It’s Christmastime, and that means movie time. On Christmas Day, a big batch of new films open, and some big names are already on the big screen. After the hustle of the holidays, you deserve some time to relax and eat some popcorn or Junior Mints.
Not sure what to see? Here’s what’s playing in local theaters, with links to reviews. (Note: Movies that open on Christmas Day are noted. Everything else is already showing.)
“Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”
The nitwit newscaster (Will Ferrell) from 2004’s “Anchorman” returns, ready to help found the first all-news TV network. A subversive swipe at the inanity of the 24-hour news cycle is folded within the movie’s wacky comic set pieces, some of which work, some don’t. Much of the main cast returns, including Steve Carell and Paul Rudd. Read the review.
Big roundhouse swings and juicy performances mark this untethered look at the Abscam scandal of the late 1970s, when the FBI teamed with a couple of second-rate con artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) to bribe congressmen. Director David O. Russell isn’t outraged so much as amused by this portrait of ’70s excess, and if it’s not a great movie, it sure is fun to watch. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence co-star. Read the review.
Tom Hanks excels in this account of the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijacking, when Somali pirates got the upper hand over a U.S. cargo ship off the Horn of Africa. Director Paul Greengrass makes this a gripping suspense picture, and he and Hanks make sure the captain is no superhero. Read the review.
A tepid remake of a 2011 French-Canadian film, “Starbuck,” retooled only slightly as a vehicle for Vince Vaughn. And the actor does get a few laughs, but the storyline is forced; he plays an irresponsible schlub whose youthful donations to a fertility clinic are now coming back to haunt him. With Chris Pratt and Cobie Smulders. Read the review.
A Disney animated movie that looks at a runaway young queen with the power to turn everything to ice, and the plucky younger sister who runs after her. It’s a fun outing, with Broadway-ready songs and a wonderful talking snowman. Read the review.
Astronauts Sandra Bullock and George Clooney find themselves lost in space, as director Alfonso Cuaron creates an amazing digital canvas for an incredibly suspenseful situation. More than just astonishing technology, the film truly makes us see in a new way. Read the review.
Opens Christmas Day
Two aging prizefighters agree to settle an old dispute in the ring — the chance for Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone to play around a little, with tepid results (nobody seems to have told Stallone this is a comedy). The timing’s way off, too — and how could they not use old footage from “Raging Bull” and “Rocky”? Read the review.
Opens Christmas Day
A lovesick guy (Joaquin Phoenix) develops an emotional relationship with his new computer operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Spike Jonze’s movie is a visual dazzler of the near-future, although its ideas about a man learning to appreciate the complicated realities of an actual woman seem pretty old-fashioned. Read the review.
Jason Statham is an ex-undercover fed trying to live a quiet life with his little girl — but that won’t last long with small-town meth cooker James Franco around. With a script by Sylvester Stallone, this one follows the customary action-movie beats, although villain Franco gets some interesting tweaks along the way. Read the review.
“Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom”
Opens Christmas Day
A respectful biography of Nelson Mandela, given a strong performance by Idris Elba. The history lesson is undeniably useful (and the movie takes care to show less-than-saintly behavior in Mandela’s life), but it’s tough to make this kind of safe biopic really come to full-blooded life, even with a subject as important as Mandela. Read the review.
Alexander Payne’s black-and-white road trip about a frustrated son (Will Forte) driving his cranky father (Bruce Dern) to Lincoln, Nebraska, to claim a sweepstakes ticket that everybody knows is bogus. The movie’s full of funny, absurd character studies, and the extended finale is a glorious, bittersweet ending. Read the review.
“Out of the Furnace”
An ambitious melodrama that gets tripped up by its subplot about crime in the backwoods. Christian Bale and Casey Affleck are brothers in a small, rusting Pennsylvania steel town, with Woody Harrelson as a psychopathic crime boss who threatens their existence. Read the review.
A heart-rending true story fuels this tale of a journalist (Steve Coogan) helping an Irish woman (Judi Dench) locate the whereabouts of a child taken from her by a convent in Ireland decades earlier. Director Stephen Frears doesn’t slip the temptation to make this an odd-couple pairing, but the movie manages to keep itself honest. Read the review.
“Saving Mr. Banks”
The author (Emma Thompson) of “Mary Poppins” goes to visit Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) in 1961, trying to resist his offers to film her book. You know how that turned out, and the story behind the movie classic is shamelessly charming, despite its flaws. Read the review.
“The Best Man Holiday”
A sequel to the 1999 hit “The Best Man,” this funny and timely follow-up features the same group of actors, who play their parts well. Terrence Howard is particularly hilarious. With Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Monica Calhoun, Harold Perrineau, Eddie Cibrian. Read the review.
“The Book Thief”
A German girl is sent to live with foster parents as World War II breaks out. The best-selling novel gets a flat movie treatment. With Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson. Read the review.
“The Hobbit: The Desolations of Smaug”
The middle section of Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy once again elongates J.R.R. Tolkien’s storytelling, although this one’s an improvement on Part One. Here, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) journeys with his dwarf companions in the direction of a mountain guarded by a fearsome dragon. The script’s a little talky, but the movie looks great and the cliffhanger ending is bold. Read the review.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”
Part two of Suzanne Collins’ bestselling series is an improvement over the 2012 original; despite a lopsided structure, it maintains some momentum and has some truly exciting revelations in its final minutes, along with the committed presence of leading lady Jennifer Lawrence. Read the review.
“Thor: The Dark World”
The brawny Thor (Chris Hemsworth) takes on the Aether, a new dark energy that threatens the nine realms (including earth, home of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). He must ask his villainous adoptive brother Loki (Tom Hiddleton) for help. Read the review.
“Walking with Dinosaurs”
Incredibly good digital dinosaurs, seamlessly blended with real locations, make this quite a thing to look at. The story, with its talking dino (Justin Long) growing to manhood amidst the annual migrations, is a little less than compelling, and probably not lively enough for the average kid audience. Read the review.
Opens Christmas Day
The classic James Thurber character — a mild-mannered daydreamer — breaks out as a full-on adventurer in this update from director and star Ben Stiller. The movie is trying to be special, but the comic bits are awkwardly woven into the overall story, and Stiller always seems better at satire than uplift. Read the Review.
“Wolf of Wall Street”
Opens Christmas Day
A wild, three-hour account of the life of stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose shady dealings gave him a rockstar lifestyle, at least for a while. Martin Scorsese catches some brilliant scenes in this crazy film, and its portrait of a world in which selling is the point of life is acute. Excess does seem to overwhelm the movie at times, nevertheless. Read the review