Last week, the film staff of The A.V. Club previewed the summer’s biggest movies—the superhero spectacles, groin-punching comedies, and animated eyesores that will be emptying America’s wallets these next four months. This week, we’re atoning for our sins of omission with a friendly reminder, aimed as much at ourselves as anyone else: Contrary to conventional wisdom, mega-budget blockbusters are not the only movies released between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Traditionally, in fact, summer is a splendid time for smaller films, provided one is willing to venture out of the multiplex and into the art house. These limited-release offerings are the subject of our second summer movie preview, a guide to the foreign films, independent pictures, and festival favorites that will find their way into movie theaters this season. There are even a couple of sequels. It wouldn’t be summer, after all, without sequels.
Sightseers (May 10)
Unseasonable premise: Lumpy lovebirds Alice Lowe and Steve Oram set out for a holiday in their RV, but instead of seeing the sights, they discover a mutual taste for cold-blooded murder.
Reasons to seek it out: With Down Terrace and Kill List, director Ben Wheatley has established himself as a major new voice in off-kilter horror. Sightseers may be his most intriguing balancing act yet.
Crossover appeal: Fairly low. Though Wheatley has a strong UK following—and some ardent fans Stateside, too—a black comedy about sociopathic, heavily accented tourists seems unlikely to make a big splash on this side of the pond. Not that the director seems too concerned with breaking records.
Stories We Tell (May 10)
Unseasonable premise: Canadian actress and director Sarah Polley ventures into her own family history in her first documentary. Like her past features, the film focuses on marriage and infidelity, but also delves into the unusual circumstances of the filmmaker’s birth.
Reasons to seek it out: Polley has proven to be an assured and subtle director in her past two works. Here, her astute observations on love and memory elevate an already engaging premise.
Crossover appeal: Low. Lovers of Polley’s past work will want to check this out, but a very specific story about a Canadian artist and her family may not resonate with American moviegoers.
Frances Ha (May 17)
Unseasonable premise: A 27-year-old aspiring dancer (Greta Gerwig) goes couch-hopping across New York after her roommate (Mickey Sumner) moves out of their shared apartment. But there isn’t really a plot to speak of, just a series of brief impressionistic scenes that add up to a collage-style portrait.
Reasons to seek it out: Gerwig gives one of the year’s most fetching performances in the title role, meshing perfectly with the acerbic sensibility of director Noah Baumbach (The Squid And The Whale, Kicking And Screaming). They wrote the screenplay together, and it’s a marvel of concise, playful wit. Plus, Baumbach shot the film in black and white, which always makes New York look more romantic.
Crossover appeal: High. Gerwig has seemed poised for real stardom for some time now, and Frances feels like her Annie Hall. Both the film’s milieu and sensibility (along with the presence of Adam Driver in a supporting role) recall Girls, and suggest that there may be a sizable audience ready to embrace it.
Pietà (May 17)
Unseasonable premise: Physical and emotional pain abound in this tale of a young enforcer who spends his days mangling the debt-ridden in order to cash in on their insurance. Their agony is nothing compared to his when a woman claiming to be his long-lost mother suddenly appears.
Reasons to seek it out: Unexpectedly, this gruesome, grueling melodrama won the top prize at last year’s Venice Film Festival. And while Korean filmmaker Kim Ki-duk (Bad Guy, Time) has a highly erratic track record, he’s anything but dull—each of his films gets pushed to the breaking point, if not beyond.
Crossover appeal: Moderate. The movie’s twists are twisted enough to create some word-of-mouth buzz, but like most of Kim’s films, Pietà is pitched a little too high for mainstream America. In particular, there’s an incestuous undercurrent here that many may find off-putting.
Before Midnight (May 24)
Unseasonable premise: It’s been (another) nine years since we last saw Céline (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), loquacious lovers who met on a train in Vienna (in 1995’s Before Sunrise) and later reunited in Paris (in 2004’s Before Sunset). Really, that’s all you need to know.
Reasons to seek it out: Anybody who’s seen the previous two films, also co-written and directed by Richard Linklater, should already be champing at the bit. But be further advised that reviews from Midnight’s Sundance première almost universally declared it the series’ crowning masterpiece.
Crossover appeal: High. Both Sunrise and Sunset were solid art-house hits, and there’s no reason to think viewers won’t be curious to find out what’s happened since Jesse intentionally missed that flight back home. Word may also get out that Delpy spends a big chunk of the film topless. Oh, wait, it just did.
Fill The Void (May 24)
Unseasonable premise: Essentially a present-day, Hasidic spin on Jane Austen, this tender Israeli drama concerns an 18-year-old girl (Hadas Yaron) urged by her family to marry the husband of her late sister, who died during childbirth.
Reasons to seek it out: Yaron, the Best Actress winner at Venice last year, delivers an expressive and emotionally complex performance. As directed by promising newcomer Rama Burshtein, Fill The Void is a strong reminder of how much a dramatic change in setting can enliven a familiar story.
Crossover appeal: Low. Good reviews may drum up some business, but an immersive plunge into a foreign and hermetically sealed subculture isn’t likely to set the U.S. box office on fire. That said, we’d love to be proven wrong on this one.
We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks (May 24)
Unseasonable premise: Alex Gibney, the hardest-working man in documentary cinema, takes a critical look at the document-disclosing website, and both the good and harm it’s done on a global scale. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was not interviewed; he has subsequently denounced the film, supposedly sight-unseen.
Reasons to seek it out: At its best, Gibney’s work (Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, Taxi To The Dark Side) tackles big issues in an accessible manner. Furthermore, WikiLeaks remains a hot-button topic worthy of the agit-doc treatment.
Crossover appeal: Very modest. Excepting the Enron movie, which raked in a surprisingly robust $4 million, Gibney’s films rarely reach a wide audience. Released at the onset of blockbuster season, this one could remain as unseen as a classified dossier.
The East (May 31)
Unseasonable premise: It-girl Brit Marling reunites with Sound Of My Voice director Zal Batmanglij for another tale of a cultish organization infiltrated by a nonbeliever. This time, Marling plays not the messiah, but the mole—a private-sector operative who goes undercover to expose a group of “eco-terrorists.”
Reasons to seek it out: Somewhat daringly, at least for an American thriller, this Sundance hit asks audiences to empathize with dangerous radicals. Marling is typically strong, as is Alexander Skarsgård, who plays the Zen-like leader of the faction.
Crossover appeal: Medium. Narratively speaking, The East is less ambiguous than Sound Of My Voice; for a while, it’s practically a straightforward spy movie. But then there’s that whole relating-to-the-extremists angle, which could be a tough sell in the aftermath of the Boston bombing.
The Kings Of Summer (May 31)
Unseasonable premise: Feeling stifled by their ’rents, three intrepid teenage boys retreat to the isolation of the woods, where they plot to build a house of their own.
Reasons to seek it out: Reviews from Sundance were mostly glowing, and there’s a vaguely Moonrise Kingdom-ish vibe to the trailer. Plus, the supporting cast includes everyone from Nick Offerman to Alison Brie to Hannibal Buress.
Crossover appeal: Promising. A clear crowd-pleaser, The Kings Of Summer has word-of-mouth success story written all over it. And how can we bet against a title like that?
Shadow Dancer (May 31)
Unseasonable premise: A would-be IRA bomber (Andrea Riseborough) turns MI5 informant when confronted with the prospect of being separated from her son.
Reasons to seek it out: Riseborough, who played Tom Cruise’s blank-eyed partner in Oblivion, is a stealth powerhouse who’s made nearly a dozen movies in the last few years. Meanwhile, documentarian James Marsh (Man On Wire) previously proved his fiction skills with the Red Riding trilogy’s best installment.
Crossover appeal: Moderate. Shadow Dancer’s gloomy tension doesn’t exactly scream “escapist blockbuster fare,” but the fact that Riseborough’s MI5 handler is played by Clive Owen shouldn’t hurt.
Also opening in May: Eli Roth scripts and stars in the bloody disaster film Aftershock (May 10). Bruce Greenwood can only speak in advertising slogans in the comedy And Now A Word From Our Sponsor (May 10). The Indonesian actioner Java Heat (May 10) features Mickey Rourke as a scenery-chewing villain. No One Lives (May 10) promises the unstoppable killer of this WWE-produced horror flick. Tennis pros Venus And Serena (May 10) star in their first major documentary. A Chinese orphan swaps 33 Postcards (May 17) with sponsor Guy Pearce. So-called hysteria is the subject of Alice Winocour’s historical drama Augustine (May 17). Kate Bosworth and Lake Bell are the most dangerous game in the thriller Black Rock (May 17). Julianne Moore is The English Teacher (May 17). CIA operative Aaron Eckhart finds his identity Erased (May 17). Hoop dreams are born in Doin’ It In the Park: Pick-Up Basketball, NYC (May 22). German-Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt (May 29) gets the biopic treatment.
Much Ado About Nothing (June 7)
Unseasonable premise: Joss Whedon, the king of the geeks (and mainstream Hollywood franchises), directs a black-and-white version of Shakespeare’s play with a bunch of his friends.
Reasons to seek it out: Whedon has proven he can do comedy, and he’s handpicked his cast from the stable of actors he’s amassed over the years. The film’s got a loose, fun energy to it, which enlivens the 400-year-old source material.
Crossover appeal: Fairly low. It’s the Bard in black-and-white. But Whedon did direct last year’s biggest blockbuster. Maybe his name has enough cache to bring in some curious people.
Passion (June 7)
Unseasonable premise: Those who saw the French thriller Love Crime, of which Passion is the American remake, already know that it concerns the increasingly demented relationship between an ambitious, amoral executive (Rachel McAdams) and her timid but resourceful assistant (Noomi Rapace).
Reasons to seek it out: Brian De Palma, who rewrote the script to suit his own purposes, pushes the ludicrous plot as far as it can go, the better to facilitate his usual voluptuous setpieces. He’s also not shy about emphasizing the erotic aspects, including (as the poster suggests) some girl-on-girl action.
Crossover appeal: Moderate. De Palma fans are a rabid bunch and will mow each other down en route to the theater, but Passion will look suspiciously like direct-to-video sleaze to many, and the completely generic title (which also recalls a Sondheim musical) doesn’t help in that regard.
Berberian Sound Studio (June 14)
Unseasonable premise: A British sound mixer (Toby Jones) starts to lose his grip on reality while working on an Italian horror movie.
Reasons to seek it out: Endlessly unsettling despite its lack of bloodshed, Berberian is a must for those who prefer their horrors heard but not seen. The premise alone should draw giallo aficionados; for the rest, think of Peter Strickland’s creepfest as a cross between Mulholland Drive and The Shining.
Crossover appeal: Low, unfortunately. Cerebral horror rarely catches on at the multiplex. But expect Berberian to build a strong cult following on DVD/Blu-ray.
The Bling Ring (June 14)
Unseasonable premise: Emma Watson stars as a pampered teenager who begins stealing things from celebrities with her friends. The film was written and directed by Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation, Marie Antoinette), and it’s based on a true story, to boot.
Reasons to seek it out: Watson has proved to be a better actress than the Harry Potter series suggested. Coppola, meanwhile, is a fine filmmaker, and her take on the story could combine the glitz of Hollywood with the perils of fame in the Internet age.
Crossover appeal: High. A movie about a bunch of attractive teenagers stealing from Lindsey Lohan has something for everyone.
Twenty Feet From Stardom (June 14)
Unseasonable premise: This music documentary focuses on singers everyone has heard but almost no one has heard of.
Reasons to seek it out: Though only Darlene Love has made a serious mark as a solo artist, fellow backing singers Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, and Judith Hill hardly lack for star quality. Hearing the story of how Clayton, pregnant and with her hair in curlers, laid down the world-shaking vocals for The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” it’s hard to fathom why she never made it on her own. The movie addresses this historical shortcoming by giving its subjects plenty of time in the spotlight.
Crossover appeal: Very high. Since opening Sundance, Twenty Feet has proven to be a major crowd-pleaser on the festival circuit, and there’s no reason that success shouldn’t repeat in theaters.
Maniac (June 21)
Unseasonable premise: Piranha 3D director Alexandre Aja worked on the screenplay for this psycho-on-the-loose shocker—a remake of William Lustig’s infamous 1980 slasher movie, about a lunatic stalking and scalping young women in New York City.
Reasons to seek it out: In a potentially interesting gimmick unique to this new version, most (if not all) of the movie is filmed from the killer’s point of view. Said killer is now played by Elijah Wood, who’s handsome enough to believably woo a model. (The original’s biggest stretch in credibility was pairing greasy, overweight Joe Spinell with the stunning Caroline Munro.)
Crossover appeal: Uncertain. Horror does well in any season and at just about any budget; Maniac also has Wood’s modest star-power going for it. But doesn’t this one look a little too nasty to draw big crowds?
This Is Martin Bonner (June 21)
Unseasonable premise: A middle-aged lay worker (Paul Eenhoorn) tries to start his life over and helps newly released convicts do the same.
Reasons to seek it out: Chad Hartigan’s pensive, placid character study is almost designed to resist praise, but its accretion of quiet moments reveals the way transcendence lurks in every corner of ordinary life. The performances are understated and lived-in, drawing viewers in without drawing attention to themselves.
Crossover appeal: Low. Movies like This Is Martin Bonner were once the lifeblood of American independent cinema, but there’s little place for them in the current distribution system. Without glowing reviews and strong word of mouth, this will be a movie people catch up with at home, and be glad they did.
Byzantium (June 28)
Unseasonable premise: These days, is there a season that’s not hospitable to bloodsuckers? Neil Jordan, who adapted Anne Rice’s Interview With The Vampire nearly 20 years ago, returns to the genre with this tale of an undead mother (Gemma Arterton) and daughter (Saoirse Ronan) prowling the British coast.
Reasons to seek it out: There’s a core of palpable sorrow underlying the film’s fairly conventional story, and the actors—Ronan in particular—tear into their roles with sometimes startling intensity. It’s the rare vampire movie in which the sexy/gory aspects are secondary to emotional truth.
Crossover appeal: Moderate. Vampires have been pretty well played out over the past several years, and it’ll be tough for this entry, with its two lesser-known female stars, to overcome viewer fatigue. What’s more, reactions from its Toronto festival première suggest that reviews will be less than enthusiastic.
I’m So Excited (June 28)
Unseasonable premise: Passengers aboard a Mexico-bound airplane bond in the face of their shared mortality when it’s revealed their plane cannot land without crashing.
Reasons to seek it out: As loglines go, “Pedro Almodóvar does Lifeboat” is hard to resist. The single-set premise evokes his breakthrough hit, Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown, and star Antonio Banderas gave his best performance in decades in Almodóvar’s recent The Skin I Live In.
Crossover appeal: High. Antonio Banderas. Penélope Cruz. Pedro Almodóvar. Whaddya need, a road map?
Also opening in June: Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie (June 7) immortalizes a controversial talk-show host. Craig Robinson stars in his second apocalyptic comedy of the summer, Rapture-Palooza (June 7). Advertising is a ruthless business, says Syrup (June 7). Tiger Eyes (June 7) is the first big-screen take on a Judy Blume novel. Braving the mean streets of New York, Saoirse Ronan and Alexis Bledel are Violet & Daisy (June 7). More Than Honey (June 12) is yet another documentary about the global disappearance of bees. Catch some stereoscopic waves in Storm Surfers 3D (June 14). Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, and Stephen King help fill out the cast list of the ensemble family drama Stuck In Love (June 14). Paul Walker drives fast and furious in Vehicle 19 (June 14). Somali pirates commit A Hijacking (June 21). Terrence Stamp copes with loss in Unfinished Song (June 21). Norah Jones, Emmylou Harris, and Jimmy Fallon all make appearances in the rock doc Sing Me the Songs That Say I Love You: A Concert For Kate McGarrigle (June 26). A Band Called Death (June 28) catches up with an obscure ’70s punk group, not the legendary metal outfit of the same name. The Civil War comes alive in Copperhead (June 28).
The Way, Way Back (July 5)
Unseasonable premise: It’s another quirky coming-of-age story about a boy (Liam James) and an amusement park. (Think Adventureland, but with water.) Steve Carell plays a snarky asshole who’s dating the kid’s mom (Toni Collette).
Reasons to seek it out: The Way, Way Back is co-written and directed by Jim Rash (Dean Pelton!) and Nat Faxon, who won Oscars for The Descendants. Carell’s role as a complete douchebag is a nice change of pace from his regular, affable goofballs. And Sam Rockwell, who runs the water park, does a mean Bill-Murray-in-the-’80s.
Crossover appeal: Very high. Carell made his name on small, quirky movies like this; his involvement should draw people who loved The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Little Miss Sunshine.
Crystal Fairy (July 12)
Unseasonable premise: A self-centered American (Michael Cera) badgers his Chilean friends into a lengthy road trip with a pot of psychedelic cactus juice at the end and a moody hippie chick (Gaby Hoffman) in tow.
Reasons to seek it out: At Sundance, writer-director Sebastián Silva, who based the film on his own bad trip, quipped, “If you don’t like it, you’re a bad person.” And indeed, the film’s distinctive mixture of open-road optimism and intense discomfort is fairly irresistible.
Crossover appeal: Who knows? It’s small enough to slip through the cracks, but funny and unusual enough to make an impression. If the stoner-comedy crowd gets a taste, it could turn out to be an unlikely off-the-beaten-trail triumph.
Fruitvale Station (July 12)
Unseasonable premise: In his feature debut, writer-director Ryan Coogler dramatizes the final hours of Oscar Grant, who was gunned down by an Oakland police officer on New Year’s Day, 2009. Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle) stars as the slain 22-year-old.
Reasons to seek it out: Coogler’s slice-of-life drama earned raves at Sundance, where it won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award (and was called just Fruitvale). The material has ripped-from-the-headlines resonance, and Jordan has been on our radar since his devastating arc in the first season of The Wire.
Crossover appeal: Pretty high. Last year’s big Sundance winner, Beasts Of The Southern Wild, ended up doing quite well for itself. And with the Weinsteins backing it, Fruitvale Station should have no trouble finding its audience.
The Hunt (July 12)
Unseasonable premise: A perfectly nice guy (Mads Mikkelsen) gets falsely accused of molesting the young daughter of his best friend, and finds it impossible to counteract the tsunami of unthinking hatred that threatens to destroy his life overnight.
Reasons to seek it out: Mikkelsen, who’s recently branched out into Hollywood movies (he was the chief baddie in Casino Royale) and TV (Hannibal), is perhaps Denmark’s finest actor, and this role, for which he won Best Actor at Cannes last year, provides a tremendous showcase for his formidable range.
Crossover appeal: Limited. It’s a downer of a subject, and director Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration, Dear Wendy) doesn’t pull punches. (Nor do the characters.) Pity the marketing team tasked with figuring out how to sell the movie without making it look like a tract against rushing to judgment.
V/H/S/2 (July 12)
Unseasonable premise: V/H/S was an anthology of found-footage shorts from some of the best young minds in horror. V/H/S/2 is exactly what it sounds like: more scary shorts, but with (mostly) new directors.
Reasons to seek it out: Though the first film was hit-or-miss, some of the segments served up some primo scares. The team behind part two scores a better scream-to-yawn ratio; one of the segments, co-directed by Gareth Evans (The Raid: Redemption), is truly nightmarish.
Crossover appeal: Moderate. V/H/S made very little in theaters—quite possibly because it arrived on video-on-demand first—and there’s little reason to think this sequel will massively outgross its predecessor. Then again, the original has had time to amass fans, all of whom will be stoked for another installment—especially a legitimately superior one.
Computer Chess (July 17)
Unseasonable premise: Sometime in the early ’80s, nerds converge upon a conference/contest pitting computer programs against each other in a round-robin chess tournament. For heightened verisimilitude, the movie was shot using an antiquated black-and-white video camera.
Reasons to seek it out: Writer-director Andrew Bujalski, best known as the godfather of the so-called mumblecore movement, here strikes out in an entirely new direction, and the result is almost unfathomably strange (in a very good way). Performances and tone are eerily accurate for the era.
Crossover appeal: Uncertain. Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation) tends to be a niche auteur, but in this particular case his esoteric interests appear to have coincided with a thick vein of ’80s nostalgia. The title alone will be a magnet for some potential viewers, Kryptonite for others.
The Act Of Killing (July 19)
Unseasonable premise: Almost certain to be the year’s most disturbing documentary, The Act Of Killing dispassionately observes former Indonesian death-squad members as they not only proudly recount their crimes, but proceed to re-enact them for the camera, viewing themselves as movie gangsters.
Reasons to seek it out: The film has proven highly controversial on the festival circuit, with some calling it almost unbearably powerful and others charging that it unethically provides its subjects with a platform to alternately boast about murder and cry crocodile tears for their victims. Decide for yourself.
Crossover appeal: Low. Hit documentaries tend to be uplifting to some degree, and regardless of where one falls on the question of this one’s ethics, it’s offering a pretty damn bleak view of humanity. Still, inevitable angry op-ed pieces decrying its existence could spur interest.
Only God Forgives (July 19)
Unseasonable premise: Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling—the director and star, respectively, of 2011’s intoxicating Drive—re-team for a violent new crime thriller. In this one, Gosling plays the American owner of a Bangkok boxing club; at the behest of his mob-boss mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), he hunts down the man who murdered her other son.
Reasons to seek it out: We’ll have to wait until later this month, when Only God Forgives premières at Cannes, for any reactions. But come on: The red-band trailer makes it look like Drive meets Kill Bill—a truly tantalizing hybrid.
Crossover appeal: Moderate. Cinephiles swooned for Drive, but general audiences were less charitable. (Remember this?) And for all his movie-star swagger, Gosling has yet to prove he can really open a film.
Blue Jasmine (July 26)
Unseasonable premise: Little-known New York filmmaker Woody Allen puts his European sojourn on hold, returning to the States to film an ensemble drama with a typically sprawling cast of characters. Details are scarce at this point, but it’s a good bet that the plot will involve neurotic urbanites gabbing incessantly at each other.
Reasons to seek it out: Say what you will about Woody’s spotty post-’90s output, but the man still knows how to assemble an impressive roster of participants. The director’s latest includes Cate Blanchett, Peter Sarsgaard, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, A Serious Man’s Michael Stuhlbarg and—most intriguingly—stand-up giants Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay.
Crossover appeal: Sky high. The Woodman’s name still sells tickets, especially after the runaway success of his Oscar-winning Midnight In Paris.
Also opening in July: Travel the world with a stand-up comedian in Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain (July 3). Vikings do battle in Hammer Of The Gods (July 5). Israel: A Home Movie (July 10) captures a nation through 40 years of found footage. To raise money for breast cancer awareness, Brooke Shields assembles a team of middle-aged basketball players in The Hot Flashes (July 12). Evidence (July 19) is a found-footage police procedural. Frankenstein’s Army (July 26) is a found-footage, WWII-set horror movie (with Nazis!). Christian Slater fends off a spore-based alien invasion in Stranded (July 26).
The Spectacular Now (August 2)
Unseasonable premise: Heavy-drinking high-schooler Miles Teller falls for bookish beauty Shailene Woodley. Will his weakness for the sauce—and perhaps more critically, his chronic need to live only for the moment—kill this opposites-attract romance?
Reasons to seek it out: Another Sundance alum, The Spectacular Now earned more than its share of pleasant-surprise notices, as though jaded critics could scarcely believe they were swooning for a familiar young-love fable. Director James Ponsoldt also directed the rehab drama Smashed, though all signs point to this being a less formulaic tale of substance abuse.
Crossover appeal: Promising. Though the leads aren’t stars, Now exudes the unmistakable air of an underdog triumph, destined to win over art-house patrons one weekend at a time.
I Give It A Year (August 9)
Unseasonable premise: Newlyweds Nat (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Rafe Spall) struggle to make it through their first year of marriage in what looks like a British answer to…well, any number of nuptial-themed American rom-coms.
Reasons to seek it out: Director Dan Mazer co-wrote the hilarious Borat. (Yes, Borat had a script.) And the cast here includes Peep Show’s Olivia Colman and the always-delightful Anna Faris.
Crossover appeal: Moderate. With the right marketing, this could be a sleeper success, though its lack of stars (Bridesmaids alum Byrne doesn’t quite qualify) and purportedly cynical tone may not help.
In A World… (August 9)
Unseasonable premise: In a world… where men have long dominated the voiceover profession… it’s nearly impossible for a woman to be heard. But one remarkable woman (Lake Bell) is determined to try… even if it means competing against a legend in the business… her own father (Fred Melamed).
Reasons to seek it out: In addition to featuring perhaps the most novel milieu for a comedy since Tin Men was built around rival aluminum-siding salesmen, In A World… serves as a terrific introduction to the gifted Ms. Bell (Childrens Hospital), who wrote and directed the film in addition to playing the lead.
Crossover appeal: Marginal. Bell hasn’t yet transcended minor cult status, despite working steadily for the past decade, and the professional voiceover biz may prove a bit too esoteric to change that. Likewise, Melamed is a fine actor but doesn’t have the drawing power some other sonorous baritones might.
Lovelace (August 9)
Unseasonable premise: Amanda Seyfried plays Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace, forced into the skin industry by her abusive husband (played by Peter Sarsgaard), years before becoming a public spokesperson for the anti-pornography movement.
Reasons to seek it out: Seyfried is said to be fantastic in the role, and she’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast, including Juno Temple, James Franco, Chloë Sevigny, and Sharon Stone.
Crossover appeal: Uncertain. A porn-star biopic sounds like a surefire recipe for success, but Lovelace will have to earn better reviews than it got at Sundance to make a blip on a mass audience’s radar.
Prince Avalanche (August 9)
Unseasonable premise: In David Gordon Green’s seriocomic remake of the Icelandic film Either Way, two mismatched road workers (Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch) bicker and bond over a long summer in the Texas wilderness.
Reasons to seek it out: A shaggy, amiable buddy comedy, Prince Avalanche is easily Green’s best movie since Undertow (2004). Rudd and Hirsch make an appealing team, and the film occasionally revives the ramshackle poetry of its director’s early films.
Crossover appeal: Moderate. Rudd is a draw, but hardly a bankable star—and this is a much stranger film than, say, Wanderlust. But word-of-mouth could do it favors.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (August 16)
Unseasonable premise: In backwoods Texas, escaped convict Casey Affleck looks for the woman he left behind (Rooney Mara) and the child he’s never met.
Reasons to seek it out: Writer-director David Lowery (not the lead singer of Camper Van Beethoven) has left his mark as an editor of two of the year’s most distinctive independent films, Upstream Color and Sun Don’t Shine. His own picture starts out as an accomplished riff on Terrence Malick’s Badlands, then grows into something more powerful and distinctive.
Crossover appeal: Moderate. Affleck and Mara, who give quiet, soulful performances, aren’t exactly box-office heavyweights. Nor does this sort of meditative genre piece generally bring in big dollars. But the wave of good buzz that started at Sundance could keep the film afloat this summer.
Austenland (August 16)
Unseasonable premise: The title refers to a Westworld–like vacation resort, where Jane Austen fanatics can live out their fantasies of high-culture courtship. Among the guests is Jane (Keri Russell), whose obsession with Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy in the BBC Pride And Prejudice has screwed up her love life.
Reasons to seek it out: The premise is cute, though it seems slightly out of the wheelhouse of writer-director Jerusha Hess (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre).
Crossover appeal: Moderate. The mixed reviews from Sundance aren’t likely to affect Austenland’s prospects. But who will Sony Pictures Classics market the film to? It could be too broad for actual Austen fans, too Austen-ish for broad comedy fans.
Drinking Buddies (August 23)
Unseasonable premise: Working with his biggest budget and best-known cast to date, mumblecore mainstay Joe Swanberg spins a web of romantic complication, as two couples—Ron Livingston and Olivia Wilde; Jake Johnson and Anna Kendrick—embark on a sexually charged (and liquor-fueled) weekend retreat.
Reasons to seek it out: Word from SXSW was largely positive, with many critics claiming that Swanberg had made a big leap forward as a filmmaker. Also, it’s hard to argue with that cast.
Crossover appeal: Pretty low. Unless Drinking Buddies is a 180-degree pivot away from what the director has been doing for the last decade, “Swanberg” and “mainstream allure” may still be mutually exclusive.
The Grandmaster (August 23)Unseasonable premise: Hong Kong’s artiest filmmaker, Wong Kar-wai (Chungking Express, In The Mood For Love), puts his impressionistic stamp on yet another biopic about Ip Man, one of the most famous martial artists (and martial arts teachers; Bruce Lee was one of his students) in history.
Reasons to seek it out: Wong has never made a movie that, at the very least, didn’t look absolutely ravishing, and The Grandmaster is no exception. It also boasts a number of superlative action sequences and features two of Asia’s most charismatic actors in Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang.
Crossover appeal: Moderate. Martial-arts movies tend to perform fairly well (and Zhang starred in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, one of the biggest crossover hits of all time), but anyone who saw Ashes Of Time knows that Wong has his own, significantly less accessible approach to the genre.
Also opening in August: Sam Worthington headlines the inspirational surfing movie Drift (August 2). In Blood (August 9), Paul Bettany and Stephen Graham play sibling detectives who get mixed up in some bad business. French-Afghan writer Atiq Rahimi adapts his own best-selling novel The Patience Stone (August 14). The private cook of former French president François Mitterand receives a biopic with Haute Cuisine (August 16). Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton face another ice age in the post-apocalyptic thriller The Colony (August 23). Audrey Tatou is cute and French in Thérèse Desqueyroux (August 23). Campus is a danger zone for co-ed Haley Bennett in the Thanksgiving-set thriller Satanic (August 30).