There is no drearier time at the multiplex than the first two months of any given year. All those commonplace horror flicks and mediocre blockbusters that studios have little faith in are mercilessly dumped into theaters, leaving us cinephiles to go see “Zero Dark Thirty” for a third or fourth time.
This January alone we had such “first-rate” fare as “Broken City,” “Movie 43” and “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” all of which were met with scathing reviews and less than remarkable box-office returns.
February is refreshingly free of the usual Valentine’s Day dreck (aside from Nicholas Sparks adaptation “Safe Haven”), and Steven Soderbergh fans should at least be content with his latest offering “Side Effects,” which features Rooney Mara in her first big-screen role since 2011’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Although that may be as close as we get to arthouse cinema in wide release, here are my picks for the five specialty films to see this February.
5. Nicky’s Family: Dubbed by many as the “British Schindler,” Nicholas Winton organized the rescue of nearly 670 mostly Jewish children from Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II. Now 103 years old, Winton is the subject of a stirring documentary that chronicles his efforts in the Czech Kindertransport to Britain and the inspiring stories told by the now-adults that he helped save. The film may have debuted nearly two years ago overseas, but has been making the festival rounds stateside in recent months – nabbing the Audience Award for Best Film at last year’s Scottsdale International Film Festival. (Feb. 15) Watch the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGEXoXkDgqk
4. Sound City: The likes of Paul McCartney, Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty come together to share the enthralling history of Sound City Studios, a renowned recording studio in Los Angeles. This new documentary from Foo Fighters’ front man Dave Grohl explores the significance of the studio to these legendary artists, how it’s evolved within their lifetime and what technology has done to shape the music industry. “Sound City” debuted at last month’s Sundance Film Festival to standing ovations, and has received overwhelmingly positive notices for rocker-turned-filmmaker Grohl. (Feb. 1) Watch the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQoOfiLz1G4
3. Tabu: Ranked No. 2 on Sight & Sound magazine’s Top 10 movies of 2012, this Portuguese drama plays homage to the 1931 silent film of the same name. Set shortly before the Portuguese Colonial War, the story follows a cantankerous retiree and her deceased neighbor’s maid as they seek out a connection to the past at the foot of Mount Tabu in Africa. Shot entirely in black and white, the film was dubbed a “brilliantly nuanced, deeply imagined psycho-excavation of modern Europe” by the New Yorker. “Tabu” is fittingly playing at FilmBar in downtown Phoenix, so grab a drink and feel like a true cinephile for a couple hours. (Feb. 1) Watch the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HoelUhjVXas
2. Barbara: Germany’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at this month’s Academy Awards, “Barbara” follows a doctor (played by the ravishing Nina Hoss) as she finds herself expelled to a small rural hospital in Iron Curtain-era Germany. Although it did not make the final cut for the Oscar shortlist, the film is currently sitting pretty at 94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and was called “as smart, thoughtful and emotionally involving as just about anything that’s out there” by the Los Angeles Times. A horrifying tale of paranoia that is guaranteed to leave you drained, director Christian Petzold earned a Silver Bear for Best Director at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival for his work. (Feb. 8) Watch the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-l3VRf3enx8
1. Academy Award Nominated Shorts: Want to knock 15 films off your “movies to see before Oscar night” list? Then take a few hours to check out this phenomenal batch of nominated short films, running the gamut from documentary to animation to live-action. With films as long as 42 minutes (“Inocente”) and as short as 1 minute and 46 seconds (the brilliant “Fresh Guacamole”), you’re never quite sure what to expect from this innovative, poignant bunch. See them separately on days of your choosing or take off an evening for the full 15 – either way, you’re giving your Oscar pool at work a huge advantage. (Feb. 1) Watch the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKQr5WOMLPU