"The cinema is not a slice of life but a piece of cake," Alfred Hitchcock once said, and if that's true — and who are we to dispute the Master? — then summertime is when we gorge (unhealthily, most of the time, on ear-splitting smash-'em-ups and nerd-filled sex comedies). This year's summer movie season is sure to contain its share of brain goo — is that the march of angry robots we hear? — but there are more satisfying things on the menu, too. Gorging, we say, is good — it's the American way — but as we peruse the upcoming multiplex offerings, let's pledge to seek out the occasional rare delicacy. To help, we've narrowed down the season's gazillion releases, and what follows is our list of the best, most intriguing, and most promising films. All dates are subject to change. Happy summer. (Note: Release dates are national and may not indicate release dates in the Phoenix area.)
Away We Go (June 5)
Directed by Sam Mendes
Married novelists of staggering genius, Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, team with Mendes (Revolutionary Road) to send pregnant newlyweds (John Krasinki and Maya Rudolph) on a sweetly comic road trip across America. Allison Janney, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Paul Schneider co-star as the friends and family (a.k.a. eccentrics) who offer the couple temporary refuge.
Séraphine (June 5)
Directed by Martin Provost
Yolande Moreau stars as the French painter Séraphine Louis, who worked as a servant girl before her gift for painting was discovered in 1912. Provost tracks Séraphine's fast rise and heartbreaking fall in a film that won seven César Awards (the French Oscars), including Best Picture and Best Actress.
Tetro (June 11)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
In writing his first original screenplay since 1974's The Conversation, Coppola reportedly mined his own backstory for this tale of two brothers (Vincent Gallo and Alden Ehrenreich) trying to come to terms with their complex family history. Set in contemporary Buenos Aires, Tetro was filmed in black-and-white, a style Coppola last employed for 1983's Rumble Fish.
Food, Inc. (June 12)
Directed by Robert Kenner
Moviegoers aren't likely to rush to the supermarket after seeing this disturbing exposé of the under-regulated, profit-mad American food industry. It's time to plant that garden.
Moon (June 12)
Directed by Duncan Jones
After three years alone on the Moon, a spaceman of the near future (Sam Rockwell) begins hallucinating — and eventually wakes up to find that he's sharing the ship with an exact replica of . . . himself. This is the first feature for Jones, whose father (just so you know) is David Bowie.
Whatever Works (June 19)
Directed by Woody Allen
Allen returns to Manhattan after an extended European vacation and casts Larry David as a hypochondriac physicist whose spirits are lifted when he befriends and later weds a dippy 20-year-old (Evan Rachel Wood). The film is reportedly based on a script Allen wrote 30 years ago — luckily, neuroticism is timeless.
$9.99 (June 19)
Directed by Tatia Rosenthal
New York animator Rosenthal traveled to Australia to make this acclaimed stop-motion comedy concerning the peculiar adventures of the residents of an Aussie apartment building, including two boys who've spent $9.99 (and not a penny more) on a book that promises the secret to life.
The Hurt Locker (June 26)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Guy Pearce go to war in this intense drama about a bomb-defusing unit stationed in Baghdad at the height of the Iraq War. Look for cameos by Ralph Fiennes and David Morse.
Quiet Chaos (June 26)
Directed by Antonio Grimaldi
Nanni Moretti stars as an Italian film exec devastated by the death of his wife. Left to raise a 10-year-old daughter, the man finds himself unable to part from her and ends up spending his days in the park opposite her Rome school. Featuring Roman Polanski in a small role.
The Beaches of Agnès (July 1)
Directed by Agnès Varda
The renowned French filmmaker Varda (Vagabond), now 80, continues her ongoing cinematic autobiography with this César Award—winning documentary. Using the world's beaches as both backdrop and metaphor, Varda recalls the important people of her life, including her late husband, filmmaker Jacques Demy, as well as rock star Jim Morrison.
Public Enemies (July 1)
Directed by Michael Mann
Johnny Depp is 1930s bank robber extraordinaire John Dillinger; Christian Bale is FBI super-agent Melvin Purvis, hot on his trail, Tommy gun in hand. The director is Michael Mann (Miami Vice, Heat), who knows a thing or two about bad-guy/good-guy showdowns. Bullets will fly.
Brüno (July 10)
Directed by Larry Charles
Sacha Baron Cohen jettisons Borat for Brüno, a gay, hot-pants-wearing Australian fashion reporter. Beyond that, words fail us.
Humpday (July 10)
Directed by Lynn Shelton
It seemed like a fun idea at the time: Ben (Mark Duplass) and Andrew (Joshua Leonard), lifelong buds, get high at a party where they agree, in front of witnesses, to "do it" (with each other) for a sex-tape film festival. Their girlfriends are amused, and then . . . they're not.
Soul Power (July 10)
Directed by Jeffrey Levy-Hinte
In the days preceding Muhammad Ali and George Foreman's 1974 fight, musical giants such as James Brown, B.B. King, Bill Withers, and Celia Cruz gathered in Zaire for a three-day concert. Oscar winner Levy-Hinte (When We Were Kings) has restored a mountain of found footage of the concert and the chaos that surrounded it for this high-energy doc.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (July 15)
Directed by David Yates
A nerdy but increasingly sexy teenage boy with magical powers and an invisible cloak learns the true history of his archenemy, whose name we dare not utter.
500 Days of Summer (July 17)
Directed by Marc Webb
An L.A. greeting-card writer (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) finds true love in the form of a beautiful co-worker (Zooey Deschanel) in Webb's romantic comedy, which literally counts the days of this up-and-down relationship.
In the Loop (July 17)
Directed by Armando Iannucci
British satirist Iannucci (BBC's The Thick of It) goes to Washington in this fictional riff on the political scrambling — British and American alike — that preceded the Iraq War. Starring Tom Hollander, and featuring James Gandolfini as an American general who speaks in snappy one-liners.
Flame and Citron (July 31)
Directed by Ole Christian Madsen
Flame (Thure Lindhardt) and Citron (Mads Mikkelsen) were the code names for two resistance fighters in Denmark during the Nazi Occupation. Madsen tells their story in a film that's been a smash hit in its home country, where Mikkelsen is a superstar.
Lorna's Silence (July 31)
Directed by Jean-Pierre
and Luc Dardenne
Belgium's Dardenne brothers (La promesse, L'enfant), among the world's finest filmmakers, return with this story of an Albanian refugee (Arta Dobroshi) who finds herself going to extremes in order to gain Belgian citizenship. Advance buzz, including a screening at last year's Cannes Film Festival, heralds Dobroshi as a great discovery.
The Cove (July 31)
Directed by Louie Psihoyos
In the 1960s, Richard O'Barry captured five dolphins and trained them to play "Flipper" on the popular TV show. Since then, he's become obsessed with getting footage of the brutal slaughter of dolphins in a Japanese port town. Psihoyos tracks O'Barry's quest in this wrenching documentary.
Julie & Julia (August 7)
Directed by Nora Ephron
Ephron adapts Julie Powell's memoir of the year she spent making all 524 recipes in Julia Child's classic cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Amy Adams portrays Powell, whose inner musings on Child's life and times are enacted by none other than Meryl Streep. Looking forward to that accent.
Paper Heart (August 7)
Directed by Nicholas Jasenovec
In a documentary that's not really a documentary, comedian Charlyne Yi (Knocked Up) conducts interviews to see if anyone still believes in true love. Enter actor Michael Cera, playing himself (sort of) and falling for Yi, who, in real life, is already his girlfriend. Got that?
District 9 (August 14)
Directed by Neill Blomkamp
From first-time director Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson, a sci-fi epic about extraterrestrials that landed in South Africa 30 years ago, only to be captured, segregated, and brutally mistreated by the government. The rest of the plot is a secret (so far), but we all know what happens when you piss off a space creature.
Ponyo (August 14)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
From Disney, the new film by master Japanese animator Miyazaki (Howl's Moving Castle). In Miyazaki's take on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, "The Little Mermaid," a goldfish named Ponyo longs to become human. (Looks like Ariel's got competition.)
Taking Woodstock (August 14)
Directed by Ang Lee
The Brokeback Mountain director lightens up for this tie-dye-filled adaptation of Elliot Tiber's terrific Woodstock memoir. Tiber, played here by comedian Demetri Martin, isn't famous, but his family's dilapidated motel was ground zero for the iconic festival.
The Time Traveler's Wife (August 14)
Directed by Robert Schwentke
Henry (Eric Bana), a Chicago librarian, is forever bouncing around in time (literally). This makes life/marriage hard for Clare (Rachel McAdams), his wife, whose attempts to hold him still are captured in this film version of Audrey Niffenegger's bestseller.
Inglourious Basterds (August 21)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Blame the bad spelling of the title on those infernal Nazis, who refer to the band of Jewish-American soldier-assassins led by Brad Pitt as "The Basterds." Tarantino's World War II action flick also stars Diane Kruger, B.J. Novak (The Office), Hostel writer-director Eli Roth, and last, but never least, the mighty Cloris Leachman.
It Might Get Loud (August 21)
Directed by Davis Guggenheim
The Oscar-winning director of An Inconvenient Truth cuts loose in his new documentary, which finds rock gods Jimmy Page, the Edge, and Jack White singing the praises of their respective electric guitars. Then they jam. (Loudly.)
The Boat That Rocked (August 28)
Directed by Richard Curtis
It's 1966, and rock 'n' roll has yet to make it to the airwaves of the BBC, which controls all radio stations in England. So Philip Seymour Hoffman leads a renegade band of disc jockeys as they broadcast the devil's music from a boat off the U.K. shore in this comedy from the director of Love Actually.
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Mesrine: A Film in Two Parts
Directed by Jean-François Richet
Vincent Cassel, who was so extraordinary as the mob boss's son in David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises, moves up the crime ladder in this four-hour epic about the action-packed life (murders, kidnappings — the works) of modern-day French criminal Jacques Mesrine.