This January is lighter on schlock than normal. But then, it’s lighter on movies in general. While a few are creeping into theaters over the next four weeks, those plans could easily change between now and the day each is scheduled to open; as we’ve said pretty much every month since the pandemic started, the following list of upcoming titles could prove more generally upcoming than indicated. If it holds, audiences can expect a couple of crime-centric star vehicles, several acclaimed documentaries, and a few titles hoping to capitalize on that extended Oscar-eligibility window. Keep reading to find out what’s coming to theaters and living rooms near you in January. And before trekking out to see a movie on the big screen, please read up on the health risks.
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The horrifying murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi government—and the appalling international cover-up that followed—is the subject of this new film from playwright-turned-documentarian Bryan Fogel. As in his Oscar-winning Icarus, there’s a strong investigative element, as the filmmaker supplements the existing reporting with new interviews, laying out a timeline of disturbing events, while also offering something like a profile of the slain eponymous dissident. Reviews from Sundance described a nonfiction exposé with the urgency of a conspiracy thriller.
3 / 15
The Marksman represents a major branching out for director Robert Lorenz: It’s his first project that doesn’t involve Clint Eastwood, whose movies he produced from 2002 through 2014, and whom he directed in Trouble With The Curve. For star Liam Neeson, though, this seems like business as usual. He plays an ex-Marine who becomes the protector of a young immigrant boy, which in this kind of movie means squaring off against a vicious drug cartel. Maybe Lorenz can bring an Eastwood-style Western vibe to Neeson’s reluctant-man-of-action persona, which between this and Honest Thief is getting quite a pandemic workout.
4 / 15
There’s not much in the way of new information in Sam Pollard’s new documentary on the FBI’s years-long surveillance campaign against the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. All the same, it’s cleanly and engrossingly assembled—a kind of shadow history of the civil rights era that lays out all the ways U.S. intelligence attempted to undermine the movement by discrediting its most prominent voice (which, of course, carries unspoken parallels to the way Black Lives Matter is demonized through propaganda). That the film doubles as an archival portrait of King himself, sneaking a few glimpses of the man behind the Great Man legacy, is all the more reason to see it.
5 / 15
Netflix colonizes yet another studio’s territory by going full Focus Features with an extremely British-looking adaptation of a novel about a real-life 1939 archeological excavation in Sutton Hoo that uncovered a buried ship from the 7th century. Extra prestige comes from an A-list cast: Carey Mulligan plays a landowner, while Ralph Fiennes and Lily James play archeologists. Director Simon Stone is a stage vet who also made The Daughter, an Ibsen adaptation that turned up on The A.V. Club’s list of best 2017 movies we didn’t review.
6 / 15
Outside The Wire
Outside The Wire
Anthony Mackie has played his share of soldiers, in everything from the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But he becomes a more literal killing machine in this futuristic Netflix actioner, starring as an ass-kicking military android who teams up with a young drone pilot (Damson Idris) to avert nuclear war. Quickly scanning the CV of director Mikael Håfström offers no reliable intel—he’s made both fun pulp (like Escape Plan) and pure hoary garbage (The Rite). But even a knockoff Robocop might hit the spot during a long winter devoid of bona fide Hollywood blockbusters.
7 / 15
Some Kind Of Heaven
Some Kind Of Heaven
Darren Aronofsky’s name figures prominently into the publicity campaign for this documentary about The Villages, America’s largest retirement community. And though his producer credit on the film doesn’t guarantee any Requiem For A Dream-style meltdowns, there is a touch of darkness to the trailer, which promises an inside look at “Disneyland for retirees” through the eyes of new residents beginning to suspect that the idyllic Florida paradise may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Also vaguely Aronofsky-esque is the off-kilter imagery—one of several elements cited from Sundance, where director Lance Oppenheim’s film premiered to general praise a year ago.
8 / 15
The White Tiger
The White Tiger
Writer-director Ramin Bahrani (Chop Shop, 99 Homes) transports his career-long fixation on classic conflict from America to India for this adaptation of the Aravind Adiga bestseller about a poor driver (Adarsh Gourav) who begins to envision more for himself than a life of servitude. Priyanka Chopra costars as one of his wealthy employers. Bahrani’s storytelling doesn’t always rise to the level of his earnest sociopolitical intentions, but he’s got a good blueprint this time: Adiga’s novel won the Booker Prize in 2008.
9 / 15
Jason Segel examines the more serious side of his treasured male friendships in Our Friend, where he plays a semi-slacker who steps up to help a bestie (Casey Affleck) whose wife (Dakota Johnson) receives a cancer diagnosis. This adaptation of an award-winning essay by Matthew Teague comes from director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, who has experience translating real life into compelling narratives with documentaries like Blackfish. Our Friend got mostly positive reviews when it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019, though some critics felt that it sanitized the honesty and intensity of Teague’s writing.
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The Little Things
The Little Things
Denzel Washington’s newest crime thriller will be the second Warner Bros. title to be simultaneously released on streaming platform HBO Max, following Wonder Woman 1984. Washington plays a deputy sheriff clashing with a Los Angeles cop (Rami Malek) as they investigate a possible serial killer (Jared Leto). In other words, writer-director John Lee Hancock continues the dad-friendly crime-chasing of The Highwaymen, while Washington pacifies any fans who have been waiting patiently for him to get back to his late-’90s calling of making movies like The Bone Collector and Fallen.
11 / 15
Breaking News In Yuba County
Breaking News In Yuba County
Alison Janney and director Tate at the 2012 Writers Guild AwardsPhoto: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for WGAwBreaking News In Yuba County
Tate Taylor continues to cycle through reunions with the cast of his 2011 hit The Help: After showcasing Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain in soapy genre films Ma and Ava, respectively, he directs Allison Janney in a story that seems to mix melodrama, dark comedy, and death. Janney plays a woman whose cheating husband dies of a heart attack and gets mistaken for a missing person when she buries the body without telling anyone, lending her both local celebrity and unwanted attention from authorities. Maybe next Taylor can work on vehicles for Regina Hall, Mila Kunis, and Awkwafina, who all co-star here.
12 / 15
The 2011 YA novel There You’ll Find Me gets truncated into Finding You for its big-screen adaptation, which reunites the director and star of the little-seen 2019 romance The World We Make. Hiding out in a small Irish town after washing out of music school, Finley Sinclair (Rose Reid) meets movie star Beckett Rush (Descendants actor Jedidiah Goodacre, who despite his name is not a Coen brothers character), there to shoot his latest film. They begin an unlikely romance, which hopefully involves someone asking if either of them has seen Notting Hill.
13 / 15
On the heels of Our Friend comes another story of a close relationship faced with a terrible diagnosis. Here, Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth play longtime romantic partners visiting friends and family on a road trip, before Tucci’s character succumbs to early-onset dementia. Both Firth and Tucci have earned praise for their performances, which might be why Bleecker Street is releasing it now; late January, remember, is now within the Oscar eligibility window.
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Chloë Grace Moretz fights off fighter planes and CGI gremlins in the fun, pulpy WWII dogfight movie Shadow In The Cloud (select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms 1/1). The military action continues with Redemption Day (select theaters 1/8; VOD and digital platforms 1/12), about a marine, played by Gary Dourdan, who infiltrates a terrorist cell to save his wife. Meagan Good steps in front of and behind the camera for the drama If Not Now, When? (VOD and digital platforms 1/8), about a group of estranged high school friends reunited through tragedy. Based on the book by Naoki Higashida, The Reason I Jump (virtual theaters 1/8) looks at the lives of five young nonspeaking autistic people from around the world. Con Air director Simon West orchestrates the mayhem of the Chinese volcanic disaster movie Skyfire (VOD 1/12). The Ultimate Playlist Of Noise (Hulu 1/15) follows a teen on a journey to record all of his favorite sounds before a surgery that will leave him unable to hear any of them. Brooklyn filmmaker Lynne Sachs assembles 35 years’ worth of footage she shot of her dad for the intimate Film About A Father Who (virtual theaters 1/15). The Gatekeepers director Dror Moreh turns his attention to the decades-long struggle for peace in the Middle East, as told from the perspective of the American mediators and negotiators working toward that goal over the past 30 years, in The Human Factor (select theaters 1/22). The MMA drama Born A Champion (select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms 1/22) follows a jujitsu fighter who gets a second shot at glory. The DTV action star Frank Grillo plays a vigilante on the run through Mexico in No Man’s Land (select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms 1/22). Frank Oz went and filmed illusionist Derek DelGaudio’s one-man live show (which Oz also directed) In & Of Itself (Hulu 1/22). Naomi Watts, Andrew Lincoln, and Jacki Weaver star in Penguin Bloom (Netflix 1/27), based on Bradley Trevor Greive’s novel about a family that copes with a terrible accident by caring for an injured bird. The Night (select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms 1/29), starring A Separation’s Shahab Hosseini, traps an Iranian couple in an American hotel haunted by dark forces and secrets. You’ll find more MMA action in Haymaker (select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms 1/29), starring Nick Sasso as a retired Muay Thai fighter looking to get back in the ring. And two kids from Brooklyn reconnect with their Hawaiian heritage in the Netflix family film Finding ’Ohana (Netflix 1/29).
Will fifth time be the charm for Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway, which won’t open in January, just as it didn’t open in August, or April, or February of last year? The sequel to the CGI-heavy family comedy is now scheduled for this April, which is when Warner Bros. will release the new Mortal Kombat movie in theaters and on HBO Max. Escape Room 2, a follow-up to a very January thriller from 2018, has experienced its own series of delays, and has now been saddled with the indeterminate release date of “sometime in 2021.” Same goes for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, based on the stage musical of the same name. Aretha Franklin biopic Respect has currently settled on August, scrapping a January and then February release that would have made it eligible for this year’s pushed-back Academy Awards. And Sundance favorite Nine Days, which vaguely resembles a low-fi, live-action Soul, will now be released by Sony Pictures Classics at some point over the summer.
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