You’ll probably notice that there aren’t very many movies receiving wide releases this month, and that partly has to do with the return of a certain wise-cracking web-slinger to the big screen, but it’s mostly because every studio is terrified of “The Dark Knight Rises,” and they should be. Christopher Nolan’s last Batman film absolutely dominated the box office, eventually grossing just over a billion dollars worldwide, and if the business that “The Avengers” has been doing is any indication, the third installment is going to easily exceed that. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other movies worth checking out, because just about every title on this list should be considered must-see.
Who: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen and Sally Field
What: Peter Parker finds a clue that might help explain why his parents disappeared years earlier, leading him to his father’s former partner, Dr. Curt Connors.
When: July 3rd
Why: Sony’s decision to reboot the Spider-Man series only a decade after Sam Raimi’s first movie was released has earned its share of naysayers, but having already seen director Marc Webb’s new version, most people are going to be happy with the direction the series is headed. Though it’s a bit of a pain to have to sit through Peter Parker’s origin story all over again, Webb makes it just different enough that it’s never boring. The action scenes are also well-staged, and Spider-Man’s wise-cracking humor remains intact, but the best part about the movie is the characters themselves. Not only are the actors perfectly cast in their respective roles (especially Andrew Garfield, who embodies everything that’s great about Spider-Man), but the relationships are actually interesting, and you can’t say that about every superhero film, Raimi’s trilogy included.
Who: Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, Salma Hayek and Benicio del Toro
What: Marijuana growers Ben and Chon face off against the Mexican drug cartel that kidnapped their shared girlfriend.
When: July 6th
Why: It’s been awhile since Oliver Stone made a movie worth caring about, but this big screen adaptation of Don Wilson’s bestseller has certainly piqued my interest. A drug-fueled crime thriller that looks like something the director would have made back in the 90s, “Savages” has a cool premise and a great cast to boot. Okay, so maybe Taylor Kitsch hasn’t had the best year between “John Carter” flopping and “Battleship” failing to find its sea legs at the domestic box office, but Aaron Johnson has impressed with his career choices lately, and the idea of Salma Hayek playing the big bad is oozing with potential. Though it’s unclear whether the film is supposed to have that grindhouse feel on purpose, if Stone can pull it off, he might just have another cult hit on his hands.
Who: Joel Kinnaman, Matias Varela, Dragomir Mrsic and Mahmut Suvacki
What: A three-tiered story centered on drugs and organized crime, focusing on a young man who becomes a runner for a cocaine dealer.
When: July 13th
Why: I don’t know a whole lot about Daniel Espinosa’s “Easy Money” (originally titled “Snabba Cash” in its native country) other than it stars Joel Kinnaman of AMC’s “The Killing” and was a near-universal hit on the festival circuit, but quite frankly, that’s enough for me. The Swedish film industry has gotten a huge boost thanks to the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series in recent years, and “Easy Money” reportedly follows in the same footsteps. Though I wasn’t crazy about Espinosa’s U.S. debut, “Safe House,” it had enough good moments (especially the fight scenes) to suggest he’s a promising talent. Plus, I’d see anything Kinnaman does these days, because his work on “The Killing” is so amazing that it’s no wonder he’s been tapped as Hollywood’s new It guy.
Who: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine and Gary Oldman
What: Eight years after Batman took the fall for Two Face’s crimes, a new terrorist named Bane arrives in Gotham, prompting the Dark Knight to come out of hiding.
When: July 20th
Why: Do you really need a reason? “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” are two of the best superhero movies ever made, and if early buzz is to be believed, the third and final installment of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy is the best one yet. Though it’s going to be hard beating Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, Tom Hardy certainly looks up to the task as the equally interesting Bane, who presents a completely different kind of threat. The involvement of the morally ambiguous Selina Kyle should also add some nice complexity to the story, and the fact that she’s played by Anne Hathaway doesn’t hurt either. I’m still not completely sold on the idea of introducing a flying vehicle into Batman’s arsenal of tech, but if Nolan has proven anything with these films, it’s that if something doesn’t make sense in his version of Gotham City, then it doesn’t belong.
Who: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade and Rosemarie DeWitt
What: Suburban dads who form a neighborhood watch group find themselves defending the Earth from an alien invasion.
When: July 27th
Why: Perhaps best described as “Attack the Block” in the suburbs, “The Watch” has the potential to be really good, but that all depends on whether director Akiva Schaffer was able to keep his cast on a relatively tight leash. While Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill have all carved out successful careers due to their excellent improv skills, they also have a tendency to take jokes too far. (See: the interrogation scene in the trailer.) With a script written by “Superbad” scribes Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, however, it’s hard to imagine that very much riffing was required. Then again, the real reason to see the film isn’t even for Stiller, Vaughn or Hill, but the fourth member of the Neighborhood Watch team played by British comedian Richard Ayoade. Already a star in the UK, it’s about time that American audiences saw what all the fuss was about.
Who: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple and Thomas Haden Church
What: When a debt puts a young man’s life in danger, he orders a hit on his good-for-nothing mother in order to collect the insurance money.
When: July 27th
Why: I had the chance to see William Friedkin’s latest movie at SXSW earlier this year, and it’s without a doubt the best film that he’s made in a very long time. Adapted by Tracy Letts from his stage play of the same name, this self-described “totally twisted, deep-fried, Texas redneck trailer park murder story” is one of the most intense and polarizing moviegoing experiences of the past decade. The events that transpire over the course of the film will likely divide audiences (particularly a tension-packed final act that gets a bit weird and perverse), it’s as fascinating to watch unravel as it is repulsive. Every single performance is great, but it’s Matthew McConaughey who commands the screen with what might just be the best role of his career. It’s about time the actor showed off his full potential, and this white trash “Blood Simple” does all that and more.
Who: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas
What: A novelist struggling with writer’s block finds romance in a most unusual way: by creating a female character he thinks will love him, and then willing her into existence.
When: July 27th
Why: It’s been six years since Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ directorial debut “Little Miss Sunshine” took Hollywood by storm, so it’s not surprising that people were beginning to worry that they might just be a one-hit wonder. Though it’s going to be almost impossible to replicate the success of their first film, “Ruby Sparks” definitely has the potential to be another hit for the duo, critically if not commercially. Reuniting Dayton and Faris with actor Paul Dano, and co-starring indie darling Zoe Kazan (who also wrote the screenplay), the movie has such a unique premise that, if executed correctly, it’s going to be really hard to forget come awards time. I wouldn’t start filling out your Oscar ballots yet, but “Ruby Sparks” could be this year’s “Midnight in Paris.”