The summer’s smaller films

By Matt Martin

Spring is over. And that means a new set of movie-going rules have begun. The new season of cinema is based on a simple equation: Summer = blockbusters.

With The Avengers setting sky-high box office records (it has already made over a billion dollars globally and has become the highest-grossing film of all time) and with the highly anticipated releases of The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man only weeks away, the summer of 2012 will be one of the biggest movie seasons in history, both in terms of attendance and profits.

Each and every week until late August is crammed with every conceivable mega-film imaginable. Besides the above mentioned, the slate is filled with high-profile sci-fi and fantasy movies (Prometheus, Snow White & the Huntsman, Total Recall), stylized, self-serious action flicks (Expendables 2, G.I.Joe: Retaliation, The Bourne Legacy), obligatory kids’ films (Brave, Paranorman, more sequals to Ice Age and Madagascar), and possibly funny/possibly terrible comedies (The Watch, That’s My Boy). Certainly, the screen will be filled with sound and fury all summer long but will it signify nothing?

And that’s just the tip of the Hollywood iceberg. More than 30 other “summer films” will hit the screens as well. With so many choices fighting for your attention span, it’s too easy for rare gems to go ignored.

So while you’re wading through an ocean of cinema possibilities this summer, be on the lookout for these five somewhat smaller, but nonetheless critically praised and eagerly anticipated films from five amazing directors. And as you enjoy these feasts of big-budget junk food filmmaking all summer long, don’t forget to try these smaller, more nutricious movie treats.

1) Moonrise Kingdom – Within the last decade, director Wes Anderson has not only drawn solid critical raves for his films but also has developed a fan following that would rival even the most celebrated young director. It’s not hard to see why, having created The Royal Tennenbaums, Rushmore, The Life Aquatic, Darjeeling Limited, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox films whose electic, often bizarre settings and offbeat characters contain simple, honest, and very funny comments on human relationships, familial responsibilities and the fragility of happiness.

Fresh from numerous festival awards, Anderson’s new film is set on an island off the coast of New England in the 1960s. As a young boy and girl become convinced they’re in love and decide to run away together, the entire town fans out to find them. But as the various factions mobilize to search, the town itself is turned upside down, which may be exactly what this collection of emotionally bruised, slightly bent townsfolk need.

Starring Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman and a phenomenal ensemble cast. Will it be as charming and funny as his previous films? All early reviews echo a resounding yes, but check out the trailer online and judge for yourself.

2) Savages – Academy Award-winning director Oliver Stone only has two modes of filmmaking, but they’re both amazing. Most of the time, he is America’s favorite creator of historical cinema. With films like Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, Nixon, The Doors, and W., Stone has spent most of his career revisiting, studying, and often rethinking the pivotal historical moments in 20th-century America, weaving a vast tapestry of the best and worst aspects of post-World War II society.

Although hotly debated over the years for both their accuracy and their audacity, they are still undeniably brilliant films. And in some cases, the controversy continues to this day (as is the case with JFK).

But sometimes, usually between two deeply serious historical films, he’ll indulge his second mode of filmmaking: violent, pulpy noir tales, like Natural Born Killers and U-Turn. Stone returns to this territory this summer with Savages, a hyper-dark, drug-tinged revenge film from the bestselling novel by Don Winslow. In it, Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass) and Taylor Kitsch (Battleship) are marijuana farmers in southern California. After a Mexican drug cartel, led by Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek, kidnaps their shared girlfriend (Blake Lively from The Town) in order to scare them out of the business, they commit to all-out war in order to get her back. Looks like another trip down halucination-tinged, blood-soaked Southern gothic. Bring it on, Oliver.

3) Magic Mike – When director Steven Soderbergh burst on the movie scene in 1989 with Sex, Lies, and Videotape, his low-budget, dark tale of unhealthy relationships and sexual turmoil, there was no denying his cinematic talent. But few could have guessed that over the next two decades, he would become one of Hollywood’s most sought-after filmmakers. Having helmed equal numbers of smart character dramas (Traffic, Erin Brockovich, Solaris, Che, Contagion), fun and intelligent action movies (Ocean’s 11 films, Out of Sight, Haywire), offbeat comedies (Schizopolis, The Informant!), and low-key moody independent oddities (Bubble, The Girlfriend Experience),

Soderbergh exists as one of the rare directors to contain both artistic vision as well as real financial clout in Hollywood. Translation? He’s the kind of director who’s films have done well both critically and financially, giving him the ability to make…well, anything he wants.

With that kind of artistic freedom can come interesting films that might have never been made, often because of subject matter. Magic Mike, it would seem, is such a film. Based on the real-life story of actor Channing Tatum (G.I. Joe, Public Enemies, 21 Jumpstreet) and starring him as well, it tells the story of Mike, an experienced male stripper, who takes a younger performer called The Kid under his wing, and trains him in the arts of partying, scoring women and making loose money. A scathing but funny drama/comedy in the vein of Boogie Nights, with Tatum finally getting to try a more dramatic role. Also starring Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer (In Time, Beastly).

4) Lawless – Austrailian director John Hilcoat surprised the cinema world a mere five years ago, when along with music icon Nick Cave, created what might be one of the best modern westerns since Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. The Proposition, starring Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone and Emily Watson and set in unsettled late 1800s Austrailia, was a dark, disturbing, nihilistic descent into the the final moments of uncivlized life in the Outback before the 20th century. Raw and unflinching, it heralded a directing talent that seemed to come from nowhere.

Hilcoat followed this by adapting Cormac McCarthy’s insanely bleak post-apocalyptic survival novel The Road. Starring Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, and Robert Duvall, it was another painful and heartwrenching study of the worst aspects of human behavior when put in dire, harsh surroundings.

Teaming with Nick Cave once again, Hillcoat set his sights on adapting Matt Bondurant’s acclaimed novel Lawless. Set in Depression-era Virginia, three rebellious, outlaw brothers find the American dream when their bootlegging operation gets bigger and more profitable until the authorities and rival gangsters come to town. After his powerhouse first two films, one can safely hope that this will follow in their deliciously violent footsteps, helped along by an amazing cast, including Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Shia Lebouf, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, and Mia Wasikowska.

5) To Rome with Love – Love him or hate him, Woody Allen is one of the most important and most prolific American directors of all time. Having made more than 50 films in the last 45 years, ranging from flawless comedies (Annie Hall, Sleeper, Broadway Danny Rose) to nostalgic, sweet films (Purple Rose of Cairo, Radio Days, Midnight in Paris) to pitch-black relationship dramas (Husbands and Wives, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Hannah & Her Sisters).

Over the years, Allen has worked with and often discovered literally hundreds of talented actors and actresses. In fact, it is almost unheard of for an actor to pass on a Woody Allen film. Winner of numerous major awards, Allen has remained a fixture of American cinema since the ’50s. As time passes by and Allen reaches his 80s, fans and critics alike watch every new film closely, curious how Allen will finish his long history of cinema genius.

Following his extremely charming ode to France, Midnight in Paris, Allen returns to Europe for another glance at how older cities full of history can influence the hearts of all people. This time, Rome is Allen’s city of dreams. Made up of multiple interweaving stories, Allen lets Rome’s twisting streets and looming monuments create a maze where various Italians and Americans find, explore, and lose love. Starring Woody Allen himself (his first return to acting in more than 10 years), as well as Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg, Penelope Cruz, Alison Pill, Judy Davis, Roberto Begnini, and many more.

Remember, film lovers, Memphis often gets smaller movies several weeks after the national release. Keep your eyes open for local release dates and lose yourself in a summer of cinema.

Author: LampLighter

The voice of Cooper-Young, a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to live, work and play, in the heart of Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.

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