SN&R’s 2016 summer movie preview: Crank up the A/C and pass the popcorn

Film critics Daniel Barnes and Jim Lane summer up with blockbusters and indies, comedy, romance and action

<i>Finding Dory</i>

Finding Dory

The summer solstice takes place on June 20 this year, and yet prevailing wisdom places the beginning of the summer movie season in early May. But in an age of year-round disaster films and superhero movies, what does the term “summer movie” even mean? And will Hollywood’s endless secretion of sequels and remakes keep it alive or hasten its demise? Speaking of remakes, what to make of the infantile male rage over a female Ghostbusters? Film critics Daniel Barnes and Jim Lane did not attempt to actually answer these hot-button questions—who can, really—but they did compile lists of their most anticipated movies of the “summer,” whatever that means.

Daniel Barnes’ kiss of death

<i>The BFG</i>

In SN&R’s 2014 summer movie preview, I listed Jupiter Ascending among my most anticipated films of the season; the film was promptly moved to a February 2015 release date on its way to becoming a box-office bomb and cultural punchline (for the record, I think it’s OK). Then, in 2015, I singled out such films as Manglehorn (49 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes), Aloft (16 percent approval) and Hitman: Agent 47 (8 percent approval). So, when you’re reading this list of my most anticipated films of the summer, keep in mind that my endorsement is effectively a kiss of death.

Maggie’s Plan (June 10): I’ve been lukewarm on the works of Rebecca Miller (Personal Velocity, The Ballad of Jack and Rose) to date, but I’m ride-or-die with star Greta Gerwig after Mistress America, and this urbane romantic comedy looks like the summer’s best bet for sophisticated fizz. Set in a Woody Allen-esque world of high-maintenance intellectuals (Allen’s latest film Café Society also comes out this summer), Gerwig plays an independent New Yorker who lures a male teacher (Ethan Hawke) away from his imperious wife (Julianne Moore). Several years later, Gerwig has a change of heart, and schemes with the ex-wife to reunite the old couple.

<i>Sausage Party</i>

The BFG (July 1): Steven Spielberg has spent the last decade in throwback mode, revisiting key moments in history and reveling in faux-John Ford classicism. As long he’s reaching back into the past, I’m happy that he’s making at least one oddball children’s fantasy, and taking his first stab at Roald Dahl in the process. Bridge of Spies Oscar-winner Mark Rylance dons the mo-cap armor to play the titular Big Friendly Giant, a runt and an outcast among his own kind for his refusal to eat children.

Suicide Squad (August 5): After the unapologetic rough edges of Fury and Sabotage, it’s safe to say that writer-director David Ayer knows his way around a morally reprehensible genre film. He could be just the guy to shake the superhero movie out of its faceless stupor, a hard-boiled genre stylist who favors Quentin Tarantino-style viscera over endless cartoon whomping. I’m as prone to ad hominem attacks against superhero movies as any good critic, but even I’m excited to see this crazy thing, with its seeming embrace of rock ’n’ roll nihilism and socially conscious sociopathy.

<i>Florence Foster Jenkins</i>

Sausage Party (August 12): The entire high concept of the animated Sausage Party gets spelled out in the hilarious red-band trailer—all foods are self-aware and anthropomorphic like Pixar cars or Disney candelabras, but don’t realize their horrific fate until their final moments on the cutting board. It’s an extended sick joke conceived and co-written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, with voice cameos by everyone you would expect (Paul Rudd, James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, et al.) plus Edward Norton as Sammy Bagel, Jr. It makes for an amazing trailer, but does this one-joke idea have enough stamina to sustain an 83-minute feature? I can’t wait to find out.

Kubo and the Two Strings (August 19): For a lot of critics, any new Disney-Pixar release, even a patently unnecessary cash-in sequel like this summer’s Finding Dory, would be a no-brainer for this list. But for my money, Laika is the gold standard in English-language animation in the moment, having turned out the brilliant but underseen stop-motion movies Coraline, Paranorman and The Boxtrolls. CEO Travis Knight debuts in the director’s chair with this original story, about a Japanese boy pursued by ancient gods and monsters, with voice work from Matthew McConaughey, Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara and Ralph Fiennes.

Jim Lane’s cinema tsunami

<i>Swiss Army Man</i>

Summer is generally the popcorn-movie season, with the expected franchise installments and few surprises. But every summer cinema tsunami has its share of unknown quantities; here are a few that I’m particularly looking forward to (reluctantly reserving the right to be disappointed), in order of their projected release dates:

Genius (June 10): The title of this biopic is a multisided reference—it pertains not only to the central character, literary editor Max Perkins, but also to the writers he discovered and/or shepherded to immortality: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, among others. With Colin Firth as Perkins, Jude Law as Wolfe, Guy Pearce as Fitzgerald, Dominic West as Hemingway, and with Nicole Kidman and Laura Linney as the women in their lives, this one has “class” written all over it. It doesn’t hurt that the writer is John Logan of Hugo, the last two James Bond pictures, and Showtime’s Penny Dreadful.

<i>Kubo and the Two Strings</i>

Finding Dory (June 17): Never mind The Good Dinosaur—as a rule, you can’t go wrong with Pixar. And never mind Cars 2—as a rule, Pixar knows how to do sequels. The clincher here—besides the fact that we’ll be reunited with that endearingly forgetful fish voiced by Ellen DeGeneres—is the participation of Andrew Stanton. Stanton was in (or shared) the driver’s seat for Finding Nemo, Wall-E, A Bug’s Life, and all three Toy Story pictures; as much as anyone this side of Pixar’s head honcho John Lasseter, Stanton has the Midas touch.

Swiss Army Man (July 1): This one made a controversial splash at this year’s Sundance; at the screening people were walking out in droves—then the picture won a directing award for writer-directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. It stars Paul Dano as a man marooned on a desert island and Daniel Radcliffe as a corpse that washes up on the beach and helps him find his way back to civilization. Say what? Yeah. The trailers give me a sneaking hunch what it’s all about—but it could surprise me. Besides, any movie that rattles so many cages in Park City and on Metacritic goes on my this-I-gotta-see list.

Tulip Fever (July 15): I haven’t read Deborah Moggach’s novel, but the setting is picturesque—Amsterdam during the Tulip Mania of the 1630s—and the talent lavished on the movie is downright mouthwatering: written by Tom Stoppard, arguably the greatest living playwright in the English language, and a cast that includes Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz, Judi Dench, Holliday Grainger and Jack O’Connell. And since the story involves the young wife (Vikander) of an older husband (Waltz) who falls in love with an artist (Dane DeHaan) hired to paint her portrait, the movie has a playful pun in the title: Two-Lip Fever. The pun is Moggach’s, but the presence of Stoppard suggest there’s more wordplay where that came from.

Florence Foster Jenkins (August 12): The eponymous Mrs. Jenkins (1868-1944) was renowned in her day—if that’s the right word—as the worst singer who ever lived, and there are recordings on YouTube to this day supporting that assessment. Nevertheless, she was devoted to her, ahem, art, which made her sort of the Ed Wood of classical music. That seems to be the tack taken by the forthcoming movie, with Meryl Streep as Mrs. Jenkins and Hugh Grant as her devoted manager and second husband. Throw in the adventurous Stephen Frears in the director’s chair.