By Leonard Maltin
Traditionally, January releases are nothing to shout about, since most moviegoers are still busy catching up with the Big Guns of December, some of them having crept into theaters just under the year-end wire to qualify for Academy Awards. This translates into good news, however, since those late-December titles include such exceptional films as A Separation and Pariah.
Even the roster of new releases for DVD, Blu-ray, and Movies on Demand yields riches left over from the past year like Vera Farmiga's Higher Ground.
During fallow periods it takes a bit more effort to find good movies, in theaters or on your home screen, but if you're rewarded with films as good as the ones below it's well worth the trouble.
A SEPARATION - in theaters
One of the best films of 2011, and a likely Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, this searing drama from Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi isn't about political issues (at least, not on the surface): it's the story of a modern-thinking woman whose desire for a divorce leads to a series of problems and misunderstandings, with various family members caught in the crossfire. HERE's the full review.
PARIAH - in theaters
Newcomer Adepero Oduye commands the screen as a bright 17-year-old high school student in Brooklyn, New York whose parents can't face the fact that she is gay. Writer-director Dee Rees, in an impressive feature-film debut, makes every moment seem real. This must-see film was nominated for a Grand Jury prize at last year's Sundance Film Festival. HERE's the full review.
WARRIOR - on DVD, Blu-ray and Movies on Demand
A story that resembles Rocky might not seem like indie film fodder, but in the hands of director (and co-writer) Gavin O'Connor, this tale of two estranged brothers (played by Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton) who compete as mixed martial arts fighters is both rousing and credible. Nick Nolte is perfectly cast as their father, a recovering alcoholic who can't seem to redeem himself in their eyes.
NINE NATION ANIMATION - on DVD
If you have a taste for ingenious, experimental animated shorts, you'll want to check out this provocative collection from around the globe. Chances are you won't care for every selection--I didn't--but given the range of media, subject matter, and approach, I think you'll find the experience to be well worth your time. read more about it HERE.
THE GUARD - on DVD, Blu-ray, and Movies on Demand
No film of 2011 gave me more pure pleasure than The Guard. Brendan Gleeson may be familiar to a mass audience as Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter series, but film buffs know him for such memorable movies as The General and In Bruges. This quirky, often hilarious black comedy (written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, whose brother Martin made In Bruges) gives him a great showcase as an iconoclastic Irish cop who may or may not be willing to help American FBI agent Don Cheadle in his efforts to capture a high-level drug ring. Read more about it HERE.
Leonard Maltin is the editor of the long-running annual paperback reference Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide (and its companion volume, Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide) and the host of Maltin on Movies on ReelzChannel. He holds court at www.leonardmaltin.com.
Follow Leonard Maltin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/leonardmaltin