"Zero Dark Thirty" (R, 157 minutes, Sony): From the very first scenes of "Zero Dark Thirty," director Kathryn Bigelow demonstrates why she is such a formidable filmmaker, as adept with human emotion as she is with visceral, pulse-quickening action. Those looking for Monday-morning moralizing on the war on terror will be disappointed by "Zero Dark Thirty." But anyone who appreciates movies at their most engrossing, taut and well-crafted will be supremely rewarded by a film that makes a 10-year bureaucratic slog utterly riveting. Contains strong violence, including brutal and disturbing images, and profanity.
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (PG-13, 170 minutes, New Line/MGM/Warner): As the first of director Peter Jackson's trilogy, this "Hobbit" may well please the franchise's most devoted fans, who will no doubt savor the chance to traipse through J.R.R. Tolkien's imaginative landscape populated by dwarfs, elves, goblins, trolls and the appealingly winsome title character. But purely on its own terms, "An Unexpected Journey" is a dreary, episodic series of lumbering walk-talk-fight sequences that often looks less like genuine cinema than a large-scale video game. Contains frightening images and extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence.
"A Royal Affair" (R, 137 minutes, in Danish with English subtitles, Magnolia Home Entertainment): Nikolaj Arcel's fascinating portrait of 18th century Denmark is the true story of a physician who brought Enlightenment values to the country by way of his friendship with an addled young king. This Oscar- nominated drama epitomizes what it takes to make history come alive on screen, creating the sense of an immediate, firsthand atmosphere while never getting bogged down in fussy detail for its own sake. Contains sexual content and some violent images.
"Les Misérables" (PG-13, 160 minutes, Universal): There's plenty to cheer in "Les Misérables," including some astonishing breakout performances. Eddie Redmayne delivers by far the most moving and memorable performance as the young firebrand Marius, who along with his fellow students is caught up in France's political upheavals in the 19th century. The centerpiece of a movie composed entirely of centerpieces belongs to Anne Hathaway, who as the tragic heroine Fantine sings another of the memorables in a show of few hummable tunes. Her Oscar-winning rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" is a melodramatic tour de force. Contains suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements.
"This Is 40" (R, 134 minutes, Universal): As unstructured as a sweatsuit, "This Is 40" nevertheless is a comfortable fit for its stars, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, who bring a laid-back chemistry and prickly energy to writer-director Judd Apatow's amiably angsty comedy about a married couple facing midlife. If only the film itself were half as charming. Contains frequent obscenity, sexual humor and partial nudity.