January at the Movies: 14 Reasons Why It Doesn't Suck

After the end-of-year crush of Oscar-baiting dramas and holiday films, January is often a notoriously bad time for movies. Cheap thrillers and horror movies tend to come out in January, rarely getting any notable critical acclaim. But as the films below prove, this is not always the case. January can provide us with a few notable classics, from obscure foreign classics to great cult action films.

Waiting for Guffman – January 31, 1997

The first and funniest of Christopher Guest's mockumentary comedies, Waiting for Guffman hilariously captures the struggle, the love, the ego, and the occasional lack of talent that can go into tiny local theater productions. Largely improvised and featuring a stellar comic cast, Waiting for Guffman is a legitimate comedy classic.

Rotten Tomatoes ranking: 91% Fresh

Gross: $2.9 million


City of God - January 17, 2003

Not just one of the best of 2003, but arguably one of the best films of the 2000s, Fernando Meirelles' City of God tells the story of the crime-and-poverty-stricken Brazilian favelas and the gumption a young man requires to escape them. It was so loved by critics, Roger Ebert put it on his top-10 list from the previous year.

Rotten Tomatoes ranking: 90% Fresh

Gross: $7.6 million


Before Sunrise – January 27, 1995

Richard Linklater's film – the first part of a three-film series that includes 2004's Before Sunset and 2013's Before Midnight –  is part romance and part drama, but more than anything is a wonderful example of the ins and outs of human conversation. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke have now explored the roles for 20 years, but started here. Before Sunrise is moving and great, and one of the best indie films of the 1990s.

Rotten Tomatoes ranking: 100% Fresh

Gross: $5.5 million


MASH – January 25, 1970

And speaking of conversation, no one could do naturalistic and overlapping dialogue like the masterful Robert Altman, whose 1970 Korean war comedy MASH was simultaneously satirical, funny and theatrically melancholy. It was Altman's first acclaimed feature. And it inspired the successful television show of the same name that ran for 11 years.

Rotten Tomatoes ranking: 90% Fresh

Gross: $81.6 million


Cloverfield – January 18, 2008

Sort of a Godzilla for the found-footage generation, Cloverfield is perhaps better known for its secretive ad campaign (it refused to show any shots of the actual monster) than for its status as a thriller. But when looked at critically, one may find one of the more salient 9/11 sci-fi metaphors the movies have provided. It's also just a rollicking good monster movie.

Rotten Tomatoes ranking: 77% Fresh

Gross: $80 million


From Dusk till Dawn – January 19, 1996

One of Quentin Tarantino's more bonkers screenplays, Robert Rodriguez' From Dusk till Dawn makes no sense at all; criminals hide hostages in a brothel, which just happens to be infested with vampires. And while the film is crazy, it cannot be denied that it is one of the more striking horror films to come out of the 1990s. It's also the only horror film Tarantino has written to date. Let's hope for more.

Rotten Tomatoes ranking: 64% Fresh

Gross: $25.8 million


Teeth – January 18, 2008

Not well known, but well loved by the people who have seen it, Teeth is a savvy, wicked little shocker with one of the strangest horror premises ever seen on film: A young girl just discovering her sexuality finds that she has razor-sharp teeth growing inside a certain part of her anatomy. How does she react? Will she become a weapon of gender vengeance, or try to live a normal life? Weird and thoughtful at the same time.

Rotten Tomatoes ranking: 79% Fresh

Gross: $347,000


Zero Effect – January 30, 1998

Jake Kasdan directed this low-key, intelligent investigative thriller about Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman), the kind of guy a master detective would really be: neurotic, slobby, awkward and agoraphobic. By turns funny, frustrating and intriguing (and featuring Ben Stiller in a supporting role) Zero Effect was exploring the notion of PI idiosyncrasies a good 15 years before Sherlock.

Rotten Tomatoes ranking: 64% Fresh

Gross: $2 million


The Boondock Saints – January 21, 2000

Troy Duffy's cult shoot-'em-up The Boondock Saints has the trappings and visual cues of a crime thriller (guns, cool leather jackets, heists, revenge killings), but actually plays more like a superhero origin story, wherein twin brothers become vigilantes seeking to undo Boston's criminal underground. It's awesomely fun, and it features scenes of Willem Dafoe in drag. Which is no bad thing.

Rotten Tomatoes ranking: 20% Fresh (sorry, Troy)

Gross: $30,000


Taken – January 30, 2008

Not a hit when it first came out, the Liam Neeson vehicle Taken became one of the more celebrated under-the-radar movies of the 2000s and spawned two sequels so far (Taken 3 is in production now). There is something pure about Taken. Spend 90 minutes watching the tall, handsome, undeniably tough Neeson kicking truckloads of Albanian butt, trying to rescue his teen daughter from sex traffickers? Yes, please.

Rotten Tomatoes ranking: 58% Fresh

Gross: $145 million


Texas Chainsaw 3D – January 4, 2013

Although not as gritty as the early Texas Chainsaw Massacre films, and certainly not as scary, Texas Chainsaw 3D is still a slick and underrated little exploitation cheapie that deserves a larger audience. Positioned as a sequel to the original (ignoring parts two through four), Texas Chainsaw 3D provides the requisite gore you deserve and nudity you require. It's naughty fun the way horror films ought to be.

Rotten Tomatoes ranking: 19% Fresh (but still good!)

Gross: $34.3 million


56 Up – January 4, 2013

The eighth film in Michael Apted's acclaimed series of documentaries, 56 Up catches up with the British workaday subjects that the filmmakers have been visiting every seven years since they were seven years old. These movies are a stirring and winsome examination on growing up and, now that they're 56, pondering growing old. 

Rotten Tomatoes ranking: 98% Fresh

Gross: $701,000


John Dies at the End – January 25, 2013

If you've ever wondered what happened to truly weird movies, look no further than Don Coscarelli's John Dies at the End, a hallucinatory and largely unclassifiable horror-comedy of sorts. It's all about a magical narcotic that can teleport its users to other dimensions. Also, just to screw with the audience, John doesn't die at the end. He dies about halfway through. And no we didn't spoil it.

Rotten Tomatoes ranking: 61% Fresh

Gross: $141,000


Perfume: The Story of a Murderer – January 6, 2006

A wild sex romp and murder fest in the mold of Ken Russell, Tom Tykwer's Perfume is an underrated horror classic worthy of Hammer studios. A young man is born with a superhuman sense of smell works in perfume shops and becomes drawn to the subtle odors of certain women. He won't rest until he can make perfume out of those women. Entertaining, grimy, and awesome, Perfume is a must-see.

Rotten Tomatoes ranking: 58% Fresh

Gross: $2.2 million

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