British director Steve McQueen has a penchant for brilliantly directed, magnificently acted films with subject matters that are unbelievably unpleasant to watch (see for example: Hunger, Shame). With the powerful weight of history behind this new effort, however, it becomes virtually impossible to look away. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Kinky Boots, Inside Man) is magnetic as Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York who is abducted and sold into slavery in the Deep South. As you can probably guess, he spent 12 years bouncing from one cruel plantation owner to another. Based on Northup's biography, this brutally honest film addresses slavery in a manner that's never been seen before on screen. It isn't easy to watch, but it's an incredible achievement. 134 minutes R.
Robert Redford stars in this one-man tour de force as an aging but resourceful sailor who finds himself confronting his own mortality when his ship begins to sink in the middle of the ocean. It's a tiny film in many ways, but the "man vs. the elements" plotline is timeless. Redford is magic, and the direction is surprisingly, consistently tense. 106 minutes PG-13.
This belated sequel to the 1999 comedy hit The Best Man finds the ensemble African-American cast of college pals reuniting after 15 years over the Christmas holidays. Morris Chestnut, Melissa De Sousa, Taye Diggs, Regina Hall, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Monica Calhoun and Harold Perrineau all return, sparking long-forgotten rivalries and romances. 123 minutes R.
Tom Hanks headlines this true-life pic about Captain Richard Phillips, a humble-yet-heroic cargo ship captain who got hijacked by Somali pirates in an infamous 2009 raid in the Gulf of Aden. Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, United 93) directs this sweat-soaked, Oscar-baiting thriller. 134 minutes PG-13.
According to legend, every 25 years an angel visits the enchanting English village of Gladbury and touches one of the local candlemaker's candles. Whoever in the village lights this candle receives a miracle on Christmas Eve. But in 1890, the dawn of the electric age threatens this centuries-old tradition. Can a progressive new minister (Hans Matheson, Clash of the Titans) usher in a new era of miracles--ones that come from good deeds and acts of kindness rather than godly visits? This devoutly Catholic holiday film is produced by Rick Santorum. Also, "Britain's Got Talent" celebrity Susan Boyle is in it. 91 minutes PG.
Nice guy mad scientist Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) returns to the island he accidentally destroyed with a food-making machine, only to find out that it's still operational and churning out menacing food-animal hybrids. Think The Island of Dr. Moreau only cartoony and filled with food-based puns. Anna Faris, James Caan, Will Forte, Andy Samberg, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris and Terry Crews fill out the overstuffed voice cast. 95 minutes PG.
Matthew McConaughey stars in this real-life, refreshingly schmaltz-free biopic about Ron Woodroof, a hard-living Texas rodeo rider who was diagnosed with AIDS in the mid-1980s. Unwilling to accept the (then) death sentence, Woodroof started a drug-running operation which brought the experimental (but effective) drug AZT up from Mexico. By partnering with an HIV+ transvestite (a surprising Jared Leto) and distributing the drugs Robin Hood-style, Woodroof had a major impact on the treatment of HIV and the subsequent FDA approval of AZT. 117 minutes R.
Vince Vaughn stars in this sappy remake of a French-Canadian comedy (Starbuck) about an underachieving man-child (Adam Sandler must have been busy) who finds out his old sperm bank donations have accidentally fathered 500 kids. After about 150 of the now young adults file a class-action lawsuit, our about-to-learn-a-valuable-life-lesson protagonist decides to become a loving father to all of them. This amounts to about two minutes of quality bonding with a whole string of random twentysomethings. Predictable, mildly heartwarming and not all that funny. 103 minutes PG-13.
The beloved sci-fi novel (by not-so-loved author Orson Scott Card) finally gets a feature film adaptation courtesy of South African writer/director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, X-Men Origins: Wolverine). The thought-provoking space epic follows the story of Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield from Hugo), a young boy who has been recruited by the military to train for a video game-like war against alien invaders. Think Harry Potter crossed with Starship Troopers. 114 minutes PG-13.
Filling in the shocking gap in Thanksgiving-related family fodder comes this animated slot-filler from the director behind Horton Hears a Who! (and Jonah Hex). Seems that two turkeys from "opposite sides of the tracks" (voiced by Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson) must travel back in time to the first Thanksgiving in order to keep poultry off the holiday menu. Yup, time-traveling turkeys. 91 minutes PG.
Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) directs this heavy-duty thriller about a medical engineer and an astronaut (Sandra Bullock, George Clooney) working frantically to save themselves after an accident leaves them spinning hopelessly adrift through space. A technical jaw-dropper and a white-knuckle survival tale, this one will take your breath away in many ways. 90 minutes PG-13.
The book-series-turned-movie-series sensation goes for its second outing. Now that Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) have triumphed in the murderous Hunger Games, their victory is sparking a rebellion. That puts them in the crosshairs of The Capitol, which needs fake heroes to exploit--not real ones. Excitement and storytelling ramp up in this entertaining crowd-pleaser, leaving high hopes for the third film. 146 minutes PG-13.
Johnny Knoxville manages to squeeze out another "Jackass" film. This one borrows from Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat, with Knoxville dressed up in old man makeup and performing "insane hidden camera pranks" on real people in the middle of a faintly scripted screenplay. 92 minutes R.
Aren't old people just the cutest? if you agree, then Last Vegas is the laugher for you. Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline play a trio of senior citizens who reunite in Vegas for some bachelor party shenanigans after their old pal (Michael Douglas) announces he's getting married to his 32-year-old girlfriend. Cue the Viagra jokes! 105 minutes PG-13.
Marvel's hammer-slinging space god Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is back for more mystical sci-fi action. This time around he's forced to team up with his archenemy/brother, Loki, when an entire race of world-destroying Dark Elves puts both Earth and Asgard in its sights. 112 minutes PG-13.