Actor Kathy Bates as Sylvia Simon and actor Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret Simon in 'Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.'

Best movies of 2023 so far

April 28, 2023
Dana Hawley // Lionsgate

Best movies of 2023 so far

Sequels and original stories exist side by side on the slate of films to look forward to in 2023. More than 6,000 titles worldwide have release dates this year, according to IMDb. Between theatrical releases and streaming service offerings, look forward to the diversity of work from established directors and up-and-coming filmmakers.

With a plethora of films to choose from over the coming year, this list moves beyond blockbusters to include films that have made a significant impact through their unique narratives, poignant characters, and unusual perspectives on culture on both a macro and micro level. These films encompass everything from love, heartbreak, war, poverty, fear, joy, and a myriad of emotions in between.

With so many new movies to choose from and not enough hours in the day to watch them all, it's important to know what to prioritize. To determine the best movies of 2023 so far, Stacker collected Metacritic data on all feature films released in theaters or on streaming services up to April 20. Films are ranked by Metascore with ties broken internally at Metacritic, where the data goes further than what is presented online.

Keep reading to learn more about the top 25 must-watch movies of the year so far.

#25. Personality Crisis: One Night Only

- Directors: Martin Scorsese, David Tedeschi
- Metascore: 80
- Runtime: 120 minutes

Acclaimed director Martin Scorsese and Emmy-nominated editor David Tedeschi embark on another project with "Personality Crisis: One Night Only," after their previous collaborations on "No Direction Home: Bob Dylan" and "The 50 Year Argument." This musical documentary is part concert film and part biopic, following punk singer David Johansen (aka Buster Poindexter) of the New York Dolls, intertwining footage from his 2020 cabaret show with related archival interviews. Johansen believed ambiguity is vital for art; Scorsese uses that philosophy in "Personality Crisis," creating a nonlinear narrative that amplifies more subtle emotional beats rather than high drama moments.

#24. Rimini

- Director: Ulrich Seidl
- Metascore: 81
- Runtime: 114 minutes

"Rimini" is a mixture of drama and comedy that follows main character Richie Bravo through his meager existence as a washed-up pop singer. The character is exactly what his name suggests: a sleazy, slick-haired ne'er-do-well that hides his insecurity in polyester suits that were barely fashionable when they came out decades prior. He sings songs for the elderly and bounds his way through life under constant intoxication, only to have his lackadaisical life come to a crashing halt when his daughter appears from nowhere asking for money.

#23. Bruiser

- Director: Miles Warren
- Metascore: 81
- Runtime: 97 minutes

"Bruiser" is a first-time directorial debut for Miles Warren, and it is safe to say it's a full tour de force. This coming-of-age story has a somewhat surprising plot twist while exploring themes of traditional masculinity and lays bare the emotional turmoil that a young man can face when he feels alone in the world. A Collider review said the film "marks the arrival of an insightful new voice in feature filmmaking."

#22. Chile '76

- Director: Manuela Martelli
- Metascore: 81
- Runtime: 95 minutes

Chilean audiences know this film as simply "1976," referring to one of the most violent years during the reign of former dictator Augusto Pinochet. While this topic is expansive and bloody, Manuela Martelli grounds the audience in a more intimate portrait of the ways this regime affected the day-to-day life of Chilean citizens. "Chile '76" accomplishes this by following a privileged older woman whose sheltered life is turned on its head when she becomes unintentionally involved in the rebellion against Pinochet's politics, forcing her to confront the brutal reality of the world around her.

#21. A Thousand and One

- Director: A.V. Rockwell
- Metascore: 81
- Runtime: 117 minutes

A.V. Rockwell's "A Thousand and One" was the 2023 recipient of the Sundance Film Festival's U.S. Grand Jury Prize for Drama; the jury described it as "real, full of pain, and fearless in its rigorous commitment to emotional truth." Upon her release from jail, single mother Inez (singer-actor Teyana Taylor) decides to kidnap (or rescue) her 6-year-old son, Terry, from the foster care system so the pair can build a new life together in Harlem. This gut-wrenching film sees Taylor in her first lead role, navigating the complex internal world of Inez with a mastery typically only seen in the most seasoned actors. The film's setting is also a character in itself, exploring the cultural and political changes of New York City between the '90s and 2000s.

#20. Joyland

- Director: Saim Sadiq
- Metascore: 81
- Runtime: 126 minutes

"Joyland" marks a lot of firsts for Pakistani cinema, including being the first Pakistani film shortlisted for Best International Feature at the Oscars and the first to win Best International Film at the Independent Spirit Awards. The film is banned in director Saim Sadiq's home province of Punjab as Haider (Ali Junejo), the "straight" lead, becomes romantically and sexually involved with a transgender performer named Biba (Alina Khan) at an erotic cabaret. "Joyland" is a coming-of-age romance that utilizes an ensemble of characters as a collective protagonist, surviving extensive development and political censorship to be seen in theaters.

#19. Other People's Children

- Director: Rebecca Zlotowski
- Metascore: 81
- Runtime: 103 minutes

"Other People's Children" strives to create a woman protagonist with her own identity independent of her romantic pursuits, succeeding via Rachel (Virginie Efira), a middle-aged high school teacher joyfully engaged in life. This French slice-of-life film is equal parts romance and drama, as Rachel falls in love with Ali (Roschdy Zem) and his 4-year-old daughter but struggles with her own ability to conceive a child before she gets too old. This is director Rebecca Zlotowski's fifth feature film, loosely inspired by her own life at the time of writing the script, and explores the pressure women feel near the end of their fertility.

#18. Godland

- Director: Hlynur Pálmason
- Metascore: 81
- Runtime: 143 minutes

"Godland" follows a Danish priest sent to a remote part of Iceland with the mission of building a church and documenting the people of the land. As the film continues to follow him through rougher and rougher terrain, the deeper the priest seems to stray from his mission. According to IndieWire, the film "maps the mental and physical decay of Lucas, a 19th-century Danish priest of the Lutheran faith" when the land was still a territory of the Kingdom of Denmark. The film speaks to the themes of religion and colonialism without taking a strong political slant but instead focuses on the humanity, or lack thereof, that the themes can entail.

#17. After Love

- Director: Aleem Khan
- Metascore: 81
- Runtime: 89 minutes

In "After Love," a widow faces a series of shocking revelations after her husband abruptly dies from a heart attack. Mary, who converted to Islam to marry her love, Ahmed, learns only after his death that he lived a second life—one with a French woman who appears very different from Mary, a woman she comes to know in unexpected ways throughout the film. The Guardian raved about Aleem Khan's directorial debut when the movie was first released in the U.K. in June 2021, with additional praise for Joanna Scanlan's BAFTA-winning performance as Mary, "the best of her career so far."

#16. Close

- Director: Lukas Dhont
- Metascore: 81
- Runtime: 104 minutes

"Close," the Belgian film that took second prize at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, is a moving portrayal of childhood friendship that follows a pair of 13-year-old boys with a particularly close bond. This relationship is interpreted by many as romantic (although this is never confirmed nor denied in the film), which leads to bullying and ultimately drives the two apart—resulting in devastating consequences. NPR commended young leads Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele for giving "two of the best, least affected child performances" seen on the big screen in recent years. The film was nominated for the Best International Feature Film Oscar in 2023.

#15. Mars One

- Director: Gabriel Martins
- Metascore: 82
- Runtime: 115 minutes

Brazilian drama "Mars One" premiered at Sundance in 2022 before releasing in the U.S. in early January 2023. Set in the outskirts of Belo Horizonte, the film follows a young boy with dreams of joining the Mars One space mission, while his father hopes he will one day become a star soccer player instead. These personal experiences are contrasted against larger political movements in the country. The Hollywood Reporter commended director Gabriel Martins' "ability to engage with urgent economic issues as an integral part of the narrative."

#14. Rye Lane

- Director: Raine Allen-Miller
- Metascore: 83
- Runtime: 82 minutes

Called a "miracle" by The Independent, "Rye Lane" is a feel-good, sweet, and wholesome rom-com. It gives the audience the opportunity to have its faith in love restored, at least ever so slightly, by following main characters Yas (Vivian Oparah) and Dom (David Jonsson), who have a chance meeting as they are both suffering through a nightmare to end all nightmare breakups with their respective exes. "Rye Lane" is like a breath of fresh air for anyone looking to enjoy a day watching a movie with a special someone.

#13. Huesera: The Bone Woman

- Director: Michelle Garza Cervera
- Metascore: 83
- Runtime: 97 minutes

As Valeria (Natalia Solián) prepares for the birth of her first child, she battles more than just morning sickness in "Huesera: The Bone Woman." This expectant mother begins to have apparitions of a demon only she can see, leaving viewers to question whether these visions are a real danger or a manifestation of the fears of becoming a parent. The New York Times praised everything from the cinematography to sound design in this debut from director Michelle Garza Cervera, describing it as "the type of staggering supernatural nightmare that is as transfixing as it is terrifying."

#12. Blackberry

- Director: Matt Johnson
- Metascore: 83
- Runtime: 119 minutes

In the contemporary era of iPhones, "Blackberry" pays homage to the oft-forgotten precursor to Apple by dramatizing the inception and unfortunate downfall of the very first smartphone: the Blackberry. This film follows Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel), a tech wiz who gets involved with and is inevitably ruined by Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton), a somewhat-unhinged businessman at the front end of the technological revolution. "Blackberry" makes no attempt to romanticize its central characters or the hairy world of the technology business, instead successfully using comedy to emphasize the absurdity of the entire situation.

#11. Full Time

- Director: Eric Gravel
- Metascore: 83
- Runtime: 88 minutes

"Full Time" is a French film that delves deep into the world of a well-known catch-22, set against the backdrop of capitalism and the kind of obstacles humans must traverse to overcome them. Focusing on the story of single mother Julie (César Award winner Laure Calamy), the film watches Julie struggle to hold her life together while the country is falling apart under the tenuous hold of a national transit strike.

#10. Stonewalling

- Directors: Ji Huang, Ryûji Otsuka
- Metascore: 84
- Runtime: 148 minutes

"Stonewalling" is a look at contemporary China and the resources available to the younger generation told through the lens of a young woman's surprise pregnancy and the complications that arise from it. Directed by married duo Ryûji Otsuka and Huang Ji, the film is lauded for its elegant use of cinematography to thematically paint the portrait of a woman teetering on the edge.

#9. Showing Up

- Director: Kelly Reichardt
- Metascore: 84
- Runtime: 107 minutes

"Showing Up" sees director Kelly Reichardt reunite with Oscar-nominated actor Michelle Williams, whose previous collaboration includes 2008's "Wendy and Lucy," for this low-stakes, offbeat comedy. Williams plays Lizzy, an artist prepping for the opening of her new art show in a week. This film strays away from a typical Hollywood film structure, instead serving as a collection of realistic moments strung together with a subplot about Lizzy (unwillingly at first) nursing an injured bird back to health. "Showing Up" explores the distinction between life and creating and whether that distinction really exists at all.

#8. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

- Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
- Metascore: 85
- Runtime: 105 minutes

The fact that a film adaptation of Judy Blume's adolescent classic "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." exists—given Blume herself has been vocally anti-adaptation in the past in conjunction with the book itself being banned by various schools in the U.S.—is something of a miracle. The novel and film both explore 11-year-old Margaret's struggles with moving from the city to the suburbs as well as her desire to get her period. In addition to being groundbreaking in its representation of girls experiencing puberty, "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." also touches on an exploration of religion and antisemitism, making it even more timely.

#7. Shin Ultraman

- Director: Shinji Higuchi
- Metascore: 85
- Runtime: 118 minutes

"Shin Ultraman," a reboot of the hit 1960s Japanese children's show, became one of the highest-grossing Japanese films of 2022 but released in U.S. theaters for only two days in January 2023. "Ultraman" is a classic superhero film with "creature design and fight scenes [that] hit a glorious retro-modern sweet spot," according to Variety.

#6. Alcarràs

- Directors: Carla Simón, Sonia Castelo
- Metascore: 85
- Runtime: 120 minutes

Director Carla Simón took a big risk casting "Alcarràs" entirely with debut actors, but the risk paid off with rich on-screen chemistry. This story follows a family of Spanish peach farmers whose livelihood is threatened by local modernization. The film received critical acclaim ahead of its January 2023 U.S. opening, including Best Film at the 2022 Berlin International Film Festival and International Screenplay at the 2023 Palm Springs International Film Festival.

#5. The Blue Caftan

- Director: Maryam Touzani
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 122 minutes

The "Blue Caftan" takes place in a caftan store in Morocco and follows the story of a family-owned business that has become inundated by an abundance of customers. Needing to offset some of the work, they hire a young apprentice. Critic Roxana Hadadi lauded the film, writing for Vulture, "Maryam Touzani's film is as precise and vivid as its titular garment."

#4. Walk Up

- Director: Hong Sang-soo
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 97 minutes

Described in the Los Angeles Times as "a triptych of tales set in a three-floor walk-up," Hong Sang-soo's newest film tracks a moderately successful Korean filmmaker named Byung-soo and his various interactions in the walk-up. At first, he visits the building with his daughter, who wants to learn interior design from the building's owner; however, audiences jump to an unspecified amount of time later, when Byung-soo is now a tenant experiencing career lows. Finally, Byung-Soo moves into the top-floor apartment and strikes up a new romantic relationship. Hong's direction emphasizes the quieter moments, focusing on the meaning found in the mundane in this beautiful story of a life.

#3. Reality

- Director: Tina Satter
- Metascore: 87
- Runtime: 83 minutes

"Reality" marks award-winning playwright Tina Satter's first foray into the world of feature film, making her directorial debut by adapting one of her own plays, titled "Is This a Room?" The source material for Satter's play and film is the real-life transcript of U.S. whistleblower Reality Winner's arrest for leaking documents that hinted at Russian collusion in the U.S. election, which Satter uses verbatim. Winner is played by Sydney Sweeney, whose performance is both gripping and believable, forcing audiences to ponder the question of following the law versus following one's conscience.

#2. De humani corporis fabrica

- Directors: Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel
- Metascore: 89
- Runtime: 115 minutes

This documentary is not for the faint of heart, as "De humani corporis fabrica" ("On the Fabric of the Human Body" in English) provides an unflinching glimpse into the lives of surgeons, or more specifically, their eyes while performing surgery. Without typical documentary traits like narration and interviews, this film simply asks audiences to observe the ways the human body is explored and to confront the humanity of those who explore it. Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel have made several successful documentaries before, including 2012's "Leviathan," and were trained in Harvard's Sensory Ethnography Lab, which "promotes innovative combinations of aesthetics and ethnography" as evidenced in "De humani corporis fabrica."

#1. Saint Omer

- Director: Alice Diop
- Metascore: 91
- Runtime: 122 minutes

"Saint Omer" not only tops this list, but it also took home a major prize—Best Foreign Language Film—at the 2023 Palm Springs International Film Festival. This French drama was inspired by the real-life case of a mother who left her 15-month-old daughter on the beach to drown in November 2013, a trial that screenwriter and director Alice Diop watched unfold firsthand. In a four-star review for The Guardian, critic Wendy Ide wrote: "Diop deftly depicts the two women as distorted mirror images of each other: Rama recognises something in Laurence even as she abhors her crime."

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