, but there are more stories to tell in the "Rockyverse", and I will be there for them if Jordan remains involved, even if it is behind the camera.
*I saw this before the allegations against Johnathan Majors, and if that deters you from watching this, that is understandable.
9. Cocaine Bear
This is an insane premise, based off an insane news story, that resulted in an insane movie. Elizabeth Banks pulled it off though, she crafted a cohesive, gory, fun narrative that left me with a smile on my face the entire way through. Banks was able to balance all of the characters well, and have them dove tail at the exact right time. This was Ray Liotta's final role before his death, and he is exactly as solid of a villain as you think he would be. But the MVP of the film is Margot Martindale. She steals every scene she is in, and her line delivery is impeccable. If you want something fun, but a little ominous, look no further than Cocaine Bear.
8. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
James Mangold has never made a bad movie. He has made some movies that are better than others, but never bad. The final Indiana Jones adventure is a solid entry into the franchise. It definitely fixed the mistakes made in the previous entry, but makes a couple of its own here as well. De-aging CGI has never won me over. A good old fashioned recast would have worked just fine. There are some loosely connected action pieces that feel the absence of Spielberg's whimsical nature and character work. However, the film serves as a solid send off of the titular character. While I would bet on seeing more from this universe eventually, (franchise supporting character spinoffs and whatnot because Lucasfilm likes money and nostalgia), fans will be happy where they left Indy. While nothing will quite beat him literally riding off into the sunset in The Last Crusade, the wrap up in Dial of Destiny still made me smile, and its a much better taste to leave in the mouths of fans than ending on Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Never sleep on Pixar. Sure, they have some misses (looks at Lightyear, Brave, and Cars 3), but for the most part, they hit the mark. Elemental is no exception. The story is a bit cookie cutter, but Pixar does existentialism like no other studio. The way they do it is so effective. This film also deals with interracial relationships too. (With the world going backwards, it is an important reminder that love is love). The visuals are stunning. Every frame is jam packed with details that will keep your eyes glued to the screen. The voice cast does amazing, and the world building is so strong that you could see many stories happening in this world. Disney dumping previous Pixar movies on Disney+ probably hurt this one, but don't sleep on it, it's a strong entry into Pixar's catalogue.
6. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
Listen, I am just as surprised as you are that this is on the list. I saw footage of this at San Diego Comic Con, and it won me over. The entire movie is a whole lot of fun whether you have ever been exposed to playing Dungeons & Dragons or not. I am a sucker for a "get a team of misfits together to steal some stuff" movies. This is one of those movies, and they execute it wonderfully. The movie lets Chris Pine be his charming self, but the scene stealer was by far Regé-Jean Page. They used him the perfect amount, and left you wanting more. This is a fun adventure movie and manages to eke out a lot of emotional moments throughout the jokes. I am down for more entries, especially if this cast returns.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 3.
James Gunn left it all on that table for what is most likely his Marvel swan song now that he is in charge of DC. It was a tumultuous journey getting here, but well worth it. Gunn knows these characters better than anyone, so everyone gets their moment. There are some pretty emotional beats here, and the overall story being a commentary on animal abuse is quite powerful. There are some cop outs that some people won't appreciate, but in a world of superheroes, it is to be expected. This is the best the MCU has been since Shang-Chi or Spider-Man: No Way Home. But it isn't without a few issues. I don't know what form or in what project we will see some of these characters again, but this was a perfect swan song for the group as a whole.
4. The Super Mario Bros Movie
This movie did everything right. I had trepidations going in, namely the voice casting of Mario, and how coherent the story would be. But both were put to rest after seeing the film. There is something for every generation of Mario fan. Whether you were there from the beginning in the arcade, or just picked up Super Mario Odyssey on the Switch for the first time. Jack Black is the MVP giving the world the best Bowser we could hope for. The music cues tie the whole movie together. This is fun from the first frame all the way to post-credit sequel tease. The colorful backdrops, and numerous Easter eggs thrown in make this such a joy for the eyes. There were a few little things that were unnecessary, like outwardly explaining something that could have been implied or figured out (kids aren't stupid, especially when it comes to this stuff), but it is a little gripe in the grand scheme of things. Nintendo and Illumination really pulled out all the stops, and made something everyone can enjoy. Go seek this out if you haven't already.
3. John Wick: Chapter 4The John Wick movies have become the quintessential action franchise of our time. Every movie gets more intense than the last, and Chapter 4 is no exception. There are 2 sequences in particular: The house shoot out shot from above, and the staircase sequence that will stick with me forever. If you like relentless action and world building, you must go watch this immediately. I don't know what the future of this franchise entails, but I am in for any story in this world that doesn't involve Mel Gibson (he's in a spinoff show called The Continental, shame on everyone who made that decision). But there is also a spinoff starring Ana De Armas coming soon, and I am stoked for that. These movies are a delight, and show what a truly intense action movie could be.
2. AirEveryone who talks to me for more than an hour knows I am a huge Michael Jordan fan. So a corporate consumer commercial for Nike masked as a Michael Jordan story had my attention. Even though nothing spells consumerism like making a movie about products, Ben Affleck and everyone else involved did a wonderful job still letting the legacy of Jordan shine through. The entire cast is absolutely stellar, but Viola Davis is the only reason this movie works. Anyone of a lesser talent (which is most of Hollywood...) wouldn't be able to put this in the spot that Davis did. Pairing that with the incredible speech Matt Damon's character makes to the Jordan family in the boardroom makes this movie special. That speech is one of my favorite things I've ever seen in association with Michael Jordan. That needs to be played on any documentary, tribute, or anything even tangentially involving the Air Man. It should be played at his funeral for goodness sake. Will this make you want to buy a pair of Air Jordans? Maybe. Will this make you appreciate the legacy of Michael Jordan more? Absolutely. And that in and of itself makes this one of my favorite movies of the year.
1. Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse
2023 Films I have seen so far: