As 2013 drew to a close, most critics and film fans were salivating over the impressive movies that have hit theaters in the past few weeks: The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, American Hustle, Inside Llewyn Davis, and even holdovers like Philomena and Nebraska. How can you possibly choose from such an embarrassment of riches?
Unfortunately, that's as good as it's going to get for a while. With their big, star-studded awards show contenders in theaters just in time for Christmas, Hollywood is spending January and February releasing all the garbage that didn't fit into the rest of their schedule for the year. It's an annual tradition, but 2014's lineup is looking particularly ugly.
So let's face facts: Most of the movies hitting theaters in January and February will probably be terrible. With that in mind, here's our guide to the movies you should — or in many cases, shouldn't — plan to see over the next two months:
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
What it is: This spin-off of the insanely lucrative Paranormal Activity franchise follows a young man who wakes up with a mysterious bite mark on his arm after visiting an apartment filled with black magic paraphernalia. As it turns out, he's been "marked," which means it's time for the usual Paranormal Activity treatment: Demonic possessions, jump scares, and a whole lot of shaky cam.
Why you should care: The Paranormal Activity franchise took last year off, so anyone who enjoys its particular brand of horror is probably jonesing for another installment; at the very least, The Marked Ones should tide fans over until Paranormal Activity 5 arrives in October. There's also the chance that this spin-off might be able to throw off the Paranormal Activity franchise's needlessly convoluted backstory and get back to being creepy. Still, if you're not already a fan, I see no reason why you should care.
What else is coming out: Nothing. You could always catch up on something you missed in December instead.
The Legend of Hercules
What it is: Twilight beefcake Kellan Lutz attempts to launch his very own franchise as Hercules in a movie that's (very) loosely based on the mythological hero. When his girlfriend is wedded off to another man as part of a political deal, Hercules vows to win her back. Slow-motion sword fighting ensues.
Why you should care: You probably shouldn't. The Legend of Hercules looks like a warmed-over 300 with a star who's somehow even less charismatic than Gerard Butler. And if you're really desperate for another 300, good news! The prequel/sequel 300: Rise of an Empire comes out in March, so you can just wait for that instead.
What else is coming out: Nothing new, but Her and Lone Survivor are expanding into wide release. Either one is a safer bet than The Legend of Hercules.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
What it is: A reboot of the long-running thriller franchise based on Tom Clancy's most famous creation. Star Trek's Chris Pine takes over the title role from a string of actors that has included Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck.
Why you should care: The Sum of All Fears was a misstep, but the Jack Ryan movies have reliably provided thrills, and Chris Pine is a fine choice to take over the franchise. Then again, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was originally scheduled for a plum Christmas Day release, and was pushed back to the dregs of mid-January at the 11th hour. The decision might have saved Jack Ryan from being overlooked in the glut of movies hitting theaters in December, but it doesn't suggest that Paramount has a lot of confidence that the character will have a big comeback.
What else is coming out: Ride Along, an action comedy about a hard-edged cop (Ice Cube) giving his would-be brother-in-law a taste of a cop's life; The Nut Job, a dismal looking children's animated comedy about squirrels featuring the voices of Will Arnett and Katherine Heigl; Reasonable Doubt, a generic-looking crime thriller about the hunt for a killer, which stars Samuel L. Jackson and Dominic Cooper Devil's Due, another low-budget entry in the insanely oversaturated found-footage horror genre. This one is about demonic possession, or whatever.
What it is: This seriously bizarre riff on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein casts Aaron Eckhart as a brooding, superhuman version of Frankenstein's monster who ends up caught in the middle of a war between demons and gargoyles. If that sounds weirdly similar to the werewolves vs. vampires franchise Underworld, it's for a good reason: I, Frankenstein is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Kevin Grevioux, who conceived (and appeared in) the Underworld franchise.
Why you should care: When it was first announced, it sounded like I, Frankenstein might offer some goofy thrills of the "so bad it's good" variety à la January 2013's tongue-in-cheek, surprisingly not terrible Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Unfortunately, every piece of promotional material for I, Frankenstein has indicated that the filmmakers are taking this dumb idea way too seriously. Skip it.
What else is coming out: Nothing. Come on, Hollywood, we deserve better than this.
That Awkward Moment
What it is: Three young men promise each other they won't end up in relationships, but struggle to keep the promise after each of them meets the women of his dreams.
Why you should care: It's a dumb, annoyingly contrived premise, but there are some likable actors who might be able to carry it off — particularly Michael B. Jordan, who's coming off a major breakout performance as Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station. Plus, Imogen Poots is in it, so we'll all have an excuse to say her name all week.
What else is coming out: Nothing again! Seriously! But Labor Day — which recently netted Kate Winslet a Golden Globe nomination — is expanding into wide release.
The Monuments Men
What it is: The true story of an Allied effort to preserve important works of art before Hitler could have them destroyed.
Why you should care: Until it was unceremoniously delayed from an intended December 18, 2013 release date, The Monuments Men looked like one of the frontrunners for Best Picture at the Oscars this year. The cast — which includes George Clooney, Matt Damon, Billy Murray, John Goodman, and Cate Blanchett — is one of the most stacked in recent memory. And the story is pure Oscar bait: The kind of fascinating historical narrative that propelled the similarly pitched Argo to a Best Picture win. The delay leaves The Monuments Men in a strange place for awards season consideration, but it's far and away the most promising movie coming out in wide release over the next two months.
What else is coming out: The Lego Movie, an animated comedy featuring the voice of Will Arnett, and probably the only place you'll get to see Batman and Han Solo sharing the big screen; Nurse 3D, a horror movie that somehow looks even worse than its title would suggest.
What it is: A PG-13 remake of the beloved, legendarily bloody 1987 action blockbuster of the same name, starring The Killing's Joel Kinnaman in the title role.
Why you should care: There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the Robocop remake. The last time someone remade a Paul Verhoeven movie was last year's Total Recall, which was a bland, sanitized mess, and the PG-13 rating feels like a cynical grab for a totally different audience. But there are two points in the movie's favor: A strong supporting cast that includes Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman, and Samuel L. Jackson, and a possibility for satire every bit as biting and timely as the Cold War–era satire of the original. Let's hope relatively untested director José Padilha can pull it off.
What else is coming out: About Last Night, a romantic comedy chronicling two new relationships, starring Kevin Hart, Regina Hall, Michael Ealy, and Joy Bryant; Winter's Tale, an incomprehensible-looking romantic drama with an overqualified cast that includes Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, and Russell Crowe; Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters, another cynical attempt to reach the Twilight crowd; and Endless Love, a remake of the 1981 drama of the same name featuring Alex Pettyfer, who inexplicably keeps accepting lead roles in garbage like this.
The Wind Rises
What it is: Director Hayao Miyazaki's final film offers a fictionalized riff on the true story of Jiro Horikoshi, an airplane designer who saw his ingenious creations used for violence during World War II.
Why you should care: Miyazaki is one of the few true geniuses of animation, and most critics who have seen The Wind Rises have lauded it as yet another stellar creation that uses the medium to tell a uniquely bittersweet story. See it with the original Japanese vocal track if you can, but if the English dub is your only option, you could do worse: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt lead a cast of first-rate English actors eager to do justice to the original.
What else is coming out: Three Days to Kill, which casts Kevin Costner in place of Liam Neeson in a Taken knock-off; Pompeii, a goofy-looking historical action movie that's a thinly veiled vehicle for Kit Harington (better known as Game of Thrones's Jon Snow).
What it is: The latest entry in Liam Neeson's improbable late-career renaissance as an action star, which casts him as an air marshal being framed as a hijacker by a mysterious assailant.
Why you should care: If you follow my advice and avoid pretty much everything hitting theaters in January and February, you've probably seen all the good stuff you missed from December and caught up on all the Oscar winners you were curious about. After all that drama, you might be in the mood for a dopey thriller starring an actor who's way too good for the material he's delivering. This is your best bet.
What else is coming out: The Son of God, a shameless cash-in on History Channel's wildly successful The Bible miniseries, which re-cuts a bunch of the Jesus scenes into a feature-length movie. If you're interested, stay home and watch the whole miniseries on DVD instead.