Bad blockbusters that make a killing at the box office are like Kim Kardashian – they get a lot of money and a huge audience even though they kind of suck.
And Transformers 4 was definitely the Kim Kardashian of the box office this weekend, earning a reported $100 million at the box office while scoring a painfully low 16% on RottenTomatoes and generally negative reviews from critics.
It seems that in the summer when we actually want to leave the house and go to the movies, the theaters are filled with the same blockbuster drivel. But in reality, there are always plenty of solid summer films flying under the radar. Amazing little films like Kings of Summer, Before Midnight, and (not-so-little) Blue Jasmine were completely missed by most movie-goers last summer.
So to make sure you don’t miss any movies you might otherwise love, here are eight films to see this summer so your hard-earned (or parents’ hard-earned) $10 will be spent on something legitimate.
8. Under the Skin
(Already out, available on iTunes for early release)
Who You Know: Scarlett Johansson and all unknowns
Who Made It: Jonathan Glazer (Birth)
Instead of seeing Scarlett Johansson become a human science experiment in Lucy later this summer, see her experiment with the human race as an alien in Under the Skin. When her character comes to earth to harvest human flesh (by seducing men like a much better version of the 90’s Species), her work is compromised when she starts to feel empathy towards humans; and the mess of compassion she leaves in her tracks has to be cleaned up by a male alien following her throughout her mission. Done with a mix of unknown actors and literal man-on-the-street style scenes, the movie is as much about discovering what it is to truly be human as it is an artistic take on horror. Not for the faint of heart, but if you’re looking for a horror sci-fi flick (of if you just can’t get enough of ScarJo, because really, who can?), check it out.
(Already out, playing at most theaters)
Who You Know: Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson (it’s the summer of Scarlett), Sofia Vergara, Dustin Hoffman…an all around awesome cast
Who Made It: Jon Favreau
It looks like the cast of former summer blockbusters Iron Man 2 and 3 didn’t know what to do after they were done with the Marvel trilogy, figured “eh, we have some time before Avengers 2,” and decided to make Chef. Chef is the story of a well-off chef (Favreau) who trades working under the thumb of a tyrannical boss for opening his own food truck. In a charming combination of a man trying to find himself while also trying to save his family, this film is funny, heartfelt, and has a cast that has consistently rocked blockbusters and Indies alike. Favreau is the literal bridge between worlds, dipping his toe in the acting and directing pools, as well as the indie and blockbuster pools. Definitely worth checking out.
6. Obvious Child
Who You Know: Jenny Slate (Parks and Recreation, Bob’s Burgers, Kroll Show, the list goes on and on)
Who Made It: Gillian Robespierre (first feature)
When struggling comedienne Donna Stern (Slate) gets pregnant after a one-night-stand, the pressures of adulthood as a 20-something hit her like a brick wall. Obvious Child can go from bitingly funny to honest and heartfelt, and is more about the character than the usually cliche plot device that pregnancy is often is. Slate has come a long way from being known as the girl who dropped an f-bomb on SNL; becoming a very busy woman who can go from best-selling children’s book author to fart joke extraordinaire in a heartbeat.
Who You Know: Chris Evans, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Alison Pill, Octavia Spencer, and – for anyone who watches Skins out there, Luke Pasqualino
Who Made It: Joon-ho Bong (adapted from French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige”
This is the summer of movies with terrible titles that surprise you with fantastic plots (ex. The Edge of Tomorrow). Snowpiercer is set in the not-too-distant future where an attempt to combat global warming throws the human race into an ice age, leaving the remaining population to ride on a non-stop futuristic train where classes are literally divided into train cars right out of your cyberpunk imagination…until Curtis (Evans) leads a class uprising that challenges the entire class-divided system. Don’t let the title or the fact that it sounds a bit like Waterworld on a train in the winter deter you. While the CGI can be a bit touchy, this is an undeniably fantastic alternative if you’re looking for a futuristic action flick but don’t want to waste your money on Trans4mers. It’s original, the design is beautiful, it’s exciting, and it brings a cast that is strong in both talent and diversity.
4. Begin Again
Who You Know: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine (I know, right? But minus the bleach-blonde hair, thank God)
Who Made It: John Carney (Once – a kind of prequel to Begin Again)
It’s rare that you get a realistic movie about the music/entertainment industry, as evidenced by Step Up: All In (yes, another Step Up movie…) coming out later this summer. With a touch of the honesty and less of the pessimism displayed in Inside Llewyn Davis, Begin Again explores the side of the music industry that isn’t lit up by flashing lights and paparazzi cameras. Following two lost souls (Knightley and Ruffalo) who have been chewed up and spit out by the music industry; they meet in a chance encounter where they merge their talents to become a promising collaborative team. If the rom-com-y nature of Begin Again scares you, be comforted by the fact that a funny-man behind most of your favorite comedies is backing it as a producer. Yes, that Judd Apatow.
RT: 100% (so far)
Who You Know: Ethan Hawke
Who Made It: Richard Linklater (the Before Sunrise trilogy- another series you should watch right now, and a little movie called Dazed and Confused)
Picture a National Geographic documentary combined with a human story. Boyhood is a coming-of-age story that follows a young man, Mason (Ellar Coltrane) over 12 years of his life. Literally. Linklater and the rest of the cast have been filming this movie over the course of 12 years to bring a whole new meaning to an honest and real coming-of-age story. Already praised by the critics well before its release, this is a must-see this summer. Skip the (vaguely creepy) father-child story in Trans4mers and swap it for Boyhood.
2. Magic in the Moonlight
[Too early for consensus]
Who You Know: Emma Stone (can never have too much Emma Stone), Colin Firth
Who Made It: Woody Allen
Sure he’s a creep, but Woody Allen’s one-movie-every-year streak is undeniably impressive. While kind of questionable in his real love life, Allen captures love stories and messages about life in a consistently well-spoken way; this time bringing to the screen the idea of seeing more to life than just the monotony of normalcy. Magic centers around a cranky old British magician (Firth), who is asked to figure out if a woman claiming to be a medium (Stone) is the real deal. This movie looks aesthetically beautiful and, as always, well-written in Woody Allen’s classic voice.
1. The Skeleton Twins
(September 19th…who says summer has to end after August 31st?)
RT: 100% (so far)
Who You Know: Bill Hader, Kristin Wiig, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell
Who Made It: Craig Johnson (True Adolescents with Mark Duplass)
Winner of best screenplay at Sundance, The Skeleton Twins is a dramedy that lets some of SNL’s and TV’s funniest talents display a more dramatic side of their acting spectrum. When twins Maggie (Wiig) and Milo (Hader) both have near death experiences in the same day, they reunite after ten years of not seeing each other. But what they lack in connection over the past decade, they share in life stories that didn’t go as either of them expected. While a more serious film, it is very much a comedy and heartwarming in the sense that these twins discover the key to happier lives may lie in reconnecting with each other. Plus, Hader playing a gay character will always be one of my favorite things – whether it’s Stefon on Weekend Update or the bitingly funny and Eeyore-ish Milo in The Skeletong Twins – and Ty Burrell cast as Hader’s dad? Genius.
So there you have it. Money well spent on quality movies rather than another blockbuster…because Godzilla was enough.
(Photo courtesy of the Transformers 4 Facebook page)