The year is a little more than halfway over, and of course, that means we need to count down the best of the best. As is always the case, many of the biggest festival hits and awards season slam dunks have yet to be released. That doesn’t mean there aren’t worthwhile films to see though.
On the contrary, blockbuster season is in full swing, so pure, adrenaline-pumping action flicks are a dime a dozen. On top of that, Sundance favorites and indie darlings have come and gone. Basically, there are plenty of options to choose from in a list like this. Sadly, this list maxes out at ten slots.
There has definitely been a solid variety of worthwhile motion pictures this year, and although some absences may be noteworthy, that doesn’t make these omissions bad or even mediocre. There are countless options, and frankly, most critics will tell you that top ten lists change day-by-day, so nothing is truly definitive.
1. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
If you still haven’t seen Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and it’s still playing near you, sprint to the theater. This is a great movie no matter how you slice it, but as a theatrical experience, it’s second to none. The vibrant animation mixed with the inventive storytelling and charming characters come together to create a superhero movie that is once in a generation.
It’s not like the bar wasn’t high. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is one of the best superhero movies ever made, but somehow, miraculously, this tops its predecessor. You could argue that the original thrives because it’s a more straightforward origin story, but Across the Spider-Verse ups the stakes without bogging itself down too much. It evolves the formula that worked so well the first time, and it doesn’t lose anything in this evolution.
Miles continues to be devilishly charming, the fan service continues to be unabashedly awesome, and the visuals continue to be damn-near revolutionary. This is a movie that makes you feel bad for other entries in the genre. It has everything viewers should want. Well, except a proper ending.
2. Past Lives
Past Lives is a catastrophic punch to the gut. It’s a beautiful, poignant work of art filled with undeniable candor, and if that limits its appeal, who cares? This type of emotional heavy-hitter only comes once in a blue moon, but when it comes, fans of the genre are bound to devour it. This is by no means a happy, joyful piece of entertainment, but its maturity toward its subject matter is unmatched.
Early on, viewers meet Na Young, a young overachiever who lives in South Korea with her mom and dad. During this stage in her life, she meets Hae Sung, a suave young boy who immediately falls for Na Young’s scholarly personality. Immediately after forming a bond, Na Young’s family decides to immigrate to Toronto, leaving everyone’s future in question. From there, viewers get to see several stages of the protagonist’s life.
Twelve years later, Na Young changes her name to Nora. She strives to do well academically, and frankly, she consistently succeeds. Unfortunately, she constantly reminisces about her days in Korea, and that leads into the primary conflict of the movie. If Nora moves on from her past life, can she still keep the small connections she once had?
This movie asks big, thought-provoking questions, and it does so with honesty. There is never a moment that feels insincere. There’s so much authenticity that pushes these big, emotional moments forward. Sure, it might cause you to shed a few tears, but the journey is worth it.
Matt Johnson’s biographical dramedy doesn’t sound particularly interesting. While the dominance of the Blackberry is somewhat fascinating in retrospect, it hardly seems like it would make a solid film. However, the snappy script and top-notch performances manage to turn a seemingly innocuous story into something incredible.
Blackberry is, unsurprisingly, about the rise and fall of the once-popular cell phone. The sweeping biopic covers everything from the Blackberry’s invention to its untimely demise. This is all interesting enough, but it would be nothing without a dedicated cast of talented performers.
Glenn Howerton takes his “untethered rage” to new heights as financial mastermind Jim Balsillie. Though Howerton will perhaps always be known for his work in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, his performance here is nevertheless outstanding. By channeling the chaotic energy he brings to his famous FX comedy, Howerton manages to make Balsillie more than just a manic caricature. He is easily the highlight of the film, and when you consider just how great everything is, that’s unequivocally high praise.
That’s because everything really is great. Howerton may be the highlight, but that doesn’t mean Blackberry is lacking in other areas. On the contrary, it’s so devilishly entertaining that it manages to make long monologues about tech surprisingly engaging. Every individual element results in a movie that’s far better than it has any right to be.
4. Blue Jean
Georgia Oakley’s directorial debut is a moody, understated period drama about a closeted PE teacher who must live a double life in order to protect herself from England’s increasingly discriminatory laws. Set in 1988, Blue Jean feels surprisingly relevant today.
Modern politicians have been spinning narratives about members of the LGBT community, saying they are trying to push an agenda. This unfortunately feels all too familiar when you look at a movie like this; it’s a movie about hiding your identity in a society that doesn’t accept you, and it’s all rather unsettling.
Blue Jean’s relevance is its most important asset, but it’s not the only thing worthwhile. Overall, Blue Jean is an undeniably confident debut from a director who shows plenty of promise. Strong writing and even stronger performances collide in a killer, though occasionally gloomy, work of art.
5. John Wick: Chapter 4
The consistent quality of the John Wick franchise is borderline unbelievable. Sure, not every entry in the series is created equal, but at the very least, every John Wick movie is worth your time and attention. Even when the world-building begins to get too convoluted, this series has a way of making everything work in the end. If you need proof, sit through the latest entry, which may be the best in the series.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is gargantuan in scope. At nearly three hours in length, this is by far the biggest, most intimidating film in the series. It’s easy to assume that the average viewer can only handle so many extended action scenes, but when everything is so well-choreographed, it’s hard to get worn down by the barrage of gunfire.
John Wick: Chapter 4 earns its runtime. It’s not just the explosions that are entertaining; it’s also the surprisingly well-developed supporting characters. To an extent, you could argue that the movie is light on dialogue. At the same time, it makes an active effort to shed light on the other characters’ motivations. This ultimately gives the cast the opportunity to show off their acting chops, which leads to strong performances from Bill Skarsgård, Donnie Yen, and acting newcomer Rina Sawayama.
This is all surrounded by an ambitious narrative that, overstuffed as it may be, feels perfect in the John Wick universe. The storytelling here feels like a natural evolution rather than a messy regression; it moves the narrative forward in unexpected, albeit comforting, ways. Fans of the franchise will have no trouble devouring this latest entry, and newcomers should absolutely give it their time as well.