"12 Years a Slave": Director Steve McQueen's unsparing account of a free black man's journey to hell and back when he's kidnapped and sold into slavery is a modern masterpiece. The cast is outstanding, with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong'o delivering Oscar-caliber performances.

* * * * -- (Randy Myers, Staff) R (for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality) 2 hours, 13 minutes.

"About Time": This "Groundhog Day" for romantics finds the creator of "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Love, Actually" at his sentimental best. Domhnall Gleeson stars as a man who can time travel, a quality that helps and complicates his relationship with the woman of his dreams (Rachel McAdams).

* * * -- (Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service) R (for language and some sexual content) 2 hours, 3 minutes.

"Black Nativity": Kasi Lemmons modernizes the classic Langston Hughes play, and the results are good, but mixed. Jennifer Hudson, whose vocals shoot up to the church rafters, is the best part. But Lemmons lacks a sure hand directing the musical numbers. Regardless, it's a heartwarming Christmas story about a teen (newcomer Jacob Latimore) trying to resist temptation. Great soundtrack.

* *

* -- (Randy Myers, Staff) PG (thematic material, language and a menacing situation) 1 hour, 34 minutes.

"The Book Thief": A heartwarming tale of a girl learning to love books in a small German town during WWII while her family hides a young Jewish man in their basement. Though the acting is first-rate (Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson and scene-stealing newcomer Sophie Nelisse), the story seems to strangely gloss over the stark horrors of the Holocaust.

* *

* -- (Tony Hicks, Staff Writer) PG-13 (for intense themes and some violence). 2 hours, 11 minutes.

"Dallas Buyer's Club": Gaunt and almost unrecognizable, Matthew McConaughey delivers one of 2013's most complex performances as Ron Woodroof, a rodeo rider who, when diagnosed with HIV, turns into a renegade drug supplier in Texas.

* *

* � -- (Randy Myers, Staff) R (for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity and drug use) 1 hour, 57 minutes.

"Delivery Man": As a man who finds out he's the biological father to hundreds, Vince Vaughn reveals a softer side in what amounts to virtually a scene-for-scene remake of the Canadian film "Starbuck." The beauty of the script is that its supplies the emotional uplift moviegoers want while still managing to surprise at every turn.

* *

* -- (Peter Debruge, Variety) PG-13 (for thematic elements, sexual content, some drug material, brief violence and language) 1 hour, 45 minutes.

"Frozen": Disney gets back to what it knows by putting its own spin on a fairy tale, then pouring on the action, humor and magic. An adaptation of "The Ice Queen" finds a town in peril from its queen in exile, who didn't know how to harness her powers and is now the target of a frantic search led by her younger sister. While seemingly a good vs. evil tale involving royalty, at its heart is a story about the power of sisterly love.

* *

* � -- (Tony Hicks, staff writer). PG (for some action and mild rude humor). 1 hour, 48 minutes.

"Homefront": Action star Jason Statham does his best with a Sylvester Stallone script and once again outshines the standard-issue material he's handed. "Homefront" is based on a Chuck Hogan novel with a great idea: a schoolyard scrap turns into a situation that spirals out of control. Unfortunately, director Gary Fleder takes that premise and adapts it as if it was an infomercial. James Franco is bland, as is this suspense-less movie.

* � -- (Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald) R (for violence, adult themes) 1 hour, 40 minutes.

"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire": This sequel to the 2012 megahit about a young female archer from a dystopian future improves on the original. Jennifer Lawrence nails it as Hunger Games victor Katniss who comes under scrutiny of President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

* *

* � -- (Randy Myers, Staff) PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, and language) 2 hours, 26 minutes.

"Nebraska": Bruce Dern is pitch-perfect as a cranky father who cajoles his son (played by Will Forte) to take a road trip to claim a $1 million prize. Screenwriter Bob Nelson's Midwest-set dramedy has charm that is rooted in its clever dialogue and novel approach to small-town dynamics.

* *

* -- (Jessica Herndon, Associated Press) R (for some language) 1 hour, 55 minutes.

"Oldboy": Spike Lee's remake of South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-woo's cult classic is true to the spirit of the original, until it loses its nerve at the end. Josh Brolin, in terrific shape, convincingly plays a businessman who has been held hostage for 20 years for unknown reasons. When he's released, he goes looking for the person responsible.


* � -- (Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald) R (for extreme violence, heavy gore, nudity, sexual situations, adult themes) 1 hour, 44 minutes.

"Philomena": Judi Dench gives a nuanced, intelligent performance as an Irish mother who embarks on a search/road trip with a journalist (Steve Coogan, who also co-wrote the screenplay) to find the son she's never met. Stephen Frears' film juggles drama and comedy as it explores a tragic story involving the Catholic Church. Terrific acting truly elevates it.

* *

* � -- (Jocelyn Noveck, Associated Press) PG-13 (for some strong language, thematic elements) 1 hour, 38 minutes.


: The Dark World": The Marvel hero's first appearance since "The Avengers" is average by comparison. It has some fun moments but doesn't become very interesting until Thor (Chris Hemsworth) enlists the help of villainous brother Loki, played brilliantly by Tom Hiddleston.

* * -- (Tony Hicks, Staff) PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content). 1 hour, 52 minutes.