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40 Films to See This Summer

Written by on April 19, 2018 

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The summer movie season is upon us, which means a seemingly endless pile-up of superheroes, reboots, and sequels will crowd the multiplexes. While a very select few show some promise, we’ve set out to highlight a vast range of titles–40 in total–that will arrive over the next four months, many of which we’ve already given our stamp of approval.

There’s bound to be more late-summer announcements in the coming months, and a number of titles will arrive on VOD day-and-date, so follow us on Twitter for the latest updates. In the meantime, see our top 40 picks for what to watch this summer below, in chronological order, and let us know what you’re looking forward to most in the comments.

Manhunt (John Woo; May 4)

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John Woo’s return to the genre that made his career isn’t so much of a comeback as it is watching one of our best action directors become unleashed. This is a film of superlatives, where storylines and subplots pile on top of each other in the middle of action setpieces that astound in their absurdity. There are cover-ups, conspiracies, badass assassins, jetski chases, revenge plots, super soldiers and much, much more, with Woo orchestrating all of his madness into a giddy delirium while giving viewers a big ol’ self-reflexive wink. One of the most purely entertaining films of 2017, Manhunt is the exact kind of maximalist fun we need right now. – C.J. P.

RBG (Betsy West and Julie Cohen; May 4)

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RBG is an essential documentary for the adoring fans of Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg aka The Notorious RBG, according to some millennials. They have created an entire mythology out of a quiet, brilliant women who rose to the rank of the court’s chief dissenter post Bush v. Gore. Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West have crafted an engaging documentary to hold us over until she, like fellow pioneer of civil rights Thurgood Marshall, gets a biopic of her own later this year. – John F. (full review)

The Day After (Hong Sang-soo; May 11)

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Hindsight is a marvelous thing. To quote the lead character of a recent Hong Sang-soo film (and by recent we mean Claire’s Camera, the second of three the prolific director has premiered so far this year): “The only way to change things is to look back on them, slowly.” It’s a mantra Hong clearly lives by as a filmmaker, as do many of the people who inhabit his movies. Hong’s world is all about repetition, and while the cold domestic and workplace settings of his latest film, The Day After, are somewhat of a departure from the unfamiliar streets his character usually walk down, the majority of his signature ingredients are present and accounted for: sad, unfaithful men abusing positions of relative power; dialogue that meanders between the everyday and the sublime; his current muse, Kim Min-hee; and, of course, generous lashings of Soju. – Rory O. (full review)

Lu Over the Wall (Masaaki Yuasa; May 11)

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Japanese animation director Masaaki Yuasa, long a cult figure in the U.S., is getting new exposure this year. Following up on Netflix’s release of his series Devilman Crybaby, GKIDS has picked up three of his films for distribution this year. One of these, Lu Over the Wall, demonstrates everything that makes Yuasa one of the best contemporary anime filmmakers. It’s an energetic, frequently hilarious, always visually riveting ride. – Dan S. (full review)

Filmworker (Tony Zierra; May 11)

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A week before Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey gets a 50th anniversary theatrical release, featuring an unrestored 70mm print, a documentary that captures his right-hand man, Leon Vitali, will arrive. While it isn’t necessarily the most polished production, it’s still a worthy angle on a different side of Kubrick’s production process. Kyle Pletcher said in his review from NYFF, “Purely as a document and examination of Vitali’s tireless dedication to Kubrick’s vision and legacy, Filmworker is a sufficiently insightful and informative piece, bringing light to the auteur’s profoundly virtuosic filmmaking approach.” 

Sollers Point (Matthew Porterfield; May 11)

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With his small-scale, deeply felt, and wonderfully-realized dramas, Matthew Porterfield has carved out an impressive eye for a Baltimore we don’t often see on screen. After earning acclaim on the festival circuit and elsewhere with Putty Hill and I Used to Be Darker, the director returns this summer with Sollers Point. Premiering at San Sebastián International Film Festival last fall and touring around, Oscilloscope Laboratories will release it in a few weeks. The drama, starring Jim Belushi, McCaul Lombardi, and Zazie Beetz, follows a man under house arrest who must reacquaint himself with both his family and the community at large. – Jordan R.

First Reformed (Paul Schrader; May 18)

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Made with a kind of formal rigor that one would’ve assumed was long past Schrader after the “post-cinema” experimentations of The Canyons and Dog Eat DogFirst Reformed is first and foremost most admirable for its sustained mood. Shot in The Academy aspect ratio and maintaining a stillness and greyness that manages to seem utterly alien to the slow cinema standards of contemporary art films, one gets the sense of the director really having a genuine stake in the making of this picture. It seems the religious content is not so much an affect as a genuine late-in-life plea. – Ethan V. (full review)

On Chesil Beach (Dominic Cooke; May 18)

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It’s 1962. Florence Ponting (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle) have just been married. She’s from a wealthy family and he a provincial one; her desire to be active in world affairs beyond her status’ ambivalence and his hope to be accepted as an intellectual with the potential of outgrowing a brawler reputation placing them at odds with the environments that raised them to seek escape. And they are in love: a true, deep, and unstoppable love that allowed their differences to take a backseat as far as community and parentage was concerned. It’s propelled them towards a hotel honeymoon suite on the water, an isolating venue affording them the privacy such auspicious occasions crave and the stifling quiet able to intensify their utter lack of sexual experience and wealth of insecure awkwardness. – Jared M. (full review)

The Tale (Jennifer Fox; May 26)

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What does your life mean if the memories that have defined you are revealed to be false? What if the memories are tied to devastating trauma? For Jennifer Fox (Laura Dern), when letters are unearthed revealing more about a “relationship” when she was 13, she starts to not only investigate in the present-day, but excavates the memories that she’s repeated since the trauma and opens a dialogue with her younger self (Isabelle Nélisse). What she perceived as a relationship was, in fact, repeated rape. Directed by Fox herself, The Tale is an emotionally debilitating drama, the powerful kind that makes one want to scream rage at the events on the screen, but are choked by silence as the credits roll, comprehending the irrecoverable damage caused to the protagonist and the director, as the events are based on her own life. – Jordan R. (full review)

American Animals (Bart Layton; June 1)

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The rich genre of crime film in which dumbasses get themselves in way over their heads has a proud new entry with American Animals. Though premiering as part of Sundance’s U.S. Dramatic Competition, I’d strenuously argue that it is in fact a documentary that happens to be 90% reenactment. Hell, the movie itself even states in the opening chyron that it is a true story, not based on one. The real figures involved not only provide commentary but also shape the film itself, as conflicting testimonies will change a scene’s location or what a certain person is wearing. The conflict between differing points of view and retrospective perspective express the movie’s themes of shaping one’s reality by acting as though you’re in a different story than the one you think you’re living. – Dan S. (full review)

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