The Best Christmas and Holiday Movies for 2012

It’s holiday break time. Once the presents are opened, the goodies have been eaten, and the relatives kissed goodbye… you still have a week of downtime before everyone gets back to their normal routines. If you’re looking to kill an evening between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve, the movies are always a good bet. This is the prime period for moviegoers — studios want to get their movies before end-of-year-listmakers and awards voters, too, so great options abound.

Of course, the movies that came out over the Thanksgiving weekend are still hanging around — and by now they’ve been vetted to separate the clear winners (Skyfall) from losers (Killing Them Softly) — so you can always catch up on those. But here’s a guide to the movies that have come out since then.

Best bets:

Django Unchained
How cruel of the Weinstein Company to make us wait so, so long for the next Quentin Tarantino movie. (It doesn’t open until Christmas Day.) Jamie Foxx stars as a slave-turned-bounty-hunter off to rescue his wife, but I’m equally interested in seeing Leonardo DiCaprio as his the rich plantation owner nemesis — sort of an Evil Gatsby before his real Great Gatsby comes out in May.

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Hyde Park on Hudson
OK, the critics didn’t like it. We still love Bill Murray, and his FDR movie takes place in the Hudson Valley. What’s not to like?

jack reacher movieJack Reacher photograph © 2012 Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved

Jack Reacher
Tom Cruise steps into the macho, fomer-miltary-police-now-lone-wolf role made famous by author Lee Child and his suspense-heavy novel One Shot. Super-fans of the book series so far are not impressed, but when are they ever?

les miserables movieLes Misérables photograph courtesy of Universal Pictures © 2012 Universal Studios. All rights reserved

Les Misérables
Even if you weren’t obsessed with your Original Cast Recording in the fourth grade (ahem), Anne Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream” will make you a little embarrassed at how much attention we all gave Susan Boyle. Director Tom Hooper (of The King’s Speech fame) made his actors sing live when he filmed, which makes for a more spontaneous feel than in other movie-musicals.

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
It’s been nine years since you’ve been to Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth. If you’ve had a hankering to revisit those hobbit holes, An Unexpected Journey can take you back to a time when Bilbo first encounters the One Ring to Rule Them All. Plus, you can see the movie in a ton of different formats: It’s in 2D! It’s in 3D! It’s in IMAX (just make sure you go to a real IMAX theater). It’s playing at a higher frame rate (though probably not around here, and you might not want that anyway).

The Impossible
Most people have left this movie — about a family trying to reunite after the devastating 2004 tsunami — weeping too hard to worry about the thorny race and class issues involved in adapting the disaster for the screen. (Others, obviously, not so much.)

This Is 40
With movies like Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, you might think of Judd Apatow as a director who specializes in delayed adolescence — but this time he tackles middle-age head-on. If you’re a fan of Apatow’s older movies, though, you’re still in luck: In This Is 40 Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann are reprising their roles from Knocked Up.

Zero Dark Thirty
That buzzing sound you hear is critics falling over themselves to praise Kathryn Bigelow’s follow up to The Hurt Locker. This movie, a behind-the-scenes procedural about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, is sure to be a big winner come awards time.

Also consider:

This French-language film, about a couple in their eighties coping with end-of-life issues after the wife suffers a stroke, both snagged the Palme D’Or in Cannes and was named Best Picture by the Los Angeles Film Critics.

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The Guilt Trip and Parental Guidance
Two comedies about how parents and their adult children just don’t see eye-to-eye. The former stars Seth Rogan and Barbra Streisand; the latter has Marisa Tomei paired up with Billy Crystal and Bette Midler.

Not Fade Away
David Chase fans and those more prone to ’60s nostalgia might enjoy this coming-of-age tale about a wannabe rock star growing up in suburban New Jersey in the age of the Beatles and the Stones. (And yes, Sopranos addicts, James Gandolfini does have a role as the protagonist’s father.)

On the Road
Yep, as in the Kerouac novel — an on-screen reminder of your more bohemian days.

West of Memphis
The story — about three kids wrongly accused and imprisoned for murder — isn’t full of holiday cheer, but it’s based on a true story, and the innocence of the “West Memphis Three” would never have come to light if it wasn’t for the series of Paradise Lost documentaries made by Northern Westchester’s Joe Berlinger.

Promised Land
Matt Damon, The Office’s John Krasinski, and Good Will Hunting director Gus Van Sant team up to make a (fiction) movie about fracking, a hot-button issue in the Hudson Valley.

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