January Movies: The Best Bets and Biggest Gambles

January has historically been a cinematic wasteland, a dumping ground for bad movies eager to be laid to rest. But something changed. Hollywood has started to realize that regardless of how much money is usually spent in a given month, if you put out solid films, they will bring in even more. Recent years have seen record hauls with films like Cloverfield, Rambo, and Paul Blart bringing in totals previously thought out of the realm of possibility during this time of year. So everyone is rethinking it. And that means one thing: better movies. here's this months big bets and gambles.

Bet: Daybreakers. I've seen it, I love it, I've reviewed it here. Easily one of my favorite films of the past year, this is the story of a world overrun by vampires. Ethan Hawke plays a vampire blood specialist in a desperate race against time to find an artificial blood replacement before the world's food (blood) supply runs out and a world of vampires tear one another apart, quite literally, over what is left. A brilliantly original, thought-provoking film that never skimps on the fun, Daybreakers will very likely be a favorite of filmgoers this month.

Bet: Book of Eli. I'm hearing really good early buzz on this and have nothing but high hopes. Directed by the long absent Hughes brothers (who last directed From Hell almost a decade ago), this Denzel Washington-led post-apocalyptic film tells the story of a traveling swordsman protecting a book that everyone wants. Gary Oldman, Ray Stevenson, and Michael Gambon all lend a lot of credit to the notion that this might kick our teeth in and send us back begging for more.

Gamble, but a good one: Edge of Darkness. Mel Gibson doesn't need the money. After Hollywood scoffed at his little independently produced personal religious movie, he split the profits with a small distribution company to the tune of $600 million worldwide in theatrical alone. The guy is set for life. He has Oscars, accolades, and a career of classic films under his belt. The only reason he has to poke his head out and suffer the slings and arrows of a tabloid press ready to hurl three and a half-year-old mud at him is to get some respect back. There can be no other reason. So that means this project had to blow his skirt up in a big way. And with Martin "Casino Royale" Campbell behind the camera, they weren't hurting for leading men. So Mel had to be right for the part. While the trailer looks only slightly intriguing, I'm getting the feeling that this film has something up its sleeve that it isn't telling us. And I'm counting on it being pretty great.

Bet: Youth in Revolt. Not the best bet, but a relatively safe one. A solid indie film for indie-minded people, Youth in Revolt is chock full of adorable hipster moments, great cameos, and supporting parts enough to carry Michael Cera, who is once again returning to the well to play Michael Cera. Funny, cute and charming, this strange love story will make for a fun date movie and an uplifting change of pace from a month of genre films.

Gamble:

Tooth Fairy. OK, I'm kidding about this, but only slightly. If there's one film every critic in the country has their sites set on, it is this one. Friday, January 22, will no doubt be a slam dunk contest on Dwayne Johnson, fueled by one of the most heckled (and arguably worst) trailers to be released in recent months. And one has to wonder why on earth anyone would release a family film a month after the holiday season when kids are long back in school. Then again, Fox has NOTHING else coming out and probably didn't want to crush themselves with their own Avatar. Besides, with nothing else for the family at the box office except month old leftovers, they've got a chance at capturing a dollar no one else is going for. Maybe they know something we don't. Or maybe it is actually a dump.

Gamble: Legion. On the upside, it stars Paul Bettany in a supernatural thriller. On the downside, it features an angel with machine guns fighting off the throngs of heaven desperate to kill a baby in order to prevent the apocalypse or some silly thing like that. The trailer sends me into hives and gives me back spasms. But while the dialogue sounds like bad Bible fanfic, the visuals are pretty, the carnage large and in charge, and there could be a great film buried in there under a mound of B-roll cut together by a marketing firm unsure how to sell something that dark. If there's one film I am afraid of this month, it is this one.