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 Skarsgård, 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.
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.”
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.