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The 12 Most Anticipated Anti-Blockbuster Movies of the Summer Blockbuster Season

By Dustin Rowles | Guides | May 2, 2013 | Comments ()


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As we do each year ahead of the summer blockbuster season, we like to highlight a few noteworthy summer releases that won't have $30 to $60 million in marketing behind them. It feels like it's become even more difficult for independent films to break through in recent years, and while the various new ways in which they've become available -- VOD or iTunes, often before theatrical release -- is nice, it's still very difficult to break through the marketing saturation of films like Man of Steel or Iron Man 3. But there's more than just sequels and superhero films to look forward to: There's great dramas, hilarious comedies, and many of the best actors working today. Here's the 12 on the release schedule that you should be most excited about.

The Iceman (May 3rd) -- The Michael Shannon true-crime thriller about a mobster with a heart of ice actually comes out this weekend. Co-starring Winona Ryder, it tells the true story of Richard Kuklinski, the notorious contract killer and family man. When finally arrested in 1986, neither his wife nor daughters have any clue about his real profession. The movie is getting great buzz, and the reviews have been outstanding, focusing largely on Michael Shannon's stellar performance, which should position him well for the opening of Man of Steel later this summer.

Frances Ha (May 17th) -- Frances Ha comes from writers and real-life couple Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig. Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) is directing, and Gerwig stars in a film that follows a New York woman (who doesn't really have an apartment) who apprentices for a dance company (though she's not really a dancer), and throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possible reality dwindles. It's looks exactly like the kind of film you'd expect from two of the biggest indie darlings in the business, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, attested by the overwhelmingly positive reviews so far.

Before Midnight (May 24th) -- The third installment in the greatest romantic trilogy of all time brings Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy back together with Richard Linklater, where the film picks up in the midst of their crumbling marriage. Dan gave it a glowing review, save for the shaggy third act, noting that "it's rare and a little harrowing to see a film that so bluntly and accurately deals with a marriage."

The East (May 31st) -- The espionage thriller from Zal Batmanglij (Sound of My Voice) has been making the festival rounds this year to solid reviews. The fact that it's an "eco-thriller" hopefully will be offset by the outstanding cast, which includes Ellen Page (who we haven't seen in a while), Patricia Clarkson, Jason Ritter, Alexander SkarsgÄrd, and co-writer Brit Marling, who is the new Greta Gerwig of the indie world.

Much Ado About Nothing (June 7th) -- The Joss Whedon adaptation of a Shakespeare classic, filmed with his friends at his house over 12 days during a break on The Avengers has a great deal to like about it, although it is a little slight. As Dan noted in his review: "It's only in the heat of certain moments like professions of love and forgiveness that Whedon finally connects the specificity of a classical text with the universality of the emotions involved. Put another way: Whedon puts on a nice play, but he's at his best when he remembers to just tell a story." Above all, it's just a really fun movie.

Syrup (June 7th) -- We actually don't know that much about Syrup, and its cast -- Amber Heard, Brittany Snow, Kellan Lutz -- is not exactly a huge draw. But the film's trailer, from Aram Rappaport and based on a Max Barry novel suggests that it could be a lighter version of Thank You for Smoking about the marketing and advertising industry. The trailer is, at least, intriguing, even if the cast is not.

The Bling Ring (June 14th) -- The Bling Ring brings back Sofia Coppola, who hasn't had a particularly notable hit since Lost In Translation, but The Bling Ring boasts a fun based-on-true-events premise -- a group of fame-obsessed teenagers use the internet to track celebrities' whereabouts in order to rob their homes -- and Emma Watson. A little controversy about how" trashy" the film is certainly doesn't hurt.

Byzantium (June 28th) -- Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) returns with a film about the residents of a coastal town who learn, with deathly consequences and the secret shared by the two mysterious women (Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan), who have sought shelter at a local resort. The secret: They were born 200 years ago and survive on human blood. Yes, it's yet vampire flick, but with Neil Jordan and Saoirse Rona, hopefully it will be a little bit more. Then again, it could be terrible. The trailer suggest it could go either way.

The Way, Way Back (July 3rd) -- The Way, Way Back is the first directorial effort of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendents) who you may also know as "Community's" Dean Pelton and Ben from "Ben and Kate." The film follows the shy, 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) and the friendship he forms with water park manager Owen (Sam Rockwell). Toni Collete plays Duncan's mother and Steve Carrell plays her boyfriend. This is the movie that people like Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell should be making. Good movies, with heart and sweetness and FEELS, and without studio-contrived magic shows and schticky accents. Everyone in Hollywood. Stop. Pay attention. More like this, please.

Fruitvale Station (July 26th) -- There is no trailer yet available for Fruitvale Station (formerly Fruitvale), but it was the most talked about film at Sundance this year, where it won both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize. It very well could be the Oscar-nominating break-out role for the amazing Michael B. Jordan ("Friday Night Lights," "Parenthood," Chronicle) and the film -- based on a true story about a 22-year-old Bay area kid who wakes up on the the last day of 2008 with a strange feeling -- will almost certainly leave you streaked in tears.

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Drinking Buddies (August 23rd) -- There's no trailer available for Drinking Buddies, either, but trust me: It is phenomenal, as I wrote in my review of the film, which stars Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, and Anna Kendrick, when it screened at SXSW: "Credit the insane chemistry of the actors, their deft improvisational skills, a smart, original outline from Swanberg, and the inability of the actors to overthink the process for Drinking Buddies' ability to transcend not only conventional romantic comedy tropes but most mumblecore offerings and capture something real, relatable, and genuine. It is a magnificent film."

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Spectacular Now (August 2nd) -- As Joanna wrote, after she'd seen Kyle Chandler's performance in Spectacular Now at SXSW: "As a deadbeat dad to a troubled and disconnected teen, Chandler obliterates his heroic Coach Taylor image. Rumpled, stubbly and completely absent emotionally, his southern fried take on the embodiment of a Jimmy Buffet concert is heart-breaking to watch. The film is likable enough on its own but doesn't plumb any emotional depths until Chandler shows up. I hated watching him play a terrible father, but he was damn good at it." The film also boasts up-and-comer Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) and Brie Larson, potentially the indie queen of 2013.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Purplejebus

    Hey! Where's a mention of Color Upstream? You guys are definitely slipping.

  • John W

    Thanks for the recommendations Dustin.

    Could this be the Year of the Shannon?

  • I am *SO* here for almost every film on this list. omg a Sofia Coppola film that doesn't look like watching paint dry? I dig it! And I'm so interested in Fruitvale Station and The East.

    That "Frances Ha" shit has got to go, though. Are they being serious?? Oooo, look! Unconventional-looking quirky white girls doing quirky quirks in NEW YORK!! I've never seen THAT before!!! I'm calling it already - trite as fuck. And I say that as someone who enjoyed The Squid and The Whale.

    ETA: And Much Ado About Nothing!!! That trailer was amazing, and was one of my favority Shakespeare reads in high school, I've gotta find a summer lover to finance all the movie tickets.

  • John G.

    the "Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig" should be a drink you can only order in Brooklyn. It's an almond milk white russian.

  • Superwest

    Byzantium was terrible. I saw it at the Tribeca Film Festival, walked out three quarters in. So so bad. Happy I didn't pay for the ticket.

  • PDamian

    Does anyone know the titles of the songs played in The Bling Ring trailer? If so, please post. Honestly, sometimes I watch Sofia Coppola films just to hear new music. (I'm old. Shut up.)

  • Genevieve Burgess

    First one is "212" by Azaelia Banks. Second is "Crown on the Ground" by Sleigh Bells.

  • PDamian

    Many, many thanks! Off to iTunes ...

  • BlackRabbit

    I know it makes me a hypocrite after watching a lot of crime films and playing Saint's Row, but The Iceman looks like it's going to irritate me. The old "glamorize the killer" plot, eh? I'll reserve further judgement till the film, though.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    supposedly it is not. Shannon said he thought the movie shows how boring mob life is.

  • BlackRabbit

    "It's the hard-knock life!"

  • Forbiddendonut

    This may be my most favorite header pic since "The Unborn" poster.
    Permission granted to re-use as much as you'd like.

  • e jerry powell

    Cynical me; I'd figured that Fruitvale would have been an Oscar-season holdback.

    Steve Carrell. Sexy, sexy boyfriend.

    Does this mean that after the end of May we can stop paying all attention to Ethan Hawke forever?

    I'm a little nervous about the Neil Jordan piece. Given how horrendously soapy he's gone with Borgias, I suspect that he's lost all sense of decorum and restraint in a genre that's already pretty over-the-top as it is.

  • I'm so freaking glad that Winona is back. Wino forever!

  • Bert_McGurt

    "The espionage thriller from Zal Batmanglij..."

    I shouldn't have to tell you this Mr. Wayne, but after you fake your own death it's common practice to pick a name that's a little less obvious.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    He's a big believer in the hiding in plain sight approach to keeping secret identities. See: Every single way Bruce Wayne has ever behaved.

  • ViciousTrollop

    Damn, Saoirse Ronan has one hell of a coke nail going on in the Byzantium trailer.

  • Rejoice! For we have found our Carrie Fisher successor!

  • Mr_Zito

    Friday Night Lights? Parenthood? Chronicle? Michael B. Jordan is from THE WIRE.

  • Genevieve Burgess

    Don't Google "Fruitvale Station" if you don't want to be spoiled. The first result is an EW article, and the two sentences on the search page give away the ending.

  • Ruthie O

    Um, no. Oscar Grant's story was one of the most important news story to come out of 2009, and one that everyone should know about, regardless of the movie. The story of Oscar Grant is bigger than this movie and Michael B. Jordan. We all owe it to ourselves to know what happened, so we can foster open dialogues about race, police brutality, and justice.

    ETA: What I'm trying to say is this: please do not willfully ignore an important civil rights issue just to enjoy a movie (especially a movie that was filmed under the assumption that most viewers would know the ending anyway).

  • Genevieve Burgess

    I understand that it's based on a major news event, but we have a lot of international readers, or even younger readers who were children when those events happened, who may not have heard about it and may be introduced to the case by the movie. I feel like it's their choice to decide if they want to know the details before they see the film or afterwards. I'm sure it will be a powerful movie either way.

  • PepeLePew

    Uh, no offence, but that seems really crass. I'm an international reader and I knew nothing about these events. But if people really think the "unspoiled" entertainment value of a movie outweighs perhaps accidentally learning something about events which are still relevant to issues of race in the US today, then I don't even know what to say. Perhaps there needs to be an understanding that tragedies aren't some kind of entertainment to be consumed in hour and a half segments, solemnly dissected and then forgotten? These are real events that affected real people. Seems kind of like telling people not to google Dan White because you don't want to ruin the end of Milk. This stuff isn't a script written plot-twist for the titillation of an audience. It's real.

  • BendinIntheWind

    Isn't it famously based on a true event, though? I guess I assumed you're meant to go into it knowing the outcome, and the film is all about the build.

  • e jerry powell

    Yes, it is largely a retelling of a story that got major news coverage at the time, but that's kind of -- I hesitate to say peripheral -- well, it pays more attention to the person that it happened to a bit more than focusing only on what happened.

  • Kala

    Thanks for the warning. I'm intrigued simply by the presence of Michael B. Jordan (Wallace!) and the brief synopsis in this article. I would really hate to have to punch a hole in a perfectly good wall.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I don't think you would. Some stories are told - esp based on true events - that assume the audience knows the ending, and it's the telling of the story, not necessarily the plot, that makes it worthwhile. That's what most plays were for the first millennium of theater - it's not like the Greeks were going to be surprised by Medea.

  • Gotta add STORIES WE TELL to that lists up there.

  • Boston Red

    I loved it, but documentaries don't get blockbuster status, especially in the summer.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    well, it is an anti-blockbuster list.

  • kirivinokur

    Oh, yes. Reviews have been glorious.

  • mb

    I'm excited for The Bling Ring! I freaking love Sofia Coppola and everything she's done, even enough to sit through two hours of Emma Watson as a lead.

  • TheEmpress

    I think you meant to switch the names there.

  • mb

    :P Nope, sorry. I'm sure EW has her share of fans, but she just BUGS.

  • e jerry powell

    More than KStew?

  • mb

    Yikes. But yeah, probably, because their acting skills are fairly comparable yet EW seems to be widely adored. I think some just refuse to accept she's not really Hermione.

  • Joe Grunenwald

    DAMN, Hermione Granger. Also, thank you for making a list of movies I should watch this year.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    A perfect 10 points to Gryffindor!

  • kirivinokur

    Is Snowpiercer meant to be a blockbuster? Because I'm excited about that. Bong Joon-Ho is a fave.

  • toblerone

    Where's Only God Forgives?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

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