The best movies to see this month

Ten January film releases you need to know about

1/10

Why we’re excited?
Let us count the ways. First you have Michael Keaton back on tip-top form playing a washed-up actor trying to reboot his career by putting on a play on Broadway. The role has seen Keaton become the bookies’ favourite for Best Actor at the Oscars. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu should also win awards for his incredible work piecing together this dazzling showbiz satire to give the illusion it’s shot in a single two-hour take.

What could go wrong?
Absolutely nothing. This is already a contender for our favourite film of 2015.

‘Birdman’ is out on January 1.

Read the review

2/10

Why we’re excited
‘The Theory of Everything’ is a keeper. Eddie Redmayne gives a heart-touching, star-making performance as Professor Stephen Hawking. The 32-year-old Brit plays the physicist from his slacker student days at Cambridge, where he meets the love of his life (Felicity Jones) and is diagnosed with motor neurone disease, right through to his to his forties. The emphasis is definitely on romance over science.

What could go wrong?
Nothing if you’re a science dummy. Brainboxes might crave a bit more physics with their romance.

‘The Theory of Everything’ is out on January 1.

Read our review

3/10

Why we’re excited
Because people who’ve seen it are calling this Clint Eastwood’s best film since 2004’s ‘Million Dollar Baby’. Based on real events, Bradley Cooper bulked up to play Navy Seal Chris Kyle, America’s most deadly sniper, who served four tours of Iraq and racked up 160 confirmed kills. ‘There isn’t a false note or a wasted moment,’ wrote one critic.

What could go wrong?
Not everyone is sold on Eastwood’s patriotism. Here’s Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty: ‘A month after seeing it, you might still be wrestling with whether it's powerful, profound, or propaganda.’ He argues that ‘American Sniper’ ‘treats killing with videogame impersonality.’

‘American Sniper’ is out on January 16.

Read our review

4/10

Why we’re excited
Because Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s fairytale mash-up musical was a monster stage hit in 1986. Now comes a Disney treatment heaving with A-listers. Meryl Streep stars as the witch, who casts a spell on the village baker and his wife. Anna Kendrick is Cinderella with Chris Pine playing her prince charming.

What could go wrong?
We know the cast is top notch. But director Rob Marshall has a patchy track record when it comes to musicals – from the slick ‘Chicago’ to the less than dazzling ‘Nine’.

‘Into the Woods’ is out on January 9.

Read our review

5/10

Why we’re excited
The cast of this true-life drama is impeccable: Channing Tatum goes all glum and glowering as troubled Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz, Mark Ruffalo gets a freaky receding hairline as his brother Dave and Steve Carell wanders way out of his comfort zone to play unstable billionaire John DuPont, who employed both men in the mid-1980s before things took a nasty turn.

What could go wrong?
We’ve seen ‘Foxcatcher’, and are sorry to report that it’s not quite the masterpiece it could’ve been. The cast is predictably superb, but the film has a dour, drizzly tone that stifles enjoyment. Still, some reviews have been stellar, with The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw giving it the five-star treatment.

‘Foxcatcher’ is out on January 9.

Read our review

6/10

Why we’re excited
This drama about a drumming student at a prestigious Manhattan music academy locked battle of wills with his taskmaster tutor is electrifying. Reviews in the US have been ecstatic, with actors Miles Teller (as the young sticksman) and JK Simmons (as his psychotic teacher) both tipped for Oscar nominations.

What could go wrong?
Drummers have been the butt of jokes since the jazz age. (What do you call a guy who hangs around with musicians? We could go on.) Can ‘Whiplash’ make the art of hitting stuff with wood exciting? We’ve seen it, and the answer is yes.

‘Whiplash’ is out on January 16.

Read our review

7/10

Why we’re excited
This is the new film from ‘There Will Be Blood’ director Paul Thomas Anderson. What, you need more? Okay, it’s adapted from a novel by the notoriously unfilmable Thomas Pynchon, stars Joaquin Phoenix as a stoned private eye in early 1970s LA and features a wildly diverse cast of supporting players including Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro and even singer Joanna Newsom.

What could go wrong?
Nothing, really. Anderson is a genius, plain and simple. ‘Inherent Vice’ may prove too impenetrable, grotesque and peculiar for some viewers, but that’s why there are movies like ‘Taken 3’.

‘Inherent Vice’ is out on January 30.

Read our review

8/10

Why we’re excited
Excited is probably too strong a word. Much as we enjoyed ‘Taken’, in which Liam Neeson tore around Paris grumpily capping miscellaneous foreign types as he searched for his kidnapped daughter, its Istanbul-set sequel, ‘Taken 2’, was truly, unremittingly awful. Let’s hope writer-producer Luc Besson and director Olivier Megaton have put in a bit more effort this time around.

What could go wrong?
It could be as bad as ‘Taken 2’. Actually, we’re not sure it could, even if it tried.

‘Taken 3’ is out on January 8.

Read our review

9/10

Why we’re excited
It’s the cast that stands out here: ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ star (and budding ‘Star Wars’ X-wing pilot) Oscar Isaac plays a businessman in early 1980s New York, with Jessica Chastain as his ruthless, Lady Macbeth-ish wife. The director of last year’s superb one-man-on-a-boat drama ‘All is Lost’, JC Chandor, makes his third film here.

What could go wrong?
It could all be a touch frosty and hard to love. The New York backdrop is stunning, but will audiences warm to these hardbitten characters?

‘A Most Violent Year’ is out on January 23.

Read our review

10/10

Why we’re excited
Reese Witherspoon is incredible playing a woman who hikes her way to redemption. The film is based on a memoir by Cheryl Strayed, who trekked 1,100 miles of the Pacific Coast Trail in 1995 after the death of her mother spun her into a cycle of one-night stands and heroin use. If that all sounds a bit Oprah-ish, don’t be alarmed. The film is complex and tough, honest, and very moving.

What could go wrong?
Not much. Hollywood could do with a little bit more of this: films with strong, complex female leads.

‘Wild’ is out on January 16.

Read our review

Comments

3 comments
Chris jones
Chris jones

Schoenarts is amazing in 'Rust and Bone' as well, with Marainne Cotillard. By the way he's Belgian, not Dutch, and it not too hard to pronounce if you ignore the spelling - shone (rhymes with bone) arts - shone-arts .