One film journalist’s stream-of-consciousness cinematic journey through the pandemic, Part 113
By Laurence Lerman / New York City
The post-holiday season winter freeze is upon us and that means we’ve got a couple of months to wait before a steady stream of high-profile wide release films and specialty titles roll in.
The December logjam of year-end biggies proved to be a triumph for Disney with Avatar: The Way of Water crossing the $1 billion worldwide mark in two weeks and Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever approaching $900 million. But it’s also proved to be disappointing for most of the other studios, with large-scale fare like Babylon, Empire of Light, She Said, Bones and All and I Wanna Dance with Somebody floundering at the box office.
There’s also been a lot of talk about the lack of box office interest in original, non-franchise, non-genre movies aimed at adults. Such critically lauded films as The Fabelmans, Armageddon Time, Tár, Triangle of Sadness and She Said barely scraped the surface at the box office, sending a signal to studios that adult fare seems to work best for adults sitting in their easy chairs with their fingers on the streaming button. Studio execs and analysts attribute the collapse of adult box office to everything from Covid scares to the ease of at-home viewing. But no one is really sure what to think—at least, not until another season or two have come and gone.
As for January, it’s not a very busy month, movie-wise—January rarely is—but it’s a relief to see that a number of prominent-enough titles are scheduled for at least a brief theatrical run. And that’s followed by their availability on streaming platforms within a couple of weeks of their premieres.
And yes, there are a bunch of possibilities to consider, with a selection that includes a Hollywood adaptation of an international bestseller, a rom-com filled with well-known stars of all ages looking for love, and a straight-to-the-point, meat-and-potatoes shoot’em up set on a war-torn island.
And those are just three of the 10 films that The Insider is highlighting this month. Take a look!
A Man Called Otto (Jan. 6)
The second film adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s 2012 novel A Man Called Ove (the first was the 2015 Swedish film by the same name) stars Tom Hanks as the titular grumpy widower whose life begins to change when a lively young family moves in next door. Director Marc Forster of Monster’s Ball and Finding Neverland takes the reins of this comedy-drama.
Plane (Jan. 13)
After successfully completing an emergency landing during a brutal storm, a pilot (Gerard Butler) and his crew and passengers then find themselves taken hostage by local militants on the island where they have set down. Aerial hijinks and lots of gunplay are on hand in this action-thriller.
The Offering (Jan. 13)
In first-time feature filmmaker Oliver Park’s supernatural horror-thriller, the son of a Hasidic funeral director and his pregnant wife find themselves at the mercy of an ancient demon lurking inside a mysterious corpse located beneath them in the family morgue.
Chess Story (Jan. 13)
In late 1930s Vienna, a lawyer attempting to flee his Nazi-occupied city is imprisoned by the Gestapo. To withstand the psychological torture of his captors, he finds refuge in a stolen book about chess and a history of legendary chess matches. Oliver Masucci, Dieter Bernhardt and Elias Gabele star in this German drama-thriller directed by Philipp Stölzl (Young Goethe in Love).
Alice, Darling (Jan. 20)
The usually perky Anna Kendrick gets very serious as a young woman trapped in a psychologically abusive relationship with her boyfriend, who then becomes an unwitting participant in a unique form of intervention staged by her two closest girlfriends. Actress-turned-filmmaker Mary Nighy makes her feature film directorial debut with this tense drama.
When You Finish Saving the World (Jan. 20)
Based upon writer-director Jesse Eisenberg’s 2020 audio production of the same name, this coming-of-age comedy-drama stars Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard as Evelyn and Ziggy, a socially conscious mother and her online folk-rocker son who attempt to navigate their way through a years-long contentious relationship. Emma Stone serves as executive producer.
Kompromat (Jan. 27)
After accepting a post as the head of Siberia’s Alliance Francaise, a French diplomat is framed for a nasty crime and black-bagged by Russia’s Federal Security Services. Imprisoned and isolated, an attempt at escape might be his only chance to clear his name in this French-produced thriller directed by Jérôme Salle and starring Gilles Lellouche, Joanna Kulig and Louis-Do de Lencquesaing.
Maybe I Do (Jan. 27)
The first multi-generational romantic comedy of the year is a star-laden affair featuring Diane Keaton, Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, William Macy and, as the young Jersey couple at its center, Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey. It was written and directed for maximum adorableness by TV veteran Michael Jacobs (Boy Meets World, Charles in Charge, My Two Dads).
One Fine Morning (Jan. 27)
Sandra (Léa Seydoux) is a widowed young mother raising her daughter on her own, while also caring for her sick father (Pascal Greggory). Add to this Clément (Melvil Poupaud), a friend Sandra hasn’t seen in a while and with whom she gets involved with romantically, even though he’s married. France’s Mia Hansen-Løve, who was responsible for last year’s very fine Bergman Island, wrote and directed this romantic drama.
Life Upside Down (Jan. 27)
Three couples who are connected by friendship, love and work, are stuck in their respective homes in Los Angeles during the beginning of the Covid lockdown, with the close quarters and unique situation turning their lives you-know-what. Written and helmed by music video director Cecilia Miniucchi, this offbeat comedy offers an intriguing cast that includes Bob Odenkirk, Radha Mitchell and Danny Huston.
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.