Christmas At the Movies: What’s Playing in Theaters

It's Christmas and that means the multiplexes are swarming with holiday options. We break down which ones deserve your time and money.

It’s Christmas Day, and there are more movies to see this week than your wallet can likely afford (even if you don’t live near an Alamo Drafthouse theater…).

Thus to help you in your holiday plans, we have assembled the thoughts our critics have had on all the major releases of the week (as well as a few of the better recent ones from weeks past). Below, you can find links and excerpts from what Don Kaye, David Crow, and Duncan Bowles thought about your Yuletide options!


 Jolie, while proving herself to be a formidable director on many levels, fails to grasp this basic tenet of drama in her movie. Unbroken, despite dragging us through every atrocious moment of Zamperini’s time at sea and in the hands of the Japanese, never makes the case for why we should view this man in the way the film wants us to. –Don Kaye


It might be too easy to draw parallels between the far more incredulous and nightmarish times of 1960s Alabama with what is occurring in the U.S. today. However, the coincidental intersection of history—both what we’re living and what we’re remembering—has an undeniable brush of providence. It’s inescapable for once it does come time for the crimson to flow on Bloody Sunday, or for when Alabama State Troopers execute Jimmie Lee Jackson after simply exercising his right to organize in Selma, the blood will also be flowing, and boiling, and stirring to action in every audience member in every theater throughout the country.–David Crow

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The Gambler

The supporting performances are mostly good and quirky – especially John Goodman, sitting Jabba-like in his spa and dispensing wisdom that’s somehow both grave and hilarious, and Michael K. Williams as the inner city bookie who is surprisingly earnest and yearns to change his life. I would almost prefer to watch a movie about either of these guys instead of Bennett, the void at the center of the story into which the rest of the cast keeps throwing their good intentions for no discernible reason.–Don

Into the Woods

Into the Woods was certainly a departure on stage in terms of its somberness and heavy themes, and the movie is ultimately unable to navigate that turn while still retaining the energy it starts out with. But when it comes to all the other aspects of this – bringing more Sondheim to the screen, adapting a more mature musical, even subverting some of the parent studio’s best-known characters – I suppose it’s better to set out on an adventure and get lost in the forest along the way than to never take the journey at all.–Don

American Sniper

I would like to see the story of a man who became a killing machine for his country – saving the lives of untold numbers of American soldiers in the process – how that affected him, how he overcame it, and how, in the form of another wounded warrior, that war came back to eventually claim him anyway. But American Sniper is sadly not that movie.–Don

Big Eyes

Big Eyes likely could have used more of this stranger-than-fiction tale embracing this even stranger side. Burton’s previous (and superior) biopic was a love letter to kitschiness and mediocrity—Ed Wood delighted in its self-aware camp. Big Eyes is far more restrained, but as a result it also feels slighter. Perhaps after feeding so many creative impulses on nine-figure misfires (at least critically), Burton felt the need to tighten up.–David

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

The Battle Of The Five Armies is a satisying ending to the saga, thankfully. And as we say farewell to Middle Earth on the big screen, at least this final instalment of The Hobbit ends things on a high note, and with an emotional force that matches its visual power.–Duncan Bowles

The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game [is] the Oscar-bait biopic about Turing that focuses on his efforts — heroic for sure — to crack the Nazis’ supposedly unbreakable Enigma code during World War II. But while that part of Turing’s story is a worthy one, it’s also the safest aspect of his life and thus the easiest to make into a movie that is geared almost shamelessly toward capturing the minds, hearts and, of course, votes of Academy members come award season.–Don

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top five chris rock

Top Five

With Top Five, a film that Rock also wrote and directed, the star has finally created his own Woody Allen film, though not in the sense that he’s embraced Upper East Side neuroses and narcissism; Rock has instead made a patently New York story that is one long joke with an audience slaying punch line. This is cinematic stand up, crafted to drop the mic on a comedian whose so scared of failure that he’ll romance it.–David

Exodus: Gods and Kings

Still, for all of the amusing upgrades to this multiplex exodus, it never quite achieves the level of wide-eyed zealotry and obvious love for the material as seen in Chuck Heston decreeing, “Let my people go.” Even if Exodus: Gods and Kings is the better movie, it can never truly be the better movie. Coming down from the mountain with skepticism, Exodus ultimately leaves viewers as exactly that. –David

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