With the exception of those who check out Sundance, film critics should all take January off. So should you. Go to the beach, go ski in the Sierras, whatever. Just get rid of your seasonal affective disorder. Certainly the films released in January won't help; how can you take seriously a month in which the only films released commercially are "Racing Stripes," "Are We There Yet?" "Electra," and "Lord What'shisname's The Phantom of the Opera." If I didn't have to spend the month preparing my own festival (the Spokane International Film Festival, February 3 through 10), I'd join you in a minute.
And what would we do? In order to help ourselves through the dismal times, we would order up as many of the following films as we movie gluttons can hold in our brains and hearts. Let's start with a few comedies to warm up.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986 - John Hughes) Hughes's best film, this is the fulfillment of every adolescent's dream, where a guilt-free high school student wreaks havoc with the administration (Jeffrey Jones in his patented slow burn) while treating himself and his friends to a great day in Chicago. You'll particularly like Matthew Broderick and the German oompah band doing "Twist & Shout" down State Street.
The Lady Eve (1941 - Preston Sturges) Sturges is an acquired taste, but once you've acquired it you'll never let go. This delicacy gives card sharp/con woman Barbara Stanwyck the chance to show what a fine comedian she was, and Mr. Sincerity Henry Fonda is her target and her foil. Lots of fun.
Sleeper (1973 - Woody Allen) If I told you this was Allen's funniest film would you believe me? A fine premise (he wakes up 200 years from now into a world remade by George W. Bush), lots of sex (in the Orgasmatron), and a hundred or more of his best gags, including some prescient ones about cloning human beings.
Now to some others:
Cyrano de Bergerac (1990 - Jean-Paul Rappeneau) Gerard Depardieu is the definitive Cyrano; his performance in this clichéd old romance is a work of genius. He gives us the best-ever versions of the great comic setpieces (the recitation of nose jokes), he makes Cyrano's legendary swordplay and strength believable, and if you're not in tears at the end you have the heart of a grinch.
Grand Illusion (1937 - Jean Renoir) As timely now as then, this is perhaps the greatest of war films, though it has barely a battle in it. Set for the most part in a World War I German prison camp for French and British prisoners, it gives us a glimpse of what it means to live the clichés of bravery and courage. Great performances by Erich von Stroheim, Jean Gabin and Pierre Fresnay.
Run Lola Run (1999 - Tom Tykwer) The most delicious 81 minutes in film history, and a brilliant new way of making a movie. It's the story of how Lola tries to save her dumb boyfriend from the clutches of the mob by coming up with 100,000 marks in twenty minutes. We see the whole thing three times, as Tykwer gives us three possible scenarios, including the life stories of people Lola meets on her way through town. If I were you, I'd start with this one.
The Lady Vanishes (1938 - Alfred Hitchcock) One of the most delicious mystery/suspense/comedies ever, this witty film begins with the disappearance of a lovely old lady (Dame May Whitty) from a train in central Europe on the eve of World War II. Two passengers join forces to find her, get involved with international intrigue, and even find romance. Funny moments alternate with scary ones, and unlike most other Hitchcocks this film has a whole gallery of intriguing characters.
Well, that should hold you till February.