It's commonly known as the sophomore jinx. You see it in athletes, musicians and sometimes film auteurs. The jinx is a dip in quality after an early success. That first season/album/flick has a person's whole life in it — years of challenges, lessons, passion, blood, sweat and soul. To hit big as a rookie takes everything you've got.
But it works, and then you've made it and suddenly everyone says, "Okay do it again. You've got 11 months." Before you've even become accustomed to having "made it," you're expected to make it again, but better. And your second movie – it's okay. But if it's not a step up, it's a disappointment.
And that sucks. So you take some time off (the studios give you some), reassess and get comfortable with the way things work before re-energizing and coming back with something to prove. And if you're really any good, if it wasn't just luck, that third film knocks the pants off people and the sophomore jinx is over.
It doesn't always work to that exact numerology. Arnofsky made two bangers Pi, and Requiem for a Dream before art/jinxing-out with The Fountain then coming back Academy Award-style with The Wrestler and Black Swan.
Christopher Nolan made the groundbreaking, time-mangling Memento then followed with Robin Williams in Insomnia before bringing the house down with his Batman/Dark Knight trilogy and Inception. All of Wes Anderson's films are amazing but it's hard to argue against his third, The Royal Tenenbaums, as his best.
The jinx falls again Friday with the opening of Rian Johnson's Looper. Rian's first flick was teenage noir Brick, followed by the nothing-really-wrong-with-but-kinda-underwhelming Brothers Bloom. But Looper is as hot as an Habanero enema and as tight as the air inside a balloon.
The premise for Looper maybe a bit logically unsound but who cares? It's a move, Johnson sets up his world/rules masterfully and builds off a great idea: in the pretty distant future time travel exists but the criminal underworld controls it. When they need to knock someone off they send him 30 years back in time (to the near future) to meet paid killers like Joesph Gordon Levitt (Brick, 500 Days of Summer) — it's a hit and a body disposal all in one.
Everything works awesomely until one day the mob bosses from the future decide to close the loop and clean everything up, so they send future Joe back for younger Joe to handle (and he'll get a very healthy payout and 30 years to live if he does so) but "Future Joe" is Bruce Willis and that guy dies hard. Cue the awesomeness.
Johnson is a style-guy with a nostalgic love for cinema history. With Looper, he mixes elements of cool from the last 50 years with invented ones from the next 50 into a crazy, complex film that's served up in a smart and sensible way. This is the best time-travel mind-bender since 12 Monkeys, the 1995 Terry Gilliam masterpiece also starring Bruce Willis.
Also opening this week: empowered mothers fight for education in Won't Back Down and Hotel Transylvania is a Sandler/Samberg cartoon about Dracula and his daughter. You can tell by the title that it bites ass rather than tears throat.
Bonus: Type almost any actor's name into Google and add the words "bacon number".
Google will tabulate how many films it takes to link that actor to Kevin Bacon. Corey Haim, for example, starred in The Lost Boys with Dianne Wiest and Diane and Kevin Bacon both appeared in the original Footloose. Corey Haim's Bacon number is two.