The story: Washed-up Hollywood superhero tries to reinvent his career on the Broadway stage.

In its favor: It has pathos, touches of magical realism and that virtuoso one-take cinematography. Plus, the academy loves stories about actors.

Then again: None of the characters is really likable, and what was that ending about, anyway?

Our review: ⋆⋆⋆⋆




The story: Twelve years in the life of a boy and his family.

In its favor: Director Richard Linklater’s audacious concept allows the actors to age and mature naturally, and emphasizes the profundity of small, ordinary moments. Ellar Coltrane (the boy of the title) was a serendipitous find.

Then again: It’s been compared to watching paint dry. For 12 years.

Our review: ⋆⋆⋆⋆



The story: An eccentric billionaire puts together an Olympic-quality wrestling team.

In its favor: The three lead actors nail the sheer physicality of the sport. An impressive atmosphere of dread hangs over the proceedings like the Pennsylvania fog.

Then again: It’s slow-moving and there’s little humor to leaven the intensity.

Our review: ⋆⋆⋆⋆


Gone Girl

The story: A woman’s disappearance puts the heat on her philandering husband.

In its favor: Rosamund Pike’s icy-cool princess. Ben Affleck’s best performance in years. Gillian Flynn’s superb adaptation of her own mega-bestseller.

Then again: The vile characters, graphic sex and violence can be off-putting.

Our review: ⋆⋆⋆½


The Grand Budapest Hotel

The story: The adventures of a legendary concierge at a European hotel between the wars.

In its favor: Wes Anderson’s signature devotion to delightfully intricate detail, and Ralph Fiennes’ touchingly melancholy performance.

Then again: Anderson is an acquired taste.

Our review: ⋆⋆⋆⋆


The Imitation Game

The story: The story of World War II code-breaker Alan Turing, the father of the computer.

In its favor: The film finds the humanity behind Turing’s awkward, blustering facade, and builds up genuine suspense as we watch the genius at work.

Then again: The Very Important Picture sheen is laid on a bit thick, and Turing’s tragic later years feel glossed over.

Our review: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Into the Woods

The story: All-star adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s fairy-tale mashup.

In its favor: Sumptuous scenery, splendid singing, subversive wit and Sondheim. Emily Blunt, Chris Pine and Anna Kendrick are surprisingly good; Meryl Streep is unsurprisingly good.

Then again: The overlong film’s second half can’t sustain the first half’s fizzy energy.

Our review: ⋆⋆⋆⋆



The story: Martin Luther King Jr. leads the game-changing civil-rights march on Selma, Ala.

In its favor: Director Ava DuVernay takes what could have felt like a dry history lesson and gives it vivid, dramatic life.

Then again: Too dramatic, some critics have sniped, claiming that the film takes liberties with the facts.

Our review: ⋆⋆⋆⋆



The Theory of Everything

The story: The story of the relationship between physicist Stephen Hawking and his first wife, Jane.

In its favor: Eddie Redmayne, who simply is Stephen Hawking. A tender performance from the lovely Felicity Jones.

Then again: It sometimes reduces Hawking to a quip machine. Where’s the math?

Our review: ⋆⋆½



The story: Reeling from tragedy, Cheryl Strayed seeks redemption through a thousand-mile solo hike.

In its favor: Reese Witherspoon gives a gutsy, vanity-free performance; you feel that sweat, those blisters, those toenails being pulled off. The scenery will have you packing your hiking boots.

Then again: The ending feels abrupt — she made it! And … scene.

Our review: ⋆⋆⋆⋆


A Most Violent Year

The story: An ambitious immigrant fights to protect his business and family in early ’80s New York City.

In its favor: A cool thriller that calls to mind the crime dramas of the great 1970s auteurs. Oscar Isaac is reminiscent of a “Godfather”-era Al Pacino.

Then again: Despite the promise of its title, the film is much more sedate than violent.

Our review: ⋆⋆⋆½



The story: A rogue crime-scene photographer blurs the line between observer and participant.

In its favor: Jake Gyllenhaal’s two-bit hustler gets under your skin, and the film is a skilled takedown of the “if it bleeds, it leads” news culture.

Then again: Wants to be a “Network” for the 21st century and falls a bit short.

Our review: ⋆⋆⋆½




The story: The heroic true-life tale of Louis Zamperini, Olympic star and World War II prisoner.

In its favor: Bestseller pedigree, A-list screenwriters and cinematographer, fine acting by relative unknown Jack O’Connell.

Then again: It sometimes feels stifled by its own nobility. And the unrelenting brutality led some to label it “torture porn.”

Our review: ⋆⋆⋆½



The story: A drummer comes under the tutelage of a demanding instructor at a cutthroat music academy.

In its favor: A propulsive, exhilarating drama. The intensity of the teacher-pupil scenes has earned the film the nickname “Full Metal Juilliard.”

Then again: Too-neat coincidences figure in the last act. And you have to like drumming. Lots of drumming.

Our review: ⋆⋆⋆⋆



The story: Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle finds he can’t leave the war behind.

In its favor: A rich study of combat violence, it’s Clint Eastwood’s most morally ambiguous drama since “Unforgiven.” Bradley Cooper delivers a deeply felt performance as Kyle.

Then again: It’s a bit simplistic, painting Kyle as a man seemingly without flaws.

Our review: ⋆⋆⋆½