1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
What’s it about? This is the sequel to 2012’s smash dystopian, kids-killing-kids hit The Hunger Games, and finds Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) thrust into the spotlight following their joint win at the battle royale from which the series gets its name. Evil President Snow is none-too-happy with the rebellion that their win has inspired, and so, they end up back in the arena, where many twists and turns await.
Who’s in it? Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Who should see it? Considering the fact that it made about $170 million during its debut weekend, there’s a solid chance that somebody in your family has already seen it. This isn’t exactly a family-friendly holiday movie, as there is a good bit of violence and it can get pretty depressing with its depictions of poverty and evil politicians, but since it’s based on a YA book and stars a young heroine, it isn’t necessarily inappropriate for kids past the third or fourth grade.
Verdict: See it, if you haven’t already.
What’s it about? Disney’s latest animated adventure introduces a new heroine princess named Anna, who goes on a quest with a mountain man to find her sister, the Snow Queen, in order to save her land from the curse of eternal winter. There are kooky creatures along the way, including a reindeer and a snowman who are destined to be stuffed toys.
Who’s in it? Voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Alan Tudyk
Who should see it? Rated PG, this is icy fun for the whole family. No child murder here!
Verdict: See it, but don’t worry about 3D.
What’s it about?: When a booze-addled old man (Bruce Dern) receives a letter in the mail indicating that he’s won a million dollars — an obvious magazine sales scam — he insists on making the long trek to his home state of Nebraska to collect his bunk prize. His son (Will Forte) agrees to take him on the road, in part to escape his own misery.
Who’s in it?: Bruce Dern, Will MacGruber, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk
Who should see it?: Everyone. A smart, sad, sweet, surprisingly funny movie that will contend for awards, it is a beauty.
Verdict: Uh, yeah, see it.
What’s it about? This is a Spike Lee-directed remake of the 2003 Korean film of the same name about a drunk asshole who gets randomly and mysteriously imprisoned for 20 years in a single, motel-like room. Upon his release, he goes on a brutal quest to find out who locked him up for all that time… and to kill that person.
Who’s in it? Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Imperioli
Who should see it? Well, this is certainly not one to take the kids to see; it is filled to the gills with torture and drenched in blood. And yet, it doesn’t really say all that much, and doesn’t compare with the original, which you can stream on Netflix for free.
Verdict: You can skip it.
5. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
What’s it about? As the title suggests, this is a biopic about the all-important anti-apartheid leader (played by Idris Elba), who spent decades jailed in South Africa before emerging to ultimately become the country’s groundbreaking president.
Who’s in it? Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge
Who should see it? History buffs, those looking for an inspirational and triumphant story, fans of Elba, and most importantly, people in New York and Los Angeles, since those are the only two cities in which it is playing this weekend. A limited release, it will expand to other cities in the weeks to come.
Verdict: Not a must-see, but worth checking out if it’s in your area and you’ve seen others.
6. Black Nativity
What’s it about? This star-studded modern version of Langston Hughes’ famous play follows a teen from Baltimore (Jacob Latimore) who gets shipped up north by his mother to spend Christmas with distant religious relatives (Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett). Of course, this teen, named Langston, isn’t all that pleased with the situation, but that only leads to him learning some very important lessons.
Who’s in it? Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jacob Latimore, Mary J. Blige, Tyrese Gibson, Nasir Jones, Jennifer Hudson
Who should see it? With a PG rating, this movie welcomes all audiences. Reviews call it a bit schmaltzy and heavy-handed, but hey, that’s what the holiday season is all about!
Verdict: If you’ve got to go to the movies with family, see it. Otherwise, wait for DVD.
What’s it about? Jason Statham plays a DEA agent, widower, and father to a young daughter. James Franco plays an insane person who deals meth. There is ass kicking and cackling in equal measure in Homefront, which is peak Statham, peak Franco, and peak cheese.
Who’s in it? Jason Statham, James Franco, Kate Bosworth, Frank Grillo
Who should see it? Well, probably not the kids, since it’s rated R, but if you like a goofy action movie without any memorable plot, sure, check it out.
Verdict: You don’t need to see this in theaters, especially given how expensive tickets are these day.
8. The Best Man Holiday
What’s it about? Two weeks ago, this movie shocked — shocked! — box office prognosticators who did not expect a movie with a predominantly African-American cast to make over $30 million and nearly unseat Thor 2 as the weekend champion. Then, they explained it away by suggesting Universal just smartly targeted black audiences, which is also bunk: This is a fun comedy about friends that audiences first grew to love 15 years ago. They reunite a decade and a half later, exploring the relationships and jealousies that linger for a very, very long time.
Who’s in it? Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall, Nia Long, Terrence Howard, Monica Calhoun, Melissa De Sousa, Sanaa Lathan, Harold Perrineau
Who should see it? It’s rated R, but that shouldn’t scare off anyone interested in taking their teenager.
Verdict: See it.
9. 12 Years A Slave
What’s it about? Sadly, exactly what the title implies. This is the heartbreaking, brutal, and core-shaking story of Solomon Northrup, a free black man (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who is kidnapped from the north and sold into Southern slavery in the years before the Civil War. It is difficult to watch, with horrific physical and emotional degradation especially wrecking because it happened on the soil of the country we celebrate this weekend. But it is also an incredible cinematic accomplishment by director Steve McQueen, and boasts first-rate performances by Eijiofor, Michael Fassbender (a maniacal slaveowner) and Lupita Nyong’o (another slave).
Who’s in it? Chiewetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Brad Pitt, Sarah Paulson, Paul Giamatti
Who should see it? Now in more theaters than ever before, this is probably your best bet to see 12 Years A Slave. It is a hard R, and is intended to leave a mark on its audience, but it’s also an important movie, so if you’re up for a difficult post-holiday viewing that will educate, this is a good bet. Just bring tissues.
Verdict: Definitely see it.
What’s it about? Both sweet and heartbreaking, this British import is about a retiree (Judi Dench) who begins the search, assisted by a journalist (Steve Coogan), for the out-of-wedlock son that was taken from her 50 years prior by scheming nuns in conservative Ireland. Politics, religion, family, hope, and grief all play a part in Stephen Frears’ drama.
Who’s in it? Steve Coogan, Judi Dench, Anna Maxwell Martin
Who should see it? Luckily, the film’s distributors, The Weinstein Company, won a recent MPAA appeal that earned the movie a PG-13, so basically the whole family can see this one. It’s touching, but smart and heavy enough to avoid schmaltz. Plus, it is expanding this weekend, so there’s a good chance there will be a showing somewhere near you.
Verdict: See it, even if it requires a drive.
What’s it about? Andie (Michelle Monaghan) gets pregnant from a one-night stand, and decides to give her baby to her pal Lizzie (Radha Mitchell), who is having difficulty conceiving on her own. Andie moves in during the pregnancy, which causes complications that no OBGYN can fix.
Who’s in it? Michelle Monaghan, Radha Mitchell, Michael Weston
Who should see it? Expecting obviously has some sexual content, but the consequences are nothing that any teenager hasn’t learned about through a million TV shows (hopefully just TV shows). It’s also available on demand, so fun pregnancy times for the whole family await!
Verdict: See it, but no rush — it’s not going anywhere.