Even with the release of Fast Five this weekend, the summer movie season doesn't officially kick off until next weekend with the first week of May. However, it's understandable as to why Hollywood would want to gets things started a week early. An unusually large number of buzzed about/heavily publicized big-budget studio fare is coming our way over the next three months, in addition to a handful of smaller films to act as counterweights. In addition to sequels and superheroes, we also get auteur offerings from the likes of Allen and Malick, along with small films from indie hopefuls. So, here's a glimpse at 15 reasons to stay out of the summer sun
15. Green Lantern, dir. Martin Campbell [June 17 - Wide]
As far as superheroes go, I've always been surprised that it took so long for the Green Lantern to make it to the big screen. While not quite as prominent as Batman or Spiderman, he's certainly a prominent and beloved character with a complicated universe that has the potential for many, many sequels. Regardless, the wait is almost over, and despite so initial bad buzz, it looks halfway decent. I'm still not sold on Blake Lively as the love interest (how flat are her line readings in the trailer?), but Reynolds seems convincing, and the action should have plenty of diversity, given the endless possibilities of the Green Lantern's weapon. What's truly worrying, though, are the effects. The Green Lantern suit is completely CGI, and parts of it fail to look completely seamless in the footage released so far. Post-production work has become such a hassle that Warner Bros. has given the film an extra $9 million to get it all done on time.
14. Cowboys and Aliens, dir. Jon Favreau [July 29 - Wide]
No, that's not a joke, or the name of the latest MST3K spoof. Jon Favreau's (Iron Man) latest, is a legitimate action/adventure, where the Old West meets outer space. Despite the giggle-inducing title, it does look like fun (plus, you'll get to see Olivia Wilde naked, albeit with PG-13 restrictions). The cast is solid (Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde), the effects look slick, and the action looks intense. The only thing that could hold it back is tone. Will it be too serious, too silly, or an awkward mix of both?
13. Transformers: Dark of the Moon, dir. Michael Bay [July 1 - Wide]
Damn you, Michael Bay, for once again making me want to see your latest explosion orgy. After that heinous sequel two years ago, I thought I was done with this franchise. And then, with the release of the first theatrical trailer, I'm intrigued all over again. And honestly, it does look like an improvement. The action sequences look less frenetically edited (that clip of Bumblebee dodging, climbing, and catching Sam was only one shot; not a single cut), and the robot design slightly less busy (which often made them hard to distinguish as well as hard to look at). One thing I will say, though (and never thought I would), is that I miss Megan Fox. Her replacement, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, has one expression, and it's completely blank. To counterbalance, however, we have Frances McDormand as a bitchy government agent, which is oddly inspired. I never thought I'd live to see Marge Gunderson talking to Optimus Prime. First Turturro, and now McDormand? Apparently Mr. Bay has decided that the best way to fill his ensembles is with members of the Coen brothers' roster.
12. Captain America, dir. Joe Johnston [July 22 - Wide]
It's about time the good Captain got a second shot at the silver screen. His previous endeavor was in 1990, and it didn't exactly go well. Considerably more enticing is the latest entry in the build up to 2012's The Avengers movie, starring Chris Evans as the most patriotic superhero, well, ever. The set up, with its ahead-of-its-time science, pulpy style, and Nazi villains has something of an Indiana Jones feel to it in the best way possible. The production values look gorgeous, and the cast is filled with talent, including the underrated Hugo Weaving as arch-nemesis Red Skull. The only question mark is director Joe Johnston, whose last film, The Wolfman, wasn't exactly a big success.
11. Submarine, dir. Richard Ayoade [June 3 - Limited]
And now it's time for something completely different. Having already earned good reviews in Europe, Richard Ayoade's adaptation of Joe Dunthorne's coming-of-age novel finally hits US markets this summer, and it looks like a nice break from all of the superheroes and explosions. The main plot, a young teen's quest to lose his virginity, has been done before, but Dunthorne's acclaimed source material seems to have transfered nicely to the screen, with a nice mix of humor and drama. The young actors seem engaging, and the adult cast (Sally Hawkins and Paddy Considine) is only another reason to give this British indie a look.
10. Another Earth, dir. Mike Cahill [July 20 - Limited]
If you're looking for a mix of independent cinema and sci-fi, look no further than this Sundance entry. Like Moon or the upcoming Melancholia, Another Earth's goal is to take sci-fi elements (in this case, the discovery of a duplicate earth), and use them for something other than disaster sequences or alien invasions. Reviews have been decent, though not spectacular, but the premise is certainly intriguing. Some of the imagery is really striking, and despite the indie roots, it feels convincing.
09. The Beaver, dir. Jodie Foster [May 20 - Wide]
As easy as it is to make fun of/despise Mel Gibson, it's hard for me to deny that I'm really interested in his latest cinematic outing. Walter (Gibson), divorced and down on his luck, turns his life around when he begins to treat himself with a puppet, with whom he has conversations about his life. The premise always seemed iffy, and potentially laughable, but the trailer has me mostly convinced. The film seems to have a balance of humor and drama, which should keep it from becoming nothing more than a concept movie (imagine the same thing, but strictly as a comedy and starring Jim Carrey...not a pretty sight). Reviews out of Sundance were mostly positive, though some have questioned Foster's handling of the script's tonal shifts. Still, it's hard for me to deny that Gibson's performance looks engaging and riveting, perhaps even enough to forget all of his recent scandals.
08. Midnight in Paris, dir. Woody Allen [May 20 - Limited]
For our annual dose of Allen, the prolific director has returned to Paris with this Cannes opener. Despite the enticing cast (Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates), the trailer was lacking, and made the film seem goofy without actually being funny. So why is it up at number 8? Because it's Woody Allen, and even though he's been extremely hit/miss lately, when he's on form, he's spectacular. There's even been some very limited/low-key whispers that the trailer misrepresents the film, and that it's actually one of his best efforts in recent years (maybe those scantly-teased midnight sequences are really something...). And, to be fair, the trailer isn't a complete disappointment; Michael Sheen's role (a pompous pseudo-intellectual) looks like a blast, and as usual, the ensemble is terrific (at least on paper).
07. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, dir. Rob Marshall [May 20 - Wide]
I was never completely thrilled at the prospect of a fourth 'Pirates' film, but I can't deny that I do want it to be good. Keira and Orlando may be gone, but Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane are in, which gives me hope. And of course there's Depp and Geoffrey Rush, back in action and chewing the scenery up in the best sense of the term. I'm not terribly excited about the likely doomed romance subplot between a young sailor (Sam Claflin) and a mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), but hopefully it will only be a minor distraction. And even though Rob Marshall's had a rough few years, this lighter fare could potentially pay off in spades for him. There's also been hints that, if the 3D trailer was any indication, this is one of the best uses of post-conversion 3D work to date.
06. X-Men: First Class, dir. Matthew Vaughn [June 3 - Wide]
Though Captain America will take us back to the 1940s, you'll have a chance to enter the 1960s one month earlier in Matthew Vaughn's (Kick Ass) prequel. The story isn't the most enticing, as we know that a good number of the major characters will survive. The real draw here is the cast, even if it is Jackman-free. Led by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, the film is rounded out with the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Kevin Bacon, and January Jones. The story could also prove more interesting than other superhero flicks, because it has more to focus on than simple The (Lone) Hero's Journey. Watching McAvoy and Fassbender go from friends to archenemies should be great fun. There's always the chance that this will be a disaster, but it's hard to believe it will be anything other than an improvement over Wolverine.
05. Crazy, Stupid, Love, dirs. Glenn Ficarra & John Requa [July 29 - Wide]
Mainstream romantic comedies are in a dire state right now, which is why I'm hoping that Crazy, Stupid, Love will prove to be an exception. Story-wise, there's nothing noteworthy; man with broken marriage gets his groove back from hot ladies man. The draw here, like the previous entry, is the cast. Steve Carrell and Ryan Gosling are our male leads, with Julianne Moore and Emma Stone as their respective interests, along with Marissa Tomei as a woman the newly single Carrell falls for. And it's not just the cast that's impressive; the trailer feels legitimately funny (hopefully it's not a case of the best bits all being used up in the promos), especially Moore's killer delivery on that Twilight joke. And best of all, Katherine Heigl and Jennifer Aniston are nowhere in sight.
04. Thor, dir. Kenneth Branagh [May 6 - Wide]
Look for the god of thunder to take the box office by storm upon its debut. The latest superhero adaptation from Marvel Studios, and one of the first major summer blockbuster hopefuls, is following in the footsteps of Iron Man, in that it's earning surprisingly strong reviews (currently sitting at 94% on RottenTomatoes). Not that the film wasn't going to make solid money anyway, but such strong early press can only help. Apparently unknown leading man Chris Hemsworth gives a star-making performance, while Kat Dennings steals the show as the film's comic relief. In essence, it's the ideal summer movie: big, loud, and flashy, but also engaging and with the right amount of humor to keep it from becoming laughably self-serious.
03. Super 8, dir. JJ Abrams [June 10 - Wide]
The teases began just shy of a year ago. A truck slid onto train tracks, a train derailed, and a tightly locked steel door burst open before the screen cut to black. Since then, we've been given significantly more information, although master of mystery Abrams has yet to give us even the tiniest glimpse of whatever 'it' is. Instead of looking like a run of the mill monster tale, though, Abrams' latest has a magical quality to it, suggesting a darker and grittier E.T. for the 2010s. The use of young kids (including Elle Fanning), who happen to be aspiring movie makers, as protagonists only heightens the sense of adventure and wonder that Abrams is clearly striving for. Consider me sold.
2. The Tree of Life, dir. Terrence Malick [May 27 - Limited]
In a career spanning almost 40 years, The Tree of Life marks Terrence Malick's fifth feature film. And, by the looks of it, it promises to be his biggest and grandest. A fan of evocative imagery, narration, and simplistic narratives, Malick's style can be a turn off for many. I'll admit, I don't really care for Days of Heaven or The New World (as gorgeous as they are). Still, I love Badlands and The Thin Red Line, and I can't deny that Malick is a visionary, even if I don't always agree with his stylistic choices. The Tree of Life, as vague as the title seems (in regards to the trailer, at least) conjures up images of the mysterious and mythical, and considering the tremendous amounts of buzz about the film (those loose 2001 comparisons are a huge draw, to say the least. Also, dinosaurs...), I have a hard time finding a reason not to go. The whole thing just looks so epic and haunting, simple and complicated, and I can't wait to see how Malick's latest work of visual poetry turns out. The only reason this isn't number one on my list is because of...
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2, dir. David Yates [July 15 - Wide]
If ever a film earned the right to call itself "the motion picture event of a generation," this is it. It's been an incredible ride, regardless of whatever bumps there were along the way. As much as I hate to officially bid the series good-bye, I also can't wait for the end, and to see the book's action-packed second half (the Gringotts dragon!) come to life. Whereas 'Part 1' was full of character development and slow in pace (at times too slow), 'Part 2' looks like a massive, gorgeous adrenaline rush. It's the culmination of 10 years of film making, and I can't place this anywhere else but at number 1.