The summer movie isn't usually intended to compete for an Oscar. Quite the opposite, studios have it firmly imprinted in their brains that the summer is an excuse to release loud, poorly written movies ... because people just don't care. They just want to get out of the heat and watch stuff blow up. Luckily for us, every year some quality pictures seem to slip through the cracks, an oversight on the studio's part, but one we can all enjoy.
In summer jam-packed with superhero features and quasi-racist transforming robots, I scrounged up a few contenders with pedigree. Enjoy!
Larry Crowne marks the second big screen directorial effort by Tom Hanks (his first was 1996's sweet, if unexceptional That Thing You Do). When you have Hanks in non-Da Vinci Code attire (or hair), he's a pretty safe bet for something Oscar-friendly. The story focuses on a man who loses his job and heads back to college to reinvent himself. Along the way he falls for his teacher (Julia Roberts) and undoubtedly learns a life lesson or two. The Oscary elements are there, but there's also a chance this is could be just a pleasant summer distraction from the bombardment of superhero features.
If J.J. Abrams is as successful tapping into the Spielberg gene pool as the film's trailer indicates; if he's able to clone the magic and wonder that helped make the celebrated director such a success (which is what it seems Abrams is going for here), Super 8 could very well become this year's Inception (or, if you prefer, this year's E.T.). A successful popcorn movie executed at a high level may be something the Academy won't be able to ignore come nomination time, despite the genre trappings.
Tree of Life
Few people know what Tree of Life is about (except that Brad Pitt and Sean Penn star) but I don't know any serious-minded movie fan that isn't excited to see it. The trailer is mesmerizing, the most beautifully cut trailer for any movie this summer (including that terrific Super 8 trailer). Terrence Malick can be a polarizing filmmaker but the Academy has awarded his vision and spell-like command in the past. I'm expecting they will award him again. It's my most anticipated film of the year and I can't wait for the reaction at Cannes.
Crazy Stupid Love
Yes, I understand what a stretch this is (a Steve Carell comedy as an Oscar contender?), but we've got slim pickings this summer and as far as I'm concerned if The Kids Are Alright can get nominated, so can this movie. Reportedly, early test screenings have been very strong moving its release from April to July. In short, it's sounding like a winner on some level. I'm especially interested in seeing what directing duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa do after I Love You Phillip Morris.
Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen has had decidedly mixed results the last few years but the high-profile Cannes treatment -- and the fact that he is probably due a really good movie -- has me hopeful this will be closer to Vicky Cristina Barcelona than Cassandra's Dream.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
This may be a stretch but I'm placing a small wager on this long shot by Wayne Wang, the once promising director of The Joy Luck Club and Smoke. Wang has disappointed me in the past with efforts like Maid in Manhattan, but he's suckered me in (again) with a film that looks more like The Joy Luck Club than a J-Lo rom-com.
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Dre writes weekly for Film.com.