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The Dispatch’s Best of 2023
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The Dispatch’s Best of 2023

The culture and content we enjoyed the most this year.

Happy Friday! For those who think they saw it all in 2023, your friendly Morning Dispatchers have one last oddity to close out the year: a house located in Washougal, Washington, that the owner turned into a Jurassic Park-themed abode—complete with five life-size animatronic dinosaurs. Top that, 2024.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) conducted “widespread” strikes against Hezbollah military infrastructure in southern Lebanon on Thursday in response to the Iranian-backed terrorist group’s continued rocket attacks on the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona. The IDF also shot down multiple drones that attempted to cross into Israel from the north. Also on Thursday, Kibbutz Nir Oz in southern Israel confirmed that a second American taken hostage by Hamas, 70-year-old Judith Weinstein, had died. Weinstein was fatally wounded during the October 7 attack, when she and her husband, Gad Haggai, were kidnapped and brought to Gaza. Haggai was also killed on October 7, and both of their bodies are still held by Hamas. “No family should have to endure such an ordeal,” President Joe Biden said in a statement released Thursday. “And I reaffirm the pledge we have made to all the families of those still held hostage: we will not stop working to bring them home.”
  • The U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control on Thursday placed sanctions on an individual and three money exchanges believed to have transferred millions of dollars from Iran to the Houthis, a Yemen-based militant group attacking commercial ships in the Red Sea. The sanctions targeted the head of the Currency Exchangers Association in Sana’a, Yemen, and three exchange houses based in Yemen and Turkey. Hapag-Lloyd, a German shipping company, said Wednesday their vessels would not yet return to the Red Sea despite the deployment of a U.S.-led naval task force, Operation Prosperity Guardian, to protect international shipping in the waterway.
  • A federal judge on Thursday greenlit Georgia’s new congressional and legislative maps, which mark the Republican-led state legislature’s second attempt at redistricting. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled in October that the first set of maps violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting power of black voters. The new maps included additional majority black districts, including one congressional district, two state Senate districts, and five state House districts. “The court finds that the General Assembly fully complied with this court’s order requiring the creation of a majority-Black congressional district in the region of the state where vote dilution was found,” Jones wrote in his threepart ruling released Thursday. Democrats criticized the new maps for also redrawing non-black majority districts to advantage Republicans and to threaten Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath’s seat. 
  • Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows announced Thursday that former President Donald Trump is ineligible to appear on the state’s GOP presidential primary ballot, following Colorado as the second state to do so. Voters in Maine filed objections to Trump being on the ballot through a process under state law that allows individuals to raise challenges to the secretary of state. In a 34-page decision, Bellows concluded that Trump is ineligible under Section Three—the insurrection clause—of the Constitution’s 14 Amendment. “I am mindful that no Secretary of State has ever deprived a presidential candidate of ballot access based on Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment,” she wrote in her ruling. “I am also mindful, however, that no presidential candidate has ever before engaged in insurrection.” Bellows suspended her decision from going into effect until after the state Superior Court reviews any appeal. 
  • The Colorado Republican Party officially requested the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling that would keep Trump off the state’s GOP presidential primary ballot. The Colorado GOP argued in its petition that the president is not one of the officials to whom the insurrection clause of the 14th Amendment applies; that the insurrection clause has to be enforced by Congress, not states; and that keeping Trump off the primary ballot violates the party’s First Amendment right of association. The Supreme Court has not indicated whether it will take up the appeal, but the petitioners filed a motion for expedited review.

Our 2023 Content Countdown

The cast of 'The Bear.' (Photo courtesy of FX)
The cast of 'The Bear.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

Movies.

James Scimecca, editor of the Morning Dispatch

  1. The Super Mario Bros. Movie
  2. Oppenheimer
  3. Barbie
  4. Maestro

In a year dominated by movies about existential threats, historic Great Men, and generalized depression, the Mario movie was a bright spot of 8-bit nostalgia. Pointing out classic Nintendo easter eggs and watching the world’s most famous plumber take down his Koopa nemesis on the big screen provided some much-needed arcade-inspired silliness to an otherwise serious 2023.

Mary Trimble, reporter for the Morning Dispatch

  1. Oppenheimer
  2. Priscilla 
  3. Airport 
  4. “Baby J” by John Mulaney
  5. Barbie

I managed to make it to the movie theater a few times this year—though not nearly as often as I said, “Oh, I was wanting to see that.” Oppenheimer obviously tops my list, but frankly, there’s nothing I could say about it that hasn’t already been said, and more eloquently. So instead, I’ll plug Airport, a disaster film from 1970 (later spoofed, at least in part, by 1980’s Airplane!) that I watched for the first time this year. I’ll not claim it’s high or important cinema. But take Burt Lancaster bickering with Dean Martin, a lovely mod aesthetic, steady snowfall that manages to be both cozy and perilous, an easy-to-follow plot, and near-perfect pacing, and you have an excellent watch for the liminal space that is the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day—as long as you’re not hopping on a plane anytime soon. 

Here’s hoping next year I make it to the movies to catch 2024’s new releases or, at the very least, get the chance to catch up on all the great films I missed this year! (The Holdovers, I’m coming back for you.)

Grayson Logue, reporter for the Morning Dispatch

  1. Past Lives 
  2. Before Sunset
  3. North by Northwest 
  4. Tár

It takes me a while to actually watch movies once they make it onto my list, which helps explain why only one of these came out this year. All of them are excellent films that I recommend you watch if you haven’t already. One note about Before Sunset: I watched it on a flight without realizing that it was the middle film of Richard Linklater’s trilogy of movies. Now, having seen the preceding and succeeding films, Before Sunset stands out as the strongest, and I’m quite glad I approached it as a standalone. 

Jonah Goldberg, editor in chief

  1.  John Wick: Chapter 4 
  2. The Last Kingdom: Seven Kings Must Die (Netflix)
  3. The Equalizer 3
  4. Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning (aka MI VIII)
  5. Barbie

I haven’t seen many of the most discussed movies of the year. Killers of the Flower Moon sounds like too much work. John Podhoretz ruined Maestro for me, and I was never particularly interested in Leonard Bernstein in the first place. I’d still like to see Oppenheimer, but I feel like I’ve heard too much about it to enjoy it. And I will definitely see Godzilla Minus One. Herewith the new movies I enjoyed this year. With the exception of John Wick IV, a deeply textured morality tale about the just desserts faced by people who mess with someone’s dog, I can’t say any were great cinema. 

Declan Garvey, executive editor

  1. Oppenheimer
  2. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
  3. Past Lives
  4. Asteroid City
  5. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3
  6. Boys in the Boat
  7. Killers of the Flower Moon

Looking back, I’m honestly embarrassed by how few new movies I watched in 2023. I pay for AMC’s A-List plan every month and I definitely did not get my money’s worth.

That said, I know Oppenheimer would still be my favorite film of the year even if I had gone to the movies three times as often. From the screenwriting, to the acting, to the special effects, to the score, Christopher Nolan’s latest is everything that a summer blockbuster is supposed to be—while still grappling with the late physicist’s legacy in a commendable way.

My groomsmen and I settled on a mid-July bachelor party for two reasons: We could go to Wrigley to watch the Cubs beat the Cardinals, and we could see Oppenheimer on opening weekend. One of the rare instances where the movie was even better than the book. And it is a damn good book.

Luis Parrales, assistant editor

  1. Past Lives: There simply wasn’t anything as personal and moving. So many films—so much writing, for that matter—try to offer the definitive story about a given topic. Past Lives instead chooses to love its protagonists dearly and, in the process, says so much about childhood, relationships, immigration, ambition, and nostalgia.
  2. Oppenheimer: Christopher Nolan’s latest film gave us a nuanced story on par with the best Greek tragedies. I’ll just mention that Cillian Murphy delivered the best male performance of the year, and Ludwig Göransson penned the best musical score of the year. 
  3. The Holdovers: In my review of the film, I wrote that Alexander Payne’s latest was a moving story about overcoming class differences. But I regret not mentioning that Paul Giamatti gave us the most indescribably hilarious onscreen burn of 2023. Be nice to your teachers, folks. 
  4. Saltburn: It’s not for everyone (this really cannot be stressed enough), but the lionhearted who give Saltburn a try will be rewarded with one of the trippiest moviegoing experiences in recent memory.
  5. The Killer: Smiths? I love The Smiths. And David Fincher’s latest about a trained assassin regaining his cool after a job gone wrong fully capitalized on the irony of hearing Morrissey sing, “To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.”

You couldn’t have predicted 2023 would be this good for film. Yet even in suboptimal conditions—most of all, two major industry strikes—storytellers stepped up, and audiences were receptive.

Last Friday at one of Chicago’s largest theaters, for example, more people bought tickets to see Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron than the new Aquaman movie (sorry David). Indie standouts like Saltburn and The Iron Claw are being talked about way more than the latest MCU installment, The Marvels. After the pandemic, some wondered if movies would survive. After 2023, there’s reason to say that film is thriving.

TV Shows.

James Scimecca, editor of the Morning Dispatch

  1. The Sopranos 

I know, I’m really late to this one. But my brother and I watched this show in its entirety for the first time this year—and honestly, compared to Tony and Co., almost everything else on TV (or streaming platforms) was a disappointment.

Mary Trimble, reporter for the Morning Dispatch

  1. Welcome to Wrexham 
  2. Foyle’s War 
  3. Daisy Jones and the Six
  4. The Pacific 

I was vaguely aware that Ryan Reynolds and someone I’d never heard of bought a Welsh soccer team at some point in the last five years. That made me the target audience for Welcome to Wrexham, the FX docuseries about Reynolds and—I still had to Google him just now—Rob McElhenney throwing cash and Aviation Gin advertisements at Wrexham Football Club in an effort to get the spunky team promoted into the next tier of play in the English Football League system (if you have questions about how this works, refer them to Alex). 

And what can I say, except that I thoroughly enjoyed it? It’s heartfelt and self-aware enough to avoid being too cloyingly sweet or letting the viewer get too cynical about the baked-in self-promotion of two Hollywood actors doing a series about their own good deeds. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good underdog sports story. 

Grayson Logue, reporter for the Morning Dispatch

  1. Succession 
  2. Frasier (the original)

Succession aired its final episode this May and may now be my favorite TV show of all time. Each season exceeded the one before and the finale did not disappoint—a truly Shakespearean tale. I think I may have James beat on being late to a show with Frasier. I’m only a few seasons in, but when my brain is fried after finishing up a story for TMD it’s a delightful sitcom to unwind to. 

Jonah Goldberg, editor in chief

  1. The Bear (season 2)
  2. Happy Valley (final season)
  3. Walking Dead: Darryl Dixon
  4. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
  5. Barry (final season)

There was a lot of great TV in 2023, but as is always the case a lot of disappointing TV as well. The Last of Us started so strong, but peaked about halfway through. Ahsoka couldn’t hold a candle to Andor. With the exception of The Bear, which is just fantastic television, these are the shows I most looked forward to seeing the next episode of. That is to say, this list would look a little different if I were scoring purely for artistic quality. 

Michael Warren, senior editor

Our favorite television show of 2023 was Hulu’s The Bear. The series actually premiered in 2022, but as with most pop culture offerings, my wife and I came to it a little late. We ripped through both the first and second seasons this fall, and it’s one of those rare bits of entertainment I find myself thinking about frequently. 

Set in a struggling sandwich shop in Chicago, The Bear is, on the surface, just another prestige TV series that exploits the drama in the back and front of the house in the hypercompetitive restaurant world. But at its core it is a positive story about a team and its leader working independently and together to better themselves and achieve excellence.

Lead character Carmy is an award-winning chef who has returned from New York to manage the beef shop left to him by his dead brother. The first season explores his efforts to raise the standards for the staff and restaurant he’s inherited, while the second season shifts the story to the restaurant’s transformation into a fine-dining establishment. All the while, the narrative weaves in the personal struggles and demons of Carmy and the other characters. 

A lesser show would over-rely on the class or racial disparities within the diverse cast as a source of dramatic tension. A more cynical show would undercut its sincerity. But The Bear does neither, because it loves its characters and its subject too much. And its attitude toward haute cuisine is neither populist or elitist: Culinary greatness can be achieved by anyone on The Bear who accepts that greatness is a worthy goal. The complex characters who work so hard to achieve it stumble and suffer setbacks, but they also succeed—and when they do, you’ll stand up and cheer. We’re looking forward to a third season of The Bear in 2024.

Adaam James Levin‑Areddy, senior multimedia producer

Must See: Severance was the most original show I watched in ages. With so many shows created recently as mere background for phone scrolling, I forgot what it’s like to be fully engrossed episode by episode. Smart concept, eerie stylization, lovably twisted characters, and perfect tonal shifts from chilling suspense to dark comedy. 

Replaceable: I loved much in the first three episodes of The Last of Us (Nick Offerman made me cry and Christine Hakim gave me the meme of the decade). But the overall plot fell flat. If you want to see Eli and Joel go through their full arc, watch the original game. (Yes, I mean watch!)

A more recent disappointment was Blue Eye Samurai, which had a dazzling beginning but collapsed into a mess of lazy cliches and an even lazier and self-contradictory attempt at postcolonial commentary. For a far less clumsy effort to explore similar themes, I heartily recommend Kazuo Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans (yes, it’s from 2000, but good literature is timeless … plus I only read it this year!).

Declan Garvey, executive editor

  1. The Bear
  2. Succession
  3. Barry
  4. Cubs v. Cardinals, July 28, 2023
  5. Loki
  6. The Mandalorian
  7. Baby J” by John Mulaney
  8. “Beautiful Dogs” by Shane Gillis
  9. “Born on Third Base” by Gary Gulman

I’ll eventually finally stop wasting time on all of the IP-based Disney+ content, but this year sadly wasn’t the year—and 2025 probably won’t be either, with Andor finally slated to return.

But what an incredible second season for The Bear. The show managed to expand in scope and stakes—I doubt the original casting director expected to be able to secure Jamie Lee Curtis, Bob Odenkirk, John Mulaney, and Sarah Paulson for a single episode—while still maintaining the chaotic, intimate charm that initially drew viewers in.

That it’s set in Chicago—and features some of the best needle drops in television—doesn’t hurt.

Books.

James Scimecca, editor of the Morning Dispatch

  1. Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
  2. Eragon by Christopher Paolini 

Note to readers: Revisit young adult novels from your middle school days—as my friends and I did this summer when we learned a new book in the classic series would be published over a decade later—at your own risk. Some of these “classics” did not age well.

Mary Trimble, reporter for the Morning Dispatch

  1. All My Knotted Up Life: A Memoir by Beth Moore
  2. The Poldark Saga 1-4 by Winston Graham 

Reading Beth Moore’s memoir is what I imagine sitting down and having a cup of coffee with Beth Moore might be like. I laughed heartily. I cried mightily. And I was deeply inspired by a brave woman’s deep faith.

Familiar only with the PBS adaptation from a few years ago, I picked up the Poldark books over the summer not expecting very much at all. What I found was rich and detailed historical fiction that managed to place me squarely in late 1700s Cornwall without getting bogged down in lengthy descriptions. Eventually, I’ll make it through the next eight books in the series. 

Grayson Logue, reporter for the Morning Dispatch

These Truths is the best single-volume history of America I’ve read. Lepore is a traditional liberal historian and fully captures the beauty and paradoxes of the American story. Genius of Place tells the story of the man responsible for some of our most beautiful and enduring public spaces—Central Park, Prospect Park, and the U.S. Capitol grounds, among others. I watched the Lonesome Dove miniseries while growing up and only got around to reading the book this year. It’s a Western epic that manages to exceed the genre. 

Music.

James Scimecca, editor of the Morning Dispatch

  1. Pursuit of Wonder by Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers
  2. So Much (for) Stardust by Fall Out Boy
  3. The Album by Jonas Brothers
  4. I’ve Loved You For So Long by The Aces
  5. In the End It Always Does by The Japanese House

This was an excellent year for music (and concerts!), but I’ll spend my remaining ink talking about the latest release from one of my favorite less-famous bands. Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers, a six-piece band hailing from Michigan, effortlessly bounce between psychedelic funk and stripped-down acoustic ballads—and Pursuit of Wonder showcases the group at their best. The album tackles topics like the loneliness experienced by the Voyager spacecraft and the importance of praying for what you want, and in the end serves as a valuable reminder that our world is still very much full of wonders worth pursuing.

Grayson Logue, reporter for the Morning Dispatch

  1. Brown Noise Spotify playlist
  2. Some Kind-a-Shake by Tuba Skinny

I’m horrible when it comes to music—I’ve always listened to it as a means to an end, using it to keep me focused on work or school. Hence, I find myself often returning to Spotify’s Brown Noise playlist, which sounds like you’re cruising in a plane at 35,000 feet. But I’m a big fan of live music, especially at more intimate venues. I stumbled upon Tuba Skinny playing live in a bar in New Orleans this year and loved their sound. 

Mary Trimble, reporter for the Morning Dispatch 

  1. Weathervanes by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
  2. Brandy Clark by Brandy Clark 
  3. I Love by Dawes 
  4. Sticks and Stones by Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real
  5. City of Gold by Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway 
  6. I Can’t Give Everything Away by Spoon

In 2023, I saw some of my all-time favorites, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, on tour supporting their new record, Weathervanes. Isbell’s live performance did not disappoint (in fact, I might try for round two in 2024), and neither did the new songs. The album is exactly what a Jason Isbell album should be—full of evocative, moving storytelling and killer guitar licks. 

His music is rarely upbeat—and this collection is no exception, so consider yourself warned—and yet, the tunes still manage to be beautiful in their sensitive descriptions of ordinary people’s hardships. Middle of the Morning, about that particular brand of pandemic malaise, checks all the boxes—a gorgeous guitar riff and tender lyrics—but King of Oklahoma is probably the best song on the album. To listen to it is to watch a movie about the song’s protagonist, longing for his life before his addiction took over.

And if you need a palate-cleanser after a typical Isbell sobfest, listen to the charming cover of Tom T. Hall’s I Love by Dawes. It’s cheerful, earnest, and easy listening.

Declan Garvey, executive editor

  1. Appaloosa Bones by Gregory Alan Isakov
  2. Weathervanes by Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
  3. Jump for Joy by Hiss Golden Messenger
  4. Paint My Bedroom Black by Holly Humberstone
  5. Wasteland by Hippo Campus
  6. Caves by NEEDTOBREATHE
  7. Fever/Sky by Wilder Woods
  8. Higher by Chris Stapleton
  9. The Record by boygenius

Every record on this list is worth a listen, but I’m putting Appaloosa Bones first a) because it’s fantastic and b) because there’s a funny Dispatch story related to it. 

As is obvious to probably 98 percent of the people reading this, Gregory Alan Isakov is not exactly a household name. Yet at a Dispatch meeting on some Friday in October, we slowly realized that three different people on staff had independently bought tickets to the folk singer’s show in Washington, D.C. that night—and that one of us had extra seats so a fourth interested staffer could join. Mary, Alex, Steve, and I have impeccable taste in music.

Andrew Egger, associate editor

As a cultural fogey with two young kids, I didn’t spend much time in 2023 consuming new media. But I should put in a good word for new music from two old favorites: Sufjan Stevens’ Javelin and The National’s First Two Pages of Frankenstein. Sufjan is at his best when he’s at his weirdest, and Javelin is plenty weird. The National is sometimes derided as sad dad rock, but I liked them while I was neither sad nor a dad and still like them now that I’m halfway there.

Adaam James Levin‑Areddy, senior multimedia producer

Jazz bonus: If you happen to be into joyful, life-affirming jazz (I know for some of you this must be an oxymoron), this year had two releases that I keep looping: Peter Martin’s Generation S and Jennifer Wharton’s Grit and Grace.

Podcasts.

Victoria Holmes, associate audio/video editor

As someone who edits, re-edits, listens, and re-listens to Dispatch podcast episodes every day, these are the episodes I personally enjoyed over the last year. My criteria was based on: 1) insight gained on a difficult topic, 2) dynamic between the hosts/guest, and 3) what I can remember off the top of my head after being asked on the spot by TMD editor James for the fifth time. 

  1. Trump Davidians, The Dispatch Podcast
  2. Billable Hours by the Millions, Advisory Opinions
  3. The Bahnsen Conspiracy, The Remnant
  4. SCOTUS on Student Loan Forgiveness: Nope, Advisory Opinions
  5. 4Chan Putin Stan?, The Dispatch Podcast

Worth Your Time 

  • The New York Times published an in-depth investigation on Thursday into the sexual violence Hamas terrorists committed against women during the October 7 attacks. Using extensive eyewitness witness testimony and visual evidence, the report provides a comprehensive picture of how brutal and widespread rape was on that day. As a warning, parts of the article are graphic and difficult to read. “A two-month investigation by The Times uncovered painful new details, establishing that the attacks against women were not isolated events but part of a broader pattern of gender-based violence on Oct. 7,” the report read. “Relying on video footage, photographs, GPS data from mobile phones and interviews with more than 150 people, including witnesses, medical personnel, soldiers and rape counselors, The Times identified at least seven locations where Israeli women and girls appear to have been sexually assaulted or mutilated.” 

Presented Without Comment 

Wall Street Journal: Nikki Haley Says ‘Of Course’ Civil War Was About Slavery, Following Criticism

Also Presented Without Comment 

ABC News: [Republican Rep. Lauren] Boebert Switches Congressional Districts, Avoiding a Democratic Opponent Who Has Far Outraised Her

Toeing the Company Line

  • On the site: Scott Salvato breaks down the Catholic Church’s new declaration allowing priests to give blessings to same-sex couples, and Patrick McNamara marks the 75th anniversary of Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain.

Let Us Know

Now that you’ve heard our favorites, we want to hear some of your top shows, movies, music, and books of 2023!

James Scimecca works on editorial partnerships for The Dispatch, and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he served as the director of communications at the Empire Center for Public Policy. When James is not promoting the work of his Dispatch colleagues, he can usually be found running along the Potomac River, cooking up a new recipe, or rooting for a beleaguered New York sports team.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.