Ranking January 2019 Releases


In the film industry, January and February are often referred to as “dump months.” Dump months are months where theater attendance is typically low and the movies are typically trash. So to help you sort out the good from the bad, here’s a ranking of 2019’s January releases.

9. Replicas

Replicas is cheap in every sense of the word: its special effects and CGI are more reminiscent of a low-quality cable series, its script is full of clichés, tropes, plot holes, and abandoned storylines, and basically the entire project lacks any effort or life. What starts as a decent, if unoriginal, premise quickly devolves into a mishmash of incoherent ideas and theories from a plethora of better genre films. The problems are seemingly endless and listing them all would just be tedious. In fact, finding a positive within the 107-minute runtime is the much more difficult, potentially impossible, task. Suffice to say, Replicas makes a strong early case for worst film of 2019 and puts Keanu Reeves and Alice Eve immediately in the forefront of Razzie speculation. ★

8. Polar

The first feature film from prolific music video director Jonas Åkerlund, Polar follows an aging assassin (Mads Mikkelsen) who is being targeting for his eight million dollar retirement package. Sounds good, right? Well, despite a good cast and great source material (Dark Horse Comics’ Polar: Came From the Cold), Polar is a disgusting mess. Every scene is shockingly misogynistic, every shot is saturated with nauseous color, and every character is wildly one-dimensional. The graphic novel on which the film is based is best known for its lack of dialogue, minimalistic style, and muted color palette (only black, white, and orange). That sounds like it would make a cool movie, but this movie is nothing like that. As a Netflix Original, Polar is fairly easy to access, but if it comes up on your Netflix homepage, scroll away… fast. ★

7. Serenity

As an avid film-goer, you sometimes feel like you’ve seen everything there is to see, like nothing could surprise you. And then you see a film like Serenity. The marketing campaign suggests that Serenity is a grounded noir-thriller about a man contemplating murder. This is either an incompetent fluke or an outright lie. For better or worse, much of the negative reaction has been made out of the surprise twist, though a keen eye and even a mild sense of disbelief renders it relatively obvious. Any thread that can be pulled (and there are more than plenty) unravels the film and reveals numerous logical fallacies. In terms of vision, execution, and storytelling, Serenity is a true head-scratcher. But perhaps what is more confusing is how a film like this even gets made in the first place. Still, Serenity has a some sort of entertaining quality, whether you choose to watch it through a suspended lens of reality or simply revel in the outrageousness of it all. ★★

6. Escape Room

As the first major release of 2019, Escape Room keeps the tradition of lackluster January horror films alive. Despite a palatable, possibly even engaging premise, the dreadful script reeks of failure straight from the opening scene, where a character explains all of his actions aloud. The film only continues to tank from there, bringing its boring, cardboard characters along with it. None of the characters’ actions feel logical, no plot twist or puzzle seems thoughtful, and none of the emotional payoffs are earned. The final act is as forced as the final season of Jericho, and the whole film would have been better served had they left the last twenty minutes on the cutting room floor. On the bright side, the set pieces are relatively well-crafted and the first three escape rooms achieve great levels of anxiety and intensity. It’s too bad the rooms that follow are redundant and creatively hollow. Only those who want to occasionally grip the arms of their chairs, and aren’t concerned by the constraints of logic, can have fun with Escape Room. ★★½

5. The Upside

Taking on what is, in all likelihood, his most serious role to date, Kevin Hart completely and totally shines in The Upside. The success of the film hinges on the chemistry between Hart and co-star Bryan Cranston, and on this level it exceeds expectations. Both performances are quite charming and their comedic timing is on full display. Unfortunately, the script veers into far too many underdeveloped and abandoned plot lines while the direction underscores many of the emotional moments. What’s left is a film that, despite its uplifting nature, is too negligent in its dramatic aspects to be anything more than a decent buddy comedy. Most audiences will leave pleased, but some will go home imagining the film that could have been. ★★★

4. The Kid Who Would Be King

Joe Cornish’s modern twist on the King Arthur tale competently encourages Gen-Z Brits to take a stand against their divisive society— as well as some flaming skeletal horsemen. Armed with powerful swords and road sign shields, breakout star Louis Ashbourne Serkis (son of Andy Serkis) and his crew of pre-teen knights band together for a rollicking ride that is equal parts heart and thrills. It’s a shame this movie bombed at the box office, since it is easily the best King Arthur adaptation in a long time. While it may not end up receiving the same “cult classic” status as Cornish’s previous film (Attack the Block), The Kid Who Would Be King is a worthwhile adventure that draws inspiration from ancient myth and Steven Spielberg alike. ★★★½

3. Stan & Ollie

A heartfelt behind-the-scenes look at the final tour of famed comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, Stan & Ollie is a delightfully crafted, yet soberly realized experience. While the film is quite standard as far as biopics are concerned, the chemistry between Steve Coogan (Stan Laurel) and John C. Reilly (Ollie Hardy) bring their real-life counterparts to life. Director Jon S. Baird competently weaves through the alternating scenes of light-hearted whimsy and cognizant drama with ease, creating a comfortable cinematic experience. To this end, Stan & Ollie hits all the right notes and is sure to impress all audiences, regardless with their familiarity with Laurel and Hardy. ★★★½

2. Glass

The rousing conclusion of M. Night Shyamalan's comic book deconstruction trilogy finds the director returning to his roots in peak fashion. The focus once again shifts away from typical comic book plot-driven storytelling and into an ideological and theological exploration of its own heritage. The confidence and experience of the writer/director is on full display, as he keeps the action contained while continually raising the stakes— but never at the expense of his grand ideas. It won’t work for some audiences who are used to the new comic book/superhero era of filmmaking, but those in tune with Shyamalan's vision, especially those who prefer 2000’s Unbreakable to 2017’s Split, may consider the climactic sequences here to be some of the finest work of the director’s career. So it makes sense that Glass is divisive: its tone, pace, and ideology more closely resemble Unbreakable than Split, with its reception following in the footsteps of the former. Those on board will find it to be a more than satisfying conclusion to this visionary trilogy. I have no doubt that Glass will be a film that is discussed long after its release. ★★★★

1. They Shall Not Grow Old

Archival World War I footage is given the full “Peter Jackson treatment” in They Shall Not Grow Old, and it’s his magic touch that transforms this footage into a cohesive, and definitive, documentary. The goal of adding color, changing aspect ratios and speed rates, and adding in modern camera movements is one of the more ambitious tasks in recent filmmaking. Thankfully, his hard work pays off. Through this lens, audiences will be able to see the war in ways not before experienced. The colorization brings this footage to life, while the camera movements grant accessibility to a modern audience. In a brilliant move, Jackson also limits his scope. Instead of attempting to give an oral history of the war, he manages to simply take you there and make you live it. Even the narration is composed entirely of first-hand accounts. They Shall Not Grow Old is a documentary unlike any other, and it is an absolute must-see for all audiences. ★★★★½

Michael Murphy