Iron Man 3 set the cash registers ringing last weekend to the tune of over $175 million, the second-highest opening in cinema history after The Avengers, another Marvel film that opened on this same weekend last year. In fact, for the last seven years in a row now, the first weekend of May has been controlled, so to speak, by a Marvel film: The Avengers did it last year, before that it was Thor, and prior to that Iron Man 2, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Iron Man, and Spider-Man 3 respectively. Not coincidentally, this first weekend of May signals the official start of Hollywood’s summer movie-going season, i.e. the time when they dish out their big guns into the world, hoping moviegoers will reward them with their cash, and somehow leave their brains at home.
Unlike the past few summers, it’s been hard for me to muster a lot of excitement for this season’s crop of blockbusters. For the first time ever, my most anticipated list of the summer leans towards the smaller-scale, independently financed, film festival discoveries than the big studio tent-poles. Nevertheless, here are the 10 films I’m most excited to watch this summer (plus the requisite five honorable mentions).
10. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
The first movie on my list has an immediate and obvious connection to the last summer’s biggest blockbuster. Like that gigantic superhero blockbuster, this one is also written & directed by Joss Whedon. Except this time, instead of adapting Marvel, he adapts Shakespeare, and does it on an infinitely smaller scale. Shot in stylist black & white at his own house over a period of six days, Whedon’s adaptation of one of the great Bard’s frothiest plays played at Toronto last fall to rapturous reviews. Although Shakespearean adaptations don’t excite me as much, this one seems to have enough ingredients to put it on my list. Opens June 7.
9. THE WAY WAY BACK
I can read the reviews now – This year’s Little Miss Sunshine. Going off the trailer, the release date, the studio, and even some of the cast (Toni Collette, Steve Carrell)… I don’t think that’s an unfair assessment. Add in the fact that it’s written and directed by the guys who wrote The Descendants and you can get an idea why this lands on the list over things like the third Hangover movie or The Lone Ranger or even Monsters University.
Also… you rarely go wrong with Sam Rockwell. Opens July 5.
8. STORIES WE TELL
Best known for her work as an actress in films like Dawn of the Dead, Go and Splice, Sarah Polley is also a gifted filmmaker with an eye for intimate, relationship-driven dramas. While I wasn’t a big fan of her debut feature, Away From Her, I was enthralled by her second feature, the touching Take This Waltz. Stories We Tell, Polley’s third film, will easily be her most personal film as it deals with her own family, growing up with them, and the secrets they kept from her. Without going into much detail, I’ll just direct you to the trailer. Opens May 10.
7. FAST AND FURIOUS 6
Yes. You read that right. Fast and Furious 6 is on this list. No, I’m not a car person. No, I’m not a fan of Vin Diesel. And no, I’m not related to anyone in this film. I do however think that after four movies of varying degrees of quality, director Justin Lin and his team finally figured out a solid direction for this series. Fast Five was proof of that. Not only was it the most successful film of the series financially, it was also marked a pinnacle, creatively. With Fast and Furious 6 reuniting all the major players, and some old names, all roads signs seem to point towards this one following in its predecessor’s trailblazing path. Opens May 24.
6. FRANCES HA
I’ve had an odd relationship with Noah Baumbach’s films. I was a big fan of his breakthrough feature The Squid and the Whale, absolutely loathed Margot at the Wedding, adored his writing work on Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Life Aquatic with Steven Zizzou, and enjoyed his previous film Greenberg, albeit with some reservations. Frances Ha, which was co-written by star Greta Gerwig (who also appeared in Greensberg), premiered at last fall’s Toronto Film Festival along with Stories We Tell and Much Ado About Nothing, to ecstatic reviews, with many proclaiming it to be a high watermark for the filmmaker. “Woody Allen by way of Williamsburg” seemed to have been the general consensus. If that didn’t convince me, this trailer sure did. Opens May 17.
5. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS
The Starship Enterprise and its crew got a fresh and exciting makeover in J.J. Abrams brilliant reboot of the four-decade-old Star Trek franchise in 2009. It was one of the year’s biggest surprises, and a superb gateway into a universe largely alien to me. With the table now set, Abrams and company are back to build on the universe and take this franchise to areas it has never been before. With a plot that is still a mystery to me, highly positive advance word (a trusted critic friend dubbed it the The Empire Strikes Back of the Star Trek series), and an enigmatic villain that may or may not be one of the franchises’ most famous foes, this is the rare blockbuster movies I’m psyched to see. Opens May 16.
Star Trek wasn’t the only science fiction movie turning heads in 2009. There was also District 9, a wildly original picture from debutant South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp that niftily blended elements of science fiction, documentary and social commentary. A massive late summer hit, the film received enough acclaim to net itself a coveted Best Picture Oscar nomination. Now, four years later, Blomkamp is back with his big-budget follow-up Elysium which, like its predecessor, also blends science fiction and social commentary. From what we can tell, the film is set in a dystopian future where the world’s richest live lavishly and without sickness or injury in the titular space station outside the Earth’s atmosphere, while the rest live in destitute conditions on a ravished Earth. Matt Damon plays a dying man on Earth who decides to make a one way trip to Elysium to cure himself. Opens August 9.
3. MAN OF STEEL
I’m not a Superman fan. Never have been. I wasn’t bowled over the original Richard Donner Superman, and thus never bothered with its very famous sequel. While Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns was a noble effort to rejuvenate the franchise, it didn’t do enough to wet the appetite of the fans. But Man of Steel is something else entirely. Although I was initially skeptical – it does have the very hit-or-miss Zach Snyder in the director’s chair after-all – Christopher Nolan’s involvement in the project, the phenomenal cast and the extraordinary footage I’ve seen so far has done a lot to pique this non-Superman fan’s interest. Also, the thought of this film succeeding could mean Warner Brothers will finally have the stepping stone they need to get the ball rolling on their much-delayed plans for a Justice League movie. Opens June 14.
2. ONLY GOD FORGIVES
Ryan Gosling and Nicholas Winding Refn, together again after Drive in a violent revenge thriller set in the underground world of Thai kick-boxing – I am so down. Opens July 19.
1. BEFORE MIDNIGHT
In 1995’s Before Sunrise, two strangers, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Deply), met on a train in Europe and spend the evening together in Vienna, talking, walking around the city and getting to know each other. They vow to meet each other again in six months time but that doesn’t come to pass. Nine years later, in 2004’s Before Sunset, the two bump into each other again in Paris. Once again, they spend the afternoon together chatting, walking around the city, and rekindling their romance, before leaving us on a slightly ambiguous note about their future. Now, nine years later, eighteen since their first meeting, we catch up with them again in Before Midnight. From what I can tell, having not watched the trailer, the two are married and on a vacation, somewhere in Greece. The rest is unknown to me, and I intend to keep it that way until the movie unveils itself to me on opening day. Opens May 24.
While I’m certainly interested in seeing what Sofia Coppola has up her sleeve with The Bling Ring, my interest is muted at best. Maybe it’s because I have yet to jive with any of her films, outside of Lost in Translation. Still, this culture is Coppola’s bread-and-butter, and after Emma Watson’s understated turn in last fall’s fantastic Perks of Being a Wallflower, I’m really intrigued with what she has to offer. Opens June 14.
Fruitvale Station seems to fit the bill of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner to the tee (this is not a compliment) but something about its story (the last day in the life of a promising young man), along with its stellar cast has me intrigued. Opens July 26.
After a string of serious pictures, Pedro Almodovar returns to his melodramatic comedy roots with I’m So Excited. Cue The Pointer Sisters. Opens June 28.
Edgar Wright. Simon Pegg. Nick Frost. Pub crawl, The World’s End. Where’s the line? Opens August 23.
Baz Luhrmann brings his bombastic, ADHD-inflicted style to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby with the help of an all-star cast front-lined by Leonardo DiCaprio. All-out disaster or major hit! It could go either way. Opens May 10.
The Big Question Mark: Pacific Rim
The internet fanboys seem to be going nuts in anticipation for this big-budget version of Sci-Fi’s Mega-Shark vs. Octopus. But Guillermo Del Toro’s name tends to be a cause for comfort, even if he’s a filmmaker whose works I tend to respect more than admire. Opens July 12.
The “Why Is This Being Made Again” Movies: Despicable Me, Monsters University, The Hangover Part 3.
Look, I love Monsters Inc. as much as the next Pixar-loving moviegoer, but who really is clamoring for a Monsters Inc. prequel? Can’t we have the sequel to The Incredibles already? This smells like Cars 2 all over again. Ditto Despicable Me 2. And no one cares for The Hangover Part 3, except frat-boys and moviegoers who don’t know any better. Sorry. Even Bradley Cooper looks embarrassed to be a part of it.
Movies I’m excited for only because I have a morbid curiosity in watching train wrecks: World War Z, The Lone Ranger, After Earth, R.I.P.D.
Budgets over $200 million, tracking below $50 million, these three have their studios biting their nails. Careers are on the line. That is, for everyone other than the A-listers piloting these question marks.
Movies that make me lose my faith in the human race: Grown Ups 2, The Smurfs 2.