With the pending release of mega-blockbuster Iron Man 3 this Friday, the summer movie season is underway. That means that brainless epics (White House Down), horrendous sequels (The Smurfs 2) and “indie” films hoping to be this year’s Little Miss Sunshine (The Way, Way Back) will soon invade the multiplex. However, I will discuss none of these types of films in this post. Instead, I want to take a look at the upcoming movies that I think will produce interesting discussions and/or hone in on certain complex social or political phenomena. Thus, this list will not be comprised of my most anticipated films of the summer (although there might be some overlap); while Monsters University looks great, it doesn’t exactly scream “thought-provoking,” even though I have often wondered how Sully will fare at beer pong.
Anyways, here’s the list.
10. The Purge (June 7th): The concept for this horror film, recently screened at Vassar, is quite intriguing. The Purge asks what it would be like to live in an America where crime and violence is actually government-sanctioned for one night a year. In the film, an upper-middle class family (headed by Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey) accidentally lets a stranger in their house during the night of The Purge, which puts their family in further danger. My hope for The Purge is that it will provide actual social commentary on destructive American tendencies, but the trailer seems to indicate that this sentiment is removed once the bloodletting commences. On June 7th, we can see whether or not this is the case.
9. The Internship (June 7th): Product placement rarely comes in more obvious forms than in the trailer for The Internship, which stars Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughan as interns at Google. The internet corporation does not exactly need more advertising, so the film’s choice of business is a bit puzzling and kind of unsavory. Ideally, the film will tone down a bit on the Google-pimping and actually feature winning characters coupled with a real story. However, if this does not hold true, further debate on the limits of product placement seems inevitable.
8. The Great Gatsby (May 10th): Confession #1: I have not read The Great Gatsby. Confession #2: Baz Luhrmann is one of my least favorite filmmakers. Yet somehow, I am more than willing to see the new film adaptation of the novel starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, even if the anachronistic use of Lana Del Ray in the trailer makes me a wee bit angry. The Great Gatsby seems to prioritize style over substance, but its larger reception by the public will undoubtedly demonstrate both the possible validity of 3D films for adults and how eager people are to watch a movie about a glamorous millionaire post-recession. Both of these answers should have a significant impact on what gets greenlit by the major studios for 2014 and beyond.
7. After Earth (May 31st): There was a time when I was an M. Night Shyamalan defender. That time has long since past (it has something to do with Lady in the Water), and I wonder how he was able to land the directing gig of a summer tentpole produced by and starring Will Smith. The movie looks pretty awful, but I must say that I am curious if the world’s biggest movie star can resurrect Shyamalan’s career commercially and/or artistically. Also, will there be a twist? If so, it should produce a good amount of chatter/Internet ridicule.
6. The World’s End (August 23rd): After six long years, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost are finally making a follow-up to the hilarious Hot Fuzz. As the title suggests, The World’s End is about the apocalypse. However, it’s also about a pub crawl. The reason for my inclusion of it on this list is that I’m wondering if a movie about the end of the world can seem funny in the wake of the terrible tragedies of the last few months. I have similar concerns about the Seth Rogen/James Franco film This is the End, but that film promises broad laughs while Wright/Pegg/Frost usually dabble in poignancy as well as hilarity. I hope and expect The World’s End to be good, but I wonder how the larger American populace will react.
5. You’re Next (August 23rd): The recipient of a ton of film festival buzz, You’re Next is supposed to be a new take on home-invasion-themed movies by marrying the subgenre with the macabre sensibilities of Agatha Christie. However, the film is garnering a decent amount of controversy for excessive violence, even by the standards of horror films. As someone who has used the label “torture porn” for dozens of films, I am curious to see whether this film transcends this term. On another note, I love the marketing for the film—Lions Gate is promoting the film by inserting its title in blood-red font into subtle places on billboards for their other films.
4. Before Midnight (May 24th): Following Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, which are possibly the most romantic films made during my lifetime, Before Midnight continues the relationship between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), who are now married and vacationing in Greece. Jesse and Celine are a fantastic screen couple, and their emotions have often reflected the lives not only of Gen-Xers who grew up with the characters, but also those of a certain kind of liberal mentality and idealistic spirit. While the visual style and performances are small-scale, I see the Before films tapping into bigger ideas of love and human connection. I hope Before Midnight continues this pattern as the characters enter their 40’s.
3. Black Rock (May 17th): What on the surface seems to be a typical Kickstarter-funded low-budget survival horror film, Black Rock is supposed to be an intense rumination on both PTSD and rape. These are tricky topics to navigate in a feature film, and Black Rock is getting mixed reception from critics despite its feminist outlook. Not surprisingly, this reception seems to be divided along gender lines, as web critic Justin Lowe labels the female characters as “wallowing in emotionality” while writer Alyssa Rosenberg calls the film “really powerful” in its firm anti-rape message. I suspect that this controversy will continue, making Black Rock one of the most discussed indie films of the summer.
2. Elysium (August 9th): I am all for original, intelligent, and ambitious science-fiction films, and Elysium, starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, is the best bet to fill this category during the summer 2013 movie season. Damon plays a man on a mission to reach the film’s titular planet, which is a utopia only accessible to the wealthy. The plot as well as the film’s trailers suggest that immigration and class issues will be directly confronted by writer/director Neill Blomkamp. While his first film District 9 began as a harsh critique of colonialism before turning into a mess of explosions, Elysium appears to be a bit more consistent with its social commentary.
1. Much Ado About Nothing (June 7th): Cinematic Shakespeare adaptations are nothing new, but Joss Whedon’s take on the Bard’s classic comedy is almost certainly the first to be filmed over a twelve-day period at the director’s house. The result is supposed to be great fun, and the film could serve to make Shakespeare seem cool, instead of stodgy, to the general public. I also wonder whether the low-key, supposedly alcohol-heavy, model of filming will be replicated in the future by both aspiring and established filmmakers; this could lead to unconventional and entertaining films that offer a unique level of audience participation. That is purely speculative on my part, but I do think that Much Ado About Nothing will be a big box office surprise and a major discussion starter.