COMET Close encounters of the nerd kind.

Animated Christmas
Re-run Theater presents a collection of rare 16mm short films from creators like Will Vinton and Rankin & Bass. Hollywood Theatre.

The Barefoot Bandit
A documentary about Colton Harris-Moore, notorious airplane thief. Director in attendance. Clinton Street Theater.

There's no doubt that Alejandro González Iñárritu's latest is very clever about what it says. The question is if it has anything to say. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.

The Boxtrolls
For their third feature, Laika takes a small step toward the lighter side of children's fare: While there are still slightly grotesque, strangely alluring creatures at the heart of The Boxtrolls, this time they're the heroes, unlike the undead of ParaNorman or the Other Parents of Coraline. While the elaborate set pieces get bigger and bigger as the film moves along (including a dazzling, dizzying dance sequence), the story gets muddled. Laika—for the first time in their short cinematic history—tries to squeeze in a Message, and screenwriters Irena Brignull and Adam Pava strain under the effort. ROBERT HAM Various Theaters.

recommended Boyhood
Once a year for 12 years, director Richard Linklater summoned a cast of actors to film Boyhood, an utterly unique story of an utterly conventional American childhood. Boyhood is set in the 21st century, so there are divorced parents and videogames; it's Texas, so there are guns. It unfolds over 12 years, from 2002 to the present, but there are no title cards to tell you that time is passing—instead, the years are ticked off with pop songs and Harry Potter book release parties, new haircuts and new best friends. The story is fictionalized, but the passage of time is real; the nearly three-hour result is an affecting, heartfelt masterpiece. ALISON HALLETT Laurelhurst Theater.

recommended The British Arrow Awards
Yes: This is a collection of British commercials. And yes: It is totally worth watching. While I have dumb moral qualms about YouTubing American ads (because that is precisely what The Man wants us to do, and I don't want to be a part of his System), I had no problem enjoying these. For one, they advertise products with adorable names, like "gu" and "weetabix" and "rugby," and for two, they are fantastically done. ELINOR JONES NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.

A Christmas Story
It's the holiday classic that just won't go away. Academy Theater, Hollywood Theatre.

recommended Citizenfour
A big chunk of the striking Citizenfour was shot in Edward Snowden's Hong Kong hotel room, and it's an up-close look at history being made (a seriously up-close look—the hotel room is small). But director Laura Poitras doesn't limit her focus: Pulling in NSA whistleblower William Binney, hacktivist Jacob Appelbaum, the NSA's gargantuan Utah data storage facility, and the Obama administration's unprecedented persecution of those who speak out against it, Citizenfour is an overview of where we are and how we got here—a surveillance state so surreal that Snowden feels the need to remind us "it's not science fiction." ERIK HENRIKSEN Living Room Theaters.

In a universe that looks much like ours, two attractive white people meet, fall in love, and have an on-again, off-again relationship. All we know about Kimberly (Emmy Rossum) is that she's beautiful, crazy, and funny—these are the precise adjectives that Dell (Justin Long) uses to describe her, admiringly. We know much more about Dell: He's brilliant, hyper-articulate, misunderstood yet beguiling. He's also persistent to the point of aggression in his pursuit of Kimberly—behavior that Comet misconstrues as "romantic." Just as annoying: Comet's diffident appropriation of sci-fi elements. Throwing two suns in the sky hardly constitutes world-building, and invoking the cosmos is a cheap way to lend gravitas to a story that doesn't have much of its own. Comet reaches for lofty realms of romance and intellect, but lands instead in the sticky realm of adolescent male fantasy, right next to Weird Science and jerkin' it to Piers Anthony novels. ALISON HALLETT Laurelhurst Theater.

recommended Critic's Choice
Films selected and introduced by Portland film critics. On Thurs Dec 11, the Oregonian's Marc Mohan presents Alan Arkin's Little Murders (1971); on Fri Dec 12, KGW's Shawn Levy presents John D. Hancock's Bang the Drum Slowly (1973); and on Wed Dec 17, Willamette Week's AP Kryza presents Roman Polanski's The Tenant (1973). Hollywood Theatre.

Dear White People
The central conflict in Dear White People is driven by Sam (Tessa Thompson, AKA Jackie from Veronica Mars!), a fired-up young activist who hosts a satirical radio show where she instructs white people on the nuances of how to behave in a multiracial world. There's entirely too much plot, but Dear White People shines interpersonally, as its characters navigate how race factors into relationships, self-presentation, and group identification. And it doubles as a catalog of how creepy even the most well-intentioned white people can be—if you haven't yet gotten the "don't touch black people's hair" memo, there are some skin-crawlingly effective scenes that will drive the point solidly home. ALISON HALLETT Academy Theater, Laurelhurst Theater.

Exodus: Gods and Kings
See review this issue. Various Theaters.

recommended Force Majeure
Life is pain, even in the gorgeous French Alps. What starts as a perfect family vacation goes hideously awry in Force Majeure, Ruben Östlund's darkly hilarious and/or darkly horrifying tale of a marriage on the rocks. Or maybe that should be "on the slopes"? I don't know. The important thing is that these people are fucked. ERIK HENRIKSEN Living Room Theaters.

Frank's Song
David Bee's documentary about the life of PSU professor Frank Wesley. Q&A with Wesley following the screening. Hollywood Theatre.

A series where the audience texts their best jokes directly onto the screen. This month, one of the '90s weirdest crimes against cinema, Theodore Rex, starring Whoopi Goldberg as a cop solving crimes with her partner, a dinosaur. Hollywood Theatre.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
The ostensibly final installment in Peter Jackson's adaptation of Tolkien's novel for friendless children. See next week's Mercury for our review. Various Theaters.

Home Alone
Macaulay Culkin is currently 34 years old. Laurelhurst Theater, Mission Theater.

Homegrown DocFest
Short documentaries made by students in the NW Documentary Workshop, with proceeds benefiting NW Documentary programs. More at Clinton Street Theater.

recommended The Homesman
As an actor, Tommy Lee Jones has been in some of the greatest films in the genre, from Lonesome Dove to No Country for Old Men, but few expected him to start directing great westerns, too: First there was 2005's fantastic The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, which slipped under most people's radars and which most people should watch as soon as humanly possible, and now there's the similarly outstanding The Homesman, based on Glendon Swarthout's 1988 novel. Like Three Burials, The Homesman smooths over its pitch-black cynicism with a surprising amount of pitch-black humor—but there's no mistaking the film's central truth that life is hard and unfair and some of us aren't able to handle it. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.

Japanese Currents
Every year, the NW Film Center's Japanese Currents offers a curated survey of recent Japanese cinema. The crown jewel of 2014's series is undoubtedly The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, with its sometimes-puttering views into day-to-day operations at the Studio Ghibli animation studio. The other standout is the hilarious, self-referential Neko Samurai, about a masterless samurai hired to kill a rival clan's pet cat. But when the samurai finds he cannot complete his mission, he instead takes the cat home with him, beginning his metamorphosis into a full-blown cat person. SUZETTE SMITH NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.

recommended Life Partners
2012's wonderful Frances Ha told the story of a pair of twentysomething hipster besties whose friendship was challenged when one got into a serious relationship, leaving the other lonely and lost. Life Partners does exactly the same thing, but without the immensely likable Greta Gerwig. Gillian Jacobs and Leighton Meester star as Paige and Sasha: Sasha is a receptionist/musician/lesbian who still dates 19-year-olds, and Paige is an environmental lawyer settling down with a guy who wears Tevas (Seth Cohen, with bad facial hair.) With pink wine, horrible hook-ups, and excellent reality television, the duo navigates their growing pains gracelessly but hilariously. Life Partners may be a poor man's Frances Ha, but I mean that as a compliment. ELINOR JONES Kiggins Theatre.

Mike Henderson: The Blues and the Abstract Truth
Cinema Project presents a program curated by archivist Mark Toscano, featuring several restored 16mm prints, blending Henderson's passions for music and art. More at Hollywood Theatre.

recommended National Gallery
The great Frederick Wiseman points his camera at scenes in a major London museum. As with his other documentaries, Wiseman humanizes the institutional process. We feel, in the details of the gallery, the life of humans—their eyes, their art, their movements, their sitting, their listening, their silent thoughts. There is no explanation for this documentary, no obvious goals, nor a narrator to guide us. We just watch and listen. National Gallery is Wiseman's most beautiful documentary since La Danse, about the Ballet de l'Opéra National de Paris. CHARLES MUDEDE Living Room Theaters.

recommended Nightcrawler
A pulpy rush that's shot to mirror the nocturnal, grainy world of freelancers who monitor the police scanner and speed to crime scenes to be the first one with sensational video. Unblinking and gaunt, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a fascinating misfit who discovers his strengths in this new, macabre calling. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.

On with the Show
A collection of filmed "season's greetings" messages from the 1940s, '50s, and '60s. Hollywood Theatre.

Portland German Film Festival
The Portland German Film Festival presents the children's film The Crocodiles: All For One. More at Clinton Street Theater.

Real Estate
A work-in-progress screening of Alain LeTourneau's experimental documentary about Portland's housing boom. Hollywood Theatre.

Reel Feminism
A film series sponsored by In Other Words Feminist Community Center. This month's film: Out in the Night. More at Clinton Street Theater.

recommended Shaft's Big Score
See My, What a Busy Week! Hollywood Theatre.

The Snow Queen
A rarely-screened 1986 Finnish adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale. Hollywood Theatre.

recommended St. Vincent
St. Vincent is contrived. It's contrived in the best way. Do you want to watch Bill Murray act like a sarcastic prick, but secretly have a heart of gold? Do you want him to have an unorthodox-yet-rewarding relationship with a precocious young boy like all the best parts of Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Bad Santa, and Bad Words? Do you want these adversarial relationships eventually to lead to understanding? Yeah, St. Vincent is about as procedural of a feel-good Sundance comedy as Law & Order: SVU is a cop show—but when the dialogue is sharp and the acting is perfect, that's a pretty damned fine thing to watch. VINCE MANCINI Various Theaters.

recommended The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Princess Kaguya is based on a Japanese folktale, wherein a childless bamboo cutter finds a tiny princess in a stalk of bamboo. It's a good fit for Studio Ghibli, but Kaguya breaks out of the studio's traditional animation style, leaning into a more ethereal, motion-centered combination of brush strokes reminiscent of a watercolor piece. The effect is startlingly beautiful and original. Generally when people think of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke come to mind, but Princess Kaguya was directed and co-written by Miyazaki's partner and Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata, a creator of beloved films in his own right (Pom Poko, Grave of the Fireflies). SUZETTE SMITH Academy Theater, Laurelhurst Theater.

The Thanhouser Studio and the Birth of American Cinema
A documentary about the life and times of silent film pioneers Edwin and Gertrude Thanhouser. Hollywood Theatre.

The Theory of Everything
A romance about Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his first wife, Jane (Felicity Jones), and a not-that-smart movie about a really smart guy. ELINOR JONES Various Theaters.

recommended Top Five
See review this issue. Various Theaters.

Vintage Christmas clips compiled by Seattle's Scarecrow Video. Hollywood Theatre.

Viva La Libertà
An Italian comedy about world politics, featuring a disgraced party leader who leaves a void for his unstable twin brother to fill. Living Room Theaters.

recommended Wild
See review this issue. Cinema 21.

recommended MEANS WE RECOMMEND IT. Theater locations are accurate Friday, December 12-Thursday, December 18, unless otherwise noted. Movie times are updated daily and are available here.