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Summer of Salvation 

The film snob's guide to the best cinema the season has to offer.

Wednesday, May 20 2009
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"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.

May

Up (May 29)
Directed by Pete Docter
Only a Pixar animator — in this case, Monsters, Inc. director Docter — would dare ask studio bosses for millions of dollars to make an animated movie about a depressed 78-year-old widower (voiced by Ed Asner) who doesn't like children. We trust all things Pixar, but don't expect a run on Ed Asner plush toys at your local superstore.

June

Away We Go (June 12)
Directed by Sam Mendes
Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, married San Francisco novelists of staggering genius, team with Mendes (Revolutionary Road) to send pregnant newlyweds John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph on a sweetly comic road-trip across America. (See our Q&A with the authors here.) Allison Janney, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Paul Schneider co-star as the friends and family (aka eccentrics) who offer the couple temporary refuge.
See our Q&A with the filmmakers here

Food, Inc (June 12)
Directed by Robert Kenner
Moviegoers aren't likely to rush to the supermarket after seeing this disturbing exposé of the underregulated, profit-mad American food industry. It's time to plant that garden.

Moon (June 19)
Directed by Duncan Jones
After three years alone on the Moon, a spaceman of the near future (Daly City native 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.

Tetro (June 19)
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.

Whatever Works (June 26)
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.

Other notable June releases: Hangover, Land of the Lost (June 5), The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (June 12), The Proposal, Year One (June 19), Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (June 24).

July

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 Austrian fashion reporter. Beyond that, words fail us.

The Hurt Locker (July 10)
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.

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.

Humpday (July 17)
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 17)
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.

In the Loop (July 24)
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.

Other notable July releases: Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (July 1), The Answer Man, G-Force (July 24), Funny People (July 31).

August

The Cove (August 7)
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 has 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.

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.

Paper Heart (August 14)
Directed by Nicholas Jasenovec
In a documentary that isn't really a documentary, comedian Charlyne Yi (Knocked Up) conducts interviews to see whether 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?

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 and marriage hard for Clare (Rachel McAdams), his wife, whose attempts to hold him still are captured in this film version of Audrey Niffenegger's best-seller.

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.

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. coast in this comedy from the director of Love Actually.

It Might Get Loud (August 28)
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.)

Other notable August releases: Cold Souls (Aug. 14), World's Greatest Dad (Aug. 21), Halloween 2 (Aug. 28).

About The Author

Chuck Wilson

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