The 8 Defining Art Movies of 2023—and Where to Watch Them 

Biopics, capers, satires: filmmakers looked to art for inspiration in all sorts of ways this year. See the most revealing examples here.

Michelle Williams in Showing Up. Photo: Allyson Riggs. Courtesy of A24.

Among the many awesome and terrible things 2023 offered us were a few interesting movies about art, it turns out. Filmmakers turned to the topic for stories about beauty, crime, labor, and the power of the perm. They did so through a wide variety of styles—big-budget biopics, understated indies, caustic satires—and with varying levels of success. One or two may go down as masterpieces; others will be forgotten by January.

Those discrepancies will continue to grow until one day, the only thing tethering these movies together will be the year next to their titles. But for right now, at least, they add up to something more: a portrait of what art and its commercial industry really represented in 2023.  

Below are eight defining art movies released over the last 12 months—and instructions on where to watch them before next year’s crop starts coming in.

 

Showing Up

This list of films that get the art world “right” is shockingly small. Showing Up, Kelly Reichardt’s indie released this spring, is one of them. It’s not a flattering portrait, at first. The movie follows a fractious, mid-career sculptor played by Michelle Williams who is battling mundane obstacles in the days leading up to a local gallery show that only she seems particularly excited about. This is not a film about genius; there are no moments of “ta-da” or “ah-ha.” It’s about what being an artist usually looks like: banal labor, petty competitions, own goals. It’s all one long hike up the “society doesn’t value what you do” hill. Showing Up is a good movie about art because it honors the dogged cranks who continue the climb. (Not coincidentally, the film has “shown up” on many film critics’ best-of-the-year lists, frequently near the top.) 

Where to watch: Showing Up is available to stream on Paramount +. 

 

Anselm

Anselm, Wim Wenders’s 3D documentary on Anselm Kiefer, is the only title on this list not available to watch digitally—it just debuted in theaters this month—but it’s too momentous of a project not to include. Shot over the course of two years, the film offers a rare, behind-the-scenes look at one of art’s greatest living figures, framed through the lens of a director who is himself a living legend. The two Germans have more than greatness in common: both are now 78 and working against the possibility that what they make now could be their final statement. Let’s hope it’s not. 

Where to watch: Anselm is screening in theaters now. It is not yet available to watch digitally. 

 

Paint

Not so subtly inspired by Bob Ross, Paint stars Owen Wilson as Carl Nargle, a permed painter who hosts a long-running public TV show in Vermont. For years, the artist has coasted on the cultish following the program afforded him. But when the network brings in a younger, more talented painter to revive its ratings, Carl is thrown into a tailspin that causes him to lose his job and just about all the goodwill he had amassed with it. Eventually, he starts to wonder if he was ever very good at painting at all. 

Where to watch: Paint is available to stream on AMC+. 

 

Nam June Paik: Moon Is the Oldest TV

Narrated by actor Steven Yeun, this PBS-produced documentary takes us deep into the electric world of Nam June Paik, from his earliest years in Japan-occupied Korea, to his latest in early-aughts America. It’s a portrait of two trajectories: the career of Paik, and the evolution of visual media in the late 20th century. But for all its retro trimmings, the film never loses sight of its hero’s futuristic vision. Technology tethered Paik to the present, but he was still always light years ahead of his time. 

Where to watch: Nam June Paik: Moon Is the Oldest TV is free to stream on PBS. 

 

Munch

Edvard Munch is a lofty subject to take on, but Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken’s film doesn’t lack for ambition. The Norwegian director cast four different actors—including one woman—to play the artist at various stages of his life; their chapters are revealed non-linearly, across numerous locations, and in scenes that switch between color and black and white. The beats of a biopic are there, but Munch ultimately plays more like a restless essay.  

Where to watch: Munch is not currently available to stream for free. It can be rented on Amazon Prime. 

 

The Kill Room

The plot of The Kill Room sounds like the stuff of pulp, but for anyone familiar with the deregulated art market, the crime at its center won’t feel so out of this world. The film follows a struggling gallery owner, played by Uma Thurman, who teams up with a mafia boss, Samuel L. Jackson, to launder money through art. The paintings they use to do it are made by a hitman, Joe Manganiello, who does not care for or understand the art world, even as he becomes its latest overnight sensation. Suddenly, all the attention around the artist—known only as the “Bagman”—is a problem for all the cons trying to keep their scheme quiet.  

Where to watch: The Kill Room is not currently available to stream for free, but it can be rented on Apple TV. 

 

Inside

Inside is also about an art caper, but there are none of The Kill Room’s thrill-ride vibes here. Willem Dafoe plays an art thief who is dropped onto the roof of a tony New York apartment, his eyes set on a series of Egon Schieles that belong to the Pritzker Prize-winning architect who owns the place. But shortly after the thief enters the apartment, he gets trapped there, and all the luxuriant objects that adorn the flat—including real works by artists like John Armleder, Maurizio Cattelan, Petrit Halilaj, and Joanna Piotrowska—begin to haunt. The claustrophobic feature’s director, Vasilis Katsoupis, and art curator, Leonardo Bigazzi, discussed this and other Inside themes on the Art Angle podcast back in March.  

Where to watch: Inside is available to stream now on Amazon Prime. 

 

Robert Irwin: A Desert of Pure Feeling

Just as Moon Is the Oldest TV captures the kinetic energy that animated Nam June Paik, A Desert of Pure Feeling is steeped in the searching patience that defined Robert Irwin. The film—which features interviews with Irwin and contemporaries like Larry Bell, Helen Pashgian, and Ed Ruscha—technically premiered last year, but it debuted in theaters this October. Sadly, Irwin passed away just over a week later. 

Where to watch: Robert Irwin: A Desert of Pure Feeling is available to rent on Amazon Prime and Apple TV. 


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