The Movies and TV We Discovered in 2023
It’s been a great year of watching over here at Wildsam. We’ve tuned in to spectacular animated films, future horror classics, mind-bending documentaries, concert flicks that demand attention (as well as your dance moves) and odes to food culture in Chicago. Take a look at the best movies and television shows we discovered in 2023. It’s time for that watchlist to grow even larger.
The Pigeon Tunnel - Errol Morris (2023)
The documentarian who pins down slippery subjects meets his match: legendary spy novelist John le Carré. Alias David Cornwall. Formerly of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, though to what extent? Son of a con man–and maybe a bit of one himself?–Le Carré’s elegant parrying of Morris’s earnest questions reveals a writer’s inner life. But, you get the feeling, plenty is hidden too. Pair with Le Carré’s almost-autobiographical, A Perfect Spy.
- Zachary Dundas, Editorial Director
Killers of the Flower Moon - Martin Scorsese (2023)
I did bemoan the three hours and 26 minute runtime for Killers of the Flower Moon. With all of the trailers before movies these days, that’s basically four hours of sitting still in one place. Every single second of it was worth it. Every single second counts. Scorsese masterfully tells the story of a deadly and sinister plot against the Osage Nation people and all of that was stripped of them–their people, land, wealth and culture. Killers is an essential piece of Western storytelling from a perspective often ignored in the history of cinema. With Lily Gladstone’s remarkable turn as Mollie Burkhart, this picture is one of the best of 2023 and a landmark work in Scorsese’s long and fruitful filmography. One that frequently inspects the mechanisms of excess and greed.
- H. Drew Blackburn, Digital Editor
The Bear (2023)
The Bear’s first season was outstanding, so the question was: Could this show avoid a sophomore slump? The answer was a resounding yes. The second season shows the team ’s arduous journey from local family owned restaurant into one that creates inventive cuisine and aspires to James Beard Awards and maybe even Michelin stars. The way this television program showcases its love for Chicago and the dutiful calling to serve food with passion and care has me craving a third season. The details here, like great cooking, are what make it exceptional. As someone who once worked in great restaurants in a past lives, it feels great to be seen in a particular way. However, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention of my favorite details of all: The fashion. Raw denim, Kapital bandanas, Merz b. Schwanen t-shirts and custom Thom Browne chef coats? Yes, chef.
The American Buffalo - Ken Burns (2023)
You know what you’re in for when Burns and PBS drop a four-hour deep-dive into some new element of American-ness: a solid script that injects textbook history with drama and reverence, a cast of articulate talking heads, nicely curated archival clips, and the folksy-authoritative tones of Peter Coyote. But The American Buffalo stands out in the Burns oeuvre for the punches it does not pull when it comes to the rapacious cruelty of westward expansion. Native voices and perspectives aren’t sidelined, and what’s framed as a doc about charismatic megafauna is really about the motivations and shortcomings of those who exploited them.
- Brian Kevin, Managing Editor
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One - William Greaves (1968)
Yes, it’s as mind melting as its title. Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One is a film, within a film, within a film, within a social experiment. William Greaves creates a one-of-a-kind piece of art that’s difficult to describe, but even harder to forget. The director feigns incompetence presiding over a film about human sexuality he never truly intends to make and captures his cast and crew on camera working through this process in real time.
Set in Central Park in the late 1960s Symbiopsychotaxiplasm is a staggering quasi-documentary of metatextual genius and an artifact of New York counterculture at work. The sheer audacity of Greaves to make such a film is a radical act for an artist. And his crew, well... at one point they stage a rebellion against him. In the world of filmmaking, this movie is the forefather of reality television and the works of highbrow pranksters like Nathan Fielder and yet it almost never saw the light of day. Film distributors in 1968 were understandably turned off by its experimental nature. If it weren’t for Greaves dusting off the print for a retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum in 1991, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm would have never been a masterpiece, just a mere exercise.
Across the Spider-Verse - Kemp Powers, Joaquim Dos Santos, Justin K. Thompson (2023)
Hard to call it a discovery, exactly, as this sequel to 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was much anticipated. But it had a high bar to clear: The first one nabbed an Oscar and introduced a kaleidoscopic, multi-textured new animation style to the screen. It was also the rare flick you could bring an 8-year-old to and both walk out with your minds blown. Spider-Verse just so happens to be a superhero movie that, welp, made me cry. The sequel exceeded these lofty expectations. Consider how filmmakers spent three years animating Daniel Kaluuya’s Spider-Punk side character, a swinging, shredding pastiche of ‘70s punk-rock album art–and it’s only maybe the fifth or sixth coolest thing about the movie. Also, this one made me cry harder.
Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour + Stop Making Sense - (2023,1984)
Did concert documentaries just save in-person cinema? Taylor Swift’s very, very extra tour doc turned suburban multiplexes into joyous girl-riots. Shouted choruses, bracelet trading in the aisles, roving dance parties to every genre in pop: this was the star atop this year’s towering Swiftmas Tree. Director Jonathan Demme’s vintage capture of the Talking Heads, meanwhile, works a different magic–groundbreaking, austere, arty and oh-so-‘80s. This new high-fidelity version amps up bassist Tina Weymouth and synth master Bernie Worrell, and like T. Swift, the T. Heads can turn a room loose. Beyoncé, you’re up next!
Haunting of Bly Manor - (2020)
Dramatically complex and equally frightening, director Michael Flanagan’s Haunting of Hill House (2018) reimagines Shirley Jackson ’s 1959 homonymous novel and proved what the horror genre is capable of. Its successor, an adaptation of Henry James’ 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, hooked me in a way this horror junkie didn’t expect. Lacking jump scares and horrifying images, Bly Manor focuses on cerebral horror; scaring you by forcing a chilling exploration of the vulnerabilities of being human. While ultimately focused on love and loss, it’s also a story full of ghosts, childish games of lies and deception (that pair perfectly with the creepy children), and potentially the worst horror trope of all: dolls. It’s one of those shows that is even better the second time around–perfectly and horrifically splendid.