Jennifer Merin(WOMENSENEWS)–Think of the January movie release calendar as Hollywood’s post-holiday diet menu. The annual seasonal film feast is over, and whatever is put up on the screens is generally less appealing.

Not that there aren’t new releases. Hollywood still wants its fat box office.

The first projected blockbuster of the year, "Green Hornet," won’t appeal much to those with feminist appetites. It’s a spoofy take in 3-D on the classic action hero. It stars Seth Rogan as Britt Reid, a philandering trust fund kid who commits to doing good when his media mogul dad suddenly dies and he inherits a newspaper and a karate-chopping assistant named Kato, who surprises him with the groovy Green Hornet car and a cache of crime-fighting gadgets. Michel Gondry directed the film. Disappointing.

You won’t find much to chew on in the first female-directed film of the year, either. That would be Shana Feste’s "Country Strong," opening Jan. 5 and rolling out a predictable tale of a blond country music superstar (Gwyneth Paltrow) sprung too soon from rehab by a self-centered husband-manager who wants to see her playing the big arenas again.

There is substantial fare in "The Woodmans," a documentary directed by Scott Willis. The film looks at George and Betty Woodman and their son George–a family of artists–who struggle through the emotional devastation of the 1981 suicide of their daughter-sister Francesca Woodman, a highly talented and deeply troubled photographer who featured herself in compositions of distress and torture. The film is an affecting meditation on the creative, both its up and down sides. It opens Jan. 19 in (unfortunately) limited release. Look for it to be broadcast or streamed or released on DVD by Lorber Films.

Calorie-Loaded, Little Nutrition

Jan. 21 brings a new romcom by Ivan Reitman, director of "Ghostbusters" and "My Super Ex-Girlfriend." This film, "No String Attached," stars Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher as singles struggling to maintain their best-friends-forever status while being sexual playmates. The original title was "Fuckbuddies" (I kid you not)–and that just about says it all. It’s hard to fathom why Portman–who’s stirring such "Best Actress" Oscar buzz for her performance in "Black Swan"–would participate in this slightly distasteful treacle, with too many calories and too little nutrition.

Jan. 28 opens the screens to "From Prada To Nada," a modern Latina version of "Sense and Sensibility." The screenplay is by Fina Torres, best known for her writing and directing of the 1985 "Oriana," in which a woman returns to a Venezuelan ranch, where she spent time as a girl, to learn secrets about her aunt. In this new film, Torres adapts Jane Austen’s classic novel about a family’s reduced circumstances to well-heeled Mexican Americans whose reversal of fortune drives them into the shelter of poorer relatives in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. From there it’s all about the awakening awareness and appreciation of cultural roots.

Also opening Jan. 28, "When We Leave," is Germany’s official Academy Awards submission. It’s about a German-born Turkish woman (Sibel Kekilli) who flees her oppressive marriage in Istanbul and returns to Berlin, hoping for a better life for herself and her son. Instead, her tradition-bound family decides to return her son to his father in Turkey. Struggling to keep her son, she finds herself in peril. This substantial film opens in only limited release. If you don’t find it in a theater near you, look for it later in the year on DVD, from Olive Films.

Academy Awards Buzz

Natalie Portman in "Black Swan."One of the reasons film pickings are so slim during January is that the industry–and many movie fans–is focused so intently on all things Academy Awards. The presentation doesn’t take place until Feb. 27, but the excitement escalates after the nominations, which will be announced on Jan. 25.

Now is the time to see films with big Oscars buzz: The femme-helmed "Winter’s Bone" (Debra Granik) and "The Kids Are All Right" (Lisa Cholodenko), and the femme-centric "Black Swan" and "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo." More to look out for: "The King’s Speech," "The Social Network," "True Grit," "Inception," "The Fighter" and others–all covered in previous columns.

As president of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, I also want to put in a plug for our 2010 EDA Awards. The winners will be announced today. We present these awards to honor the year’s best (and worst) cinema accomplishments, and to provide movie goers with a checklist of must-see award-worthy films of particular interest to women. Most of the films are enjoying extended or second runs at theaters nationwide, and are widely advertised.

Don’t fast with January’s slim pickings; feast on 2010’s finest.

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In addition to covering film for Women’s eNews, Jennifer Merin writes about documentaries for ( and is president of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists (, a nonprofit organization of the leading women film journalists in the U.S. and Canada.

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Film columns for 2010:

Alliance of Women Film Journalists :