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The "Big Tuna" Vito Carli weighs in with Summation of the Year in Film

A Comprehensive Look at 2023 in Film at the Midway

(071323) The first half of 2023 has only been so-so in terms of cinematic variety and quality. That said, it has had its share of overlooked cinematic treasures, some of which of course will be completely forgotten by the winter/spring awards season at years end. Very few of these films were released by major US film makers, however a hand full of high-profile directors such as James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy 3), Ben Affleck (Air), Stephen Frears (The Lost King), M. Night Shyamalan (Knock on the Door), Michael B. Jordan (Creed 3) put out commercially successful works that did well and were by and large liked by critics including me. There were also a few very promising newer film makers such as Sara Gunnarsdottir (My Year of Dicks) and Brandon Cronenberg (Infinity Pool) that put out fine features. Chilean film maker, Francisca Alegria, delivered an astonishingly good first film, The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future.

Most of last year’s art films (which contained a high number of that year’s best) tanked or had disappointing returns at the box office in the US. Among these include but are not limited to: Tar, Women Talking, She Says, and Triangle of Sadness). So, it’s not a big shock that there have been far fewer foreign films, Indy flicks and intelligent films in general made for adults that played in the south side and/or suburban theatres (except for a few leftovers from last year like To Leslie and Living) than usual. Some film makers Cristian Mingiu (R.M.N.) Kelly Reichardt (Showing Up), and Avi Arster (Beau is Afraid) all created respected films that were big critical successes that were distributed in the Chicago Area. I was disgusted to find recently that even the Landmark Century that used to have almost all Indy and international films currently has mostly franchise movies. Recently I was at the Landmark and Spiderman: Across the Spider-Verse, The Little Mermaid and the Flash  took up the majority of the screens there. Not to say they are all bad, but they certainly have muscled out the the smaller, independent films at this time..

Many of the smaller films released to date will be left in the dust because it seems almost every great film maker in memory will have films come out in the second half of this year. Upcoming films include: Martin Scorsese (Killer of the Flower Moon and two other films), Christopher Nolan (Oppenheimer), Wes Anderson (two films), Paul Schrader (Master Gardener), Yorgos Lanithimos (Poor Things), Michael Mann (Ferrari), Denis Villaneuve (Dune Part II), , Kenneth Branagh (A Haunting in Venice), Zach Snider (Rebel Moon), Marlow (Neil Jordan), Napoleon (Ridley Scott), Ethan Coen (Drive Away Dolls) and even the formerly retired master animator Hayao Miyazaki (How do You Live?)

That's to come but this is the present which brings me to my top films of 2023 at the midway point. This list includes all of the films that earned 4 stars from me and most of the ones that I gave three and a half stars. The cut off date was the middle of June so I left out such critics’ favorites and potential list movies such as Asteroid City and Past Lives and a few others, some of which will be reviewed here in the near future but are currently in release. Other wrinkles to this list include the wonderfully acted, To Leslie had premiered this year instead of last October it would have made my top 5 (and yes it did deserve its best actress Oscar nom.)  Also I have two films tied for the number one spot this time. 

At some point a much longer version of this  list may appear on my  website. Now without further ado here are my best films of the year list.

1) R.M.N (Romania)
 A whole town unites to harass and humiliate some immigrants who had the misfortune of getting jobs that no one else wants, working for bread maker. Terrific Romanian film perfectly captures the essence of racial hatred and makes great use of the Transylvanian landscapes shot with painterly cinematography. This is relevant to the current situation in modern Europe as well as the USA. In Romanian with English subtitles. Streaming on YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, and Amazon Prime.

A buttoned down aging Brit encounters bureaucratic resistance when he tries to do one last good thing before he dies in this moving Kafka inspired melodrama. This was nominated for a best actor Oscar and it played in some states in 2022, but I am including it here because unlike To Leslie, as far as I know it did not play Chicago until this year. This moving and thoroughly British remake of Kurosawa’s Ikiru film was based on Tolstoy’s classic novella. The Life and Death of Ivan Ilych, which I used to teach in my novel class. This is the most life affirming film I have seen in years. On Netflix, Youtube, Google Play, Redbox, Vudu and Amazon Prime.

2) My Year of Dicks
A teen age girl encounters many different kinds of jerks when she attempts to lose her virginity. This marvelously creative almost 30-minute short beat Marvel to the punch because every sequence and story has a different animation style. Streaming on Vimeo and Mashable.

3) Suzame (Japan)
Deeply satisfying follow up to Weathering with You is about a young woman with nature powers that tries to save the world from disasters by using nature magic. The animation is a thing of beauty that puts most Disney and Pixar films to shame. This gorgeous and phenomenally successful film (320 million so far) is sure to get nominated at next year’s Oscars for best animated feature unless Hayao Miyazaki’s upcoming, How do You Live? dethrones it (I don’t know if they would pick two Japanese animated films in the same year.) This would make my list of best Japanese animated films ever. Streaming at this time exclusively on Crunchyroll.

4) Showing Up
Hardly anything happens but almost everything is important in this film, so it’s like Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love. It tells the story of the struggles of a not too well-known and mediocre artist who suffers from obstacles and minor setbacks when she has to take care of her friend’s pigeon. The third winning collaboration between director, Kelly Reichardt and actress, Michelle Williams (the ex of the late Heath Ledger) is a great example of “slow cinema.” Streaming on YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, and Amazon Prime

5) The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future (Chile)
The dead walk (and save people from drowning ). Also, cows sing (without moving their mouths ) and they predict their own destinies in this weird and wacky pro pagan cinematic exercise in Magical Realism from first time director, Francesca Alegria which is oddly uplifting in the end. Hard to find but this is worth seeking out. I guarantee that you have never seen anything like it. In Spanish with English subtitles. Streaming on HBO Max and Mubi.

6) Are You There God?
It’s me Margaret-Very effective and realistic portrait of a young Jewish girl who tries to fit in with her peers when her parents move to a new town so her dad can get a better job. The family dinner scene is a classic and this is like the best Saturday Afternoon Special you’ve never seen. Streaming on YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, and Amazon Prime.

7) St.Omer (France)
Gripping film totally gets into the head of a young African woman who is accused one of the worse crimes, infanticide. In French with English subtitles. Slow moving but deeply engrossing. Streaming on Hulu.

8) Rye Lane
Charming Indy love story with an all-African American cast has some of the most beautiful sets and colorful visuals of the year. Somewhat reminiscent of Before Midnight. Streaming on Netflix.

9) DiChevalier
Joseph Bologne De Chevalier Saint George, is a brilliant African American composer/conductor who is illegitimate son of a white plantation owner and a black slave. He faces hurdles and racism when he tries to make it in the music world in pre–French Revolution Paris, and his genius can only get him so far because of his race. In one of the wonderful scenes, he encounters and gains the respect of a very arrogant Mozart. This inspiring biopic was based on a true story and features a fine lead performance from Kelvin Harrison. Streaming on Prime.

10) Missing
Fascinating film in which a young woman with superior tech skills spends the whole film online trying to track down her kidnapped mom. A semi sequel to Searching (2018). Streaming on Netflix.

11) Guardians of the Galaxy
James Gunn’s last hurrah for Marvel is a wonderfully written comedic adventure drama that is a little darker than the other films in the series but still has moments of pure joy. It does a great job of wrapping up all your favorite character’s stories and Rocket’s origin is tragic and riveting. James Gunn left Marvel on a high, with one of his best scripts. Streaming at Disney Plus.

12) Kill Boksoon (South Korea)
Decent Asian action film is a partial homage to Kill Bill with a female assassin trying to stay alive when multiple thugs and ninjas try to assassinate her. In South Korean with American subtitles. Streaming on Netflix.

Honorable mentions
Air, Creed 3, Dungeons and Dragons, Knock at the Door,
The Lost King, Megan (the unrated DVD version only), Personality Crisis: One Night Only

Vittorio Carli, who teaches at area community colleges and has reviewed films for The Star and The Examiner. He is an avid film buff and an author.
His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.
You can find more of his writings at

For more of his reviews including previous Top 10 lists go to,

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