It's nearly that time of year. The hot months, when popcorn fare tear through the multiplex on the way to massive box office receipts. The result, for most, is a shortlist of must-sees throughout the next couple of months, lists typically dominated by franchise entries, anticipated sequels and high concept spectacle. But as always, there are a number of counter-programming options, if you will, gems — or potential gems — lurking beneath the radar.
With that in mind, a few of us put our heads together to come up with a list of 15 films we'd humbly suggest giving a spin amid the torrent of the usual this summer. Whether they're holdovers from the fall festival circuit looking to spark as something different or indies staking out their own little piece of turf, there's something for everyone on this list.
In theaters: July 11
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane
Why it's a must see: Casual movie-goers may or may not be aware of Richard Linklater's 12-years-in-the-making epic spanning the childhood and early adolescence of a boy as his parents do their best to raise him. It made a huge splash at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals and represents a truly unique break from the norm this summer. If you have kept up with Linklater's on-going series of films, "Before Sunrise," "Before Sunset" and "Before Midnight," you know he has a particular affinity for telling stories on such a scale. And if you've liked those movies, there's no reason you shouldn't be first in line for "Boyhood."
In theaters: May 30 (limited release)
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Jesse Eisenberg, Peter Sarsgaard
Why it's a must-see: Anyone familiar with Reichardt's previous films -- including "Wendy and Lucy" and "Meek's Cutoff" -- should know that a "thriller" from the director isn't exactly going to be a rollercoaster ride, but this slow-burning mood piece is riveting and unsettling in sneakier ways. Building a tangled drama of ethics and dark human impulse around the botched actions of three environmental terrorists, it's a film that lingers in the mind for months afterward. In an uncharacteristically chilly role, Dakota Fanning may be in the best form of her career here; Eisenberg, delivering his strongest work since "The Social Network," is equally impressive.
In theaters: June 13 (limited release)
Director: David Michôd
Cast: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy,
Why it's a must see: Michôd set the indie world on fire after his directorial debut "Animal Kingdom" was the surprise hit of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. That buzz translated to box office and earned Jacki Weaver her first Oscar nomination. Now he's back with "Kingdom" star Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson happily free of any future "Twilight" commitments. Michôd knows many will see parallels between "The Rover's" post-apocalyptic desert setting and "Mad Max," but he doesn't seem to care. More importantly, the film will be a Midnight screening at this year's Cannes Film Festival, adding a certain level of prestige to an already buzz-worthy mix.
In theaters: June 6 (limited release)
Director: Ti West
Cast: Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, AJ Bowen, Gene Jones
Why it's a must-see: Ti West is one of the smartest directors currently working in the horror genre, bringing immaculate craft and a high scare count to the low-fi premises of "House of the Devil" and "The Innkeepers" -- so leave it to him to find new mileage in the seemingly played-out found-footage trend. Well, that's one critic's opinion anyway: "The Sacrament" has been West's most divisive film to date, with many taking issue with its heavy appropriation of the true-life Jonestown Massacre story in its otherwise fictional docu-style investigation of a sinister Christian cult. It worked for me: West knows how to wring tension even out of the inevitable, and the film delivers both short-term jolts and long-term disquiet.
"Let's Be Cops"
In theaters: August 15
Director: Luke Greenfield
Cast: Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans Jr., Nina Dobrev
Why it's a must see: It hasn't gotten the hype that "Neighbors" or "22 Jump Street" have received, but Fox's mistaken identities comedy looks like it could be an August surprise. It's also the last studio comedy of the summer, which means even if it's just OK (see "We're the Millers"), it could make a ton of money.
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