MONTHLY HIGHLIGHTS: May 2014

Out of the quiet season and into the bustling metropolis of Summer. The blockbuster onslaught has already begun with Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘s domination of April, but prepare for them to be a nullifying presence in every week of the season from here on. Luckily, not all of them are turgid, stunted messes, and even luckier, the indie films actually have them matched, if not surpassed, in terms of spectacle. Pre-teen rock musicians, epic desert voyages, hard boiled indie thrillers and classical American melodramas litter a month so full of promising offerings that it surpasses a slight grouping of 10, so this one goes to eleven…

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of May

X-Men - Days of Future Past10. X-Men: Days of Future Past (Wide Release; May 23rd)

Do I still have to appease the superhero Gods? After Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I’m struggling to believe the genre has any hope of breaking its episodic confines. I have perhaps even less faith in the X-Men franchise, which, contrary to popular belief, did not improve after Origins: Wolverine. Returning to the terrain of First Class, a less obviously hideous, but more politically problematic film, isn’t immediately enticing. The promise of lasting consequences for both of the franchise’s individuals timelines, showcasing the McAvoy-Fassbender and Stewart-McKellen duos in lovely contrast, is. Bryan Singer may be caught in a nasty legal battle, and aside from that is untangling himself from rather unsavory output like Superman Returns, Valkyrie and Jack the Giant Slayer, but X-Men is where he most effectively started. With added experience, maybe he can find his groove again there. I admit, I’m more than a little excited to see a post-Drive Newton Thomas Sigel shoot something this massive. (Trailer)

Neighbors9. Neighbors (Wide Release; May 9th)

The bawdy, bro-tastic comedy is a subgenre worth questioning nowadays – yes, three films in a row I’ve opened up with skepticism, but doesn’t that often result in uplifting surprise? – and the hip young viewers tend to scatter at the sight of Zac Efron or Shia Labeouf’s name, but a good comic offering may well be packaged here. Efron stars opposite Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne’s concerned domestic neighbors as Efron opens a Frat house next door. Cross-generational war commences, and one hopes that the due hilarity ensues, hopefully not without a justification for that madness. Director Nicholas Stoller isn’t working off his own script for the first time since his debut with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, though he’s proven exuberantly capable on that score recently with Muppets Most Wanted. Perhaps in the director’s chair he can focus on making the comic elements pop and not just drift. (Trailer)

The Double8. The Double (Limited Release; May 9th)

A slightly different doppelganger story than X-Men: Days of Future Past, and one where the future isn’t in as dire a state of decay, I don’t think. Skepticism is warranted for Richard Ayoade’s followup to Submarine, a charming enough indie that nonetheless had its share of grating affectations. Also warranted in promising interest, as this is a more intriguing tale than that simple romantic comedy and a noticeable step forward in ambition. Based on the book by Dostoyevsky, it focuses on a timid employee who finds himself upstaged in all areas by a more charming version of himself with first and last names switched. Exactly how strangely the film follows that premise down the rabbit hole is to be seen, but the excitement out of Toronto has our interest reliably piqued, and perhaps more so. Any extra showcases for Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, and the recently under-utilized Wallace Shawn are absolutely welcome. (Trailer)

We Are the Best!7. We Are the Best (Limited Release; May 30th)

Movies about teenage music groups are such a naturally infectious genre, and one that’s so rarely tiring. They’re not burdened with the 5+ seasons of rapidly diminishing impact that Glee‘s been oppressed with. They’re quick, bright, fun, but have the kind of undeniably heart that makes viewers swoon unconditionally. We Are the Best! probably errs more on the side of Linda Linda Linda than Pitch Perfect, but it already has champions saying it’s wonderfully its own new thing. Focusing on a group of pre-teen girls who start a punk band in 1982 Stockholm, it’s a tint we haven’t seen of the story we’re used to. If the whole film can be as emphatic as its exclamation mark-equipped title, expect more fans to repeat the titular statement. (Trailer)

Palo Alto6. Palo Alto (Limited Release; May 9th)

27 is a good year to make your feature debut, I feel. Not so early to be naive about your own capabilities, yet not so old for a certain youthful spirit to subside. It just so happens to be the age both Sofia Coppola and Gia Coppola were at when they made theirs, the former with The Virgin Suicides in 1999, and the latter now with the similarly youth focused Palo Alto. I don’t use the word “similarly” lightly, as there does look to be a similar sensitivity in Gia’s filmmaking as there is in Sofia’s, but I’m more interested in the distinct dramatic nuances brought out by the latest of the Coppola dynasty. “Based on the short stories by James Franco” does cause slight hesitation – the man’s not had as much success off-screen as he’s had on – but there’s a fresh spirit drifting off Palo Alto that one hopes is even more indicative of its style than its content. (Trailer)

Godzilla5. Godzilla (Wide Release; May 16th)

This should be higher, you say? Well, sorry. I have a certain skepticism about blockbusters predicated on giant reptiles fighting one another, last year’s seemingly dumb fun, but most just dumb Pacific Rim being a chief recent example. Skepticism set aside, few indie directors should be so nicely welcomed into the studio fold as Monsters director Gareth Edwards. That his followup is another giant monster movie was never a surprise. That it was *the* monster movie… well, that should only make us giddy. Since then everything has lined up to look quite promising, from a nicely rounded ensemble to an exciting choice of crew. It’s also had the most successfully integrated mainstream marketing campaign in some time, so there’s very little to have us flinching at this point. Doubts exist, as always they will with something of this size, but an engrossing and gorgeous piece of monster mayhem is something we’re all ready to behold. (Trailer)

Cold in July4. Cold in July (Limited Release; May 23rd)

Relying on the summer movie season’s reputation for being the main grounds of entertainment, I admit nothing has me so excited on a level of pure thrill-seeking as Cold in July, the pulp thriller by Jim Mickle which premiered at Sundance to quite a jazzed reception. Mickle’s had recent success with cannibal horror-thriller We Are What We Are, a genre film heightened by rather intriguing dramatic pathways, so he’s a cool talent to look out for while he’s still on the rise. The cast seems a grizzled riot, too, with Michael C. Hall investigating more human pathways of murder than he did on Dexter, and Don Johnson and Sam Shepherd coming in to reignite their reputation in the crime thriller genre. I may use the word “genre” frequently in discussing this film, and those like it, but few other words are as indicative of cinematically-fueled fun. (Trailer)

Ida3. Ida (Limited Release; May 2nd)

I may have tried to latch on to Pawel Pawlikowski at the wrong moment. His last film, The Woman in the Fifth, was totally non-indicative of the gifts I’d come to hear him praised for. It’s hard to slight an apparent lapse in creativity when his personal tragedy was such an entirely understandable excuse. If he never returned to form, it would be quite forgivable, but Ida looks to be investigating quite personal matter of history, most particularly in respects to his Polish descent. Focusing on a nun in the 1960s who discovers her true Jewish heritage just before she takes her vows. How it deals with the knotty political existence of 1960s Poland is intriguing, but even more so is the journey of its titular character, one who is quite literally discovering herself in every aspect. Its lead actress Agata Trzebuchowska has expressed disinterest in returning to acting after, so there may be no other time but now to observe her lovely talent. For Pawlikowski, however, here’s hoping this is just the beginning of an ascent out of darkness. (Trailer)

Night Moves2. Night Moves (Limited Release; May 30th)

 One may not get it from a first glance, but few directors today are as daring as Kelly Reichardt. You could say stubborn instead, as many have called her rather still-standing pieces of contemplative cinema, either in personal fabric (Wendy and Lucy) or with an expansive canvas (Meek’s Cutoff). That her latest is neither proves she’s not just treading water, though the characters in Night Moves are literally doing just that. A quiet, slow-boiling thriller about a group of eco-terrorists who rub up against each other as they plot a pretty massive act, it’ll be interesting to see how Reichardt works in the territory of genre diversion, but also how she appropriates well-known movie star personalities like Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning to her aesthetic, or rather, to see them adapt. From a distance it’s tough to know what any Kelly Reichardt film will be, but they’re often fascinating in every seemingly small gesture. (Trailer)

The Immigrant1. The Immigrant (Limited Release; May 16th)

Because we’ve seen it, and it’s properly gorgeous. Ranking steadily as one of my favorite films of 2013, The Immigrant has since grown only more deeply textured with the time I’ve spent away from it. What sits as slow and stubborn at first blush becomes patient and even defiant when you realize how subversive it’s being with expectations of the golden age New York melodrama. Marion Cotillard’s Polish immigrant’s fate is in the hands of two vaudeville showmen, but she refuses to fully swoon for either. The film begins and continues with a romantic outlook, only to time and again crush any hopes the land of opportunity seemingly promises. Perhaps the most startling feat, even the most vile and reproachable character become tinged in sympathetic tragedy, and Joaquin Phoenix walks the line with gangly self-destruction. It showcases its stars beautifully, but the same goes for Darius Khondji’s ravishing cinematography and James Gray’s grand direction. If I had held it off for this year’s list, it’d be a tough one to top at this stage. (Trailer)

Other Film Things in May 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2Because not everything worthwhile evens out into the month’s highlights, I feel the need to give special mention to a few films left out in the squeeze. Lord knows Amazing Spider-Man 2 is another repetitive non-necessity, but there’s visual and sonic craftiness at work that was absent from Marc Webb’s first effort, and Dane Dehaan’s sickly slickness reaches an unexpected high. Sentimental sports dramas are perhaps an even more predictable racket than superheroes, but the promise of Jon Hamm’s too-clean-shaven charms being given a big-screen showcase is reason enough for our attention. As unreliably charismatic as Hamm and Dehaan are, though, neither achieves quite the level of smarmy seediness as James McAvoy in Filth, nicely counterbalancing his set-in-stone work on the X-Men projects.

FilthThe Amazing Spider-Man 2 – May 2nd
Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return – May 9th
Mom’s Night Out – May 9th
Chef – May 9th
God’s Pocket – May 9th
Million Dollar Arm – May 16th
Blended – May 23rd
Words and Picture – May 23rd
Maleficent – May 30th
A Million Ways to Die in the West – May 30th
Filth – May 30th

What are your most anticipated films of May?

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  • I have already seen Filth and The Immigrant.

    And from the list, I am looking forward to basically everything. Interesting titles.

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