Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight

July marks the start of the dog days of summer and only two months until early fall festivals usher in awards season. With half of 2013 already behind us, FilmLinc Daily surveyed critics, programmers and bloggers for a snap poll of the best movie to hit theaters so far this year. Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight was the clear winner.

Participants (listed in entirety below) were asked to simply name their top theatrical release of the year and the talky romantic drama starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy dominated the results. A few respondents opted to share some additional thoughts about their choice.

“The combined smarts and experience of this trio of collaborators makes for the most brilliant examination of the fraught relationship between men and women since Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage,” noted veteran journalist Anne Thompson, founder of Thompson On Hollywood.

“Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight is the greatest film released in theaters at the halfway point of 2013,” added MUBI editor Adam Cook. “It’s an honest and surprising masterpiece that complicates and strengthens what is now one of cinema’s most unique and best trilogies.”

The Sony Pictures Classics release was picked as the best movie of the year by 21 of the 59 people polled.

“It is hard to think of anything quite like the Before triptych in the history of American movies,” wrote Phillip Lopate in a Film Comment profile this spring.

The third in Linklater’s series, which began with Before Sunrise in 1995 and continued with Before Sunset in 2004, Midnight carries on the banter, arguments, philosophizing, tantrums and passion between Celine (Delpy) and Jesse (Hawke). This time, the film is set in Greece at the tail end of summer, where the couple are vacationing with their two daughters. As with the two previous installments, Linklater collaborated on the script with Hawke and Delpy, whose characters are at the center of the story.

“We created these characters 18 years ago, and every six years or so we think these people have something to say,” Linklater said at the Berlin International Film Festival, where the film had its European premiere. “There’s an element of time that these characters are able to revisit, but they’re all just a moment in time,” added Delpy.

Sarah Polley in Stories We Tell

Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell placed second in the poll and the clear favorite in the documentary arena. “[It’s] ability to create a dizzying yet lucid tapestry [and] supremely personal [story] resists any sense of narcissism,” offered Slant Magazine‘s Nick McCarthy about the film, which screened at New Directors/New Films this Spring. Added Cory Everett of The Playlist, “Stories We Tell came as a total surprise. It’s a rare doc where the story being told is enhanced so dramatically by the way in which it’s being told… Polley may have happened into the twisty nature of her film by accident but that doesn’t make it any less brilliant.”

Also coming in with a number of mentions were Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha and Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel’s Leviathan, both of which had their New York premieres at the 50th New York Film Festival last fall, as well as Jem Cohen’s recent release Museum Hours. But with NYFF, Venice, Telluride, Toronto and other festivals on the horizon, opinions are bound to widen as the debate over the best film of 2013 kicks into high gear.

Full list of participants and their picks:

Florence Almozini, BAM: Like Someone In Love
David Ansen, Los Angeles Film Festival: Before Midnight
Jason Bailey, Flavorwire: Before Midnight
Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle: Before Midnight
Alex Billington, First Showing: Before Midnight
Richard Brody, The New Yorker: Like Someone In Love
Brian Brooks, FilmLinc Daily: Frances Ha
Forrest Cardamenis, No Ripcord: Upstream Color
Justin Chang, Variety: Before Midnight
Adam Cook, MUBI: Before Midnight
Noah Cowan, TIFF Bell Lightbox: Museum Hours
Peter Debruge, Variety: Stories We Tell
Steve Dollar, Wall St Journal: Kuichisan
David Ehrlich, Before Midnight
Cory Everett, The Playlist: Stories We Tell
David Fear, Time Out New York: Before Midnight
Scott Foundas, Variety: Before Midnight
Kenji Fujishima, Wall St Journal: Like Someone In Love
Michael Guillen, The Evening Class: Fill The Void
Eugene Hernandez, Film Society of Lincoln Center: Museum Hours
Holly Herrick, Austin Film Society: Before Midnight
Logan Hill: Before Midnight
Annette Insdorf, Columbia: Disconnect
Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist: Frances Ha
Kent Jones, New York Film Festival: Before Midnight
Dave Karger, Fandango: Mud
Nicholas Kemp, FilmLinc Daily: Beyond The Hills
Glenn Kenny, Some Came Running: You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet
Gabe Klinger: Before Midnight
Peter Knegt, Indiewire: Before Midnight
Eric Kohn, Indiewire: Before Midnight
Dan Kois, Slate: Before Midnight
Alec Kubas-Meyer, Flixist: Before Midnight
Peter Labuza, Cinephiliacs: Side Effects
Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: At Any Price
Kevin B Lee: Night Across The Street
Dennis Lim, Film Society of Lincoln Center: Leviathan
Phillip Lopate: In The Fog
Scott Macaulay, Filmmaker Magazine: Spring Breakers
Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit: The Place Beyond The Pines
Calum Marsh, Leviathan
Marian Masone, Film Society of Lincoln Center: Gimme The Loot
Nick McCarthy, Slant Magazine: Stories We Tell
Max Nelson, Double Exposure: Before Midnight
Michael Nordine, Village Voice: Leviathan
Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: Stories We Tell
Courtney Ott, Film Socety of Lincoln Center: Before Midnight
Andrea Picard, TIFF: Student
Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist: Stories We Tell
Rachael Rakes, Brooklyn Rail: Museum Hours
Tasha Robinson, The Dissolve: Stories We Tell
Fariha Roisin, Huffington Post: Frances Ha
David Schwartz, Museum of the Moving Image: Before Midnight
Nigel Smith, Indiewire: Frances Ha
David Sterritt, National Society of Film Critics, The Place Beyond The Pines
Drew Taylor, The Playlist: Frances Ha
Anne Thompson, Thompson On Hollywood: Before Midnight
Scott Tobias, The Dissolve: Upstream Color
Elizabeth Weitzman, NY Daily News: Stories We Tell
Armond White, CityArts: Pain & Gain

Share your pick for the best film of 2013 (so far) in the comments below! Here’s a list of theatrical releases in New York City to refresh your memory.