It’s the first Friday of May, and you know what that means: there’s a new Marvel movie in theaters. And you know what that means: summer movie season has officially begun. And holy shit, it’s gonna be a rough one – the season’s big-budget, several-thousand-screen releases include another Transformers movie, another Pirates of the Caribbean movie, another Cars movie, another Spider-Man movie, another Amityville movie, whatever the fuck that Tom Cruise Mummy thing is, and the Baywatch movie. It’s tempting to just check out until October – but wait. A few savvy studios and distributors are aware that grown-ups might wanna go enjoy some air conditioning and popcorn this summer, and have counter-programmed accordingly. And on top of that (and I should lower my voice to a whisper here) a couple of those big summer action movies are actually pretty good. So with that in mind, we present a slightly more selective summer movie preview; mark your calendars accordingly.
It Comes at Night (June 9)
Trey Edward Shults’s Krisha was one of the most auspicious feature debuts in recent memory, in which the gifted filmmaker took one of the most worn-out tropes in all of indiedom – the awkward family dinner in which secrets are told and old wounds are reopened – and made it work anew by ratcheting up the visceral discomfort and palpable tension. It was like Pieces of April as directed by Brian De Palma, so the fact that he’s taking on something closer to full-on horror for his follow-up is exciting indeed.
Rough Night (June 16)
It’d be easy to dismiss Rough Night as a crass, estrogen-flipped rip-off of The Hangover (which, hey, look at that, came out in early June of 2009) – or, more accurately, of Very Bad Things, which shares its central “what do we do with the dead stripper” conflict. But let’s consider the personnel involved: the endlessly charming Scarlett Johansson and Zoë Kravitz, plus three of literally the funniest people in the world (Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, and Ilanza Glazer), in a script written by Glazer’s Broad City (and Time Traveling Bong ) collaborators Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs. And it’s directed by Aniello as well, which means (no disrespect, Paul Feig) it’s a rare comedy written by and starring women that’s also directed by one. Oh, and it looks funny as hell.
The Beguiled (June 23)
Since its announcement over a year ago, The Beguiled has been an irresistible notion: Don Siegel’s entertainingly overwrought “bitches be crazy” Clint Eastwood flop, rejiggered into a presumably feminist perspective by the great Sofia Coppola (helming her first theatrical feature since 2013’s excellent The Bling Ring , which most of you still haven’t seen, you monsters). And her casting is, as usual, impeccable: she’s got hot-streaking Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell, plus her Somewhere star Elle Fanning and Kirsten Dunst in her third Coppola joint (fourth if you count New York Stories, which most people wouldn’t). And if it can deliver half the moody chills the trailer promises (“Bring me the anatomy book”), good heavens.
The Big Sick (June 23)
Your correspondent got a look at this little beauty back in January at Sundance, and it is a real treat – and demonstrably commercial, fitting into producer Judd Apatow’s traditional early-summer-sleeper-hit slot (previously filled by Bridesmaids, Trainwreck, Knocked Up, etc.) It’s a terrific little domestic comedy, dramatizing the rather unconventional courtship of writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon; Nanjiani plays himself, while Zoe Kazan steps in as Emily. A total charmer, boasting terrific supporting turns by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, and lead performances that could (if there’s any justice in the world) make Nanjiani and Kazan into legit movie stars.
Baby Driver (June 28)
Another one we’ve already sampled for you – this time via SXSW – and while it has its flaws (director Edgar Wright’s maturity and growth from project to project isn’t really accounted for here; he conceived this one as a twenty-year-old, and you can tell), it’s certainly miles better than the ADD-driven action of any given Transformers Product. Ingeniously executed and energetically acted, it’s pure pop pleasure without the customary insults to your intelligence.
A Ghost Story (July 9)
In 2013, writer/director David Lowery released Ain’t Them Bodies Saints , a haunting, lyrical mini-masterpiece starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. That movie got him a gig, incongruently enough, doing Disney’s Pete’s Dragon remake – a lovely family film, to be sure, but A Ghost Story feels much more like Bodies’ follow-up. It boasts the same stars, the same moody style, and (if its Sundance notices are to be believed) some of the finest filmmaking of this young year.
Dunkirk (July 21)
Even in the lousiest years, one consistent aspect of recent movie season has been that there’s usually at least one big blockbuster that’s also smart, well-crafted, and memorable. And several times over the last decade-plus, the director of that film was Christopher Nolan, who released not only his Dark Knight trilogy in the summer swelter, but Insomnia and Inception as well. So a new Nolan is certainly cause for celebration, and while a WWII epic is not exactly untilled soil, the trailers have an artful urgency, and his enviable cast includes Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, and Kenneth Branagh (plus this Harry Styles person).
Atomic Blonde (July 28)
One last full-on recommendation: I saw this one at SXSW, and I’m still shook. Put simply, it’s everything you want a big-league popcorn movie to be: it’s exciting, it’s sexy, it’s smart, and it’s got Charlize Theron playing a superspy. The director is David Leith, the uncredited co-director of John Wick, and it shares those movies’ appreciation for the balletic athleticism of great stunt work and gunplay; there are two action set pieces here that are all-timers, breathless showcases of choreography and cinematography, and serving as a reminder that Ms. Theron has quietly become our most reliable action hero.
Detroit (August 4)
Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, who previously dramatized recent history with electrifying results in The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, here cast their eyes further back to Detroit’s 12th Street Riot of 1967, and specifically the events at the Algiers Motel nearby. The cast for this one is something else – it includes John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Jason Mitchell, Tyler James Williams, Jacob Latimore, Jack Reynor, Kaitlyn Dever, and John Krasinski – and with a five year gap since Zero Dark Thirty, a new Bigelow is more than overdue.
Logan Lucky (August 18)
And speaking of long waits, it’s been four years since Steven Soderbergh retired from big-screen filmmaking with Side Effects , though he’s certainly kept busy in the interim. (It also says something about Soderbergh’s productivity that he does an entire lapsed retirement in the time other filmmakers just regularly take between movies.) No one actually thought he wouldn’t make another movie again, and they were right; he’s back with this NASCAR-set heist flick, which he calls an “an anti-glam version of an Ocean’s movie.” Unsurprisingly, Channing Tatum stars (he appeared in three previous films for the director, plus Magic Mike XXL , which Soderbergh shot, cut, and executive-produced), alongside Riley Keough (who starred in the TV adaptation of Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience), Daniel Craig, Hilary Swank, Adam Driver, Katherine Waterston, Sebastian Stan, Katie Holmes, Seth MacFarlane, and Dwight Yoakam. Do we really have to wait for frigging August for this?