‘Gladiator’ (Dec. 31)
Winner of Academy Awards for best picture and best actor (Russell Crowe), Ridley Scott’s action extravaganza from 2000 brought back the sword-and-sandal epic, one of the standbys of late ’50s and early ’60s cinema (particularly out of Italy), but with a modern sensibility and a comparatively gargantuan budget. Crowe stars as Maximus, a Roman general betrayed and enslaved by the evil Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), who returns to prominence as an unstoppable gladiator to exact his revenge. This is Crowe at his best, combining brute physicality and intense internalized emotion, and Phoenix is an appropriately vile villain; it’s a short walk from his work as a petty tyrant here to his current, entertaining reunion with Scott as a tantrum-throwing “Napoleon.”
‘Jaws’ 1-4 (Dec. 31)
It seems like a gross oversimplification to note that “Jaws” changed movies forever in 1975, but that’s less analysis than common wisdom: It created the template for making and marketing the summer blockbuster, and it sent the career of the director Steven Spielberg (only helming his second theatrical feature) into the stratosphere. It’s so easy to view “Jaws” through its historical and economic lens that it’s easy to forget what a genuinely, indisputably great movie it is — scary, funny, elegantly crafted, beautifully acted and populated with rich and memorable characters. As for its sequels … well, “Jaws 2” is pretty good, a welcome return for Roy Scheider’s no-nonsense Chief Brody, featuring some effective scares and well-executed set pieces. (The less said about “Jaws 3” and “Jaws: The Revenge,” the better.)
‘Kung Fu Panda’ (Dec. 31)
In retrospect, it’s sort of shocking that it took so long to build a family franchise around Jack Black, since he’s so wildly animated and kid-friendly even in live-action movies; creating a cartoon for a living cartoon seems a relatively simple proposition. The inaugural entry of the series (2008), spawning two sequels and a Netflix series, introduces Black as Po, the titular karate-chopping, slapstick-prone giant panda, who must learn the ways of kung fu to fulfill his destiny as the Dragon Warrior. The supporting voice cast is impressive — Jackie Chan, David Cross, Dustin Hoffman, James Hong, Angelina Jolie, Randall Duk Kim, Lucy Liu, Ian McShane and Seth Rogen all turn up, and all seem to be having a ball — the animation is delightful and Black is as hysterically funny and warmly likable as ever.
‘Mission: Impossible’ 1- 4 (Dec. 31)
In its current iteration, the “Mission: Impossible” franchise is a well-oiled machine, with the recurring writer and director Christopher McQuarrie (who has been with the series since its fifth entry, “Rogue Nation”) orchestrating a cast of repeating characters and running story arcs. But this wasn’t initially the case at all; the first four films in the series were each helmed by a different, distinctive filmmaker, comporting each picture to their own style, with the general story and the star Tom Cruise among the few common elements. The approach was unsurprisingly hit and miss; the John Woo-directed “M: I-2” crosses the line from cool to goofy with more frequency than was presumably intended, and J.J. Abrams’s third picture suffers from a generic style that betrays the director’s television background. But Brian De Palma’s inaugural installment, from 1996, is wildly entertaining, and filled with the kind of Hitchcockian set pieces on which that auteur made his name, while the Brad Bird-helmed fourth film is filled with breathtaking action sequences, memorable supporting players and the beginning of a house style that McQuarrie would refine and perfect.
‘Role Models’ (Dec. 31)
The raw edge yet soft heart of this wildly funny bad-boy comedy from 2008, and the presence of the frequent leading man Paul Rudd, might lead you to assume it’s the work of Judd Apatow. But the roots of “Role Models” go back farther than that — the director is David Wain, one of the minds behind the comedy troupe The State — and several of its members (including Kerri Kenney-Silver, Joe Lo Truglio and Ken Marino) turn up in supporting roles. Rudd and Seann William Scott star as a pair of irresponsible energy drink salesmen who are ordered to perform community service, and wind up in a Big Brother-type program, mentoring a foul-mouthed kid (the uproarious Bobb’e J. Thompson) and a cosplaying nerd (the “Superbad” favorite Christopher Mintz-Plasse).