25 Summer 2014 Movies You Need to See

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Though we’ve barely put away our parkas here in NYC, summer movie season is apparently underway, since there’s now a new Spider-Manmovie playing on basically every vertical surface in the country. It could be argued that “summer movie season” began a month ago, when Captain America: The Winter Solder came out, because Hollywood is stuck in a PERPETUAL COMIC BOOK TENTPOLE BLOCKBUSTER SUMMER, but I digress. Let’s not fight it; here’s our look at 25 of this summer’s most promising releases, big and small. Plan your vacations accordingly.

MAY

Chef (May 9) Word from its (well-received) festival screenings is that the latest from writer/director/star Jon Favreau includes some not-exactly-subtle parallels to his filmmaking career: it concerns a chef who loses his creative fire while working at a big restaurant, and goes back to his roots by starting up a food truck. Kinda like how a filmmaker might lose himself in mega-budget flicks like Iron Man and Cowboys & Aliens, and try to find that voice again by doing a low-budget indie. For example.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (May 23) There was little hope for the X-Men series after the Ratner-ization™ of 2006’s unwatchable X-Men: The Last Stand, and 2009’s first (of two!) Wolverine spin-offs didn’t help matters any. But 2011’s X-Men: First Class was a rare reboot that worked, fusing the traditional origin story with a hip, Bond-esque Swinging ’60s vibe, and the notion of bringing back original director Bryan Singer to mate (via time-travel and stuff) that cast with the OG X-Men is an inspired one indeed — although distressing allegations about Singer’s personal life have, understandably, tempered the celebration around his return. Still, although we’re as tired as comic book movies as you are, this might be the one to see this summer.

ALSO IN MAY:

Walk of Shame (today): The reviews (which are just starting to trickle out thanks to a highly restrictive embargo policy, never a promising sign) are not good, but still — Elizabeth Banks doing slapstick. What’s not to like?

Godzilla (May 16): This viewer still gets residual migraine headaches and feverish night terrors remembering Roland Emmerich’s turgid 1998 attempt to reignite the Godzilla franchise, but advance word on this one is promising, and who doesn’t want to see Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe, and Sally Hawkins in a monster movie?

A Million Ways to Die in the West (May 30): It’s easy to dismiss Seth MacFarlane, on account of that whole Oscar-hosting nightmare and the ongoing travesty that is Famiy Guy, but credit where due: Ted was a funny movie, and this Western sports a great cast and uproarious trailer.

JUNE

22 Jump Street (June 13) There was absolutely no reason whatsoever for 21 Jump Street to work — it was yet another movie version of an ‘80s TV show, a blatant play for nostalgia and sad testament to the lack of new ideas in Hollywood. But the movie admitted that, right from the jump (Nick Offerman’s Deputy Chief Hardy: “We’re reviving a canceled undercover police program from the ‘80s and revamping it for modern times. You see the guys in charge of this stuff lack creativity and are completely out of ideas, so all they do now is recycle shit from the past and expect us all not to notice”), and went on to be a far more intelligent and entertaining movie than it had any right to be. That self-awareness apparently extends to this inevitable sequel (Offerman again: “Nobody gave a shit about the Jump Street reboot, but you got lucky… So now this department has invested a lot of money to make sure Jump Street keeps going”), and while we’re plenty sore that Brie Larson isn’t back, Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The LEGO Movie) have returned to the director’s chairs, and that is a very good sign indeed.

Venus in Fur (June 20) Your film editor saw this one at the Tribeca Film Festival, and I still haven’t gotten it out of my head. Roman Polanski adapts David Ives’ two-person play, an extended head game between a seemingly (and deceptively) drippy actress and a self-important (is there any other kind?) director. What begins as an audition becomes an extended discussion of theater, a literary analysis, and, of course, a seduction. The subtext is endless: Polanski casts his wife, Emmanuelle Siegner, as the actress, and has Mathieu Amalric all but do a Polanski impression as the director. For those who can still stomach a Roman Polanski meditation on sex, the result is one of the filmmaker’s most satisfying and thought-provoking pictures.

They Came Together (June 27) Back in 2001, director David Wain and his The State colleague Michael Showalter wrote Wet Hot American Summer, a bizarre, goofy, occasionally dark, and explosively funny parody of ‘80s teen movies. Among that remarkable cast were Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd, who went on to become pretty much everybody’s favorite comic actors, so we couldn’t be more excited about this mini-WHAS reunion, with Wain and Showalter again penning (and Wain helming) a send-up of the many, many tired clichés of the romantic comedy genre. Poheler and Rudd are our protagonists, of course; the packed supporting cast includes Adam Scott, Ellie Kemper, Bill Hader, Max Greenfield, Cobie Smulders, Michael Shannon, Jack McBrayer, Ed Helms, and Melanie Lynskey.

ALSO IN JUNE:

Obvious Child (June 6): Jenny Slate turns into a movie star before your very eyes in this unexpectedly bold comedy, as a stand-up comic whose train-wreck life is further complicated by an unexpected pregnancy.

The Fault in Our Stars (June 6): Maybe she’s the next Jennifer Lawrence and maybe she’s the next Tilda Swinton, or maybe she’s the next forgotten would-be teen star. But there’s no denying that we’re fascinated by Shailene Woodley, and the trailers alone for her latest YA adaptation are making adults sob at their computers.

The Sacrament (June 6): Ti West is a true original in today’s horror marketplace, a gifted artist who eschews the jolt-jolt-jolt aesthetic of so many of his colleagues, instead putting his films on a slow, rolling boil. The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers are genuinely creepy and stylish; his latest finds him taking a crack at the “found footage” trope, telling the story of a Jonestown-esque cult-based tragedy.

Trust Me (June 6): Clark Gregg writes, directs, and stars in this showbiz comedy, which is much closer to the acidic style of his David Mamet collaborations and previous film Choke than his current run as Agent Coulson in the Marvel universe. It’s a tart and smart little comedy, and the ensemble cast is aces — particularly a remarkable young actress named Saxon Sharbino as the remarkable young actress the story revolves around. Good casting, that.

JULY

Deliver Us From Evil (July 2) I know, I know, if there’s one thing we don’t need one more of, it’s a tense, moody horror flick where a bruised cop tracks a grisly serial killer — and there’s apparently an exorcism angle to boot. But wait! Deliver Us From Evil is the work of co-writer/director Scott Derrickson, whose last film was Sinister. And that movie was crap-your-pants-and-haunt-your-nightmares scary. I’m in.

Boyhood (July 11) There’s a reason everyone at Sundance came away singing the praises of Richard Linklater’s latest: it’s a moving, remarkable piece of cinematic art. The production is a bit of a marvel — Linklater captured the story of a boy becoming a man, aging from six to 18, by shooting a few minutes of film every year for 12 years. But this is no mere gimmick. He’s created something of a narrative Up movie, commenting on the passage of time and how we become the people we are.

Jupiter Ascending (July 25) More than one cynical viewer has noted that the Wachowskis’ latest looks an awful lot like the futuristic segments of their Cloud Atlas, but hey, Cloud Atlas has its fans; it’s a narratively undisciplined sci-fi picture stuffed with ambition and heart (two elements in dangerously short supply these days, blockbuster-wise). Plus, any movie that aims to make Mila Kunis a full-on, above-the-title action star gets our full support.

ALSO IN JULY:

Tammy (July 2): Haven’t watched the trailer, don’t know the plot, seeing it anyway. That’s how all-in I am with Melissa McCarthy by now.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (July 18): The successful rebooting of Planet of the Apes was one of the most unexpected developments in recent Hollywood history, and with a cast that includes Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Judy Greer, and Jason Clarke, they’re clearly looking to one-up that surprise hit. The participation of director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) is another plus.

A Most Wanted Man (July 25): Our last look at the considerable talents of Philip Seymour Hoffman, here leading a John le Carré adaptation from director Anton Corbijn (Control, The American).

Magic in the Moonlight (July 25): OK people, let’s see how well those Woody Allen boycotts hold up when Emma Stone and Colin Firth are involved.

AUGUST

Guardians of the Galaxy (August 1) Superhero fatigue will surely hit its peak by the end of the summer, but the good news is that director James Gunn (Super, Slither) doesn’t seem to take his Marvel adaptation all that seriously — and good for him. Plus, we’re all for the remaking of Chris Pratt as Summer Movie Action Hero; it’s about as unlikely as Robert Downey, Jr., and equally delightful to contemplate.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (August 22) They’ve been kicking around a Sin City sequel since the original was released nearly a decade ago, and it’s kind of a no-brainer: after all, Frank Miller’s graphic novels offered up scores of additional stories. But it kept getting kicked down the road, for whatever reason, as co-directors Miller and Robert Rodriguez spent their time on a variety of lesser projects (if you’re in the mood for a double feature from hell, I recommend The Spirit and Machete Kills). Now, at long last, they’ve got the old gang (Rourke, Willis, Alba, Dawson) back together, along with some tantalizing new participants (Eva Green, Juno Temple, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin, Ray Liotta).

ALSO IN AUGUST:

What If (August 1): It’s a When Harry Met Sally-ish rom-com starring Daniel Ratcliffe and Zoe Kazan. How hard a sell do you need?

Get On Up (August 1): I could say I’ll be skipping this James Brown biopic in protest, since it couldn’t get made until they threw Spike Lee overboard for the (white guy!) director of The Help, but who am I kidding: it’s a James Brown biopic, so I’ll be there with capes on.

Let’s Be Cops (August 13): It looks weirdly like a feature-length, R-rated New Girl episode, but the idea of Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. as slacker cops may be too juicy to resist.

Life After Beth (August 15): Aubrey Plaza as a zombie. Once again, not sure what other information you could possibly require.