Is it time to stop dumping on "Dumpuary?"
We all know now’s not the best time of year to go to the movies. Over at Grantland.com, Robert Mays dubs the months of January and February “Dumpuary,” a fitting name for a season that has become known as Hollywood’s dumping ground for its most hopeless projects. In his piece, Mays spends an entire Dumpuary weekend at the biggest multiplex in Los Angeles, watching every single movie at the theater in an apparent attempt to kill himself. Somehow he survived, even through a bowel-clenchingly terrifying double feature of Katherine Heigl and talking chipmunks. To borrow the title of a particularly unpromising Dumpuary release (the words Dumpuary and release just go together so well, don’t they?), it’s enough to make a man go out on a ledge.
This is a fun idea for an article and a terrible idea for weekend plans; man was not meant to live on movies alone. And, sure, Mays endures some truly terrible films in his efforts to, um, to be honest, I’m not really sure what he’s trying to do (other than, y’know, see if you can literally overdose on movies). I suppose the intent here was to have some fun at the expense of Hollywood and its half-baked early-year product line. But if that’s the case, his piece had the opposite of its intended effect: he convinced me that, contrary to January’s reputation (and its clever new Dumpuary monicker), things are looking pretty good in the world of cinema right now.
At the start of the year, I made my own list of suggestions for how to brighten up the cinematic dog days. As we reach the end of Dumpuary, I look back on them and realize that, this year at least, we didn’t really need them. Yes, we’ve had our share of men on ledges and awakening underworlds and devils on the inside. But January and early February have also featured a hefty number of solid-to-excellent entertainment options. Mays saw some of them during his multiplex binge, including HAYWIRE, THE GREY, and CONTRABAND. The first five weeks of 2012 have also given us CHRONICLE, THE INNKEEPERS, NEWLYWEDS, KILL LIST, CORIOLANUS, and ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA. Now your appreciation of these films may vary — you could like some and hate others — but in my estimation those are nine interesting movies, almost two per week. That’s a pretty good average for any time of year.
When I look at all those interesting films, I see the start of a trend that I hope will continue. A Dumpuary release comes with low risks and lower expectations, and that appears to offer filmmakers the opportunity to take chances with their material. If Joe Carnahan and Liam Neeson were making THE GREY for a summer audience, it would have to be the cartoonish wolf-punching gooffest its trailers suggested. In January, it was allowed to be a far richer meditation on mortality and religion (with a little wolf-punching in it). If Steven Soderbergh was tied to a mid-July release date for HAYWIRE, an executive might have forced him to cast a more bankable lead than professional MMA fighter Gina Carano. In January, Soderbergh got to apply his naturalistic side from films like BUBBLE and THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE to the surreal confines of the action genre. The result had conventional thrills with unconventional curiosities. It’s hard to imagine that combination popping up in multiplexes at any other time of the year.
Plus, let’s not forget that two of the roughest viewing experiences Mays endured — CHIPWRECKED and EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE — were released in December, not January, which is supposed to be the opposite of Dumpuary in terms of the quality of big titles. So maybe Dumpuary isn’t a time of a year. Maybe it’s really a state of mind.