January is widely known as the worst month for movies. While you're busy trying to catch up on the best of the best before awards season, the studios unload their crap. This past January we got garbage like 'Leap Year,' 'Crazy on the Outside' and 'The Spy Next Door'; and that's just to name a few.
When you're getting miss after miss, it's easy to overlook the fact that the first month of the year isn't all the bad. No, January isn't anything like November or December when all of the Oscar potentials hit, but there have been quite a few January films in recent years that are viable sources of entertainment and, in some cases, even well made movies.
'City of God'
Apparently being released at the end of the year isn't vital to being nominated for Academy Awards. 'City of God' hit just 5 theaters on January 17th, rose to 106 theaters on March 21st, went back down to just one theater on October 3rd and then back up again to 242 theaters on February 13th. The film was played for a whopping 72 weeks and there's a reason it lasted so long and snagged four Oscar nominations: it's an absolutely fantastic film. The entire story of Li'l Zé, Bené and Rocket's attempt to document their rise to power in the slums of Rio De Janeiro is enthralling, with quite a handful of scenes that will inevitably be engrained in your mind, particularly when Li'l Dice, a young Li'l Zé, shows off his hunger for blood.
'Win A Date With Tad Hamilton!'
Not only is this one an unlikely January winner, but it's also an unusually enjoyable cheesy romantic comedy. Like most of its kind, it's quite tacky and quite predictable, but thanks to honest performances and just enough novelty, 'Win A Date With Tad Hamilton' delivers an entirely enjoyable experience. The film is considered rotten on the Tomatometer, but not by much; 'Win a Date' earned a 52%. Unfortunately the general public didn't want to give this one a chance because it opened with a weak $7.3 million and only went on to earn a total of $17.1 million domestically. Still, years later, this is one that continues to offer a good time on TV and DVD.
'Assault on Precinct 13'
This one may have been a pretty big flop, only pulling in a total of about $20 million on a $30 million budget and making a swift exit after just five weeks in theaters, but that in no way reflects the quality of this John Carpenter remake. When officer Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke) and his colleagues are trapped in their precinct when an anonymous crew of bad guys attacks the facility, the situation is pretty damn terrifying. Yes, the happenings might be a bit formulaic, but overall the film is incredibly tense and a great watch.
Not only did this one achieve an impressive 73% on the Tomatometer, but 'Nanny McPhee' also posted some impressive box office numbers, too. After a 14 week run, the film accumulated a total of $47.1 million at the domestic box office. Even better? The film really did deserve both of those accolades. Just because the holidays were over, didn't mean the kiddies were out of luck at the theater and the film also has a curiously dark side making it interesting fare for adult crowds. Emma Thompson certainly hit it big as the, well, ugly nanny, packing a whole lot of magic.
Perhaps MTV reruns are to blame for this one making the cut, but 'Freedom Writers' is downright addicting. It's painfully formulaic with Hilary Swank starring as the steadfast teacher who manages to have a breakthrough with her class packed with tough inner-city kids, but it still manages to be wholly intriguing and rather emotional. This film made off with a respectable 69% on Rotten Tomatoes and at least made it into the green at the box office, pulling in $36.6 domestically on a $21 million budget.
Talk about a movie that packs a punch. This one's got a top-notch cast including Emile Hirsch, Anton Yelchin, Justin Timberlake, Shawn Hatosy, Ben Foster, Olivia Wilde, Amanda Seyfried, Sharon Stone and Bruce Willis and everyone delivers big time. But even more profound than the famous faces and their performances, is the story. Yelchin stars as Zack Mazursky, a good kid who's swept up in a dangerous mess thanks to his drug addict brother (Foster). There's really no better way to describe this film than jaw dropping. Plus, it's got one heck of a lasting effect partially due to the fact that it's based on a terrifying true story. It's a shame this one only lasted six weeks and made a mere $15.3 million at the box office.
Forget just being a surprisingly good January movie; 'Cloverfield' is a fantastic film period. As we're drowned in shaky cam film after shaky cam film, Matt Reeves delivered one that really put the technique to use in the best way possible. It was extremely effective in terms of the story and just made the experience a million times more horrifying. Hopes were high for this monster movie back in 2008, and Reeves delivered big time. Not only did he secure a 76% on Rotten Tomatoes, but his film opened with a bang, demolishing its $25 million budget and earning $40 its first weekend, a well deserved win.
'4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days'
While 'Meet the Spartans' was pulling in all the money on the weekend of January 25th, '4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days' practically slipped right by the general public, only screening at two theaters. Despite the minimal theater count, the film did boast a $25,856 per theater average and a slew of glowing reviews. The Romanian film about a young college student who helps her friend get an illegal abortion is as raw as they come. There's absolutely no bells or whistles on this one; director Cristian Mungiu sticks to primarily static shots and simple set-ups. In fact, one of the most compelling moments of the film is merely a profile of one character delivering a heart-wrenching monologue and that shooting tactic makes the delivery all the more powerful.
There's a reason 'Unknown' is hitting theaters on February 18th. Liam Neeson hit it big with 'Taken' early in the year back in 2009 and the folks at Warner Bros. likely have their fingers crossed he can pull it off again. The plots are different, 'Taken' featuring Neeson as a father trying to rescue his daughter from a human trafficking ring and 'Unknown' as a guy who wakes up from a coma to find his identity has been stolen, but he's basically running around Europe being an awesome action star in both films. It certainly worked in 'Taken' in terms of entertainment value and financial value, so all the power to Warner Bros. for giving the formula another go-around.
'Youth in Revolt'
There may have been a ton of travesties in January of 2010, but that doesn't mean there weren't a few gems, too, one of which is Miguel Arteta's adaptation of C.D. Payne's book, 'Youth in Revolt.' Michael Cera was born to play the role of Nick Twisp, an awkward rebellious teen taking his sex drive out for a spin. In addition to Cera, this film is packed with premiere players like Jean Smart, Zach Galifianakis, Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi and more. Also, this film is just a spectacular example of what a book-to-film adaptation should be. Gustin Nash really did a great job of condensing the 498-page book into a contained film that appealed to both fans of the source material and newcomers. It's just too bad the box office numbers don't reflect the quality of the film. 'Youth in Revolt' opened weak with just a $6.9 million start and only went on to claim $15.3 million in total at the domestic box office.
What do you think will be the surprisingly good film of the month? In the wide release department, my money's on 'Green Hornet.'