January right now is off to a 50% hit rate for theatrical movies that I'd recommend. Though like most Januarys where I am reviewing movies in a city not called Toronto, New York or Los Angeles, three of the four movies that I've seen this year are technically from last year, because they got limited screening in those three big cities for award consideration purposes at the end of 2016. Is a movie really a 2016 movie if most of the world will see it in 2017? It seems unfair that a marvelous cinematic masterpiece like La La Land can't be on my best of the year list, just because studios decided to hold off on it going wide until the calendars change.
That is how the game is played, and I know for the Breakdown of the Best of the Year, Scott and I only include movies that are officially released in that chosen year. Though it all seems arbitrary considering there will be some officially mandated 2017 movies that were already screened at festivals in 2016 (but due to not being eligible for Oscar considerations seems to be enough to allow them to be deemed 2017).
Semantics aside, La La Land will likely stand strong as one of the best movies I'll see at the cinemas in 2017. It is a tale of heartbreak uplifted by majestic set pieces and dance numbers that show that optimism and hope can reign in many circumstances. It takes a really ambitious and amazing director like Damien Chazelle to try and succeed at a homage to 1940s and 1950s big musicals that feels authentic yet sets it in modern times with deep dramatic performances. A lot of the credit goes to top caliber performances from Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, as well.
Patriots Day was a masterfully crafted based on a true story thriller that used explosions and action to nail you with an emotional punch where you can feel the pain of that tragic day rather than thrill. It was a top-shelf surprise from Peter Berg, who seems to be the type of director that I never get too excited about but always delivers.
Even the two misses this month weren't complete disasters or at least, not what one is led to believe you're expected to shovel up in January (though January as a dumping ground for studio's trash is something Scott and I will debate this coming weekend on the Breakdown).
Live by Night is a gorgeous to look at and well-directed Prohibition Era gangster picture, but is a disappointment due to the fact Ben Affleck's previous directorial efforts (Argo, The Town, and Gone Baby Gone) are fantastic movies that belong near the top of best of the year lists. I've been a huge fan of his work, and his latest struggled to find a proper tone and at times failed due to reminding us of much better gangster movies. I actually enjoyed most of the movie even though the ending soured things a bit, but it was more a case of me expecting greatness for director Affleck rather than just fine.
Underworld: Blood Wars on the other hand will never be mistaken for a good movie, but I found it more entertaining than a large amount of the big studio tentpoles that I had to sit through last summer. The movie took some chances and wasn't afraid to be in your face; how many other big studio movies have a scene where the female baddie gets her slab-of-meat underling to slide his head under her dress and pleasure her? The movie did end up being more a collection of crazy scenes rather than something coherent, and its schlocky entertainment was betrayed by really flat acting. But it sure was way better than last year's The Boy or The 5th Wave.
We're off to what I'd say is a good start to the year. We are now entering a weekend that is the first one to really be loaded up with 2017 flicks with the two big ones being XXX: Return of Xander Cage and Split. Both of those could represent the quintessential January movie, but in a good way.
XXX is part of a franchise, but one that never really claimed to be a powerhouse or ready to launch an empire. It is goofy and doesn't take itself too seriously, and the quirky type of action picture that does better during a time when the box office isn't too competitive and studios are more comfortable taking a small risk. It hasn't been screened for critics yet, and it could turn out to be just as numbing as big budget slogs like Transformers: Age of Extinction or Warcraft, but there is something refreshing about a movie that doesn't shy away from being goofy.
Split is a horror picture, and you always need one or two of those in January. We had already got Bye Bye Man, but that didn't screen near me and every review points to that being a movie best not ever mentioned again (though I'm sure I'll torture myself with it on Netflix). Split is also M. Night Shyamalan's follow-up to The Visit, which was a return to form for him and proof that he probably should have stuck with low-budget character driven thrillers after the great The Sixth Sense. The early reviews are making it look like he is a director worth getting excited about again and that is enough to look forward to this weekend.
You can't judge a year by its first months. I hold up 2014 and 2015 as great movie years, but they respectively rung in the year with Devil's Due and Woman in Black: Angel of Death. But not only am I still soaring high with hope after two weekends, but this year is jammed with movies that I am highly anticipating. The most anticipated list I revealed on the Breakdown is one that I'm more confident will produce greatness that any similar list that I did in past years. It left out exciting movies like John Wick: Chapter Two, A Cure for Wellness, Get Out, Logan, Beauty and the Beast, Life, The Circle, Dunkirk, The Dark Tower, It, and God Particle. Who knows what other movies will become more known after Sundance? This is the most excited I've been for a movie year in a while, and I can't wait to write reviews and discuss stuff on the podcast.
Based off how things will look politically and in world news, this is a year more than ever that we need the movies to bring the goods.