With the coming of Avengers: Age of Ultron, summer movie season is officially upon us. So begins the onslaught of superhero epics, star-stuffed comedies, and grand flashy blockbusters! And as much as our bodies are ready for lengthy action sequences and senseless spectacle, let’s not forget that to only focus on the blockbusters this season would be to miss out on some of summer cinema’s true gems.
In our tradition of highlighting the anti-blockbuster offerings of summer, we’ve selected the most promising titles coming to theaters and VOD that don’t have millions upon millions of studio-back advertising to create wall-to-wall media blitzes over them. Instead, it’s the buzz they’ve gained out of film festivals, the stars they’ve wrangled, and the trailers they’ve teased that have us marking our calendars in giddy anticipation. So take our lead, and bookmark this page as an aid to your vacation plans.
Slow West (May 15th) — I’ve already raved about this in my Tribeca Film Fest round-up, but the directorial debut of John MacClean is a must-see. With its tough tale of uncivilized terrain and what it means to be a man, Slow West feels like an All-American Western. Yet it was written and directed by a Scotsman, stars a German (Michael Fassbender) and a pair of Australians (Kodi Smit-McPhee and Ben Mendelsohn), and was shot in New Zealand. All this makes for a movie that’s both true to the roots of the genre, but unafraid to grow in new directions. Meaning, despite a title that might make you think this is a ponderous and maudlin affair, Slow West is actually briskly paced, barbed with wit, and peppered with laugh out loud moments. I guarantee you now, this will be on many top tens at year’s end.
When Marnie Was There (May 22nd) — Inside Out and Minions are the big animated movies this summer that will have every kid under 8 tantrumming to see them. But it’s the latest from Studio Ghibli that has us grown-ups far more intrigued. The Secret World of Arrietty’s helmer Hiromasa Yonebayashi delivers another coming-of-age drama brought to life in elegant and breathtaking animation. Two versions are being offered, one in Japanese with subtitles and one with an English overdub featuring stars like Hailee Steinfeld, Kiernan Shipka, John C. Reilly, Geena Davis and Kathy Bates. So pick your preference.
Me And Earl And The Dying Girl (June 12th) — At Sundance, this teen dramedy won wild praise along with the Grand Jury and Audience Awards. Now it’s coming to win your heart and make you cry with its story of a wallflower (Thomas Mann) who learns to love through his friendship with an leukemia-stricken classmate (Olivia Cooke), and his best friend with whom he swedes movies for shits and giggles. Bonus: Mrs. Coach Taylor and Ron Swanson are married in this movie! (Well, Connie Britton and Nick Offerman play Mann’s parents, but don’t tell our personal head canons.)
Madame Bovary (June 12th) — As follow-up to her brilliant (but underseen) debut Cold Souls, director Sophie Barthes is making history by becoming the first woman to helm an adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s novel about a lonely housewife with a wandering eye. Off its festival tours, the film’s won praise for its feminist take on this classic tale, as well as for its sensual cinematic allure. But Barthe’s distinctive and subversive brand of storytelling is what has us most pumped about this period piece.
Dope (June 19th) — This quirky crime-comedy centers on a self-proclaimed “90s Hip Hop nerd” who has Harvard dreams but hood problems. When Malcolm (Shameik Moore) runs afoul of a local gang, he depends on his misfit crew (Grand Budapest Hotel’s Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, and Workaholics’ Blake Anderson) to help him through. We’re pumped that it looks to be a geek triumph movie with a more diverse cast of characters than that genre tends to see. And word out of its world debut is that it’s feel-good and dope as hell.
Infinitely Polar Bear (June 19th) — Marvel stars Zoe Saldana and Mark Ruffalo unite for this family dramedy about a bipolar father trying to do right by his wife and daughters. Though set in the 1970s, the film seems deliver a very modern message on what it means to truly be a family man. The directorial debut of Maya Forbes got great buzz out of the Toronto International Film Festival and Sundance for Ruffalo’s career-defining performance. And who couldn’t use a little more Ruffalo in their lives?
Batkid Begins (June 26th) — We live in dark and cynical times. But there are days where we can all put aside our differences and come together in joy and hope. One such day was when Batkid took San Francisco—and then the world—by storm. Dana Nachman’s crowd-funded documentary details how a five-year-old’s Make-A-Wish went from a few hundred volunteers to millions around the globe cheering for Batkid. Bring tissues to this one.
Mr. Holmes (July 17th) — I feel like all I need to say about this one is: Ian Motherfucking McKellen stars as Sherlock Holmes. I mean, you’re sold right? I am. But hey, if you need more than the promise of McKellen’s whipsmart brand of senior-styled sass in the form of literature’s biggest wiseass, fine. Based on the novel by Mitch Cullin, this mystery movie throws the long retired Holmes back into the detective game when a beautiful young women goes missing. Bonus: Mr. Holmes marks a reunion of McKillen with his Gods and Monsters director Bill Condon. So you know it’ll be beautiful.
Southpaw (July 24th) — Remember how Jake Gyllenhaal should have been nominated for an Oscar last year for his transformative role in Nightcrawler? Well, here comes his round two. Director Antoine Fuqua’s follow-up to The Equalizer has Gyllenhaal ripped and roaring as a boxer risking everything to make it to the top. Rachel McAdams co-stars as his wife, fighting the losing battle of getting him to walk away before it’s too late. You might think you know this story. You’d be wrong.
The Gift (July 31st)—Aussie actor Joel Edgerton turns writer-director with a thriller co-starring Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman. A Blumhouse production, this flick stays true to the company line presenting a chilling tale, simply set and bolstered by impressive actors. So all that remains is to learn what lurks in the past of a newlywed man that he loses his cool when an old acquaintance comes knocking, again and again and again. And what’s the deal with the monkey mask?
Dark Places (August 7th)—Hot off the success of Gone Girl comes the adaptation of another deliciously deranged Gillian Flynn novel. Charlize Theron stars as a woman deeply scarred by a childhood that effectively ended the night most of her family was murdered, and her brother was blamed. Years later, she’s pushed to look back on her past and uncover what really happened that night. This gruesome and grand mystery is made all the more appealing by a cast that includes Christina Hendricks, Chloë Grace Moretz, Nicholas Hoult and Corey Stoll.
Look for our reviews of the above this summer.