January tends to be a bit of a cinematic wasteland every year, as studios dump a bunch of films they didn’t like or couldn’t market properly. Meanwhile, most people are catching up on awards contenders that have finally expanded beyond their limited runs. This January is a mixed bag of new installments in old series, a few original movies and a couple of promising new flicks. But even amid those installments of rusty franchises comes some films that may just be weird enough to last beyond the January wasteland.
“Amityville: The Awakening”
Who: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bella Thorne, Cameron Monaghan and Kurtwood Smith What: A single mother moves her three children into a haunted house, unaware of its bloody history. When: January 6th Why: The story of the Amityville haunting has been pretty well documented in movies, including last year’s “The Conjuring 2,” but this film looks like it’s using the original case as a jumping off point for a new source of terror. The trailer features lots of jump scares and cross-cutting but also some genuinely gross moments and cool visuals. While this could just be a cash-in on an established property, the addition of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kurtwood Smith in front of the camera and writer/director Franck Khalfoun (who helmed the exceptional “Maniac” remake) behind it suggests that there could be something more to this movie.
With December comes the push for award season, but there’s a lot of other entertainment being released this month as well. Of course, the big movie for many will be the new “Star Wars,” which looks to extend the brand outside of the episodic entries. And while there’s not a lot of Christmas fare being put out this year, there is the potential new holiday favorite “Office Christmas Party.” There’s also the possible sci-fi heights of “Assassin’s Creed” and “Passengers,” which both appear to be something special and come with many bonafides behind and in front of the camera. The rest of the month’s offerings are awards bait material, but there’s something unique and exciting about most of them, whether it’s the powerful acting of “Jackie,” the stylish thrills of “Live By Night,” or even just the return of Martin Scorsese with “Silence.”
Who: Natalie Portman, John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudup and Greta Gerwig What: Following the assassination of JFK, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith and define her husband’s historic legacy. When: December 2nd Why: The film circuit has been abuzz about Natalie Portman’s performance in this film, directed by Pablo Larraín, with many festivalgoers already predicting an Oscar for her turn as the former First Lady. The film appears to be an actor’s dream, with a meaty script for the actress that allows her to showcase a lot of different emotions at a volatile time in Kennedy’s (and the country’s) life. Add to that a real sense of style that exudes from every frame of the trailer, and it appears like “Jackie” may be a real Oscar contender on multiple fronts while also telling a compelling story that is oft-overlooked in history lessons.
The blockbuster season has some last vestiges in November with “Doctor Strange” and the latest from the “Harry Potter” universe, but mostly it’s crowd pleasers and awards bait. Although there are a few comedies and family films, the rest of the releases are dedicated to serious stories that will hopefully draw critical raves and awards nominations soon enough. Luckily, the quality on display seems to be evident and should be entertaining for the average cinephile as they wade through the month’s options. Even those blockbuster types seem slightly different with unique visuals and stories that should be engaging for audiences.
Who: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen and Benedict Wong What: A former neurosurgeon embarks on a journey of healing only to be drawn into the world of the mystic arts. When: November 4th Why: Marvel’s first foray into the more mystical side of their multiverse comes with some truly impressive acting pedigrees, from Cumberbatch as the titular doctor to Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One that teaches him the power of sorcery. The visuals on display suggest a trippy aesthetic that will play with people’s minds as they enjoy the origin story of Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme. Director Scott Derrickson, who co-wrote the script with Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill, has done mostly horror (“Sinister”) but looks ready to leap into the blockbuster foray with this genre defying action tale.
October is an interesting month for film releases. The blockbuster season is a distant memory and awards season is just getting started. Some festival favorites finally hit wide release, while others are chasing the spooky atmosphere of the season. However, there aren’t many major horror movies this month (and no, “Boo! A Madea Halloween” doesn’t count); instead, it seems that the dominant genre for October is adult thrillers. Sure, there’s a comedy and a drama or two in the mix, but mainly it’s thrillers aimed at grownups with twists, turns and some sophisticated action. Who knows if any of these will succeed at the box office, but here’s what’s on the docket for the month.
“The Birth of a Nation”
Who: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aunjanue Ellis and Gabrielle Union What: Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher in the antebellum South, orchestrates an uprising. When: October 7th Why: There’s been a lot of discussion around “The Birth of a Nation.” First, there was tons of hype about the film coming out of Sundance, but more recently, the talk has become about writer/director/star Nate Parker’s previous rape allegations. For some, that’s a deal breaker and they won’t go see the film; others have learned to separate the art from the artist and will take the movie on its own merits (see Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, etc.). Based on word of mouth, the film is a harrowing, emotional experience that does a good job of connecting audiences to this historical event while finding the humanity amid all the horrible actions of the time period.
September is an odd time in the cinematic schedule, no longer part of the summer blockbuster season but still too early for the prestige awards bait of later months. It doesn’t even have a particularly well-known holiday like Halloween to gear towards programming. With that being said, the September slate is a mixed bag of some very promising films, most of them original (only two sequels and one remake in the bunch). Can “Blair Witch” live up to the original and the hype that’s been steadily building for it? And what about true-life stories like “Sully,” “Snowden” and “Deepwater Horizon?” Is there enough in each of those to tell a gripping tale? Only time will tell.
Who: Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Paul Giamatti, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Brian Cox What: A corporate risk-management consultant has to decide and determine whether or not to terminate an artificial being’s life that was made in a laboratory environment. When: September 2nd Why: Made by Luke Scott (music video director and son of Ridley), this sounds like an intriguing, original sci-fi film that will be both entertaining to watch and actually grapple with some heavier, headier stuff. Also, the cast is pretty much stacked with talent, including Anya Taylor-Joy, who has proven to be an incredible actress at a young age with her performance in “The Witch” and whose role as the AI in question should be suitably captivating. This may be a retread of “Ex Machina,” but considering that was a brilliant film, that’s no knock on “Morgan,” which looks to be a mix of Alex Garland’s thriller, Luc Besson’s “Lucy” and an especially engrossing episode of “Black Mirror.”