So, you're one of those artsy types who can't deal with the summer popcorn movies. You're all, like, “I want something serious. Something important. Something with meaning. OK. Fine. But, really, what are you thinking? It's summer, the time of year made for cookouts, loud music, and previously unimagined digital explosions. You can't get no artistic satisfaction until September, and prestige movies are gone till November.
But don't worry. It's not all a special-effects wasteland. There's plenty of small- to mid-size movies sneaking in under the blockbuster radar, lots of indies docs and foreign films. In fact, here's a moderately comprehensive list of the ones we're most interested in. Be forewarned, though—all these scheduled openings can—and in many cases will—change.
David Mamet brings his con-man muscle to mixed martial arts in Redbelt, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as an instructor who stays away from competition until he has no choice. Ejiofor is always a safe bet, and we'll watch anything—anything—with Ricky Jay.
Marianne Faithful is Irina Palm, an out-of-work middle-age woman who becomes the most popular, ahem, hostess at a sex club.
One of the most anticipated films of the summer is Son of Rambow, a festival hit about two young British boys in the early '80s, who set out to make their own action-adventure film in the spirit of First Blood.
Director Tarsem Singh, who last made the gorgeous-looking, not-so-great The Cell in 2000, returns with The Fall, which looks like a cross between The Princess Bride and The Singing Detective, as a hospitalized man conjures epic tales to a young girl.
Helen Hunt stars in her own directorial debut, Then She Found Me, about an adopted woman who tracks down her birth mother who is, sadly, Bette Midler.
Three generations of Mexican-American women, including Elizabeth Peña and America Ferrera, find themselves getting hot and bothered in How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers is George Hogg, a British journalist who saved 60 orphaned Chinese boys by taking them on a lengthy journey to escape the Japanese occupation of China in 1937 in The Children of Huang Shi. Radha Mitchell, Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh also star.
Eighty-five-year-old surfer and sex guru Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, his wife and their nine home-schooled kids are profiled in Surfwise.
Up early in June is Mongol, the Oscar-nominated Kazakh movie about the early life of Genghis Khan (which, of course, just makes us want to bellow “Khaaaaaan!”).
There's the superb Israeli film Jellyfish, which premiered in San Diego at the Jewish Film Festival earlier in the year.
John C. Reilly and Seann William Scott are both low-level middle managers vying for The Promotion in this festival fave.
The fourth incarnation of The Animation Show spends a week at the Ken.
Norwegian skateboard champ Joachim Trier turns his hand to the movies, directing Reprise, the story of two buddies—both writers and both dying for success.
There's Up the Yangtze, a documentary about Chinese civilians impacted by the river's flooding after the government built an eco-disaster dam.
Oh, and don't forget about Italian horrormeister Dario Argento, who wraps up his “Three Mothers” trilogy with Mother of Tears. Dude's film stars his own daughter.
Julianne Moore is Barbara Baekland, an Englishwoman murdered in 1972 by her own son in Savage Grace.
Gonzo: The Life Work of Dr. H takes a good hard look at the world's most awesome substance abuser, Hunter S. Thompson.
German director Werner Herzog takes a trip to Antarctica for Encounters at the End of the World, which explores the almost-alien landscapes and the odd people who live there.
Bill Maher brings his schtick to the big screen, taking on religion in Religulous.
Julian Schnabel, who was nominated for a Best Director Oscar for last year's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, rocks out on Lou Reed's Berlin.
Ooh, can't wait for The Wackness. Set in the mid-'90s in New York, it's about a small-time pot dealer and his good friend, serious bong hitter Sir Ben Kingsley.
Actor Clark Gregg steps behind the camera for his first feature, the dark comedy adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's Choke, starring Sam Rockwell as a sex-addicted con-man who takes advantage of everyone around him.
Luke Wilson plays the title role in Henry Poole is Here, about a man who has lost his way—until a neighbor sees Jesus in the stucco on the back of his house.
American Teen, which has won raves on the festival circuit, takes a look at the lives of teenagers in a small town. Think Breakfast Club, but for real.
The Duplass brothers follow up their strange but awesome 2005 film The Puffy Chair with Baghead, a mumblecore all-star show that takes a torturous look at being an actor.
A Jihad for Love is a documentary about gays and lesbians in the Muslim world, directed by Parvez Sharma, a gay Muslim himself.
As a child, Jack murdered another boy, and he's spent the bulk of his life in an institution. Now Boy A is getting out, with a new identity, and has to figure out how to fit into the world around him.
Griffin Dunne directs The Accidental Husband, starring Uma Thurman as a relationship expert with everything lined up—radio shows, book deals, fiancé—until she discovers that she's actually already married.
Harrison Ford does an indie as well as Indy this summer, starring alongside Sean Penn and a host of other names in Crossing Over, a drama about L.A. immigrants trying to get their legal status in order
Will Woody Allen ever return to the U.S.? After two films set in London, his new one, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, takes place in Spain, as a pair of American tourists find themselves getting, ahem, involved with a local painter. Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem star.
Two single mothers smuggle dope across a little-known border crossing between New York and Quebec in Frozen River.
And when a high-school drama teacher needs a hit to save his department and his job, he creates—what else?—the musical Hamlet 2. Steve Coogan and Catherine Keener star, and all the buzz is about the song “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus.”