The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Peter Jackson, 2013)

Every dragon needs his pile of lucre

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug puts perhaps its best and most pleasing joke right at the start. We enter the city of Bree with a token swoop landing of the camera, and greeting us there is Peter Jackson himself. The director is literally the first character in the film, looking straight at us and crunching a carrot. Not only does it hearken back to The Fellowship of the Ring, where he cameo’d as a more menacing drunk welcoming our entry into the town with a burp, it’s almost an audacious statement: “Look at me, I know this is all silliness and I don’t care what you think. I’m the ruffian in Bree and this is my Middle-Earse.”

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Peter Jackson, 2012)

Thin, like butter scraped over too much bread

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a pleasant enough film, and transports one back to the world of Middle-earth, pronounced as “Middle-earse” if your name is Ian McKellan. Though, this is clearly not the land we left with 2003’s Return of the King. This is a happier place, a less scary place, where goofy wizards chase around on rabbit-drawn sleds and goblin decapitations come as easy and without consequence as drawing breath.

The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2014)

We were somewhere around Wall Street when the drugs began to take hold
(spoiler notice)

The idea of Wall Street is a virus. Its vector is the human flaw of greed. The Wolf of Wall Street – based on a very real, very disturbing person's life – is a subtle but strong exposition of that contagion. The film starts with fresh-faced Jordan Belfort, here a youth still filled to the brim with ideals as much as a lust for fortune, out to lunch with an older shark. Cocaine is carelessly sniffed into a nostril, a hymn of ripping people off and making money, money, money pounded fist to chest. Jordan's eyes begin to sparkle. The film ends with the man, now himself the predator, before an audience of wide-mouthed aspirants, ready to believe. Greed isn't good, it's a plague.

The Lego Movie (Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, 2014)

What it is is beautiful (spoiler notice)

Ah, Lego. The grand hobby. Not merely a toy for children, but an infinite arena of creativity where hundreds of thousands of adults around the world explore their ideas or simply enjoy the delightful sound of bricks clicking together. Lego holds an enormous pull on creative minds. The Lego Movie is at its surface an animated feature aimed at kids, but shhh, don't tell that to the packed theater audience I sat in, which existed exclusively of excited 20- and 30-somethings.