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Pour one out for the summer movie season, which was once Memorial Day till Labor Day but now has spread like a self-replicating, geometrically evolving A.I. determined to cleanse the Earth of human vermin. Around the turn of the century, the summer movies started showing up the first weekend of May; a few years after that, they hit in March. Now no square of the calendar is safe from would-be four-quadrant seat-fillers. But we’re traditionalists, so our roundup of the hot-weather months’ most promising national releases observes the Memorial Day–to–Labor Day boundaries of old.
It Comes at Night (June 9) — A24, the five-year-old arthouse powerhouse that brought you The Witch, The Lobster, and Moonlight last year alone, has shown impeccable taste. So if writer-director Trey Edward Shults’s sophomore feature (after 2015’s powerful Krisha) sounds a bit familiar — holed up in their fortified home after some herd-thinning calamity, a family of survivalists must decide whether to give succor to strangers — we’re inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. The cast includes the ever reliable Joel Edgerton, Mad Max: Fury Road’s Riley Keough, and Christopher Abbott, whose performance in the 2015 Broadway production of Annie Baker’s play John proved he can mine a pause for tension as profitably as anyone.
Rough Night (June 16) — Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Zoë Kravitz, and Ilana Glazer star in co-writer and director Lucia Aniello’s feature debut, wherein five college pals reunited for a bachelorette bash kill a male stripper and try to cover up their crime. Think Very Bad Things with a lot less Jeremy Piven. Aniello has directed episodes of Broad City with Glazer, and McKinnon quietly stole the four-lady-comics movie she was in at this time last year: Ghost? Ghost World? Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance? Something.
The Big Sick (June 23) — Spouses Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon wrote an autobiographical screenplay about how a severe illness early in their courtship tested their still-forming bond a decade ago, along with the hopes of Nanjiani’s family that he would marry a Muslim woman rather than a white American. Zoe Kazan stands in for Gordon; Nanjiani plays himself, while Holly Hunter and Ray Romano appear as his in-laws-to-be. The State veteran Michael Showalter directs. Screenings at Sundance and South by Southwest earned euphoric reviews; NPR culture writer and Pop Culture Happy Hour host Linda Holmes thinks this one has the potential to bring back the romantic comedy all by itself. Here’s hoping.
Baby Driver (June 28) — After a doomed dalliance with Marvel’s Ant-Man, Edgar Wright — the auteur behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz — returns with his first feature since 2013’s genre meditation on middle age, The World’s End. This comic thriller, with Ansel Elgort as a fresh-faced wheelman whose chronic tinnitus forces him to listen to loud music while plying his extralegal trade, has a sturdy supporting cast — Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal — and looks like the mash-up of Speed and High Fidelity you didn’t know you wanted. Play this movie loud.
The Beguiled (June 30) — Sofia Coppola directs this Civil War–era melodrama about a severely injured Union soldier (Colin Farrell) recuperating at a girls school peopled by Kirsten Dunst, Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, and Angourie Rice, who more than held her own against Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe in last year’s very funny The Nice Guys. Thomas P. Cullinan’s Southern-gothic source novel, A Painted Devil, was previously adapted by Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood (as the soldier) right before they made Dirty Harry together, and something about their collaboration makes me feel…lucky.
Dunkirk (July 21) — Christopher Nolan’s IMAX World War II epic, about the 1940 evacuation of what Winston Churchill called “the whole root and core and brain of the British Army” from occupied France, looks like a stunner, based on the brief excerpt shown before select IMAX screenings of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story last December. Mark Rylance, the beloved stage actor who won an Oscar for the underrated Bridge of Spies, stars as one of the many civilian seamen who mobilized to rescue the stranded soldiers, as does Harry Styles of the boyband One Direction, which just might lure a new audience to WWII movies. (It won’t.) The revered British and Irish names just keep on coming: Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Cillian Murphy. Tom Hardy plays a British spitfire jockey, who perhaps wonders why someone would shoot a man before throwing him out of a plane.
Atomic Blonde (July 28) — There oughta be a law against wasting Charlize “Imperator Furiosa” Theron the way The Fate of the Furious did, but director David Leitch — one half of the team of veteran stunt coordinators–turned-directors who made the fisticuffs in John Wick some of the most brutally elegant ever captured onscreen — won’t make that mistake. Set in Berlin just before the wall came down in 1989, this adaptation of Antony Johnston’s graphic novel The Coldest City casts Theron as an MI6 operative opposite James McAvoy and John Goodman. The neon palette and the synth-driven soundtrack of mid-Eighties new wave gems are both selling points.
Detroit (August 4) — Kathryn Bigelow, who made Point Break and then won an Oscar for directing some other movie, reteams with The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter Mark Boal for this dramatization of an incident wherein police killed residents of the Algiers Motel during Detroit’s 1967 12th Street Riot. A cast boasting John Boyega and Anthony Mackie is a strong enticement, but anything Bigelow makes is worth investigating. Her examination of the state’s use of force against (mostly) black people promises to be no less provocative than her consideration of the use of torture in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Logan Lucky (August 18) — Steven Soderbergh’s retirement from making features lasted all of four years, during which he unwound by directing twenty hours of The Knick for Cinemax and posting his own fan-edits of Psycho, 2001, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and…Heaven’s Gate. He reteams with his old pal Channing Tatum and enlists a number of other fine actors he’s using for the first time — Daniel Craig, Katherine Waterston, Adam Driver, Hilary Swank, Riley Keough — for this comedy about a heist during North Carolina’s Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race. The Soderbergh-Tatum alliance has given us three good movies already, and “Ocean’s Eleven with a Southern accent” is an elevator pitch we’re buying.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: The Little Hours (June 30). An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (July 28). The Trip to Spain (August 11). Terminator 2: Judgment Day 3-D rerelease (August 25).