Despite the occasional film like "John Carter," the major studios are having a pretty good time of it in 2012. The box office is up all over, and films like "The Hunger Games," "21 Jump Street" and "The Avengers" have performed above expectations with both critics and audiences. There’s plenty more to come in the summer, as we discussed yesterday in our blockbuster preview, but what of films of the non-explode-y variety in the warmer months?
While it may seem like there aren’t that many options to compete with fare like "Prometheus" and "The Dark Knight Rises," there are some gems to look forward to; some of the best-received films of 2012 so far are making it to theaters in the next few months, along with a few others that we’ve got high hopes for. (And yes, we’re cheating a bit with two studio movies in there, but they come from decidedly out-of-the-box auteurs Steven Soderbergh and Oliver Stone, each delivering something very different to the summer season). So if you need something with a bit more brain or edge than your standard cartoon or comic book fare, we’ve picked out ten highlights of the summer schedule below.
"Beasts Of The Southern Wild"
Synopsis: In a Louisiana community, a young girl, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her father (Dwight Henry) must battle for survival against poverty, apocalyptic floods and prehistoric beasts.
What You Need To Know? Every year, one film comes out of Sundance with a hurricane of plaudits and critical applause, and the film everyone was talking about in Park City in 2012 was "Beasts Of The Southern Wild." The magic-realist feature film debut from director Benh Zeitlin got rave reviews from the first screening (including our own), and went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at the festival. Not only that, the Cannes Film Festival has nodded their approval as well, selecting the film for an Un Certain Regard slot. And soon, the rest of us get to check it out, with Fox Searchlight hoping that it can become the same kind of summer-long critical favorite that "The Tree of Life" was for them last year. They’ve been playing their cards close to the chest so far, but with a poster arriving last week, we should be seeing a trailer any day now.
When? June 27th
"Celeste And Jesse Forever"
Synopsis: A former married couple (Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg) struggle to keep their friendship alive after they get divorced.
What You Need To Know: While she’s been consistently charming on both the big screen ("I Love You, Man") and the small ("Parks & Recreation"), Rashida Jones so far hasn’t managed to be the leading lady it always seemed she’d been destined to become. So, as actors so often do, she turned to writing, and teaming with Will McCormack, delivered this sort-of-romantic comedy. Lee Toland Krieger (the young helmer behind the excellent "The Vicious Kind") directs, and Jones and Adam Samberg step into the lead roles, with a supporting cast that includes Emma Roberts, Andy Samberg, Chris Messina, Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen. Reviews from the film’s Sundance debut were warm (particularly our own), and with an August release date, it looks like Sony Pictures Classics have their fingers crossed for a "(500) Days Of Summer"-style summer indie hit.
When? August 3rd
"To Rome With Love"
Synopsis: A collection of short stories involving a prostitute (Penelope Cruz), a man who suddenly finds himself unexpectedly famous (Roberto Benigni), an older couple (Woody Allen and Judy Davis) whose daughter (Alison Pill) is seeing an Italian man, and a love triangle (Greta Gerwig, Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page).
What You Need to Know: Every year for the past two decades, at least one critic has loudly proclaimed that the latest Woody Allen film was "a return to form." But in 2011, it actually seemed to apply as the director got his best reviews in years for "Midnight In Paris," and it became his biggest box-office hit to date, going on to earn an Oscar for Best Screenplay. But none of that distracted Woody, and last summer he got rolling on his next effort, which this time sees him decamp to Rome, with a cast that includes both old favorites (Davis, Baldwin) and a new generation of Allen players (Eisenberg, Pill, Page, Gerwig), along with the first screen appearance from Woody himself in many years. Reviews from Italy (where the film is already out) haven’t been raves, but they were likely to be less forgiving anyway, and the fairly promising trailer suggests that even if it doesn’t spark in the way that "Midnight in Paris" did, it’s not going to be as painful as "Cassandra’s Dream" or "Whatever Works" either.
When? June 22nd
Synopsis: A male stripper (Channing Tatum) takes on a young protégé (Alex Pettyfer), only to fall for his sister (Cody Horn).
What You Need To Know: Channing Tatum is having a pretty good year so far. The actor has had two $100 million hits with "The Vow" and "21 Jump Street," and in the process he’s won over doubters, showing he can do drama and comedy, while bringing in the bucks to boot. The biggest test of his new A-list status comes with this film, not just because it’s an indie mainstream hybrid from Soderbergh at the height of summer, but also because Tatum is a producer on the pic and came up with the idea, which is based on his own life. Matthew McConaughey leads the buff bods in this one, including Pettyfer, Matt Bomer, Joe Mangianello and more, and advance word is that this is a gigantic crowd-pleaser for dudes and ladies alike.
When? June 29th
Synopsis: In the 1960s, a New England island town is turned upside down when two children run away together.
What You Need To Know: A director so distinctive that he’s practically become his own genre, it’s now five years since we’ve seen a live-action picture from Wes Anderson, with only "Fantastic Mr. Fox" bridging the gap between "The Darjeeling Limited" and now. But May sees the director open the Cannes Film Festival with "Moonrise Kingdom," which then hits theaters a few weeks afterward, and all the signs are pointing to it being top-flight Anderson fare. The script, co-written with Roman Coppola, is excellent, and something of a progression from his more recent work — the cast doesn’t just include Anderson vets like Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzmann, but also an eclectic mix of exciting names like Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton. Judging by the trailer and clips, this might not win over those with a dislike for the director, but we’re certainly excited for what we hope could be Anderson’s best film since "The Royal Tenenbaums."
When? May 25th.
Synopsis: An author (Paul Dano) struggling to overcome writer’s block following his successful first novel, writes about his ideal perfect woman, only for her to come to life.
What You Need To Know: It’s been six long years since "Little Miss Sunshine," the popular, acclaimed and Oscar-nominated debut from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, but the duo is finally back, with a script penned by, and starring, indie darling Zoe Kazan ("Meek’s Cutoff"), and co-starring her real-life beau Paul Dano. We recently spoke with Dano about the film and he revealed that Dayton and Faris were the top choice to direct the high-concept picture. "They remained friends of mine from making ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ together. Every now and then when I’m out on the west coast, I would grab dinner with them or visit them and we’d keep in touch," he explained. "They’re not only super talented at what they do, but they’re also really wonderful people, and they’re just so good with stories and with characters, and I think they’re really special filmmakers and we thought, ‘Why not aim high and just send it to them?’ And luckily they liked it." Dano and Kazan are joined by an impressive supporting cast including Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Elliot Gould, Steve Coogan and Chris Messina, and the trailer looks delightful. Count us in.
When? July 25th
"Safety Not Guaranteed"
Synopsis: A journalist (Jake Johnson) and an intern (Aubrey Plaza) investigate a man (Mark Duplass) who placed a classified ad looking for a partner for time travel.
What You Need To Know: Do the Duplass Brothers ever sleep? The duo have already released one movie this year, the excellent "Jeff Who Lives At Home," they’ve got another coming in the summer, "The Do-Deca Pentathelon," and they’ve somehow found time to executive-produce (and in Mark’s case, star) in this comedy, which became something of a crowd-pleasing hit at Sundance, and was snapped up by FilmDistrict for release. We’ve seen the film (you can read our Sundance review), and while it has its flaws, it’s an impressive directorial debut from Colin Treverrow, and has a trio of very strong performances from Plaza, Duplass and Johnson. It looks like it will be a breath of fresh air, and with a winning, quirky premise, should be solid fare for those looking for something a bit different.
When? June 8th
Synopsis: Two friends (Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch) with a successful drug-dealing business go head-to-head with a terrifying cartel to rescue the girl they both love (Blake Lively).
What You Need To Know: The year of Taylor Kitsch hasn’t quite gone to plan so far, with both "John Carter" and "Battleship" picking up violent reviews, and looking decidedly disappointing at the box office (although both did OK overseas). But, we hope that "Savages" will break the streak. Co-starring Johnson, Lively and a supporting cast that includes John Travolta, Benicio Del Toro, Demian Bichir, Emile Hirsch and Salma Hayek, the film marks Oliver Stone‘s return to the kind of pulpy crime fare that he’s tackled before, with "Natural Born Killers," "U-Turn" and his script for "Scarface," and it looks like this will be significantly more fun, stylish and zippy than his last several movies. While we’re cautiously optimistic, we hear the source material is excellent, and Universal moving the film into the heart of summer is a big vote of confidence.
When? July 6th
"Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World"
Synopsis: With only days left before Earth is wiped out by an asteroid, a man (Steve Carell) sets out to reunite with his high-school sweetheart, aided by his neighbor, a young woman (Keira Knightley) who wants to get back to her family.
What You Need To Know: While we haven’t been short on the apocalypse at the movies these days, writer and debut director Lorene Scafaria (who penned "Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist") is taking a different approach with her film, more Don McKellar than Michael Bay. We recently chatted with her, and she explained how the concept allowed her to delve into some deeper issues. "I sort of liked it as a metaphor to start for what it’s like when people break up or go through a divorce or something, and you’re in that place where you never want to get to know someone else," she said. "I just thought what if you really don’t have somebody and there’s three weeks left? Are you going in search of someone or chasing the past?" But don’t worry, this is not "Melancholia." Scafaria has assembled a mean comic cast, including Melanie Lynskey, Patton Oswalt, Rob Corddry, Gillian Jacobs, T.J. Miller and many more, in a film that she describes as "a relationship film" that’s both "romantic and funny."
When? June 22nd
"Take This Waltz"
Synopsis: A young married couple (Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen) is tested when she falls for an attractive new neighbor (Luke Kirby)
What You Need To Know: "Away From Her," the first directorial effort from actress Sarah Polley, was a staggering debut, a wise, tender, achingly painful film with a central performance from Julie Christie that came within a heartbeat of winning an Oscar. For her follow up, she’s stuck closer to her age group, for a story about twenty-something relationships that won us over when it debuted at TIFF last year (read our review here). The film’s bracingly raw approach may turn some off (Michelle Williams’ character is unsympathetic at times), but there’s no denying the power of the performances, and the way in which Polley has grown as a director. One of the real films to cherish this summer.
When? May 25th on demand, June 29th in theaters.
Also In Theaters: On the more promising side of the limited release equation, we’ve got the theatrical release of Bobcat Goldthwait‘s "God Bless America" (May 11th), which has been on VOD for a while, as well as TIFF Audience Award winner "Where Do We Go Now" (May 11th). Soon after, the intriguing-sounding documentary "Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel" (May 18th), period rom-com "Hysteria" (May 18th) and French docu-thriller "Polisse" (May 18th) arrive, while the month closes out with international smash hit "The Intouchables" (May 25th), set to be remade by Paul Feig and Colin Firth, and the excellent "Oslo August 31" (May 25th)
June brings West Bank documentary "5 Broken Cameras" (June 1st), the Duplass’ "Do-Deca-Pentathelon" (June 6th), Robert Pattinson in "Bel Ami" (June 8th), the Greta Gerwig rom-com "Lola Versus" (June 8th), "Peace, Love and Misunderstanding" with Elizabeth Olsen and Jane Fonda (June 8th), Lynn Shelton‘s "Your Sister’s Sister" (June 15th) with Emily Blunt and Mark Duplass, and Jonathan Demme‘s music doc "Neil Young Journeys" (June 29th) while acclaimed Sundance film "The Queen Of Versailles" comes to theaters on July 6th.
The pickings are even slimmer in July but there are a few gems: hit festival documentary "Searching For Sugar Man" (July 27th), "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" (July 27th), Joel Kinnaman in the long-awaited hit Swedish thriller "Easy Money" (July 27th), and the raucous Danish comedy "Clown" (July 27th), which has a Danny McBride-led remake in the works. And the summer wraps up with Fernando Mereilles "360" (August 3rd) and Julie Delpy‘s charming "2 Days In New York" (August 10th).