Last summer was a good (not great) movie season. Granted, there were some notorious duds with Robin Hood, Jonah HexAvatar: The Last Whatever-It’s-Called, the one where Jake Gyllenhaal talked real funny and had his shirt off a lot, and many, many others. And, of course, there were some rather disappointing missed opportunities (*COUGH* Iron Man 2 *COUGH*). But overall, it was a solid time for both big event films and the smaller ones. There were two excellent high profile films (Toy Story 3, Inception) and a handful of great little-seen ones (Animal Kingdom, Cyrus, Solitary Man, etc.). And who could forget about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World?

This summer will most likely be no different. There are a few films not to get too excited about, but there are plenty of other films to get tingly about. There are two Marvel films, a new frickin’ Terrence Malick epic, a great looking new X-Men…the list goes on and on.

In fact, the list goes on right now with the 15 Must See Movies of Summer 2011:

15. Crazy, Stupid, Love

The Pitch: Long time writing duo Glenn Ficarra and John Fuqua became a strong directing duo as well last year with I Love You Phillip Morris. While it took that film quite some time to actually make it to the big screen, Ficarra and Fuqua delivered a cleverly hilarious film full of heart. Crazy, Stupid, Love looks to be far more commercial than Phillip Morris, but based on the trailer, it seems to feature that same non-cheesy heart, and Steve Carrell definitely can’t hurt.

Release: July 29th

14. Thor

The Pitch: Thor is about as commercial as most summer blockbusters get. It is simpleminded, features a lot of hit and miss comic relief, has a romance that lacks spark, and it hits a second act roadblock like many action films do… and yet why is it still exciting? Because despite its flaws, Branagh and Marvel have crafted a solid way to kickoff the summer.

Chris Hemsworth proves he’s far more charismatic than the so-so trailers had been leading on, and he does make for one helluva Thor. Tom Hiddleston gets right what so many of the other Marvel villains have gotten wrong: he actually features a sense of humanity and doesn’t come off as a cartoon character. And there’s Anthony Hopkins eloquently chewing the scenery in an eye-patch. Thor is another enjoyable Marvel film with an excellent hero and villain at the center of it.

Release: May 6th

13. Hesher

The Pitch: Spencer Susser’s Hesher features one of the most beautiful and moving moments you’ll see in theaters all year, and that’s not just the hyperbole speaking. Up until the final minutes, Hesher was good, but by the final scenes, it becomes something memorable. Susser showed great promise in his well-known short film, I Love Sarah Jane, and he capitalizes on some of that potential with Hesher. It’s a funny, dark coming of age story that features Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a narcissistic, and yet humanity-filled, man child.

Release: May 13th

12. Green Lantern

The Pitch: Green Lantern looks to be one of these two things: a crappy version of Flash Gordon or a cool riff on Star Wars. The first trailer made it look like the former. But the latest Cinema Con footage and newest trailer showed some promise, even though they still contained hints at a possible disaster.

The non-skeptics of Green Lantern always make sure to bring up how Martin Campbell successfully reinvented the Bond franchise, but they also forget to mention the darker side of his filmography: Vertical Limit, The Mask of Zorro, and the “meh” Edge of Darkness. Campbell isn’t a very consistent filmmaker, so it’s hard to jump completely onto the Green Lantern bandwagon just yet. Failure or success, it’s still rather exciting seeing a superhero film of this scope getting made.

Release: June 17th

11. Another Earth

The Pitch: After seeing the greatness of Sound of My Voice, I’ll just about watching anything with Brit Marling‘s name attached to it. Sound of My Voice was a wonderfully structured film — and with Marling having a co-writer credit on Another Earth – I’m hoping for something with the same level of audacity. It looks to be a personal sci-fi film more so about drama than the risk of another planet. The film received positive reviews at Sundance and got quickly picked up by Fox Searchlight.

Release: July 20th

–~~~~~~~~~~~~–

10. Submarine

The Pitch: I don’t know a single person who has spoken ill of Richard Ayoade‘s debut film. Ever since its premiere at Toronto, this has been on my radar. Both of the fantastic trailers have sold it as something both unique and heartfelt, and the critical buzz agrees. The concept alone is worth anticipating: a young, wiser-than-his-age man looking for an evening of lovemaking. Can’t we all relate to that?

Release: June 3rd

9. The Guard

The Pitch: The Guard comes off as one of the few no-brainers of the summer. John Michael McDonagh’s film earned rave reviews at Sundance, has an excellent ensemble cast, and almost any movie with Brendan Gleeson and Mark Strong will get my 10 dollars. Many have been comparing it to In Bruges — and that’s not much of a surprise, considering John Michael McDonagh is Martin McDonagh’s brother — but a lofty comparison like that should make any film nerd get giddy with excitement.

Release: July 29th

8. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

The Pitch: This one has been on the shelf for a little while. After the whole Miramax apocalypse, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was left without a home for awhile. But it ended up finding one and is finally coming out in August. Very little promotional materials have been put out, but the film’s long ago released teaser was a cool little glimpse at what to expect: an extremely atmospheric remake. Guillermo del Toro‘s name is attached as a producer, and he seems to put his name on nothing but good things. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark got a unanimously positive reaction at a screening in Germany, so hopefully we’ll finally get to see what the small great buzz has been all about.

Release: August 26th

7. Bridesmaids

The Pitch: Bridesmaids has been getting praised ever since its debut at SXSW, and for good reason. Paul Feig‘s comedy is hilarious, sweet, and raunchy when it needs to be. It has the exact amount of heart in a film that I’d expect from the creator of the classic Freaks and Geeks. People will be the obvious comparisons to The Hangover, but it’s a whole different beast. These are characters you actually come to love, rather than despise.

Release: May 13th

6. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

The Pitch: Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes film was a real buzz kill, mainly due to the fact it was a fairly bad and laughable action movie. Action isn’t what the Planet of the Apes series is about, and this upcoming origin story seems to understand that. It’ll have its fair share of action, especially with the impending climax that the film has, but from what I’ve heard, this is almost more of a drama.

They’ve taken a serious approach — a tricky tone to land when you got apes attacking people — but I have faith in director Rupert Wyatt to make it work. He made a strong debut film, The Escapist, and he’s got a reliable cast with him. Hopefully he’ll bring the Planet of the Apes series back to life.

Release: August 5th

–~~~~~~~~~~~~–

5. Super 8

The Pitch: J.J. Abrams looks to have made an ultimate fanboy love letter to Spielberg, but will it be much more than that? The trailers have sold the spectacle well, courtesy of some excellent music, but it almost comes off more like a Spielberg film than a J.J. Abrams film. The only stamp of Abrams that seems to make him distinguishable is his love for lens flares. But, a retread or not, Abrams makes solid films. The man does have a great sense of pacing and he seemed to have evolved with Star Trek, so perhaps Super 8 will continue that rise in talent. If that’s true, expect something great.

Release: June 10th

4. X-Men: First Class

The Pitch: With its production history, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if X-Men: First Class ends up being a half-baked mess. But the fantastic trailers have indicated nothing of the such, as one would expect. The main selling point of the film seems to be its strongest element: the relationship between Xavier and Eric. Michael Fassbender seems incapable of doing any wrong, even in a disaster like Jonah Hex, and James McAvoy is just as reliable. With Matthew Vaughn at the helm and Jane Goldman having a hand in the script, expect a film leaps and bounds better than X-3 and that failed cartoonish attempt at a Wolverine movie. This looks to get the once promising series back on track and better than ever.

Release: June 3rd

3. Captain America: The First Avenger

The Pitch: Cap, on paper, sounds like a disaster in pending. Joe Johnston is coming off The Wolfman. There were reported script issues for a while, which were apparently taken care of by Joss Whedon. And this is a film where the villain is a red faced Nazi… and yet, no film coming out this summer looks more fun than Captain America: The First Avenger. Johnston, a director better than he’s given credit for, seems to have nailed the perfect tone and feel.

It looks like a film that knows it’s got silly ideas and is a comic book movie, but isn’t handled in a cheesy or overly goofy manner. We rarely get action heroes that look to be as charming and as cool as Steve Rogers, considering most are so damn mopey now, but like the rest of the film, he looks like a blast of awesomeness.

Release: July 22nd

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

The Pitch: July 15th will be a terribly bittersweet day. This series has been going, for the most part, strong for a solid 10-years now. As someone who eagerly anticipated each new installment’s release, I’ll be quite sad about letting these characters go. Unlike, say, the Twilight franchise, you don’t want to see these kids die painful deaths. They’re all likable, and after all these years, it’s easy to understand them like actual friends. The best of the Harry Potter films feel like personal and dramatic stories told in a grand operatic way. Hopefully, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II provides the epic climax the series deserves.

Release: July 15th

1. The Tree of Life

The Pitch: Even if Terrence Malick‘s long-awaited epic turns out to be a total failure, it’ll still be the most ambitious and interesting films of the season. There’s no real argument to be had there. The fact that a Malick film is opening in the summer is beyond exciting. The Tree of Life looks like a dramatic and more grounded version of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ll take Malick’s somber, poetic and monumental style any day over robots beating each other up and cracking bad jokes.

Release: May 16th

Honorable Mentions: Cowboys & Aliens, Haywire (fingers crossed that it comes out), Our Idiot Brother, Bellflower, The Debt, and Horrible Bosses.

What do you plan on seeing?


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