Peter Jackson's prequel, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," follows Bilbo Baggins and 13 dwarves on an epic quest to reclaim the lost kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome Dragon Smaug; en route, Bilbo meets the Gollum, a creature who will change his life forever.
The concept of babies switched at birth isn't original but, in "The Other Son," French/Jewish filmmaker Lorraine Levy adds a new twist -- the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- making it emotionally compelling, exploring the many facets of self-identity. In the same vein, Romain Duris and Catherine Deneuve star in the French psychological thriller, "The Big Picture" about identity theft.
Marion Cotillard and Mathias Schoenaerts play a marine animal trainer and a brutish bouncer, damaged souls who develop a relationship of strength and emotional dependence in "Rust and Bone" -- in French with English subtitles. And in Dutch with English subtitles, there's "The Time of My Life," a true story about legalizing euthanasia in Belgium.
This week's comedy crop is weak: Judd Apatow's forced, foul-mouthed "This is 40" is about a spoiled, selfish, stressed Los Angeles couple (Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann) facing their respective 40th birthdays quite differently. "Bachelorette" finds bridezilla Rebel Wilson and her frisky best friends (Kirsten Dunst, Isa Fisher, Lizzie Caplan) searching for a little fun but finding much more than they bargained for. And "Price Check" rips off "The Office" with Parker Posey as the gung-ho general manager of a WalMart-like grocery chain.
For kids, there's "Sesame Street: Best of Friends," a two-hour compilation of fan favorite clips. And "Rise of the Guardians" recounts how, more than 300 years ago, the Man in the Moon appointed Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman as protectors of innocence and now they're joined by a lonely water sprite, Jack Frost, in a battle against The Boogeyman.
PICKS OF THE WEEK: Based on Victor Hugo's classic 1862 novel, Tom Hooper's "Les Miserables" is a musical extravaganza with Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe as implacable Inspector Javert and Oscar-winner Anne Hathaway as Fantine. And Jessica Chastain stars as a determined CIA agent in Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty," an uncompromising, intense drama about the hunt for Osama Bin Ladin.