Notable Movies Released in 2023: Part 2 (July Through December)

We cover releases from July to December in part 2 of our notable movies (and shorts) of 2023.


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An old school film reel drawn by artist Dean Nelson.

Joy Ride

Sabrina Wu as Deadeye, Ashley Park as Audrey, Sherry Cola as Lolo, and Stephanie Hsu as Kat
“Sabrina Wu as Deadeye, Ashley Park as Audrey, Sherry Cola as Lolo, and Stephanie Hsu as Kat,” Joy Ride, directed by Adele Lim, 2023, (Lionsgate)

Summary

A White family adopted Audrey, and thankfully, at a young age, she met Lolo, who is Chinese, and in many ways, that was her connection to her homeland. But, as an adult, for work, she gets the opportunity to go to China, and while originally she was going for work, Lolo pushes her to make it a trip to discover her roots and because Audrey and Lolo have eccentric acquaintances, friends, and family, what could have been a simple business trip, with a self-discovery element, becomes a wild journey.

Why Chosen

There is nothing better to me than a comedy with heart. Having people act a fool and say uncouth and wild things in public is funny. However, being able to laugh and pair that with emotional moments as well? The kind that don’t feel cheap but genuine? That is something you don’t see often.

Especially in the way “Joy Ride” did it, it really respected and explored the fact that Audrey felt disconnected since she was adopted and brought to a completely different culture and country. She wasn’t American enough for the White area she was raised in, but she never felt Asian enough either. So watching her trace her roots, even if hijinks were involved, could get you in your feelings.

Hell, even beyond Audrey, Sabrina Wu as Deadeye was able to give you a sense of being both a comedic character and also a human being. Were they weird as all heck? Undeniably. But they also were the black sheep of their family, and while it made them feel left out, they were also able and willing to be completely themselves.

Now, I may not be Asian, but “Joy Ride” was more meaningful than “Crazy Rich Asians.” Why? Because it didn’t rely on excess and glamor but instead gave you what felt like everyday people, a less tourist version of Asian culture, and instead a real glimpse of what it means to be Chinese, whether you were raised in America, know your roots, or were adopted.

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The Angry Black Girl And Her Monster

Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes)
“Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes),” The Angry Black Girl And Her Monster, directed by Bomani J. Story, 2023, (AllBlk/Shudder/RLJE Films)

Summary

In this sci-fi monster movie, a young woman named Vicaria, who has experienced a notable amount of trauma in her life, uses her knowledge to try to revive her brother Chris, who was murdered. But, like Frankenstein’s monster, Vicaria’s struggles with being reanimated, especially since he is a large Black man.

Why Chosen

You rarely see a sci-fi film starring a Black majority cast, never mind a film starring a young Black woman. Again, 230 films seen this year, who knows how many trailers, and we actively seek out video-on-demand releases. However, this was one of the only films with a young Black woman in a sci-fi production.

Now, this isn’t to downplay the indie movies without any backing from a notable studio, whether it is the folks behind Shudder, AllBlk, or RLJE Films. But, the fact that “The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster,” which is a good movie from Laya DeLeon’s performance down to a younger actress in Amani Summer, is one of the few released, likely in years, is unfortunate and a disservice to all the Black girl nerds out there, of which there are many.

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Nimona

Nimona (Chloe Grace Moretz)
“Nimona (Chloe Grace Moretz),” Nimona, directed by Nick Bruno, Troy Quane, 2023, (Netflix)

Summary

For over 1000 years, the knights who were supposed to protect a kingdom have been upper class, but now, a commoner named Ballister has the opportunity to break that tradition. Things don’t go his way, and in fact, he is framed for assassination.

Enter Nimona, a social outcast, comically desiring revenge on society, while all Ballister wants is the truth to come out. They join forces, bond even, but whether or not Ballister can clear his name, never mind potentially create a pathway for Nimona to join society, might be the hardest battle Ballister may ever face, or the kingdom will ever see.

Why Chosen

What’s beautiful about “Nimona” is it is the type of film that can be simple and comical for children but also hold deeper meaning for teens and adults. Nimona is hilarious and zany but also rejects labels and the limitations that come with them. The society we see is vibrant and colorful, even accepting of gay people to a point, yet there is still some kind of caste system in place. Social mobility is limited.

When it comes to animation, it can often appear that you have to look east to get more mature films, but Nimona is a reminder that that isn’t always the case. Often, yes, but not always.

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Starling (Short)

Summary

A spirit, on her birthday, decides to visit her parents, but the journey from heaven to her parent’s apartment isn’t easy but appears to be undeniably worth it.

Why Chosen

All I could do was cry watching “Starling.” A child died for reasons not gone into, and all she wants as a spirit is to, on her birthday, be there with her parents? I haven’t probably watched this in over six months, and as I type this, I’m getting choked up and teary-eyed. That is how good this 9-minute short is.

Full Review

The Lesson

Movie Poster - The Lesson (2023)
“Movie Poster,” The Lesson, directed by Alice Troughton, 2023, (Bleecker Street Media)

Summary

Liam is highly educated, working on his first novel, and finds himself becoming the tutor of the son of a literary sensation. The goal is to get that child into Oxford, and because of Liam’s abilities, he came highly recommended and is even offered the ability to stay in the house, so he doesn’t have to commute.

But, as he sees the dynamics in the house and learns its secrets, so comes the question of whether Liam was needed to be a tutor, a witness, or something else entirely.

Why Chosen

The only mystery that came out in 2023 that might be better than “The Lesson” is “Anatomy of a Fall.” But, what allows “The Lesson” to stand out and deserve to be noted is that it doesn’t need the theatrics of a trial to be interesting. It is just a handful of people, a family with secrets and stowed-away drama, and a young man who may very well be a pawn, but a pawn who has already crossed the halfway mark on the board and could potentially become a powerful piece in the game.

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Talk To Me

Mia (Sophie Wilde)
“Mia (Sophie Wilde),” Talk To Me, directed by Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou, 2023, (A24)

Summary

Mia, who recently lost her mom, finds herself having the opportunity to potentially speak to her mom through an occult game where you shake the hand of a dead medium. But, as she seeks out her mom in the afterlife, she doesn’t realize who else she may attract, nor do her friends who play the same game with her.

Why Chosen

When it comes to “Talk To Me,” it was chosen more for the visuals and what happens than the characters. They are all likable and get you invested just enough to care who may live or die. However, they aren’t so developed to where if I gave you a description without outright referencing the film, you could say that’s Mia, Jade, Riley, or Rhea. But you could say that in the scene when Riley was in the other world, a lot of disturbing things were certainly happening to him that could leave a mark on your memory.

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Earth Mama

Title Card - Earth Mama (2023)
“Title Card,” Earth Mama, directed by Savanah Leaf, 2023, (A24)

Summary

Gia is within weeks, if not days, of giving birth to her third child, and with being separated from the first two and struggling to get back custody, she is unsure of what to do with the third. Enter a woman named Carmen, who works at the center Gia has to go to in order to show she is working towards being a dependable mom. Carmen offers Gia the opportunity to give up her child for adoption, but whether or not Gia may do so, especially considering the conflicting feelings she has and her associates, leaves you to wonder what her ultimate decision might be.

Why Chosen

One of the best things about “Earth Mama” is that not only are there few men, but there are also no villains in it. There are challenges, varying perspectives, and even a push for holding oneself accountable. It’s not something you often see since, especially in dramas. There is usually a push for a scapegoat, and the character holds onto that as long as they can.

In “Earth Mama,” though, it’s very clear people are aware of what they did or are doing, and while not proud, they are doing their best with their capacity.

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Strays

Reggie (Will Ferrell)
“Reggie (Will Ferrell),” Strays, directed by Josh Greenbaum, 2023, (Universal Pictures)

Summary

Reggie, like many dogs, loves their owner unconditionally. Unfortunately for him, his owner is Doug, who kept him to spite his ex, even though he had no true desire to take care of or love Reggie. In fact, there comes a point he tries to abandon Reggie by the side of the road to get rid of him multiple times.

The latest time, though, is different as Reggie doesn’t just follow his nose or the path and end up back home, he makes friends who force him to realize Reggie isn’t a nice person, and with the rose-colored glasses removed, Reggie wants revenge, and his new friends are willing to help him.

Why Chosen

R-rated comedies can often feel dependent on cursing and vulgar situations, to the point of that being a crutch. Because of that, by halfway through the movie, you can feel adjusted and like you built up a tolerance to whatever the movie could throw at you. “Strays” is different.

Between curse word combinations that aren’t common, its sex jokes, dog-centric jokes, and really honoring Reggie’s trauma and what his friends have gone through or are going through? Similar to “Joy Ride,” you get the best of both worlds. You get a film that makes you laugh but can also use the vulnerability that comes with opening its audience up to laugh to get you emotionally invested as well.

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Birth/Rebirth

Movie Poster for Birth/Rebirth featuring Marin Ireland and Judy Reyes
“Movie Poster for Birth/Rebirth featuring Marin Ireland and Judy Reyes,” Birth/Rebirth, directed by Laura Moss, 2023, (IFC Films/ Shudder)

Summary

As you can imagine, Celie losing her daughter Lila was devastating. However, not being able to bury her due to her body going missing adds onto the pain until she learns Dr. Kaspar has been working on reviving Lila. But, with the treatment experimental and by no means ethical, even if Celie is a nurse and Dr. Kaspar clearly a doctor, can they keep this little girl alive, and how far are they willing to go?

Why Chosen

Between “Poor Things,” “The Angry Black Girl And Her Monster,” and likely others, the idea of reviving a corpse was a strangely consistent theme this year. However, what sets each one apart is who is getting revived, why, and their relationship to their reanimator.

In the case of “Birth/Rebirth” it is a mother and a doctor who wishes to bend death, and while it is a horror movie of sorts, it feels more like a drama considering the emotion involved. A woman lost her child, and she forms this trauma bond of sorts with the person who kidnapped her daughter’s corpse. This leads to not only her daughter coming back to life but said kidnapper, in time, going from cold and a bit off-putting to regaining a sense of belonging and family and becoming human again, just like Lila.

Truly, this is probably one of the handful of horror movies we’ve seen that made a notable effort regarding character development beyond getting you invested enough to care about who may live, die, or, in this case, get arrested.

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Scrapper

Title Card - Scrapper (2023)
“Title Card,” Scrapper, directed by Charlotte Regan, 2023, (Kino Lorber)

Summary

After her mother’s death, 12-year-old Georgie has been taking care of herself, mainly through stealing and selling bikes. However, her estranged father, Jason, whom she never met, shows up and tries to connect with her. It’s a struggle since Georgie sees herself as independent, but time may chip away at her hesitance to get close to a man who seemingly never had any interest in getting to know her or helping her mother.

Why Chosen

The core relationship between Jason and Georgie is one of the cutest relationships we saw throughout 2023. To watch a young lady of a tomboy variety who has become independent, from making her own meals and keeping a tidy house, learn to trust a man, her dad at that, to handle things for her, fight some of her battles, and be vulnerable? It’s one of the sweetest things to watch.

Add in that this film, while it could easily lean towards being a drama, is a comedy, and there is wonderful banter between Georgie and Jason as they build a relationship? Georgie and Jason might become one of your favorite father/daughter duos.

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The Creator

Movie Poster - The Creator (2023)
“Movie Poster,” The Creator, directed by Gareth Edwards, 2023, (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Summary

In 2065, artificial intelligence has evolved to the point that Western nations, led by the United States, have been deemed them threat and effectively banned the development of A.I. while those in what has become the Republic of New Asia not only harbor the creator and God of artificial intelligence, but has allowed them to flourish.

In the film, we watch as one man, Sgt. Joshua Taylor, hunts the person who is the supposed leader of the AI, Nimrata, on behalf of the United States, who wants retribution after a nuclear device went off in Los Angeles, killing over a million people, with A.I. being deemed as the culprit.

Why Chosen

“The Creator” feels like a classic sci-fi film and further pushes the idea that John David Washington isn’t only the second coming of his father but potentially also following the playbook of Will Smith. There is a diversity emerging with his filmography, and while I won’t say “The Creator” is a summary of past roles, you can see not only the action hero in this film but also a man in love.

And in some ways, it is seeing Washington as more than some kind of super soldier but a man mourning his wife or connecting with this young A.I. girl named Alphie, that reminds you that sci-fi films can be vibrant beyond their visuals.

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Chad Gets The Axe

Title Card ChadGetsTheAxe 2023
“Title Card,” #ChadGetsTheAxe, directed by Travis Bible, 2023, (The Horror Collective and Entertainment Squad)

Summary

A handful of popular influencers go to a haunted house to live stream, and over the course of one night, we’re continuously pushed to question if what we’re seeing is an elaborate prank or is what just happened real?

Why Chosen

Consider “Chad Gets The Axe” an evolution of the found footage film, as instead, it depicts a live stream, with the comments on. Which I mention because those comments, they are probably funnier than 90% of what the actors say.

But don’t think the actors are just some annoying influencers you are waiting to see killed. They do have their flaws, but most are likable. Steve, who is Chad’s mentee, you can see as any kid who is trying to build up an online brand/channel and from his energy and personality to the others, thankfully, the film doesn’t take the easy way out and build on stereotypes or assumptions but allows its characters to be more than their online personas.

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Eileen

Rebecca Anne Hathaway and Eileen Thomasin McKenzie Eileen 2023

Summary

In a New England winter, Eileen finds herself doing her usual routine. She goes to work at a boy’s prison in her hooptie of a car, gets parents visiting their kid in, does paperwork, then goes home to her verbally abusive dad.

However, then Rebecca, the new therapist for the boys, is hired, and she is everything Eileen could have dreamed of. She is like a mysterious model from a magazine, and she takes an interest in Eileen – and one of the boys who are in prison.

But all Eileen can think about is this woman, whose attention feels seductive, having eyes for her, and Rebecca’s sway over her leads her to unravel.

Why Chosen

Anne Hathaway might be an Oscar winner, yet somehow she feels underrated. Maybe it is because she didn’t become overexposed despite qualifying as a Disney princess via “The Princess Diaries,” which she starred in at 19.

Her career ebbed and flowed from huge movies like “The Devil Wears Prada” to acclaimed films like “Rachel Getting Married” and she has maintained that hopscotch from indie to mainstream in a way where it could appear she went away when she has been active since her debut. In fact, the only gap in her film career was in 2017 when she was in “The Children’s Monologues” at Carnegie Hall.

But, getting to “Eileen,” what is appreciated here is clearly Anne Hathaway and her dynamic with Thomasin McKenzie. There is something almost predatory here, but in a feminine way to the point, you can’t tell if it is mentorship or a woman who can spot an easy target and went after it.

Yet, even outside of Hathaway, since McKenzie is the star here, you get so much. You feel for Eileen as you see her chipped away by co-workers and her father, but then there is Ann.

Marin Ireland, as noted in “Birth/Rebirth” above and in a separate post for highlights of 2023, really had a wonderful year, and a monologue she delivers in this film presents the idea she should be nominated for something. Sadly, while recognition seems to come from the indie world, there is a question of whether the majors will also recognize one of the year’s best performances and performers.

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Night Of The Hunted

Title Card
“Title Card,” Night of the Hunted, directed by Franck Khalfoun, 2023, (Shudder)

Summary

A woman is trapped in a gas station convenience store as a sniper tries to kill her.

Why Chosen

While the sniper’s dialog can get annoying, you’ll never question whether he is unhinged, but you will question whether the lead may live or die. For this is the kind of film where, considering the victims throughout the movie, there is a real need to question if the lead will be the last one standing? Will the villain get a comeuppance, or will the lead have to resign herself to the fate he chose and pay the toll for her past transgressions?

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The Prince’s Dilemma (Short)

Summary

In this animated tale, Prince Philip is in love with Prince Philip but is forced to marry a princess. However, rather than live the story coerced on him, Philip decides to take the narrator’s power and fights to control how his story will end.

Why Chosen

During Newfest in October, we saw a handful of shorts that we didn’t get to post reviews for because of timing. However, a handful of them, which include the next two entries, stood out.

The first is “The Prince’s Dilemma” due to how cute it is, the story, and how it is animated. To watch a character rip through pages and hide in backgrounds, all in the name of love, was so adorable and makes this, like 99% of all shorts we’ve ever seen, frustrating since most shorts, unless they are released on YouTube, usually live and die on the festival circuit.

Sky and Lucia (Short)

Summary

Sky is a high school girl who disappears, literally, when she feels small or nervous, and Lucia is her crush. In time, the two date, but while the short is set in modern times, that doesn’t mean everyone has a progressive attitude, and the girls, as they try to be out and happy, have to deal with peers who want to taint their joy.

Why Chosen

This was a butterfly-inducing short. Mainly because of the perfect balance between extrovert and introvert dating, and add in there isn’t this sense of ideal, like we get in “Heartstopper” sometimes, and it gives you a queer teen romance which may contain a fantasy element but feels real (at least based on how I remember high school).

Sweetgreen (Short)

Summary

Set in New York, we watch a couple struggle to make it to a movie on time on what’s supposed to be a date night.

Why Chosen

“Sweetgreen” is a short slice of life that is so adorable. It gives you a romance that isn’t trying to be on a pedestal, #Goals, or anything beyond two people, women if you want to be specific, just trying to keep things from becoming too routine and keep the romance alive — even if it is just grabbing a quick snack and then going to a movie together.

In that simplicity, mixed in with personal drama, you get a reminder of what can often feel lacking in romance productions in general – just people in love, busy with their personal development, trying to maintain a relationship that allows them to operate as their best selves.

Anatomy Of A Fall

Movie Poster
“Movie Poster,” Anatomy Of A Fall, directed by Justine Triet, 2023, (Neon)

Summary

Samuel and Sandra have been married for years, if not decades, and while there were good times, things have been on a decline. So, when Samuel ends up dead, and his death is a touch ambiguous, there is the question of whether Samuel killed him, and through a trial playing out, we watch multiple parties dismantle not only Sandra’s marriage but also her and her husband.

Why Chosen

“Anatomy Of A Fall” is the best mystery of 2023 and probably will be one of the best of the 2020s in general. The way it unravels Samuel and Sandra’s relationship, the way the prosecution comes after Sandra, and then Sandra and Samuel’s son who in the middle of it? Somehow, as this case develops and new evidence is presented, it unfurls in a way like a pastry. It’s sweet to the mind, yet also there is a slight bit of guilt as you watch that luster of perfection disintegrate, in the most entertaining way, as Daniel, Sandra and Samuel’s child, comes to question whether his father killed himself or his mother is a murderer.

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May December

"Title Card," May December, directed by Todd Haynes, 2023, (Netflix)
“Title Card,” May December, directed by Todd Haynes, 2023, (Netflix)

Summary

While not apples for apples based on the Mary Kay Letourneau story, for many, it will likely trigger comparisons, and you could say it definitely inspired “May December,” which is about a woman named Gracie who fell in love with a middle school kid named Joe and had a scandalous affair. But, flash forward many years, and a famous T.V. actress named Elizabeth decides to, in order to understand Gracie for a role, shadow her.

Originally, Gracie is okay with this, but as it becomes clear Elizabeth is stirring up ill feelings, including within Joe, the two ladies find themselves in almost a cold war as Gracie, in the most manipulative and southern way possible, tries to maintain her influence and power.

Why Chosen

The initial hook here is Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore, as you see this unease between them as Portman makes it increasingly clear she sees through Moore’s Gracie and has no issues poking holes in the bubble she lives in. Meanwhile, as Gracie begins losing grip, her doubling down and reasserting control, and the anticipation of her and Elizabeth not coming to blows but having a subtle, threatening exchange of words is electric.

Yet, there is also Joe. Charles Melton delivers the kind of performance that presents a potential breakout role as you watch him come to realizations due to Elizabeth forcing him to hold Gracie accountable and dig up buried feelings.

There is one scene in particular, between Joe and his son, that is surely going to make Charles Melton an Oscar nominee and, potentially, an Oscar winner.

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Leave The World Behind

Myha'la as Ruth, Mahershala Ali as George, Ethan Hawke as Clay, and Julia Robertts as Amanda, Leave The World Behind, directed by Sam Esmail, 2023, (Netflix)
LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND (2023) Myha’la as Ruth, Mahershala Ali as G.H., Ethan Hawke as Clay and Julia Roberts as Amanda. CR: JoJo Whilden/NETFLIX

Summary

Amanda, with the desire to get out of the city, rents her family a mansion in Long Island for a weekend. There, everyone has their own room, a pool to relax in or by, and things were going well at first. However, then the owner, G.H. Scott, and his daughter Ruth show up, and following close behind them is a series of events that are worrisome at best and apocalyptic at worst.

But, in this potential dystopian future that is approaching, all Amanda and G.H.’s family can do is hope for the best as they are given every indication the worst is coming.

Why Chosen

From what it seems, “Leave The World Behind” is polarizing. I don’t know if it is because the Obamas are producers for it, the things Ruth says towards Amanda, or that this is a different kind of disaster movie. But, for us, that is what makes “Leave The World Behind” a notable entry.

Yes, it is a disaster movie, but we’re not following a scientist, soldier, astronaut, or someone who can do any form of prevention or fix anything. All these people can do is prep, wait, and hope for the best, and that’s something different. On top of that, as the anxieties flare up, it is interesting to watch how we don’t see people come together in times of trouble but begin to push people apart.

Ruth only has her dad, and yet she antagonizes Amanda. G.H. is aware that if the world ends, his money can potentially mean nothing, but he is aware that means he needs strength in numbers and may have to make sacrifices to survive – including sleeping in his spare room/basement with his daughter over his own bed.

To us, while I get Ruth can ruffle feathers, it is nice to see a disaster movie that makes it clear how helpless, if something truly happened, the majority of us are, and while some may have a heads up, they are far from protected from the worst.

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The Iron Claw

Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich
“Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich,” The Iron Claw, directed by Sean Durkin, 2023, (A24)

Summary

Based on the legendary wrestling family, the Von Erichs, we watch as the oldest, and in modern times, the patriarch of the Von Erichs, Kevin Von Erich, work to rise in the wrestling world with his brothers, at his father’s promotion and slowly watch the family’s budding empire crumble with only a few surviving the fall.

Why Chosen

I don’t think I cried more in any movie this year than I did watching “The Iron Claw.” Between Zac Efron and Maura Tierney, alongside the rest of the cast, while the wrestling might be unremarkable, the bonds, the challenge each faces trying to stay strong as they deal with the onslaught of one tragedy after another, it breaks you down just as much as it breaks the actors.

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