Now that I’m technically an adult and a full-fledged college student, the release of summer comes marred with finals, papers, sleepless nights and the bittersweet feeling of leaving newfound friends for old ones back home. One aspect of summer has remained glorious and untainted in my collegiate brain: the movies. With summer comes movie season; the early year drought of lackluster releases ends, and the real contenders come out in the open.
Event movies, indie films, new works by old favorites, fantastic ensemble casts and additions to beloved franchises are all at the moviegoer’s fingertips, and this summer is no exception. It is always hard for me to narrow down these wonders into a finite list of films, but with the beauties on display this year, I think I can work something out. So here are my top picks for this summer’s watching, and in loosely ascending order no less.
10. The Bourne Legacy (Aug 3)
Director: Tony Gilroy, Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton)
This is not a film I initially felt too much excitement for, and I could say I resented its existence at first. The Bourne Trilogy is a fine trio of films, one that married action spectacle with a good deal of intelligence, and showed the world that Matt Damon could not only handle a leading role, but bring some much needed modesty and believability to the action genre. That said, watching this new Bourne tale come together has done nothing but pique my interest. From the fantastic cast (Joan Allen and David Strathairn also reprise their roles) with Renner as its capable new leading man, to the fantastic Tony Gilroy in the director’s chair (whose Michael Clayton ages fantastically by the way), everything about this project has me paying very close attention.
9. God Bless America (May 11)
Director: Bobcat Goldthwait, Starring: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr
Those of our readers who are acquainted with Mr. Goldthwait’s previous directorial effort, World’s Greatest Dad, know why this is on my list. If you are unlucky enough to have missed that film: first see it, second know that the director/comedian will be bringing the same pitch black humor and complete lack of social boundaries to his effort. A tale of a Natural Born Killers-style rampage, undertaken by a dying middle-aged man and a young girl against reality T.V. brats, fake celebrities and jerks in general; God Bless America looks to be another bountiful source of entirely guilty pleasure.
8. To Rome with Love (June 22)
Director: Woody Allen, Starring: Ellen Page, Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg
Woody Allen has been on a bit of a winning streak recently, with Oscar wins for both Vicky Christina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris, and has been enjoying more respect in the industry than he’s had in quite a while. With that in mind, not to mention Allen’s unfailing ability to put together a truly magnificent cast, this one is looking quite appetizing. A series of romantic vignettes set in Rome itself, Love does not exactly seem profound or revolutionary, but if Allen’s classic wit is on display, and the cast delivers, this film should be a great piece of entertainment.
7. The Avengers (May 4)
Director: Joss Whedon, Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, The Kitchen Sink
Nerd-deity Joss Whedon has described his vision for the film as Glengarry Glen Ross but with superheroes. He is also stated via Reddit that working with these actors has been like “herding adorable kittens,” and both statements are music to my ears. Projects like this just do not come around that often, and against all odds, The Avengers seems to be really coming together; and if it does in fact come together, this may be movie history in the making.
6. Brave (June 22)
Director: Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews, Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson
Aside from the lukewarm reception to last year’s Cars 2, a Pixar release is kind of a big deal, and deservedly so as they have made one arguably bad movie in their 26 year history. Brave also marks the first time that Pixar has made a straight fantasy film. This, when coupled with the film’s ancient Scottish setting and fabulous voice cast, make Brave something to watch. I have yet to be disappointed by Pixar, although I have also yet to see Cars 2, but it seems that tradition of excellence will continue with Brave.
5. ParaNorman (Aug 17)
Director: Chris Butler, Sam Fell, Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, John Goodman
I know it is a bit of an upset placing this on the list ahead of this summer’s Pixar offering, but Laika studios’ upcoming stop motion project looks as innovative as it does a delight. The film tells the story of young Norman, who can see/talk to dead people, and the misadventures that come with such a gift. Recently Laika impressed a great number of people, myself included, with 2009’s Neil Gaiman adaptation Coraline, and ParaNorman looks to be a satisfying follow up in nearly every way.
4. Moonrise Kingdom (May 25)
Director:. Wes Anderson, Starring: Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton
When certain directors release a film, it is very important for cinephiles like myself, and Wes Anderson is one of those people. Anderson’s films don’t always work for everyone, but the director has such a distinctive style, on both screen and page, that one cannot help but take notice. The film tells the story of two young lovers in the ‘60s who decide to run away from summer camp and the search that ensues. A search orchestrated in part by Norton and Willis, who join many other new additions to the director’s trusty stable of actors. It is always a good thing to see Anderson put out a movie, and it is even more exciting to see him bring some new faces into the mix.
3. Lawless (Aug 31)
Director: John Hillcoat, Starring: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Mia Waisikowska, Jessica Chastain, Gary Oldman.
John Hillcoat’s The Proposition is unquestionably one of my favorite movies of recent memory. It was a brutal, beautiful, chillingly acted and written piece of work, one that made me sure to watch for the next collaboration between Hillcoat and musician Nick Cave, who wrote the script. It turns out that in summer 2012 my prayers will be answered. Formerly titled The Wettest Country in the World, Lawless is a story of prohibition-era bootleggers who come into conflict with the law, competition and each other, and frankly that’s all the plot I need at this point. Hillcoat and Cave know how to tell a poetic, brutal, and interesting story, and with this one they’ve got the talent on hand to pull it off.
2. The Dark Knight Rises (July 20)
Director: Christopher Nolan, Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Anne Hathaway
I love Batman. You love Batman. Everyone loves Batman. Audiences seem to especially love Christopher Nolan’s take on Gotham’s caped crusader, and deservedly so. With The Dark Knight, Nolan and company took their Batman to dark places familiar to those who have read Frank Miller and Alan Moore’s legendary comic book runs, and Rises is fixing to live up to such a standard. Nolan has always been clear that he intends to end his trilogy here, and that sentiment has lent an air of structure and consequence that often is missing in superhero franchises. The Dark Knight Rises is the finale of Nolan’s trilogy, and he intends to make it count.
1. Prometheus (June 8)
Director: Ridley Scott, Starring: Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce
Ridley Scott is making a science fiction film. This is news. Scott created two defining films of the genre more than thirty years ago, 1979’s Alien and 1982’s Blade Runner, and the fact that this will be his next is something anyone who loves movies should pay attention to. Prometheus benefits also from a mysterious connection to the universe of Alien, giving it a rich mythology to draw upon, and judging from the trailers, it borrows from the earlier film’s atmosphere as well. I seem to be a bit of a broken record at times regarding the casts of these movies, but it’s as true here as it is with the rest: The cast is fantastic. Recent notables like Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy, and Noomi Rapace mix in with older faces like Charlize Theron and Guy Pearce. Even the terrific Idris Elba of The Wire fame turns out. This movie has a lot to live up to but it, and Scott’s return to sci-fi in general, is far too important not to.