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Off The Couch And Into The Theater: January 2010

Ah, the first month of the year, where the movies released are either hold-overs from the previous year and will likely be good or are the first glimpses at what the next twelve months will bring: utter crap. December's viewings (or shortly thereafter) included some that quickly made it into my top ten, such as True Grit, whose engaging and creative dialogue made up for the straightforward narrative, and The Fighter, whose innovative and genuine performances and direction injected life into the underdog sports movie, so I'm hoping to see more of that trickle into the arthouses. I would also be fine with them being Black Swan-good, in that they're objectively well put together and stunning but lack a personal connection with yours truly. Most, unfortunately, will be at the level of How Do You Know, i.e. meandering and fragmented garbage, which I probably wouldn't have ended up seeing if I had just told my wife that it was directed by the same guy who did As Good as it Gets. But before I jump to anymore conclusions, let's take a look at January's movies (with "How Much Do I Wanna See It?" percentages in parentheses)...

Jan 7th: I know we're a week behind but something tells me no one will be upset that we're previewing Nicolas Cage's fantasy brouhaha Season of the Witch (2%) after it already came out. Especially since it has no connection to the third Halloween film that bears the same subtitle, which itself, oddly enough, has no connection to Michael Myers. Then there's Gwyneth Paltrow as an alcoholic twang-chanteuse in Country Strong (19%), which looks like Oscar bait gone horribly awry, as it's actually a 2011 release and has "so bad it's good vibes" emanating from every filmic orifice. On the one hand, it's too bad that Sofia Coppola blew her Oscar load with Lost in Translation, which I personally think is her worst film, especially when Stephen Dorff in Somewhere (91%) looks so silently magnetic. Self-indulgent, sure, but I can go blind for a couple hours and look solemnly upon a beautifully shot and minimalist father-daughter story about fame and distance.

Jan 14th: Michel Gondry tackles the superhero movie with Seth Rogen in The Green Hornet (100%), and while I admit I like both of those names despite their missteps, the real reason to give this a shot is Inglourious Basterds ' Oscar winner Christoph Walz as, naturally, the villain. Also a comic book movie coming out when I'm teaching a comic book course is too perfect to pass up for the kids. There is no *cringe* dilemma behind whether or not to see The Dilemma (4%), where Vince Vaughan and Kevin James trade homophobic jokes while trying to uncover adulterous secrets in the name of BFF-dom. Ron Howard is the devil and I shall stay away from him. I guess we could give him props from switching from directing bloated generic dramas to bloated generic comedies, though? No. And he doesn't even have good actors to work with here like he did with Frost/Nixon. Postponed to January from an original December release, Casino Jack (59%) is Kevin Spacey acting smug and righteous, aka par for the course, as a lobbyist whose smugness and righteousness lead to corruption and even...murder! And Blue Valentine (H0T!%) is a nonlinear love story between Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, otherwise known as my husband and second wife, respectively. It was originally NC-17 because of the, you know...*obscene sound effect*!

Jan 21st: Also postponed from last month is The Company Men (46%), featuring a buncha upper-middle class white dudes dealing with downsizing. I would write it off if it weren't for Chris Cooper, whose uber-minor role in The Town was one of its only highlights. Natalie Portman looks less stickly in No Strings Attached (7%), which piques my interest, but she stars alongside Ashton Kutcher in the titular question of whether "friends with benefits" exists, which unpiques my interest. Add a dash of pastel cinematography and acoustic soundtrack music reminiscent of Sister Hazel and voila, you have yourself a cinematic bummer! The Illusionist (88%) will likely be the surprise Best Animated Feature nominee this year and thus has no relation to the Edward Norton magician film. This one looks more charming, probably because it's French, and less Norton-smirk-tastic, also probably because it's French. Nenette (10%) is also French, but this time a documentary about an orangutan, naturally, and not about an emo magician, so it loses a lotta points. Peter Weir (The Truman Show) directs a prison escape movie with The Way Back (79%), focusing on Colin Ferrell attempting a 4000-mile trek from a gulag, which could be pale like his recent efforts and the general lack of buzz, but could be an overlooked deft journey piece, because it's Peter Effing Weir. Lastly, Another Year (97%) is Mike Leigh's newest after one of (if not) his best, Happy-Go-Lucky, from 2008. This time the British neo-realist tackles marriage in its autumn years, something that's typically a subplot in his films, but given the forefront for the first time here. Required viewing, but nothing pants-droppingly exciting probably like H-G-L was.

Jan 28th: The obligatory Jason Statham squinty-eye action flick comes in the form of The Mechanic (6%) this year and as near as I can tell, the only difference between it and its predecessors is that we're going to be reminded many times that "mechanic" is another term for "hitman", as if we couldn't figure that out by it being a Statham movie. Sir Anthony Hopkins channels both Max Von Sydow in The Exorcist and his most famous role, Hannibal Lecter, as a possessed priest in The Rite (94%), which is likely a total crapshoot between genuinely creepy/effective or hamfistedly cheesy/hilarious. Based on Hopkins' track record, I'm betting on the latter, but hoping for the former. Similarly, I've never really jumped on the Paul Giamatti bandwagon, but Barney's Version (63%), but he's nominated for a Globe and has a shot at the Oscar nod too for his (I'm guessing) neurotic portrayal of a gruff TV producer facing the throes of old age and I've always seen glimpses of awesome, so I'm willing to see if he can win me over again. And to top it all off, Bhutto (70%) is also a biopic, but about someone just a tad more important than someone a curmudgeonly Giamatti could pull off. Nothing big, just the Middle East's arguably first real hope for peace in the form of a female politician whose assassination brought the notion to a crumbling standstill.

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