Like its namesake, ‘tis the season for having fun, the season to check the nitpicking at the door, to put the snobbery on hold, to laugh at the silliness, and to wallow in the wonder and superficial thrills. At least that’s what I hope at the onset of every summer season at the movies. Although my excitement for summer movies has waned in comparison to the fall—chalk it up age, changing tastes and Hollywood’s preference for recycled cash grabs—there are still a bunch of films I’m stoked for. They range from big studio releases about superheroes, aliens, mythical creatures and idiots to small independently released stories of children, spies, ex-cons and… idiots. Collectively, they’re the 20 movies I’m most excited to see this summer.
Director: Seth McFarlane
Writer: Seth McFarlane
Principal Cast: Seth McFarlane, Charlize Theron, Neil Patrick Harris, Liam Neeson, Giovanni Ribisi
Opening: May 30
The Pitch: In the Old West, a cowardly farmer (McFarlane) takes on a notorious outlaw (Neeson) with the help of a mysterious new gunslinger (Theron).
The Tag: From the guy who brought you Ted.
Why I’m Excited: There’s a reason why A Million Ways to Die in the West lands at 20 and not somewhere lower or completely off the list: It’s MacFarlane. Although I count myself among the many fans of Family Guy and McFarlane’s directorial debut Ted, his stint as Oscar host in 2012 was an awkward mix of brilliance and awful. More than anything, it went to show that while he has a way with words, he’s not exactly up to snuff when it comes to acting. That very concern bothered me while watching the very funny trailer for his follow-up. While westerns remain a risky venture—last summer’s lone western, The Lone Ranger, tanked—this one seems to be playing the Blazing Saddles card, of course with McFarlane’s unique brand of filthy humor. Time will tell whether A Million Ways to Die in the West joins Mel Brooks’ classic among the upper echelons of western comedies or in the dollar bin next to Cowboys & Aliens and Wyatt Earp. Until then, I remain optimistic.
Director: Marc Webb
Writer: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci
Principal Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field
Opening: May 2
The Pitch: Peter/Spider-Man (Garfield) has to deal with new villains, including Electro (Foxx), Rhino (Paul Giamatti) and the Green Goblin when trying to uncover the mystery of Oscorp left unanswered at the end of the last film. He balances this with his relationships with girlfriend Gwen (Stone) and aunt May (Field).
The Tag: His greatest battle begins.
Why I’m Excited: The Amazing Spider-Man was a redundant mess. I was a big fan of Garfield’s performance and loved his dynamic with Stone but was annoyed by Sony’s insistence on retelling a story that was told really well only a decade earlier. Redundant origin tale aside, the villain was a weak one and the mystery about Oscorp left us with more questions than answers. The trailers for this sequel (and I believe there are over 20 of them) promise a film that answers many of those lingering questions, expands the Spider-Man universe, and shows off more flashy action sequences. Garfield and Stone also look to be reprising that winning chemistry. Still, it’s difficult not to ignore my concern that this sequel looks ridiculously over-stuffed with villains. Anyone with a basic knowledge of superhero movies will remember that this “more-is-more” mentality was one of the primary reasons why Spider-Man 3 failed as a film. As this movie is already out in much of the world, there are plenty of reviews to be read. The verdict seems to be mixed but leaning towards the positive. I see it tonight. Let’s see if it lives up to the hype.
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Jon Favreau
Principal Cast: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Bobby Cannavale
Opening: May 9
The Pitch: After getting fired from his cushy restaurant job, a Miami-born chef (Jon Favreau) starts a food truck business and heads off on a cross-country trip with his son and one employee (John Leguizamo) to reclaim his creative promise.
The Tag: Starting from scratch never tasted so good.
Why I’m Excited: Let’s face it… Jon Favreau has been a gun-for-hire for the better half of the last decade, pumping out one generic studio movie after the next. Barring the first Iron Man, and to an extent Elf, nothing he’s made has been particularly memorable. Does anyone remember Zathura? Chef is Favreau’s first film since his embarrassing sci-fi/western Cowboys & Aliens failed to curry favor with audiences and critics. Early buzz from screenings at SXSW in March and at tastemaker screenings last week in Miami have been very enthusiastic with many dubbing it a return to the back-to-basics comedy (Swingers, Made) that made him a star in the late-90s. That’s an opinion many of my local friends and colleagues, including Richard Lopez, Lauren Cohen, Marc Ferman and Billy Donnelly, have echoed. That’s something I can’t ignore.
Director: Josh Boone
Writers: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Principal Cast: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Willem Dafoe, Laura Dern
Opening: June 6
The Pitch: A 16-year-old cancer patient Hazel (Shailene Woodley) meets and falls in love with a charming ex-basketball player (Ansel Elgort) at a cancer support group. Carry a tissue.
The Tag: One sick love story.
Why I’m Excited: Not what you expected to see on this list did you? That’s okay, me neither. It may have the veneer of a schmaltzy Nicolas Sparks romance but the pedigree of the cast, crew and source material dictate otherwise. For one, it’s based on the acclaimed best-selling novel by John Green, whose witty commentary on the YouTube educational series Crash Course I’ve grown to adore. Second, it’s been adapted by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, whose previous credits include 500 Days of Summer and last summer’s wrenching high school romance The Spectacular Now. I’m optimistic that they’ll approach this material with the same honesty and wit. If that weren’t enough, the movie stars Shailene Woodley, an outstanding young actress whose performances in The Spectacular Now and The Descendants promises that if this movie does anything right, it’ll be the acting.
Director: Jon S. Baird
Writer: Jon S. Baird
Principal Cast: James MacAvoy, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Imogen Poots, Joanne Froggatt
Opening: May 30 (limited)
The Pitch: A sociopathic, drug addicted cop manipulates his coworkers by using their wives against them over the Holiday season—all to get a promotion and win over his estranged wife and daughter. Oh, and he has to solve a brutal murder as well.
The Tag: No one gets off. Until he does.
Why I’m Excited: Just last week, I praised Jude Law for his gnarly out-of-this-world performance in Richard Shephard’s absolutely bonkers comedy Dom Hemingway. James MacAvoy looks to be channeling that same spirit in Filth, the big screen adaptation of Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh’s novel about a psychopathic, misanthropic drug-addicted detective. Like Law, MacAvoy is a gifted character actor who until recently seemed to be typecast playing amiable but boring characters. Although he always brings charm and intelligence, it’s about time MacAvoy stretched his chops a bit. Danny Boyle’s Trance was a surprising turn from that mundane leading man direction, and judging by this very, very red band trailer, his performance here seems to be that very about-face I’ve been waiting for. As someone who gets a kick out of actors letting loose and shedding their personas, MacAvoy’s work here ranks really high among the performances I can’t wait to see this summer. That he picked up a trio of British critics awards for his work only ups my excitement.
Director: Michael Dowse
Writer: Elan Mastai
Principal Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Rafe Spall, Mackenzie Davis
Opening: August 1 (August 15 in South Florida)
The Pitch: A lonely med school dropout (Radcliffe) and an animator (Kazan) instantly connect at a mutual friend’s (Driver) party. Too bad she’s already in a pretty great relationship with a really nice guy (Spall). Can the two be just friends?
The Tag: What if the love of your life is actually your best friend?
Why I’m Excited: I’ll admit that the premise of this one sounds like a Katherine Heigl rom-com. Then there’s the crew. It’s written by the guy who wrote Alone in the Dark and something called MVP: Most Vertical Primate. It’s directed by the guy behind Goon and that Topher Grace bomb Take Me Home Tonight – not exactly good juju. Even its title, which was switched by CBS Films last month from the cheeky The F Word to What If, screams banal. So why am I excited? Well, the film was praised by many reviewers and pop culture commentators at last fall’s Toronto International Film Festival for playing within rom-com genre confines yet transcending them with charm and wit. A few even went with the old, hyperbolic proclamation, “The best romantic comedy since…” I’ll judge for myself whether it’s the “best since…” or not but that attractive cast definitely has my attention: Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Rafe Spall and, more importantly, Daniel Radcliffe, who deserves to shake free of that “Harry Potter” label.
Director: Kelly Reichardt.
Writer: Kelly Reichardt, Jonathan Raymond
Principal Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard, Alia Shawkat
Opening: May 30 (limited)
The Pitch: Three environmental activists (Eisenberg, Fanning, Sarsgaard) wrestle with fear, paranoia and mistrust as they plot to blow up a dam.
The Tag: Workin’ on our night moves… (not really)
Why I’m Excited: Writer-director Kelly Reichardt, born and raised in Miami, has been a stalwart presence on the film festival circuit since she made her debut with River of Grass at Sundance in the ‘90s. Her subsequent output, which include Old Joy, Wendy & Lucy and most recently Meek’s Cutoff—all festival staples—are characterized by their mood, outdoor settings and lack of conventional film structure i.e. plot, conflict etc. This has led many to label her work as minimalistic and experimental. I’m not sure if that’s an appropriate description of her work but going by the eerie trailer, I’m expecting more of her trademark moodiness in her newest film Night Moves. I’m especially interested in what Jesse Eisenberg will do with the obviously dark material in a role that looks like quite the departure from his usual comic motor-mouth characters.
Director: Dean DeBlois
Writer: Dean DeBlois
Principal Cast: (voices of) Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera
Opening: June 20
The Pitch: Five years after the events of the first film, Hiccup (Baruchel) and Toothless are breaking ground in Viking-dragon relations. A chance discovery and meeting with the mysterious Dragon Rider (Blanchett), leads to the revelation that their new way of life stands to be threatened by an even dangerous enemy.
The Tag: Hiccup and Toothless are back!
Why I’m Excited: How to Train Your Dragon may not have the broad appeal of the Shrek movies but it had more heart than all four of those movies combined! With its stunning animation, warm story and exciting action sequences, it remains the crown jewel in Dreamworks Animation’s oeuvre. It was also among the first animated films to truly take advantage of and showcase the potential of 3D. I still remember being in awe after experiencing the first sequence of Hiccup’s flight over the waves. Like many animated sequels, this one promises to significantly broaden the scope of the universe – teasing more breathtaking flights, action sequences and even more heart in the form of Cate Blanchett’s Dragon Rider character. With the third film already in pre-production, I wouldn’t be surprised if this one ended in a cliffhanger. Until then, my hopes for this one remain sky high. No word on whether we’ll see a cameo by Daenerys though.
Director: Doug Liman
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth
Principal Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Jeremy Piven, Bill Paxton
Opening: June 6
The Pitch: An inexperienced soldier fighting in a vicious war against an advanced race of aliens finds himself reliving the same day over and over again.
The Tag: Live. Die. Repeat.
Why I’m Excited: Okay, so it’s “Groundhog Day with aliens” but in a season full of sequels, remakes and reboots, a big-budget, relatively-original sci-fi action movie with a big star in the lead role is a refreshing change of pace. That alone makes me excited for this one. Though last year’s Oblivion didn’t land properly on its feet, it still had its share of fans. I was one of them. So was this guy. It also managed to pull in a lot of bucks on the international front where Cruise remains a box office titan. Edge of Tomorrow, which is based on a manga called All You Need Is Kill (and also happened to be the film’s previous, far cooler title), looks much more promising than JosephKosinski’s film did. It also has a proven action filmmaker in Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) at the helm, plus a team of top-notch screenwriters in the Butterworths (Fair Game) and Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects), all who know how to mold twisty, plot-driven thrillers. And finally there’s Cruise, who remains, three decades after his debut, one of the smartest movie stars on the planet.
Director: Jim Mickle
Writer: Jim Mickle, Nick Damici
Principal Cast: Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Vinessa Shaw, Don Johnson, Wyatt Russell
Opening: May 23 (limited)
The Pitch: After a family man (Hall) shoots an intruder dead, the dead man’s ex-con father (Shepard) seeks out revenge. What neither realizes is that they’re being pitted against each other in a conspiracy that’s bigger than both of them.
The Tag: How many men can one bullet kill?
Why I’m Excited: This micro-budgeted crime noir is just the type of movie to counter the big explosive ones in the summer months. I’m not familiar with writer-director Jim Mickle’s previous work so I don’t have a barometer to compare Cold in July to but one viewing of the film’s mood-soaked trailer had me hooked. It oozes atmosphere and teases us with a twisty plot and grizzled characters that were the trademark of John Carpenter’s thrillers in the 80s. The film picked up a lot of solid notices at Sundance earlier this year and was also selected as part of the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes next month so that should count for something. Also, it’s nice to see Michael C. Hall in a role that doesn’t require him to serene-wrap someone on a operating table. Then again, I hear the movie has a lot of twists in store so I might be wrong.
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