So we’ve passed the midway mark of the year and we only have technically eight weeks left of summer with July 4th right around the corner. Depending on what kind of moviegoer you are, this is either a godsend, or a melancholy reminder that blockbuster season is almost over (and if it’s the former here’s our wishlist for the Fall Film Festival season).
But in the here and now, we have the month of July to look forward to and there’s lots of choices. Of course you could go see “Transformers: Age Of Extinction” if you haven’t already, or “Tammy” if you want laughs (or not), you parents may want to go see “And So It Goes” and your lunkhead brother may want to see “Hercules.” And that’s all well and good and their prerogative, but we believe these might be some better choices for your head, heart and soul. Here’s 10 films to see in July because you certainly could do a lot worse.
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
Synopsis: 10 years after the virus outbreak at the end of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” humanity is mostly wiped out and the apes are on the brink of war with a band of human survivors.
What You Need To Know: ‘Rise’ was the surprise hit of summer 2011; a film no one expected to be good, let alone great. It was a blockbuster with heart and intelligence that everyone grossly underestimated and it was a huge hit. Almost none of the principal team is back aside from Andy Serkis doing his motion-capture masterwork, but the film is in good hands with director Matt Reeves, who actually improved upon the original with his remake of “Let The Right One In.” And by all accounts he’s done it again. Reviews of ‘Dawn’ are glowing and the already-advanced, photorealistic and emotionally convincing VFX are said to be even better. Starring the terrific cast of Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and more, in a summer without Nolan, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” might be the intelligent blockbuster to beat.
Release Date: July 11th
Synopsis: The life of a boy is chronicled over the course of 12 years, from a child leading up to leaving for college.
What You Need To Know: Director Richard Linklater‘s pulled off a feat that no other filmmaker has ever done, a sprawling experiment that shot once a year, for 12 years over the course of a few days in Austin and other locales in Southwest Texas. Starring Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Linklater’s daughter Lorelei and the titular “boy,” Ellar Coltrane (who you watch grow into a man before your very eyes), “Boyhood” tracks a family in the midst of divorce all the while seeing the world through the eyes of Ellar’s character. And “Boyhood” is almost purposefully anticlimactic, eschewing the main beats of adolescence (losing one’s virginity, etc.) for a looser, more organic approach that even focuses on the mundane moments in life. But its snowballing power is awe-inspiring. “I bet the whole farm on that property of storytelling, that you would become invested and this would be a building up of time unfolding” Linklater told us in an interview from Berlin.Our Sundance review wrote, “the cumulative result of ‘Boyhood’ is rather touching and stunning and while Linklater is seemingly interested in the slighter, less trafficked moments of life, he uncovers a lot of sublimity overall.” The epic, almost 3-hour movie also has an epic soundtrack too. Expect this one to be near the top of many a top 10 lists at the end of the year.
Release Date: July 11th
“Magic In The Moonlight”
Synopsis: An Englishman is brought in to help unmask a possible charlatan spiritualist. Personal and professional complications ensue when he begins to fall for her.
What You Need To Know: Woody Allen‘s back, right? Or is he? Well, yes and no. He’s had a mixed run of late with highlights like “Midnight In Paris” and “Blue Jasmine” (which won Cate Blanchett an Oscar), but there’s also been the forgettable fare like “To Rome With Love.” Still, this one stars a new team for Allen, with Colin Firth and Emma Stone leading the movie, and that combo alone has us excited. You kinda never know what Woody Allen will show up in theaters these days, but the recent streak is pretty strong and the trailers for this one look enchanting, romantic and funny in the same way that “Midnight In Paris” besotted us all. We’ll take the gamble, frankly (and early word seems to be positive) The film also co-stars Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver and Simon McBurney.
Release Date: July 26th
Synopsis: A documentary film that recounts the inspiring and entertaining life of world-renowned film critic and social commentator Roger Ebert.
What You Need To Know: Well, for one its directed by Steve James, the filmmaker behind “Hoop Dreams” and the very excellent, though underseen violence-in-Chicago documentary “The Interrupters” (among many others). For two, it’s about Roger Ebert, the veritable deity in the world of film criticism beloved by many. The film has candid appearances by Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Ava DuVernay, Ramn Bahrani, the late Gene Siskel and many more. A must-see for film critics, and definitely of interest for cinephiles that grew up in the era of “Siskel & Ebert,” and in case you’re not convinced our review called it, “a profoundly moving story about one of cinema’s greatest super heroes.” Sold.
Release Date: July 4th
“A Most Wanted Man”
Synopsis: A Chechen Muslim illegally immigrates to Hamburg, where he gets caught in the international war on terror.
What You Need To Know: First and foremost its directed by Anton Corbijn, the rock-photographer-turned-filmmaker who gave us the Joy Division biopic “Control” and the moody, atmospheric assassin picture “The American” starring George Clooney (the latter of which being tremendously underrated). And the cast is terrific. You have the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last starring roles, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe, “Inglourious Basterds” star Daniel Brühl, excellent German actress Nina Hoss (often a muse for the auteur Christian Petzold) and relative newcomer Grigoriy Dobrygin playing the titular Most Wanted Man. Reviews from Sundance were semi-cool (including ours), suggesting a slow burn that might have been better suited and expanded into a TV mini-series, but all this talent makes it worth checking out regardless.
Release Date: July 25th
Synopsis: A wealthy, inventive bachelor endeavors to find a cure for his lover Chloe after she’s diagnosed with an unusual illness caused by a flower growing in her lungs.
What You Need To Know: Say what? Well, it’s weird and wonderful film from the eminently inventive Michel Gondry, of course, and his first real adaptation (based on a beloved French novel). Also his first feature-length French-language film, the movie stars Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Aïssa Maïga and Omar Sy. Jam packed with as much “trademark whimsical bricolage” as you’d expect, our reviewer didn’t take to it wholeheartedly, but called it “endearing” and evincing “spectacular imagination on display.”
Release Date: July 18th
Synopsis: A molecular biologist and his laboratory partner uncover evidence that may fundamentally change society as we know it.
What You Need To Know: Mike Cahill directed the Sundance indie “Another Earth” in 2011 which helped usher in the era of actress/writer Brit Marling. The film was ambitious, but a low-budget perhaps marred its full potential. But “I Origins” by all accounts is Cahill taking the promise of his debut and blowing it out into something rather marvelous. Tracking philosophical/metaphysical concerns with a subdued, almost sci-fi-ish bent, the movie could potentially answer the question: what would a movie look like it if it was the bastard offspring product of Krzysztof Kieslowski and Christopher Nolan? Our Sundance review wrote, “ ‘I Origins’ also cements [director Mike Cahill] as the real deal; a filmmaker who will hopefully continue to take us to places full of mystery, wonder and awe.” Hey, that sells the rest of us, we’re there.
Release Date: July 18th
Synopsis: When an irresponsible 20-something comes to Chicago to live with her older brother living a happy existence with his novelist wife and their two-year-old son, her arrival upends their tranquil domesticity
What You Need To Know: Indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg is the uber-prolific filmmaker who inadvertently launched the term mumblecore with his lo-fi indie projects. Don’t let that scare you off though, as he’s all grown up now, and his films have matured, attracting the interest of a lot of talented actors. This one stars Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Lena Dunham, Mark Webber, and Swanberg himself, plus a standout turn by Swanberg’s scene-stealing toddler son, Jude, who was only two years old a the time. While we noted it’s not quite as strong as his mainstream breakthrough film, “Drinking Buddies,” our Sundance review did endorse it and described it as, “largely engaging, truthful and affecting.”
Release Date: July 25th, though it’s on VOD now if you want to catch it early.
Synopsis: A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.
What You Need To Know: Admittedly, this is the big question mark of this grouping. Luc Besson hasn’t made a good film in … a long time, but if we’re being optimistic, Scarlett Johansson is on a bit of a creative tear with “Her” and “Under The Skin” (even her “Don Jon” performance is deeply authentic), so we’re hoping she picked this project because it spoke to her in some way. A ‘Bourne‘-esque looking blockbuster with a long-overdue female action lead the picture looks … perhaps not quite original, but Besson knows from kinetic action and who knows, maybe this could be his modern day “La Femme Nikita” and or a long awaited return to form? We can only hope.
Release Date: July 25th
Synopsis: An Iranian director banned from making films for 20 years shoots (another) film in secret. This time a drama that combines documentary and fictitious elements.
What You Need To Know: In 2011, humanist director Jafar Panahi made “This Is Not a Film” while under house arrest, awaiting the result of his appeal of a six-year prison sentence and twenty-year ban on filmmaking (charged for propaganda against the Iranian government after several years of conflict with the state). The result was a frustrated, claustrophobic, but ultimately hopeful and defiant political statement against censorship and personal freedom (the movie was smuggled out of Iran on a flash drive hidden within a birthday cake where it would premiere at the Cannes Film Festival). While warnings came, fortunately there were no reprisals against Panahi. But every movie he makes in protest of his dogmatic government is a serious risk. And so “Closed Curtain” is Jafar Panahi‘s continued cinematic civil disobedience in the form of another documentary (co-directed with Kambozia Partovi). A must-see if only in support of the filmmaker and the deeply dictatorial laws attempting to suppress his voice.
Release Date: July 9th
Honorable Mention & More
Of course that’s not all you might want to see in July. As noted, the mainstream releases are rather unspectacular looking (which is only going to hurt the 2014 box-office more), but there are a ton of strong independent choices.It won’t be in theaters quite yet, but Ari Folman‘s much anticipated follow-up to “Waltz With Bashir,” the part-animated, part live-action film “The Congress” hits VOD on July 15th (our review from Cannes). If you’re not in a limited release city, Bong Joon-ho‘s much-celebrated “Snowpiercer” starring Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and more also hits VOD on Jul 11th (our review). Lastly, “The Two Faces of January” doesn’t come out in theaters until August, but it’s on VOD July 3rd and has the terrific cast of Oscar Isaac, Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst (our review here).
We didn’t give it an effusively impressive review out of Sundance, but pitched in a minor key, the buddy travelogue “Land Ho!” at least sounds like a mildly amusing way to spend your time over say, “Tammy” or “Transformers” or some of the recent blockbuster fare that was given D-grade ratings from most reviewers (including us). If there’s one mainstream film that looks tolerable (aside from “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” of course), “Sex Tape” could be a mildly diverting comedy, but we hope it’s better than “Bad Teacher” from the same filmmakers and much of the same cast.
“Very Good Girls” stars Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen, two of the better actresses of their generation and we’re hoping it’s good, but the trailers are definitely questionable. Indie film fans might be interested in Zach Braff’s follow-up to “Garden State,” titled “Wish I Was Here,” but most reviews out of Sundance (including ours) suggested something rather middling. Still, it’ll probably have a good indie rock soundtrack if you’re into that kind of thing. Disney fans could be interested in “Planes: Fire and Rescue,” but this “Cars” (and “Planes” sequel) spin-off looks like another cash-grab against parents. Horror genre fans may also want to check in with “The Purge: Anarchy.” And while it certainly doesn’t look great, it does star Frank Grillo and Michael K. Williams, so that’s a little bit of a saving grace.