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10 Films to See in January

Written by on January 3, 2018 

the-commuter

As you make your way through the best films of 2017, January not only brings wide releases of two of our top picks–Phantom Thread and Call Me by Your Name—but a handful of worthwhile 2018 titles as well. The month is also defined by Sundance Film Festival 2018, where an early look at some of the year’s finest films will debut, and we’ll be there once again to cover.

Matinees to See: Django (1/5), The Insult (1/12), Vazante (1/12), The Polka King (1/12), The Final Year (1/19), Mom & Dad (1/19)

10. Blame (Quinn Shephard; Jan. 5)

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Synopsis: A substitute drama teacher at a suburban high school develops a taboo relationship with an unstable student, sparking a trail of jealous sabotage from the student’s peers.

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Why You Should See It: Written, directed, edited, and starring 22-year-old Quinn Shephard, Blame premiered at Tribeca Film Festival last spring. We said in our review, “It’s an impressive debut feature that’s confident and assured, yet feels less like a feature film and more like an effective television drama with a few well-drawn characters and a multi-episode arc. Its asymmetric narrative doesn’t always work as it withholds information that might have fleshed out its supporting characters, and its message has been repeated over and over again in more dramatic thrillers. Yet, what this debut does achieve at times is an authentic portrait of high school life in the Jersey suburbs through a non-male, non-patriarchal gaze.”

9. A Ciambra (Jonas Carpignano; Jan. 26)

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Synopsis: A 14-year-old miscreant sets out to prove he’s ready to step into his older brother’s shoes.

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Why You Should See It: After making a splash with Mediterranea, Jonas Carpignano is back with the Martin Scorsese-produced A Ciambra. We reviewed Italy’s Oscar entry at Cannes, saying, “It would be a stretch to say that Carpignano diverts in any major way from the gritty aesthetic that has become synonymous with post-Dardennes (and, in particular, post-Rosetta) social realist cinema — all overcast clouds above and gravel below — nor those films’ favored narrative arc. It does, however, pulsate with true authenticity, surely down to the fact that the director has quite literally been here before, having made a short (A Ciambra) that focused on the same real family, the Amatas, three years prior.”

8. Have a Nice Day (Jian Liu; Jan 26)

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Synopsis: A city in southern China and a bag containing a million yuan draws several people from diverse backgrounds with different personal motives into a bloody conflict.

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Why You Should See It: This month brings one of our favorites from Berlinale, Lu Jian’s neo-noir animation. “Have a Nice Day won’t be mistaken for anything less than an utterly contemporary piece of Chinese filmmaking but, as the title might tell you, it’s also a film seeped in 1990s American pop culture,” we said in our review. “Channeling the Coens, Quentin Tarantino, and Cormac McCarthy, Jian’s film has the swagger, dedication to homage, and effortless cool of that decade’s cinema but with plenty of things to say about present-day China.”

7. Paddington 2 (Paul King; Jan. 12)

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Synopsis: Paddington, now happily settled with the Brown family and a popular member of the local community, picks up a series of odd jobs to buy the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, only for the gift to be stolen.

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Why You Should See It: Re-injecting the “family film” genre with some wit, joy, and all-around delight, Paddington emerged as one of the biggest surprises of the last few years. Thanks to the success of the adorable bear-led feature, a sequel is now around the corner. Following a U.K. release, where it received as much acclaim as the original, it’ll arrive in the theaters courtesy of Warner Bros. who rescued it from the vile clutches of The Weinstein Company.

6. The Strange Ones (Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein; Jan. 5)

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Synopsis: Mysterious events surround two travelers as they make their way across a remote American landscape. On the surface all seems normal, but what appears to be a simple vacation soon gives way to a dark and complex web of secrets.

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Why You Should See It: One of the more enigmatic, visually striking short films I’ve seen at Sundance was Lauren Wolkstein and Christopher Radcliff’s The Strange Ones back in 2011. Six years later, the duo have returned with their feature-length expansion. Premiering at SXSW Film Festival, where star James Freedson-Jackson was awarded Special Jury Recognition for Breakthrough Performance, we said in our review, “Despite its overall narrative obliqueness, scene to scene The Strange Ones proves to be an engaging, well-made film masking the absurdity of its various levels and alternative realities.”

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