The best movies to see this month

These films are topping our must list this month

Wild

The so-real-it-hurts Laura Dern is a cinematic treasure at this point: In Wild, the actor is magically effervescent as a fluky '70s mom, splashing puddles with her small children and bravely facing abandonment, money woes and illness. She's the soul of the film and her cracked smile wrecks you even when her dialogue suggests a dumber target audience.

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Exodus: Gods and Kings

"Let my people goooooooooooo…" Director Ridley Scott rounds up an army of thespian talent including Christian Bale, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, John Turturro and we’re guessing roughly 10,000,000 digital extras. Yes, in this year of Noah, Pompeii and Hercules, the big Daddy of historical epics is most definitely this megabudget Biblical barnstormer from the Gladiator man himself. Now, we’re not entirely convinced about the whole sword-and-sandal thing—Gladiator was great, but it’s been downhill ever since—but if anyone can pull off the kind of spectacle, special effects and seriousness the Moses story requires, it’s our Ridley. And Christian Bale as Moses? Yeah, okay, we’ll buy that.

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Inherent Vice

Ever since Boogie Nights, the untamable Paul Thomas Anderson has thrilled us with the mania of self-made men—porn stars, game-show hosts, oil prospectors and cultists. Now, for a change, the director grabs you by the nose: Inherent Vice, Anderson's sexy, swirling latest (based on Thomas Pynchon's exquisite stoner mystery set at the dawn of the '70s), is a wondrously fragrant movie, emanating sweat, the stink of pot clouds and the press of hairy bodies.

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

And, finally, Peter Jackson's epic adventures in the world of Middle-Earth come to a close. This is the third episode in Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy, and the sixth and last film in the series that began with the first The Lord of the Rings film back in 2001. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his Company of Dwarves have let loose a dangerous force and so a furious Smaug (the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch) unleashes his anger on the folk of Lake-town. Elsewhere, evil Sauron is back in Middle-Earth and has sent countless Orcs to attack the Lonely Mountain. The early word is that this third The Hobbit film is the closest in feel and tone to the original The Lord of the Rings films.

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Annie

Ever since her parents left her as a baby, little Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) has led a hard-knock life with her mean foster-mother, Miss Hannigan. However, that all changes when hard-nosed billionaire and mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) takes her in on the recommendation of his advisers (Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale). Stacks believes that he's Annie's guardian angel, but the plucky youngster's confidence and sunny outlook may mean that Annie will save Will instead.

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Mr. Turner

Twice before, first with Topsy-Turvy and then with Vera Drake, Mike Leigh has punctuated his bittersweet studies of contemporary life with period dramas. Now, with Mr. Turner, the British director of Naked and Secrets & Lies takes us back to the nineteenth century and the later years of the celebrated, groundbreaking, difficult painter J.M.W. Turner.

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The Interview

The film that North Korea accused of being an "act of war" against their country isn’t a hard-hitting doc or a patriotic drama—it’s a goofy comedy starring those past masters of stoner idiocy, James Franco and Seth Rogen. Written and directed by Rogen along with his Superbad collaborator Evan Goldberg, it’s the tale of two TV tabloid news hacks who unexpectedly get the chance to interview portly premier Kim Jong-Un, and are forcibly recruited by the CIA to carry out an assassination. The last time a pair of American comedians took on the Korean leadership the result was stone-cold comedy classic Team America: World Police. If this is half as good we’ll be thrilled to bits.

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Release date: Thursday December 25 2014

Into the Woods

Is Meryl Streep on another jazz hands mission to prove that being a serial Oscar winner doesn’t mean you have to be all po-faced and deadly serious? She stars as the evil witch in Disney’s $90 million live action mega-musical, adapted from Stephen Sondheim's hit Broadway show. The film is a fairytale mash-up connecting four stories. James Corden and Emily Blunt star as the village the baker and his wife, who discover that a curse by the witch next door is the reason they're struggling to have a baby. To break the spell they must collect special items (including a cow as white as milk and a cape as red as blood) which bring them into contact with a greatest hits of fairytale characters, including Anna Kendrick as Cinderella and Johnny Depp as the Big Bad Wolf. Directed by Rob Chicago Marshall, this has the potential to be an off-the-scale hit.

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Unbroken

Director Angelina Jolie and screenwriters Joel and Ethan Coen… hang on, that can’t be right! Yes, her directorial debut In the Land of Blood and Honey wasn’t exactly a critical favorite, but this time around actress-turned-filmmaker Jolie has a not-so-secret weapon in the form of heavy-duty screenwriters the Coen brothers. These three mismatched movie veterans have joined forces to tell the tale of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete who was held as a prisoner of war by the Japanese. A solid cast of up-and-comers includes Garrett Hedlund, Domnhall Gleeson and the breakout star of British prison flick Starred Up, Jack O’Connell, as Zamperini.

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Release date: Thursday December 25 2014

Big Eyes

Walter Keane's (Christoph Waltz) portraits of saucer-eyed waifs make him a popular artist in the 1950s, but no one knows that it's his wife, Margaret (Amy Adams), who's the real genius behind the paintbrush.

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