Scott Tobias

The opening minutes of Danny Boyle's Trainspotting stand as a defining pop salvo in the movies, akin to The Beatles dashing away from screaming fans in A Hard Day's Night or Rosie Perez shadow-boxing her way through Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" in the opening credits of Do the Right Thing.

Fifteen years ago, director Jeffrey Blitz kicked off his career with the hit documentary Spellbound, which brought audiences into the high-stakes world of spelling bees, following eight competitors on the road to the 1999 National Spelling Bee. The kids were all outcasts, products of hard-driving parents who pushed them to memorize words like "hellebore" and "seguidilla" and study their lingual roots like thickly bespectacled Talmudic scholars.

The 1987 comedy Three O'Clock High, about the showdown between a nerdy school reporter and a bully who looked like a 30-year-old ex-con, has gained a cult reputation over the years for cutting against the grain of the typical '80s high school fare. Stylishly directed by first-timer Phil Joanou, who made a name for himself doing music videos for U2, the film worked as a teenage twist on Martin Scorsese's After Hours, another black comedy about a hapless weakling being put through the wringer.

Batman has been in need of a great unburdening. It became necessary after Christopher Nolan's trilogy posited the Caped Crusader as a hulking avatar of turn-of-the-millennium anxiety. And it grew even more urgent after the drudgery of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which was like chasing the heaviest meal of your life with a fully loaded, twice-baked potato. Over the last 50 years, Batman has crossed the spectrum from the campy, freewheeling POW! of the 1966 TV version to a grim-faced, gravel-voiced bulwark against festering corruption, urban blight, and existential malaise.

What is a dog's purpose?

This existential question haunts a canine as the pup takes several different forms in A Dog's Purpose, from Golden Retriever to German Shepherd to Corgi and other breeds throughout the years, starting in the 1960s and continuing to the present day. It arrives at an answer eventually, something in line with the sentimental bromides expressed throughout the movie, which showcases its playfulness, courage, and companionship astride many owners.

When Otto and Anna Quangel, a middle-aged couple in early '40s Berlin, receive a letter informing them their only son has died in the Battle of France, they take the news with curious resignation. Otto can't even bring himself to open the envelope, leaving his wife alone to process its contents. Their reaction is somewhere between shock and a grim acceptance of the inevitable, and it stands in sharp contrast to a city buoyed by Nazi victories and nationalist propaganda. They've lost their child and they've lost their country, perhaps long before.

Standing across from each other at City Hall, each wearing an outfit that barely passes for "dress casual," Dianne (Olivia Thirlby) and Henry (Ben Feldman) cannot make it through their wedding vows with giggling and rolling their eyes a little. It's not that they don't care for each other — though they're in a rough stretch — but for two people so allergic to convention, the institution of marriage is like a pollen bomb. Their instinct is to duck-and-cover when it detonates.

Based on Margot Lee Shetterly's book, Hidden Figures has a triple-meaning title. It is about the mathematics that served as a rationale and a backstop for manned space capsules launched into space and brought back safely to earth. It is about the African-American women who carried out these vital functions in Langley, VA, without the public acknowledgement granted astronauts like Alan Shepard or John Glenn, or even the buzzcut white men at Mission Control.

Back in 2008, it seemed entirely reasonable to expect that Will Smith's career would never get stranger than Seven Pounds, a film in which his character (spoiler) commits suicide-by-jellyfish as part of an elaborate Oprah-by-way-of-Oskar-Schindler redemption scheme. And yet here we are.

In the shambling ensemble comedy Office Christmas Party, Kate McKinnon plays the uptight Human Resources person at an unruly tech outfit, a job about as thankless as hall monitor in Rock 'n' Roll High School. Every boozy party movie needs its requisite prude, but McKinnon keeps adding new layers of eccentricity, from a data-driven approach to cheese platter arrangement to secret perversions that dangle like loose threads from her interdenominational holiday sweater.

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