January is for December movies.
That's the conventional knowledge in Hollywood, where the first two months of the year are reserved as dumping grounds for stinkers while audiences catch up on the smorgasboard of Oscar bait released around the holidays.
But quality-seekers shouldn't despair. January 2014 will host the well-received indie Run and Jump, a festival favorite directed by Steph Green and written by Ailbhe Keogan about an Irish family devastated by the loss of a patriarch. (Think August: Osage County, but with a stroke instead of a suicide inciting the plot.)
There's also Gloria and Best Night Ever, which follow women who just want to have fun. As Chile's entry for the foreign-language Oscar, Gloria is a showcase for actress Paulina Garcia, who plays a 58-year-old divorced woman getting back into the dating scene. If Gloria shares some chromosal similarities with Julia Louis-Dreyfus' character in Enough Said, the bachelorette party-themed Best Night Ever is closer to The Hangover. Four girlfriends let their hair down in Vegas and things get wonderfully out of control.
There are two other women-directed films opening in January. Francesca Gregorini, who previously made the HBO prep school movie Tanner Hall, has The Truth About Emanuel coming out, about two young women who form a creepy bond. Maggie Kiley helms Brightest Star, about a college grad who grow up by becoming the man of his ex's dreams.
The highest-profile January film with a female lead is Gimme Shelter, a Vanessa Hudgens vehicle about teenage homelessness.
Here are the women-centric, -directed and -written films that you should keep on your radar for January.
All descriptions are from press materials unless otherwise noted.
In Bloom - Written and Co-Directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili
Early nineties, in Tbilisi, the capital of the newly independent Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The country is facing violence, war on the Black Sea coast (Abkhazia) and vigilante justice that plagues society. But for Eka and Natia, fourteen-year-old inseparable friends, life just unfolds: in the street, at school, with friends or elder sisters who are already dealing with men's dominance, early marriage and disillusioned love. For these two girls in bloom life just goes on.
The Truth About Emanuel - Written and Directed by Francesca Gregorini
Emanuel (Kaya Scodelario), a troubled girl, becomes preoccupied with her mysterious new neighbor (Jessica Biel), who bears a striking resemblance to her dead mother. In offering to babysit her newborn, Emanuel unwittingly enters a fragile, fictional world, of which she becomes the gatekeeper.
The Banshee Chapter
On the trail of a missing friend (Michael McMillian) who had been experimenting with mind-altering drugs, a young journalist (Katia Winter) -- aided by a rogue counter-culture writer (Ted Levine) -- finds herself drawn into the dangerous world of top-secret government chemical research and the mystery of a disturbing radio signal of unknown origin. A fast-paced thriller blending fact and fiction, Banshee Chapter is based on real documents, actual test subject testimony, and uncovered secrets about covert programs run by the CIA.
Cold Comes the Night
A dangerous criminal Bryan Cranston) takes a desperate hotel owner (Alice Eve) and her young daughter (Ursula Parker) hostage in a last-ditch effort to retrieve his missing cash from a corrupt cop in this edge-of-your-seat thriller.
A young woman (Zoe Bell) is abducted by an elite, secret society and wakes to find herself in the company of fifty other women who are, just like her, forced to fight for their lives in an unimaginable hell.
Free Ride - Written and Directed by Shana Betz
In search of a better life for her family and desperate to escape her tumultuous relationship, Christina (Anna Paquin) hastily moves to Florida and enters the dangerous world of the high-stakes underground drug scene. She quickly learns that dealing drugs at the height of South Florida's smuggling heyday has its price. As law enforcement closes in on Christina and her drug operation, she must find a way to salvage the life she has desperately worked to repair before it all comes crashing down.
Maidentrip (doc) - Directed by Jillian Schlesinger; Written by Laura Dekker, Penelope Falk, Jillian Schlesinger
14-year-old Laura Dekker sets out-camera in hand-on a two-year voyage in pursuit of her dream to be the youngest person ever to sail around the world alone. In the wake of a year-long battle with Dutch authorities that sparked a global storm of media scrutiny, Laura now finds herself far from land, family and unwanted attention, exploring the world in search of freedom, adventure, and distant dreams of her early youth at sea. Jillian Schlesinger's debut feature amplifies Laura's brave, defiant voice through a mix of Laura's own video and voice recordings at sea and intimate verite footage from locations including the Galapagos Islands, French Polynesia, Australia, and South Africa.
Band of Sisters (doc) - Written and Directed by Mary Fishman
"I did exactly what the church asked me -- and now, the church is looking at me like, where have you come from... who are you?" says Sister Nancy Sylvester, IHM (Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary), in Band of Sisters about the remarkable transformation of Catholic nuns in the United States since Vatican II of the 1960s, and the reaction of some members of the church hierarchy who oppose their changes. Perhaps more than any other group, U.S. nuns embraced Vatican II's call to serve where there was the greatest need. In Band of Sisters, two nuns advocate for the rights of immigrant detainees and deportees in and around a Chicago-area deportation center. It is 50 years since Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council to let a little fresh air into the church, and most Catholic nuns in the U.S. have never looked back. Fascinating scenes of convent life prior to Vatican II contrast with those of nuns in the tumultuous and exciting years after the Council, when sisters became engaged with the great social movements of our day.
Devil's Due - Written by Lindsay Devlin
After a mysterious, lost night on their honeymoon, a newlywed couple (Zach Gilford and Allison Miller) finds themselves dealing with an earlier-than-planned pregnancy. While recording everything for posterity, the husband begins to notice odd behavior in his wife that they initially write off to nerves, but, as the months pass, it becomes evident that the dark changes to her body and mind have a much more sinister origin.
Gloria is a "woman of a certain age" but still feels young. Though lonely, she makes the best of her situation and fills her nights seeking love at social dance clubs for single adults. Her fragile happiness changes the day she meets Rodolfo. Their intense passion, to which Gloria gives her all, leaves her vacillating between hope and despair -- until she uncovers a new strength and realizes that, in her golden years, she can shine brighter than ever. Gloria is Chile's official entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards and stars Paulina Garcia in a tour-de-force performance that captured the Silver Bear Best Actress Award at this year's Berlin Film Festival.
Run and Jump - Directed by Steph Green and Written by Ailbhe Keogan
Run and Jump is an unconventional love story and authentic portrait of a happy-go-lucky Irish family. (IMDb)
Towheads - Written and Directed by Shannon Plumb
An adventurous and bold mother of two, Penelope struggles to strike the balance between her artistic aspirations and motherly responsibilities in this playful look at modern-day motherhood and the difficulties families face everyday.
Based on a true story that centers on 16-year-old Agnes "Apple" Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens), Gimme Shelter uncovers the struggle for survival and the hope of redemption through the harsh realities of life on the streets. As a pregnant teenager, Apple's journey plummets her into a perilous struggle until finding salvation in a suburban shelter for homeless teens. With provisions of unprecedented comfort, a collective sisterhood connection and female empowerment, the shelter elevates Apple to break the shackles of her past and inspires her to embrace the future with clarity, maturity and hope not only for herself but her unborn child.
Brightest Star - Directed and Co-Written by Maggie Kiley
Fresh out of college, a young man (Chris Lowell) is left devastated when the girl of his dreams dumps him. Refusing to move on, he devises a plan to transform himself into the man she desires. After resigning himself to working for the head of a company in corporate mediocrity (Clark Gregg), he falls for a hipster songstress (Jessica Szohr) who likes him as he is. As his path continues to unfold unexpectedly, the counsel of a kindred spirit astronomer (Allison Janney) helps him understand how to truly carve out a place in the universe.
Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage - Co-Written by Evelyn Gabai
When the Sultan's first born is taken by an evil sorcerer, Sinbad is tasked with traveling to a desert of magic and creatures to save her.
Best Night Ever
Bride-to-be Claire, her sister Leslie, fun-loving Zoe, and quirky new friend Janet set off to Las Vegas for a one-night bachelorette party that turns out to be more than they bargained for. A series of unexpected adventures -- including getting kicked out of a strip club, being mugged, and getting pummeled by Las Vegas' reigning gelatin-wrestling champion, Veronica -- rip them from the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas strip and places them smack dab in Vegas' seedy underbelly. Determined to keep their bachelorette party dreams alive, the girls band together and embark on the wildest night in bachelorette party history. Fueled by sex and booze, this raunchy, riotously hilarious, out-of-control, blow-out is, for better or worse, all caught on tape. And is destined to go down as the Best Night Ever.