Summer, as we all know, is the season of the blockbuster. Steven Soderbergh’s recent speech at the San Francisco International Film Festival accurately and ardently dug into the state of Hollywood filmmaking today and surely summer is the time that best represents the problems he speaks about. I highly recommend seeking out the transcript and/or video of his words, because despite the fact that some blockbusters turn out great, the system is out-of-control inflated and highly problematic. What’s more, considering that producers and studios are mainly out to make a profit, it’s befuddling to see how they’ve set themselves up to fail with the astronomical expenses spent on production and marketing. And as far as the ‘state of cinema’ goes, it doesn’t help that most of the people making decisions don’t actually know anything about telling a story. But this is all stuff we already knew and it’s certainly not a new opinion; Soderbergh just breaks it down for you from the inside out and as someone who has been through it.
I pride myself on my eclectic viewing habits. I’m not the sort to create an elitist self-imposed bubble of Kim Ki-duk’s or Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s. Nor am I the type to primarily drool over the extravagant franchise films. I look forward to a lot of different movies and while a portion of my anticipated choices are considerable releases, a giant chunk of widely anticipated films are being left off my list. Some, like The Great Gatsby, Pacific Rim, Iron Man 3 and The Wolverine, I want to see but they simply didn’t make the cut. Others, like The Hangover III, Fast and Furious 6, World War Z, The Lone Ranger, RED 2 and R.I.P.D, I couldn’t have less interest in. And it goes without saying there’s a ton more that didn’t make it, some I want to see (Byzantium, The Way, Way Back, etc.) and some I don’t (300: Rise of an Empire, 2 Guns. etc.)
So what did make the cut? Scroll down to find out and be sure to tell me your picks. I may have missed a few films and surely other release dates will be secured throughout the season and I’ll rectify the list as needed. The list covers US releases from May-August, which makes up what is commonly referred to as the summer movie season.
What are you most looking forward to?
30. Twenty Feet from Stardom (USA, Neville) (Documentary)
Summary: Backup singers live in a world that lies just beyond the spotlight. Their voices bring harmony to the biggest bands in popular music, but we’ve had no idea these singers are or what lives they lead, until now.
I latched onto the inspired idea behind this doc and found myself eager to learn more about the underexplored back-up singer’s experience.
29. The Spectacular Now (USA, Ponsoldt)
Summary: A hard-partying high school senior’s philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical “nice girl.”
A Sundance smash that’s lived through the initial hype phase to consistently impress has stayed on my radar.
28. Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story (USA, Bernstein) (Documentary)
Summary: Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story depicts one man’s wild, lifelong adventure of testing societal boundaries through his use of subversive art.
I’m always drawn to documentaries that profile artists and this looks to focus on an interestingly offbeat individual and his work.
27. The Conjuring (USA, Wan)
Summary: Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse. Forced to confront a powerful entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most terrifying case of their lives.
James Wan’s follow-up to the super-effective Insidious continues his trek into the spook-potential of (assumed) PG-13 land.
26. Blue Jasmine (USA, Allen)
Woody Allen’s latest could be a slam-dunk or instantly forgettable but hopefully it’s the former, especially with a cast like Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg and Louis CK (!!). Seriously, this is my favoriteWoody Allen cast since who knows when.
25. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (USA, Lowery)
Summary: The tale of an outlaw who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met.
Another Sundance smash with ferociously high buzz that peaked my interest and I can’t argue with Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and Ben Foster as the leads.
24. Monsters University (USA, Scanlon)
Summary: A look at the relationship between Mike and Sulley during their days at Monsters University — when they weren’t necessarily the best of friends.
2013’s Pixar release, a prequel-sequel to Monsters. Inc has me very excited if not ecstatically so. This is Dan Scanlon’s first film, so pressure’s on and we’ll see if he and his many collaborators can meet what I like to call the ‘Pixar bar’. Pixbar? Nah, ‘Pixar bar’ it is.
One of my favorite Shakespeare works re-told by one of my favorite present-day storytellers; the two are a weirdly perfect match and Whedon has filled the cast with his regulars. Who isn’t freaking out over the notion of Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker as Benedick and Beatrice?
#22. The East (USA/UK, Batmanglij)
Summary: An operative for an elite private intelligence firm finds her priorities irrevocably changed after she is tasked with infiltrating an anarchist group known for executing covert attacks upon major corporations.
This clearly has a boatload in common with Batmanglij/Brit Marling’s previous collaboration The Sound of My Voice. While flawed, there was a lot to like and admire there and they went refreshingly outside the box for their basic story and low-fi execution. I’m still not quite sold on Marling though; it’ll take more than a few solid efforts to wash the bile taste of Another Earth from my mouth.
21. Star Trek Into Darkness (USA, Abrams)
Summary: After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.
Somehow I’ve become a J.J Abrams apologist; sure, he’s a purely straight-arrow storyteller but I’ve flat-out loved every one of his films and count me a fan of the lens flare, thanks so much. I get to shed any Star Trek baggage that other people come to this franchise with, as I never have or never will be into Star Trek. Instead I get to take these films at face value, and as a consider-me-sold fan of the 2009 film, I’m definitely looking forward to this one. But maybe not so much the fandom explosions that I somehow cannot avoid though try I do.
#20. Man of Steel (USA, Snyder)
Summary: A young journalist is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race.
Now I wouldn’t call myself a Zach Snyder apologist; I’ve got more of a ‘let’s give him the benefit of the doubt before we start bitching about him’ stance. Because as we know, film bloggers love to spend a lot of their energy complaining. If he goes down, he’s going to go down trying; you have to give him that. The best parts of Watchmen are genuinely spectacular. Really, the whole film was overly bashed, unfortunate given how much there is to love. And though Sucker Punch is insanely problematic from start and finish, at least it’s a vision; a juvenile boy-jizzing vision to be sure, but a vision nonetheless. And Dawn of the Dead is a damn good flick, bar none. OK, rant over. I couldn’t give two shits about Superman. All I know is that the trailers for Man of Steel genuinely moved me. Like, they really did. They pulled on my apparently deeply latent sentimental heartstrings; all you need is some vocalizing and field-grazing. I’ll bite; let’s see what you’ve got for us this time Mr. Snyder.
#19. Elysium (USA, Blomkamp)
Summary: Set in the year 2154, where the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth, a man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.
Concluding this one-two-three punch of major releases, Elysium is Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to District 9, a bona-fide 21st century sci-fi classic. So I can’t wait to see what he does next. Generally, I’ve been watching a lot less trailers, actively avoiding some in fact. I did end up watching this one, and what I liked about it was that it seemed to consciously contain footage only from early parts of the film. Trailers should generally be doing this way more.
18. Sightseers (UK, Wheatley)
Summary: Chris wants to show girlfriend Tina his world, but events soon conspire against the couple and their dream caravan holiday takes a very wrong turn.
Ben Wheatley seems to be able to churn films out pretty quickly, skewed US release dates notwithstanding. This looks like a darkly comedic departure from Kill List, and he’s someone who I mean to check out each and every time. I’m never drawn to poster quotes as a rule, but when a poster touts the claim “The Best British Comedy since Four Lions“…….sign me the hell up.
17. A Hijacking (Denmark, Lindholm)
Summary: The crew of a Danish cargo ship is hijacked by Somali pirates who proceed to engage in escalating negotiations with authorities in Copenhagen.
I’ve been hearing a lot about A Hijacking since last year’s Venice and Toronto festivals, and it’s been making the rounds for some time. It’s acquired a US release and I’m certainly eager to see it.
16. Prince Avalanche (USA, Green)
Summary: Two highway road workers spend the summer of 1988 away from their city lives. The isolated landscape becomes a place of misadventure as the men find themselves at odds with each other and the women they left behind.
A return to form for David Gordon Green?! Am I dreaming?! Thank Zeus.
15. Call Me Kuchu (USA/Uganda, Wright & Worrall) (Documentary)
Summary: In Uganda, a new bill threatens to make homosexuality punishable by death. David Kato – Uganda’s first openly gay man – and his fellow activists work against the clock to defeat the legislation while combating vicious persecution in their daily lives. But no one, not even the filmmakers, is prepared for the brutal murder that shakes the movement to its core and sends shock waves around the world.
Do I really have to put a reason?
14. I’m So Excited (Spain, Almodovar)
Summary: When it appears as though the end is in sight, the pilots, flight crew, and passengers of a plane heading to Mexico City look to forget the anguish of the moment and face the greatest danger, which we carry within ourselves.
No idea what that weird summary is about, but Almodovar returning to comedy sounds just like heaven. I know the notices have been less than stellar so far but it’ll be nice to see him shift back into comedy .
13. You’re Next (USA, Wingard)
Summary: When the Davison family comes under attack during their wedding anniversary getaway, the gang of mysterious killers soon learns that one of victims harbors a secret talent for fighting back.
After hearing about this for who knows how long at this point, we’ll finally get to see that festival circuit horror film that’s had everyone talking.
New Kim Ki-duk. Enough said? Enough said.
11. The World’s End (UK, Wright)
Summary: Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind’s only hope for survival.
Edgar Wright’s final installment to his “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy”. Considering that Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are two of my favorite films, and not even considering that “Spaced” is my favorite collaboration between these guys, I’ve got high hopes for this one.
Wow. Could that summary sound any more ambitiously vague? This is a documentary Sarah Polley made about her own family, and all I’ve heard is praise to the high heavens. I’m intrigued to see how the director being so close to her subject matter impacts the overall film.
9. Laurence Anyways (Canada/France, Dolan)
Summary: The 10-year relationship of a male-to-female transsexual with her lover.
Xavier Dolan has accomplished a hell of a lot and made quite a name for himself despite being exceedingly young. I still have to see his previous work, but I trust his followers to have their adoration in the right place.
8. Something in the Air (France, Assayas)
Summary: In the months after the heady weeks of May ’68, a group of young Europeans search for a way to continue the revolution believed to be just beginning.
Olivier Assayas is one of my favorite working directors, no naturally I’ve been waiting on this one for a while. It’s also lovely to see that Lola Creton is making a name for herself. She’s such a find. Thanks Catherine Breillat.
7. The Bling Ring (USA, Coppola)
Summary: Inspired by actual events, a group of fame-obsessed teenagers use the internet to track celebrities’ whereabouts in order to rob their homes.
This looks like it’s going to be a culmination of Sofia Coppola’s previous focuses (a group of young girls, ennui, emptiness, fixation on fame) and fuel it into an offering that’s entirely new for her but recognizably executed. And it already suggests itself as an unintentional companion piece to Spring Breakers if only by the most basic of similarities. This was also the great DP Harris Savides’ last film before his death.
6. Berberian Sound Studio (UK, Strickland)
Summary: A sound engineer’s work for an Italian horror studio becomes a terrifying case of life imitating art.
This almost sounds like it was made for me and it’s another film that is finally getting a US release. Films that incorporate the importance of sound into their proceedings have a mark of paranoid obsession that draws me in. This looks like a conscious pastiche piece that calls back to low-key psychological horrors of yesteryear.
5. The Grandmaster (Hong Kong/China/France, Wong)
Summary: The story of martial-arts master Ip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee.
I guess the ‘s’ has been dropped? New Wong Kar-Wai. Case closed. We’ve been waiting so long for this film, following its lengthy production process and the final product will unveil here this summer. Can we just appreciate the fact that this is is first film in four years, and his first feature length Hong Kong production since 2004? I don’t care if the notices have been merely solid. It’s been almost a decade since 2046!!
4. Only God Forgives (France/Denmark, Refn)
Summary: Julian, a drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok’s criminal underworld, sees his life get even more complicated when his mother compels him to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother’s recent death.
It’s safe to say everyone is on pins and needles wondering how Nicolas Winding Refn is going to assault our criminal senses next. His follow-up to Drive, and another collaboration with Ryan Gosling, will be an impressive feat if it manages to land in the same neon-lit mood-brood realm.
3. The Hunt (Denmark, Vinterberg)
Summary: A teacher lives a lonely life, all the while struggling over his son’s custody. His life slowly gets better as he finds love and receives good news from his son, but his new luck is about to be brutally shattered by an innocent little lie.
The films that usually make the top of my list are ones I’ve been waiting to see for what seems like an eternity. The Hunt is one of those; Was it really only last year that Mads Mikkelsen won Best Actor at Cannes for this? Basically there’s only two other films I’m anticipating more this season. Because of course….
2. Frances Ha (USA, Baumbach)
Summary: A story that follows a New York woman (who doesn’t really have an apartment), apprentices for a dance company (though she’s not really a dancer), and throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possible reality dwindles.
Noah Baumbach is my main man, surely one of the most divisive filmmakers working today. I’ve been fully on-board with his Jennifer Jason Leigh collaborations, films that contain explicitly unlikeable people at their centers. While others lambasted against him, I was on my knees in worship. With new collaborator Greta Gerwig, there is a clear shift in tone here with an emphasis on hipster-delight that has almost everyone back on his side even moving past its potentially obnoxious surface. Even people ready to hate him have seemed to adore this one, and everything I’ve heard has only made me more excited. It’s been a long time since he’s done a flat-out comedy and he does it like few others can.
1. Before Midnight (USA, Linklater)
Summary: We meet Jesse and Celine nine years on in Greece. Almost two decades have passed since their first meeting on that train bound for Vienna.
I still haven’t even begun to appreciate how lucky we are to be getting another check-in with Jesse and Celine. I’ve avoided everything about the film, and have managed to stay completely free of context thus far. All I know is that the reception has seemed to meet the impossible-to-reach expectations of the previous two. Before Sunset is, to me, one of the ten best films of the 2000’s. If Before Midnight can even be in the same ballpark, it’ll be a considerable achievement. But what am I saying? It’s already an achievement. Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and Richard Linklater have created my most cherished of ‘franchises’ because they actually had the gall to think that maybe sequels don’t have to be about quests and good vs. evil, but simply about two people walking the romanticized streets of blank, discussing everything under the sun.