Meet the Spartans. Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Season of the Witch. New in Town. The Spy Next Door. Extraordinary Measures. The Dilemma.
As history clearly proves, January isn't a kind month to moviegoers looking for quality new releases. The only winners are genre-specific fans, who usually have something to find: a slew of horror flicks that didn't find an October home (like this weekend's The Devil Inside), a generic action thriller starring a not-quite-bankable leading man, a rom-com without the oomph to contend with the Valentine's Day crowd)—not bad, but a far cry from the rest of the year. Pile on a handful of titles that don't have a hungry demographic—dramas that didn't fit awards season or comedies that would never fit period—and the whole 31 days looks like a bonafide cinematic dumping ground.
Unfortunately, the early-year, movie-going landscape isn't getting better. The situation is paradoxical—Hollywood sticks to their safety nets for a month that's notoriously bad for money making (according to Box Office Mojo, 2011 had the lowest grossing January in 20 years), but the only way to improve the situation is for more people go to the movies. So, the first leg of our year-long race is slapped with a big fat "lost cause" label. Suffer through it and get to the good stuff.
While it's easy to complain about a stretch of so-so movies, the twist is we should really be thanking the studios for catering to niche audiences all month. If you fit the bill, you're in heaven. If you don't, the pressure is off—the month becomes the perfect time to play catch up. The holiday season/beginning of the New Year is a barrage of year end wrap up fired at you from all directions. Every website, magazine and TV show compiles their own "Top BLANKS of 2011" (this is where I shamelessly plug our own Top 11 Movies, TV Report Card and Pop Culture Picks of 2011—which are amazing), and in the case of movies, the lists are full of titles only released in December. Most of my holiday season was spent hearing people tell me that they don't have time to see all the movies they want to see. Here's the thing: they don't go away.
But the real opportunity of January is the chance to take a risk. While it's been true for a long time, in 2011 especially, I've seen the growing trend of writer and audience divide. That Top 10 lists are composed of movies no one's seen, rather than an assemblage of populist titles. But isn't that the point? To uncover the movies that never had a chance amongst the blockbuster behemoths of a given year? The smaller movie distributors know this, and purposefully pepper the moth of January with some of the year's best films. If you see a movie you've never heard of, do a little searching—more often than not, there's a way for you to see it in the month of January. I'll start you off: the mind-blowing thriller Kill List, now on VOD and limited theatrical release. See, that was easy!
Of course, there's a missed creative opportunity here too. January will never be a the time to open a summer-style tentpole (For instance, you won't see The Avengers breaking into the maelstrom of Oscar buzzing), but as audiences should feel the impulse to try something new and out of their element, so should the movie studios. In 2008, J.J. Abrams' innovative creature feature Cloverfield, produced with a relatively unknown cast, found footage style and tight budget, rampaged theaters to become the highest grossing January movie of all time (with $80 million). For a low price, Paramount came out on top with a tidy profit and audiences, a great time at the movies. Now was that so hard? Risk taking ions' part of the movie making equation, but in January, it might as well be.
So hang in there—it's easy to get down this time of year, but with a little digging, there's big screen (and small screen) gold out there to find. One man's January is another man's treasure.