Every January, it’s the same bait-and-switch; just when we’ve been lulled by the onslaught of awards-season prestige pictures into enjoying a trip to the movies again, the calendar shifts and there we are in January, traditionally the worst month of the year for new movies. It’s the dumping ground for studio releases that aren’t good or commercial enough for the holiday season, and not worth holding till spring. And thus, the studios give us yet another excuse to reject their wares and head to the art house, where the choices are a little bit more interesting.
Interior. Leather Bar.
Release: January 2 Directors: James Franco, Travis Mathews Cast: James Franco, Val Lauren, Christian Patrick, Brenden Gregory
Travis Matthews and James Franco’s “imagining” of the 40 explicit minutes cut from William Friedkin’s controversial gay serial-killer thriller Cruising isn’t quite as advertised; there is some restaged/reimagined footage (and some of it is graphic), but nowhere near the 40 minutes we’re slyly led to expect. Most of Interior‘s running time is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of that recreation, in a pseudo-documentary style, with ever-expanding questions of the degree to which it has all been scripted. A little bit of that stuff goes a long way, and it puts stress on our trust of the filmmakers, but this is nowhere near the insufferable navel-gaze of Franco’s last faux-doc, Francophrenia. And there are some genuine and provocative conversations here about sex on screen (both straight and gay), and how we relate to it. Or, as his leading man notes, “I think I’ve learned something. I don’t know what it is…”
Release: January 10 Director: Kim Mordaunt Cast: Sitthiphon Disamoe, Loungam Kaosainam, Thep Phongam
A co-production of Thailand, Laos, and Australia (and the latter country’s submission to this year’s Academy Awards), this narrative debut by documentarian Mordaunt was a big hit at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, picking up prizes for Best Narrative Feature, Best Actor in a Narrative Feature (10-year-old Disamoe), and the Audience Award for Best Narrative Film.
Release: January 17 Director: Jillian Schlesinger
Laura Dekker was only 14 years old when she began the two-year voyage that made her the youngest person to ever sail around the world solo. Jillian Schlesinger’s documentary mostly lets her tell the story herself, via her own footage, shot at sea; if that gives Maidentrip a bit of a home-movie vibe (which is itself just fine, as she’s a charismatic and likable protagonist), it also allows the film to address the gradually revealed themes — the psychology and difficulty of leaving home, the loneliness and solitude of the journey, and her quest for independence — with an uncommon intimacy.
Big Bad Wolves
Release: January 17 Directors: Navot Papushado, Aharon Keshales Cast: Lior Ashkenazi, Rotem Keinan, Tzahi Grad
Back in October, Quentin Tarantino proclaimed this Israeli crime movie “the best film of the year” — three months before the year ended, which is kind of moot anyway since it’s a 2014 release. But no one ever accused QT of playing by the rules! Point is, this sounds exactly like Tarantino’s cup of tea: the intertwining story of three men involved in a string of killings (a victim’s father, a police detective, and the prime suspect), bursting with graphic violence and smart dialogue.
Release: January 17 Director: Sebastián Lelio Cast: Paulina García, Sergio Hernández
García won the Silver Bear Best Actress award at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival for her turn as a divorced “woman of a certain age” who not only finds love, but the inner strength to keep that love from defining her. And yes, if you’re concerned (I know I was), the Laura Branigan song is at least used in the trailer.
Like Father, Like Son
Release: January 17 Director: Hirokazu Koreeda Cast: Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono, Yôko Maki, Rirî Furankî
Calm down, calm down, they didn’t go and remake the 1987 Kirk Cameron/Dudley Moore body-switching comedy; this Japanese drama (which won the Jury Prize at Cannes) concerns a successful businessman who discovers his biological son was switched with another child, and must decide what to do about it. But this film has been tagged for an English-language remake itself, with Steven Spielberg reportedly expressing interest.
Run & Jump
Release: January 24 Director: Steph Green Cast: Maxine Peake, Edward MacLiam, Will Forte
When Run & Jump screened at last spring’s Tribeca Film Festival, everyone was all, “Saturday Night Live’s Will Forte in a seriocomic drama? That seems weird!” And then Nebraska happened, and now Run & Jump director Steph Green (a 2009 Oscar nominee for Best Short Film) is kind of looking like a genius.
Stranger by the Lake
Release: January 24 Director: Alain Guiraudie Cast: Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick D’Assumçao
Acclaimed French filmmaker Alain Guiraudie won a directing prize in the Un Certain Regard competition at Cannes for this Hitchockian thriller, set at a lakeside gay cruising spot that becomes a crime scene. A sensation at last year’s New York Film Festival, the film’s New York opening will coincide with a retrospective of Guiraudie’s work at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
Charlie Victor Romeo
Release: January 29 Directors: Robert Berger, Patrick Daniels, Karlyn Michelson Cast: Patrick Daniels, Irving Gregory, Noel Dinneen, Sam Zuckerman,
This Sundance and NYFF selection is based on a 1999 stage production, itself taken from black box recordings (the title is derived from their official name, “cockpit voice recorders”) of six airline emergencies. Sparsely staged and shot in 3D, the film combines high and low technology with documentary realism to give us yet another cinematically inspired reason to get nervous in the air.
Release: January 31 Director: Teller
The director is Teller of Penn & Teller; Penn co-produces this documentary profile of Tim Jenson, an inventor who became fascinated with the photorealistic painting style of Johannes Vermeer, and tries to figure out exactly how it was accomplished. You may hear more about this one in the weeks to come — it was recently short-listed for this year’s Best Documentary Oscar.