I’m as into Iron Man, Superman and Star Trek as any other fan. I don’t despise the idea of their return to theaters. This column is not intended to gin up fake hate.
But summer crept up on me when I wasn’t looking. And now I’m not really ready for every week until Labor Day to involve whipping the filmgoing public into a must-see-now frenzy. It feels antithetical to the very nature of summer, a time when relaxing with lemonade should be the only thing to which you apply effort. It feels like the studios are putting the public to work, every week, on a perpetual hamster wheel that spins temporary enthusiasm into gold bricks. You can’t think clearly in that kind of environment.
So I’ve decided that for the next 16 weeks you can have them. All of them. All the sequels, all the remakes, all the reboots. Keep them. Postpone them until 2014 if nothing else. But I dream of a May, June, July and August where movie theaters are filled with characters I haven’t seen before, with stories that, if they’re too familiar, at least function as determined variations on their theme. Given the nature of my job, I realize that I will not get anything close to what I want. But still, I came up with 20 films you could focus on if you’re also in need of a break from strenuous marketing campaigns. When you’re ready, you can come back to my Man of Steel review and catch it at your local second-run house when the weather turns cool again. Doesn’t that sound so much less stressful?
In May, on the same day that Iron Man 3 opens, there’s The Iceman (5/3) starring Michael Shannon as Richard Kuklinski, an infamous contract killer who was reported to have murdered upwards of 200 people during his long career. He managed to conduct these hits without his wife and children ever knowing. So you can imagine their surprise when he was arrested in 1986 and sent to prison for life. If you’ve been missing Winona Ryder, she’s in this one, too.
Moving several rungs down the testosterone ladder is Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s (5/3), a documentary about New York’s legendary luxury department store. Guaranteed to be more air-kissy than The Store, Frederick Wiseman’s 1983 fly-on-the-wall experience of Dallas’s flagship Neiman-Marcus, Bergdorf’s features appearances by every designer you can name and a lot you can’t, including the Row’s Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. Mary-Kate keeps on serving up the acting chops in films like Beastly, but Ashley’s retired, devoted entirely to designing extravagantly expensive purses. Admit you miss her.
Something in the Air (5/3) is the new one from acclaimed French filmmaker Olivier Assayas. It’s a semiautobiographical drama about an 18-year-old boy experiencing the revolutionary social upheaval and protests that shook Paris in 1968. The best news here is that Assayas is devoutly antisentimental, so if you’re allergic to misty watercolored memories then you can probably proceed without fear.
After the cruel insanity that was Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, you’d be right to wonder about the wisdom of having his name attached to a movie, especially one he didn’t write or direct. Based on nothing more than the trailer and advance word from a few journalists who’ve already seen it, Peeples (5/10), the new comedy from ATL/Drumline screenwriter Tina Gordon Chism, feels like it has a lot in common with 2011’s underrated Jumping the Broom and very little in common with the typical Tyler Perry wallow in sin and consequences. But hey, if he wants to “present” like Quentin Tarantino and it helps spread the wealth around to other black filmmakers, then more power to him.
I like it when laughs sting a little. Or a lot. Okay, I really like it when they sting a lot. So I like Noah Baumbach. His films don’t flinch from failure. They immerse themselves in human inconsistency. Some people think this is sadistic but I think it’s just honest. And funny. Really really funny. Frances Ha stars Greta Gerwig (who also cowrote with Baumbach) as a New Yorker “between apartments” apprenticing for a dance company. Except she’s not a dancer. She tries, though, and that seems to be the point here.
Now You See Me (5/31) is about magicians robbing banks with ILLUSION. Is this the cool plot they decided to make disappear from The Incredible Burt Wonderstone?
The Purge (6/7) takes place in the future where there is no crime. That’s because for one 12-hour stretch of time each year everybody gets to go buckwild and act like it’s Class of 1999. Blow up a bank, slaughter anyone you want. It’s like taking a mini-vacation to the most violent Secretary’s Day in the world.
I have some younger family members, college graduates, whose work prospects still haven’t moved past barista gigs at Starbucks. But if you made a movie about that sort of thing then you’d be Todd Solondz. So I’m just going to assume that, unlike in the real world, the men of The Internship (6/7) wind up with really awesome, well-paying jobs by the end of the film. It stars Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, so you already know I’m pretty much right about this.
If you were too busy having a full, vibrant life of your own and never watched the thoroughly exploitive reality series Pretty Wild, which was all about the unfortunate existence of some spoiled Los Angeles teens living in a huge delusional bubble with their weirdo mother (and dealing with the court system as they battled criminal charges of theft from celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan), then Sofia Coppola’s latest film about cloistered girls, The Bling Ring (7/14), will be new to you. And if you followed Pretty Wild religiously but always sort of hoped and prayed that an acclaimed filmmaker would make a really artful version of those events, then boom, it’s Christmas for you.
I'm So Excited (7/28) is Pedro Almodovar’s Airport. Or Soul Plane. Or both, maybe. It’s unclear. But it seems to involve three exceptionally gay Spanish flight attendants lip-syncing to the Pointer Sisters as the aircraft heads for a crash-landing. Look, if you’re going to die you might as well enjoy yourself before it all goes down.
Vikings with pickaxes and other implements—maces and swords and fire—invade England in the eighth century and get brutal in Hammer of the Gods (7/3). It smells from here but there are really only so many times you can watch Valhalla Rising. It’ll do for now.
And then, two weeks later, comes Only God Forgives (7/19) from Mr. Valhalla Rising himself, Nicolas Winding Refn, the man who put Ryan Gosling in that cool scorpion jacket in Drive. They’re selling this violent tale of a Bangkok drug dealer (Gosling, again) with images of its star beaten to a bloody pulp. It’s only a matter of time before the Internet picks up on these stills and grafts on a variety of “hey girl” captions.
It’s fine if you still don’t know the names Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. They were the ones who won Academy Awards for cowriting The Descendents with Alexander Payne, the ones who goofed on Angelina Jolie’s thigh-slit dress and that thing she did with her leg. Those guys. Well, they wrote and directed a summery coming-of-age comedy with drama (or maybe the other way round) called The Way, Way Back (7/5). Yes, you’ve seen this sort of thing before, but the laws of movie physics insist that they keep making them every few years until someone comes as close to the perfection of Meatballs as possible.
Aubrey Plaza is the one who makes the The To-Do List (8/16) in this movie. And everything on the list is sex. After last year’s surprisingly funny Ari Graynor and Lauren Miller comedy For a Good Time, Call… could August be turning in the month where cool young women make raunchy sex comedies?
The latest feature (and first one to receive more than micro-attention) from director David Lowery, the man who coedited this year’s freaky sci-fi romance Upstream Color, stars Rooney Mara, Ben Foster and Casey Affleck. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (8/16) focuses on an escaped prisoner on the run to find his wife and the child he’s never met. And if you’ve seen Upstream Color then I know that I had you at Upstream Color.
Haute Cuisine (8/16): Because after you see Kick-Ass 2 you will super want to double-feature it with an adorable story of the woman who became the private chef to French president Francois Mitterrand.
David Gordon Green, the filmmaker who somehow moves comfortably between art house-bound indies like George Washington, stoner comedies like Pineapple Express and blisteringly bad-mannered sitcoms like Eastbound and Down (going to pretend that The Sitter didn’t happen) returns with Prince Avalanche (8/16) starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as highway road workers. You can assume that there will be weed.
Some teachers give out summer reading lists. Well here’s your summer movie-watching list: everything from Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai that you can lay eyes on, to prep yourself for Grandmasters (8/23). He’s one of the world’s great filmmakers and if you haven’t seen In the Mood for Love then you actually hate movies and shouldn’t be allowed to see any more of them until you complete that task. I’m serious. I don’t even know what Grandmasters is about. It doesn’t matter. Just go do what I say.
I’m sort of obsessed with the film The Strangers. You remember that one? It had Liv Tyler and those people with masks who invade her house and create mayhem. Terrible movie. But I’ve never not locked my windows since. They say that You’re Next (8/23) is The Strangers if it had been a good film. We’ll see. I don’t know how much of this I can deal with.
Drinking Buddies (8/23) stars Anna Kendrick and Olivia Wilde and it’s about people getting drunk and hooking up. It’s from Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs) so that means not much else happens. Did that read as an insult? Because it’s not meant to be. Some of the best movies in the world feature stories where almost nothing happens. Fact.