The big news at the megaplexes during the long Memorial Day weekend was the box-office face-off between two highly hyped sequels: Fast & Furious 6, yet another guilty-pleasure installment in the high-octane, higher-testosterone franchise, and The Hangover Part III, purportedly the final and certainly the darkest chapter in the comedy trilogy spawned by the 2009 smash-hit sleeper.
So what’s next?
Actually, the summer movie season has only just begun. Dozens of high-concept Hollywood releases and small-budget indie efforts are scheduled to hit theaters between now and Labor Day. The trick is deciding which ones are worth spending time and money on and — unless you’re an avid viewer of video on demand — facing Dallas traffic to see.
What follows is a purely subjective list of films that will be available for your viewing pleasure in the coming weeks. To be sure, there’ll be plenty of other options. But for various reasons, these are the 10 at the top of my must-see list. Your mileage may vary.
Much Ado About Nothing, opens June 7
Who’s in it? Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Fran Kranz, Reed Diamond
What’s the pitch? Joss Whedon does Shakespeare.
Why see it? Talk about going from one extreme to another: After putting the finishing touches on last summer’s epic Avengers, director Whedon shot (in a mere 12 days at his Santa Monica mansion) a small-budget, black-and-white version of the Bard’s classic comedy with several alumni of his cult-fave TV series (Angel, Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc.). The plot has been transported to the present day — but the original text reportedly has remained reasonably intact.
We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, available on VOD June 7
Who’s in it? Julian Assange
What’s the pitch? Julian Assange: Truth-telling maverick or self-aggrandizing loon?
Why see it? Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Casino Jack and the United States of Money) is a master when it comes to methodically, coherently, and, yes, entertainingly explaining the motives and mindsets of complex, even contradictory individuals. So expectations are high for his latest effort, a study of the controversial (to put it mildly) Assange and his campaign to expose malfeasance by posting classified material on his WikiLeaks website.
Even if documentaries aren’t normally your cup of tea, you might want to check out this one, if only to compare the real Assange to Benedict Cumberbatch, who’ll be playing the secret-leaker in Bill Condon’s forthcoming dramatic feature The Fifth Estate.
This Is the End, opens June 12
Who’s in it? Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill
What’s the pitch? Six showbiz celebrities are stuck in a big house while The Apocalypse erupts outside.
Why see it? The hilarious red-band trailer suggests the six leads mock themselves — and each other — while confirming our worst suspicions about them. Don’t know about you, but I’m up for that.
Man of Steel, opens June 14
Who’s in it? Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Russell Crowe
What’s the pitch? Superman Begins.
Why see it? After audiences failed to embrace Superman Returns — a semi-sequel to the first two Superman flicks starring Christopher Reeve — the producers decided to go into full reboot mode with another “origin” story. Recent trailers look promising — although it’s still hard to tell how effective Henry Cavill will be as the Super Dude — and, frankly, I’m eager to see how Kevin Costner pulls off the role of Clark Kent’s dad.
Yes, Costner really is old enough to play that part now. Sigh.
The Lone Ranger, opens July 3
Who’s in it? Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper, Helena Bonham Carter
What’s the pitch? Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear …
Why see it? I can’t see where there can be any middle ground for this one. It will be either a rousingly exciting action-adventure laced with rollicking comedy — not unlike director Gore Verbinksi’s first collaboration with Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl — or a disastrous folly that plumbs heretofore uncharted depths of suckage. Something tells me many folks — cough, cough, wise-ass bloggers, cough! — actually are hoping it’s the latter.
But I remain optimistic that Verbinski and his two leads will pleasantly surprise us. At the very least, they should come up with something far better than The Legend of the Lone Ranger.
Computer Chess, opens July 17
Who’s in it? Kriss Schludermann, Tom Fletcher, Wiley Wiggins
What’s the pitch? Geeks gone mild.
Why see it? I’ve been following indie filmmaker Andrew Bujalski’s progress since his breakout Mutual Appreciation a few years back. But, to be entirely honest, this comedy could have been directed by Uwe Boll, and I’d still be intrigued by its central gimmick.
As my Variety colleague Justin Chang explained in his mostly upbeat review, the “quasi-mockumentary” is an “endearingly nutty, proudly analog tribute to the ultra-nerdy innovators of yesteryear, shot on ancient black-and-white cameras and centered around a weekend-long tournament for chess software programmers circa 1980.”
Only God Forgives, opens July 19
Who’s in it? Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm
What’s the pitch? More bad-assedry from the guys who gave us Drive.
Why see it? Earlier this week, Cannes Film Festival audiences were shocked — shocked, I tell you! — by all the bloody mayhem on view in this stylized revenge melodrama, which reunites Drive star Ryan Gosling with director Nicolas Winding Refn for an over-the-top tale of fistfighting, sword-slicing and havoc-wreaking in contemporary Bangkok. And, truth to tell, most of the critics weren’t kind.
Still, I’m interested in seeing just how much scenery is masticated by Kristin Scott Thomas — usually the very model of elegant understatement — as she plays Gosling’s overbearingly bloodthirsty mom, a character described by one reviewer as “a platinum-haired, poison-tongued ice queen who conjures thoughts of Lady Macbeth, Medea and Tamora from Titus Andronicus, as styled by Donatella Versace.” Cowabunga.
2 Guns, opens August 2
Who’s in it? Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Bill Paxton, Edward James Olmos, James Marsden
What’s the pitch? Washington and Wahlberg boldly kick ass like ass has not been kicked before.
Why see it? Because Washington and Wahlberg boldly kick ass like ass has not been kicked before. (At least I hope so.)
The Butler, opens August 16
Who’s in it? Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey, John Cusack, Jane Fonda, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, Melissa Leo, James Marsden, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber, Robin Williams
What’s the pitch? A White House butler (Forest Whitaker) serves eight U.S. presidents over 30 years (and probably gets really, really tired of hearing “Hail to the Chief” played at state dinners).
Why see it? John Cusack as Richard Nixon. Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan. Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower. C’mon, tell the truth: You, too, really want to see this, if only to find out if it’s a riveting historical drama or an instant camp classic.
The World’s End, opens August 23
Who’s in it? Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike
What’s the pitch? Five old friends set out on epic pub crawl in the hometown, but the evening is kinda-sorta ruined by an extraterrestrial invasion.
Why see it? After Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, I think it’s safe to assume that any project that brings together director Edgar Wright and actor/co-scriptwriter Simon Pegg is going to be pretty damn funny. Probably even explosively hilarious.
And, by the time this one hits theaters, after a long summer of comic-book adventures and sci-fi spectacles, we’ll probably be more than ready for some genre-spoofing hijinks.