THR's awards analyst Scott Feinberg provides a helpful list of this summer's best movies that aren't big-budget remakes, sequels or adaptations aimed at teens, but rather smart films made for mature moviegoers who appreciate a good story.
If you liked Once, the charming 2006 indie that inspired the 2012 Tony-winning musical of the same name, then you have to check out the latest film from its writer-director, John Carney, which also revolves around characters who love music. Everyone knows — and this film offers a terrific reminder — that Mark Ruffalo is an actor of the first order. But who knew that Keira Knightley could sing?
Amma Asante's period piece drama, which a 1779 painting inspired Misan Sagay to write, chronicles the life and impact of the illegitimate, mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy Captain who was raised in a white household with certain privileges, but was denied others when she left it — and who helped to shape the worldview of the Lord Chief Justice of England who eventually ended slavery in the country. GuguMbatha-Raw gives a star-making performance as the title character, and Matthew Goode, Emily Watson, Sarah Gadon, Tom Felton, Penelope Wilton, Miranda Richardson and Tom Wilkinson also star.
Shot intermittently over 12 years, the latest film from Richard Linklater — whose Before trilogy is beloved by grown-ups the world over — offers a unique portrait of childhood and parenting, two things most grown ups have experienced! It stars the young newcomer Ellar Coltrane and frequent Linklater collaborator Ethan Hawke, as well as a notable comeback performance by veteran Patricia Arquette.
Directed by John Michael McDonagh, the brother of the noted Irish playwright and filmmaker Martin McDonagh, this black comedy revolves around a good priest (Brendan Gleeson) who, while taking confession, is told by a member of his parish that he will be murdered the following Sunday, spurring him to raise his guard. It also stars recent Tony nominee Chris O'Dowd and Flight's Kelly Reilly, among others.
'The Case Against 8'
Most documentarians dream of the sort of access that Ben Cotner and Ryan White got to their subjects in this film: the plaintiffs and attorneys who fought to overturn California's ban on gay marriage — the latter being unlikely allies Ted Olson and David Boies, who had been on opposing sides in the landmark Bush v. Gore case — which was resolved, in dramatic fashion, about a year ago.
Jon Favreau is known these days for directing the sort of films that attract teenage fanboys far more than grown-ups — i.e. the Iron Man franchise — but, in this return to his indie roots, he has crafted a delectable drama about a middle-aged man suffering a mid-life crisis, of sorts, including the loss of his job. Most people of a certain age will also relate to his character's struggles with social media, if not his relationships with women such as Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson.
'The Dance of Reality'
This one-of-a-kind film from the eccentric Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky — whose last film came out 23 years ago, and who adapted this one from his autobiography — ponders the meaning of "reality," as Jodorowsky's perceives it, through surrealistic images and dances.
Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in the New York Times Magazine in 2011, explores his personal journey, as well as the larger, highly-contentious fight over immigration reform, in this deeply personal documentary, which has screened in select theaters and is also airing on CNN.
A social advocacy documentary in the vein of An Inconvenient Truth (2006), which was also produced by Laurie David, this film, which was written and directed by Stephanie Soechtig, explores the little-discussed role that sugar in processed foods has played in America's ever-growing obesity problems, as well as the lobbying power of "Big Sugar" in Washington. The film is narrated by Katie Couric, also served as an executive producer on the film.
Jon S. Baird's crime dramedy is highlighted by a tour-de-force performance by the perpetually underappreciated Scotsman James McAvoy. The Last King of Scotland and Atonement star here plays a corrupt cop who aims to eliminate all possible impediments to his promotion while also trying to solve a brutal murder, entangling himself in a sticky web of lies.
'Get On Up'
With an early August opening, just like The Help (2011) and Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013), comes another story about the black experience in 20th century America — directed by the director of The Help — a biopic about the life and times of the father of funk, James Brown. Brown, who died in 2006, is played by Chadwick Boseman, who is best known for his portrayal of Jackie Robinson in last year's 42. Oscar nominee Viola Davis and Dan Aykroyd and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer also star.
'Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia'
Nicholas D. Wrathall's documentary about one of the most noted American "men of letters," the late Gore Vidal, recounts the key points in Vidal's long and colorful life, as well as his highly opinionated, often prescient views about the direction of America.
From Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski (My Summer of Love) comes this black-and-white drama, set in 1962 Poland, about a young aspiring nun (Agata Trzebuchowska) who learns, before taking her vows, that her family history is not what she thought it was and that her future cannot be what she thought it would be. David Denby of The New Yorker has called the film a "masterpiece."
A slow-burning drama with lots of historical references and dialogue? This is precisely the sort of film that grown ups grew up on and yearn for today! In James Gray's picture, Oscar winner Marion Cotillard plays a Polish woman who sails to America with her sister in 1921, hoping for a better life. But when her sister falls ill and is not allowed to leave Ellis Island with her, she finds that her best hope of securing their reunion is to do things that she never imagined doing. Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner also star.
Clint Eastwood's adaptation of the Tony-winning musical of the same name has been roughed up by some critics — but many of those were not around when high-pitched Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, a ragtag group of guys from New Jersey who weren't really prepared for superstardom — were making the music and history that it chronicles.
If you liked, say, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, as many grown ups did, then you're gonna love Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens' bawdy comedy about an odd couple of retirees. Following the death of one of their wives, a pair of aging ex-brothers-in-law (Paul Eenhoorn and Earl Lynn Nelson) take a trip to Iceland and try to feel young again, and get a lot more than they bargained for!
Grown ups are the last, dwindling number of people who seem to care about the views of film critics, so they will enjoy this documentary about the most famous of that breed: the late, great Roger Ebert. Put together by Steve James — the man behind one of the greatest docs ever made, Hoop Dreams (1994), which Ebert championed — this is no hagiography, but rather a blunt and honest look at a complicated man whose love of the movies sustained him even during the immensely trying final years of his life.
'Love Is Strange'
In Ira Sachs' drama, a longtime gay couple — played by the great character actors John Lithgow and Alfred Molina — are forced, for financial reasons, to live apart from one other, making for a painful separation and creating additional tensions in their lives. Older grow ups may recognize that this film's story is not dissimilar to that of the 1937 Leo McCarey classic Make Way for Tomorrow.
'Magic in the Moonlight'
Grown ups, as much as anyone, love Woody Allen rom-coms, and this one stars two of the most popular actors out there, Oscar winner Colin Firth and up-and-comer Emma Stone, who seems to many to be out of a bygone era. Set during the Roaring Twenties, Firth's character, a psychic debunker, tries to figure out how Stone's, a psychic, does what she does, and, not surprisingly, complications ensue.
'A Most Wanted Man'
Adapted from a John le Carre novel of the same name, Anton Corbijn's espionage thriller about a mysterious man trying to claim an ill-gotten fortune is one of the last films to star the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright and Daniel Bruhl also star.
'Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon'
Mike Myers — yes, the same one from the Austin Powers films —makes his directorial debut with this loving documentary about Shep Gordon, who has long managed his career, and who has also counted among his clients Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and many other legendary figures. Employing great archival photos and footage, as well as talking-head interviews with the subject and his friends, the film recounts Gordon's accomplishments, wild exploits and how he has dealt with aging and health troubles in more recent years.
Like 2005's Crash, the best known film that Paul Haggis has directed (and for which he won a best original screenplay Oscar), this one, Haggis' latest, involves a variety of disparate stories — in this case, three love stories — that eventually intersect in unexpected ways. This one stars Oscar winners Adrien Brody and Kim Basinger, Oscar nominees James Franco and Liam Neeson, plus Maria Bello, Mila Kunis and Olivia Wilde.
'Venus in Fur'
Roman Polanski's latest is an adaptation of David Ives' disturbing two-person play about an actress attempting to convince a director that she should be cast in his next production. (The theatrical version was nominated for the best play Tony in 2012.) It reunites the stars of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007), Mathieu Amalric and Polanski's wife, EmmanuelleSeigner.
'Whitey: The United States of America v. James J. Bulger'
From the noted documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger comes this look at the dark life of Whitey Bulger, the infamous Boston-area gangster who inspired the Jack Nicholson character in The Departed, and who was finally captured in 2011 after years on the run.
'Yves Saint Laurent'
In this glamourous French biopic, Jalil Lespert looks at the life of the legendary French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent (Pierre Niney), with a significant focus on his longtime personal and professional relationship with Pierre Berge (Guillaume Gallienne).