May 6 2015 01:46 PM

Only a few releases from the next three months sound promising

Mad Max: Fury Road

It's common practice for film critics to write an annual Summer Movie Preview to survey the onslaught of big budget sequels, prequels, tent-poles and remakes to come. With the Internet at our disposal, one might ask why such an article would be necessary? The answer is simple: to perpetuate the Hollywood marketing machine. Many critics are fine with this reality. I've written such articles myself. Clearly such previews are akin to a factory worker punching the clock, or Joss Whedon making Avengers: Age of Ultron.

But instead of going all militant and trashing the Summer Movie Preview as a capitalist reality of our times, I think there's wiggle room to be had —an opportunity to highlight the kind of old-school classical Hollywood essence that still inhabits a few products released in the sweltering months. Call me an optimist.

Every year a few mainstream summer movies stand out for this reason. Sometimes they succeed at the box office, but mostly they fail, probably because of their idiosyncratic tendencies. In 2014 there was Edge of Tomorrow and How to Train Your Dragon 2, and in 2013 This is the End and The Lone Ranger.

Also, the summer months often see entries from Sundance, Berlin and South by Southwest finally hitting the big screen. With this in mind, consider the following piece less a complete picture of the film-release schedule to come and more a showcase for the few films (both mainstream and independent) that could be worth a damn as subversive termite art (look up Manny Farber), pop fantasia, low-budget ingenuity and possibly all three.

Mad Max: Fury Road (May 15): George Miller's original trilogy introduced the world to Mel Gibson's rage and an iconic desert dystopia that often mirrored the real world in its themes of desperation and economic collapse. Now, more than 30 years after Beyond Thuderdome, Miller returns with Fury Road, this time starring Tom Hardy as the wildly stoic ex-police officer attempting to survive in a barren, water-stricken world full of maniacs.

If you've seen the trailers promoting the film, then you have some idea of the absurd, surreal, and nightmarish spectacle coming our way. Early reports indicate the film lives up to the insanity of its marketing, but also offers very little dialogue. From The Road Warrior to Happy Feet, Miller has often experimented with lengthy wordless sequences that highlight the small scope of mankind in the face of awe-inspiring nature. It sounds like Fury Road could be the perfect flash point for an underrated filmmaker to deliver one of the summer's few R-rated spectacles while also splintering the line between mainstream and avant garde.

Tomorrowland (May 22): At first glance this may seem like a cash-grab for Disney, but Brad Bird's hybrid of sci-fi, action, family and comedy could be an oldschool charmer. The man behind similarly themed The Iron Giant and The Incredibles is capable of instilling a sense of wonder into products that could potentially be soulless and trite. Starring Casey Newton as a curious teenage girl who finds a lapel pin that takes her to an alternate universe, Tomorrowland also finds George Clooney in the role of a fast-talking, cranky and spry genius with secrets of his own. Bird seems to be embracing the 1950s nostalgia of retrofuturism, something that made the original incarnation of Disneyland such a marvel.

Inside Out (June 19): Talk about high concept. The latest Pixar film goes inside the mind of a young girl controlled by a series of sassy programmers dealing with their own issues. Mom and Dad also have their own set of little voices. Deemed "a major emotion picture," Inside Out will surely grapple with gender, angst and most importantly, the pitfalls of communication. Co-directed by Pete Doctor, whose last film Up brought audiences to tears back in 2009. I'm sure there will be more waterworks here. 

The Wolfpack (June 19): Hot off its premiere at Sundance, where it won the award for Best Documentary, Crystal Moselle's striking new film gains incredible access to the lives of the Angulo brothers, who have spent almost their entire lives in an apartment with only a massive VHS collection as a window into the outside world. They make elaborate homemade props and costumes to emulate their favorite movies, most notably Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs.

Tangerine (July 17): Not to be confused with the Georgian film just nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, Sean Baker's indie follows two transgender prostitutes as they traverse Los Angeles over the course of one night. Featuring great performances by newcomers Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Tylor, the film was shot entirely on an iPhone 5. And it's got James Ransone as a pimp. Done deal.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (July 31): I haven't been a huge fan of the last few entries (give me De Palma and Woo any day), but the fifth installment featuring Tom Cruise as super spy Ethan Hunt has Christopher McQuarrie in the director's chair. He made the underrated Jack Reacher with Cruise. It's the kind of bullish, Fuller-esque procedural you never see anymore. There's hope.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (August 14): In what's looking like a landmark year for Sundance, here's another award-winning entry set in the 1970s about teen artist Minnie (Bel Powley), who strikes up an affair with her mother's boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård). Directed by Marielle Heller, this coming-of-age film has been lauded for its unflinching honesty and dedication to character. With that in mind, it's sure to be one of the few bright spots in an already slim pickings month of August.

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