KEY: Four stars: superior. Three stars: good. Two stars: average. One star: poor. D (drug use), L (language), N (nudity), S (sexual situations, references), V (violence). Ratings by Dann Gire, Daily Herald Film Critic, unless otherwise noted.
"Argo" -- Ultra-white knuckle time as Ben Affleck directs a suspenseful drama based on the rescue of six U.S. embassy workers hiding in the Canadian ambassador's house during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979. Surprisingly humorous, too. (R) L, V. 120 minutes. . . . 1/2
"Django Unchained" -- Quentin Tarantino directs and writes an unlikely Christmas Day release: a lurid Spaghetti Western/1970s exploitation mashup comedy about a former slave (Jamie Foxx) who hooks up with a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) to free his enslaved wife (Kerry Washington) from a ruthless plantation owner named Calvin Candie (Leonard DiCaprio). (R) L, N, V. 166 minutes. . . . .
"Flight" -- It begins as a disaster movie, then morphs into a dependency drama as Robert Zemeckis directs a focused tale on addiction, starring a well-cast Denzel Washington as an airline pilot who saves a plane full of people while drunk and high. Potent stuff. (R) D, L, N, S, V. 138 minutes. . . . 1/2
"Hitchcock" -- Amusing but inaccurately romanticized story of how Alfred Hitchcock and his faithful wife, Alma (Helen Mirren), created the horror landmark "Psycho" in 1960. With Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh. (PG-13) L, S, V. 98 minutes. . . .
"The Impossible" -- An intense, top-drawer disaster movie based on the true story of a family who in 2004 is separated by a tsunami in Thailand. Tom Holland (remember this kid!), Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor star in a visceral drama directed with panache by J.A. "The Orphanage" Bayona. In limited release. (PG-13) N, V. 107 minutes. . . . .
"Killing Them Softly" -- Talky gangster tale punctuated by bursts of uncomfortably realistic violence. A weary hit man (Brad Pitt) comes to Louisiana to take out two stupid thugs for holding up a high-stakes mob poker game. An allegory with the subtlety of a shotgun blast to the face. (R) D, L, S, V. 97 minutes. . . .
"Les Miserables" -- The popular stage opera becomes a thunderous work of cinema from "The King's Speech" director Tom Hooper. With an obsessed lawman (Russell Crowe) on his tail, a 19th-century ex-con (Hugh Jackman) starts a new life fraught with conflict, rebellion, joy, forgiveness, love, sacrifice and pain. With Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne. (PG-13) S, V. 158 minutes. . . . .
"Life of Pi" -- Ang Lee's wondrous tale of a young Indian (Suraj Sharma) who survives a ship wreck aboard a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. An epic celebrating the power of storytelling in all forms. See it in 3-D and be amazed. (PG) 127 minutes. . . . .
"Lincoln" -- Daniel Day-Lewis' performance as the 16th president dominates this well-written behind-the-scenes look at how Lincoln orchestrated the passage of the 13th amendment to ban slavery in the U.S. Tommy Lee Jones plays a memorable Thaddeus Stevens. Sally Field plays Mary Todd Lincoln. Staid camerawork by Columbia College grad Janusz Kaminski. (PG-13) L, V. 149 minutes. . . . 1/2
"Monsters, Inc." -- Pixar's delightful 2001 animated comedy returns to the big screen converted into 3-D! Sully (John Goodman) freaks out when a little girl invades Monstropolis. With Billy Crystal and Mary Gibbs. (G) 92 minutes. . . . 1/2
"Not Fade Away" -- David Chase, best known for HBO's "The Sopranos," turns to the silver screen for sweet, sad and smart tale of a Jersey teen in a 1960s band. Starring John Magaro and James Gandolfini. Reviewed by David Germain of the Associated Press. (R) L, D, S. 112 minutes. . . .
"Perks of Being a Wallflower" -- Sensitive, well-acted coming-of-age drama about a freshman (Logan Lerman) with a secret who falls in with two high school seniors (Emma Watson and Ezra Miller). …