recommended 12 Years a Slave
Solomon (the brilliant Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free black man, living in the North, who is abducted into slavery in 1841. Twelve years later, he's released. During those 12 years, he is a slave, and something of a stand-in for the modern viewer: He's intelligent, he's educated, and most crucially, he's attuned to the horror and injustice that surrounds him. Our attempts to comprehend life under slavery parallel his own: We share his terror when he wakes up in chains after a night of heavy drinking with two friendly-seeming white men. We understand his urge to fight back against those who have separated him from his family. We chafe to find him at the mercy of men who are his physical and intellectual inferior. And, through his eyes, the utterly schizophrenic nature of slavery is revealed. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.

47 Ronin
Opens Wed Dec 25. Not screened for critics. Various Theaters.

recommended American Hustle
See review this issue. Various Theaters.

recommended Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
See review this issue. Various Theaters.

recommended The Armstrong Lie
A fascinating, unique portrait of Lance Armstong that's at once sympathetic and damning. While director Alex Gibney reveals how irredeemably corrupt professional cycling has become, and points out Armstrong is hardly the sport's only cheater, he also never loses sight of Armstrong as a driven, cruel, and fallible man. The Armstrong Lie captures the charisma of Armstrong and the excitement of the Tour de France, even as it reveals the hollowness within. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.

Bad Grandpa
Jackass mastermind Johnny Knoxville dresses up like an old man and does things that old dudes aren't supposed to do, like perv on ladies and try to have sex with vending machines. And he's got a kid with him, and the kid does stuff that kids aren't supposed to do, like drink beer and say words like "asshole." And they do those things in front of unsuspecting passersby, who are horrified and amused and concerned, and some of it is funny and some of it is not. A fake penis is involved. A couple times. It isn't bad, exactly, but there's the thing: Johnny Knoxville is kind of old. His actual penis probably doesn't look so hot. And Bad Grandpa just seems a little tired. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.

The Best Man Holiday
A Christmas-themed sequel to 1999's The Best Man, starring Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, and Regina Hall. More importantly, the soundtrack features R. Kelly's beloved holiday ballad "Christmas I'll Be Steppin'." Various Theaters.

recommended The Big Lebowski
"It's like what Lenin said... you look for the person who will benefit, and... uh...." Clinton Street Theater.

recommended Blue Is the Warmest Color
An excellent movie. It's three hours long, and it feels half that; it's a fantastically realistic and well-drawn love story between two women that ranks among the best I've ever seen. (Sorry, Better Than Chocolate.) Blue is about a high schooler, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), who falls for blue-haired college student Emma (Léa Seydoux) the first time she sees her. Adèle is needy and aimless, hungry for sexual attention, and the two enter into a beautifully adolescent relationship, all hungry sexuality and deep, pseudo-intellectual conversations. As the years pass and the women age, beautiful, vague Adèle slowly begins to come into focus, but it's not until she screws things up with Emma that she—and we—understand how much the relationship really means to her. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.

recommended Blue Jasmine
Woody Allen has been making "the best Woody Allen movie in 20 years" for nearly 20 years. In the past decade alone, critics have gone so far as to knight Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and even the (real talk) actually totally shitty Midnight in Paris with the dubious title. It's a critical cliché as lazy as it is meaningless, and I suspect you'll be hearing it a lot in relation to Blue Jasmine, this year's innocuously titled entry into the annual Allen canon. If you're anything like me, you'll roll your eyes and temper your expectations. So let me be the first to say this definitively: Blue Jasmine is not the best Woody Allen movie in 20 years. But it is one of the best dramas he's ever made. ZAC PENNINGTON Various Theaters.

The Book Thief
I don't know about you, but I prefer to keep the giggles to a minimum during World War II movies. It just was not a charming time. The Book Thief opts for a Life Is Beautiful-esque approach to the war: What if we focus on the happy stuff? I'll tell you what happens: It makes the audience super uncomfortable. ELINOR JONES Various Theaters.

A Christmas Story
The beloved holiday film that gets super awkward in that one scene where they go to the Chinese restaurant. OMSI Empirical Theater.

Cool Runnings
Wherefore art thou, Doug E. Doug? Dig a Pony.

The Counselor
Cormac McCarthy wrote The Counselor as a straight-up screenplay and teamed up with director Ridley Scott, which makes it hard to figure out why The Counselor doesn't work nearly as well as it should: McCarthy offers a reliable serving of dour philosophy and new and exciting ways to kill people, and Scott reigns in the aloof goofiness that plagued Prometheus. The Counselor's plot is vague but propulsive; the performances, aside from a few iffy moments from Michael Fassbender and a whole lot of iffy moments from Cameron Diaz, are solid; the visuals, as one would expect from any Scott production, are very pretty. But by the time it ends, The Counselor feels like a series of sequences that never make a coherent movie. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.

Dallas Buyers Club
In addition to being an electrician and a part-time rodeo bull rider, Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) was also a career partier—a thorough user of drugs and a prolific fucker of women. When he contracted AIDS in 1986, the disease was still, in the public's eye, very much limited to the realm of gay men. Woodroof overcame not only his deeply ingrained homophobia but, for many years, the disease itself: He smuggled in non-approved medications from Mexico, Japan, and elsewhere, selling them to HIV-positive patients while the FDA remained in Big Pharma's thrall. The movie sputters at the end, as it attempts to draw tears from the audience while remaining true to the facts. It doesn't do either of those things very well, but for the first hour and a half, McConaughey's exceptional performance is riveting enough. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.

Despicable Me 2
I don't know... it's probably fine? You probably hoped that your children would have more discerning tastes than fart jokes and merciless cartoon violence by now, but kids are dumb and the worst, and it's literally going to make $500,000,000 regardless of what anybody says, so whatevs? ZAC PENNINGTON Various Theaters.

recommended Die Hard
"Oh, John, what the fuck are you doing? How the fuck did you get into this shit?" Hollywood Theatre, Laurelhurst Theater.

Don Jon
I'll concede that Joseph Gordon-Levitt has earned the right to direct a modest, low-stakes indie flick, and that's precisely what Don Jon is: the story of a simple, porn-addicted Jersey guido (JG-L), who thinks he's found love in the club with a calculating, narcissistic guidette (Scarlett Johansson). As writer, director, and star of Don Jon, Gordon-Levitt's auteur ambitions here are evident—and while the film isn't a total disaster (the acting and direction are both serviceable), it's clear that his hollow, cavernous eyes are significantly bigger than his stomach. ZAC PENNINGTON Various Theaters.

recommended Elysium
For a generation for whom class mobility is a myth, it's easy to look at Elysium director Neill Blomkamp—who also made 2009's remarkable District 9—as the sort of filmmaker we need. He's also a difficult guy to nail down: as comfortable with guns, spaceships, and explosions as he is with political and social issues, he runs the risk of turning off both snobs ("Why'd he have to go and turn it into a dumb action movie at the end?") and idiots ("Why'd there have to be so much talking until he got to the action at the end?"). For those who can embrace both the visceral and the allegorical, though, Blomkamp seems aware of both the 21st century's overwhelming ills and the fantastical sort of catharsis we require to escape them, however briefly. Elysium deals with class mobility, health care, and immigration; it also crams in defense contractors, terrorism, police brutality, economic disparity, and ineffective governance. With each, Blomkamp trades subtlety for explosions and gore, which seems like an okay trade: Allegory is hardly required to pussyfoot around. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.

recommended Enough Said
As a director, Nicole Holofcener's body of work makes a good case for the argument that creativity thrives on limits. All of her films are built from the same building blocks: From her 1996 debut Walking and Talking through Lovely and Amazing, Friends with Money, and Please Give, each of Holofcener's movies are about white women. They're about self-deception and unhappiness and relationships and how to be a good person. Catherine Keener is always in them. But from this toolbox of feelings and Catherine Keeners, Holofcener consistently constructs perceptive, emotionally acute films that are clear-eyed about human frailty. And while it doesn't let any of the characters off the hook for their bullshit—it wouldn't be a Holofcener joint if it did—Enough Said is her warmest movie to date, thanks to the insanely likeable Julia Louis-Dreyfus and a great turn from James Gandolfini. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.

recommended Frozen
It's been, like, 20 years—give or take a few—since I last gave a shit about one of Disney's bread-and-butter animated musicals. Maybe it's because I grew up? But that's too pat. More likely, it's because most of Disney's musicals since the early 1990s have been utterly forgettable, if not terrible. I mention it because this is what landed in my brain midway through Frozen, the studio's latest song-and-dance number—and the first one, in a long time, that I can remember making me grin, laugh, and tear up, all while stunning my eyes with some of the most magical computer animation I've ever seen. Frozen is a bright adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, and while it's true this is one more "princess" story—Anna (Idina Menzel), attainted with seemingly uncontrollable frost magic, is forced by bubbly younger sister Elsa (Kristen Bell) to thaw the fear choking her heart—it also nicely defies the obvious tropes. Princes and woodsmen are important, we find out. But they're hardly the only embodiment of fairy-tale love. DENIS C. THERIAULT Various Theaters.

Grudge Match
Opens Wed Dec 25. See next week's Mercury for our review. Various Theaters.

Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction
A doc about actor Harry Dean Stanton, featuring interviews with David Lynch, Wim Wenders, Sam Shepard, and Kris Kristofferson. This film also features Stanton singing "heartbreaking and tender folk songs." Okay! Whitsell Auditorium.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
I give The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug two thumbs up and five stars—and a week's worth of thirst-quenching miruvor and delicious lembas bread! (Ha!) You should totally go, and you won't at all be reminded of what a richer, fuller, more dramatically rewarding time you could have had if you'd just stayed at home and watched Game of Thrones. J.R.R. TOLKIEN Various Theaters.

Watch the trailer for Homefront, and you won't quite be able to tell if it's a parody or not. You've got Jason Statham starring, of course, as a tough guy with a history and a young daughter; they cross paths with a smarmy meth cook named Gator who's played by... here's where the parody part really kicks in... James Franco. Is this one of Franco's famous art-school projects, a shrugging pastiche made up of the most clichéd plot elements imaginable? And what if I told you Sylvester Stallone wrote the screenplay? What would you say then? But Homefront is surprisingly watchable, especially when compared with the generic action-movie product Statham's been pumping out lately. PAUL CONSTANT Various Theaters.

recommended The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Disappointingly competent, 2012's The Hunger Games... well, at least it got the basics right. It was a fine adaptation—totally, forgettably, blandly fine. So it's a pretty excellent surprise that its sequel is an order of magnitude better: Catching Fire will please whatever it is that Hunger Games fans call themselves (Hangries? Katnips? Peetaphiles?), but also stands as something fun and intense and thrilling. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.

recommended Inside Llewyn Davis
See review this issue. Fox Tower 10.

Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?
Michel Gondry is concerned about how documentary filmmakers use selective editing to manipulate audiences' perceptions of reality. (Of course he is. He's Michel Gondry. He's like the French-iest guy.) And so Gondry decided to present his new film about renowned linguist Noam Chomsky as an animation, so the audience will never forget they're watching a film. They definitely won't forget—but they might find themselves faintly queasy after 90 minutes of jittery, wobbly pen-drawn animations, only occasionally interposed with actual footage of Chomsky and Gondry in conversation. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.

It's a Wonderful Life
A digital restoration of the Christmas classic that's beloved by old people who are fighting the slow, crushing, inevitable realization that their lives have not mattered at all. Hollywood Theatre.

Kill Your Darlings
While seeing Harry Potter lose his butt virginity does offer a certain fascination, there's little else to recommend about Kill Your Darlings, a generally terrible film that describes a pivotal event in the formation of the Beat movement. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.

Last Vegas
Last Vegas is what's commonly referred to as a "fish-out-of-water" comedy—a metaphor that in this scenario happens to function on a couple of levels. First, you've got the laborious plotline: Four suspiciously archetypical old men (Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and a surprisingly lifelike Kevin Kline), each facing some unremarkable form of existential discontent, descend upon Las Vegas to celebrate the engagement of one old man to his comely child bride; all manner of doddering bewilderment naturally ensues. But there's also a less traditional application of the metaphor—wherein a company of aging, long-celebrated Hollywood actors (i.e., the fish) abandon what dignity remains of their respective careers (i.e., the water) for a gasping, floundering, and ultimately lifeless slog of a film. ZAC PENNINGTON Various Theaters.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Opens Wed Dec 25. See next week's Mercury for our review. Various Theaters.

recommended Nebraska
What Alexander Payne explores, to great effect, is the bizarrely resilient nature of family, and how it doesn't necessarily follow the rules of logic. Those who complain that Payne cruelly makes fun of the characters in his films won't find their opinions swayed by Nebraska, but it's worth mentioning that wizened, absent-minded Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is never on the receiving end of Payne's skewer. There are some scenes in Nebraska that are as funny as anything I've seen. And other scenes are remarkably touching in their simplicity. Like any family's story, the Grants' is complicated and messy, and Payne tells it with economy, elegance, and an absolutely necessary sense of humor. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.

recommended Out of the Furnace
Out of the Furnace is mostly set in Braddock, Pennsylvania, but deals so heavily with hillbillies—they're casually referred to as "inbreds," and they lie around in drug stupors when they aren't hollering at bare-knuckled fights—that it might as well share geography with Deliverance. Russell (Christian Bale) works at Braddock's doomed steel mill and tries to keep his little brother, troubled Iraq vet Rodney (Casey Affleck), out of trouble. So when Rodney heads to Appalachia to try his hand in the brutal backwoods fights rigged by Harlan DeGroat—an immaculately named hillbilly drug lord played by Woody Harrelson—it isn't long until Russell heads into the woods too. Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper takes his time telling Russell's dour, angry story, and the result is a slow burn that lights up with moments of bloody violence and jarring intensity. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.

recommended Philomena
Philomena is a quirky movie about an adorable old Irish lady—played by none other than Dame Judi Dench—and its release is timed to coincide with prime holiday family-movie viewing season. You're right to be skeptical. All signs point to schlock. But Philomena is excellent, thanks to the brilliant odd-couple pairing of Judi Dench and Steve Coogan—and to a script that balances heart, humor, and a fierce sense of moral outrage. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.

The Polar Express
Dead-eyed computer automatons soullessly reenact a version of Christmas that never was and never will be. OMSI Empirical Theater.

recommended Samurai Cinema
The NW Film Center's samurai series wraps up this week with Yojimbo, A Fistful of Dollars, and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. Ghost Dog, Jim Jarmusch's 1999 mashup of hiphop, gangster flicks, and Japanese philosophy, is a lot sillier than you remember: Forest Whitaker plays a pigeon-loving mob assassin who subscribes to the tenets of bushido; his boss is one of the local mafia, a crew of perhaps the most ridiculous Italian stereotypes ever put on screen. Part awkward comedy, part woo-woo mumbo-jumbo, Ghost Dog works best as a dreamlike fable about the celebration of disappearing cultures. Still, don't take it seriously for a second. NED LANNAMANN

recommended Saving Mr. Banks
See review this issue. Various Theaters.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Opens Wed Dec 25. See next week's Mercury for our review. Various Theaters.

Walking With Dinosaurs
See review this issue. Various Theaters.

The Wolf of Wall Street
Opens Wed Dec 25. See next week's Mercury for our review. Various Theaters.