These are the movies that impressed me most in the last twelve months, regardless of platform.

Most of them did not earn big numbers at the box office, but they put a smile on my face. My capsule reviews are below, and you can read my full reviews by clicking on the title of each movie.

#1) “American Fiction” Cord Jefferson’s big screen writing and directing debut is the clever, funny story of a Black writer frustrated by the way the publishing world treats people who look like him. Jeffrey Wright is perfect in the lead role, with a supporting cast that includes Tracee Ellis Ross, Issa Rae, Sterling K. Brown, and Leslie Uggams. While “American Fiction” has some serious things to say about race and class, it also had me laughing out loud at several points.

#2) “Killers Of The Flower Moon” Martin Scorsese delivers another historical epic, this time about an indigenous community in Oklahoma made rich by oil, then devastated by greedy white men. With stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, and a breakout performance by Lily Gladstone, “Killers Of The Flower Moon” pops off the screen, never dragging despite its three-and-a-half-hour runtime. The story is compelling, set direction and production design are beautiful, and the soundtrack by the late Robbie Robertson fits perfectly into every scene.


#3) “The Holdovers” In Alexander Payne’s new movie, Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and newcomer Dominic Sessa spend Christmas break together at a New England private school in 1970. Payne has always been good with small, character-focused stories, and this one’s right in his wheelhouse. Few actors play curmudgeons better than Giamatti. Surrounded by a bunch of privileged white boys in 1970 New England, he rises to the task beautifully. Randolph continues her run of impressive performances, while Sessa is a revelation in his first feature role.

#4) “Maestro” Bradley Cooper proves that “A Star Is Born” wasn’t a one-off. He returns as star, director, and co-writer of this biopic of composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein and his longtime marriage to his wife, Felicia. Cooper not only replicates Bernstein’s look and sound, but also his passion for music and musicians. As good as he is, Carey Mulligan is even better as Felicia, artfully depicting the highs and lows of the marriage with style and substance while displaying a completely believable chemistry with Cooper. “Maestro” is a triumphant tribute to the man who wrote the music for “West Side Story,” “On The Town,” “Candide,” and so much more.

#5) “Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning, Part 1” Before seeing this seventh installment in Tom Cruise’s “Mission Impossible” series, I turned to a friend and offered my pre-review: “The stunts will be incredible, but the plot will be incomprehensible.” After watching the movie for two hours and forty-five minutes, I stand by that eleven-word summary. This time around, Cruise rides a motorcycle off a high cliff, engages in a fight atop a train in motion, and gets behind the wheel for a high-speed car chase through Rome. Director Christopher McQuarrie has worked with Cruise many times, and he knows that the star loves doing his own stunts — and has the skills to pull them off. So, McQuarrie makes sure his cameras get up close allowing us to see it’s actually Cruise doing the work. The plot barely matters, but the result is awfully impressive.

#6) “Pinball: The Man Who Saved The Game” Mike Faist — so good as Riff in Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake — plays Roger Sharpe, who discovered his love of pinball at college in Wisconsin in the early seventies. But when he moved to New York, he discovered pinball was illegal in the city, and had been for more than three decades because politicians considered it gambling. Faist then worked with other pinball advocates to change the law. That sounds like a dry drama, but writer/directors Austin and Meredith Bragg — in their big-screen debut — keep the story entertaining and amusing. The movie didn’t get a lot of attention, but should have, if only for the droopy mustache Faist wears throughout.

#7) “Boston Strangler” As “She Said” (which I reviewed here) did with the NY Times journalists who broke the Harvey Weinstein scandal wide open, “Boston Strangler” tells the tale from the perspective of the two women who investigated and revealed many of the details of the serial killer who terrorized the city in the mid-1960s. I never knew the full story of the Boston Strangler, but always thought there was a lone culprit, Albert DeSalvo. But writer/director Matt Ruskin’s screenplay doesn’t stop with the charges against DeSalvo. It also explores the likelihood that other men committed similarly brutal attacks on women in Boston and elsewhere in the northeast. Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon are excellent in the lead roles.

#8) “You Hurt My Feelings” Writer/director Nicole Holofcener returns with a movie about the little lies married couples (and friends) tell each other — and the not-so-little ones. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who also starred in Holofcener’s “Enough Said”) stars as Beth, a writer who discovers her husband’s been lying about liking her new novel. Meanwhile, As Beth’s husband, Don, Tobias Menzies strikes just the right tone as a therapist who has lost all interest in his patients — including Amber Tamblyn, David Cross, and Zach Cherry from “Severance” — and thus can’t offer them much in the way of advice. With a supporting cast that also includes the always-reliable Michaela Watkins and Jeannie Berlin, plus another dynamic lead performance by Louis-Dreyfus, Holofcener delivers another winner.

#9) “Past Lives” Here’s a movie with no car chases, no gunfights, no superheroes. Rather, it’s the story of two people who grow up together, then separate, and reunite years later. The close friendship of two 12-year-olds in South Korea gets torn apart when her parents move the family to Canada. By the time they see each other again decades later, she’s married and enjoying a new life, while he obviously still carries a torch for her. As Nora, Greta Lee (“Russian Doll,” “The Morning Show”) makes every moment count, with an expressive facial gesture or a mere touch of her hand. Teo Yoo isn’t given as much to do, yet makes us fully understand the depth of yearning Hae Sung has carried around while wondering what could have been. John Magaro nicely straddles the thin line between Arthur’s love for his wife and mild jealousy.

#10) “Dumb Money” Remember a couple of years ago when GameStop, that video game store you never entered at the mall, was suddenly in the headlines? It started when a guy named Keith Gill began posting on a Reddit forum called Wall Street Bets that he had been following GameStop stock, thought it was very undervalued, and had started buying a bunch of shares. At the same time, several hedge fund managers had come to the exact opposite conclusion and bet tens of millions that the stock’s price would go down. Director Craig Gillespie turns that into an almost farcical story, with help from star Paul Dano and a supporting cast that includes Shailene Woodley, America Ferrera, Seth Rogen, Nick Offerman, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Pete Davidson. You don’t have to know a single thing about Wall Street to enjoy “Dumb Money.”

I’ll post my list of the Worst Movies Of 2023 tomorrow.