So many movies, so little time. Every week brings a new crop of them, opening in multiplexes and arthouse theaters across the nation, and arriving in increasingly high volumes on streaming platforms like Netflix. How’s a voracious moviegoer to keep up? That’s where The A.V. Club comes in. The first week of every month, we’ll be previewing all the major movies coming to theaters (or laptops or gaming systems or Rokus) near you, helping narrow down these upcoming releases by making educated guesses on whether they’re worth your time and money.
J-Horror, that late-’90s genre of pasty, long-haired apparitions with bones to pick with the living, is proving as difficult to kill as… well, a pasty, long-haired apparition with bones to pick with the living. A recent Ring reboot was quickly banished by critics and audiences alike, but that hasn’t stopped enterprising producers from going back to the well of Japanese horror for another American gloss on Ju-On: The Grudge, the one about the cursed house and the, uh, pasty, long-haired apparition that attaches itself to whoever dares enter it.
Will it be worth your time? Seems unlikely, given both the early January release date and the fact that no entry in this series (original or remake) has ever been especially good. But the pedigree gives us pause: Nicolas Pesce, who wrote and directed, also made the deeply disturbing black-and-white shocker The Eyes Of My Mother, as well as last year’s stylish Piercing. And look at that rock-solid cast: John Cho, Andrea Riseborough, Betty Gilpin, William Sadler, Frankie Faison, Jacki Weaver, Demián Bichir, and Insidious scene-stealer Lin Shaye.
The comedy that wiseacres across the internet are already calling the most January movie ever made actually sounds pretty solid on paper: The reliably funny Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne play business partners out for revenge against predatory investor Salma Hayek, in a movie from Miguel Arteta, who toggles between daring indies (Chuck & Buck, Duck Butter) and indie-friendly silliness (Youth In Revolt, Cedar Rapids). The subject of ire is the film’s advertising campaign, which has produced some loud, frantic trailers that seem desperate for a big R-rated hook.
Will it be worth your time? Byrne and Haddish could both use another comedy win, and if this is it, the advertising is doing a great job concealing it. (To be fair, sometimes comedy trailers do that.)
20th Century Fox goes, yes, underwater for a new variation on the studio’s own Alien. The expendable crew, played by the likes of Vincent Cassel, T.J. Miller, and Kristen Stewart with a Ripley buzz cut, are researchers fleeing for dry land after an earthquake destroys their deep-sea laboratory. But the fracking that caused the quake also unleashes a dangerous something. At the bottom of the ocean, no one can hear you scream. Or it’ll be really muffled, anyway.
Will it be worth your time? Shot a couple years ago but delayed because of the merger with Disney, Underwater is basically being dumped into theaters—but that might be the proper expectations-lowering move for a no-frills sci-fi horror movie (à la another recent Alien clone, Life). And there aren’t a lot of actors we’d rather see fill Sigourney Weaver’s airtight suit than Stewart.
A reformed criminal (Joel Kinnaman) is forced to return to prison as an unofficial undercover agent to gather evidence against a drug-dealing mob boss, while his handler (Rosamund Pike) clashes with a more callous official (Clive Owen) and his wife (Ana de Armas) does the worrying-wife thing. Though this seems like a movie from 2015 or so, it’s merely been kicking around since last year, when it was released in the United Kingdom over the summer.
Will it be worth your time? Despite the presence of the perpetually underused Pike and Owen, The Informer garnered mixed reviews in the U.K. Set your expectations to “middling.”
The Shaun The Sheep franchise doesn’t necessarily represent the most wildly ambitious project from stop-motion animation studio Aardman, but its young-skewing popularity also seems to keep the lights on over there, so animation fans should be grateful for its existence. Plus, Shaun and his fellow wordless farm animals provide sweet respite from the nonstop chatter of most American animation; in this world, not even the humans talk. The follow-up to 2015’s Shaun The Sheep Movie finds Shaun and company befriending an alien.
Will it be worth your time? Reviews from the film’s international rollout suggest that animation fans and parents of small children should be downright elated (though we probably don’t need reviews to tell us that).
No, it’s not another big-screen take on the Victor Hugo novel or its smash musical adaptation. But revolution is one subtext of this gritty French police drama about a straight-and-narrow cop (Damien Bonnard) who finds himself partnered with a couple of corrupt officers not so much keeping the peace as stoking fires of unrest in a culturally divided suburb of Paris.
Will it be worth your time? A kind of Gallic Training Day, Ladj Ly’s topical, didactic directorial debut won a prize at Cannes last year (and is competing for Foreign Language Film at this Sunday’s Golden Globes). Our own correspondent on the scene at the festival was more mixed on the movie, though, writing that he admired its “one-day-in-David-Ayer-hell energy,” but found it “bombastic and contrived,” adding: “It’s the police drama as police baton.”
From Makoto Shinkai, director of the beloved Japanese cartoon megahit Your Name, comes another offbeat animated love story. When high school student Hodaka runs away from home and sets out for Tokyo, he meets Hina, a girl with the power to change the weather. Weathering With You was a big hit in Japan, where it became the highest-grossing movie of 2019. (That is to say, it made Studio Ghibli money.)
Will it be worth your time? Sounds like it. Reviews so far have been slightly less rapturous than they were for Your Name, but still extremely positive, praising the film for its beauty and sensitivity.
After years of keeping his franchise appearances occasional, Will Smith has appeared to reach the Tom Cruise movie-star-maintenance phase of his career, presumably much to the relief of Martin Lawrence, who hasn’t starred in a movie since his last threequel (that would be Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son). The duo is reuniting for a long-discussed capper to the Bad Boys trilogy, sans director Michael Bay. In the spirit of buddy comedy, Bay’s been replaced by a behind-the-camera pair: Belgian directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. It may take two directors to balance the getting-too-old-for-this-shit-getting-real antics of Mike (Smith) and Marcus (Lawrence) with Mike’s new-class team of younger cops, including Maya (Vanessa Hudgens).
Will it be worth your time? Based on the trailer, Arbi and Fallah seem to be doing a passable imitation of Bay’s amped-up style, and you’ve probably already decided whether that’s a good thing or not.
Now that Robert Downey Jr. has left behind the massive franchise machinery of the MCU, he’s free to pursue more idiosyncratic projects, like the massive-budget second remake of a reviled flop from the 1960s. Picking up the Dr. Dolittle mantle from Rex Harrison that one time and Eddie Murphy those two other times, Downey plays a Victorian doctor with a gift for communicating with animals. There’s also a touch of Noah, as he packs his menagerie (voiced by Emma Thompson, Octavia Spencer, Rami Malek, and Downey’s endless mentee Tom Holland, among others) onto a boat, sailing in search of a mythical island cure for an ill Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley). Naturally, this all comes from the director of family favorite Syriana.
Will it be worth your time? Dolittle has been kicked around the release schedule a few times, attracting the bad kind of buzz as a potential disaster in the making. It’s possible that it wasn’t worth anyone’s time.
After failing to start two franchises and possibly succeeding at launching another, Guy Ritchie returns to his native territory: gangsters, mostly British, violently feuding over a moderate sum of money. It’s been so long that a whole new crew of actors gets to play around with Ritchie’s pithy banter and blasts of gunfire: Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, and Hugh Grant provide the requisite Britishness, with some Irish lilting from Colin Farrell and good ol’ American twang from Matthew McConaughey. It’s tantalizingly reminiscent of the slightly less homogenous nationalities that graced Ritchie’s Snatch.
Will it be worth your time? Old-school Ritchie seems just about perfect for a January diversion, assuming this movie is closer to Snatch or Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels than the considerably less amusing RocknRolla.
In a follow-up to Tully, the magical nanny (Mackenzie Davis) makes her way to Maine to assist a new well-to-do family. Actually, Davis is starring in a modern-day version of the Henry James horror novella The Turn Of The Screw, with kid-actor all-stars—Brooklynn Pierce (from The Florida Project) and Finn Wolfhard (from everything, but especially Stranger Things)—as her young charges. Director Floria Sigismondi has shown off her eclecticism with music videos for David Bowie, The White Stripes, Katy Perry, and Sigur Rós, among many others.
Will it be worth your time? Sigismondi also made the underrated rock biopic The Runaways, and Davis has the makings of a savvy, prickly version of the scream queen, so here’s hoping this is one of those surprisingly good January horror pictures.
The story of Vietnam War hero William Pitsenbarger (Jeremy Irvine) is relayed through a series of investigative flashbacks, as a Pentagon employee (Sebastian Stan) looks into a Medal Of Honor request that has previously gone unfulfilled. His interviewees include vets played by Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and the late Peter Fonda, in his final film appearance. In case that’s not enough prestige, William Hurt and Christopher Plummer are in this as well.
Will it be worth your time? The cast certainly suggests so, though the trailer looks like pretty standard honor-among-soldiers stuff, with a dash of cover-up.
Midnight-movie madlibs don’t come more enticing than “Nicolas Cage stars in an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation from the famously shit-canned original director of 1996’s The Island Of Dr. Moreau.” The Mandy crowd should also be drawn by the Night Of The Creeps-style premise, in which Cage’s mild-mannered family man is infected by an extraterrestrial force that arrives via meteor.
Will it be worth your time? Cage, as usual, is a hoot—he’s in dorky-dad mode here, even once the alien brain starts merging with his. And director Richard Stanley, who was not fired from cult classics Hardware and Dust Devil, offers a lot of cosmic-horror psychedelic imagery and practical effects work reminiscent of the goopy Society. In other words, if you think you’re the target audience for this movie, you are the target audience for this movie.
The zombies in Zombi Child are not the rotting, flesh-eating kind, but the somnambulistic voodoo variety. And this isn’t exactly a horror movie, though there are shades of Jacques Tourner (and his seminal I Walked With A Zombie) in fellow French-born director Bertrand Bonello’s decade-jumping tale, which follows both a man (Mackenson Bijou) supernaturally pressed into slavery on a 1960s plantation and a teenage immigrant (Wislanda Louimat) who moves to Paris after her parents die in the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Will it be worth your time? Bonello’s last film, the daring teen-terrorist drama Nocturama, was one of The A.V. Club’s favorite movies of the 2010s. Zombi Child is a more muddled achievement, failing to offer an entirely cohesive treatise on colonialism, cultural appropriation, and unconscious bias. Still, the director’s sense of style remains as seductive as ever, and it’s interesting to see him blend multiple genres here, no matter how messy the mix.
Two women (Viktoria Miroshnichenko and Vasilisa Perelygina) who fought together during WWII navigate the aftermath of the war—and what remains of Leningrad—in this bleak and searing drama from 27-year-old Russian wunderkind Kantemir Balagov. The film won Best Director in the Un Certain Regard sidebar of Cannes, though plenty on the ground at the festival thought it deserved a shot at the main competition prize.
Will it be worth your time? Count us among that group. Beanpole is a big breakthrough for its young writer-director, built around two powerhouse performances, the psychologically complicated central relationship they bring to life, and an unpredictable plot. It’s also very strikingly shot, nimble filmmaking helping to alleviate a little of the crushing heaviness. A can’t-miss.
Having taken on sharks and judgmental suburbanites, Blake Lively is upping her game as Stephanie Patrick, a woman devastated by the plane-crash loss of her family, and infuriated when she finds out the crash may not have been an accident. She takes it upon herself to do some amateur spycraft and investigate further, encountering the likes of Jude Law and Sterling K. Brown along the way. Director and cinematographer Reed Morano, who’s had a major hand in shaping The Handmaid’s Tale, guides Lively on her journey of self-actualization and hopefully also ass-kicking.
Will it be worth your time? Like so many movies coming out this January, The Rhythm Section has had a number of previous release dates before landing here. But dammit, it looks cool, Morano has a strong eye, and Blake Lively has been on a hot streak of late.
Is January the month of indie-horror darlings invading the multiplex? Four weeks after Nicolas Pesce brings his chops to the dormant Grudge franchise, fellow artisanal dread merchant Oz Perkins heads to the big leagues himself with a lush-looking take on the classic fairy tale about two children (one of them played here by It and Sharp Objects starlet Sophia Lillis) who fall into the clutches of a hungry witch. Why do we feel like swapping the order of the names won’t be the only change the film makes to lore?
Will it be worth your time? Perkins directed two of the creepiest and most undervalued horror movies of the last few years, The Blackcoat’s Daughter and I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House. So we’re of course dying to see anything new from him; even the PG-13 rating isn’t too much a red flag, given how much his movies lean on atmosphere instead of gore.
Has the best movie of 2019 whetted your appetite for more long-form, ripped-from-reality Mafia drama? Director Marco Bellocchio (Vincere) is here to meet that demand with this hefty biodrama about Tommaso Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino), the first bigwig in Italian organized crime to turn informant and reveal the inner workings of the Sicilian mob. The film spans several decades of double-crossings, gangland executions, and legal showdowns.
Will it be worth your time? Unlike The Irishman, The Traitor has no solid dramatic center, no arc as powerful as Frank Sheeran’s. It plays like a more impersonal flood of dates and names—and even at two-and-a-half hours, the film has no room to breathe. Still, some of the incident Bellocchio recreates with operatic flair is pretty exciting. (See, for example, the Maxi Trial, in which prosecutors indicted nearly 500 members of the organization; it’s still considered the largest trial in world history.)
Documentary director Kitty Green (Casting JonBenet) pivots into narrative filmmaking with one of the first dramatizations of the Weinstein scandal. Rather than tackle his crimes directly—the character is neither seen nor explicitly named—Green builds a kind of thriller around the daily routines of a harried young assistant (Julia Garner, who had recurring roles on Ozark and The Americans) who becomes an unwittingly cog in his pattern of abuse.
Will it be worth your time? Reviews from Telluride, where the film premiered last autumn, were mostly very positive, some even comparing its rigorous focus on routine to Jeanne Dielman. Whether that tracks or not, telling this story through that particular lens is promising; and a filmmaker like Green, with nonfiction bona fides, might be well-equipped to strip it of any tawdry sensationalism.