May 02--Every year around this time, I come down with a bad case of cinematic seasonal affective disorder -- like a movie-related seasickness that lasts all summer.
The symptoms are extreme queasiness and fatigue caused by an abundance of sequels, superheroes and headache-inducing special effects. And the explosions, always with the explosions.
Whenever I hear the word "franchise" -- more appropriate for a fried-chicken chain than a creative enterprise -- I just want to scream: "Wake me up in September!"
But I refuse to be a shut-in this summer, mainlining Netflix until Labor Day. It's time for us arthouse snobs to fight back against the tyranny of the Iron Mans, Wolverines and Smurfs.
The good news is our resistance is gaining momentum.
There have always been summer movies that don't bang you over the head but instead whisper in your ear. You just have to look a little harder to find them amid the bombast.
But when audiences do discover them, they can become mini-blockbusters in their own right. Last year, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonrise Kingdom and Searching for Sugar Man -- all released in the shadow of The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises -- went on to become three of 2012's most celebrated and talked-about films.
So, even if their box office figures combined couldn't make a dent in Iron Man's helmet, we've decided to salute the smaller movies of summer by giving them top billing over the big guns, like Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel. (Don't sweat it, fanboys. We'll tell you about those, too.)
Unlike Adam Sander's Grown Ups 2, these are movies for actual grown-ups who just might be in for their best summer in a long time.
Frances Ha -- Noah Baumbach has directed three films that became arthouse favorites -- The Squid and the Whale (2005), Margot at the Wedding (2007), Greenberg (2010) -- and this black-and-white film starring Greta Gerwig about a woman emotionally at sea in Manhattan should do the same.
Love Is All You Need -- Danish director Susanne Bier's previous film, the tense In a Better World, won the foreign-language Oscar in 2011. She changes gears with this romantic comedy starring Pierce Brosnan.
Before Midnight -- Austin director Richard Linklater ( Dazed and Confused) returns to his most acclaimed series of works, continuing the relationship that began with characters played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004). It's nearly 20 years after they first met, they've got children and their romance has been dulled by familiarity and responsibility. But it all makes for fascinating conversation in what is the world's longest-running "duologue."
I'm So Excited -- Spanish director Pedro Almodovar is going back to his more lighthearted roots with this comedy about passengers stuck on a plane in a holding pattern. It's all a metaphor for Spain's current political predicament.
Much Ado About Nothing -- Joss Whedon (The Avengers) updates the Shakespeare classic as a low-budget, black-and-white ensemble piece with Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker and Clark Gregg.
Blue Jasmine -- In recent years, Woody Allen has had lots of luck counterprogramming his idiosyncratic movies against the big boys of summer. Midnight in Paris and Vicky Cristina Barcelona were both summer films. That continues with this drama starring Alec Baldwin and Cate Blanchett as a couple whose marriage is in trouble.
Fruitvale Station -- First time features director Ryan Coogler was so moved by the news story about a 22-year-old man shot in the back by an Oakland, Calif., transit cop that he decided to make a movie about it. Produced by Forest Whitaker and starring Michael B. Jordan (The Wire, Friday Night Lights), the film won the audience award and a grand jury prize at Sundance this year.
Only God Forgives -- Director Nicolas Winding Refn gave us one of the best films of 2011 with the moody Drive. Now, he teams up again with Drive star Ryan Gosling for this thriller set in Bangkok.
The Way, Way Back -- Writers Jim Rash and Nat Faxon scored a home run with film festival and mainstream audiences with The Descendants in 2011 and now, in their first attempt at directing, they hope to slam it out of the park again. This time, it's a coming-of-age story starring Liam James ( The Killing) along with Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell and Toni Collette.
Ain't Them Bodies Saints -- DFW director David Lowery has been making waves in the local film community for awhile and his first big feature -- starring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck in a tale about an escaped con trying to find his wife and daughter -- has already earned a nomination for Sundance's Grand Jury Prize and a directors-to-watch nod from the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Prince Avalanche -- Paul Rudd takes a break from his usual round of buddy movies and rom-coms for this low-budget exercise from Texas director David Gordon Green about two guys -- the other played by Emile Hirsch -- who paint lines on highways. Like Before Midnight, it's essentally a long conversation.
Austenland -- You can't go wrong with the combo of Jane Austen and an arthouse audience. That's probably what director Jerusha Hess (a co-writer on Napoleon Dynamite) is counting on with this comedy about a woman (Keri Russell) looking to make friends at a Jane Austen convention.
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