Nine Movies You May Have Missed in the First Quarter of 2023
Plus why many refer to these months as "dumpuary"
The first three months of the year are a weird time for movies. Most of Hollywood and media are still catching up on films that they missed from the previous year, festivals are starting to gear up, and the Oscars occupy most of the headspace for the industry. My approach to this chunk of the calendar has always been to take it slow. October through December each year is hectic with the amount of new releases, so taking a break from new things is always warranted this time of year. During this breather from new films, I like to focus in on catching up on old stuff during these months. I should clarify, not every new release during the first three months of the year is automatically bad. However, the ceiling for films released during this time is often mediocre, nothing more, nothing less (aside from the festival stuff, which I am not counting in this).
For quite some time now, the first three months of the year, specifically February, have been known as dumpuary. The name primarily stems from the idea that studios to dump their films that test poorly in these months. Often each studio will try to drop a crowd pleasing movie into this window so that it has room to run (Sony did it this year with Jesus Revolution, Disney did it with Ant Man 3, Paramount did it with Scream 6, and Warner Brothers did it with Creed III). Aside from these fan favorite films, studios normally aren’t dropping their best stuff during dumpuary.
Releases during this time may feel big at the moment but that is often because they exist within a vacuum of mediocrity and the worst of the worst that the studio system has to offer. Almost never do you get to the end of the year and have a movie in your top ten of the year that came out during January, February, or March. The fascinating thing is that Hollywood knows this and does this intentionally each year. But why exactly is that? Here are a few reasons:
Film festival and awards schedule
Sundance/Santa Barbara/Palm Springs/Rotterdam all take place in January while SXSW normally takes place in Feb/March. Since most of the more renowned film critics are tied up with covering those festivals, there is more of an opportunity for the films released during this window to fly under the radar and drum up some decent box office numbers without too many harsh reviews (the same thing happens in August/early September when the fall festival slate kicks off).
Over the course of January-March all of the major awards shows take place, including the Oscars. Most of the Hollywood attention is on these events over that period and anything else is essentially white noise. Additionally, most studio resources and marketing departments are going towards campaigning their nominees, not promoting the films during this window.
The Super Bowl
The Super Bowl essentially ruins an entire weekend at the box office with all of the attention it garners both from a media perspective and from a culture perspective.
The movie release calendar is centered around two times of the year.
The best family films come out during the summer and the best awards films come out during the end of the year. If the film is already testing poorly during test screenings, you might as well put it out at a time when other studios aren’t putting out their best stuff - trash may not look like trash when it is surrounded by other trash.
In some parts of the country, the snow can prohibit the moviegoing experiencing for much of this time of year. However, I think the bigger thing to note is that the films released during this time are normally so bad that the last thing they need is something else to compete with. You mainly only release movies in the summer that you know can compete against the great weather, which isn’t an issue in February since the weather is often so bad. We have all had weekends over the winter where it is just so miserably cold that the movies are one of the only ideal things to get out of the house and do, when that is the case you don’t care if the film is amazing or not, you just care it is a film.
While I like to focus on older films during dumpuary, I have been checking out a few new releases over the past three months both on streamers and in theaters. While none of them warranted a longer, in-depth review, I wanted to provide some quick thoughts on each for anybody trying to vet if they were worth watching.
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Cocaine Bear (Theaters)
My thoughts - When a film is titled “Cocaine Bear”, you aren’t going to the film to see a heartfelt family drama with meaningful character arcs, you are going to see a bear on cocaine do some crazy things. While the latter happens to some extent, the film tries to hard to be an actual film (very poorly I might add) that it gets in the way of the zany plot. While a few parts of the film work, overall the comedy felt awkward and extremely forced while Elizabeth Banks direction fell flat.
Rating - 2/5
Ant Man and the Wasp, Quantumania (Theaters)
My thoughts - In some ways it is very fitting that the new “big bad” of the Marvel universe makes his first film appearance in an Ant Man movie given how miniscule he makes the rest of the MCU feel. In other ways it is just plain silly. While Jonathan Majors take the standards for Marvel villains to new heights, the film struggles to find its way when he isn’t on screen and looks visually appalling in the process. I am by no means an expert when it comes to CGI, but this is one of the worst looking films I have ever seen.
Rating - 1.5/5
Sharper (Apple TV+)
My thoughts - While I ultimately wish the characters were more fully formed and we had a deeper understanding of their background and motives, Sharper serves as a solid thriller with some fun twists and turns that makes for a fun way to spend two hours. Julianne Moore delivers a fantastic performances and runs circles around the rest of the cast in the process.
Rating - 3/5
You People (Netflix)
My thoughts - So much of this movie doesn’t work AT ALL. However, there is no denying that there were parts that made me laugh hard, which has to count for something in a time where most comedies aren’t funny at all. So maybe stay away from this one if you are looking for a great film, but if you want to laugh, it is a great option.
Rating - 2.5/5
Jesus Revolution (Theaters)
My thoughts - It’s beyond exciting to me that large studios are willing to make movies like this. For so long audiences have shown up to support projects like this even though the quality was beyond horrific. While some religious people will knit pick things in this film from a theological standpoint, I think that is a silly endeavor. This film looks and feels more high caliber than almost 99% of the other Christian films released throughout the years. Everything before was a cheesy, inspiring story that was just put into a visual medium very cheaply and poorly (minus a few exceptions), Jesus Revolution is an actual movie. Honestly, I believe this is the most fully formed Christian movie ever put out by Hollywood. Huge leap forward for these types of stories being told on the big screen.
Creed III (Theaters)
My thoughts - Props to Michael B. Jordan because I wouldn’t of had the guts for my directorial debut to be a film where I have to act opposite Jonathan Majors. Every film in the Rocky franchise lives and dies by the opponent that either Rocky or Creed are facing. The great news for Creed III is that Jonathan Majors does a heck of a job playing this role and taking to new heights what it means to be a villain in the Rocky franchise. While this is great, it weakens the impact that Michael B. Jordan has on screen. Jordan doesn’t shy from the challenge of this being his directorial debut, but there are a few creative choices that he made (specifically during the final fight) that are headscratchers for me and dampen how special the film could have been. Overall, still a lot of fun if you enjoy the Rocky films or boxing movies in general.
Rating - 3.5/5
My thoughts - Expectations are everything when you walk into a film - for those that walked into this expecting to be scared out of their minds & hoping to see the next great horror film, this had to be a huge disappointment. I walked into already knowing the meme that M3GAN has become, so I was expecting to have a good time and laugh a little. From that perspective, the film did not disappoint. M3GAN is by no stretch of the imagination a great film, but it does know its place and doesn’t try to take itself seriously at all. One wouldn’t think that a film about a life-like AI doll that turns evil and starts murdering people would be funny, but I am yet to laugh harder at a 2023 film. If you are looking for an easy watch that you can laugh at and not have to think too hard, M3GAN is a perfect candidate.
Rating - 3/5
Knock at the Cabin (Peacock)
My thoughts - You never quite know what M. Night Shyamalan has up his sleeve, but it normally is dark and twisted and his latest, Knock at the Cabin, is no different. This apocalyptical thriller wastes no time getting right to the point and actually serves as a pretty great commentary on belief and misinformation. Much of the film dives into the themes of what is real vs. not and how far you are willing to take your beliefs. A career defining performance by Dave Bautista anchors the film and pushes the limits of what I thought was possible for him to achieve on screen. Shyamalan has had the utter misfortune of being labeled as “the crazy twist guy” by much of the media, so if you are expecting that, this film will disappoint. The script could be tighter and the pacing lags at times, but overall, a solid end of the world thriller - be warned though, it is dark.
Rating - 3.5/5
Boston Strangler (Hulu)
My thoughts - Boston Strangler is essentially what it would have looked like if David Fincher put out a half-baked version of Zodiac. The stories are very similar as they both center around journalists who are trying to solve a serial killer case that still to this day haven’t been solved. There are moments in Boston Strangler that you can feel are actually a direct homage to Zodiac in the way they are set up and shot. Problem is, Boston Strangler can’t match the masterclass in tension, pacing, and suspense that Fincher puts on in Zodiac. To be fair, Boston Strangler isn’t a bad film and it actually has stretches where it actually really worked for me, it just may not have been wise to tell a similar story in a similar way as one of the greats to ever do it - it sets you up for failure. The film works as a history lesson, as a history lesson on what actually happened during the Boston Strangler investigation, but as a film it falls short.
Rating - 3/5
While these weren’t all of the buzzy releases this Dumpuary or even all of the films I caught, hopefully it can help you sort through the noise of what is worth a watch and what should be skipped all together. The great news for everyone is that the dreaded first three months of the year are officially behind us and April has some films on the slate that on paper will be excellent. Time will tell!
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