You may think January is the dullest of months. It’s cold, it’s dark and your sofa is whispering sweet nothings in your ear. Ignore it. For in the movie calendar January is fabulously exciting, releasing a delectable platter of cinematic goodies, all pouting and jostling for awards season consideration. With the Golden Globe and BAFTA nominees announced and the Academy due to reveal its Oscar shortlist on 15 January, get yourself up to speed by checking out the following new releases, all prime candidates to pocket a gong or two. Your sofa might sulk, but it’ll get over it.
Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)
Release date: Out now / Certificate: 15 / Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Stars: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Naomi Watts
Riggan (Michael Keaton) is a washed-up actor best known for his past success as Birdman, eponymous superhero of a cheesy movie franchise. Desperate for credibility and a career renaissance, he’s taking the fledgling (groan) step of directing a serious Broadway play, battling his own fragile mental health and the pecking order of preening (that’s enough) actors as tempers fray and feathers fly (please stop). Keaton gives a tremendous, fearless performance in a role with uncomfortable parallels to his own career. And look out for the incredible filming technique — see if you can spot where the director called "cut".
The Theory Of Everything
Release date: 1 January 2015 / Certificate: 12A / Director: James Marsh
Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis, Emily Watson
Stephen Hawking, his robotic voice and wheelchair are so familiar you’re probably wondering why you should see this. Just for Eddie Redmayne’s lauded performance? Well yes, Eddie is astoundingly good. But you should see this because it’s truly moving, capturing the shock of illness at such a young age and the battles Stephen and his wife Jane (Felicity Jones) faced, even just to get through a meal. Heartbreaking and inspiring in equal measures.
Release date: 9 January / Certificate: 15 / Director: Bennett Miller
Stars: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
Well here’s a thing. Not one but two actors playing against type. Steve Carell ditches his trademark funny guy and Channing Tatum, err, doesn’t ditch his trademark hewn from Greek marble torso (even throwing in a gratuitous bum shot — shameless), but both reveal serious dramatic chops. Who knew they had it in them? Based on a stranger-than-fiction true story of an eccentric millionaire who started his own pro-wrestling team it’s cool, clinical and menacing with the performances rightly taking centre stage.
Into The Woods
Release date: 9 January / Certificate: PG / Director: Rob Marshall
Stars: Meryl Streep, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman
Now don’t get all snooty and dismiss this. Yes, a Disney adaptation of a Stephen Sondheim musical filled with fairytale characters might have you dusting down your Evil Dead DVD, but you’d be missing out. All the best kids' movies are really for adults and this is no exception. James Corden and Emily Blunt puncture the jazz hands razzamatazz with a flat, British sensibility and the whole thing is doused with a large measure of arch knowing. Splendid fun.
Release date: 16 January / Certificate: 15 / Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller
Oooooh, The Controversial One. A biopic of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) who holds the record for the most kills in US history, between 160 -255, before he was shot himself. Critics are united in praising Bradley Cooper’s performance as Chris but, doubtless, you’ll have your own opinion on how suitable the subject matter is for a movie. Adopt a suitably furrowed brow and join the debate.
Release date: 16 January / Certificate: 15 / Director: Damien Chazelle
Stars: Miles Teller, JK Simmons
If you suffer from high blood pressure, don’t see this. We’ll not be held liable if your head explodes. A whirling musical dervish in which hallowed music teacher Fletcher (JK Simmons) seemingly channels the worst of Satan to goad greatness out of drumming student Andrew (Miles Teller), this is a dark, adrenaline-filled tale of consuming obsession. Student/teacher stories have been done before, but not like this.
Release date: 16 January / Certificate: 15 / Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern
Actors’ performances are often described as ‘physical’, which generally means they ate a couple of pies/ate no pies and scowled a bit. In Wild, for once, it’s true (not the pie bit). Reese lugged a humongous rucksack actually filled with heavy stuff to play Cheryl Strayed, who hiked the length of the Pacific Crest Trail to exorcise personal demons. We’re kind of hoping the blisters were real too.
A Most Violent Year
Release date: 23 January / Certificate: 15 / Director: JC Chandor
Stars: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain
Harking back to the classic gangster movies of the late-70s, A Most Violent Year is all wintry New York skylines and mid-century modern interiors. But this is an anti-gangster movie. Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is head of a heating oil business fighting corruption and violent attacks by unknown rivals. Issac leaves the hapless Llewyn Davis far behind to play a charismatic salesman who could sell oil to the Emirates. Support from Jessica Chastain lends further gravitas to a stylised, intelligent morality drama.
Release date: 30 January / Certificate: 15 / Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro
Don your flares, grow some mutton chops and join Joaquin Phoenix’s stoner detective Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello in a ramshackle ride round 70s LA (the stoner bit is optional). Based on a sprawling Thomas Pynchon novel, it features a sterling cast recreating the freewheeling era of free love. Far out.
Release date: 30 January / Certificate: 15 / Director: Stephen Daldry
Stars: Rickson Tevez, Eduardo Luis, Gabriel Weinstein, Rooney Mara, Martin Sheen
A cheeky upstart among the big-hitters, Trash made BAFTA’s non-English language shortlist. Set in the favelas of Rio De Janeiro, it follows the crafty antics of three streetwise young boys. Yes, it’ll be compared to Slumdog and yes, it’ll be compared to City of God, but cast that aside and applaud the achievement of three non-English speaking, non-acting Brazilian lads becoming movie stars. Kids of today...
By Ruth Sloss