The Cruelest Month: Why Most Films Released in January are Terrible

Taken 3 - JanuaryJanuary’s the cruelest month, breeding

Redundancy in each frame, mixing

A-Listers and High Concepts, stirring

Dull plots with big names.

No offence to T.S. Eliot, the greatest of all American poets. His correspondence with Groucho Marx alone can make you feel better about the wit and wisdom that mankind is capable of.  But when it comes to the world of American film, he got it all wrong.  April, as he famously began his epic The Waste Land, is not even close to being the cruelest month.  That title would have to go to January.

Shall we do a quick recap of the month just concluded?  Here are mainstream American films that opened wide in January, 2015:

Black Sea

A largely derivative and predictable thriller which had a bit of moodiness and some genuinely tense action sequences.  Consider it a very poor man’s Alien, set underwater.  Congratulations, Black Sea, you are at the top of the January release class.

The Wedding Ringer

Kevin Hart is funny, and there are a few funny moments herein contained.  But this is certainly the odd man out in the Wedding Crashers, Wedding Singer, Wedding Ringer triumvirate.

The Boy Next Door

OK, if J-Lo being stalked by the world’s oldest teenager is third-best on any list, this is not a list you want to be associated with.

The Loft

Terrible.  Confusing.  Ugly.  Shrill.  But still better than…

Taken 3

Tired, repetitive, silly, not even close to being believable.  But still better than…

Blackhat

A world class computer hacker who is an MMA caliber street-fighter, marksman with a handgun, and who looks like Chris Hemsworth?  Yeah, that’s not a pure celluloid inanity.  But what’s worse is that he’s god-awful boring.  Bottom of the barrel stuff.  Except for …

Mortdecai

Preferable to a cystoscopy.  Not preferable to a colonoscopy.

Why oh why do movie producers inflict this upon us every January?  Well, it’s because they green light these things several years earlier with the best of intentions.  They become wedded to a concept or a star and sink millions into pre-production.  They figure the weak scripts will be magically transformed somewhere in the process.  By the time they realise that this was a truly bad idea, it is too late.  Rarely do projects get shelved at this late a date.

They just have their releases moved to January.

Summer is the time for the blockbuster.  Family films.  Superheroes.  The Fall signals the beginning of Awards Season.  The prestige pictures all come out, jockeying for position.  But January releases fall into one of three categories.  There are the cheap fillers.  We need something new so let’s stick Kevin Hart in a mediocrity and see if he can raise it up a bit.  There are also the high concept/big name movies that the studio realised were lemons.  These titles were initially slated to come out in the previous Fall, but cooler heads eventually realised that the movie just wasn’t very good. In competition against the smart award-worthy titles that flood the market as we near Christmas, these turkeys would be chewed up and spit out.  So, they are moved to – let’s just call it the “less competitive” window.  Can anyone say Monuments Men?

But then, there is some hope, because the third category contains the smaller movies with quieter premises and unknown stars.  And it is here you might find a gem.  So far, the best January release I have seen this year has been Desiree Akhavan’s Appropriate Behavior, a smart, witty and deadpan romcom.  It’s sort of a lesbian version of Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer from 2009.  Every year, there are a handful of movies that may have had a limited release late in the previous year in order to qualify for awards season, but then which open wide in January.  Spike Jonze’s Her did that in 2014.  The year before, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty did the same thing.  Depending on where you live, others good movies may have had their release in your local market delayed so that you don’t get them until January or later.

And if you don’t mind reading subtitles, foreign films can be a good bet in January.

Wedding RingerThings don’t really start to improve until we get close to May.  Sure, you may find a few more interesting titles beginning to emerge in February and March, but there’s not much need to seek out anything new until we get into April.  So I have to take issue with Eliot on this whole “cruelest month” thing.  New life, both in your garden and in your Cineplex, begins to show in April.

Since I do generally consider Eliot to be a genius, I will leave you with his well-known, but rarely-attributed couplet, about the first month of our year:

Disheartened by your local pix?

I’ve just two words for you – Net Flix

Maybe Eliot really did know his movies.

 

Jonathan Eig has taught Screenwriting and Film History at Montgomery College (MD) for the past ten years. In that capacity, he has hosted the popular Montgomery College Film Series at the American Film Institute in Silver Spring, MD. He has been a regular contributor on Huffington Post and his writing about film can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jon-eig/.

16 thoughts on “The Cruelest Month: Why Most Films Released in January are Terrible

  1. I hate that they cast really old people to play teenagers in a movie. In the boy next door, Ryan Guzman plays the high school student. He is 27. A little unbelievable. It is also hard to believe J LO as a teacher who acts like she is not good looking. This movie just sounds stupid. It is like Pretty Little Liars, those actors are all in their late 20’s and it just gets stupid watching them pretending they are in high school.

  2. Mortdecai is the only movie I knew from your list. It’s getting heavily publicised here. Perhaps the studio think we’ll shell out for anything that’s got Johnny Depp in it.

  3. Pingback: The Cruelest Month: Why Most Films Released in January are Terrible – CURNBLOG | Eclectic Pursuits

    • Cool list. I was wondering if this was a recent phenomenon or if this has been SOP for a long time. It’s not exactly a list of great movies, but at least suggests there can be interesting mainstream releases in January.

  4. I cracked up while reading this article, Jon–your Eliot parody is hilarious! But this piece is on point; January is cinematically cruel, dishing out the unwanteds and long-in-the-tooths as a way of earning any kind of return whatsoever on junk. And the movies you cite as being evidence of this are dead-on. It’s weird that January has become the garbage dump for this sort of thing, rather than a more positive forum for starting the film year anew. Oh, well. Cruelest month indeed.

    • Thanks Simon. Maybe someone with more historical perspective can weigh in on whether it was always thus, or whether this is a relatively recent phenomenon.

  5. Out of that lot, I only half-fancied Black Sea, and I am beginning to go off that too.
    Good call Jon, I am with you on these.
    Bill has a point though, it’s all about Oscar hype at this time of year, so why bother to release anything good that may detract from those?
    Regards from England. Pete.

  6. January is the month for catching up on the oscar nominees and overlooked films from the previous year. I saw 80 pictures last month, half of them pretty decent and a few real winners. Now there will be nothing of much value until September. Time to hit the archives.

    • My mistake, Bill, was seeing most of the American releases when they came out and not saving any for the fallow times. Fortunately, the foreign releases are trickling in, so I will be able to see Winter Nights and Mommy by week’s end.

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