January is traditionally the time of year when Hollywood offloads all of it’s, well, junk. Thanks to the weather and post-holiday fatigue, this month is when studios try to sneak out the stuff they’d be too embarrassed to release when everyone’s paying attention. Conversely, Oscar bait movies which have already opened in L.A. and New York to qualify for the Academy Awards get wide distribution in the rest of the country come January. Here’s a partial list of what’s on tap – it’s up to you to decide whether it’s the wheat or the chaff.
A Most Violent Year – 1981 is on record as being one of the most violent years in the history of New York City … which was enough to inspire writer/director J.C. Chandor to create this story about an immigrant family in New York trying to build a business while the city is in chaos. Chandor is the writer/director of Margin Call which was, in the opinion of yours truly, the best picture of 2011. Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, Alessandro Nivola and David Oyelowo star.
The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death – The follow up to the 2012 release which starred Daniel Radcliffe as a Victorian lawyer gettin’ the bejesus scared out of him in a haunted house. It’s 40 year’s later and children evacuated from the London Blitz to that same house have, unfortunately, re-awakened the title character who, as we know from the first movie, isn’t anyone you want to spend a weekend with.
Selma – By 1965 the Alabama state legislature had effectively disenfranchised black voting in the state for over a century; In Selma, less than one percent of the black population was allowed to register to vote. Ava DuVernay’s film Selma, from a script by Paul Webb, dramatizes the three Selma-to-Montgomery marches staged by Martin Luther King, Jr. and a group of local and national activists. David Oyelowo stars as Dr. King, with a stellar supporting cast including Tom Wilkinson, Oprah Winfrey, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Giovanni Ribisi.
Taken 3 – Here’s a question – does Liam Neeson ever sleep? It seems impossible since he pops up every other month in another revenge movie. Remember in the first Taken how he rescued his daughter (“I will look for you, I will find you and I will kill you.”) This time his wife has been murdered and he’s being framed for her death! He’s got to find the actual killers, while avoiding the law enforcement trying to track him down. Can he do it? He better, because I’m sure it’ll only be a few months before he’ll be needed in another rescue franchise.
Blackhat —The latest action-thriller from director Michael Mann. The authorities bust out Chris Hemsworth from prison so he can help American and Chinese police capture a cyber criminal. Viola Davis also stars. And, if nothing else, the movie was filmed in the US, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Malaysia … so there should be plenty of pretty scenery. (Not including Hemsworth, recently voted People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive.)
Paddington – A live-action film version of this quintessential and much loved British children’s literature character … a bear from Peru with a taste for marmalade who arrives in London with a red hat and a magic suitcase and is adopted by the Brown family. In this telling he’s being pursued by an evil Nicole Kidman, a museum owner who wants to stuff him and put him on display. Not Paddington! With Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters and Paddington’s voice supplied by Ben Whishaw.
The Wedding Ringer – Poor Josh Gad – a nice but nerdy sort of guy. He’s getting married in a few months but doesn’t have a best man to stand up with him. But here comes Kevin Hart to save the day; the owner of a company which provides best men for men in that exact situation. The movie is set in Los Angeles after all – surely the one place where buying a best friend is not only done openly but competitively. Can Hart and Gad keep up the pretense until wedding day? I twist with anticipation.
The Boy Next Door– Jennifer Lopez stars a divorcee who takes a liking to a friend of her son. The relationship gets far more physical than it should and J-Lo finds out that the young man is something of a psychopath … if it isn’t one thing it’s another, right? Directed by Rob Cohen, the man who brought you The Fast and the Furious and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Also starring Kristen Chenoweth and John Corbett.
Cake – Jennifer Aniston stars in pure Oscar bait material as a woman who investigates the suicide death of a friend from her chronic-pain support group. Aniston’s already received nods from the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes. Also appearing are Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington and Mamie Gummer.
Mortdecai – High concept action comedy based on the cult novels by Kyril Bonfiglioli about dissolute art dealer Charles Mortdecai and his manservant Jock Strapp who find themselves tangled up in international mystery. Johnny Depp plays Mortdecai, Paul Bettany is Strapp, Gwyneth Paltrow plays his wife and Ewan McGregor, Olivia Munn, Jeff Goldblum are along for the ride.
The Loft – The original movie was Belgian, then the Dutch remade it and now here comes the American version. It’s thriller about five married men who keep an apartment where they can bring back a floozy for a little extramarital action … then one day they discover the body of a dead woman in the flat and realize one of them has committed murder. With Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller and Eric Stonestreet.
Project Almanac – A group of plucky teenagers discover plans for a time machine and decide to build one for themselves. At first they use their new time travel abilities to rectify past mistakes – then human nature kicks in and they start changing the past for personal profit. Pretty soon they’re out of control and their activities wreak devastating changes in the future. If only they’d have gone back in time and kept Mark Zuckerberg away from a computer they’d be my personal heroes.
Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb – An earlier Stanley Kubrick film about the insanity of the Cold War era and it’s lunatic policy of assured mutual self-destruction. A rogue officer (Sterling Hayden) takes over an army base and the next thing you know James Earl Jones is flying an atomic bomb over to Russia. Peter Sellers plays three characters; a British army captain, the American president and the title character whom he based on Henry Kissinger.
The Search for General Tso– New documentary by Ian Cheney using this ubiquitous Chinese-American restaurant staple as a jumping off point exploring the history of Chinese immigrants in America and how what started as a small community in San Francisco ended up crossing the North American continent.
Shock Value – It’s so difficult to be a true artist today; trends and fads make pursuing an original impulse all but impossible. Is the anything fresh and new to say? Well, this 2014 film might have an answer. Zak Hudson plays a struggling director who witnesses a serial killing … and blackmails the killer to be in his new movie. It’s a safe bet to say nobody’s had that idea before.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – It’s being billed as the “first Iranian vampire Western.” I don’t know much about Iranian cinema but I’d say that’s probably true. A sudden film festival favorite, AGWHAN is set in a rundown town far away from everything and the townspeople are being stalked by a vampire.
Two Days, One Night – Marion Cotillard plays a young woman working a dead end factory job who finds out that her coworkers have voted to take a big pay bonus in exchange for giving her the sack … she now has one weekend to change everyone’s mind and get them to give up their bonus in exchange for her continued employment.
Jurassic Park – The original 1993 Steven Spielberg dinosaur action movie, based on the novel by Michael Crichton. Scientists discover a way to isolate dino DNA and grow their own and the late Richard Attenborough plays a showman opening a theme park with the big lizards … now what could possibly go wrong with that plan? Sam Neill, Laura Dean and an especially funny Jeff Goldblum star. This film was one of the first to showcase the cinematic possibilities of CGI.
2001: A Space Odyssey – This Stanley Kubrick sci-fi classic was released in 1968 … and to this day nobody can figure out what the hell it means. In the future world of this movie, scientists discover a mysterious black monolith buried under moon dirt and they send a couple of astronauts to Jupiter in hopes of finding the slab’s creators. Trivia alert regarding the on board computer HAL — if you move forward one letter in his name, you’ll spell IBM. This movie features one of the most famous jump cuts of all time – a bone is thrown in the air and comes back down as a space ship … a distance of four million years covered in less than a second.
Ted Hoover is a Pittsburgh based writer and critic.