December 13, 2023
WRITTEN BY: THE BITESIZE CREW
Every year, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of movies released around the world. Even for us at Bitesize Breakdown, a collection of vociferous and voracious movie watchers, it’s impossible to keep up with every single movie released, so we can only imagine how many offerings fall through the cracks for the general movie fan. Whether it be a foreign film, an independent festival darling, or a smaller film that was unceremoniously dropped on VOD, it can be difficult parsing through all your options. Plus, we understand that everyone has busy lives, so the idea of wasting two hours on a movie you’ve never heard of is likely a non-starter for most people. We totally get it.
That’s where this article comes in.
Sure, you’ve likely heard of, or even seen, the big blockbusters…movies like Barbie and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse…but what about the less flashy movies that didn’t get the same level of marketing as those tentpole behemoths? Below, each of the eight Bitesizers have highlighted two films that flew under-the-radar for whatever reason, but that are no less worthy of your time and attention. Many of these can be found on digital platforms currently, so you don’t even need to leave the comfort of your home to have a truly enjoyable movie-watching experience. If nothing else, we’re just hoping to spark some interest in something you may not have otherwise noticed.
So, without further ado, check out the Bitesize Crew’s picks for their top hidden gems of 2023!
With a quiet release this year, this flick probably flew under your radar, but I’m here to spread the word on this touching, low-key, father-daughter drama. Despite a simple premise, Acidman is a beautifully shot, intimate two-hander with more meat on its bones than you’d expect. This allows its two leads, Dianna Agron and Thomas Haden Church, to deliver two of the most underrated performances of the year. This film is one of those rare gems that subtly unpacks its characters’ feelings onto the audience in such a gentle and reflective manner that it will resonate with many people. - Paige
I first saw Biosphere as a last-minute addition to the TIFF line-up in 2022. It was added with almost zero information, outside of the fact that it starred Sterling K. Brown and Mark Duplass. Honestly, that's the best way to approach this movie, as blind as possible. Biosphere is an intimate, unique, and rather funny film surrounding two isolated men living through a supremely interesting premise. I’m more than a year removed from my first viewing, and it still hasn't left my mind. Sadly, though, it's public release in July came with little fanfare. I have no doubt people are bound to love this film if they see it, they just need to see it. - Nick
THE CAINE MUTINY COURT-MARTIAL
It’s a shame that The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial flew under the radar this year because it’s fantastic. This remake of the 1954 classic is helmed by the late William Friedken, who absolutely crushes it here. I know people say this a lot, but you really don’t see movies like this anymore. Caine Mutiny is patient, captivating, and unpretentious filmmaking at its finest. You can feel Friedkin’s confidence in almost every frame of the film, with the acting, blocking, and editing all being truly masterful. Sadly, this is Friedkin’s final film, but at least he went out with a bang. – Caleb
If nothing else, Cassandro is worth a watch for Gael García Bernal’s amazing performance. In almost any other year, he would be in talks for an Oscar nomination for his honest, vulnerable, and enthralling portrayal of the real life “exotico” wrestler. The movie itself is a slow burn that spends time to bring true emotional resonance to the title character’s journey. That same care is brought to the film’s gritty tone, exemplifying how much work and perseverance goes into people’s passions. Whether or not you’re a wrestling fan, you’re bound to appreciate how much Cassandro truly cares for its subject matter and its presentation, making it a movie you shouldn’t miss. - Amarú
At this point in my life, it takes a lot for me to fully buy into animated movies or movies with subtitles. With animation, I’m just too old and cynical nowadays, while with subtitles, I generally find it hard to immerse myself in the story with all the reading. However, Deep Sea is so remarkable, featuring a deeply poignant story of childhood depression and parental neglect told through some of the best animation I’ve ever seen, that I was utterly blown away. If you can believe it, I was even emotionally moved. It’s not unlike Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away, if you need something else to sell you on it, but Deep Sea more than stands on its own as one of the best animated films I’ve seen in recent years. - Quentin
ENYS MEN Enys Men is a unique display of auteurship, with Mark Jenkin as the writer, director, cinematographer, editor, and composer of the soundtrack. Best described as a Cornish folk horror, it follows a woman known only as The Volunteer, played by Mary Woodvine, who is tasked with observing wildflowers on a remote island. The Volunteer repeats the same tasks daily, and eventually, everything slips between dreams and reality, where all of history and time seem to co-exist simultaneously. Shot on 16mm film, it has a palpable 1970s style, making it feel like a lost artifact that was discovered on that isolated island. I’m surprised Enys Men didn’t have more of an impact, especially considering the recent success of the similarly experimental Skinamarink, but it is a must-see for avant-garde horror fans. - Katie
THE FIRST SLAM DUNK
I will admit that I’m not the biggest anime fan, but a good friend recommended this to me because I am a huge basketball fan, and I was very happy that he did. The First Slam Dunk is a visual feast, with exciting in-game action and powerful stories to connect you with the players outside the game. It takes every aspect of itself seriously, complete with the typical over-the-top drama and comedy that makes anime such a revered genre, and it all works to make this film a very entertaining watch. Do yourself a favor… take a chance on one of the best animated films in this stacked animated year. - Amarú
FLORA AND SON
Not quite a family drama, not quite a love story, Flora and Son was such a pleasant surprise when I saw it at TIFF this year. Although the film is called Flora and Son, the highlight really is Flora (Eve Hewson) and Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Hewson leans on her Irish roots as the brash and edgy Flora, which wonderfully contrasts against Gordon-Levitt’s clean-cut Jeff. The chemistry these two share without being in the same room is palpable, and director John Carney finds work arounds to ensure that we aren’t just watching an extended Zoom call. Meanwhile, the music is both catchy and quite good. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that “Meet in the Middle” deserves some Original Song recognition at this year’s Oscars. - Nick
HOW TO BLOW UP A PIPELINE
When it comes to social justice, the climate crisis, and civil disobedience, you'd be hard-pressed to find a film as effective at displaying those themes as How to Blow Up a Pipeline. The film is so successful in its messaging that it was later revealed that even the FBI had some concerns about the film. Yet, when it came out in April of this year, it didn't quite make the noise that a film like this probably should have made despite its critical acclaim. It’s a shame, really, considering a film of this magnitude and importance, despite its potentially radical approach, can inspire some necessary change as we continue to fight against a worsening environmental crisis. - Adriano
LANDSCAPE WITH INVISIBLE HAND
Landscape with Invisible Hand shocked me more than any other film this year. It was a film I thought I would hate, but I ended up really enjoying it. Director Cory Finley stands apart from his contemporaries by providing a substantive narrative with social commentary over a wide-range of social issues, and he does so with beautiful subtlety while avoiding the tempting Hollywood finger-wagging trend. Instead, what we get is a unique, satirical story that is eccentric but somehow avoids being weird. Asante Black and Kylie Rogers have fantastic chemistry, and Tiffany Haddish inspires with her own dramatic performance. This quirky hidden gem may not be on the monthly watch list, but movies with this level of intelligence rarely are; you will be glad you branched out. - Preston
“You know that comedian that talks in kind of an annoyingly high-pitched voice and does the skit on Hot Pockets?” - That question has been an easy reduction to quickly identify the comedian Jim Gaffigan, but NO MORE as he turns in a beautifully nuanced performance in Linoleum. This film is a breath of fresh air away from the usual Hollywood fodder as writer/director Colin West brings us a refreshingly warm and original story that is mercifully creative. Its cleverness lies in its ability to touch on so many beautiful themes while telling its surreal tale from the perspective of one “simple” man. In the end, what is captured is the complicated essence of what we experience through the vicissitudes of life and its strange wonder. - Preston
Sadly, Perfect Days didn't leave the mark it should have this year, even though it is one of the most emotionally rewarding movies of the year. The movie requires patience, that's undeniable; a majority of the movie is essentially just a man cleaning toilets and going about his day-to-day. So, sure, it's not the most exciting film in the world. However, those patient enough to stay will find something beautiful in the mundane. Kōji Yakusho's endearing performance is enough to make the experience worthwhile, but ultimately, you have a special film that exemplifies the beauties of life and that which keeps us going despite the hardships. I hope it finds an audience someday. - Adriano
Polite Society is a one-two punch that deserves to have more people see it. Director Nida Manzoor manages to masterfully blend all sorts of genres, most notably comedy and martial arts, into a fresh and sharp coming-of-age story about two sisters, played by Priya Kansara and Ritu Arya. Their gleaming chemistry makes this spunky and charismatic film genuinely kick ass. If you’re looking for a playfully charming movie that is light-hearted, then Polite Society is the hidden gem for you to watch. - Paige
Raine Allen Miller’s feature debut, Rye Lane, is the best rom-com I have seen in years, but I feel that it’s criminally underappreciated. The film follows Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah), who meet after having each recently endured a rough break-up. Set against the backdrop of sunny South London, they get to know each other over the course of the day. It's an energetic and refreshingly modern take on a well-worn genre that is brimming with life and vibrant colour. The leads have genuine banter and authentic chemistry, and I was cheering for them all the way through. I feel this one was missed during an exciting year of blockbusters, but rest assured, Miller's charming film will make you fall back in love with rom-coms. - Katie
Admittedly, having first seen Sisu at TIFF 2022’s Midnight Madness has done a lot of heavy lifting towards making Sisu one of my Top Ten movies of 2023. That said, this is a heavily stylized war movie written and directed by a Finnish filmmaker you’ve probably never heard of, starring a collection of non-American actors you’ve probably never heard of. So, I get why most people likely avoided it. However, Sisu wears its American action influences on its sleeve, recalling everything from Quentin Tarantino, Captain America, Rambo, John Wick, and Saving Private Ryan. Plus, to ease your minds on the thing that probably scared off most people: it’s in English. - Quentin
It’s surprising that more of my friends haven’t seen Theater Camp because it seems to be right up my demographic’s alley. It’s got a cast chock-full of some of my generation’s favorite actors, including Molly Gordon, Jimmy Tatro, and Ayo Edebiri. On top of that, it’s got a fun summer-camp, mockumentary style á la Wet Hot American Summer (2001), and most importantly, it’s funny as hell. It’s baffling to me that similar comedies like Barbie and Bottoms were such wild successes this year while this fell into relative obscurity. It’s hilarious and heart-warming at the same time, and if you’re in the mood for some more zany Gen-Z comedy, look no further than Theater Camp. - Caleb