You know it's the beginning of January when the gyms are filled with New Years resolution exercisers and the movie theaters are filled with post-New Years dreck. Frankly, it's best to focus on getting caught up on last year's best (see our Top 10 and the subsequent comments for suggestions) and leave this week's releases for suckers with movie money to burn.
Hilary Swank often stars in Oscar-lauded movies but her newest about an inner-city school teacher trying to inspire her students with journal writing, Freedom Writers looks dreadful. Didn't someone send the producers a memo that Dangerous Minds was already a hit in 1995? Cedric the Entertainer was an original king of comedy but now he's reduced to producing and starring in lame comedy vehicles like Code Name: The Cleaner. A movie about a janitor turned spy goofing around with Lucy Liu and Nicollette Sheridan sounds like a new low even for a January release. Shrek the Third comes out this May but in the meantime it wouldn't be advisable to satisfy your animated, fractured fairy tale jonesing with Happily N'Ever After. You'd think Andy Dick would have a great voice for animated movies but then again, maybe not.
Every year the New York Film Critics circle programs a series of often overlooked movies at the Museum of the Moving Image, and this year's selections focus on great documentaries. With each critic introducing a doc they find particularly powerful, it's a wonderful chance to see old and new nonfiction films with a well-respected stamp of approval on them. This weekend learn why David Fear loves In the Year of the Pig, a film about Vietnam made during the war, and Michael Atkinson thinks Winter Soldier, also about Nam but from the veterans point of view, is a must see.
Even though it was originally made in '69, Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows never made it to American screens until this year when Film Forum screened it. Critics from Manohla Dargis in the New York Times to Glenny Kenny in Premiere have been going nutso for this movie, and the New York Film Critics circle named it the best Foreign Language film of the year. Film Forum will be screening it again until next Thursday, Jan. 11, so try not to miss it.
Recently the studio Universal donated a number of film prints to the Museum of Modern Art, and so throughout the month of January, MoMA will be showing these recent releases. It's kind of an odd grouping of flicks, including very mainstream fare like Bruce Almighty and Ray. However, if you've never seen Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight projected, it would be worth it to go to that screening on Saturday at 7 pm. There's something about a larger-than-life George Clooney as a career bank robber wooing federal marshall Jennifer Lopez over stiff drinks on a snowy Detroit night that's just magical.
The death of great filmmaker Robert Altman may not have sent you into a Blackberry writing frenzy like it did to Lindsay Lohan, but chances are if you've seen any of his many movies the news brought a tear to your eye. Starting this weekend, the IFC Center will be hosting a 19 day retrospective to Altman's work, "An Artist and a Gambler: Robert Altman Remembered," with a portion of the ticket proceeds going towards the Genitourinary Oncology Research Fund in Memory of Robert Altman at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. Looking over the line up there's a lot of wonderful flicks to revisit, not the least of which is perhaps his most famous movie, M*A*S*H, playing on Friday and Saturday. Cracking up at Hot Lips, Trapper John and Hawkeye again will seem oh so bittersweet. How sad it is to be reminded that Altman is gone but how lovely to recall his cinematic legacy.
[An AP photo of Robert Altman after his honorary Academy Award win at last year's Oscars.]