Rating and length: R, 157 min.
See if you liked: “Argo”
“Zero Dark Thirty,” Kathryn Bigelow’s quasi–revenge thriller about the decade–long hunt for Osama bin Laden, transcends mere historical reenactment and instead becomes a grimly effective meditation on obsession. It delves head-first into the emotional tolls the War on Terror has taken—both on those who have fought it and on our national conscience—through the lens of steely Maya (the remarkably restrained Jessica Chastain), an intensely dedicated CIA analyst. The film takes a slow and methodical approach to plot, mirroring the real investigation’s seemingly endless false starts and dead ends. Unfortunately, Maya’s simmering frustrations may mirror the audience’s own. Nevertheless, the pacing is purposeful, and it all culminates in an immensely satisfying payoff: a tensely staged recreation of the SEAL assault on bin Laden’s compound—masterpiece of filmmaking in its own right. -Michael Kraus
Rating and length: R, 165 min.
See if you liked: Anything Tarantino
While Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, “Django Unchained”, is unsurprisingly drenched in characteristic violence, it’s also brimming with charismatic, memorable characters and a strong plot, ensuring that there is always compelling narrative driving the breathless action, which is never mindless or forced. After teaming up with dentist–turned–bounty–hunter King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), former slave Django (Jamie Foxx) embarks on a search for his wife (Kerry Washington), who is enslaved by spoiled sociopath Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Despite generous historical license, its contentious terminology is invoked heavily but always with purpose. To its credit, the film’s thematic explorations are meaningful without being self–important. But “Django” is more than the sum of its technical strengths; long but never slow, it is by turns emotionally wrenching, devastatingly funny, and always phenomenally entertaining. -Julie Kozeracki
Rating and length: PG13, 157 min.
See if you liked: “Moulin Rouge”
Although “Les Misérables” feels longer than the French Revolution, it doesn’t plod along. The film adapts the Boubil–Schonberg musical, which is adapted from Victor Hugo’s novel about the redemption of Jean Valjean, an ex–convict living during the French Revolution. The cinematography, costumes, and sets (cold and dank in depressive splendor, but somehow still nationalistic) are particularly exquisite, and performances are generally engaging. Hugh Jackman, playing Jean Valjean, pours heart and soul into his numbers and would steal the show were it not for Anne Hathaway’s breathtaking rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.” The film is sanguine in every sense, but ultimately is a journey that bleeds for human nature, cries for the human experience and sings for the human spirit. -Olivia Rutigliano
Rating and length: PG13, 169 min.
See if you liked: “Lord of the Rings” trilogy
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is the long-awaited prequel to Peter Jackson’s fantasy franchise, “The Lord of the Rings”. The film follows Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), as he accompanies 13 dwarves (and the wizard Gandalf, played again by Sir Ian McKellen) on a journey to help them regain their home. At its core, “The Hobbit” is a good movie. Freeman does a wonderful job of bringing the young Bilbo to life, the rest of the cast, both old favorites and new additions, perform solidly, and the cinematography is as striking as ever. But with a three hour runtime, scenes take longer to watch than to read, and it becomes clear that this is merely a preamble to the more exciting story ahead. -Kaitlyn Levesque