Beginning of the year films are usually a waste

Patrick Hart

January, February, and March are referred to as awards season by movie industry insiders. The months are littered with the customary Oscar-caliber films released at the end of the previous year. 2005’s crop of contending films include Martin Scorseses’s latest attempt at Oscar gold, the Howard Hughes biopic “The Aviator,” Clint Eastwood’s female boxing drama “Million Dollar Baby” and the independent buddy comedy “Sideways” from auteur Alexander Payne. These prestigious films attract audiences wondering what the hype is about. The rising box-office grosses of these films coincide with the numerous awards thrown at them. Studios focus all of their attention and their publicity machines spend millions of dollars promoting these epic pieces of filmmaking. By doing so they avoid the obvious question the movie going public is asking: Why arem ost films premiering at the beginning of the year awful and a waste of time?

Just take a look at the billboards of the local Cineplex. You’ll see the great thespian Ice Cube’s latest attempt at acting, the opus “Are We There Yet?,” a film for audiences who havebeen eagerly awaiting Cube’s follow-up to “Torque,” at least all three of them . Then there is “Hide and Seek,” another creepy child thriller starring Robert DeNiro, a once great actor slowly becoming the guy from “Meet the Parents”.

The list goes on and on. “Racing Stripes,” the Michael Keaton comeback vehicle “White Noise,” “Boogeyman,” the Dermot Mulroney comeback vehicle “The Wedding Date” and for the love of God, “Pooh’s Heffalump Movie.” I can’t even say the last one with a straight face because all I picture when I hear the title is a bear taking a dump in the woods.

What’s pathetic is Americans apparently enjoy these abominations. “Are We There Yet?” has grossed over$50 million, which is surely a sign of the apocalypse. I will admit I have not seen any of these films, but just seeing their titles does not pique my interest. Now that we are in March, I was hoping maybe the quality of films would improve.

Unfortunately, I was dead wrong. Before a screening of the surprisingly entertaining “Hitch”, I was subjected to an endless barrage of previews, including one for “Man of the House,” starring alleged Oscar-winner Tommy Lee Jones and Cedric the Entertainer. I never thought I would see the two actors in the same film, but sure enough, some studiohead thought it would be an ingenious idea to pair up Lee Jones and a comedian known best for Bud Light commercials. I’m guessing that nobody in America is saying “Tommy Lee Jones and Cedric the Entertainer together at last.” Things have gotten so bad that movie studios are recycling the titles of these crappy films. I may be mistaken, but wasn’t “Man of the House” the title of a forgettable Chevy Chase film (is there any other kind?) where he played the father-in law of the annoying kid from “Home Improvement”? Movie studios reusing titles is proof January and February are a dumping ground for bad movies. Studio heads are too busy promoting their prestige films that they forget the movie season is not relegated to just the summer and the end of the year holiday season. The few months preceding and following the summer have become a barren wasteland in terms of film quality mainly because those are the times when audiences are more likely to stay at home. Studios figure they can air their dirty laundry without anyone noticing.

So little attention is paid to these dreadful films that they open without any advance notice. The other day I saw an ad for “The Son of the Mask”, another Jim Carrey-less sequel, for the first time and the film has probably already gone straight to DVD. Most of the films currently appearing in theaters are without a doubt a waste of time and money, so there shouldn’t be million dollar publicity campaigns promoting them. However, movie studios should not wait to release not only their great films, but even their good ones until the end of the year just so they can receive awards and loads of press.

“Finding Neverland” featuring Johnny Depp wasfilmed over two years ago before the actor appeared in 2003’s “Pirates of the Caribbean”,but was put on the shelf until last December to capitalize on the Oscar buzz surrounding the film. Obsessed with winning awards, movie studios hold back on releasing potentially great films until the end of the year because the films will be considered new come Oscar voting time. During the rest of the year the studios release disposable films people are embarrassed to say they paid to see. Audiences should not have to wait eleven months to see a memorable film.

With DVD sales more profitable these days than theater returns, it’s understandable why films at this time are appalling because studios don’t want to waste their time promoting an inferior product, but the movie going public is losing out. Theater audiences are dwindling and will continue to. Unless millions of Americans feel the urge to pony up $10 each to see “You Got Served 2.”