There are people, we're told, who just rock up to the theater on Friday night and see whatever is coming on next. We have never been those people. We scan the release calendar weeks, even months in advance, in order to check out what's coming to theaters, so we know what we're queueing up for, and when we'll be seeing it.
But it can be a little overwhelming, when every week sees a half-dozen movies or more released, whether wide or more limited. So to help you along your way, we've picked ten films that are unspooling in the next 30 days or so that will likely to be worth your time and hard earned dollars. So with no further ado…
1. "The Bourne Legacy"
The last mega-blockbuster of the summer, "The Bourne Legacy" comes with some lofty expectations. The original trilogy, starring Matt Damon, was remarkably consistent in quality, and ranks among the most influential and visceral action franchise ever made. However, director and franchise writer Tony Gilroy was the man behind the multi-Oscar-nominated "Michael Clayton," a film that's only gotten better and richer in the five years since it was released. With Damon leaving the series, Gilroy's created a new character, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a more advanced graduate of a similar program to Operation Treadstone, who goes on the run with a CIA doctor (Rachel Weisz) after Bourne's antics cause head honcho Edward Norton to try and terminate all the agents in the field. Oscar Isaac, Stacy Keach and Corey Stoll also join the party, with returning actors including Joan Allen, Albert Finney and David Strathairn, for a plot that weaves its way through "The Bourne Ultimatum," while also heading to new territory, including the Philippines and South Korea, as well as including the franchise's trademark kick-ass action sequences. Some Playlisters have seen the film at this point, and while you'll have to wait for our full review, let's just say there's a reason it sits atop this list. In the meantime, you can read our exclusive and extensive interview with Gilroy about the movie here.
When? August 10th
When it premiered at Cannes back in May, John Hillcoat's prohibition crime flick "Lawless" wasn't that enthusiastically received by the international press, but we suspect its pulpy, hugely entertaining stylings will be better received away from the festival bubble. The director's adaptation of novel "The Wettest Country In The World," penned and scored by regular collaborator Nick Cave, and telling the story of the Bondurant Brothers (Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Jason Clarke), the women in their life (Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain) and the man out to bring them down (Guy Pearce), might be less substantial than his last film, "The Road" — as we said in our Cannes review, "it never elevates into anything more than great entertainment." But then, great entertainment is not to be sniffed at, particularly when it's meaty, grown-up entertainment like this. The film's unlikely to be a serious awards player, but given the presence of a post-"Dark Knight Rises" Hardy and LaBoeuf, The Weinstein Company has a decent chance at a modest box office hit here. And at the very least, it has one of the coolest soundtracks of the year, supervised by Cave and Warren Ellis, and featuring the likes of Mark Lanegan, Emmylou Harris and Leila Moss, covering songs by, among others, The Velvet Underground and Townes Van Zandt.
When? August 29th
3. "Red Hook Summer"
The surprise success of "Inside Man" promised the start of a serious comeback from Spike Lee, but the director's next film, 2008's "Miracle At St. Anna" was a critical and commercial flop (in fact, it's somewhat underrated, we reckon), and the director's found it hard to get things made since. While his "Oldboy" remake should be gearing up shortly, Lee got tired of sitting on his hands, and went back to his roots for "Red Hook Summer," a project that serves as something of a spiritual sequel to "Do The Right Thing," following Flik (Jules Brown), a boy from Atlanta who comes to stay with his grandfather, a firebrand preacher (Clarke Peters), in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Peters' fellow "The Wire" alums James Ransone and Isiah Whitlock Jr. are also among the cast, along with Nate Parker and Lee himself, reprising the role of Mookie for the first time in 25 years. The film was highly divisive when it premiered at Sundance in January, some adoring it, some loathing it, with even its fiercest supporters conceding it's a little rough around the edges. But our man Todd Gilchrist liked the film quite a bit, saying that "Lee's clarity of vision hasn't been this sharp or unique since before 'Crooklyn,' " and noting Peters gives a "tour-de-force" performance. Keep your eyes peeled in the coming weeks not just for our verdict on the finished film, but also our interview with Lee, and a retrospective on the director's work.
When? August 10th
4. "Side By Side"
Among moviemakers and cinephiles, the debate over film vs. digital is one of the most heated and interesting around; the march of progress seems to point towards digital, with those like David Fincher and James Cameron long since having converted, and yet some of the most interesting filmmakers in the mainstream — Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino to name a couple — have vowed to keep fighting the battle for good old 35mm. But it's taken Keanu Reeves, of all people, to get this debate on screen, producing this feature documentary that presents the two sides of the argument, and questions where we're heading. The A-lister has assembled a diverse who's who of filmmaking names, including Steven Soderbergh, George Lucas, Joel Schumacher, Lena Dunham, Robert Rodriguez, Martin Scorsese, Lars von Trier, David Lynch, Richard Linklater, Wally Pfister and Danny Boyle, to examine their views, and the film's been winning rave reviews ever since it premiered at Berlin back in February. Our own Jessica Kiang saw it there, and said that the film is "stacked with gossipy, informal anecdotes and opinions from many of the most respected directors, cinematographers, editors, execs, VFX artists and digital wizards in the industry, proves… to be highly entertaining and informative, and by its close has presented a thoroughly diverting overview of the debate." It's obviously not going to be for everyone, but Reeves and director Chris Keneally have created a doc that is pretty much a must for anyone who cares about movies.
When? August 17th, before hitting iTunes on August 22nd.
After a decade in which he only made three films, getting two films in two years from David Cronenberg is surely cause for celebration, and only nine months after premiering "A Dangerous Method" at Venice last year, Cronenberg bowed his Don DeLillo adaptation "Cosmopolis" at Cannes back in May. And for anyone who found last year's effort a little staid and conventional for the director, "Cosmopolis" certainly seems to be more in the director's traditional wheelhouse. Starring lead Robert Pattinson alongside Paul Giamatti, Samantha Morton, Juliette Binoche, Sarah Gadon, Mathieu Amalric, Jay Baruchel and Kevin Durand, among others, it sees the "Twilight" star play a fresh-faced billionaire struck by existential dread as he tries to travel across jam-packed Manhattan in a bid to get his hair cut. The film was highly divisive at Cannes, and has continued to cleave opinion elsewhere around the world so far; our man in Cannes adored it, but more than one Playlister has been less than impressed when catching up with the film since. But as ever with Cronenberg, the divisiveness is part of the fun, and it's certainly likely to cause more debate than almost anything else this month.
When? August 17th
There is a reason we said "Cosmopolis" would cause more debate than almost anything else this month. We're also getting, on the same day no less, Craig Zobel's "Compliance," a film which inspired shouting matches and walkouts when it premiered at Sundance back in January, and at subsequent screenings. Based on a true incident, it involves the manager of a fast-food restaurant (Ann Dowd) receiving a phone call from a man claiming to be a police officer (Pat Healy), reporting that one of her employees (Dreama Walker) has been involved in a robbery. He asks the boss to strip-search the "suspect," setting off a chain of events that see an escalation of humiliation and abuse for the young woman. It's chilling stuff, all the more so for being based in fact, and by almost all accounts, Zobel (who debuted with "Great World Of Sound" in 2007) has made the film a truly uncomfortable and thought-provoking watch, and one that's had some strong reactions to it. One of the most critically-acclaimed films in Park City this year (with particular praise set aside for the performances by Dowd, Walker and Healy), our man Todd Gilchrist called it "an almost endlessly fascinating study of human behavior" when he saw it there. It's unlikely to be the easiest watch you have this month, but it seems like a vital and important one too.
When? August 17th
7. "Celeste & Jesse Forever"
It hasn't exactly been a banner year for the rom-com so far. Even the better entries, like "Friends With Kids" and "The Five-Year Engagement," have been scrappy and uneven, and there have been plenty more serious disappointments, inlcuding the Greta Gerwig-starring "Lola Versus." But things are looking up. Hot on the heels of the excellent "Ruby Sparks" comes "Celeste & Jesse Forever," and it seems to be one of the better examples of the genre this year. Penned by "Parks And Recreation" star Rashida Jones (with writing partner Will McCormack), it features the actress starring alongside Andy Samberg as a recently divorced couple trying to maintain their friendship while still moving on with their lives. The supporting cast — featuring Ari Graynor, Eric Christian Olsen, Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts and Chris Messina — is strong, and director Lee Toland Krieger (the woefully underseen "The Vicious Kind") seems to have a strong handle on the performances and the visuals, without ever letting it dip into "(500) Days Of Summer"-style glibness. Playlist contributor William Goss caught the film at Sundance, and compared it to "When Harry Met Sally," saying that "it rarely opts for hysterics or contrivance to push our leads along," and that " the formula finds itself served surprisingly well by both its cast and script." It's not perfect, but it certainly marks the arrival of Jones as a serious talent, and starved fans of the genre should certainly enjoy this more than most.
When? August 3rd
2009's "Coraline" is one of the most underrated animated films in recent memory — a gloriously weird, incredibly gorgeous film which still has one of the best uses of 3D we've seen. Director Henry Selick might have returned to the Disney fold, but Laika, the company behind that film, are back, with the similarly spooky "ParaNorman." Revolving around the titular Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), an outsider who finds his gift of speaking to the dead coming in useful when his small town suffers under a curse that raises an army of zombies, the film looks to have the same I-want-to-swim-in-it attention to detail in its design and animation, but with more of an Amblin vibe, and looks like all kinds of spooky fun (if perhaps a little too scary for younger kids). If "Coraline" was anything to go by, this'll be that rare film worth paying the extra cash to see in 3D, and with a cast also including Casey Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, John Goodman and Elaine Stritch, it should be a treat for the ears too (not to mention that is has a score by Jon Brion as well). Playlisters have seen it, and are under embargo (look for a review in the next couple of weeks), but let's just say if you're already looking forward to the film, you shouldn't be disappointed.
When? August 17th
9. "Sleepwalk With Me"
The history of stand-up comedy in the movies is a less than glorious one. Few have tried to tackle it ("Lenny," "Punchline") and fewer still have got it right ("Funny People" is probably the best example, although its third act squanders much of its good will), but none of those films were made by actual stand-ups (Apatow gave up the mic long ago), and that's the advantage that acclaimed comedian Mike Birbiglia has with his debut feature "Sleepwalk With Me." Based on his one-man show and book, Birbiglia plays a version of himself, whose career and love life is thrown into havoc when his inability to commit to his girlfriend (Lauren Ambrose) seems to induce a severe sleepingwalking disorder. The cast also includes James Rebhorn and Carol Kane as Birbiglia's parents, as well as a selection of stand-up favorites like Wyatt Cenac, Marc Maron, Hannibal Buress, and Kristen Schaal. With a script co-writen by "This American Life" fave Ira Glass, it should be a little smarter than your average twentysomething ennui movie, and William Goss certainly thought so when he saw the film for us at SXSW, drawing comparisons to Woody Allen, and saying "Fans of Birbiglia should be easily entertained, and with a little luck, it will only earn this particular loveable neurotic a few more of those." Could we have the next Louis C.K.-style polymath on our hands?
When? August 24th
10. "2 Days In New York"
While Julie Delpy's best known for "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset" as far as indie-minded two-handers set in Europe go, her own directorial effort, "2 Days In Paris," has gained a fervent following for its firmly enjoyable, Woody Allen-ish comic stylings. Five years on, Delpy's character is no longer with Adam Goldberg, but back in NYC, and has picked up both a child, and a new beau, played by Chris Rock. Their relationship is firmly tested when, once again, Delpy's family arrive on vacation to visit her. And against the odds, the film is for the most part just as successful a follow-up to the original as "Before Sunset" was to "Before Sunrise," with Delpy still bringing sharp observations and consistently funny jokes, with an added emphasis on family, and a whole new element thanks to Rock, who gives one of his better acting performances. Playlist contributor John Lichman caught the film at Sundance and found it "fresh, vibrant and most of all, disarmingly funny"…in other words, an atypically strong sequel.
When? August 10th
Also Worth Considering:
There are a few other films unspooling in August that might be worth your attention too. There's no word on either "The Campaign" with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis or "Hope Springs" with Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell yet, despite both opening next week. Hopefully they'll both provide a few laughs regardless. Meanwhile, the same week also brings the Rebecca Hall-led ghost tale "The Awakening," that, while silly, we still had a lot more fun with than most critics; read our review from last year's London Film Festival here. It rolls out from August 10th.
Later in the month comes Sundance crowdpleaser "Robot & Frank," with Frank Langella and Peter Sarsgaard, among others, although we found it a little disappointing at the festival. French ensemble picture "Little White Lies," directed by Guillaume Canet ("Tell No One") and starring Marion Cotillard and Jean Dujardin, might be a better bet. Both open August 24th. And finally, August 31st brings controversial documentary "The Ambassador," which our correspondent loved at New Directors New Films earlier in the year, and foul-mouthed Sundance comedy "For A Good Time Call," which is a lot more amiable.