Ol’ Matt McConaughey gets caught up in a bizarre love triangle involving a fishing boat, Keanu Reeves is a scientist tampering with dark forces beyond mortal control, there’s a new blockbuster based on a popular recreational past time — it can only mean one thing. It’s January at the movies, people! Studios tend to treat the first month of the year as a lull in which they can dispose of their least-profitable properties, and this time-honored tradition is surely still in effect in 2019. But a few pleasant surprises often lurk in this no-man’s-land, as you’ll see below. Not to mention that M. Night Shyamalan’s dual follow-up to Unbreakable and Split seems like a sure thing; there’s a daring new provocation from the elder statesman of French cinema; and the director behind Attack the Block gives us his take on the YA adventure. Never mind the holdover Oscar contenders — here’s what you should check out this month at the movies.
An Acceptable Loss (Jan. 18th)
Libby Lamm (Tika Sumpter) knows too much. The security advisor okayed a foreign strike thought to be extreme during her time under draconian mentor (Jamie Lee Curtis). It led to thousands of civilian casualties and a scandal gnawing at the fabric of her soul. Does she blow the whistle and expose a national atrocity, even if it means risking treason charges or a quiet assassination? This could be a nerve-jangling thriller or a classic January-release Bronx raspberry, but far be it from us to ignore the thrill of watching the underrated Sumpter match wits with the erstwhile Laurie Strode.
Escape Room (Jan. 4th)
They are the hot new trend in team-building and grown-up recreation: Those “escape rooms” that force you to pool wits with your friends or coworkers, solve intricate puzzles and win your freedom from a locked chamber before time’s up. If the concept sounds like it’s halfway to a horror movie already, it pretty much is — see: Cube, the Saw franchise, etc. This new creepshow from Adam Robitel (director of the sixth Paranormal Activity and the fourth Insidious) takes it the rest of the way, trapping a group of strangers in a lethal obstacle course, where the stakes are closer to “being burned alive” than “disappointing your pals.” Double-check the cineplex doors on your way into the theater, just for good measure.
Glass (Jan. 18th)
Go ahead, call it a comeback. Having scored a hit with Split, M. Night Shyamalan follows the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” principle by cranking out this supersize sequel pitting multi-personality baddie “Kevin” (James McAvoy) against Unbreakable‘s David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and the enigmatic Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson). It’s a bona fide Shyama-verse battle royale! Expect an on-brand twist, as well as some “Beast” mode terror and the sort of salt-of-the-earth superheroics that’s made the director’s 2000 take on comic-book storytelling so beloved.
The Image Book (Jan. 25th)
Jean-Luc Godard is now 88 years old — and unsurprisingly, he’s still got plenty to say. His latest could be best classified as a free-form cinematic essay, or maybe a broadside against state-sponsored atrocity, or possibly an appraisal of the Arabic world’s sociopolitical climate. Cue a disorienting, overwhelming flurry of sampled footage and purposefully curated music, bound together by lofty philosophical narration from the man himself (and his longtime partner Anne-Marie Miéville). It’s also his first film to truly reckon with the larger artistic significance of le cinema du Michael Bay.
The Kid Who Would Be King (Jan. 25th)
A bullied grade-schooler named Alex Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of Andy) gets a grip on Excalibur and assembles his modern-day Knights of the Round Table. It sounds like kind of adventure that Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment cranked out during their 1980s heyday, only with CGI skeletons armed to the teeth, dragons rippling with spines and one pissed-off enchantress. Patrick Stewart is a shape-shifting Merlin; Mission: Impossible franchise all-star Rebecca Ferguson is the contemporary Morgan le Fay. If ever there was a film earnest enough to make the old “the real heroes were the friends we made along the way!” refrain work, it’s this one.
King of Thieves (Jan. 25th)
The “one last job” movie to end all “one last job” movies stars Michael Caine as the leader of a crack team of long-in-the-tooth crooks looking to boost millions in jewels. From there, the rest pretty much writes itself: The brains behind this caper rounds up an elite squad of fellow AARP-eligible lowlifes in the form of Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Paul Whitehouse and Michael Gambon. (Daredevil’s Charlie Cox also shows up as the token under-60 exception.) Do you think their best-laid plans go horribly awry? Will they get away with the crime or end up doing their senior-level time? How many heist movies have you seen that you’re still asking these questions?
Replicas (Jan. 11th)
From the reckless disregard for the laws of nature that brought us Scanners comes this sci-fi-inflected thriller about a scientist (Keanu Reeves, at his Keanu Reeviest) obsessed with bringing his deceased family back to life. But when he finally cracks it, something seems off about his wife (Alice Eve); their three kids aren’t acting quite so darling either. Also in the mix: a misbehaving robot, a sinister corporation, some comic relief courtesy of Thomas Middleditch and enough eyeball-piercing needles to last a lifetime. Paging Dr. Frankenstein ….
Serenity (Jan. 25th)
The erotic thriller is a dying breed in Hollywood, but Steven Knight — veteran screenwriter, and creator of such small-screen successes as Peaky Blinders — could be just the man to bring it back. Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) has built himself a quiet, decent life when his no-good ex-wife (a blonde-haired Anne Hathaway) breezes back into his life with a lethal proposition. She won’t take any more abuse from her brute of a new beau (Jason Clarke), so she pleads with Baker to kill the man. Fans of recent niche delights A Simple Favor and Unforgettable, take note.
The Standoff at Sparrow Creek (Jan. 18th)
There’s been a mass shooting. Someone from the local chapter of a nationwide civilian militia did it. So the group’s head honcho (James Badge Dale) has gathered some of his fellow don’t-tread-on-me types to figure out what went wrong. Also the cops on their way, and they’re going to want some answers. Welcome to the premise for this intense game of guess-who from rookie director Henry Dunham, in which every hot topic from police brutality to the re-emergence of white supremacist groups, then sticks it all in a pressure cooker set to Reservoir Dogs. Eventually, it has to go boom.
The Upside (Jan. 11th)
So the critics didn’t favor the French film from which this big-hearted new comedy has been adapted. And maybe folks are not so happy with Kevin Hart right now. But the original — 2011’s Les Intouchables — was a gargantuan hit in Europe, and America loves a feel-good story. That’s exactly what they’ll get from the account of a real-life friendship that blossomed between a quadriplegic zillionaire (played here by Bryan Cranston) and the down-on-his-luck fast-talker (Hart) hired to work as his caregiver. Anyone enamored of Green Book is in for another outbreak of the warm-and-fuzzies.