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December 12. 2013 6:05PM

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12 YEARS A SLAVE — Steve McQueen’s exquisite take on a true story of one man’s struggle with “the peculiar institution” is more than a beautifully shot art piece. It’s history made violently real. 133 mins. R for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality. ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

ALL IS LOST — It’s hard to imagine being farther off the grid than the weathered yachtsman played by Robert Redford in this majestic, melancholy, one-word film. There he is, solo on a 39-foot sailboat in the middle of the Indian Ocean, taking on water after a freak accident. 106 mins. PG-13 for profanity, adult themes. ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

BLUE JASMINE — At the heart of Woody Allen’s film is a rich performance that can be described in so many ways, and yet it almost defies description. That’s how incredibly good Cate Blanchett — an early favorite in Oscar’s best-actress race — is. “Blue Jasmine” might closely compare to 2005’s “Match Point” in its elements of pure drama, but it might be 1989’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors” that most closely resembles the level of tragedy on display here, combined with moments of odd farce that unsettle the audience further, exactly as the filmmaker intends. The actress channels the ghost of Blanche du Bois from “A Streetcar Named Desire” and mashes it into the character of a beloved socialite who becomes an overnight pariah. 98 mins. PG-13 for mature thematic material, language and sexual content. ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

THE BOOK THIEF — Elevated by tender, smart performances and working within World War II Germany, this offers eloquent portraits of the human spirit in awful times. Our narrator Death (Roger Allam) introduces us to young Liesel (Sophie Nelisse), a girl abandoned by her mother when her younger brother died. Liesel ends up with an older couple in a small German village in 1938, where she is coaxed out of her shell and taught to read. PG-13 for violence and intense depiction of thematic material. 131 mins. ♦ ♦ 1/2

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB — Ron Woodroof likes girls, gambling, booze and drugs. It’s 1985, and he’s a hard-partying good-old boy until he learns he’s been infected with the HIV virus in a hospital. But AIDS is something gay men get, and Ron (an emaciated Matthew McConaughey) isn’t freaking gay. So he blows off the news. Until he starts getting weaker and weaker and decides to fight. 117 mins. R for pervasive language, strong sexual content, nudity and drug use. ♦ ♦ ♦ 1/2

DELIVERY MAN — Vince Vaughn has cultivated the comedic persona of an obnoxious boor, so it may come as a surprise to learn that “Delivery Man” reveals a softer side. As David Wozniak, world’s most fertile sperm donor, he plays someone who’s overwhelmed as opposed to merely overwhelming. 105 mins. PG-13 for theme, sexual content, drug material, brief violence and language. ♦ ♦ ♦

FROZEN — Instead of the bygone damsels in distress, the female royals of Disney’s latest animated wonder are feisty, forward and independent. Inspired by the 19th-century fairytale “The Snow Queen,” by Hans Christian Andersen, “Frozen” marks another Disney film modernizing one of the Danish author’s stories. PG for some action and mild rude humor. 108 mins. ♦ ♦ 1/2

GRAVITY — Marooned in space, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and her far more experienced co-pilot Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) face their own mortality in a film with emotional and spiritual depth that’s also tense and suspenseful. 90 mins. PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language. ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

HOMEFRONT — This should be a lot more fun than it is. Jason Statham and James Franco squaring off over meth with a script by Sylvester Stallone? Sounds like a guilty pleasure, right? Unfortunately, the result is a rather rote action thriller that comes alive only during the well-staged fight scenes. Fortunately, there are quite a few of them. R for strong violence, pervasive strong language, drug content, brief sexuality. 100 mins. ♦ ♦

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE — Once things finally get going, this humorless chatterbox of intrigues, rebellion and a love triangle that seems “Twilighty” in its lovelessness packs in some real pathos. 146 mins. PG-13 for intense violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language. ♦ ♦

LAST VEGAS — Oscar winners Robert De Niro, Kevin Kline, Morgan Freeman and Michael Douglas are about to cut loose at a bachelor party in Sin City. “Last Vegas” is an on-the-nose, on-the-money “Grumpy Old Men with Hangovers.” 100 mins. PG-13 on appeal for sexual content and language. ♦ ♦ 1/2

OUT OF THE FURNACE — This earnestly crafted, passionately acted working-class drama, set in Braddock, Pa., is rusted over by its noble intentions of steel-town sympathizing. The town mill hovers as the empty heart of a corroded city, and atmosphere is laid on thick. It’s filled with tattoos, beer bottles, muscle cars, flannel shirts and, to top it off, Eddie Vedder. The clichés are many, but few will doubt its weighty sincerity. What’s dying? The lives of blue-collar men. R for intense violence and action, frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language. 116 mins. ♦ ♦

PHILOMENA — Stephen Frears is in fine form as he tackles a story based on the 2009 investigative book “The Lost Son of Philomena Lee,” by Martin Sixsmith. Lee, still living today, is an Irish woman who, as a teenager, became pregnant during a fairground tryst. Rejected at home, she was sent to a convent, where she endured a painful birth, then was forced to work in the laundry with other “fallen women” for years. Worse, the convent sold babies to wealthy Americans, and Philomena’s son was carried off one day. This begins on Anthony’s 50th birthday, with Philomena still desperate to find out what happened to him. PG-13 for some strong language, thematic elements and sexual references. 98 mins. ♦ ♦ ♦

THOR: THE DARK WORLD — The bulk of this bloated, plodding sequel is just another riff about an ancient being, this one named Malekith (Christopher Eccleston, unrecognizable under makeup), who wants to destroy the universe. 111 mins. PG-13 for intense sci-action and violence, adult themes. ♦ ♦

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