The first few months of a new year are a mixed blessing for film critics. We finally get a break from the brutal onslaught that is December, which is cool, but it comes at a price, since the first few months of the year tend to suck when it comes to going to the movies. January is full of Oscar hopefuls, and April is gearing up for the summer season, but February and March are all Anthony Michael Hall: a dead zone. Still, since you can never have enough blurbs, here's a half-dozen movies coming out during that time to look for:
Coraline: Animated take on Neil Gaiman's novel has the potential to be something special. (Feb. 9)
The Class: The big winner at Cannes last year, this look at a multi-ethnic class in a low-income Paris neighborhood is supposed to be amazing. (Feb. 9)
Watchmen: Alan Moore's graphic novel is the Holy Grail of superhero comics. A lawsuit over who owns the distribution rights could put this release date in jeopardy, however. (March 6)
Sunshine Cleaning: Amy Adams (love her) and Emily Blunt (love her) are sisters who start a crime-scene clean-up company. (March 13)
The Box: Richard Kelly's last film never even made it to San Diego. But the new one from the Donnie Darko director stars Cameron Diaz and James Marsden as a couple who find a mysterious box that will make them wealthy if they open it—but also cause the death of someone they don't know. Hello, moral dilemma. (March 20)
Gomorrah: Really looking forward to this Italian take on the modern-day mafia. (March 20)
Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer: Jazz aficionados have special places in their hearts for Anita O'Day, who never got as much attention as peers like Ella or Sarah Vaughn. Too bad—she's an amazing singer, and this doc, completed just weeks before she died in 2006, will convince you of that.
One Time Only
Cast Away: Tom Hanks is a modern-day Robinson Crusoe when his plane crashes and strands him on an island for several years. Too bad he's got nothing better than an irritating volleyball to talk to. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 1, at Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park. Free.
The Wizard of Oz sing-along: Factoid: Those aren't the munchkins singing. They had terrible voices. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 2, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 4, at the Birch North Park Theatre.
North by Northwest: One of the greatest thrillers of all time. Cary Grant is an ad exec mistaken for a special agent by foreign spies. And, yes, that really is Mount Rushmore he's running across. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 4, at Café Libertalia in Hillcrest. Free.
The Searchers: The ultimate anti-western, this is The Unforgiven crossed with The Wild Bunch. John Wayne is a racist bastard who spends years searching for a niece kidnapped by the Comanche. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 6, at Porter's Pub on the UCSD campus. Free.
Defiance: Yes, this is the Daniel Craig / Liev Schrieber movie about tough Russian Jews fending off the Nazis during World War II. The movie doesn't open in San Diego until Jan. 16, but if you can't wait—and you want to meet Jewish professionals between the ages of 25-49, as the event is being billed, and be part of a post-screening Q&A with actor Mark Feuerstein—you can catch it at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 7, at the La Jolla Village Cinema. Important note—tickets won't be available at the door—they're $25 apiece, and they must be purchased by Monday, Jan. 5, at tickets.lfjcc.org.
L.A. Confidential: Curtis Hanson's take on James Ellroy's epic novel of police corruption and violence, set in L.A. in the 1950s, might have taken Best Picture if it hadn't come out the same year as Titanic. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 7, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
The Reader: Kate Winslet is amazing as a grown woman who has an affair with a 15-year-old boy in post-war Berlin. Their paths cross again years later when she's on trial for war crimes.
The Spirit: Remember how much you loved Sin City? Frank Miller's cinematic take on Will Eisner's groundbreaking cartoon will make you like it less.
Valkyrie: He's the greatest fighter pilot, the best race-car driver, the superest future cop, the coolest hustler, the awesomest drink mixer and the sharpest sports agent. So why can't Tom Cruise kill Hitler? Huh? Why? Why?
Bedtime Stories: Remember that stupid Adam Sandler movie this summer, where he was a former Mossad agent-turned-New York gigolo hairdresser? Made $200 million worldwide. How much can he rake in with a family-friendly flick?
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Director David Fincher directs Brad Pitt as a man born old and growing young. Beautifully shot, the film is less about youth no longer being wasted on the young than it is about the decades long love story between the characters played by Pitt and Cate Blanchett, who are going in different directions.
Marley & Me: Jennifer Aniston bonds with Owen Wilson over a stinky dog.
Seven Pounds: Will Smith's annual December movie is a feel-good film that doesn't feel all that good. He's an IRS agent trying to atone for past sins by giving, perhaps too generously, to strangers. Rosario Dawson is wonderful, though, as a girl with a weak heart, both literally and figuratively.
Doubt: Best. Catholic. Priest. Abuse. Movie. Ever. John Patrick Shanley adapted and directed his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play and landed a couple of acting heavyweights for the leads. Meryl Streep is a nasty nun who goes after popular priest Phillip Seymour Hoffman, because she A. doesn't like him, and B. thinks he might be getting a little too close to one of his altar boys.
The Tale of Despereaux: Matthew Broderick is Despereaux, a mouse who reads, and he's teamed up with a rat (Dustin Hoffman) and a bumbling servant (Tracey Ullman) in this animated take on the classic children's story.
The Day the Earth Stood Still: Remake of Robert Wise's groundbreaking 1951 sci-fi thriller about an alien who's come to earth to save it—from us. The update has crazy FX and Keanu Reeves, and no, he doesn't play the robot.
Frost/Nixon: Ron Howard is restrained in his take on the Broadway play about the interviews between lightweight talk-show host David Frost and President Nixon. Both Michael Sheen and Frank Langella reprise their stage roles as Frost and Nixon, respectively—Langella delivers a masterful performance of Mr. Not-a-Crook himself.
Yes Man: Jim Carrey dips back into the well (over-the-top funny with a sweet spot) that made him an A-lister, playing a dude who decides to say “yes.” To everything.
Australia: Baz Luhrman comes from a land down under, where women glow and men plunder. The glowing lady, in this case, is Nicole Kidman, who plays an uptight Brit, while Hugh Jackman is the looter. Of course, all three are from Australia, the setting for Luhrman's epic romance adventure. Sort of like a landlocked Titanic.
Four Christmases: Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn are a married couple whose vacation plans fall through, so they're forced to spend the big day with their insane families. Just like, you know, the rest of us.
Milk: Sean Penn delivers yet another tremendous performance as the first openly gay elected politician in the country, Harvey Milk, who was assassinated, along with the mayor of San Francisco, in 1978. Gus Van Sant directs, but the movie is all Penn, and it is nothing if not timely in light of Prop 8.
Bolt: Disney's latest animated adventure takes a page from Pixar's playbook. John Travolta is a TV-star dog who takes a fantastic journey outside the studio, where he learns he doesn't have the powers he thinks he does.
Slumdog Millionaire: A young, uneducated Indian man is tortured by police who want to find how he knows all the questions he's gotten right on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The answers are all in his life story, which is full of poverty, abuse, hopes for true love, and the crossroads between coincidence and destiny.
Twilight: Never heard of Twilight? It's like Harry Potter, with vampires, for tweens and their moms, all of whom react to it like desperate meth addicts. If you have heard of Twilight, you know we're telling the truth.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: During WWII, little Bruno meets a boy wearing striped PJs who's on the other side of a fence. Turns out Bruno's dad's been transferred to Auschwitz, and the little fella has to learn the hard way that Jews aren't so bad after all.
Quantum of Solace: Remember how awesome the Daniel Craig '06 James Bond franchise reboot was? Well, even though the new one takes place about 20 minutes after Casino Royale ended, this one isn't awesome at all.
Happy-Go-Lucky: Mike Leigh's new one is a change in direction from his recent work. Instead of exploring the seamy underbelly of the human condition, he looks at Poppy (Sally Hawkins), an effervescent schoolteacher who won't grow up. She's sort of infectious, sort of annoying, but the effect she has on everyone around her is far more real than, say, Peter Pan.
Rachel Getting Married: The herky-jerky handheld camera in Jonathan Demme's new movie mirrors the emotional turmoil of Kym (Anne Hathaway), just out of rehab to attend her sister's wedding. There's Oscar buzz surrounding Hathaway, who is equal parts toxic and pathetic but ultimately someone worth pulling for.
Vicky Christina Barcelona: Will Woody Allen ever make another film in New York? After shooting the last two in the U.K., he moved his act overseas. Scarlett Johanssen and Rebecca Hall are tourists in Barcelona who find themselves infatuated with mysterious brooding painter Javier Bardem. When his crazy ex-wife (Bardem's real-life honey, Penelope Cruz) enters the picture, the whole trip becomes a total bummer.
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center Space Theater: After undergoing significant renovations, the Fleet is re-opening its dome Imax theater, complete with a kick-ass new screen. Three films will run in rotation initially: Wild Ocean, Van Gogh: Brush with Genius and Animalopolis. Showtimes and prices can be found at www.rhfleet.org.The Rocky Horror Picture Show: No, it's not a time warp—the love-it-or-hate-it camp classic continues its midnight run in its 37th year of release. When the lead character of the film is a transvestite scientist named Dr. Frank-N-Furter, you know you're in for some seriously trashy viewing. And, of course, this is the one movie where you want the audience shouting at the screen. Screens Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theater in Encinitas.