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AARP’s Favorite Movies of 2023

‘Oppenheimer,’ ‘Still’ and ‘Maestro’ are some of film critic Tim Appelo’s top picks


spinner image collage of characters from different movies
Photo Collage MOA: (Source: Left to Right: Focus Features; Apple TV+ (2); Warner Bros. Pictures; Universal/Everett Collection; A24 Films; MGM/Everett Collection)

Want to see a film that’s worth your time? Use our must-see list to make sure you don’t miss a winner. 

 

spinner image simu liu, margot robbie and ryan gosling in a still from barbie
Warner Bros. Pictures

Barbie

In a blockbuster nobody expected to be this superb, the renowned Mattel doll (Margot Robbie) leaves her platonic pal Ken (Ryan Gosling) and her girly, party-hearty utopia Barbieland for the chillier real world, where Mattel’s CEO (Will Ferrell, 56) presides over an all-male board that won’t play nice and wants to put her in a box. But he can’t stop the music she lives to dance to, as Barbie gets ever "Closer to Fine" (while rocking out to the famous tune from the Indigo Girls). It’s the hit of the year, the biggest smash ever directed by a woman, visually innovative, apt to fetch five or 10 Oscar nominations, exhilarating and thought-provoking — and very, very funny. Rated PG-13 

 

spinner image michael b jordan as adonis creed and jonathan majors as damian anderson in creed 3
Eli Ade/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

Creed III

Sylvester Stallone, 77, rooted Rocky’s strength and resilience in gritty, unpretentious Philadelphia neighborhoods. Director/star Michael B. Jordan roots Adonis Creed’s in the loving, creative life he builds in Bel-Air, California, with his brilliant rock composer wife (Tessa Thompson) and feisty young daughter (Mila Davis-Kent). When Creed’s bitter South L.A. bestie (Jonathan Majors) emerges from 18 years in the slammer to claim the heavyweight title, Creed must honor this street bond while proving that a super-civilized man can be as dangerous in the ring as any jail-hardened bruiser. It’s Jordan’s debut as an important new director, and like the original Rocky, it gives fresh blood to an old genre, not only by making Creed a hero fit to fight in Rocky’s footsteps, but by relinquishing Stallone’s sentimentality and injecting the fight scenes with interesting new cinematic influences, like Japanese anime. Rated PG-13

 

spinner image cillian murphy as j robert in a still from oppenheimer
Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures/Everett Collection

 Oppenheimer

Cillian Murphy excels as the weird Oppy, who pioneered black hole physics, then fathered the atomic bomb, won the war and earned a nation’s gratitude (until it turned on him). His boss, Brig. Gen. Leslie Richard Groves Jr. (Matt Damon, 53), tells him, "You’re a dilettante, a womanizer, unstable, theatrical, neurotic!" If ever a scientist was destined for a nearly billion-dollar hit flick with sky-high best picture Oscar odds, it’s Oppenheimer. This high-IQ biopic is the third-highest-grossing film of 2023, the highest-grossing World War II film and the highest-grossing biopic of all time. It’s sensational-looking. And it makes you think hard about important questions. Rated R

 

spinner image dominic sessa as angus tully and paul giamatti as paul hunham in a still from the holdovers
FOCUS FEATURES

The Holdovers

Director Alexander Payne, 62, made actor Paul Giamatti, 56, famous in his 2004 California wine country comedy Sideways. They reunite in an Oscar-touted hit about a curmudgeon (Giamatti’s specialty) who teaches at a New England prep school and is stuck on campus to babysit a few students over Christmas break in the early 1970s. He bonds with one chronic misfit kid (Dominic Sessa) and the school’s cook (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), who’s mourning her son, a former student at the school who was headed for Swarthmore but, cash-poor, was sent to die in Vietnam. This is a hilarious, poignant movie in a beautiful, character-rich retro-1970s style. It’s a Christmas movie as uplifting as the saddest of Christmas songs, and as full of hope against all odds. Rated R

 

spinner image janae collins, lily gladstone, cara jade myers and jillian dion in killers of the flower moon
Apple TV+

Killers of the Flower Moon

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita on Earth were the Native Americans of Osage County, Oklahoma, who made a canny deal to own the mineral rights under the land to which they had been exiled. It was thought worthless until they struck oil, and they soon owned more luxury Pierce-Arrow autos than people in any other American county. But local philanthropist and plutocrat William “King” Hale (Robert De Niro) devised a plan and urged his dim-witted nephew (Leonardo DiCaprio) to marry a wealthy Osage diabetic (Lily Gladstone), who keeps getting mysteriously sicker. It’s Martin Scorsese’s ultimate gangster film with a moral core, gripping for 206 minutes straight and scary because true. It’s a master class in acting by two generations’ worth of top talents — De Niro, 80, and DiCaprio, 49 — and they’re still upstaged by the radiant Gladstone. Rated R

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spinner image bradley cooper as leonard bernstein in a still from maestro
Jason McDonald/Netflix

Maestro

Director and star Bradley Cooper dazzlingly embodies the contradictory whole of symphony conductor and West Side Story composer Leonard Bernstein. And as his Costa Rica–born Broadway star wife Felicia Montealegre, Carey Mulligan is even better. We feel her luminous intelligence and big heart, the spark between them, and her exasperation when he courts handsome youths at their legendary posh parties. Like Cooper’s 2018 debut hit A Star Is Born, it takes you on a wild ride of success and reckless romance, only this time it really happened. It captures two lives well — if tumultuously — lived. Rated R

 

spinner image annette bening as diana nyad in a still from nyad
Liz Parkinson/Netflix

Nyad

Annette Bening, 65, is generating Oscar buzz for this biopic of Diana Nyad, a competitive swimmer who long dreamed of swimming from Cuba to Florida. Decades after a failed attempt at age 28, she returned to the waters to try again. And again. And again. With the support of a loyal friend and coach (Jodie Foster, 61) and a sea captain (Rhys Ifans, 56), she eschews a shark cage and battles jellyfish, the elements and her own demons. This is the feel-good story of one stubborn and determined woman who made history at an age when people thought she couldn’t, and it doubles as a moving grownup buddy picture. Rated PG-13

 

spinner image greta lee as nora and teo yoo as hae sung in a still from past lives
A24 Films

 Past Lives

When her old friend Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) visits from her native country, a modern Korean American woman, Nora (Greta Lee), finds herself at a romantic crossroads. Will she remain with her supportive Manhattan hipster husband Arthur (John Magaro)? Or is the power of the past so compelling that she’ll embrace the soulmate best friend, now grown, whom she left in South Korea two decades before when she emigrated with her family? In this leisurely, graceful, mesmerizing romance, the magnetic Lee navigates between the past and the present, pragmatism and magical possibilities. It’s a movie about something a lot of grownups do: ponder who we are versus who we were, and weigh the life we’ve chosen against what might have been, and who we still could be. Rated PG-13

 

spinner image michael j fox in a still from still a michael j fox movie
Apple TV+

 Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie

“Still” may be the last adjective we’d think of when discussing Back to the Future’s Michael J. Fox, 62. The diminutive Canadian found domestic TV success at 16, then stole the show Family Ties as Alex P. Keaton, the conservative son of left-leaning parents, with his hyper-physicality and targeted zingers. In this moving bio-doc, Fox addresses the kinetic youngster he was, and the wall he hit on the cusp of 30, in 1991, when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Decades later, married with four grown children, the ’80s icon reveals how he copes with pain and muscle tremors — and how his quick wit remains utterly unimpaired. He’s not the only one who’s going to have to reconsider priorities after an ailment strikes  and figure out how to make the most of life when the unthinkable happens. Still is a deep dive into a fascinating and inspiring mind. Rated R

 

spinner image people in grass next to body of water
A24 Films

 The Zone of Interest

In a loose adaptation of Martin Amis’ best-selling novel of the same name, the “Queen of Auschwitz” (Sandra Hüller), the wife of Nazi commander Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), tends to her kids in an Edenic garden lit by the crematoria yards away. She tries to support her husband’s career ambitions and comforts herself with items stolen from the camp’s victims, like fur coats and, occasionally, a tube of stolen toothpaste in which somebody hid precious jewelry. The most original Holocaust movie in recent memory, it offers insight into the banality of evil as penetrating as Hannah Arendt’s famous book on Adolf Eichmann, Hüller, a German, is the most brilliant new foreign actress to win worldwide fame in 2023. Rated PG-13

Love our picks? Think we missed something? Scroll down to the Conversation section and share your favorite movies.

 

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