STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS Rey, BB-8, a luggabeast, and the brave hero Teedo the teedo.

recommended 2001: A Space Odyssey
"Open the pod bay doors, HAL."

recommended The Big Short
There's nothing subtle about The Big Short. Director Adam McKay (Anchorman) uses every trick in the Martin Scorsese handbook—freeze-frame, montage, fourth-wall-breaking narration—to tell the true story of a few investors who predicted the catastrophic financial crisis of 2008. Christian Bale, not exactly a low-key performer to begin with, is given Asperger's, a stutter, and a glass eye; Steve Carell's grieving money manager can't help but speak his mind; and Ryan Gosling is apparently the biggest sleaze in finance—an industry already oozing sleaze out of its finely tailored seams. These guys, among others, foresaw the burst of the housing bubble and invested against it—hoping to profit on Wall Street's unrepentant greed. NED LANNAMANN

recommended Bridge of Spies
Spielberg's first film since 2012's Lincoln is an exceptional job of work—a deliberately old-fashioned hybrid of courtroom drama and Cold War skullduggery that's so expertly put together that you may not realize the beauty of its construction until after the fact. ANDREW WRIGHT

recommended Brooklyn
With the exception of that time she played an assassin in Hanna, Saoirse Ronan is often confined to roles unworthy of someone who can actually act (see: The Lovely Bones). So it's exciting to see her carry a well-constructed film once again with Brooklyn, an understated study of a young Irish woman caught between her ancestral home in Ireland and 1950s New York. MEGAN BURBANK

recommended Carol
Carol is set in the 1950s, which was not a great time for gay people getting to live the lives they deserved. That makes it all the more remarkable that the film, based on the Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt, doesn't punish its characters by dooming them to misery or early death, like most of the non-straight narratives Hollywood offers up. If creativity thrives within limits, Carol makes a pretty good case that love can, too—although it certainly shouldn't have to. ALISON HALLETT

Chi-Raq
Spike Lee's ambitious new film tackles inner-city Chicago violence through the power of the pussy (I wish I were exaggerating). IJEOMA OLUO

Concussion
A drama about forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), who the NFL tried to shut up once he started publicizing his research about how NFL players suffer major brain damage, leading to dementia and suicide. Fitting, then, that even Concussion felt the wrath of the NFL, as the New York Times reported in September: "In dozens of studio emails unearthed by hackers, Sony executives; the director, Peter Landesman; and representatives of Mr. Smith discussed how to avoid antagonizing the NFL by altering the script and marketing the film more as a whistle-blower story, rather than a condemnation of football or the league."

Contact Dance Film Festival
A collaboration between NW Film Center and BodyVox, featuring collaborations between filmmakers, dancers, and choreographers. More at nwfilm.org.

recommended Creed
Creed is the latest entry in the Rocky franchise, though it's the first that doesn't include a writing credit from Sylvester Stallone. It probably took a lot of nerve for the star to allow relative newcomer Ryan Coogler (who gave us 2013's excellent Fruitvale Station) to take the directorial reins—but the payoff is oh-so-worth it. Creed is not only a loving homage to Rocky, it builds upon the legend while maintaining the original film's heart and purity. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY

recommended Crimson Peak
"It's not a ghost story," Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) says in Crimson Peak. "It's a story with a ghost in it." Edith isn't talking about Crimson Peak, though she might as well be. Guillermo del Toro's latest is a visually sumptuous gothic romance—one that, amidst all the melodrama, offers slivers of sly wit, loving nods to classic horror, and, by the time it's over, quite a bit of blood. It also has a ghost in it. Or two. Or three. ERIK HENRIKSEN

Daddy's Home
Will Ferrell. Mark Wahlberg. Fighting over the love of a household. What do you need, a roadmap? With regular collaborator Adam McKay busy doing The Big Short, this partial The Other Guys reunion feels even more erratically hangdog than normal, wobbling uncertainly between lengthy improv digressions and musty family comedy conventions, sometimes in the very same scene. Still, the chemistry of the leads is undeniable, especially when bouncing off of folks like Linda Cardellini and Hannibal Buress. (Thomas Haden Church, assuming the role that Gary Cole usually plays in these things, is an absolute hoot.) It'll do until the next one. ANDREW WRIGHT

The Danish Girl
The Danish Girl takes place in the Expanded Universe of Oscar Bait, where the light is diffuse, all prostitutes are beautiful, everyone speaks vaguely accented English, and the only litter in the world is that plastic bag from American Beauty. Here, Eddie Redmayne—the reigning king of the EUOB—plays Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe, a Danish painter who was one of the first people to undergo sex-reassignment surgery. Most of The Danish Girl is about Lili's wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander), coming to terms with the fact that her husband is a woman, as if that's the interesting story here. ALISON HALLETT

recommended The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino's nasty new western isn't an epic. Sure, it's three hours long and shot in 70mm, but The Hateful Eight is a deceptively simple chess game that has more in common with Reservoir Dogs than Tarantino's last two films. Even the title is misleading: I counted nine, possibly 10 characters that could be considered "hateful." Bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is bringing wanted murderer Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the Wyoming town of Red Rock to be hanged. Along a snowy mountain pass he encounters another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), along with Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), supposedly Red Rock's new sheriff. The group seeks shelter at Minnie's Haberdashery, where other mysterious men are waiting out a blizzard. At least one standoff is inevitable. Despite the roadshow rollout, this isn't so much a grand-scale epic as much as an Agatha Christie-style chamber piece. (In other words, you'll be fine if you see it at the multiplex.) Sure, the photography is rich and pictorial—we see icicles dripping from the horses, and the deep focus works wonderfully for the lengthy interior sequences. But the characters and their shifting alliances drive Tarantino's wicked stagecoach. The very slow first half pays off in the grisly second half, and the performances are spectacular (particularly Leigh and Goggins). Tarantino's suspenseful puzzle box requires patience—and rewards it. NED LANNAMANN Hollywood Theatre.

recommended Hitchcock/Truffaut
"Hitchcock had freed Truffaut as an artist, and Truffaut wanted to reciprocate by freeing Hitchcock from his reputation as a light entertainer," Bob Balaban narrates in Kent Jones' documentary. Heavy on the Hitchcock and light on the Truffaut, Hitchcock/Truffaut is pieced together from the audio tapes recorded when Truffaut interviewed Hitchcock for his 1966 book—but also boasts interviews with contemporary directors who fanboy out over Hitchcock's work, including David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, Olivier Assayas, Peter Bogdanovich, Richard Linklater, and Wes Anderson. ERIK HENRIKSEN

Janis: Little Girl Blue
Amy Berg's documentary about the rock legend, taken from letters she wrote during her long, strange trip into stardom. Narrated by Cat Power.

recommended Joy
I had some misgivings about Joy—namely, that it looked a lot like David O. Russell pandering to feminists. But after seeing Jennifer Lawrence's acting in the final, interminable Hunger Games movies amount to stony-faced pouting, it's a huge relief to see her back in the game as a character slowly self-actualizing in the face of pretty terrible odds. If this is what his pandering looks like, maybe Russell should do it more often. MEGAN BURBANK

Macbeth
Out of all of Shakespeare's back catalog, Macbeth has perhaps been the best cinematically served, with such Hall of Famers as Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, and Roman Polanski applying their distinctive worldviews to the material. (Polanski's 1971 version, his first film following the death of Sharon Tate, is still an amazingly tangible, all-encompassing ode to mud and blood and smoke and shit.) From the first frames of relative newcomer Justin Kurzel's adaptation, which stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, it becomes apparent that his method of putting his stamp on the prose is to, well, ruthlessly pare away much of the prose. While the Big Scenes are rendered with a ravishing starkness, the connective tissue that's allowed to remain tends to fall away into a low-toned dirge. Even those viewers unfamiliar with the source material may sometimes feel like they're flipping through a brutally gorgeous set of CliffsNotes. ANDREW WRIGHT

Mustang
Mustang's thesis is pretty explicit: Let's not sell little girls into marriage-slavery! And when faced with the two divergent paths the film proposes—with education and equality for girls on one side, and perpetuation of a system that enslaves and abuses them on the other—I'm pretty sure we're all gonna land on the side of education and mobility. Politically, that's great; cinematically, that stance generates so little friction that it's not altogether compelling to spend two hours exploring it. ALISON HALLETT

recommended The Night Before
Perhaps the only Christmas movie that offers both a whole lot of dick pics and the sad, lonely sense of desperation that defines the holidays. It also features Seth Rogen throwing up all over a midnight mass. ERIK HENRIKSEN

Noma: My Perfect Storm
A documentary about chef René Redzepi and Noma, a Copenhagen restaurant "at the forefront of experimenting with new techniques in food."

recommended Orson Welles at 100
The NW Film Center's retrospective brings together a wide array of movies that reflect our current understanding of Welles' work as director and actor. See "From Genius to Pitchman: Orson Welles at 100," Dec 9. ROBERT HAM

Point Break
Not only does this Point Break not understand why the real Point Break worked, it also doesn't understand how movies in general work. Look, you could have given me a big dumb crime caper with some wingsuit antics, and I'd be a happy camper. But this is a goddamn garbage fire, and everybody should be ashamed. BEN COLEMAN

recommended Room
Room is about a boy who is born in the garden shed where his mother, "Ma" (Brie Larson), has been kept captive for seven years, ever since she was abducted at age 17. Five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) has never seen the world outside of the shed—he doesn't even know such a world exists—and when Ma decides Jack is finally old enough to help carry out an escape attempt, the plan she concocts is dangerous and thrilling. But there's much more to this story: Room is based on the 2010 novel of the same name by Irish Canadian author Emma Donoghue. I read the book in one sitting—in a paroxysm of anxiety and emotional investment that kept me awake until 3 am—and came away impressed by its thoughtful, unexpected treatment of incredibly disturbing subject matter. The film succeeds by the same token. ALISON HALLETT

recommended Sicario
What's the opposite of evaporate? Whatever it is, that's what Sicario does. When so many movies and TV shows disappear from memory as soon as you're finished watching, Sicario lingers. It clots. Denis Villeneuve's new drug thriller is phenomenal. Its story is both personal and political, a scathing portrait of the drug war, as well as an elemental allegory in which moral dilemmas are depicted by characters crashing violently into each other. NED LANNAMANN

recommended Sisters
At the screening I attended, a man beside me, horrified, kept shouting, "Oh my GOD!" whenever Amy Poehler or Tina Fey said anything remotely crude. If that's not a resounding endorsement, I don't know what is. MEGAN BURBANK

The Somnambulists
An experimental, sci-fi animated film blending the aesthetics of silent film and graphic novel. Director in attendance.

recommended Spotlight
Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d'Arcy James play the Boston Globe's "spotlight" team of investigative journalists who were tasked with looking into child molestation charges leveled at Boston's beloved Catholic Archdiocese. Translating a highly detailed true story to film could sound like a staged reading of a Wikipedia page, or worse, trivialize the victims' experiences—and Spotlight walks dangerously close to this precipice. However, other than a few hammy moments, this film somehow manages to pull it off. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY

recommended Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Force Awakens starts like Star Wars, has a middle like Empire Strikes Back, and ends like Return of the Jedi. It's a best-of Star Wars mixtape. But one doesn't go to the seventh chapter in the most-watched series of all time seeking originality. It's not a question of whether there's a lot of new here (although this is easily the prettiest, most kinetic film in the series), it's a question of whether director J.J. Abrams can do justice to one of cinema's best-loved pop songs. And thanks to stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, and the best work from Harrison Ford in decades, Abrams hits the notes he needs to, clearly and strongly. BOBBY ROBERTS


recommended MEANS WE RECOMMEND IT. Theater locations are accurate Friday, January 1-Thursday, January 7, unless otherwise noted. Movie times are updated daily and are available here.