What it's about: A Harlem criminal mastermind puts together a huge heroin operation with drugs smuggled out of Vietnam in soldiers' coffins and a wholesome army of outlaws.
The scoop: It plays like a deluxe network-TV miniseries, but with all the nudity, profanity and gore the networks would cut out.
What it's about: Jerry Seinfeld's Barry B. Benson, a squat, big-eyed buzzer, attempts to break out of a job stirring honey in the hive and ends up falling for a human florist (Renee Zellweger).
The scoop: It's Seinfeld's amiably bent view of bee-ness that supplies this film with its modest charm.
Grade: B- Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
What it's about: Philip Seymour Hoffman plays an overweight would-be criminal mastermind who ropes his alimony-poor brother (Ethan Hawke) into trying to stick up a mom-and-pop jewelry store owned by their own mom and pop (Rosemary Harris and Albert Finney).
Rated: R The scoop: The movie has all the elements of black comedy, but it isn't laugh-out-loud funny; it's brutal and punishing, the psychological equivalent of a torture film; the ensemble goes so far into their roles that you feel their sweat through your own pores.
What it's about: It locates the raw lyric impulse in post-punk rock as it tells the story of Ian Curtis (Sam Riley), lead singer and songwriter for Joy Division, who committed suicide in 1980.
Rated: R The scoop: Even if you have no interest in Joy Division, this picture is worth seeing for the unsentimental empathy and passion of the moviemaking and performances. Grade: A-
What it's about: Santa Claus (Paul Giamatti) agrees to lend his ne'er-do-well brother Fred (Vince Vaughn) the money to open an off-track betting office in Chicago if Fred helps with the holiday rush up in the Arctic.
The scoop: This movie will do anything for a laugh or a tear, but doesn't get any laughs or tears; against all odds, though, Giamatti makes a superb St. Nick.
Gone Baby Gone
What it's about: Private eye Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) struggles to crack the kidnapping of a 4-year-old girl from the rough Boston neighborhood of Dorchester.
Rated: R The scoop: Director Ben Affleck skillfully focuses on the tragedy and mordant comedy of urban corruption and decline, and the blunders and debacles of good guys and bad guys.
Lions for Lambs
What it's about: College professor Roberd Redford tries to push a complacent frat boy (Andrew Garfield) into some commitment to our civic life, while hotshot Republican senator Tom Cruise shops a scoop about a bold strategic change in Afghanistan to a seasoned journalist (Meryl Streep). Rated: R The scoop: The problem with this film isn't its political engagement but its cinematic disengagement: It would have been more effective as a radio play.
Grade: C Plagues & Passions on the Salton Sea
What it's about: A man-made freshwater lake in the Southern California desert turned into a salty inland sea and now threatens to become a giant sewer or source of alkaline clouds.
The scoop: It's a funky, terrifying and improbably funny demonstration of environmental neglect leading to ecological disaster. Grade: A
30 Days of Night
What it's about: A band of vampires descends on Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States, just when the December sun is about to set and plunge it into monthlong night.
The scoop: It's seductive in its buildup but overall as subtle and, alas, as humorless as a hatchet to the brain.
Wristcutters: A Love Story
What it's about: Patrick Fugit plays a young man who kills himself out of heartbreak and winds up in an odd little corner of the afterlife reserved for suicides: the seedier parts of Los Angeles and the Southern California desert. Rated: R
The scoop: It's a lousy title for a lovely-loony picture about people who learn that affection, companionship and love can be found even in limbo. Grade: A-