7 January Movies Worthy of Using Your Holiday Gift Card

By on December 31, 2014

For every year the movie theaters and production companies want to edge that ticket price up ever so slightly, the premium on gift cards rises right along with it. You may be holding one such card in your hand right now. Before you go on calculating just how much popcorn and candy you can shove into your pockets at once, you’re going to need to choose a movie to see first.

January movies can often be among the year’s best. That’s when all the Oscar contenders make their final push for publicity and public favor, hitting wide release after gaining accolades on the art house market. If you’re feeling up for a “serious” outing, the following should suit your high-minded need:

A Most Violent Year

Though Jessica Chastain is certainly the biggest name here, both her and Oscar Isaac have been slowly growing their respective reputations as front runners for the best scripts around. Chastain made her go with Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winner Zero Dark Thirty and Isaac hit his stride in the Coen Brothers’ sorrowfully underplayed Inside Llewyn Davis. Why not have the two meet up as a power couple in a moody New York City, towing the line between gangster violence and running an honest business?

A Most Violent Year is reviewing quite well in the run-up to wide release, critics lauding the two stars, each pulsating in this unique marital duet of subversive and understated power against each other and the violent world around them. Also, it’s a chance to see Isaac before he explodes onto the scene in next year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

American Sniper

You’ve likely already seen that one trailer. Bradley Cooper is sitting behind a high-power sniper rifle, surveying a modern-day Middle East war zone as a young boy and a woman cross his sights. One of them has a bomb and it’s his terrible decision to make. Don’t expect to exit the theater laughing. Cooper plays real-life United States SEAL Chris Kyle, the sniper with the most recorded kills in U.S. history.

This true story hits the big screen under the often quiet and contemplative direction of Clint Eastwood. He seems to have found the perfect western twang in Cooper as the two wrestle with America’s wars through the narrowed scope of one very dangerous man. Though critics aren’t completely torn, some are praising the film’s realism and directness in its approach to the toll of war on one man and his family, while others just highlight Cooper’s performance and deride the tunnel vision Eastwood’s taken to the subject matter.


Of all the movies on this list, Selma screams Oscar the absolute most. Is it a true story? Yes. Is it about a universally revered man who crafted great change? Yes. Does it reflect an alarming relevancy to current events? You betcha. Martin Luther King Jr. goes front and center, portrayed by David Oweloyo with eerie likeness, as he leads the fateful civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

Reception is all around great. The critics are soaking in the film’s biographical approach, similar to Spielberg’s Lincoln for its ability to fully examine King within a short window, rather than some sprawling, epic life story. Protesters and other players get their fair share of screen time as well, all the more highlighting King’s own contributions to the cause as well as everybody else’s.

Inherent Vice

Everything about Inherent Vice is deliberately oddball, but we’d expect no less from acclaimed director Paul Thomas Anderson. Whereas with previous award-winners Magnolia and There Will Be Blood Anderson dripped humor in around the drama, this time around he’s gone full nutjob and perhaps created his most divisive film yet. Some love it, some hate it. That’s not too surprising for a film based off a novel from Thomas Pynchon, whose prose is as complex as it is oft tangential.

Joaquin Phoenix bobs his way through the reportedly jumpy script as private detective in the groovy ’60s and ’70s, bumping heads with an eclectic cast along the way. There’s a kidnapping plot somewhere in there, but it’s more about the shenanigans than the middle, beginning and end. In that order.

If those three movies are meant to be taken seriously, then the following two are how we relax. Perhaps the Academy frowns upon action heroes and far-flung plots, but we casual moviegoers know better. It’s about the entertainment, after all.


At first glance, Blackhat and its starring man, Chris Hemsworth, seem a bit too far-fetched, a bit too fantastical to fit into the hacker-turned-hero casting call of this latest thriller. The trailers depict a lot of people yelling none-too-interesting bits of hooha about evil hackers and good hackers and all the innocent bystanders standing in between all the geniuses. Only one detail should stand out, but it’s one that matters. This is all from director Michael Mann, the guy who brought us Heat, Collateral and The Last of the Mohicans.

He doesn’t put out a film all that often (the last one, Public Enemies, hit in 2009), so it’s worth paying attention when he does. Mann’s best films dig into the psyches of criminals, the kind we love and the kind we hate, so the world-disrupting hackers of Blackhat is a great start. Expect the best kind of old-school thriller/action scene-setting with just a touch of modern paranoia. Maybe more than a touch.

Taken 3

Let’s admit this right now: Taken 2 was a rushed mess completely derivative of the first, far superior film. Shame on us, let’s try and get fooled again. The best evidence towards Taken 3 outdoing its predecessor is the primary marketing line for the film: It Ends Here. It’s the first of the series to take place primarily in the U.S., with constantly underestimated hero Brian Mills on the run in L.A. after the murder of his wife. He has to protect his last remaining family member, that daughter that can’t seem to figure out how to run, by doing sweet action stunts and driving cars into stuff that cars wouldn’t normally drive into.

This is the Liam Neeson series that inspired a million Liam Neeson movies, so it deserves our respect. Forest Whitaker classes up the joint as the guy on Neeson’s tail. His investigation is going to blow Mills’ mysterious past wide open, and with an end clearly in sight the writers have no limit to the pain and suffering they can bring their ill-fated hero. To be clear, that’s a good thing for the audience.


You’d be forgiven for having no idea that this movie existed before reading this article. Directing duo the Spierberg Brothers and Ethan Hawke, who previously collaborated with the vampire flick Daybreakers, go for time travel next. Predestination gives us Hawke as a Temporal Agent, a special dude who saves people’s lives by preventing stuff from happening, jumping from decade to decade, from head trip to rabbit hole, all the while mentoring another time traveler portrayed by newcomer Sarah Snook.

Hawke knows sci-fi and the Spierberg Brothers seem to be gaining traction in their clean, mind-bending style. This one’s got a chance to hit cult status down the line, so if you want to be hip you need to get on the bandwagon while it”s still just a wagon. In this scenario you’d be the band, making you the coolest cat around.

About Trevor Ruben

Though I contribute to many online publications on a regular basis, including The Checkout, the crux of my writing lies in video games. When not writing, I'm often streaming a variety of games on Twitch.

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