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Get ready for an unforgettable summer at the movies. With at least two of the biggest event films ever gracing theaters this season (starting Friday), you should consult a doctor if you don’t feel at least a little tingly inside.
We here on the Player Affinity Movies Staff have selected our Top 15 movies of the summer and each of us also has one or two other recommendations of films we’re personally excited for. We won’t get to everything from now until Labor Day, but guaranteed you will find a movie or two that wasn’t on your radar or learn why you should a little more excited for something you already might be interested in.
Part 1 highlights include some of the summer’s most anticipated comedies, independent films and a couple blockbusters that didn’t make our collective list but have a few of us amped. If you’re a fan of total blockbuster anarchy, you’ll want to definitely keep an eye out for Part 2 coming soon.
15. Magic Mike (June 29)
Any movie directed by Steven Soderbergh is always going to be interesting and his new leading man Channing Tatum is on a roll after the success of 21 Jump Street.
Tatum returns to comedy in a movie loosely based on his experience as a stripper and joining him are Alex Pettyfer (I Am Number Four), Matthew McConaughey and Cody Horn (Rescue Me). Reid Carolin, president of Iron Horse Entertainment (Tatum’s production company) and producer of Stop-Loss, Reid Carolin writes his first screenplay.
Mike Martingano (Tatum) is an experienced stripper who takes a young man nicknamed The Kid (Pettyfer) under his wing as he balances a career in stripping and a social life.
For you ladies out there, Magic Mike promises one of its leads will go the Full Monty. ~ Kieran
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Reid Carolin
Starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn
Kieran’s Critic’s Pick: Savages (July 6)
Crime movies are always something I enjoy, and with Oliver Stone at the helm, Savages should be one higher-quality entries in the genre. Don Winslow adapts his own novel along with Stone and writer Shane Salerno (Armageddon, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem … somehow this guy still finds work) The trailer looks like it crosses many elements of Natural Born Killers, Traffic, Blow, Scarface and with the gritty action of The Hurt Locker.
In terms of cast, Taylor Kitsch (John Carter, Battleship) stars in what should be his best movie of 2012 in terms of quality alongside Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass), Blake Lively (The Town), Uma Thurman, Salma Hayek, John Travolta and Benicio del Toro.
Ben (Johnson) is a university graduate and marijuana grower and Chon (Kitsch) is a former Navy SEAL. They slowly start to come into conflict with the Mexican Cartel led by Lado (del Toro) for encroaching on their territory. When the Cartel kidnaps the friends’ shared girlfriend O (Lively), they are forced to go to war —and wear skull masks.
Savages should hold action fans over between the release of The Amazing Spider-man and The Dark Knight Rises.
Directed by Oliver Stone
Written by Shane Salerno, Don Winslow, Oliver Stone (screenplay), Don Winslow (novel)
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, John Travolta, Benicio del Toro
14. Lawless (Aug. 31)
John Hillcoat has proven himself to be a very talented director with the Australian Western The Proposition and his adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Hillcoat reunites with The Proposition writer Nick Cave, who adapts Matt Bondurant’s novel The Wettest County in the World, which is based on his own family.
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke (Trust), Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce, Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain, Lawless will compete for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. With all these qualities and trailer suggesting a Boardwalk Empire feel, Lawless could compete for Oscars despite its late summer release.
During the height of Prohibition, the Bondurant brothers (LaBeouf, Hardy and Clarke) are bootleggers in Franklin County, Virginia and able to make a lot of money supplying locals with their booze. But they soon clash with the gangster Floyd Banner (Oldman) and a tough cop from the city, Deputy Charley Rakes (Pearce). ~ Kieran
Directed by John Hillcoat
Written by Nick Cave (screenplay), Matt Bondurant (novel)
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain
Kieran’s Critic’s Pick: The Expendables 2 (Aug. 17)
In an age of PG-13, CGI-heavy blockbusters, we need a good helping of ‘80s-style action to counter it. The Expendables did that in 2010 and more action stars from the past have joined the sequel: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first role since retiring from his post as The Governator.
And for you youngsters out there, Liam Hemsworth of The Hunger Games joins as “The Kid.” Of course Stallone, Statham, Li and Lundgren all return to give us that nostalgic feeling we have all been longing for. Simon West from Con Air fame takes over the directing duties from Stallone.
The Expendables reunite after Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) offers them a seemingly easy job, but one of them ends up murdered by the leader of another group of mercenaries, the subtly named Jean Vilain (Van Damme). The Expendables set out to get revenge.
After Chuck Norris scared up a storm saying that The Expendables 2 was going to be PG-13, Stallone and Lundgren promised the sequel will be R-rated. Norris should just be grateful he is in a theatrical release these days.
Directed by Simon West
Written by Sylvester Stallone, David Callaham (characters)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger
13. Beasts of the Southern Wild (June 27, Limited)
Beasts of the Southern Wild marks several key cinematic firsts. It serves as the full-length directorial debut of Benh Zeitlin, whose previous forays were in short films, and it also marks the cinematic debut of young star Quvenzhané Wallis. Even though it’s loaded with such firsts, this film tackles a rather ambitious story.
“Beasts” follows a girl named Hushpuppy (Wallis) as she searches for her mother upon the declining health of her father. What’s more, significant environmental shifts have caused ancient bovines called aurochs to invade Hushpuppy’s Delta community.
Although its premise – especially when accounting for the fantasy aspect – seems bizarre, “Beasts” earned raves when it played at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. The drama is also set to play Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival and, with backing from Fox Searchlight, might even be an Oscar contender at the end of the year. ~Julian
Directed by Benh Zeitlin
Written by Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly
Julian’s Critic’s Pick: Hope Springs (Aug. 10)
Hope Springs reunites Meryl Streep with Devil Wears Prada director David Frankel, so we’re obviously expecting this to be much lighter than her last effort, the Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady. However, not everything’s a joke in the film, as its main premise hinges on the less-than-perfect marriage between Streep and Tommy Lee Jones.
Fortunately, Streep and Jones try to find the light in the darkness rather than wallowing in pity as other seemingly doomed cinematic couples do. Like all other films with Streep, I’m really looking forward to the three-time Oscar winner’s work. Most people know her for dramatic performances such as those in Sophie’s Choice and Kramer vs. Kramer, but it’s really easy to forget how funny she is in films like It’s Complicated and the aforementioned “Prada.”
With simply the delivery of the line “You got another Corgi,” Streep’s comedic talents look to be on display quite brilliantly.
Directed by David Frankel
Written by Vanessa Taylor
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell
Other Notable Romantic Comedies/Musicals This Summer
–What to Expect When You’re Expecting (May 18) starring Elizabeth Banks, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Anna Kendrick, Chris Rock, Matthew Morrison, Chase Crawford
–Rock of Ages (June 15) starring Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin
–Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (June 22) starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley
–Step Up Revolution (July 27) starring Kathryn McCormick, Ryan Guzman and Adam G. Sevani
–Sparkle (Aug. 17) starring Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston, Mike Epps and Derek Luke
12. Ted (July 13)
Seth MacFarlane quickly became the biggest name in animated comedy with Family Guy, and though the show has faded a bit in the eyes of its fans, no one doubts the Emmy-award winner’s comedic know-how. That makes Ted, his first cinematic foray, all the more intriguing.
Mark Wahlberg stars alongside MacFarlane, who voices his stuffed teddy bear come to life. The premise imagines if your most beloved childhood plaything was real as you always dreamed, but never went away after you grew up … and got high a lot. With a new lady in his life (frequent MacFarlane collaborator Mila Kunis), Wahlberg’s John must finally grow up and part ways with his beloved Ted.
The film shares a lot of similarities with Family Guy in that it takes place in a world in which things that can’t act like grown humans in real life are the norm and MacFarlane essentially uses a Bostonian version of his Peter Griffin voice. Perhaps a new story is exactly what MacFarlane needs to freshen up his humor. If the red-band trailer (below, NSFW) is any indication, Ted will be can’t-miss for crude humor fans. ~Steven
Directed by Seth MacFarlane
Written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane (voice), Giovanni Ribisi
Steven’s Critic’s Pick: The Campaign (Aug. 10)
Feelings on the 2012 campaign aside, here’s an election we can all get behind. How it took this long for a modern-day political campaign to become comedic fodder is beyond me, and with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis playing North Carolina rivals vying for the presidency, expect some good old-fashioned mudslinging.
We haven’t seen a trailer yet, but fans of Galifianakis’ pre-film comedy career will be pleased to know his character is modeled off his fake twin brother, Seth Galifianakis, at least as far as the soft, effeminate voice goes.
Established comedic director Jay Roach (Dinner for Schmucks, the “Austin Powers” films) took the reigns for this one, which will be quite different from his recent political film, Game Change, the drama about the 2008 presidential race that recently aired on HBO. One of the writers on HBO’s Eastbound & Down as well a writer on Ferrell vehicle The Other Guys contributed the screenplay.
Knowing how great at improvisational insults these two can be, a scene showcasing a debate would be all it would take for me to buy this pitch, so as a Hollywood producer it’s a no-brainer.
Directed by Jay Roach
Written by Chris Henchy, Shawn Harwell
Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis
11. Dark Shadows (May 11)
Johnny Depp and Tim Burton have struck again. You can roll your eyes all you want but there is no denying that audiences worldwide love it when these gentlemen work together as they have done for more than 20 years. Not only are they keeping true to their zany form this time around, but they are also fulfilling childhood dreams by adapting to ‘60s/’70s soap opera for the big screen.
Dark Shadows centers on Barnabas Collins (Depp), a vampire who is released 200 years after being locked away by a jealous witch, Angelique (Eva Green). Upon awakening in the 1970s, Barnabas returns to his family estate to find it in disarray, with his descendants fractured from one another and harboring their own secrets. Intent on bringing the Collins name back to greatness, Barnabas attempts to reconcile the family while protecting them from Angelique’s (who also has survived the test of time) curses.
“Shadows” has a long-standing history as a cult show with drama, settings and characters that are larger than life when it comes to personality. In many respects ahead of its time, it’s a matter of public record that adapting “Shadows” to film has been a dream for both Burton and Depp, who look to have not only taken their original source material to heart but also return to their more Gothic roots. ~Max
Directed by Tim Burton
Written by Seth Grahame-Smith, John August, Dan Curtis (TV series)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Chloe Moretz, Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Lee Miller
Max’s Critic’s Pick: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (June 22)
I admit that history has always been a bit dry for my taste and can always use a little more kick. Apparently, Seth Grahame-Smith felt the same when he wrote the novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
Taken from “secret diaries” belonging to Lincoln, “Vampire Hunter” opens with Lincoln’s mother being killed by a vampire when he is 11 years old. From then on, Lincoln vows not only revenge, but the eradication of as many vampires as he can find. As he grows older and begins his political ascent, he spends his nights under the tutelage of Henry Sturgese (Dominic Cooper), a vampire who assists Lincoln in his rampage against bloodsuckers and their slave-owning allies.
The entire project has been buzzed-about for a long time coming: it was the subject of one of Hollywood’s more colorful bidding wars, was mentored by Tim Burton and recruited crazed action director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Night Watch). “Vampire Hunter” has all the trappings for slick — albeit dumb — fun in the summer season.
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
Written by Seth Grahame-Smith
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth-Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Anthony Mackie
10. The Dictator (May 16)
Sacha Baron Cohen made a huge splash into the mainstream with Borat, and while his follow-up in Bruno wasn’t quite as successful, the British comedian is fearless in his role commitment and will sacrifice just about anything to get a laugh. One thing that remains to be seen is if Cohen’s humorous marketing blitz (which has included viral videos and red carpet antics at the Oscars) is actually going to stand as more entertaining than the film itself.
Ditching the mockumentary angle for a more traditionally told lark, in The Dictator, Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen, the oppressive and arrogant ruler of the fictional Republic of Wadiya who is stripped of his identity and left to fend for himself after a visit to America. He is joined by a great supporting cast including Megan Fox as herself (the role she was born to play), Anna Farris, John C. Reilly and Ben Kingsley.
The Dictator will answer once and for all the question of if Borat was a fluke success and whether viewers have grown wearisome of Cohen’s shtick—or just if the intentionally uncomfortable comedy of Bruno was just too much for mainstream viewers. Regardless of what the masses have to say, The Dictator is timely (but not outwardly controversial) and offers up another great quotable creation from the comic. ~Simon
Directed by Larry Charles
Written by Sacha Baron Cohen and Alec Berg
Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Farris, Ben Kingsley, John C. Reilly
Simon’s Critic’s Pick: ParaNorman (Aug. 17)
Stop-motion animation inherently carries with it a distinctly unique look, but the visual style on display in ParaNorman just seems to have a spark of something even more inspired. ParaNorman comes the studio that made the dark fable Coraline, this time bringing us a coming-of-age tale about an odd young boy named Norman who can see the dead. When dark forces conspire to verge on the living world, it is up to him and a few friends to stop the apocalypse.
ParaNorman collects a smorgasbord of voice talent including Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In) Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann and John Goodman and comes from co-directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell, who worked in the art department for Corpse Bride. Although it has been Aardman Animations, Tim Burton and Henry Selick that have dominated the stop-motion landscape for the last decade-plus, it’s good to see some fresh talent infused into the genre.
As a fan of horror films, having the opportunity to see one in a medium I greatly admire seems like a wonderful treat for the kid in me. Although it could be too creepy for actual young kids, 7-year-olds (and above) should lap this up and the trailer itself promises some genre in-jokes that should please any accompanying parents.
Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell
Written by Chris Butler
Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Casey Affleck
Other Notable Animated Films This Summer
–Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (June 8) — DreamWorks
–Brave (June 22) — Pixar
–Ice Age: Continental Drift (July 13) — 20th Century Fox Animation
9. Safety Not Guaranteed (June 8, Limited)
Do you enjoy indie sci fi that focuses more on personal intricacies than technological ones, and don’t mind when it’s inspired by an Internet meme? Safety Not Guaranteed, the story of a newspaper team covertly covering a grocery aisle clerk who claims he can time travel, might just be for you.
Based on an Internet-infamous help wanted ad looking “for somebody to go back in time with,” the film stars Mark Duplass (one half the indie powerhouse that is the Duplass brothers) as Kenneth, a free-spirited recluse who thinks he’s invented time travel. When an intern played by Aubrey Plaza has to get close to the story to find the truth, her relationship with Kenneth gets more complicated the more she starts to believe him.
Early word from Sundance is that Safety Not Guaranteed more than lives up to its promise of being a down-to-earth romp with a hint of imaginative science and a whole lot of heart. Don’t be surprised if you hear plenty of good word of mouth regarding Plaza, who’s been winning over audiences the last few years as the acerbic April on Parks and Recreation, and will star in the raunchy The To-Do List sometime next year. ~Sam
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Written by Derek Connolly
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass and Jake M. Johnson
Sam’s Critic’s Pick: Lola Versus (June 8, Limited)
With a reputation as “mumblecore’s Meryl Streep,” 28-year-old Greta Gerwig has been racking up fans at the art house, thanks to winning turns in small flicks like Greenberg and Night and Weekends, with many wondering what will be her true breakout role. After supporting parts in last year’s No Strings Attached and Arthur, she’s ready to take center stage once more in Lola Versus.
No it’s not the sequel to Run Lola Run or Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, nor is it an adaptation of that Kinks song, but it looks like it’ll be riding the wave of promising comedies starring young women trying to make sense of life. Gerwig plays the titular Lola, who has every reason to feel the world is after her when her fiancé ditches her three weeks before the wedding, leaving her to pick up the pieces and start life over again on the verge of 30.
Writer-director Daryl Wein got traction in the indie circuit with his 2009 debut Breaking Upwards, and “Lola” could be a big break for him, as well as Gerwig. With a deep bench of young talent including new Robocop Joel Kinnaman, co-writer Zoe Lister Jones, and SNL’s Jay Pharoah, Lola Versus has everything it needs to make a splash come June.
Directed by Daryl Wein
Written by Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister Jones
Starring Greta Gerwig, Zoe Lister Jones and Hamish Linklater
8. Moonrise Kingdom (May 25, Limited)
Love him or hate him, Wes Anderson is an original. Though his films are often divisive and claims of him following his own formula too closely are valid, The Royal Tenenbaums is as endlessly watchable as it is quotable and Fantastic Mr. Fox signaled a turn in a somewhat new direction. That said, Moonrise Kingdom, looks like vintage Wes Anderson. But that’s OK with us.
The film’s conflict centers on a pair of young lovers running away from a small town in the 1960s, but it appears to more closely follow the search party that goes out after them. This search party consists of Anderson regulars like Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray, as well as some newcomers—Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Frances McDormand.
If nothing else, Moonrise Kingdom will feature some great music, but we suspect the film will be more than that. It’s opening the Cannes Film Festival, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything (films like Robin Hood and The DaVinci Code opened past festivals, as did Midnight in Paris and Up). However, this film also managed to gain admittance to the Competition at Cannes, which is reserved for only the most accomplished and prestigious filmmakers in the world. We’ll find out this Memorial Day whether Anderson’s film deserves to be included in the bunch. ~John
Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, and Bruce Willis
John’s Critic’s Pick: Take This Waltz (June 29, Limited)
If the name Sarah Polley doesn’t mean much to you, you have until June 29 to remedy that. She was the young star of a number of brilliant independent films in the 1990s, including Atom Egoyan’s Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter.
This decade, she’s transitioned behind the camera and was the driving force behind 2007’s powerful Alzheimer’s drama Away From Her, which earned veteran actress Julie Christie an Oscar nomination. She’s finally back with Take This Waltz, starring the always-excellent Michelle Williams.
The film chronicles the romantic entanglements of Williams, Seth Rogen, and Luke Kirby. Williams and Rogen are married (quite happily, it seems), but she begins to feel a deep passion for Kirby, an artist.
The plot sounds unremarkable, but reviewers have been praising its strong acting and writing since last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. I always have faith in Williams, and Polley is perhaps the most promising young female director out there. So even if the subject matter isn’t the most interesting, I’ll still definitely be tuned in to this one.
Directed by Sarah Polley
Written by Sarah Polley
Starring Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman, and Luke Kirby
Other Notable Independent Drama/Comedies This Summer
–The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (May 4) starring Tom Wilkinson, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy
–Peace, Love and Misunderstanding (June 8) starring Catherin Keener, Jane Fonda and Elizabeth Olsen.
–Your Sister’s Sister (June 15) starring Emily Blunt, Mark Duplass and Rosemarie Dewitt. Written Directed by Lynn Shelton.
–People Like Us (June 29) starring Elizabeth Banks, Chris Pine, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jon Favreau and Mark Duplass. Written and Directed by Alex Kurtzman.
–Ruby Sparks (July 25) starring Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Annette Bening and Steve Coogan. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine).
–Celeste and Jesse Forever (Aug. 3) starring Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen.