Richard Madden and Lily James in CinderellaCINDERELLA

Given its sumptuous production design and its array of multi-hued gowns so breathtaking that costumer Sandy Powell should just be sent her inevitable Oscar via express mail, Disney's new, live-action Cinderella has to be the most opulent deeply unnecessary movie ever made. Somewhat unexpectedly, it's also one of the more satisfying deeply unnecessary movies ever made. Director Kenneth Branagh's fairytale adaptation, with its script by Chris Weitz, may have no reason to exist beyond the obvious mercenary one, but it's strong and heartfelt and quite beautifully acted - proof that even in the revisionist age of Maleficent, it's not always necessary to re-invent the wheel.

Allison Miller in Devil's DueJanuary 17, 10:05 a.m.-ish: If it's January, it must be time for our annual demonic-possession thriller in the guise of a "documentary," and yet it still seems strange to be watching Devil's Due. The devil may be, but a mere two weeks after the release of the latest Paranormal Activity, were we audiences really due for another of these things?

Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth in Thor: The Dark WorldTHOR: THE DARK WORLD

As the comic-book demigod Loki, the nefarious thorn-in-the-side to the Avengers and adopted brother to Thor, Tom Hiddleston, in the Marvel Studios movies, exudes a teasing, seductive malevolence. With his sharp, angular features and chilling gaze that suggests he might prefer eating you to killing you, he's a wonderfully unstable and hypnotic screen creation. Yet the brilliance in Hiddleston's interpretation is that his Loki is also so damned charming. The character may forever be planning destruction or plotting revenge - specifically against the golden-haired preferred son with the red cape and hammer - but Hiddleston's bearing is so smooth and relaxed, and his wide grin so infectious, that you almost can't help rooting for him, especially because he also, generally, gets his movies' best jokes.

Jeremy Irvine in War HorseWAR HORSE

A grandly scaled adventure about a boy who gets a horse, then loses the horse, then joins the British infantry to find the horse, War Horse is the sort of triumphant, lump-in-the-throat epic that director Steven Spielberg should be able to pull off in his sleep. Consequently, the highest compliment I can pay the movie is that its helmer, at all times, appears to be fully awake here. There's palpable filmmaking energy in nearly every shot, and several passages in this World War I family drama are so thrilling and painful and spectacularly well-choreographed that they rank among the finest in Spielberg's career.

Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams in Midnight in ParisMIDNIGHT IN PARIS

The overall experience of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, at least for me, can be effectively visualized in one sequence - one shot, really - in this jubilant, intoxicating comedy.

Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman in ThorTHOR

Prior to the film's release, I wouldn't have thought any director a worse candidate for helming the hugely budgeted comic-book adaptation Thor than Kenneth Branagh, that frequent interpreter of Shakespeare whose one foray into Hollywood-blockbuster(-wannabe) terrain was 1994's monstrously terrible Frankenstein. In retrospect, I'm not sure any director would have proved a better choice. Two days after seeing Branagh's grandly produced yet subtly frisky entertainment, I'm still a bit shocked at how strong the results are; against all logic, Thor's director has successfully melded his movie's wildly disparate elements into an action-packed thrill ride (in 3D!) that, incredibly, also manages to be emotionally satisfying, and oftentimes funny as hell.

Morgan Lily and John Cusack in 20122012

After 2012 - the movie, not the year - it will be exceedingly difficult for Roland Emmerich to deliver yet another of his expensive, apocalyptic disaster cartoons. So, you know, I guess we should be grateful for small favors.

Jason Biggs and Woody Allen in Anything ElseANYTHING ELSE

As a lifelong fan of Woody Allen's cinematic oeuvre, the last five years have been rather painful. Sure, Small Time Crooks was a lot of fun and Sean Penn delivered a truly inspired performance in Sweet & Lowdown, but The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, though intermittently amusing, felt pretty stale, and Celebrity and last year's Hollywood Ending were just plain awful. (Part of being a true fan includes admitting when your heroes fail, and feeling somewhat heartbroken when they do.)

Todd Louiso, John Cusack, and Jack Black in High FidelityHIGH FIDELITY

John Cusack, at his best, has made a career out of playing two disarmingly similar character types: those who feel like losers, but are actually cooler than anyone else in the room (see his roles in The Sure Thing, Say Anything..., and Grosse Pointe Blank), and those who think they're cooler than anyone else in the room, but are actually losers (The Grifters, Bullets Over Broadway, and Being John Malkovich).