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11 Films To See In January

11 Films To See In January

Though we are just beginning this brand new year full of possibilities and resolutions, January in the movie world is something of a no-man’s land for quality new releases. If this month’s column is anything to go by, there’s still plenty of interesting and smaller films worth checking out — that is, if you’re willing to work to find them. So perhaps one of your new year’s resolutions is to see more films? If so, we feel confident that, despite this month’s long-standing reputation as the dumping ground where new movies go to die, there’s something for everyone to see (in fact, we’re tickled pink to know a new Michael Mann film is coming soon).

Having said that, we’d be remiss if we didn’t put the spotlight back on several titles that made our December column, but for all intents and purposes are still rolling out slowly this month and up to the Oscar ceremony in February. Seriously folks, the following films are all worth your time, and some of them are flat-out brilliant if not a little bit challenging. That’s why they need your attention. Please make sure to check out: Russian masterwork “Leviathan;” Belgian masterwork “Two Days, One Night”; MLK, Jr. artful biopic “Selma”; J.C. Chandor’s latest “A Most Violent Year”; and of course, PTA and his ’70s-set stoner noir “Inherent Vice.”

But enough bloviating, here’s 10 films you may want to seek out this month. Please let us know if we missed anything in the comments. And thanks for reading.  

Synopsis: A man is released from prison to help American and Chinese authorities pursue a mysterious cyber criminal across the globe.
What You Need to Know: As we’ve already mentioned, most of the auteur-heavy choices this month are carryovers from December, notwithstanding this latest hi-def thriller from Michael Mann. His track record of late has been mixed: big budget, adult (and underrated) action films like “Public Enemies” and “Miami Vice” barely broke even at the box office and received mostly lukewarm reviews, while the HBO series “Luck” was cancelled after one season. Regardless, The Playlist loves us some Michael Mann and eagerly awaits every new project. Though nobody’s seen it yet, “Blackhat,” starring Chris Hemsworth, certainly looks like a Mann joint through and through—meticulously-researched, slick-as-hell sensualist cinema in the guise of a genre picture. Just the thing to get us through the January doldrums.
Release Date: January 16th

Synopsis: In this live-action feature based on the series of popular children’s books by Michael Bond, a young English boy befriends a talking bear he finds at a London train station.
What You Need To Know: Somewhat surprisingly, we gave this one quite the positive review, landing an A- grade from Oli Lyttelton. So, maybe not just a soulless cash-grab from a pre-exisiting property? “Lord knows how the film will travel abroad (though it’s no more exclusionary British than the Biggest Franchise In History, ‘Harry Potter‘), especially now The Weinstein Company have pushed it into the January doldrums. But for now, we’re just pleased to have a family film in the truest sense of the word, one that’s genuinely hilarious, touching and inventive to both kids and their parents.”
Release Date: January 16th

Son of a Gun
Synopsis: A young criminal teams with a seasoned veteran to pull of a daring heist.
What You Need To Know: When Oli Lyttelton saw this debut crime picture from Australian filmmaker Julius Avery at the BFI London Film Festival in October, he was mixed but still generous: “Avery keeps the pace rattling along nicely, and has a lot of fun with the action sequences, which are sharp and well-cut. There’s every reason to think that he’ll go on to better things. And it’s not like ‘Son Of A Gun’ is ever especially bad, it’s just never good either. There are worse ways to spend a couple of hours, especially if you’re a fan of its Australian crime predecessors, but the film’s forgotten almost as soon as the credits roll.” That’s enough there for us to check it out.
Release Date: January 16th

Appropriate Behavior
Synopsis: A politically incorrect, bisexual and hip young Brooklynite/ Iranian-American woman struggles for acceptance from her parents and fails miserably in her attempt at all identities.
What You Need To Know: Well, Lena Dunham of “Girls” fame is apparently a huge fan (“audacious and funny and unique,” she said), so there’s that. Plus our review from Sundance described it as “a funny, irreverent and unique take on the New York Rom Com.” Plus we were so taken by writer/director/star Desiree Akhavan, we named her not only one of Sundance’s coveted breakout talents, but one of the directors to watch in our 2014 On The Rise series. Fairly good praise, we’d say. Funny, sharp, insightful, this is easily January’s best rom com bet to watch.
Release Date: Theatrically & On VOD January 16th

Red Army
Synopsis: A documentary about the Soviet Union and the most successful dynasty in sports history: the Red Army hockey team.
What You Need To Know: Gabe Polsky’s compulsively watchable documentary about the Soviet hockey team’s storied history, dominance, eventual dissolution and recent reputation keeps things lean and efficient at 76 minutes. Perhaps almost too much so, but even if a lot was cut from the bone (trust us, there’s a lot more to this story), the film nicely establishes the team’s preeminence and influence by zeroing on many of its best players, with top billing going to legend Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov, a droll and charismatic interview subject. It should play even better for those who don’t care one iota about hockey, mostly because it’s so entertaining and character-driven. The film functions best as a gateway to appreciate a great sport and to explore just one of its many fascinating pieces of history. It’s no surprise it landed at #9 on our best docs of 2014 list.
Release Date: January 23rd

The Humbling
Synopsis: An aged and addled actor has his world turned upside down after he embarks upon an affair with a lesbian, in this adaptation of the Philip Roth novel.
What You Need To Know: Alex Ross Perry‘s underrated black comedy “Listen Up Philip” already gave us a dose of Rothian shenanigans, though it was more homage than outright adaptation. Not so with this latest from Oscar winner Barry Levinson, which gives Playlist fave Greta Gerwig a shot at going toe-to-toe with Al Pacino. So despite our lukewarm review out of Venice, the rest of us still look forward to catching up and seeing what all this talent can produce onscreen.
Release Date: January 23rd

Synopsis: A widowed single mother, raising her violent son alone, finds new hope when a mysterious neighbor inserts herself into their household.
What You Need To Know: Perhaps soon we can drop the wunderkind label for Xavier Dolan, but for now the Quebecois actor, writer, director still has to fight against the impression that he’s just a kid in an adult’s world. There’s a very fine line in his films between off-putting (“Heartbeats”) and totally engrossing (“Laurence Anyways”), but one thing unites them all: passion, cinephilic exuberance, fun soundtracks and youthful excessiveness. When we saw it this year, we called it “f’d up, profane and amazingly alive” in our A-grade review, and “by some distance his best film, it is also one of the most vibrant, intoxicating, illuminating films of this or any Cannes, and it’s a little like we can still feel it thrumming through our veins.”
Release Date: January 23

The Duke of Burgundy
Synopsis: A woman who studies butterflies and moths tests the limits of her relationship with her lover.
What You Need To Know: British genre deconstructionist Peter Strickland is steadily building an impressive filmography wherein he manages to pay loving homage to films of yore and still create something wholly his own. His debut “Katalin Varga” was a near-brilliant take on the rape-revenge genre. And the charming, Lynchian “Berberian Sound Studio” was a fun movie-about-movies look at a sound engineer for Italian Giallos. We had much to praise when we saw his latest at TIFF this year: “He uses the nature of femininity to embed the themes of love, compassion, unapologetic and impartial human connection, ever further in our minds and hearts… A work of immense and intense emotional vigor, sprinkled with fun-loving traits and intellectually stimulating prowess, ‘The Duke of Burgundy’ is the stuff dreams are made of.”
Release Date: January 23rd

Black Sea
Synopsis: A recently laid off submarine captain takes a job with a shadowy backer to search the depths of the Black Sea for a submarine rumored to be loaded with gold.
What You Need To Know: Our review of Kevin Macdonald’s (“Touching the Void,” “The King of Scotland”) latest, a submarine thriller in the vein of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” with an impressive dude-heavy cast (Jude Law, Scoot Mcnairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Michael Smiley), isn’t shy about the film’s problems as well as its virtues: “It’s mostly a handsome film, and it’ll pass a couple of hours on a rainy afternoon without too much trouble. But whether as an adventure tale, a thriller, or a morality play, ‘Black Sea’ never quite makes a compelling enough case for its existence when better examples of the submarine genre are already out there.” Sounds like it may be for genre completists only, but we like the team behind this one enough to give it a shot.
Release Date: January 23rd

Synopsis: A look at the brief occupation of Timbuktu by militant Islamic rebels.
What You Need To Know: Thankfully, according to our review out of Cannes where “Timbuktu” premiered in competition, this film avoids being the cinematic equivalent of eating your vegetables. Though it does focus on tough, underrepresented subject matter, we came away from the screening back in May thinking, “above and beyond its educational value, ‘Timbuktu’ is an impressively well-made film, eschewing what might be the obvious choice of presenting the events in a docu-realist style, in favor of constructing a loose mosaic of stories that occasionally overlap but mostly unfold in parallel to give us glimpses into the lives and deaths and hearts of a people living in the shadow of extremism. For all its value in bearing witness to the kind of atrocious acts that get but little attention on the world stage, this is not mere testimony, this is cleverly crafted and remarkably affecting storytelling.”
Release Date: January 30th

Synopsis: Marieme joins an all-girl gang in the projects of Paris and is slowly turned out of her shell by her three sassy neighbors. As she falls further under their bravado and volatile energy, she begins making brave and foolish choices.
What You Need To Know: Sorry “Boyhood” fans, this is not the same story but from Lorelei Linklater’s point of view. Rather, “Girlhood” is more akin to “La Haine” than Richard Linklater’s masterwork, which for our money is more than enough to get us to see this latest work from French filmmaker Celine Sciamma (“Water Lilies,” “Tomboy”). When we saw it at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, we called it a “fascinatingly layered, textured film that manages to be both a lament for sweetness lost and a celebration of wisdom and identity gained, often at the very same moment.”
Release Date: January 30th

Honorable Mention:
January being what it is in the movie world, there’s almost always a grab bag of assorted genre offerings to check out. If that’s your thing, you may want to look out for the likes of “Rec 4: Apocalypse” (this once-good franchise just keeps on kicking), Ethan Hawke’s latest “Predestination,” or the latest from once-great Tsui Hark, “The Taking of Tiger Mountain.” Or there’s the how-could-it-not-be awesome “Escobar: Paradise Lost,” which we has been delayed several times already (hmmmm) and stars Benicio Del Toro and Josh Hutcherson

Then there’s the stuff that feels like it either deserves better and/or just had no other good times to be released, or could just be totally forgettable work with recognizable faces in the cast. “Cake” is getting some attention lately now that star Jennifer Aniston looks like a potential Oscar nominee for her work in it. “Taken 3” we surmise sees Liam Neeson continue to mess up bad guys. “Little Accidents” has Chloe Sevigny, Elizabeth Banks, Jacob Lofland (“Mud”) in a “seen it before” indie drama. “The Wedding Ringer” pairs up Kevin Hart and Josh Gad for some laughs.

Italian film “Human Capital” is getting traction as a possible best foreign language picture nominee. Food docs are still all the rage, so this month you can get lost in “The Search for General Tso” and find out the origin of that delicious chicken. Finally, Drafthouse Films is releasing the sweet-looking “Amira & Sam,” starring Martin Starr (“Silicon Valley”) and about an American soldier falling for an undocumented immigrant.

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