Summer isn't all about expensive blockbusters: There are plenty of smaller movies hitting theaters that are definitely worth your time. A number of films that hit the festival circuit earlier in the year get their releases in the summer months, making it a great time to forgo the crowded multiplex and hit the art house. Plus, you won't have to wear 3D glasses for any of these.
Director: John Slattery
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christina Hendricks, John Tuturro
God's Pocket had a lukewarm reception when it premiered at Sundance earlier this year, but now there's an unfortunate reason to get interested: it features one of the final performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman stars in John Slattery's directorial debut, as a man whose stepson is killed in a construction "accident."
The movie also might intrigue Mad Men fans. It is directed by Roger Sterling himself, and features Christina Hendricks as the wife of Hoffman's character.
Release Date: May 9
Director: Gia Coppola
Starring: Emma Roberts, James Franco, Jack Kilmer, Nat Wolff
You're right to greet this one with an air of skepticism. It's based on James Franco's collection of short stories, features Franco himself, and is positively packed with nepotism cases. (See: Gia Coppola, Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer.) But thanks to interesting performances from its young stars — specifically Nat Wolff — and a Sofia Coppola meets Harmony Korine aesthetic, the movie is more interesting than groan-worthy.
Release Date: May 9
Director: James Gray
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner
The Immigrant first debuted at last year's Cannes, so it's taken a while to finally get to American audiences. The film, which stars Marion Cotillard as a Polish woman who arrives in New York in the early 1920s, seems to provoke love it or hate it reactions.
Release Date: May 16
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Jesse Eisenberg, Peter Sarsgaard
Last summer saw the release of ecoterrorism thriller The East; this summer there's another film filling that very specific niche in Night Moves from Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff director Kelly Reichardt. This could be the adult breakout role that's been a long time coming for Dakota Fanning.
Release Date: May 30
Director: Kat Candler
Starring: Aaron Paul, Juliette Lewis, Josh Wiggins
Are you interested to see how Aaron Paul's post Breaking Bad career is going? [Insert "bitch" joke here.] Well, Hellion may prove a better decision than Need for Speed. Still, Paul's not the main attraction here. It's Josh Wiggins, who has drawn comparisons to Leo DiCaprio thanks to his performance as 13-year-old delinquent Jacob.
Release Date: June 13
Venus in Fur
Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric
Roman Polanski makes another attempt to translate a successful Broadway play to the screen following his 2011 adaptation of God of Carnage. The play Venus in Fur won Nina Arianda a Tony for her work as a mysterious actress, but her role here is taken on by Polanski's wife Emmanuelle Seigner. Also, it's in French!
Release Date: June 20
Director: John Carney
Starring: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine
The movie formerly known as Can a Song Save Your Life? will likely have its detractors, but those people were also probably immune to the charms of Once, the earlier film from director John Carney. Like its predecessor, this movie has, as you might expect, a prominent musical element. Unlike Once, it has a big celebrity quotient. Actors like Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo are supported by music folks/Voice judges like Adam Levine and CeeLo Green.
Release Date: July 4
Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane
Perhaps the most exciting indie to hit theaters this summer is Richard Linklater's Boyhood, better known as the movie he filmed over the course of 12 years. Hence the lead, played by Ellar Coltrane, actually grows up in front of the audience's eyes on screen. The movie received raves out of Sundance, and by all accounts cannot be missed.
Release Date: July 11
Wish I Was Here
Director: Zach Braff
Starring: Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad
For better or for worse, Zach Braff is back with this follow up to Garden State, a movie loved upon first release and reviled as time went on. Wish I Was Here was infamously funded via a Kickstarter campaign, even though Braff also eventually got money from a more traditional source. Anyway, the movie is about an aimless 35-year-old actor, played by, you guessed it, Braff himself.
Release Date: July 18 (limited, expanding July 25 and August 1)
Director: Joe Swanberg
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Lena Dunham, Mark Webber, Melanie Lynskey, Joe Swanberg
A movie from mumblecore god Joe Swanberg featuring Lena Dunham may not be everyone's cup of tea, but Swanberg did solid work with leading lady Anna Kendrick in his last film Drinking Buddies. Happy Christmas follows Kendrick's character, who messes with the life of her married brother, played by Swanberg himself. Swanberg's wife is played by Melanie Lynskey, whose presence is always appreciated.
Release Date: July 25
Life After Beth
Director: Jeff Baena
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Dane DeHaan, Anna Kendrick, Molly Shannon
Aubrey Plaza is best known as Parks and Recreation's deadpan April Ludgate, but she's been making some interesting on-screen choices, including the sweet fantasy Safety Not Guaranteed and the raunchy comedy, The To-Do List. Life After Beth casts Plaza as a girl who dies and comes back to life. Her grieving and then mystified boyfriend is played by Dane DeHaan.
Release Date: August 15
Love Is Strange
Director: Ira Sachs
Starring: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei
By all accounts this story about an older gay couple — played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina — who finally get married only to see their lives fall apart is lovely. After a successful trip to Sundance, it now has people talking ahead of its appearance at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Release Date: August 22
Jane Got a Gun
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Starring: Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Rodrigo Santoro, Ewan McGregor
This western has mostly been noteworthy for its behind-the-scenes drama. Original director Lynne Ramsay dropped out of the movie, then Jude Law (who had stepped in for Michael Fassbender) also said goodbye only to be replaced by Bradley Cooper who also left! Ewan McGregor finally took over the role. So we'll be in the theater mostly to see whether or not this is a huge mess.
August 29, February 20. This one has been pushed out of the summer into the doldrums of February. Looks like it can't catch a break.