We all know January movies suck. That’s why it’s so surprising and notable when a decent one gets through the first month of the year, let alone a downright good one. So maybe this is like rating the top 10 dictators less evil than Hitler, but since we’re stuck in January for another two weeks it’s at least nice to remember that there’s still hope for good movies. And I’m not talking about the Oscar movies that go wide in January or foreign movies that happen to get their U.S. release in January. I’m talking about movies intended to open in January that somehow turned out well.
When Eli Roth unleashed his original horror creation the first weekend of the year, no one was prepared for something so twisted. This movie caught audiences off guard, starting off with a tour of the debauchery of eastern Europe then plunging into the depths of torture chambers.
9. Final Destination 2
Just barely a January movie coming out on the 31st, but not only is it awesome, it’s arguably the best in the series. It’s got some of the wildest kills and a fun sense of doom building off the first one. But this is such a great series, any Final Destination released in January would be tops.
By the second half of this decade, I guess producers caught on that good horror movies had an open field in January. Under the tutelage of J.J. Abrams, Cloverfield reinvented both the giant monster movie and the pseudo-documentary. They actually did it right, as opposed to Blair Witch, and buried hidden background details in a just plain awesome orgy of New York destruction.
7. Smokin’ Aces
Don’t let the straight to video sequel sour your memory of the original. Joe Carnahan’s five-years-later follow up to Narc is a super cool, stylish action caper. Full of wild characters, twisted connections between them and aggressive camera and editing, Smokin’ Aces could exist alongside the releases of any month of the year. In January, it stands out as downright awesome.
Hard to believe the long awaited fourth part of one of the most seminal franchises in Hollywood history would be released in the dumping ground of January. Certainly Stallone didn’t scrimp on the violence and legitimate political statement and character arc of John Rambo’s return. Just being the most brutal Rambo of all would be noteworthy, but it’s arguably as poignant as First Blood. Not since Rambo single handedly won Vietnam has a sequel explored such controversial political ground as Burma and done it so entertainingly.
Maybe the straight to video sequels seem like January fare, but the original Tremors is an awesome, landmark horror comedy. You totally get absorbed be the town and their irreverent reaction to underground monsters. The scene where they come up with the name “Graboids” is still classic.
4. Stomp the Yard
Beyond how a movie this good got released in January, how did it get produced by Screen Gems? Everyone knows Screen Gems is the B-movie arm of Sony Pictures, probably makes the most profit but no one respects. Stomp the Yard is not just an awesome display of dance moves, but it’s a legitimate story with well developed characters. Yeah, they triumph over adversity, but they do it with much more class than those Step Up kids.
The quality of this movie is actually what inspired this list in the first place. Maybe it’s a timely benefit to Warner Brothers’ new release but they had nothing to do with me. I truly believe this will be the best movie of the year, and it certainly tops anything I saw last year. Who would have expected that on January 15? I do love the post-apocalyptic survival stories and Eli has more interesting survival than even I Am Legend. Plus, what it’s about is so smart too. They tackle religion without debating scripture. It’s about the social power that can be wielded by religion. You can marvel at the massive destruction, explore the world that remains or imagine the ramifications of the tidbits of society that remain. We’d be lucky to have a movie this good over the summer or the holidays.
2. From Dusk Till Dawn
It’s probably a little unfair to release a Tarantino movie in January and compare it to the other January movies. Maybe they didn’t think it counted because he starred in it. True, it was positioned as a B movie, but in these skilled hands (including Rodriguez, Clooney, Keitel and Lewis’s), From Dusk Till Dawn stands as an awesome cinematic ride at any time of year. Even though all the trailers gave away the vampires, they made us forget for the first 50 minutes so we were still shocked when it became a totally different movie.
1. Blood Simple
I’m too young to verify this, but according to websites, the Coen Brothers first movie was actually released January 18 1985. If only they’d known it wasn’t January dump material, but the beginning of a legendary film career. Blood Simple remains one of their best movies, a tense thriller that shows the seeds of their later Fargo and No Country for Old Men. Characters just quirky enough to captivate you and mundane situations that are just so deadly it’s breathless.