Major film studios treat January like a dumping ground for bad movies, while audiences look forward to the last few best films of 2016 finally hitting the big screen. Art-house theaters unroll special programming, offsetting the end-of-year muck with carefully curated gold. Let this chronological list lead you to avoid this month’s iffy cinematic offerings and start this new year of movie-going the right way.
Opens January 6
Multiple Denver theaters
In 1988, director Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Age of Innocence, The Wolf of Wall Street) met an archbishop during test screenings for his derided and controversial film The Last Temptation of Christ. The two tussled over questions of faith. Afterward, the archbishop gave Scorsese a copy of Japanese author Shusaku Endo’s 1966 historical novel Silence. The book shook the filmmaker with its tale of two missionaries in seventeenth-century Japan searching for their mentor, whom they fear has lost his religion at the hands of a violently anti-Christian regime. Scorsese sat down after releasing The Last Temptation to adapt Silence to film, but at the time failed to find the words in the wake of his clashes with Christians. Now, 28 years later, Silence is finally hitting theaters after Scorsese's long, patient, creative journey penning the script. The film boasts high-caliber actors including Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson. Did nearly three decades of filmmaking give Scorsese newfound faith and perspective on how to approach the story? Find out when Silence hits Denver screens. Find theaters, showtimes and tickets at fandango.com.
2. Classics in Context: The Great Dictator
January 8 at 1 p.m.
The Sie’s new monthly program, Classics in Context, screens cinematic masterpieces with a fresh spin: The movies are repackaged with newsreels, commercials and reprints of articles and media from the time the film debuted to give contemporary viewers a window into how audiences originally experienced these classics. This month’s selection — Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator — will take viewers back to 1940, smack dab in the middle of the Holocaust. Chaplin’s biting satire takes aim at Adolf Hitler, with the star doing double duty as a Jewish barber and the dictator who persecutes him. Today's audiences will have an opportunity to reflect on how the history of Hitler's rise to power relates to Donald Trump's incoming administration and the role of satire as a form of political criticism. Tickets are available at denverfilm.org.
3. Buddhism in Film
Tuesdays in January, at 7 p.m., starting January 10
Understanding the various paths of Buddhism isn't easy. For thousands of years, artists have tried to figure out what the religion is all about. The Denver Film Society has partnered with the Iliff School of Theology to showcase four recent films attempting to answer that question. From two thoughtful Korean films, Kim Ki Duk’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… And Spring and Day Young-Kyun’s Why Has Bodhi Dharma Left for the East?, to two Hollywood favorites, Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day and Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), guest speakers will discuss how film can illuminate Buddhism for everyone. Get your tickets for the whole series at denverfilm.org.
4. Nasty Woman: The Films of Director Ida Lupino
January 11, 18, 26 and February 6, at 7:30 p.m.
British-born Ida Lupino built a career as one of Hollywood’s most talented and headstrong actresses, holding her own against male heavyweights like Humphrey Bogart and Ronald Reagan. But it was her time spent behind the camera that film enthusiasts too often forget. In a year when recognizing women filmmakers is paramount, the Alamo Drafthouse has curated a program of her greatest hits as a filmmaker and Hollywood star to boot. Nasty Woman: The Films of Director Ida Lupino will spotlight her High Sierra, On Dangerous Ground, The Hitch-Hiker and The Bigamist over four weeks and bring long-needed attention to one of the only female stars in Hollywood history to not just shine as a star, but to direct movies as well. Get ready to watch Lupino take down the patriarchy; reserve your seats at drafthouse.com.
5. The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Opens January 13
Independent filmmakers turned 2016 into a banner year for horror movies. Among the best is André Øvredal's Autopsy. The film stars Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox as father and son coroners pulled into a hellish mystery, in which they try to identify the body of a young woman, who seemingly died without cause and whose corpse holds a series of sinister clues within. Atmospheric, moody and bone-chillingly cold, Autopsy is a must see for horror fans. Grab a ticket at denverfilm.org.
Opens January 13
Before achieving fame as the internationally acclaimed director of films like The Double Life of Veronique and Three Colors Trilogy, Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski made his first mark on cinema in 1989, with a ten-part series for Polish television called Dekalog. The epic masterpiece follows the denizens of an apartment complex as they go about their days. The movie interlocks their lives with lessons from the Ten Commandments and explores existential moral and spiritual questions. Shot by nine cinematographers and unavailable for more than a decade, the entire Dekalog has been lovingly restored by Janus Films and is making its way to the Sie for a weeklong engagement. The series will be split into five two-hour blocks and scheduled accordingly, with separate admission for each block. Get your tickets at denverfilm.org.
7. Stunt Rock on 35mm film
January 13, 10 p.m.
Stunt Rock deserves a special place in the pantheon of Australian exploitation films. This 1980 gonzo gem is ripe with barely safe stunts, explosions and other derring-do. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith (Turkey Shoot, BMX Bandits) tosses in a small thread of a story, about a stuntman working for a rock band who is looking for love and dreams of performing kick-ass stunts, to appease viewers who need a narrative crutch. Mostly the movie is an excuse to hold an explosion-riddled concert for wizard-rock band Sorcery punctuated by a whack-ton of dangerous stunts — car crashes, people falling off buildings, swordfights, fire and more. “It’s a death wish at 120 decibels!” screams its famous tagline, daring viewers to take their eyes off the screen as it catches fire. Buy tickets at denverfilm.org.
Opens January 20
Landmark’s Mayan Theatre
Continuing his streak of late-career master dramas — and his twentieth feature film — director Pedro Almodóvar is still at the top of his game. Adapting three stories by Nobel Prize-winning author Alice Munro, we meet Julieta, a middle-aged woman heartbroken by the estrangement of her daughter Antía twelve years earlier. When Julieta runs into her daughter’s childhood best friend, hope springs anew. The mother returns to the apartment where she raised her daughter and pens her a letter, hoping that explaining the hardships of her own youth will bring Antía back. Returning to serious female stories that have defined his work, Almodóvar is receiving some of the best notices of his career for Julieta. Find your tickets at landmarktheaters.com.
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9. We Are the Flesh
Opens January 20
Another entry in 2016’s graduating class of exceptional horror films, We Are the Flesh is Mexican director Emiliano Rocha Minter's feature-film debut, an apocalyptic tale of hell on earth. Roaming the streets of a destroyed Mexico City for years, a brother and sister happen upon one of the only buildings left standing, where a bizarre man obsessed with completing a surreal project lives. When the stranger asks the siblings to make a deal with him for a better way to live, things get even weirder. Chock-full of explicit sex and gore, the film is not for the faint of heart. This is a movie for horror aficionados starving for a pitch-black descent into a psychological underworld. Buy tickets at denverfilm.org.
10. 20th Century Women
Opens January 20
Multiple Denver theaters
One of the last dark horses for this year’s Oscar race is the latest film from director Mike Mills (Thumbsucker, Beginners), an intimate dramedy that follows a teenage boy and the three strong women in his life who all seem to raise him — played by Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning — as they navigate aging, sex politics and feminism in 1979 California. All three actresses are garnering award-season buzz for their deeply personal, ferocious performances. You can judge for yourself when the film hits Denver this week. Find theaters, showtimes and tickets at fandango.com.