January may be “junkyard month” for American studios, but for the rest of us, it’s a time when we can watch some of the most acclaimed releases of the past year. Films that are the center of conversations of awards season are unveiled to audiences around the world in the days and weeks leading up to the nominations, which means that for moviegoers, January is always filled with options.
But while you probably won’t need any help finding your way to this year’s biggest Oscar favorites, here’s a list of some of the most underrated releases you can watch this month, ranging from a hidden gem restored to a groundbreaking animated short.
Bhoothakaalam – SonyLIV
Director Rahul Sadasivan’s chilling, no-frills thriller is a masterclass in horror cinema. Lean but thematically dense narrative, Bhoothakaalam built towards one of the most memorable horror climaxes in recent memory – it’s true decluttering in a genre that’s almost constantly in need of revamping.
Boiling Point – Available to rent and buy in the US and UK
We’ve seen several “one-shot” movies, but few are able to escape the whimsical nature of the effort. Directed by Philip Barantini and starring a phenomenal Stephen Graham in the lead role of a talented chef, recently BAFTA-nominated Boiling Point unfolds in real time during a particularly harrowing dinner service in one of London’s finest restaurants. Overwhelmed on all sides by nosy health inspectors, nonchalant staff, rambunctious guests and unknown personal demons, Graham’s Andy Jones is such a fascinating character to watch you’ll almost forget the technological magic trick of the one-shot. performed before your eyes.
The Fallout – Amazon Prime Video
Morgan Clark seamlessly combines two genres you wouldn’t normally expect to go together in her directorial debut. Part high school movie and part socially conscious drama, The Fallout is a quiet little film about a quintessentially American issue that needs to be spoken out loud. When a gunman targets her school, a teenage girl forms an unlikely bond with another survivor who was with her when the incident happened. Aided by a dreamy score from Finneas O’Connell (the same), The Fallout makes for a deeply moving double bill with the next film on this list.
Mass – Available to rent and buy in the US, streaming on Sky Go in the UK
Another feature debut, Mass couldn’t be more stylistically different from The Fallout, despite the obvious thematic overlap. Written and directed by Fran Kranz, the film is essentially a bedroom play starring four actors – Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton play the parents of a teenager who was killed in a high school shooting, and Reed Birney and Ann Dowd play the abuser’s parents. . With unresolved grief and simmering anger, they sit around a table and discuss their differences. Mass is not an easy watch, but it is extremely cathartic. Kranz has a bright future ahead of him, not only as a filmmaker with a very particular style, but also as a writer with a new voice.
The Wiper – IGTV
Animation maverick Alberto Mielgo’s jaw-dropping short has an ambition that defies its 15-minute runtime. You’re not afraid to tackle the big questions: “What is love?” a man asks in his first moments – the film captures the length and breadth of the human experience in less time than it would take for your Dominos order to arrive. After working on it for six years, Mielgo has made a lightly censored cut available on his IGTV, with the uncut version available to watch on the Short of the Week YouTube channel.
The Novice – Available for rental and purchase in the United States
Yet another meteoric start, championed by none other than Zack Snyder himself, The Novice can essentially be described as Whiplash set in the world of competitive college rowing. Lauren Hadaway (who worked on Whiplash and Justice League, by the way) is directing the whole thing as some kind of dark fantasy, and star Isabelle Fuhrman is delivering on the promise she made with Orphan all those years ago. If the Academy had been more respectful of genre films, it would easily be part of the awards season talk.
Munich – On the Edge of War – Netflix
The almost unbearably tense historical spy flick, directed by Christian Schwochow, is the definition of a dad movie. No wonder, then, that it’s based on a novel by Robert Harris. As the title suggests, the film is set in the days leading up to World War II, but don’t expect high-stakes action or a James Bond-esque spectacle here. Munich — On the brink of war subverts the genre by putting the future of the world in the hands not of executives – which it also does – but of two young idealists trapped in the bureaucracy of middle management. It’s awfully relevant and thrillingly staged, mostly because you know exactly what’s at stake. And what we collectively stand to lose.
The Hand – MUBI
MUBI’s terrific retrospective of newly restored versions of Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai’s films has been so interesting to watch over the past few weeks. But while it’s perfectly understandable that you gravitate towards classics such as Chungking Express or In the Mood for Love, I urge you to watch The Hand, which has settled into a largely overlooked corner of Wong’s filmography, mainly because that it was part of a larger anthology called Eros, which also included segments by Steven Soderbergh and Michelangelo Antonioni. A story of unrequited love set in 1960s Hong Kong, The Hand marked Wong’s return to the lyrical visual style of In the Mood for Love; its availability on MUBI – the extended version, no less – gives Wong finalists the perfect opportunity to check it out on their watchlists.