Collateral Beauty (PG-13) Will Smith stars in this magical-realist drama as a man who receives visits from Love, Time, and Death (Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore, and Helen Mirren) after he loses his daughter. Also with Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Michael Peña, Ann Dowd, and Naomie Harris. (Opens Friday)
The Hollow Point (R) Patrick Wilson stars in this thriller as a Texas sheriff who investigates a drug cartel deal that went wrong along the U.S.-Mexico border. Also with Lynn Collins, John Leguizamo, Jim Belushi, Heather Beers, Michael Flynn, and Ian McShane. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
Jackie (R) Natalie Portman portrays Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis as she recounts the days leading up to and immediately following her husband’s assassination. Also with Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt, Richard E. Grant, John Carroll Lynch, Beth Grant, Max Casella, and Billy Crudup. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Wasted Times (NR) This Chinese thriller stars Ge You as a crime boss in 1930s China who struggles with whether to work with the occupying Japanese army. Also with Zhang Ziyi, Tadanobu Asano, Gillian Chung, Ni Dahong, Yuan Quan, Du Chun, and Ash Gordey. (Opens Friday in Dallas)
The Accountant (R) Terrifically entertaining, until it disintegrates in the final third. Ben Affleck stars in this thriller as an accountant whose high-functioning autism makes him a genius in his field, and whose elite martial-arts and weapons skills help him survive working for terrorists and crime lords. He also needs the latter to protect a low-level accountant (Anna Kendrick) who stumbles onto malfeasance at her high-end tech firm. Kendrick gives some warmth and charm to this potboiler, but she’s shunted largely out of the picture in the final third, which becomes overstuffed with backstory and an unbelievable coincidence that resolves things. It all defeats this enviable cast and director Gavin O’Connor. Also with J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Robert C. Treveiler, Jean Smart, John Lithgow, and Jeffrey Tambor.
Allied (R) This World War II romance is all empty gestures and tedious lack of imagination. Brad Pitt portrays a Canadian intelligence officer who falls for and marries a French Resistance fighter (Marion Cotillard), only to find out that she’s suspected of being a Nazi spy. Things go fairly smoothly in the opening act set in German-occupied Morocco where the two carry out an assassination plot, but the movie loses its momentum when it gets to England. Director Robert Zemeckis can’t bring out the tension in a husband examining his wife’s every word and deed for traces of disloyalty, and Pitt is sorely miscast as a man with roiling passions underneath his stoic facade. It’s as if the filmmakers watched a bunch of World War II movies and learned how to make theirs look like one but missed their romantic essence. Also with Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan, Daniel Betts, Thierry Frémont, August Diehl, Simon McBurney, and Matthew Goode.
Almost Christmas (PG-13) A cast full of capable comic actors makes this warmed-over holiday dish palatable. Danny Glover stars as the recently widowed patriarch of an Alabama family who invites his five kids, their significant others and kids, and his sister-in-law (Mo’Nique) for a Christmas weekend and tries to keep them from killing each other. The script by writer-director David E. Talbert (Baggage Claim) may be full of predictable situations and gags, but solid ad-lib contributions from Mo’Nique, Gabrielle Union, J.B. Smoove, Jessie T. Usher, and John Michael Higgins keep you off-balance, and keep the comedy from drowning in homilies about family and helping the less fortunate. It’s an inoffensive time. Also with Kimberly Elise, Romany Malco, Omar Epps, Nicole Ari Parker, D.C. Young Fly, Keri Hilson, and Gladys Knight.
Arrival (PG-13) Amy Adams saves the world and this science-fiction epic. She plays a linguistics professor who’s brought in by the government when the aliens land to try to communicate with them. Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners) adapts this from Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life” and does well by the nonlinear source material, as the heroine starts having flash-forwards of her life to come. Unfortunately, the script’s attempts to inject some conventional dramatic tension through human-alien hostilities fall flat, and Villeneuve offers chilly virtuosity where a more emotional approach might have suited the material. He’s bailed out by the great Adams, displaying loneliness, vulnerability, decency, courage, and much-needed warmth at the center of this. Also with Jeremy Renner, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O’Brien, Tzi Ma, and Forest Whitaker.
Bad Santa 2 (R) Billy Bob Thornton returns for this sequel to the 2003 comedy, as the drunken ex-convict Santa reunites with his old partner in crime (Tony Cox). Also with Kathy Bates, Christina Hendricks, Brett Kelly, Ryan Hansen, and Mike Starr.
Befikre (NR) Ranveer Singh and Vaani Kapoor star in this Indian romance about a couple who fall in love in Paris. Also with Elisa Bachir Bey, Julie Ordon, and Hugo Diego Garcia.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (R) A misfire. Ang Lee’s movie about the Iraq War stars Joe Alwyn as the title character, who, after a televised firefight is brought back to America for a triumphant promotional tour, culminating in a halftime show at a Thanksgiving football game in Dallas. Based on Ben Fountain’s novel, the movie is cynical about pop culture’s relationship to the military and tries to find something tragic in the disconnect between soldiers and civilians who can’t possibly understand what they’ve been through. Unfortunately, Lee and writer Jean-Christophe Castelli have neither Fountain’s gift for a surprising phrase nor his aptitude for painting American life in garish, satirical colors. Billy himself comes off as a cipher in the hands of British newcomer Alwyn. Some good performances can’t make this into the meditation on war that it wants to be. Also with Kristen Stewart, Vin Diesel, Garrett Hedlund, Chris Tucker, Makenzie Leigh, Arturo Castro, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Mason Lee, Brian “Astro” Bradley, Beau Knapp, Barney Harris, and Steve Martin.
Burn Country (NR) James Franco stars in this thriller as a burned-out war reporter who finds himself in danger while reporting for a local newspaper. Also with Melissa Leo, Rachel Brosnahan, Dominic Rains, James Oliver Wheatley, and Thomas Jay Ryan.
Doctor Strange (PG-13) Benedict Cumberbatch is more or less perfectly cast as the latest Marvel superhero, a brilliant bastard of a neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands, travels to Nepal to heal, and winds up discovering his role as a protector of the Earth from extraterrestrial threats. The English leading man is whip-smart, arrogant, and funny, and he centers the movie even when director/co-writer Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) gets lost in the weeds while delving into the spiritual aspect of the story. You sense that Derrickson always wanted to stage extended fight sequences in a world whose landscape is shifting like a kaleidoscope and rotating à la Inception. It’s enjoyable even when it doesn’t make sense. Also with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Benjamin Bratt, and an uncredited Chris Hemsworth.
The Edge of Seventeen (R) Hailee Steinfeld gives one of the performances of the year as an awkward loner of a teen who goes into a spiral when her brother (Blake Jenner) starts dating her best friend (Haley Lu Richardson). Writer and first-time director Kelly Fremon Craig nails the vibe of many scenes and does some terrific comic writing for our heroine and her sarcastic history teacher (Woody Harrelson), and the acting is good across the board. (Watch for newcomer Hayden Szeto as a perfectly uncool love interest.) Yet you can’t take your eyes off Steinfeld, who displays an impeccable sense of comic timing and plays the role with such energy and physicality that her character’s teenage hormones go spilling all over the screen. She makes the whole movie buzz. Also with Kyra Sedgwick, Alexander Calvert, and Eric Keenleyside.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (PG-13) The Harry Potter saga goes to America for this prequel, and it’s an inauspicious beginning. Eddie Redmayne stars as a wizarding-world animal conservationist who travels to the States after being kicked out of Hogwarts. Writing directly for the screen for the first time, J.K. Rowling tries to squeeze an entire novel into the film. As a result, her themes about racism and terrorism come out muddled. We don’t spend enough time with the scary anti-magic religious zealots, and neither Redmayne’s absent-minded professor vibe nor Katherine Waterston as the U.S. magic official who keeps tabs on him are enough to center the movie. You realize how much the original series depended on its lead actors’ skill and charisma. Also with Colin Farrell, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Alison Sudol, Carmen Ejogo, Dan Hedaya, Ron Perlman, Jon Voight, and Johnny Depp.
Hacksaw Ridge (R) This movie could have been great at 100 minutes. Too bad it runs 131. Mel Gibson’s biopic stars Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss, a World War II soldier whose Christian beliefs made him a devoted pacifist but also spurred him to rescue 75 wounded American soldiers in one night on Okinawa. The depiction of Desmond’s early life in Virginia is as unsubtle as you’d expect from this director, and the subplot with Desmond meeting his future wife (Teresa Palmer) is so cutesy that it’s cringe-inducing. Gibson’s touch is so heavy-handed that war might be the only subject suited to him, and his rendition of the battle scenes and Desmond’s heroism is worthy of its subject. The film was shot in Australia, Gibson’s career troubles closing off Hollywood to him. Also with Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Luke Bracey, Luke Pegler, Ben Mingay, Richard Roxburgh, Sam Worthington, and Vince Vaughn.
Incarnate (PG-13) An intriguing setup yields nothing of lasting importance in this horror movie starring Aaron Eckhart as an exorcist who tries to expel an evil spirit from a boy (David Mazouz). This movie has a flash of inspiration in making its hero into a hard-drinking, wheelchair-bound, embittered atheist who behaves like a down-at-the-heel private eye and goes about his exorcisms like the crew of Inception, journeying into the subject’s mindscape. Unfortunately, that’s where the inspiration stops, as Eckhart is too clean-cut to portray a scuzzy antihero and director Brad Peyton (San Andreas) can’t spin any scares or invention out of the exorcist’s battle with Satan’s demons or his own. Also with Carice van Houten, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Emjay Anthony, Matt Nable, Keir O’Donnell, Breanne Hill, and Tomas Arana.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (PG-13) I’m not sure any of the filmmakers appreciates the irony of calling a sequel Never Go Back. Tom Cruise returns in this proficient but forgettable adaptation of Lee Child’s novel as an ex-military officer who works to clear the name of his old unit’s current commander (Cobie Smulders) after she’s framed for espionage. This involves punching lots of people. Director Edward Zwick does an acceptable job with the action sequences, but he and his co-writers can’t give any shading to these characters, and the gambit with Jack protecting a moody teenager (Danika Yarosh) who might be his daughter is ill-conceived and -executed. For all this movie’s efforts, it doesn’t accomplish very much. Also with Patrick Heusinger, Aldis Hodge, Holt McCallany, Madalyn Horcher, Jason Douglas, and Robert Knepper.
Loving (PG-13) A well-intentioned film muffled in cotton wool. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga star in Jeff Nichols’ account of the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case, which legalized interracial marriage across America. Edgerton remains an inert presence on screen, but the problems here run far deeper. Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud) wants to do justice to the quiet, nonconfrontational sort of people that the Lovings appear to have been, but in doing so, he’s made his movie so polite that it never takes off. Nor does it connect the Lovings’ fight for recognition to the freedom that has recently been expanded to LGBT people. Negga is particularly fine, and Nichols does well to show us how oppressive the Lovings find city life, but this movie needed more than that. Also with Marton Csokas, Nick Kroll, Jon Bass, Will Dalton, Alano Miller, Sharon Blackwood, Christopher Mann, Bill Camp, Matt Malloy, and Michael Shannon.
Man Down (R) This post-apocalyptic thriller stars Shia LaBeouf as a U.S. Marine desperately searching for his son. Also with Jai Courtney, Kate Mara, Clifton Collins Jr., Jose Pablo Cantillo, Charlie Shotwell, and Gary Oldman.
Miss Sloane (R) Jessica Chastain dominates the screen as a borderline sociopathic Washington lobbyist who unexpectedly takes a job spearheading an effort to strengthen gun control laws and finds herself fighting for her professional life. A large and high-powered supporting cast falls into Chastain’s gravitational field as she operates at maximum sharpness, making no apologies for her character’s maniacal win-at-all-costs mentality or her habit of soliciting prostitutes. The movie makes little attempt to engage the gun debate, preferring to focus on this character who cares more about winning a fight that most considerable unwinnable. Still, Chastain creates a fascinating Type A character who’s most in control when she’s most self-destructive and still comes up a winner. Also with Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Sam Waterston, John Lithgow, Mark Strong, Alison Pill, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jake Lacy, Douglas Smith, Ennis Esmer, Dylan Baker, and an uncredited Christine Baranski.
Moana (PG) Not the most innovative Disney musical we’ve seen, but more than likable enough. Set on a Pacific island in the past, this is about a teenage girl (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) who defies her tribe’s orders and sails out into the wider ocean to find the trickster demi-god Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) and restore the balance to the waters. Directors Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid) stick so closely to the Disney template that you can predict where the song about the heroine’s deepest desires will land. Still, the 16-year-old Cravalho is funny and a fine singer, Johnson may just have the role of his career as the full-of-himself deity, and the songs are by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. This one’s for all the Polynesians. Additional voices by Temuera Morrison, Rachel House, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk, and Jemaine Clement.
Moonlight (R) The great gay romance of African-American cinema. Barry Jenkins’ film tracks the life of its hero as a young boy growing up rough in Miami (Alex HIbbert), a high-school student (Ashton Sanders) falling in love for the first time, and a drug dealer (Trevante Rhodes) trying to heal all the scars from his past. The movie is stuffed with great performances from Rhodes, Sanders, Mahershala Ali as a kind drug dealer who acts as a father figure, Naomie Harris as a crack-addicted mother, and André Holland as an ex-lover who’s full of remorse. Jenkins’ control over this is absolute, as he knows when to be unfussy and when to be flamboyant, and makes the sun and waves of south Florida seem an integral part of these characters. The scene with the hero and his ex staring at each other while “Hello Stranger” plays in the background is as breathtaking as the rest of the movie. Also with Jharrel Jerome, Patrick Decile, and Janelle Monáe.
Nocturnal Animals (R) A poison pill of a movie, slow-acting and effective. Amy Adams stars in this adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan as an L.A. art gallery owner who receives the manuscript of a long-delayed novel by her estranged ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal). Writer-director Tom Ford (A Single Man) starts this off with a shocking montage of naked, morbidly obese women dancing and uses the embedded plot of the novel to capture the fallout of a bombed-out marriage. The novel’s violent thriller plot becomes a way of demonstrating what an empty sham the antiheroine’s life has become, and Adams plays her with deadly chill. This movie is a ferocious enigma, untameable and hard not to approach even if you know you’ll get mauled. Also with Michael Shannon, Isla Fisher, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Armie Hammer, Ellie Bamber, Andrea Riseborough, Jena Malone, Michael Sheen, and Laura Linney. (Opens Friday)
Office Christmas Party (R) A lot of funny actors get packed into this office, and yet this party is much less fun than you’d think. T.J. Miller plays a branch manager of a data storage company who’s threatened with a shutdown by his CEO sister (Jennifer Aniston), so he has to team up with his best employees (Jason Bateman and Olivia Munn) to land a big-fish client (Courtney B. Vance) by throwing a lavish Christmas party. When the client accidentally gets a massive dose of cocaine, it lets the buttoned-up Vance play against type, but it’s still a stale piece of tomfoolery just like too much of the rest of this comedy. Everybody else is stuck in familiar grooves and seems to have been funnier in other movies. Also with Kate McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer, Jillian Bell, Rob Corddry, Randall Park, Karan Soni, Jamie Chung, Matt Walsh, Ben Falcone, Sam Richardson, Adrian Martinez, and Abbey Lee.
The Super Parental Guardians (NR) This Filipino action-comedy stars Vice Ganda and Coco Martin as a gay man and a straight man who are stuck caring for the children of a murdered friend. Also with Awra Briguela, Onyok Pineda, Matet de Leon, and Assunta de Rossi.
Trolls (PG) This animated musical has wall-to-wall music and a voice cast filled with exceptional singers. How could it go wrong? Oh, just you watch, or better yet, don’t. Justin Timberlake is the voice of a perennially grumpy troll who’s at odds with his tribe of happy trolls. He has to work with the tribe’s princess (voiced by Anna Kendrick) to rescue their fellow trolls from a race of much larger beings who eat trolls because it’s the only way they can feel happiness. This garish mess wanders round and round without ever coming to a point because it’s so busy waiting for the next musical number. The songs are painfully obvious and overproduced and nobody in the cast distinguishes themselves, a fairly amazing accomplishment. Additional voices by Zooey Deschanel, Russell Brand, James Corden, Christine Baranski, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Gwen Stefani, Rhys Darby, Quvenzhané Wallis, John Cleese, and Jeffrey Tambor.
Abattoir (R) Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw) directs this horror film about an investigative reporter (Jessica Lowndes) looking for a motive behind the murder of her sister’s family. Also with Joe Anderson, Dayton Callie, Lin Shaye, Bryan Batt, and Michael Paré.
Sword Master (NR) Derek Yee’s remake of the 1977 martial-arts film Death Duel stars Lin Gengxin as a fighting master whose place is threatened by a challenger (Peter Ho). Also with Jiang Yiyan and Jiang Mengjie.