January is chronically the worst month of the year for movies as the studios release their back inventory of duds. But this month looks unusually promising. “Beauty and the Beast 3D” opens on January 13. That ballroom scene is going to be thrilling in 3D. And I can’t wait to tell you more about “Joyful Noise” with Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton as feuding gospel choir leaders. Parton has written three terrific new songs and the movie is a shot of sunshine to warm the chilliest winter day. I also loved “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” with Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock and junior Jeopardy champion Thomas Horn as a boy trying to make sense of his father’s loss on 9/11. Viola Davis and Max von Sydow give performances of heart-wrenching beauty. “Red Tails” is the story of WWII war heroes the Tuskegee Airmen. “The Undefeated,” coming out late January, is an uplifting documentary about the dedicated coach and players of a Memphis football team. “Carnage” has Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet in the story of two couples whose thin veneer of civility dissolves in a dispute over a schoolyard fight involving their sons.
And there’s some good news on television, too. One of my favorite new series of 2011 returns for a new season. “Switched at Birth” quickly transcended its outlandish premise for an engrossing drama about two very different families struggling to realign after discovering that their teenage daughters were — see the title. One family is wealthy and the other is not but the bigger divide is that one of the girls is hearing-impaired. The series’ respect for deaf culture is especially welcome. The exceptionally strong cast includes Katie Leclerc, Lucas Grabeel, Sean Berdy, and Constance Marie.
I’m also looking forward to the return of Royal Pains, though I hope there’s less Evan/Paige/Paige’s family drama, more for Hank to do than treat the patient of the week. I want to see lots more of Divya, too. Another of my favorites, Downton Abbey, returns to Masterpiece on January 8. Change comes even faster to the Earl of Grantham, his American-born wife, and their three daughters — beautiful and accomplished but unable to inherit the estate because they are female. WWI changes everything as men go off to war and injured soldiers are cared for in rooms once reserved for elegant tea service. (Fans must check out the hilarious Downton Abbey parody video produced as a charity fund-raiser.)
Project Runway All-Starslooks like fun, with fan favorites like Anthony, Sweet Pea, and Mondo and fashion superstar Isaac Mizrahi as one of the judges. The debut I am most eagerly anticipating is Smash, the backstage story of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe, produced by Steven Spielberg and starring “Will and Grace’s” Debra Messing, plus Oscar-winner Anjelica Houston, and American Idol star Katharine McPhee.
Here’s to a great year!