In just a couple of hours, I’m off to a screening of Leap Year, the first major-studio movie to be released this year — which, if history is any guide, means that I should be in for a lousy time. The first post-holiday weekend in January has traditionally been a dumping ground for inferior product: the low-grade genre films that fill up (if not flush out) the pipes of the system before something better comes along. If a movie were really any good, goes the logic, then it wouldn’t be coming out in what is still the thick of the holiday/awards-season juggernaut. Yet one of the many things I love about being a movie critic is that history is never a very good guide. The rules, if that’s what you can call them, keep getting broken. Besides, it’s not every lowly January romantic comedy that gives you the chance to spend 90 minutes in the company of the lovely and charming Amy Adams. I’d say that my expectations for Leap Year now look something like this:
January romcom (-2) + Amy Adams (+2) x impossible-to-gauge generic ad campaign (1 + 1 – 1) = total blank slate
In other words: Who the f— knows?
Which is a rather liberating feeling. Leap Year is really a classic example of why I get a kick out of going to the movies in January. The expectations are so low that they’re all but nonexistent. And that’s kind of a nice, casual, and freeing attitude to take into a movie theater with you after a month’s worth of heavy, prestige, Oscar-bait masterpieces, each released with a bit more fanfare than the last. January movies, by contrast, kind of take you back to an earlier, quieter era (like, say, the late 1980s), before everything was hyped to within an inch of its life.
Over the years, I’ve had a handful of very pleasant movie surprises in January. I’m thinking of pictures like The Mothman Prophecies, a smart, keeps-you-guessing creepy-crawly metaphysical horror film that came out in 2002, or Gridlock’d, a pretty damn good buddy-cop thriller that featured the unlikely team of Tupac Shakur and Tim Roth. It was the first Tupac film to be released after his death (it came out in January 1997), and it was a gritty testament to what a gifted screen actor he always was.
And let us not forget Before Sunrise, the first of Richard Linklater’s lovely European romantic-walkathon rambles. It came out in January of 1995, lending that otherwise dull month a bit of soulful sparkle. That’s the thing about January: You never know.
So do you have any fond memories of January movies that exceeded your expectations? If only because the time of year set those expectations so low?