It’s that time of year ― time to catch the long list of Oscar-bait movies you couldn’t possibly have completed last year. In the rush to be eligible for Academy Awards, studios rushed a whole ton of movies into theaters right around the holidays, and most people spend January and February catching up on Zero Dark Thirty, The Impossible, Django Unchained, and other likely nominees they may have missed.

That’s why this early winter season is known as the “dumping ground” for schlocky major releases that don’t even hope to compete with awards season favorites in terms of quality. Mediocre action, horror, and suspense tend to dominate the new releases as counter-programming for all those high-quality dramas still in theaters.

However, we have noticed a handful of appealing titles amidst the Oscar season run-off. It’s just enough to give us something new to look forward to in the weeks leading up to the Oscars.

Here are 6 new movies to look forward to before Oscar night on February 24!

 

1. Gangster Squad

If not for the horrifying massacre in Aurora last summer, Gangster Squad would have opened by now. Instead, the film’s ending ― depicting a shooting in a movie theater ― had to be altered out of sensitivity to the victims and their families. Of course, now Gangster Squad is opening in the wake of yet another tragic shooting, but let’s not hold that against this slick-looking crime drama starring Ryan Gosling as a cop, Emma Stone as his love interest, and a badass supporting cast with Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, and Nick Nolte. It opens next Friday.

 

2. Struck By Lightning

Most people agree, Chris Colfer is just about the best thing on Glee. Even those who don’t like the show find his smart and sassy character Kurt appealing. So what better way for Chris to broaden his appeal than write and star in his own high school comedy? This way, we can finally see Chris display his trademark wit without bursting into an Auto-Tuned pop song cover every 3 minutes, and the supporting cast contains a lot of our faves like Rebel Wilson, Christina Hendricks, and Allison Janney. This smarter-than-average teen comedy opens right around the corner on January 11.

 

3. Broken City

Mark Wahlberg has starred in his share of iffy thrillers over the years ― The Happening and Contraband come to mind, but just barely ― but this one could be promising, based on the trailer. He plays a former cop hired to tail the mayor’s philandering wife, but surprise! Things are not what they appear to be. Catherine Zeta-Jones stars as the femme fatale and Russell Crowe plays the corrupt mayor. See, this is how we like our Russell Crowe ― not singing. It’s in theaters January 18.

 

4. Warm Bodies

Well, if it works for vampires… Warm Bodies is a “zom-rom-com” about a living dead boy and the still-human girl he falls for, warming his zombie heart. Nicholas Hoult, who will be a breakout star in 2013 thanks to this and Jack the Giant Slayer, plays the flesh-eating stud in question. Based on the amusing 4-minute clip we saw yesterday, this is a date movie that actually might appeal to both the girls and the guys, just in time for Valentine’s Day!

 

5. Side Effects

Okay, so it’s not exactly Magic Mike 2, but Side Effects does have Channing Tatum reteaming with his Magic Mike and Haywire director Steven Soderbergh for a thriller about the perils of prescription pills. The rest of the cast, featuring Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Jude Law, isn’t too shabby either. Given how tense Contagion was about a widespread virus epidemic, we can only imagine Soderbergh’s Side Effects will inspire a similar paranoia about what we’re putting into our bodies (as the trailer suggests). It’s out February 8.

 

6. Identity Thief

It can be awfully hard to tell whether a comedy is going to work based on the trailer, but we’re willing to extend Melissa McCarthy the benefit of the doubt. After all, it’s not just anyone who can get a Best Supporting Actress nomination from a gross-out comedy flick, but she was definitely one of Bridesmaids’ many highlights. Now she stars as a trashy lady who steals Jason Bateman’s identity ― and definitely doesn’t get away with it. We’ve seen a ton of mismatched buddy comedies over the years with mixed results, but these two could potentially be a comedic dream team.

 

Which early release of 2013 are you most looking forward to?