As we leave 2013 behind, we look forward to the first cinematic wonders that 2014 has in store. January and February are rich with the big movers and shakers of the awards season, including many of the candidates for the Best Picture prize at the 2014 Oscars.
So, in a new regular feature here at The Popcorn Muncher, these are the top ten films you should see over the course of January.
It’s a packed month, so otherwise interesting stuff like the new Paranormal Activity film and the Jack Ryan reboot hasn’t made the cut.
10. I, Frankenstein (Jan 29)
New takes on Mary Shelley’s tale of the man animated by electricity are not exactly rare. As recently as 2011, the National Theatre had Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating the grotesque role on stage.
Hot on the heels of these other adaptations comes I, Frankenstein. Here, the Creature (Aaron Eckhart) is superhuman, named Adam and becomes embroiled in a conflict between two clans of immortals.
9. The Armstrong Lie (Jan 31)
The Lance Armstrong doping scandal rocked professional cycling at the end of 2012, ruining what was one of the greatest comeback stories in the history of sport. At the time, Alex Gibney – who made Wikileaks: We Steal Secrets in 2013 – was making a documentary about the star’s achievements. The slant of the film was forced to change very quickly.
Gibney is emerging as one of the most exciting and interesting names in documentary filmmaking, so his take on the Armstrong revelations will certainly be worth watching.
The Armstrong Lie has received strong reviews after its festival showings and, with Gibney at the helm, it should be very good indeed.
8. Grudge Match (Jan 24)
It’s Jake LaMotta vs Rocky Balboa and Robert De Niro vs Sylvester Stallone. In terms of boxing movies, Grudge Match couldn’t be bigger, and that juicy concept is enough to make it worth the ticket price.
Neither DeNiro or Stallone have been renowned recently for their ability at hitting comedy beats, but back in the ring, there has to be some sort of fizz to this story of two aging boxers returning to their gloves for the titular face off.
It might not be great at the end of it all, but just for the thrill of seeing two goliaths together, it’s worth giving Grudge Match a go.
7. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (Jan 3)
Thrust into the spotlight by Nelson Mandela’s death, Long Walk to Freedom is the long awaited biopic of the South African leader and freedom fighter.
British actor Idris Elba will play Mandela throughout his early life, protest, imprisonment and rule to create a full portrait of the man behind the icon.
Portraying Mandela would always have been a tough ask, but the additional spotlight the film will now receive means that pressure is piled on Elba to do the man justice. If the star’s skill is anything to go by, this could define his career as a Hollywood leading man and even bring a nomination at the 2014 Oscars.
6. Last Vegas (Jan 3)
It’s like the retirement home version of The Hangover, featuring Robert DeNiro (yes, again), Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline as old friends who travel to Vegas for their friend Michael Douglas’ bachelor party.
Expect some outrageous gross-out stuff along with the kind of old man humour we’re used to from the ongoing geri-action subgenre. I can’t see any way that this could be anything other than a lot of fun.
The less like The Hangover sequels it is, the better.
5. August: Osage County (Jan 24)
Juicy ensemble dramas are exactly the kind of thing that gets the Academy’s aging juices flowing and so this one, with Meryl Streep at the head of the family table, positively screams awards opportunity.
Gathering for a funeral, August: Osage County follows a family as they trade barbs not unlike just about every other family. The only difference is that this family is populated almost entirely by members of the Hollywood A-list from Streep to Julia Roberts to Benedict Cumberbatch.
It might be a little too talky for some, but for those who like crackling dialogue, this could be one of the highlights of the month.
4. Inside Llewyn Davis (Jan 24)
The latest Coen Brothers film is a melancholy comedy about the New York music scene that has been tipped for success over awards season.
Oscar Isaac stars as the eponymous musician, struggling to get his music heard and living on the sofas of friends and acquaintances. Carey Mulligan also appears as one of Llewyn’s friends whose pregnancy may complicate his life even further.
No-one does bleak images and melancholy humour like the Coens and the cast they have in place look set to make this a great film.
3. The Wolf of Wall Street (Jan 17)
A Martin Scorsese film about money, drugs, prostitutes and general debauchery? Yeah, that sounds good to me.
The Wolf of Wall Street sees Leonardo DiCaprio play a stockbroker who cheats the system to make millions of dollars for himself and friend Jonah Hill as their company grows from nothing. This thrusts them into a lifestyle of drugs and sex.
Publicity has followed this film everywhere, from grapples with the MPAA over a potential NC-17 rating to worries around victim portrayal in the film. However, the other thing that has followed it is acclaim from both critics and audiences.
2. American Hustle (Jan 1)
David O Russell wowed the Academy last year with Silver Linings Playbook, getting nominations in all four of the acting categories. It seems that he is hoping to repeat that trick with American Hustle, showing that he is a director who can definitely get great performances out of his actors.
Following Christian Bale’s conman and his wife Jennifer Lawrence, the film deals with a sting operation based on the FBI’s Abscam initiative in the 70s and 80s. But make no mistake, this is a film about the characters rather than the plot.
It’s a great ensemble and, with O Russell at the helm, it can’t fail to be a great film. See you on the red carpet.
1. 12 Years a Slave (Jan 10)
If you haven’t heard of 12 Years a Slave yet, you’ll be hearing a lot about it for the next few months. Steve McQueen’s tale of a free negro kidnapped and sold into slavery has been widely praised by American critics and seems like a real frontrunner for many of the top prizes during awards season.
Chiwetel Ejiofor is almost a lock for Best Actor and it’d take a miracle for it to lose Best Picture. But most of all, 12 Years a Slave looks to be a challenging, tough account of the life of a slave that works as a companion piece to Tarantino’s splattery Django Unchained in 2013.
If you see one film in January, make it Steve McQueen’s future classic 12 Years a Slave.
Let me know which of these films you have seen or plan to see in the comments section below. Are there any exciting releases I haven’t mentioned?