Looking forward to another cinema summer of sequels, superheroes and sex-crazed comedies?
But this time of year, that’s all you seem to hear about. Every billboard is plastered with ads for upcoming wannabe blockbusters. Every website seems to have a story headlined “17 Awesome Movies You Can’t Miss!”
I don’t look down on those pictures. Frankly, I’m hoping to have a good time at a few of them — including “Deadpool 2,” (May 18) “Solo: A Star Wars Story” (May 25), the femme-centric “Ocean’s 8” (June 8), the long-awaited “Incredibles 2” (June 15) and “Mission Impossible: Fallout” (July 27). Hey, I might even make it through “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” (July 20) if they can just keep Pierce Brosnan from singing.
But what about the movies that don’t have guys with superhero powers, or Tom Cruise running away from slow-motion explosions? You know, the films that might be aimed at adults instead of teens, that don’t require we leave part of our brain at the ticket booth — pictures that all those other summer-preview stories tend to ignore?
Well, they’re on their way, too, and here’s a guide to some of your best bets. (Just keep in mind all dates are tentative and for theatrical premieres; many of these films may take a few weeks to hit local theaters.)
So – what are you in the mood for? If you have a taste for period drama, things heat up this month with “The Seagull” (May 11), an adaptation of the Chekhov play that contains a superb performance from the never disappointing Annette Bening, and “Mary Shelley” (May 25), with Elle Fanning starring as the teenager who birthed “Frankenstein” (and the entire sci-fi genre). Later in the season, “Woman Walks Ahead” (June 29) stars the always watchable Jessica Chastain as a Brooklyn painter who befriends Chief Sitting Bull, and the French import “Rodin” (August 24) unpacks the legendary sculptor’s destructive relationship with fellow artist Camille Claudel.
Enjoy documentaries? This great genre gets short shrift from most movie guides, yet the films themselves rarely disappoint; I’ve left features ruing the two hours of my life I just lost, but I never leave a doc feeling it’s been time wasted. Some of the summer ones I’m most looking forward include “RBG” (May 4) about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (June 8) about the infallibly decent Mr. Fred Rogers. Meanwhile “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word” (May 18) looks at the inspiring pontiff while “The Gospel According to Andre” (May 25) bends a knee to that secular fashion prophet, Andre Leon Talley.
Also in the non-fiction-is-stranger-than-fiction department: new docs about our sometime disastrous dietary choices (“Eating Animals,” June 15), the legend and legacy of Elvis Presley (“THE KING,” June 22), and the glittering life and tragic death of a Jersey superstar (“Whitney,” July 4). And while I still take all of his stories with several grains of salt, “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood” (July 27), promises to unpack the memories of a 94-year-old hustler who claims to have done everybody who was anybody.
Biopics remain popular with ambitious actors and serious filmmakers, particularly when the subject is anti-heroic and the treatment less than respectful. (Remember last year’s “I, Tonya”?) So we may get more of the sardonic same when John Travolta, in what could be his third (or is it fourth?) career comeback, turns into the slick and murderous “Gotti” (June 15). That same day, the addictively attractive Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz team for the story of another gangster in “Loving Pablo” (as in Picasso.)
Meanwhile, Joaquin Phoenix stars in the story of a disabled, and disarming, cartoonist in Gus Van Sant’s “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” (July 13), while political firebrand Rob Reiner’s “Shock and Awe,” also that day, follows reporters examining the “weapons of mass destruction” charge that once led us into war. And, finally, that unbridled, unapologetic rebel in everything, including capitalization, Spike Lee returns with a wild true-life story of race, friendship and a dangerous undercover operation in “BlacKkKlansman” (August 10).
Want a smart movie about even smarter women? “Tully” (opening May 4) with a devilishly clever script by Diablo Cody, features Charlize Theron as a barely coping mother-of-three in need of some kind of intervention. On the literary side of things, the romantic comedy “Book Club” (May 18) stars Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen and Jane Fonda as four friends inspired by – uh-oh – “Fifty Shades of Grey,” while another dream cast — Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson and the tremendous Bill Nighy – face personal and financial problems in “The Bookshop” (August 24).
Other pressures and prejudices play a part in “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” (August 3), when teen Chloe Grace Moretz is enrolled in “gay aversion therapy”; in “The Wife,” also opening on that date, Glenn Close plays a woman questioning her marriage (and delivers a stand-out performance that’s already building awards buzz)
Your liveliest choices for summer movies, though, may be the ones that don’t fit any easy category at all. Like “Crazy Rich Asians” (August 17), based on a big, guilty-pleasure best-seller but with a ground-breaking cast that lifts it above the usual soap opera; or “Hereditary” (June 8) which may sound like another family-curse horror story, but boasts Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne and months of raves from the film-fest circuit.
Other break-the-mold movies include Paul Schrader’s unsparing “First Reformed” (May 18) with Ethan Hawke as a minister in danger of losing his faith, and “Adrift” (June 1) with Shailene Woodley vs the deep blue sea. And what can we look forward to in “The Happytime Murders” (August 17) a kind of “Avenue Q”/”Who Framed Roger Rabbit” mashup with a puppet private eye looking for a killer? Or “Alpha,” also opening that day, which promises us just another boy-and-his-dog story – except this time it’s literally the first one, set back in the stone age?
I think all we can expect is that these movies – like most of the others here – have been made in hopes of defying, and exceeding, our expectations. And when every other summer cinema offering seems to look alike, that’s something to be cherished.