Ben Affleck as Nike co-founder Phil Knight in 'Air'. Ben Affleck as Nike co-founder Phil Knight in ‘Air’. Photo Credit: Amazon Studios, Warner Bros. Pictures.

We’re halfway through 2023. After watching 148 movies, here are the best so far:

10. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Available: Only in theatres

Quote: “Everyone keeps telling me how my story is supposed to go. Nah, imma do my own thing.”

Admit it. The multiverse concept feels played out. Too many superhero movies and shows are leaning on this well-worn crutch. It’s a convenient and lazy way to ignore timelines, plot consistency, and logic. Have you written yourself into a corner? Having writer’s block? Just break the glass and pull the multiverse lever. Problem solved. However, The Spider-Verse movies do it right. The best compliment you can give Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is that even if you didn’t see 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, it’s simple to follow along. The biggest strength is the relatable protagonist, Miles (voiced by Shameik Moore). He’s easy to root for. We can’t wait for the third installment.

9. Moving On

Available for rent on: YouTube, Apple TV, Amazon

Quote: “So, what’s the plan, Scarface?”

Octogenarians Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are a national treasure. In an industry that can be cruel to aging women, they are still going strong. They have already been in two movies together this year. While 80 for Brady was a light-hearted trifle, Moving On is darker and deeper. This black comedy sometimes veers to the point of uncomfortable, but that’s probably the point. To make the audience laugh and squirm simultaneously. Moving On is about longtime friends (Fonda and Tomlin) conspiring to get revenge on a widower (Malcolm McDowell). It’s a comedy of errors where nothing goes the way it should and yet everything seems to make sense by the jarring conclusion.

8. The Blackening

Available: Only in theatres

Quote: “You are a Black character in a horror movie. Prove that you can stay alive.”

Who gets to decide who is Black enough? That is the central question at the heart of this skewering satire. The Blackening takes a hilarious aim at horror movie tropes. The tagline “We can’t all die first” refers to the cliché of Black actors often being the first to die in films of this genre. The Blackening makes that notion irrelevant with its primarily Black cast. The plot is simple: college friends rent a cabin in the woods to celebrate Juneteenth. Suddenly they’re hunted by an unknown masked man. But this isn’t a Scream clone. The killer taunts them with tasks that make them examine race and their biases.

7. Reality

Streaming on: Max

Quote: “I don’t think you’re a big, bad master spy.”

Being a whistleblower is a sacrifice that comes at a significant cost. Often with life-changing results. That’s the case of former National Security Agency contractor Reality Winner who pled guilty to charges connected to leaking classified information. At 26, she was sentenced for printing and releasing documents related to Russian interference in the 2016 US election. Winner broke the law, but her actions also revealed vulnerabilities in our system. Reality uses actual FBI transcripts as source material for its drama which unfolds on the day of the arrest. Sydney Sweeney is magnetic in the lead role as she and the FBI play a slow-moving cat-and-mouse game.

6. Air

Streaming on: Amazon

Quote: “A shoe is only just a shoe until someone steps into it.”

If you’re judging on a scale of difficulty, what Ben Affleck and Matt Damon accomplished with Air is an achievement. It’s not easy to make a compelling drama about a business pitch meeting that takes place in an office. Yes, they had a good hook: the story of how Michael Jordan and Nike changed the basketball sneaker game. Still, there are no action scenes. The only basketball you see is the actors watching VHS tapes. Affleck and Damon pull it off because they’re immensely skilled. Affleck directs and stars as Phil Knight and Damon portrays Sonny Vaccaro. But the supporting cast also shines including Viola Davis, Jason Bateman, and Chris Tucker.

5. Asteroid City

Available: Only in theatres

Quote: “I meant yes. But my mouth didn’t speak.”

Wes Anderson’s films are an acquired taste. Some will love Asteroid City. Others won’t. If you fall into the first category, this is probably Anderson’s best film since The Royal Tenenbaums. As usual, his latest work features a menagerie of oddballs speaking in stylized prose while inhabiting worlds resembling dioramas. This time, Anderson ups the ante with his most beautiful scenery yet. Asteroid City is gorgeous to look at and should be recognized for Academy Awards on visuals alone. As for the acting, the ensemble cast is fabulous in this quirky comedy about a fictitious play, headlined by Jason Schwartzman and Scarlett Johansson. Interestingly, the best performance is a riveting cameo by Margot Robbie.

4. A Thousand and One

Streaming on: Peacock

Quote: “I’ll go to war for you.”

A Thousand and One takes place in a New York City that doesn’t exist anymore. This gritty drama is set in the 1990s and early 2000s at the dawn of gentrification. The story centers on a struggling mother Inez (Teyana Taylor) who illegally takes her son out of the foster care system. Inez just finished up a stint in jail and wants to make up for lost time. It was easier back then to avoid detection by child protective services. Inez’s bigger battles are against poverty, a crumbling apartment, and a dysfunctional relationship with her longtime boyfriend. But what makes this movie special is a plot twist you’ll never see coming.

3. The Thief Collector

Available for rent on: YouTube, Apple TV, Amazon

Quote: “We didn’t know the real Jerry and Rita.”

This is a must-see if you love a good heist documentary. When you think of art thieves, you imagine suave high-society scoundrels. You wouldn’t suspect married schoolteachers from a small Nevada town. This unlikely pair stole a $160 million painting. The unbelievable story of Rita and Jerry Alter came to light in 2017 when a Willem de Kooning painting was taken from the University of Arizona Museum of Art in 1985 was discovered in the late couple’s home. At the time it went missing, “Woman-Ochre” was originally worth $400,000 but increased in value substantially. This story has a macabre revelation. Jerry and Rita might not have only been thieves. They might have been involved in something more sinister.

2. BlackBerry

Available for rent on: YouTube, Apple TV, Amazon

Quote: “Mike, are you familiar with the saying ‘perfect is the enemy of good?'”

Before the iPhone, there was the BlackBerry. The world’s first smartphone was revolutionary. The BlackBerry put the power of the internet in the palm of our hands when it was released in 1999. It was so popular that it gained the nickname “CrackBerry” due to its addictive nature. The device brought society into the modern age. BlackBerry uses a smart, funny script to tell us an origin story reminiscent of The Social Network. Success is sometimes achieved by men who are willing to do anything to get it. In BlackBerry, Glenn Howerton is that man, giving a tour de force performance as the expletive-spewing executive who drives a small tech company to new heights.

1. Polite Society

Streaming on: Peacock

Quote: “I am the fury!”

Here’s a delightful tale of two sisters. The younger one dreams of being a stuntwoman and studies martial arts. The older one is an art school dropout. Their lives are upended when elder sister Lena (Ritu Arya) agrees to marry a handsome doctor and move from England to Singapore. Ria (Priya Kansara) is suspicious, and that’s when the fun starts. Polite Society fuses elements of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Kill Bill, and Get Out into an action comedy with a Bollywood twist. Director/screenwriter Nida Manzoor’s enjoyable thrill ride is piloted by Kansara, who looks like a rising star. Kansara was so committed to her stuntwork that Manzoor called her the “next Tom Cruise.”

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.