The month of January is notorious in the world of cinema for two things- being a dumping ground for forgettable films and filling empty screens with rereleases of Oscar hopefuls.
Of course there are always exceptions to this rule (see Paddington 2 and Patriots Day), but by and large this tends to hold true.
On the Oscar front, this past month featured a wealth of nominees that are either set to remain in theaters until at least this Friday or are currently available on VOD and streaming.
The ones in theater that are worth your time: Little Women, Jo Jo Rabbit, Frozen 2, 1917, Parasite and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (my number one film of 2019). 1917 should certainly be at the top of your priority list if you are considering the big screen expeience, and both Parasite and Beautiful Day are pretty incredible films to expeience with a crowd.
On VOD you can also catch up with the much talked about Joker and the perfectly crafted Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, two of my personal favorites of 2019, as well as the wonderful end to the trilogy and quadrilogy of How To Train Your Dragon 3 and Toy Story 4.
Also readily available is The Irishman, The Two Popes, I Lost My Body, and Marriage Story, all exclusive to Netflix.
If you are interested in my thoughts on the Oscars, including predictions and hopefuls, I plan to do an Oscar write up before the ceremony this Sunday Night. So watch for that upcoming.
If you are looking for fresh 2020 titles to help bring in the new decade, you are in luck. While it might look a bit scarce and forgettable at first, reflecting back on the month gone by proved that this Janaury was stronger than first appearances allow.
Here are the January films that I think are worth your time:
1. Underwater (3.5)– Really happy to see that this surprisingly fun horror sci-fi action film is still holding on to a couple screens. Starring the often misunderstood and undersold Kristen Stewart, the film evokes serious Alien vibes as it manages it’s way through some superb set pieces with a subtle interest in themes of female empowerment.
2. Bad Boys For Life (3.5)– This is not a perfect film, but it is a perfectly constructed reboot that proved a perfect tonic for the cold January days. Making headlines for breaking records, fans are clearly responding to this one in big numbers. And for good reason. After a plethora of reboots and remakes in 2019 that failed to be seen and/or crashed and burned, all signs pointed to this being yet another failed attempt to breathe life into nostalgia. But replacing Director Micheal Bay with Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, two relative unknowns, pegged next to tackle Beverly Hills Cop 4 in 2021, proved a perfect recipe for success. Bad Boys For Life feels fresh and familiar in all the right ways, dialing down the over the top action set pieces and trading that in for a strong emotional core and some enriched character study. Working in a few twists and surprises, this is a franchise that feels perfectly positioned for the future.
3. Dolittle (3)– I don’t think anyone will be talking about this one come the end of the year, but children’s stories like this tend to be a rarity these days, and ratings seem to suggest that this is something general audiences are appreciating and responding to. It has done decently well, even if it has a long road to travel in making up its sizable budget. For me its blend of quirky interactions, sentimentality, an inspired performance by Downy, adventure, and a solid message about our relationship to the created world was enough to transport me into its story and put a smile on my face.
4. The Gentlemen (3.5)– Directed by Guy Ritchie, it should not be undersold that this is an original project. With its blend of humor, edgy characters and scripted fun, this is one that has some very real and very rewatchable appeal.
5. Rythym Section (3.5)– A solid thriller with a really good lead performance and strong supporting cast. Don’t let the headlines of this film’s record breaking box office slump deter you. This is one that is unfortunately getting lost in the shuffle and is far better than those appearances might lead you to believe.
6. Danger Close (3), an Australian film with a unique flavor, and Little Monsters (3.5), a quirky and crazy children’s film that is most definitely NOT a children’s film are two solid VOD releases worth checking out. Both are currently available on Hoopla.
And because they saw wide release in January. I’m considering both of these 2020 films:
7. Weathering With You– The follow up to the beautiful Your Name, this anime film from Japan will be a solid candidate for animated film of the year come December. With its striking visual presence and solid story, it is worth taking the time to check out on the big screen while you can.
8. Just Mercy (4)- An emotional crowd pleaser with an important message, this popular drama is still playing on a couple screens. It is proving to really resonate with general audiences, and is benefiting from a strong advertising campaign. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, keep it on your radar. It should be making its way to VOD fairly soon.
I haven’t yet seen The Last Full Measure, a war film that has connected strongly with fans of the genre, but trusted voices have all suggested this is a late January release punching above its paygrade, even as three supposedly less than stellar horror releases (The Grudge, The Turning, Gretal and Hansel), 3 films I haven’t found time to see, are quickly fading from the collective memory.
Comparitively speaking, this has proved a diverse line up with some decent and good options to help ramp us up for February’s decidedly more high profile presence…
Some upcoming films to keep an eye on:
1. 3 high profile Horror films are set to take North American cinema by storm- The Lodge, which has already garnered rave reviews, the much anticipated The Invisible Man (featuring the always incredible Elizabeth Moss), and the intriguing but still unknown Fantasy Island. My money is on The Lodge, but watch out for the other two to make a splash.
2. The long awaited release of Portrait of a Lady on Fire is almost upon us. This international film made quite an impression during festival season last year, and its delayed release has been frustrating more than a few of us cinephiles. Now we will finally get to see what all the fuss is about.
3. A few big profile releases, kicking off with Birds of Prey, a spin off of Suicide Squad which promises to leave the worst parts of that film behind and bring Margot Robbie (it’s best part), both as lead and as Director, to the forefront.
I’m kind of still intrigued about Sonic the Hedghog, and Bloodshot looks like the real deal, but the one I am most excited about is the coming adaptation of The Call of the Wild. I loved the novel, am a sucker for these types of wilderness films with animal characters at their center, and love Harrison Ford.
But just in case you are second guessing Birds of Prey, everything that I have heard so far suggests it’s a super fun romp with an unexpected edge.
4. Two small time projects with big time appeal- The Photograph is on my most anticipated list, a quiet love story that explores themes of love and commitment. But the one I am REALLY looking forward to is a film called Wendy. From the Director of the amazing Beasts of the Southern Wild, this is a take on the Peter Pan story that blends a child like perspective and imagination with real world struggle. It looks incredible and promising, and I can’t wait to get swept up into its fantastical vision.
Honorable Mention: Downhill
If you haven’t yet seen the amazing Swedish film Force Majeure, do yourself a favor and check it out. I’m having a hard time reconciling the two leads in this American remake with the nature of the source material, but I am still somewhat intrigued by the way the new one appears to differ in tone and style.
Happy viewing 🙂