Cool Films to Watch When It's Hot Outside

[Summer Guide 2012] Your guide to the good stuff

The Queen of Versailles
The photographer/filmmaker behind such doc provocations as Thin and Kids + Money, Lauren Greenfield hits the morbidly curious motherlode in this jaw-dropping depiction of the American Dream gone sour. When the billionaire time-share king of Florida and his ex-model wife begin construction on a 90,000-square-foot palace—the largest home in the U.S., including 30 bathrooms, a bowling alley and baseball diamond—they aren't prepared for the credit crunch to radically shrink their empire. Their post-recession behavior is the stuff of reality-TV nightmares. (Magnolia Pictures, July 6)

There's no historical profiling or arch sociopolitical conscience in the latest from the iconoclast behind JFK and World Trade Center, a brutal crime thriller reminding us that Oliver Stone is also the guy who wrote Scarface. Based on Don Winslow's best-seller, Savages stars Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson as Laguna Beach pot dealers forced to square off against a corrupt DEA agent (John Travolta), a cartel leader (Salma Hayek!) and her enforcer (Benicio Del Toro). (Universal Pictures, July 6)

Boston slacker Mark Wahlberg might be able to salvage his relationship with long-suffering girlfriend Mila Kunis if he can get his best friend since childhood to move out. Oh, and his friend happens to be a CG-animated, foul-mouthed, bong-smoking, sexually harassing teddy bear (voiced by first-time director Seth McFarlane himself, creator of Family Guy). Patrick Warburton, Giovanni Ribisi and Joel McHale co-star in this high-concept comedy of arrested development. (Universal Pictures, July 13)

The Campaign
The Campaign

The Dark Knight Rises
Really, who won't be watching the final act of Christopher Nolan's Caped Crusader trilogy, arguably the high-water mark of superhero cinema? Christian Bale's gravelly voice returns as haunted billionaire Bruce Wayne and his winged alter-ego, now facing two foes of fanboy legend: Anne Hathaway's slinky Catwoman and Tom Hardy's gas-masked juggernaut Bane, who infamously broke Batman's back in the comics. Get off the Internet to avoid further spoilers. (Warner Bros., July 20)

Hands down the funniest film of the year, this irreverent Danish comedy plays like a superior, way-grosser version of The Hangover (and Todd Phillips is producing an American remake!). Discovering that everyone except him knew about his girlfriend's pregnancy, a nebbishy man-child—about to take a canoe trip to an exclusive brothel with his ultra-perverted pal—unwisely kidnaps her young nephew for the ride. From ill-advised threesomes to photographing little boy penises, they don't call them "gags" for nothing. Directed by Mikkel Nørgaard. (Drafthouse Films, July 27)

Killer Joe
In debt to a drug kingpin, Emile Hirsch hires a sociopathic Dallas cop (Matthew McConaughey, already earning career-high praise) to take out his mother for the life-insurance policy. Exorcist director William Friedkin reteams with Pulitzer- and Tony-winning writer Tracy Letts (Bug) for what has been labeled both a sleazy noir-thriller and an eccentric, pitch-black comedy. Either way, you know by its NC-17 rating that this bloody hicksploitation freak-out ain't going take it easy on its players. (LD Entertainment, July 27)

The Watch
Formerly called Neighborhood Watch before the Trayvon Martin shooting prompted an essential title change, Akiva Schaffer's profane comedy concerns four Costco employees and drinking buddies (Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Submarine director Richard Aoyade) who form a crime watch to escape their humdrum suburban existence. Oh, yeah, and then they accidentally uncover an alien-invasion plot that only they can thwart to save all of humanity. (20th Century Fox, July 27)

The Bourne Legacy
Whoa, how do you make a Jason Bourne thriller without Matt Damon, or even the Bourne identity? Expanding on novelist Robert Ludlum's universe of top-level espionage, the underrated director of Duplicity and Michael Clayton (and screenwriter on every Bourne flick thus far), Tony Gilroy brings new hero Jeremy Renner into the fray as another bad-ass CIA operative—along with Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz, and the previous films' Albert Finney and Joan Allen. (Universal Pictures, Aug. 3)

The Campaign
The mud-slinging political comedy we deserve in this circus of an election year, Jay Roach's broad farce stars Will Ferrell as a long-sitting congressman from North Carolina, whose CEO rivals dig up their own untrained Manchurian candidate (a mustachioed Zach Galifianakis) from the local tourism center. Fun fact: Galifianakis' uncle was also a North Carolina congressman, unseated by Jesse Helms in the '70s. (Warner Bros., Aug. 10)

The Oscar-nominated animation company behind Coraline presents this stop-motion, 3D comedy-thriller about a spiky-haired misfit (voiced by Let Me In's Kodi Smit-McPhee) with the ability to speak to the dead. Unable to win over friends or even his family, Norman's ghost-whispering sure comes in handy when his small town is overrun by a plague of zombies. Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell. (Focus Features, Aug. 17)

The Loneliest Planet
Hiking through the otherworldly Caucasus Mountains in the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia, Alex (Gael García Bernal) and his flame-haired fiancée, Nica (Hani Furstenberg), seem like the perfect hipster couple, until a subtle, split-second choice irreversibly cracks the veneer. Julia Loktev's marvelous, slow-burning follow-up to her minimalist thriller Day Night Day Night somehow manages to be both audacious and subtle: Awkward silences are deafening, and the wilderness, though wide open, brings on a devastating claustrophobia. (Sundance Selects, Aug. 24)

Premium Rush
Anyone who has ever shared the road with a Manhattan bicycle messenger knows they're a thrill-seeking, possibly suicidal lot. David Koepp, who also scribed this season's Men In Black III, gives the Speed treatment to the fixed-gear, no-brakes set in this against-the-clock thriller, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a skilled cyclist whose delivery payload is being hunted by Michael Shannon's homicidal cop. One ill-timed passenger door opening and it's all over, roll credits. (Sony Pictures, Aug. 24)

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