So what usually happens is I cobble together a list of films to write about for a summer movie preview, and with any luck a unifying theme will present itself. This time? Not so much. Truthfully, the following rundown is more notable for what's not included; save for a couple of big-budget studio flicks, it's mostly beneath-the-radar cinema. I know that traditional wisdom says the higher the temperatures, the dumber the movies, but it turns out there's actually some interesting art coming our way that doesn't feature vampires or piranhas or Rob Schneider.
Please note, however, that I would not be entirely opposed to a movie that found a way to showcase vampires, piranhas, and Rob Schneider, but we can just cross that bridge when we come to it. Meanwhile...
With source material first published in the 70's by DC Comics, this nouveau Western stars "Milk" Oscar nominee Josh Brolin as the scarred title character, going up against John Malkovich as a dangerous terrorist with a tomahawk to grind. Hot commodities Michael Shannon ("The Runaways") and Michael Fassbender ("Fish Tank") co-star. So does Megan Fox, but don't let that deter you. (6/18)
The fourth film from gifted writer-director Nicole Holofcener (Netflix her flawless debut, 1996's "Walking and Talking") stars her alter-ego Catherine Keener as a bleeding-heart liberal at ethical odds with her materialistic ways in a Manhattan teeming with poverty. No, wait! it's a comedy! With the always-welcome Oliver Platt and the underappreciated Amanda Peet. (6/18)
"Exit Through the Gift Shop"
One of the more intriguing flicks of the summer is the first film from the renowned graffiti artist known only as Banksy, who turned the camera on quirky shopkeeper-slash-aspiring filmmaker Thierry Guetta when Guetta attempted to capture the legendarily anonymous figure for a documentary. According to Banksy, "It's basically the story of how one man set out to film the unfilmable. And failed." (6/25)
"The Girl Who Played With Fire"
Arriving quickly on the heels of the critical and commercial success of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" is Swedish director Daniel Alfredson's adaptation of the late Stieg Larsson's sequel, which follows the continuing adventures of NoomiRapace's inked hacker LisbethSalander and Michael Nyqvist's journalist MikaelBlomkvist. Interesting factoid: Alfredson's little brother Tomas directed "Let the Right One In." (7/2 ltd.)
For his first film since 2007's "The Brave One," Oscar winner Neil Jordan scaled it back to write and direct this gorgeous-looking Irish fairy tale that stars Colin Farrell as a fisherman who finds a woman who appears to be a mythological selkie (Polish actress AlicjaBachleda) in his nets. Shot by the acclaimed Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle, best known for his painterly work with Wong Kar-wai. (7/2)
French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet is back with a whimsical tragicomedy about a man who teams up with a diverse group of junk dealers to get revenge on the arms manufacturers who killed his father and left him with a bullet lodged in the head. Features a Who's Who of French Cinema: Dany Boon ("My Best Friend"), André Dussollier ("Tell No One"), Yolande Moreau ("Séraphine"), and perpetual Jeunet collaborator Dominique Pinon. (7/2)
Mumblecore godfathers Jay and Mark Duplass (2008's deadpan horror flick "Baghead") edge closer to the big time with their most high-profile film yet, a romantic comedy starring John C. Reilly as a recently divorced shlub who lands the lovely Marisa Tomei. The catch?Her clingy son (the sidesplitting Jonah Hill, "Superbad"), a 21-year-old New Age musician who is definitely not ready to share his mom. (7/9)
"The Sorcerer's Apprentice"
Am I proud that I secretly dig the "National Treasure" franchise? Of course not. But when producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Jon Turteltaub, and Oscar winner Nicolas Cage reassemble for a live-action reimagining of the classic "Fantasia" sequence, I will be there, especially with Jay Baruchel ("Tropic Thunder") in the Mickey role and the luscious Monica Bellucci as Cage's long-lost love. (7/16)
"Dinner For Schmucks"
Steve Carell and Paul Rudd join forces for the third time in "Meet the Parents" director Jay Roach's remake of Francis Veber's "Le Dîner de Cons," in which Rudd's ambitious executive invites Carell's dorky IRS employee to a soiree where the guy who brings the biggest knucklehead is crowned the winner. Hilarity, comeuppance, and Zach Galifianakis ensue. (7/23)
"Life During Wartime"
Leave it to the defiantly abstract filmmaker Todd Solondz ("Welcome to the Dollhouse") to do a sequel his way, revisiting the tribulations of the Jordan sisters from his 1998 arthouse hit "Happiness" 10 years later, but with different actors playing the original characters. With Shirley Henderson, Allison Janney, Ally Sheedy, and Paul Reubens.(7/23 ltd.)
Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (Netflix the virtuoso "Pusher" trilogy) follows up the well-received "Bronson" with a moody Viking epic set in the wilds of Scotland. The awesome MadsMikkelsen ("Clash of the Titans") plays a mute Norse warrior named One-Eye, who escapes captivity and joins up with a group of Christian crusaders on a sea voyage to the Holy Land. (7/23 ltd.)
The Grand Jury Prize for Drama at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival went to this Ozark neo-noir by writer-director Debra Granik (2005's "Down to the Bone") about a 17-year-old girl (Jennifer Lawrence, "The Burning Plain") forced to track her bail-jumping father through the chilly mountains. With John Hawkes and Garrett Dillahunt from "Deadwood." (7/23)
"The Kids Are All Right"
The latest film from Lisa Cholodenko (1998's "High Art" was her debut) stars Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as a longtime couple and mothers of two whose lives are topsy-turvied when their eldest (Mia Wasikowska, "Alice in Wonderland") visits the sperm bank in search of the donor. A super-sexy Mark Ruffalo ensues. (7/30)
In one of this year's surefire Oscar contenders, the great Robert Duvall plays Felix Bush, a hermit living deep in the woods of Tennessee who decides to throw himself a funeral, inviting all the townspeople to share the stories they may have heard about him and possibly setting them straight. The killer cast includes Bill Murray, Lucas Black, Sissy Spacek, and Gerald McRaney. (7/30 ltd.)
"I Love You, Phillip Morris"
This comedy-drama actually has nothing to do with Big Tobacco; it's based on the true story of Steven Russell (Jim Carrey), a married Texas police officer who realizes he's gay, turns to the con game to bankroll his expensive lifestyle, and falls madly in love with a fellow inmate (Ewan McGregor) once apprehended, repeatedly escaping from jail in order to be with his soulmate. (7/30 ltd.)
"The Other Guys"
"Anchorman" director Adam McKay reteams with his Ron Burgundy for a buddy-cop comedy about two mismatched NYPD desk jockeys (Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg) who get their big break tackling a case that even the department hotshots (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson) won't touch. Co-stars Eva Mendes, Michael Keaton, and Steve Coogan. (8/6)
Sylvester Stallone directs himself, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Danny Trejo, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, Bruce Willis, and the Governor of California in an action flick about -- who cares? Just go see it. (8/13)
"Scott Pilgrim vs. The World"
It's the return of "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" filmmaker Edgar Wright, adapting Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel about a between-jobs 23-year-old (Michael Cera, naturally) who meets his true love, roller-blading delivery girl Ramona V. Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The only problem is that in order to win her heart he has to defeat her seven evil exes, played by the likes of Kieran Culkin, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, and Mae Whitman. (8/13)
Not so fast, you! Don't forget that release dates are subject to change.