Here are the 10 best good but not great movies you should see – San Francisco Chronicle

This Little Man clapping is a Chronicle rating for good movies.
By now, we all now know the best and the worst movies of 2023. But sometimes a simple good movie is all we’re really looking for.
We’re not talking about attempts at greatness that fell short (“Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One”), but movies that no one intended to be great but just entertaining and a pleasure for people who want to go to the theater or cuddle up on the couch.
There’s something honest about those kinds of movies. They’re not looking over your head to awards season or to make history. They’re concerned only with the two hours in which they have your attention.
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Some of my favorite movie moments in any given year have taken place in these types of good movies. For 2023, I’m thinking of Maggie Q scaring three louts in a convenience store just by attitude in “Fear the Night”; Jamie Foxx’s dazzling summation to the jury in “The Burial”; a hardcore comedy scene that’ll make you laugh and cringe at the same time in “Strays”; Sigourney Weaver flying into a cold-blooded rage in “Master Gardener”; and Liam Neeson falling off a bridge in order to avoid an exploding car in “Retribution.”
Here’s why — and a few more titles, in alphabetical order:
Matt Damon portrays the Nike executive who signed Michael Jordan to a shoe deal in “Air.”
This good old-fashioned biopic tells the story of Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), the Nike executive who had the idea for the Air Jordan shoe line. It’s not a story of great consequence, but, while you’re watching it, Damon and director Ben Affleck make you feel like the fate of the world is riding on whether future basketball great Michael Jordan decides to sign with Nike.
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Tommy Lee Jones, left, and Jamie Foxx star in the semi-comic courtroom drama “The Burial.”
Director Maggie Betts followed her magnificent 2017 debut, “Novitiate,” with this effective semi-comic courtroom drama, starring Jamie Foxx as a flashy lawyer and Tommy Lee Jones as his client, a funeral director going up against a sinister conglomerate. It’s not a great movie, but it’s about the most well-directed good movie as you’re likely to see.
Maggie Q in “Fear the Night.”
Maggie Q plays an alcoholic veteran who becomes the sole source of defense when the bridal shower she’s attending — at a remote house in the woods, of course — comes under attack by homicidal maniacs. Oh, those poor maniacs. They just got Maggie Q mad at them. With her talent for action, she should be making three movies like this every year.
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Joel Edgerton, left, and Sigourney Weaver star in “Master Gardener.”
Paul Schrader’s tales of Christian redemption (“First Reformed”) are never delicate. In his latest, nice-guy Joel Edgerton works as a gardener on the estate of a scary rich woman (Sigourney Weaver), and no one knows his past unless he takes off his shirt and reveals he’s covered in white nationalist and Nazi swastika tattoos.  
Lily Tomlin, left, and Jane Fonda star in “Moving On.”
Because it stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin of the hit comedy series “Grace and Frankie,” this movie was marketed as a comedy. But “Moving On” is really a serious film about a woman (Fonda) planning to kill the man who raped her 45 years ago. When her friend (Tomlin) tells her to let it go because it was “four and a half decades ago,” Fonda’s face goes cold, and she says, “It. Was. Yesterday.” A great moment.
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“No Hard Feelings,” starring Jennifer Lawrence, left, and Andrew Barth Feldman, showcases Lawrence’s irreverence and fearlessness well.
A financially desperate woman in her early 30s (Jennifer Lawrence) is hired by a pair of helicopter parents to make friends and have sex with their shy, socially withdrawn son so that he can enter college unburdened by virginity. This crass comedy brought together and amplified much of what we’ve always liked about Lawrence — her irreverence, her naturalness, her unexpected sensitivity and her fearlessness.
Benicio Del Toro as Tom Nichols in “Reptile.”
The feature debut of director Grant Singer was structured as a whodunit set in a small town. But the movie’s real source of interest was Benicio Del Toro, who plays a laid-back, seemingly mellow but utterly incorruptible detective. Del Toro has rarely had such an extended opportunity to build a character onscreen, and he does it here beautifully.
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Liam Neeson in “Retribution.”
Liam Neeson is driving his kids to school one day when he gets a phone call telling him that there’s a bomb in his car. Hijinks ensue. This was the best, most satisfying Neeson thriller in years.
Reggie, left, and Will Forte in “Strays.”
Will Ferrell is the voice of a naive, good-natured dog who becomes bent on revenge when he realizes that his master (East Bay native Will Forte) has abandoned him. The comic climax has teeth. It’s shockingly funny.
Tobias Menzies, left, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in “You Hurt My Feelings.”
An aspiring novelist (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) overhears her husband tell a mutual friend that he doesn’t like her new book, a betrayal that undermines her faith both in her book and in her marriage. Director Nicole Holofcener provides an excellent showcase for Louis-Dreyfus’ variety of pain-based comedy. 
Reach Mick LaSalle:
Mick LaSalle is the film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, where he has worked since 1985. He is the author of two books on pre-censorship Hollywood, “Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood” and “Dangerous Men: Pre-Code Hollywood and the Birth of the Modern Man.” Both were books of the month on Turner Classic Movies and “Complicated Women” formed the basis of a TCM documentary in 2003, narrated by Jane Fonda. He has written introductions for a number of books, including Peter Cowie’s “Joan Crawford: The Enduring Star” (2009). He was a panelist at the Berlin Film Festival and has served as a panelist for eight of the last ten years at the Venice Film Festival.  His latest book, a study of women in French cinema, is “The Beauty of the Real: What Hollywood Can Learn from Contemporary French Actresses.”
He can be reached at







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