(last updated: 7/20/12)
Here’s a list of recommended and or popular movies now playing in theaters. Movies marked with a are new releases.
Open in wide release:
The Dark Knight Rises
8 years after the events of The Dark Knight, Batman returns to save Gotham City from Bane (Tom Hardy), a villain bent on the city’s destruction. Along for the ride this time is Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) who adds a note of humor and sex appeal to a sometimes too-serious franchise. All in all, a worthy, emotionally satisfying conclusion to a terrific trilogy.
The Amazing Spider-Man
The world doesn’t need yet another telling of the Spider-Man origin story, but we have one in this younger skewing reboot and the good news is there’s a lot to like about it. While the superhero thrills leave a bit to desired, it features several excellent performnces (including Andrew Garfield as nerdy Peter Parker, Martin Sheen as his Uncle Ben, Sally Field as Aunt May and a spunky Emma Stone as love interest Gwen Stacy) and it packs an emotional punch uncommon to the genre.
In putting their own spin on a Disney-esque princess story, Pixar has come up with a fairly conventional family movie, but one that is still uniquely their own. Lovely to look at with enough humor and adventure to keep things moving along. It may be middle-tier Pixar, but that sets it above most other mainstream American animation.
Katy Perry: Part of Me
I’m sometimes surprised that Katy Perry actually exists, so imagine my shock and awe when I found out she’s the subject of a 3D concert doc. Yeah. I know. Weird.
Inspired by producer/star Channing Tatum’s own experiences as a male stripper at age 18, Magic Mike is a breezy and funny throwback to ’80s beefcake movies that back then might’ve starred Tom Cruise or Patrick Swayze. Think of it as a slightly smarter take on something like Cocktail… and I’ll just leave you to enter your own cock and tail joke here, but suffice it to say there is plenty of both. The plot is nothing to write home about but Tatum has enough charisma to carry the film and he’s given a big boost by Matthew McConaughey who is has a blast making the women in the audience squeal like schoolgirls.
Wes Anderson takes his childlike sensibilities and puts them to work in the service of a charming story told mostly through the perspective of a couple of 12-year-olds navigating the treacherous waters of first love in 1965. She’s the troubled oldest daughter of parents whose marriage is on shaky ground. He’s an orphaned scout who is struggling to fit in. When they run off together in the face of an approaching hurricane, the ordinarily quiet existence of the island community of New Penzance is turned upside down. Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton join newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward
Oliver Stone rounds up Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson, Emile Hirsch and Demian Bichir for his adaptation of Don Winslow’s crime novel about a couple of pot growers who run afoul of a Mexican cartel.
Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane wrote and makes his feature directorial debut with this R-rated comedy starring Mark Wahlberg as a grown man whose adulthood has been stunted thanks to his childhood teddy bear which he willed to life with a wish and continues to live by his side. Wahlberg gives good comedy and there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes than in the presence of Mila Kunis, but both are effectively wasted as springboards for Ted (voiced by MacFarlane). There are enough laughs to make it recommendable, but it’s surprisingly tame for MacFarlane and he takes his simple “a man must leave childish things behind” much more seriously than it deserves.
To Rome with Love
The latest from Woody Allen is a series of short stories set in the title city. In some ways a throwback to some of Allen’s sillier early comedies, Rome at first feels like a throwaway, but the various stories’ ideas on love and fame start to resonate a little more deeply the longer you think about them. Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin, Greta Gerwig, Penelope Cruz, Judy Davis, Roberto Benigni and Woody Allen himself co-star.
Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection
I think the title pretty much tells you just about everything you need to know, for better or for worse. With Tyler Perry, Eugene Levy, Percy Romeo Miller and Denise Richards.
Open in Limited Release (<500 theaters – check local listings):
The Queen of Versailles
When the economy crashed in 2008, Lynn Greenfield’s documentary about one of the richest couples in the country turned into an expose on the rot inherent in the American Dream.
Putting together a group of superheroes who aren’t quite enough by themselves to make for a satisfying movie turns out to work like a charm. Full of action and character-based humor, The Avengers takes a perilously long time to get going, but once it finally kicks in it delivers the goods. The biggest surprise is Mark Ruffalo’s terrific turn as troubled scientist David Banner and his alter ego The Hulk. None of the solo Hulk films have been satisfactory, but Ruffalo’s dry humor and the monster’s unchecked rage are just what this movie needs when it’s needed. Tom Hiddleston is also terrific as super bad guy Loki.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
An invigorating, homespun American fairytale, Beasts of the Southern Wild is about perseverance in the face of calamity. The story is told from the perspective of 6-year-old Hushpuppy who is being raised by her stern single father Wink, a hard but loving man struggling to teach her to be strong and independent. Impressionistic and sometimes fantastical, Beasts feels like a dream remembered by a child. Two stand-out performances from first-time actors Quvenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry.
Richard Linklater’s black comedy about a beloved small town funeral director who befriends a bitter but wealthy old widow in a relationship that spirals toward tragedy requires an actor of absolute sincerity or it won’t work. Against the odds, Jack Black is that actor and he’s a perfect counterpoint to cranky Shirley MacLaine. Matthew McConaughey co-stars as the town lawyer who simply doesn’t trust Bernie’s motives.
From Weinstein: “Directed by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House), EASY MONEY is a Swedish crime thriller based on the international best-selling novel Snabba Cash by Jens Lapidus. Lower-class business student JW (Joel Kinnaman from AMC’s ‘The Killing’) falls in love with a sexy heiress while living a double life mingling with Stockholm’s wealthy elite. To keep up the facade of his lifestyle, he’s lured into a world of crime. Jorge is a petty fugitive on the run from both the police and Serbian mafia. He hopes that brokering a massive cocaine deal will allow him to escape for good. Mafia enforcer Mrado is on the hunt for Jorge, but his efforts are complicated when he’s unexpectedly saddled with caring for his young daughter. As JW’s journey ventures deeper into the dark world of organized crime, the fate of all three men becomes entangled and ends with a dramatic struggle for life and death.”
Arthouse favorite Hirokazu Koreeda (Still Walking) returns with this kids’ eye view of the world. Two brothers who have been separated by divorce believe a miracle surrounding the opening of a new bullet train connecting their cities will reunite their family. Inspired by these two dreamers, two groups of friends set out to meet at the spot where the two trains will pass each other in either direction.
From Indomnia: “A gripping thriller straight out of real life, THE IMPOSTER is an original film experience that walks the razor’s edge between true-crime documentary and stylish noir mystery. The twisting, turning tale begins with an unsettling disappearance–that of Nicholas Barclay, a 13 year-old Texas boy who vanishes without a trace. Three and a half years later, staggering news arrives: the boy has been found, thousands of miles from home in Spain, saying he survived a mind-boggling ordeal of kidnap and torture by shadowy captors. His family is ecstatic to have him back no matter how strange the circumstances–but things become far stranger once he returns to Texas. Though the family accepts him, suspicion surrounds the person who claims to be Nicholas. How could the Barclay’s blonde, blue-eyed son have returned with darker skin and eyes? How could his personality and even accent have changed so profoundly? Why does the family not seem to notice the glaring differences? And if this person who has arrived in Texas isn’t the Barclay’s missing child… who on earth is he?”
Neil Young Journeys
Jonathan Demme captures an intimate solo Neil Young performance at Toronto’s historic Massey Hall. There are a handful of old favorites on tap (“Ohio,” “After the Goldrush”) but most of the material comes from Young’s latest album Le Noise. This is a must-see for hard core fans especially.
Take This Waltz
The official blurb: “When Margot (Michelle Williams), 28, meets Daniel (Luke Kirby), their chemistry is intense and immediate. But Margot suppresses her sudden attraction; she is happily married to Lou (Seth Rogen), a cookbook writer. When she learns that Daniel lives across the street from them, the certainty about her domestic life shatters. She and Daniel steal moments throughout the steaming Toronto summer, their eroticism heightened by their restraint. Swelteringly hot, bright and colorful like a bowl of fruit, Take this Waltz leads us, laughing, through the familiar, but uncharted question of what long-term relationships do to love, sex, and our images of ourselves.”
From IFC: “Transplanting the well-loved tragic romance of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles to India, Michael Winterbottom (A MIGHTY HEART, THE TRIP) trains his masterful lense towards one of the brightest young stars of a generation, Freida Pinto (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE), in TRISHNA. Pinto soars in her most revealing performance yet–the eldest daughter or a poor family in Rajasthan, India. She works in a nearby resort to help pay the bills. Jay (Riz Ahmed, FOUR LIONS) is the wealthy son of a property developer who takes up managing the resort at his father’s request. When he meets Trishna at a dance, their fates become intertwined. Jay finds every opportunity to win Trishna’s affection and she accepts his efforts with shy curiosity. But when the two move to Mumbai and become a couple, Jay’s deep family bond threatens the young lovers’ bliss.”
Where Do We Go Now?
The sophomore effort of Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki (Caramel) tells the story of a village where Muslims and Christians have lived together peacably but which is now in danger of being torn apart by religious war. The women, fed up with generations of conflict set out to put things right with the help of some wayward Ukrainian strippers and a lot of hashish. Whimsical, yet also fueled by equal measures of hope and frustration.
Your Sister’s Sister
From IFC: “Emily Blunt, Rosemarie Dewitt and Mark Duplass star in Your Sister’s Sister, a new comedy about romance, grief and sibling rivalry. A year after his brother Tom’s death, Jack (Duplass) is still struggling emotionally. When he makes ascene at a memorial party, Tom’s best friend Iris (Blunt) offers up her family cabin on an island in the Pacific Northwest so Jack can seek catharsis in solitude. Once there, however, he runs into Iris’ sister Hannah (Dewitt) who is reeling from the abrupt end of a seven-year relationship and finds solace in Tom’s unexpected presence. A blurry evening of drinking concludes with an awkward sexual incident, made worse by Iris’ sudden presence at the cabin the next morning. A twisted tale of ever-complicated relationships is set in motion with raw, hilarious and emotional performances from the all-star cast.”