We're almost halfway through July-- I know, right?-- and just past the midway point of the year, which means that we're also almost done with summer movie season. The blockbusters are petering out, the dregs of summer are appearing on the horizon (sorry, R.I.P.D.) and the really great movies of fall feel so far away. So why not take this moment to look back over the year so far, and pick out the movies that we actually did love?

Every writer on our movie staff picked their favorite movie of 2013 so far; in cases where multiple people wanted the same one we made them choose otherwise (you'll notice that in the write-ups), for the sake of variety. Only one of these movies is a blockbuster currently in theaters, several of them are art house efforts still playing in major cities, and one of them can already be found on DVD. So if you're not into Pacific Rim or Grown Ups 2 this weekend, check out one of these options-- they come pre-approved.

Before Midnight
by Katey Rich
It barely even feels like hyperbole to call Before Midnight a miracle. The final piece of one of cinema's unlikeliest trilogies, it's a perfectly crafted, biting and emotional love story of the kind that's almost never seen on film: a romance in its middle section. Watching a couple like Celine and Jesse argue their way through what was supposed to be a romantic night would be effective no mater what, with a script this good and performances this lived-in from Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. But we also have the benefit of the films that came before, watching the two of them fall impulsively in love in Before Sunset then reunite, older and more tentative, in Before Sunrise. Before Midnight isn't just the logical, rough-edged conclusion to a fairytale love story, but an incredible work of filmmaking all its own, proof that Richard Linklater is peerless in getting comfortable with but never easing up on his characters. If we're lucky, we'll have another visit with Celine and Jesse in 9 years. If not, we can at least be proud that a series this good managed to end with its best entry yet.

Watch the Before Midnight trailer...



Stoker
by Eric Eisenberg
I don’t give away five-star reviews freely. When I give a movie a perfect rating I am calling it exactly that: perfect. And that’s what director Park Chan-wook’s Stoker is. A gothic monster movie without out any fanged or clawed beasts, the film is a breathtakingly beautiful coming-of-age story about a young girl named India (Mia Wasikowska) who unravels a terrifying mystery after the death of her father (Dermot Mulroney) and the arrival of her enigmatic Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). And every single piece of it is completely flawless.

From its use of long, flowing shots to its brilliant performances to its spine-chilling sound design, Stoker is the work of a filmmaker who has finely crafted every detail of his art and ensured that every frame is everything it needs to be. Audiences without patience for Wentworth Miller’s deliberately paced story may find themselves lost or disinterested in the movie, but really that only means that they need to be paying closer attention. Watch the flowers change their color. Listen to the sound of gurgling blood and crushed egg shells. Feel the chill on your spine as more layers of the mystery are pulled back. It’s cinematic sensory overload and everything you could want from a film.

Watch Stoker's trailer...
The Bling Ring
by Sean O'Connell
Stoker was taken (excellent choice, Eric), so I’m going with The Bling Ring, a movie I feared would be a superficial rehash of the standard celeb-culture denouncement, but ended up being a telling glance through the SoCal-inspired looking glass of our TMZ-riddled society. Writer-director Sofia Coppola regularly chases the contact high that comes from celebrity recognition, and her deep understanding of both the vapid “elite” and those who’d actually be interested in them informs both sides of Bling Ring’s discussion. The movie goes beyond the contemporary notion of entitlement. When Ring-leader Rebecca (Katie Chang) and her shallow band of thieves infiltrate the overstuffed mansions of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, we’re amazed at how much stuff these starlets have received, though never actually earned. The initial lure of The Bling Ring, for some, might be watching Harry Potter beauty Emma Watson transform herself further into a credible actress blessed with more range than the magic franchise allowed her to show. But it’s Coppola’s non-judgmental stance on modern hero worship – and insightful, enabling performances by Chang, Watson and Leslie Mann – that help it feel like the director’s most complete analysis of fame and foibles to date.

Watch The Bling Ring trailer...



The Kings of Summer
by Kristy Puchko
All grown-ups remember what it felt like to be under the thumbs of our parents. And if you somehow forgot all the chafing frustration of parental oversight, the feature directorial debut of Jordan Vogt-Roberts makes them blazingly vivid once more, but with a healthy dose of hilarity. This comedic coming-of-age story follows three teen boys who have had enough of their parents' overbearing brand of love, and so take off into the woods where the build their own house with their own rules. Their freedom is so sweet you can practically taste it. But grounded by heartfelt portrayals of its young leads (Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, and Moises Arias), The Kings of Summer blooms into a poignant story about friendship and the growing pains of going from boys to men. It's so compelling that I declared it "the best film of the year" in my review.

Bolstered by sidesplitting supporting turns from TV stars Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation), Megan Mullally (Party Down), and Allison Brie (Community), it's easily one of the funniest movies of the year to boot. But screenwriter Chris Galletta's careful balance of the boys' perspective with that of their flustered (and frustrating) parents makes this an instant classic, sure to be treasured summer after summer.

Watch The Kings of Summer trailer...
The Place Beyond the Pines
by Nick Venable
The best film of 2013 so far has got to be Park Chan-wook’s Stok…Dammit, Eric! That’s all right, though, because while I did love that film, it didn’t continue to stay securely and uncomfortably nestled in my psyche for days on end like Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines did. With a plot split between two time periods, the film introduced me into character after character that I probably wouldn’t want anything to do with in real life. Ryan Gosling is a cocky, motorcycle riding bank robber whose attempts at pacification and fatherhood are only slightly more successful than his son Jason’s (Dane DeHaan) eventual attempts at friendship. Bradley Cooper plays a cop who lets his guilt and honest nature cloud his hero status, which doesn’t jibe well with his fellow officers (including a painfully constrained Ray Liotta), and his son AJ (Emory Cohen) is somehow less reputable than Gosling at his worst. As much as I love watching comedies, I always end up flocking to films that challenge my baseline sense of complacency as a viewer, and The Place Beyond the Pines delivers that in spades and red jackets.

Watch The Place Beyond the Pines trailer...



World War Z
by Kelly West
It may help that I haven't read World War Z yet, and therefore went into the film looking for an action packed zombie-mayhem adventure and not an adaptation of a popular novel, as I hear the latter barely applies. I was reluctant to declare a big-budget popcorn flick as my favorite movie of 2013 so far, but when it comes down to it, it really was. World War Z is the most satisfying movie I've seen this year. It not only delivered on every promise its over-played trailers made, but it also managed to offer a fun, exciting and exceptionally satisfying story in under two hours, without any substantial lulls or the time-sucking fourth act that so many movies seem to think they need these days. World War Z introduces Brad Pitt and his family to us. The zombie mayhem ensues. Brad Pitt embarks on a mission to figure out how to stop the virus. More zombie mayhem ensues. The story never deviates from that, or tries to be more than it needs to be to get us through it. Was it as gory as your typical zombie movie? No, but the film made up for that with suspense, some truly intense and thrilling moments, and the right kind of plot resolution in the end. Also, Daniella Kertesz as Segen was a fantastic added bonus, giving a great performance and adding a strong female character in the film.

Watch the World War Z trailer...

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