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There Are Six Very Good Reasons to Go to the Movies This January

When it comes to smaller, independent films–including labors of love, pictures whose makers have fought for years to bring to life–January could go down as a mini golden age of cinema. The range of extraordinary new films you can see right now in theaters, or even on Netflix, is unusually vast. Unlike last year at this time, when the two awards front runners leading the conversation were Moonlight and La La Land, with little in between, the field this year is wide open and multitextured. What’s more, many of these films address–in either subtle or direct ways, and nearly always with a dose of humor–the social and cultural issues that have come to preoccupy so many of us in this flash-point era of anxiety and uncertainty.

Many of these titles opened in limited release in the fall, when you could catch them only in a few markets; now, in the fallow season of January, when studios often dump their least promising films, the fall’s best films are finally at the multiplex. Yet these aren’t eat-your-spinach movies–drab, dutiful pictures that you know you ought to see but find every excuse to avoid. Dramatically rich, gracefully crafted and either profoundly or joyously moving, these are all movies worthy not just of awards but of your hard-earned free time.

Guillermo del Toro’s romantic fantasy The Shape of Water was born of the director’s lifelong love of misunderstood movie creatures. “Since childhood I’ve been faithful to monsters,” he said as he accepted the Golden Globe for Best Director earlier this month. “I’ve been saved and absolved by them.” That goes for this movie’s lead character too: Sally Hawkins gives a lustrous, affecting performance as a young woman who is unable to speak, who makes a living as a cleaning lady at a

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