“Yosemite” (January 1)
Director: Gabrielle Demeestère
Cast: James Franco, Henry Hopper, Steven Wiig, Barry Del Sherman, Tony Vella
Criticwire Average: C
Why is it a Must See? James Franco is one of Hollywood’s most love-him-or-hate-him figures, yet there’s no denying that he keeps churning out interesting work in all mediums, including books. His first novel, “Palo Alto,” became an unassumingly wonderful film courtesy of Gia Coppola, and now writer-director Gabrielle Demeestère is using his second novel, “A California Childhood,” for her feature debut. “Yosemite” is told in three parts and tracks the intertwining experiences of three fifth grade friends in Palo Alto during the fall of 1985. Mixing themes of adolescence and friendship, the movie is a light and sensitive venture into the nostalgia of Franco.
“Chimes at Midnight” (January 1)
Director: Orson Welles
Cast: Orson Welles, Keith Baxter, John Gielgud, Jeanne Moreau, Margaret Rutherford
Criticwire Average: N/A
Why is it a Must See? “If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of one movie,” Orson Welles once said, “[‘Chimes at Midnight’] is the one I would offer up.” How’s that for praise? One of the month’s two big revivals, “Chimes at Midnight” is Welles’ masterful Shakespeare adaptation that is touring the country in select theaters, beginning at New York City’s Film Forum and Los Angeles’ Cinefamily, after being unseeable for decades. Distributor Janus Films and The Criterion Collection have spent the last 20 years restoring the picture, which stars Welles as Sir John Falstaff and sees the actor revolutionizing Shakespearian literature in the same fashion he did American cinema.
“Only Yesterday” (January 1)
Director: Isao Takahata
Cast: Diasy Ridley, Dev Patel
Criticwire Average: N/A
Why is it a Must See? The second of the month’s big revival events, “Only Yesterday” finds the Isao Takahata-directed masterpiece finally screening in American theaters for the first time in 25 years. The Studio Ghibli classic opened internationally in 1991 and became one of the most critically acclaimed animated films of all time, yet it never found a domestic distributor until now. “Star Wars” breakout Daisy Ridley voices Taeko, an unmarried 27-year-old who has lived her entire life in Tokyo. While traveling by train to visit her family in the country, certain memories flood back of her as a schoolgirl in 1966, and she starts to question whether she has been true to herself as Takahata weaves an unforgettable tale about the past and the present.
“Anesthesia” (January 8)
Director: Tim Blake Nelson
Cast: Sam Waterston, Kristen Stewart, Glenn Close, Corey Stoll, Michael K. Williams, Gretchen Mol
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a Must See? Written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson, “Anesthesia” asks the existentialist questions that all human beings ponder now and again. The thought-provoking drama centers around a popular Columbia University philosophy professor who is violently attacked on the street. But instead of crafting a drama about violence and consequences, Nelson rewinds the clock to trace the domino effect of events that led up to this seemingly senseless assault. In doing so, the director and his star-studded ensemble create a provocative drama about the unassuming causes and stimulants that end up changing our lives forever.
“The Benefactor” (January 15)
Director: Andrew Renzi
Cast: Richard Gere, Dakota Fanning, Theo James
Criticwire Average: C
Why is it a Must See? Formerly titled “Franny” at its Tribeca Film Festival premiere last April, writer-director Andrew Renzi’s feature debut arrives with a new name but the same emotional punch as “The Benefactor.” The film stars Richard Gere and Dakota Fanning in a wrenching drama centered around one man’s downward spiral. Five years after her life was turned upside down by the accidental death of her parents, orphaned Olivia (Fanning) turns to the sole man who survived the car accident that killed her parents for financial and emotional support, Franny (Gere). As the latter begins to crumble under the weight of his addictions and obligations, Gere rises to the occasion to deliver his best performance in a decade.
“The Lady in the Van” (January 15)
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Cast: Maggie Smith, Dominic Cooper, James Corden, Alex Jennings
Criticwire Average: C+
Why is it a Must See? After premiering in select theaters last month for an awards-qualifying run, Nicholas Hytner’s feisty and emotionally delightful comedy-drama “The Lady in the Van” finally opens in theaters, bringing with it a reliable dose of Maggie Smith brilliance. Smith plays a sharp, educated and free-spirited older woman named Miss Shepherd, who insists on living life her own way: In a van parked on the sidewalk. Smith won accolades for playing the character on the stage in the West End, and she heightens her cinematic introspection for an equally-as-impressive performance on the big screen.
“Aferim!” (January 22)
Director: Radu Jude
Cast: Teodor Corban, Mihai Comanoiu, Cuzin Toma, Alexandru Dabija, Luminita Gheorghiu
Criticwire Average: B
Why is it a Must See? Romanian director Radu Jude’s followup to “Everybody in Our Family” is a feudal black comedy about people trapped by the racist temperaments of their time, and trust us, it’s a period drama like you’ve never seen one before. Following a boorish Romanian lawman and his obedient son in the late 19th century as they track down an escaped Gypsy slave, the movie foregrounds the ugly sentiments of the feudal era that define its quest-driven characters while steadily humanizing them.
“Mojave” (January 22)
Director: William Monahan
Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Oscar Isaac, Louise Bourgoin, Walton Goggins
Criticwire Average: B-
Why is it a Must See? After winning an Oscar for writing “The Departed” and stepping into the director’s chair for the moderately successful “The Gambler,” William Monahan once again spins a tale of mental turmoil and soul searching in “Mojave.” The thriller focuses on a brilliant artist (Hedlund) who attempts to escape his privileged existence in the desert, only to encounter a homicidal drifter (Isaac). The chase moves from the spectacular vistas of the American desert to a noir Los Angeles, culminating in a vortex of criminality and brutality as the artist emerges as an equally dangerous opponent.
“The Boy” (January 22)
Director: William Brent Bell
Cast: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle
Criticwire Average: N/A
Why is it a Must See? STX Entertainment kicked off its distribution arm last year, releasing moderately budgeted dramas aimed at adults (they found more success with the creepy “The Gift” than the American remake “Secret in Their Eyes”), and it looks like they should have their biggest hit yet with this spooky little horror tale. “The Walking Dead” mainstay Lauren Cohan jumps to the big screen in the role of Greta, who travels to the English countryside to accept a job nannying the child of a kindly old couple, only to discover that the child isn’t really a child at all but a porcelain doll the grieving couple uses as a stand-in for their deceased son. When Greta breaks the very specific rules given to her, a series of bone-chilling occurrences lead her to believe her supposedly inanimate young charge is not only alive, but out for blood, too.
“The Clan” (January 29)
Director: Pablo Trapero
Cast: Guillermo Francella, Peter Lanzani, Liliana Popovich
Criticwire Average: C+
Why is it a Must See? Argentinian director Pablo Trapero has been delivering thrilling, first-rate looks at turmoil in his country’s society for over 15 years, most recently with “Carancho” and “White Elephant,” both of which combined sociopolitical commentary with unsettling violent showdowns. “The Clan” takes that fixation to a whole new level with a “Godfather”-like ensemble drama focused on the real-life antics of the Puccio family, who conspired on four kidnappings during the 1980’s — most of which led to violent outcomes. As the menacing patriarch, Guillermo Francella gives a powerful, haunting performance matched only by Peter Lanzani as his ethically conflicted son. Argentina’s official submission for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, “The Clan” is a terrific vessel for bringing this dark chapter in Argentina’s history of organized crime to a larger audience.
“Rabin, The Last Day” (January 29)
Director: Amos Gitaï
Cast: Yaël Abecassis
Criticwire Average: A
Why is it a Must See? This knockout dramatic thriller recounts the events surrounding the final days of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was murdered by a right wing 25-year-old fanatic in 1995. Mixing staged re-enactments and actual news footage of the shooting and its aftermath, writer-director Amos Gitaï blends fiction and history for a startling portrait of political upheaval.
“Jane Got A Gun” (January 29)
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Cast: Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Rodrigo Santoro, Ewan McGregor
Criticwire Average: N/a
Why is it a Must See? After countless director, casting and release date changes, the long-delayed Western “Jane Got a Gun” is finally getting its release thanks to the Weinstein Company. The action movie stars Natalie Portman as a gun-slinging outlaw determined to protect her land and her family from the men who want to take it all away. The film co-stars Ewan McGregor, Joel Edgerton and Rodrigo Santoro promises to contain more than enough adrenaline as guns, explosives, fire and hot air balloons all factor into the western mayhem.