Cool Films to Watch When It's Hot Outside

[Summer Guide 2012] Your guide to the good stuff

In a movie season worshipped for its CGI-boosted, spiritually bankrupt juvenilia, it's heartening to know that filmmakers still create—and, maybe more significantly, studios still distribute—summer entertainment for grown-ups. Not that those buckets of popcorn are going to empty themselves, but who needs to be reminded of yet another comic-book reboot (The Amazing Spider-Man), unasked-for remake (Total Recall) or Adam Sandler comedy (That's My Boy)? Here are 25 to watch for in the sweltering months ahead, from thought-provoking indies to Piranha 3DD. All opening dates are subject to change.

  

Piranha 3DD
That's pronounced "Double-D," as in the jiggly, eye-popping flesh that'll be chewed up (and spit at the audience) by prehistoric fanged fish, much as it was in the proudly, viciously campy Piranha 3D.  Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the waterpark, terror swims anew for survivors Ving Rhames, Paul Scheer and Christopher Lloyd, who must now keep a straight face beside wild cards Gary Busey and David Hasselhoff as—what else?—a celebrity lifeguard. Directed by John Gulager. (Dimension Films, June 1)

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
The Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight Rises

Prometheus
Originally conceived as, but not exactly, a prequel to Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi masterpiece Alien, this mega-expensive, futuristic IMAX thriller instead forges an epic new mythos about our intergalactic origins. Following an ancient star map, a quite face-huggable space crew (including captain Idris Elba, archaeologist Noomi Rapace, android Michael Fassbender and corporate thug Charlize Theron) investigates an extraterrestrial civilization on a distant, terrifying planet. Just don't expect an appearance from Lieutenant Ripley, believe it or not. (20th Century Fox, June 8)

Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present
Named for the Museum of Modern Art retrospective on the Serbian performance-art sensation's four-decade body of work, Matthew Akers' doc takes a revealing look at Marina Abramovic's complicated relationships with her audience and former lover/collaborator Ulay. From vintage footage of the now-65-year-old radical's public self-flagellation to 2010's main event—a three-month, stone-faced sitting in front of curious, often-obsessive museum-goers—the film warmly and perceptively makes a solid case for asking, "Is this art?" (HBO Documentary Films/Music Box Films, June 13)

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
On Broadway, actor Benjamin Walker already reimagined one U.S. president as an emo rock star in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, so why not play Honest Abe as an axe-wielding Abolitionist out to destroy bloodsuckers and slavery? Adapted by hot novelist-cum-screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (Dark Shadows, whose director, Tim Burton, serves as producer here) from his own faux-epistolary mash-up, Timur Bekmambetov's action-packed "secret life" chronicle promises an undead body count of at least four score. (20th Century Fox, June 22)

Brave
A strong-willed young woman and expert archer becomes the talk of her rural kingdom when she takes charge of her own destiny . . . and competes in the Hunger Games? Okay, so Pixar's latest CG-animated fantasy isn't that dark, but it does feature the studio's first female protagonist: Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), a flame-haired, 10th-century princess of the Scottish Highlands, whose solo adventure begins after defying a chauvinistic tradition. Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman. (Disney/Pixar, June 22)

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
If Melancholia was too glum in its pre-apocalyptic anxieties, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist screenwriter Lorene Scafaria's directorial debut offers up an unlikely alternative for those who take the Mayans' predictions seriously: a rom-com! While humanity awaits doomsday by way of an inbound asteroid, a freshly dumped Steve Carell makes an unlikely connection in his neighbor Keira Knightley. Go for it, girl—it's not like you have to worry about commitment issues. (Focus Features, June 22)

To Rome With Love
Woody Allen's follow-up to Midnight in Paris—easily his best and biggest hit in more than a decade—continues his recent trend of filming in travelogue-friendly, European locales (see also: Match PointVicky Cristina Barcelona). Along with the 76-year-old Woodman, this year's Windsor-font-emblazoned ensemble includes Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penélope Cruz, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page and indie darling Greta Gerwig. (Sony Pictures Classics, June 22)

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Punching way above his indie-budget weight, Benh Zeitlin's visually rapturous tale—the Grand Jury Prize and Best Cinematography winner at Sundance 2012—sees the lawless Louisiana bayou through the imaginative, often-blindly optimistic view of a 6-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis). Like Where the Wild Things Are as conceived by Terrence Malick, this troubling but tender 16 mm opus will permanently stain your brain with its fantastical images. (Fox Searchlight, June 27)

Magic Mike
Just as Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience was more focused on the economics of the high-class escort biz than it was on sexuality, it's impossible to imagine this dramatic comedy about male strippers will just be Striptease with chest grease and "banana hammocks." Based in part on Channing Tatum's experience as a 19-year-old dancer, the film stars the barrel-chested G.I. Joe as the eponymous leading man, with Alex Pettyfer as his protégé and Matthew McConaughey as a skeezy club owner. (Warner Bros., June 29)

Take This Waltz
Canadian actress-turned-filmmaker Sarah Polley's sophomore effort behind the camera (following her Oscar-nominated Away From Her) again demonstrates her instincts for sharp, emotionally charged writing and richly developed female protagonists. Happily married to a cookbook-writing goofball (Seth Rogen, never better), Michelle Williams is unprepared for the heat she feels around rickshaw-driving neighbor Luke Kirby. Their unrequited eroticism sizzles like the Toronto summer, but Polley's affectionate drama isn't so much about infidelity as it is about life's thorny impossibilities. (Magnolia Pictures, June 29)

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