The clash between mythology and identity defines both Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy and his (some say unnecessary) trifecta of Hobbit films. Characters great and small collide in the alternate universe Middle Earth, a diverse, subtext-riddled world inhabited by magic and evil and housing thematic parallels with our own.
Proclaimed by its marketing campaign as "the defining chapter," The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies can certainly boast the longest title of the series. It begins immediately where its predecessor, The Desolation of Smaug, left off, with the titular dragon swooping down upon Lake-town to decimate its inhabitants after Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Thoren Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and their dwarf companions successfully survived its fire-breathing attack inside The Lonely Mountain.
Anticipating a shift in power, armies from all over the kingdom, including the evil orcs mobilized by the dark lord Sauron, converge to lay claim to the dragon's wealth of riches inside its cavernous abode. The stage is set for Jackson to do what he does best: orchestrate multiple fronts of action that are perfectly coherent and exciting. He's a master of continuity, and the camera glides from one series of battles to the next with effortless precision.
The impressive swordplay would mean very little if it were not complemented by our investment in the fates of Bilbo, Gandolf and Thoren. With less plot and more emotional tension, The Battle of the Five Armies—which opens Friday, Dec. 19—succeeds, much like Smaug, as a series of moral tests taking place within a brilliantly elaborate and detailed fantasy environment.
As these legendary characters "pass into legend," as one character so astutely puts it, Jackson focuses on how friendship endures, even as the threat of Golem's precious ring looms over the proceedings. We know where this story is heading, but now it's clear how and why it needed to begin in the first place.
Annie: Hollywood's latest reboot of the famous musical about an orphan adopted by a wealthy tycoon features Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz and Quvenzhané Wallis as the titular melodist.
Life Partners: The close friendship between two women is tested when one of them begins a relationship with a new man. Screens through Dec. 25 at the Ken Cinema.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb: Sadly, Robin Williams' last performance exists within this silly universe of an inexpressive Ben Stiller, an expressive monkey and artifacts brought to life.
The Babadook: Single parenting has never been more horrifying as it is in Jennifer Kent's astonishing horror-film debut about a young boy tormented by a cryptic storybook character named "The Babadook." Screens through Dec. 25 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: The final chapter in Peter Jackson's bloated three-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's famous novel ends in a massive battle between elves, dwarves, men and the nefarious orcs.
Violet: A young man falls in love with a woman he sees in a photograph, sending him on an adventure to discover her name and whereabouts. Screens through Dec. 25 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
One time only
The Closet: In order to avoid being fired, a man spreads a rumor of his own homosexuality. It stars Daniel Auteuil and Gérard Depardieu. Screens at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 17, at the La Jolla Community Center.
Bikini Beach: The public library's ongoing SchlockFest, a tribute to Hollywood B movies, presents this campy flick about a billionaire who wants to prove that his pet chimp is smarter than American teens. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 17, at the San Diego Central Library in East Village.
2 Autumns, 3 Winters: Happenstance and fate collide when a man and a woman run into each other—literally—on a jogging path in Paris. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 17, at the Scripps Ranch Library.
Tootsie: Dustin Hoffman in drag? Who could ask for anything more than that? Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 17, at Hillcrest Cinemas.
The Polar Express: Robert Zemeckis uses revolutionary motion-capture animation to tell the story of a cynical boy who boards a train headed to the North Pole. Screens at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 18, at Arclight La Jolla.
Some Like it Hot: Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis disguise themselves as women in order to flee the state after witnessing a murder. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 18, through Saturday, Dec. 20, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Tim Curry stars in the longest-running midnight movie of all time, about a young couple who stumble upon a mansion full of eccentric characters. Screens at midnight on Saturday, Dec. 20, at the Ken Cinema.
Amigo: During the Philippine-American War, a U.S. Army platoon occupies a Filipino village, fending off insurgent attacks and negatively influencing the townspeople's lives. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 22, at the San Diego Central Library in East Village.
Skeleton Twins: Estranged twins played by Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig cheat death on the same day and try to mend their relationship. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 23, at the Point Loma / Hervey Branch Library.
A Gesar Bard's Tale: An illiterate Tibetan nomad begins orating King Gesar's epic story from memory, becoming a famous bard and cultural luminary for the Chinese government. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 23, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Frozen: A princess is stricken with a curse that turns everything she touches to ice, driving her adventurous sister on a journey for a cure. Musical numbers ensue. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 24, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Antarctica: A Year on the Ice: The incredible true story of the scientists, researchers, chefs, technicians and other professionals who make up the population of people who live year-round in Antarctica. Ends Dec. 18 at the Ken Cinema.
Exodus: Gods and Kings: The story of Moses (Christian Bale), Rhamses (Joel Edgerton) and the Ten Commandments gets super-sized.
I Am Eleven: Filmmaker Genevieve Bailey spoke with 11-year-olds from around the world to construct this insightful and funny documentary portrait of childhood. Ends Dec. 17 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Palo Malo: When a 9-year-old asks his mother to have his curly hair straightened for a yearbook picture, the request causes a rift between the two that becomes difficult to fix. Ends Dec. 18 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Top Five: Set to marry a reality star and have their wedding taped for public consumption, a popular comedian (Chris Rock) returns home to his old neighborhood, hoping to gain some clarity.
Wild: Based on the best-selling novel, this drama tells the story of Cheryl Strayed, who trekked more than 1,000 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail to reassess her troubled life.
Balboa Park: The Jewel of San Diego: An engaging time capsule, this 30-minute documentary takes viewers through the long and fascinating history of the local landmark. Through Dec. 31 at the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park.
The Homesman: A lonely farmer (Hilary Swank) living in the old west agrees to transport three women who've gone insane across state lines with the help of an ornery old louse (Tommy Lee Jones).
Horrible Bosses 2: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day get another chance to turn the tables on their self-serving bosses and exact revenge.
Penguins of Madagascar: A trio of goofy penguins must join forces with a secret underground organization to defeat a villain trying to destroy the world.
Foxcatcher: Bennett Miller's dark sports film tells the tragic true story of the Schultz brothers (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum), wrestlers who became forever entwined with the wealthy heir to the du Pont fortune (Steve Carell).
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1: Having just destroyed the Hunger Games infrastructure, Katnis returns home to lead the rebellion against the corrupt forces of the capital.
Beyond the Lights: On the brink of superstardom, a talented young musician struggles with the pressure of the public limelight.
Dumb and Dumber To: In this sequel to the 1994 hit comedy, walking morons Lloyd (Jim Carrey) and Harry (Jeff Daniels) return to the big screen to grace us with their idiocy.
Rosewater: Gael Garcia Bernal stars as a journalist who becomes imprisoned after filming the aftermath of the 2009 elections in Iran. It's directed by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show.
The Theory of Everything: Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is diagnosed with motor-neuron disease just as he's graduating with a doctorate degree in physics from Cambridge and starting a new life with his wife (Felicity Jones).
Big Hero 6: An inflatable robot develops a bond with a prodigy named Hiro, and the two become high-tech heroes.
Force Majeure: While on vacation in the French Alps, a Swedish family experiences a traumatic event that reveals the deep-seated emotions and frustrations that have long simmered under the surface.
Interstellar: Christopher Nolan's new science-fiction epic follows a group of explorers who make use of a newly discovered wormhole to find a new home for humanity.
Nightcrawler: This scathing and unsettling portrait of modern news television stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a vulture scouring the Los Angeles streets for gory events.
Mysteries of Egypt: Traverse the glorious history and legacy of the ancient Egyptians in this IMAX adventure that takes you beyond the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Birdman: A burnt-out superhero actor (Michael Keaton) tries to mount a play on Broadway in order to prove his worth. It co-stars Naomi Watts, Emma Stone and Andrea Riseborough.
John Wick: After his dog is killed during a random break-in, a former hit man (Keanu Reeves) goes on the warpath looking for vengeance.
St. Vincent: A misanthropic senior citizen (Bill Murray) befriends a young boy going through familial trouble, inevitably leading to redemption for all involved.
Fury: A surly tank commander (Brad Pitt) and his small crew fend off Nazis during the waning days of World War II.
The Book of Life: This animated fantasy follows a young man who's torn between fulfilling his family duties and following his heart. It features the voices of Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana and Channing Tatum.
Whiplash: A sadistic music teacher tortures a young drummer at a posh New York City conservatory.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: A boy lives through a calamitous day, and the bad luck spreads to his other family members.
The Judge: Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) returns to his childhood home to defend his embittered father (Robert Duvall), the town's judge, who's been accused of murder.
Gone Girl: David Fincher adapts Gillian Flynn's bestselling novel with Ben Affleck in the lead as the suspicious husband whose beautiful wife (Rosamund Pike) suddenly goes missing.
Hidden Universe: Blast off into the stratosphere with this documentary that uses real images captured from telescopes to examine the vast reaches of space. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Journey to the South Pacific: Let the glorious scale of IMAX take you to the tropical islands of West Papua, where life under the sea is just as lush and vibrant as it is on shore. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.