Cover Story: The Big Pictures

A month-by-month preview of the summer's most anticipated movies

 
Jeff Fuerzeig


The Devil and Daniel Johnston: Guess which is which?



June

THE BREAK-UP

Lowdown: A story about, uh, a break-up. Oh, but it's a comedy, because after Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) calls it quits with her boyfriend Gary (Vince Vaughn) neither is willing to move out of their pad.

Hot factor: Vaughn is still riding last summer's Wedding Crashers buzz. And Aniston is just plain hot. Go ahead and pencil this in as the comedy hit of the summer. (RP)

CARS

Lowdown: In this animated stock car realm, rookie racer Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is the next "It" car but has to beat out The King (Richard Petty) and perennial runner-up Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton). Lightning also needs a little humility, which he finds when he gets waylaid in Radiator Springs and is mentored by Doc Hudson (Paul Newman).

Hot Factor: Cartoons are cool, Luke. No, I mean hot.

(TTC)

THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON

Lowdown: Jeff Feuerzeig's documentary centers on the enigmatic, perpetually creative Johnston, a manic-depressive whose unabashedly earnest homemade recordings and drawings have garnered a cult following, reaching its zenith when Kurt Cobain often name-checked the singer in the early '90s.

Hot factor: Cincinnati native Henry Rosenthal produced this loving portrait, a film that hopes to shed light onto one of the more intriguing artists of the last 25 years. (JG)

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA

Lowdown: A small-town girl (Anna Hathaway) tackles the big city and her power-obsessed fashion magazine boss (Meryl Streep) in this film based on the best-selling book of the same name.

Hot factor: Just the word "Prada" in the title screams chick flick, especially in the otherwise explosive summer season. But Streep looks entertaining enough — chewing the scenery with Pacino-like gusto — to cross gender borders. (RP)

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH

Lowdown: Before he became Clinton's second-in-command and won the 2000 election against W., Al Gore wrote Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. In it, he showed a passion for the environment that makes his crusading work against global warming in An Inconvenient Truth a rousing call-to-arms.

Hot Factor: Gore wearing his heart on his sleeve as he tries to save us from ourselves. Oh, and there's no W. standing in your way, Al, so what do you say about another shot? (ttc)

KEEPING UP WITH THE STEINS

Lowdown: Adam Fielder (Jeremy Piven) is determined to throw the biggest and best Bar Mitzvah for his son, one that puts his neighbor's recent over-the-top soiree to shame. Think MTV's My Super Sweet Sixteen blown up to the big screen but with one twist: The dad has the bloated ego.

Hot factor: After years of toiling as a dedicated character actor in a variety of film and TV projects, Piven is enjoying his day in the sun via his role as the caustically hilarious agent in HBO's Entourage. (JG)

LEONARD COHEN: I'M YOUR MAN

Lowdown: The singular poet/singer gets the documentary treatment, as director Lian Lunson films testimony of Cohen significance from a variety of sources — Antony and the Johnsons, U2, Rufus Wainwright, Beth Orton, Nick Cave — many of whom were filmed during a 2005 tribute concert at the Sydney Opera House.

Hot factor: Antony's take on Cohen's "If It Be Your Will" is said to be a revelation. (JG)

NACHO LIBRE

Lowdown: Writer-director Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) and co-screenwriter Mike White (School of Rock) turn a kindly priest named Nacho (Jack Black) into a masked luchador (wrestler) with a trusty sidekick (Dynamite's Hector Jimenez) in order to raise money to support orphans.

Hot Factor: Black is here to wrestle us into comedic submission after getting taken down by the big hairy ape. What's more absurdly surreal in this premise, Black as a priest or as a WWF impersonator? (ttc)

A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION

Lowdown: Robert Altman's latest is a behind-the-scenes account at the fictional final broadcast of Garrison Keillor's beloved radio show.

Hot factor: Fresh off his honorary Oscar, the rascally Altman has another stellar cast at his disposal: Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, Meryl Streep, Altman staple Lily Tomlin and Keillor as himself. (JG)

SKETCHES OF FRANK GEHRY

Lowdown: Director Sydney Pollack tackles his first feature documentary, choosing to turn his focus on legendary and kooky architect Frank O. Gehry. The film follows Gehry's process from messy sketches to full design and construction.

Hot factor: After last year's March of the Penguins and Murderball, the doc is still hot and Sony Classics is hoping to parlay that into modest business with this summer counter-programming. (RP)

SUPERMAN RETURNS

Lowdown: It's a bird, it's a plane ... it's the one film that could define this summer. Superman Returns is the biggest popcorn movie on the block this season, revisiting one of film's most iconic stories. It's X-Men director Bryan Singer at the helm this time, with relative newcomer Brandon Routh as the Man of Steel and Kevin Spacey as evil genius Lex Luther.

Hot factor: The latest trailer looks amazing. Singer left X3 for this one, and it looks like the right move for him and fans. (RP)

TWELVE AND HOLDING

Lowdown: Three 12-year-old suburban kids (Jacob, Malee and Leonard) are on a mission of self-discovery (and possible revenge) after the tragic death of Jacob's twin brother.

Hot factor: If director Michael Questa's previous work (the disturbingly effective L.I.E. ) is any indication, expect a penetrating look at the dark underbelly of suburban adolescence. Ah, the perfect antidote to a summer of big-budget gluttony. (JG)

July

CLERKS II

Lowdown: After a couple of mishaps, Randal (Jeff Anderson) and Dante (Brian O'Halloran) find themselves out of work until they land at Mooby's, a faux conglomerate that merges the sensibilities of Disney and McDonalds, which director Kevin Smith will skewer deliciously.

Hot Factor: A return to form, or at least a slight movement back to familiar territory. With The Passion of the Clerks as the working title, Smith understands the promise he's making with his hardcore fans and certainly won't let them suffer. (ttc)

LADY IN THE WATER

Lowdown: The first teasers had us thinking that writer/director M. Night Shyamalan had chilled out and was making a sweet fairy tale about a guy (Paul Giamatti) who finds a woman living in his apartment complex's pool. The latest previews look a whole lot more like The Sixth Sense.

Hot factor: With Shyamalan, you know there will be a twist. Or eight. So the intrigue alone makes this film worth waiting for. (RP)

MIAMI VICE

Lowdown: Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) get a contemporary update, so don't fear a return of the pastels and the sock-less TV-show look. The fellas get a couple of intriguing love interests (Li Gong and Naomie Harris), but its the little known supporting cast that should bring real atmospheric heat.

Hot Factor: Michael Mann has the collateral to reclaim this 1980s artifact and will invest it with his intense mano-a-mano vibe. (ttc)

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE

Lowdown: A dysfunctional Albuquerque family (Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin and Steve Carell) goes on a road trip to Redondo Beach, Calif., so that 7-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslan) can take part in a beauty pageant. This ain't your typical family film: Carell is a gay, suicidal professor with a penchant for Proust.

Hot factor: Imaginative music video directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Feris finally get their shot at the big-screen via this Sundance hit. (JG)

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 2: DEAD MAN'S CHEST

Lowdown: Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) runs afoul of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and must outwit the mythical figure or join Jones' motley crew for eternity, which is a long time to be prancing around without your soul.

Hot Factor: Who is hotter as a squirrelly pirate on the make than Depp? Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley return, but it's the presence of Nighy that makes this treasure chest bountiful. (ttc)

A SCANNER DARKLY

Lowdown: Richard Linklater finally returns to the mind-bending techniques of 2001's Waking Life with this animated (via live-action actors) story based on a Philip K. Dick novel about a government agent (Keanu Reeves) who's hired to spy on his drug-addled friends (Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson).

Hot factor: The textured, inventive visual style. Oh, and isn't it time for Ryder's return to the spotlight (as an actor, that is)? (JG)

WORDPLAY

Lowdown: A documentary on Will Shortz, the rascally editor of The New York Times crossword? Yep. A revered figure among puzzle aficionados, Shortz has an impressive array of fans: Bill Clinton, Yankees' pitcher Mike Mussina, filmmaker Ken Burns and Jon Stewart are but a few who testify to the importance of his work.

Hot factor: Clinton has said that Shortz's puzzles aided his problem-solving techniques while in the Oval Office. Is that hot? (JG)

YOU, ME AND DUPREE

Lowdown: A pair of loving newlyweds (Matt Dillon and Kate Hudson) graciously open their home to down-on-his-luck best man Randy Dupree (Owen Wilson), then spend the rest of the film regretting it.

Hot factor: Wilson and Vince Vaughn defined male chemistry in last summer's Wedding Crashers. Dillon is no Vaughn when it comes to comedic chops, but Wilson could make this funny all on his own. (RP)

August

THE ANT BULLY

Lowdown: Lucas Nickle (voiced by Jake T. Austin) creates a flood with his water pistol that nearly destroys an ant colony, then magically gets zapped to insect size and must help rebuild the colony as part of his community service.

Hot Factor: An ecological lesson for kids complemented with stellar voice work from Nicolas Cage, Paul Giamatti, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, and Ricardo Montalban. Yes, I said Ricardo Montalban! (ttc)

HALF NELSON

Lowdown: A teacher (Ryan Gosling) with a drug problem befriends a student (Shareeka Epps) who discovers his secret with startling consequences.

Hot Factor: Gosling, seen to great effect in The Believer and Stay, is the most underrated actor of his generation, but his time is coming and hopefully soon. (ttc)

QUINCEANERA

Lowdown: Fifteen-year-old Magdalena (Emily Rios) discovers that she's pregnant and is forced to move in with relatives, including her gay cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia). The ostracized pair seeks to inherit a place of their own.

Hot Factor: Sundance buzz has been swarming around this one since the festival. Hip recognizes hip, isn't that what they say? (ttc)

THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP

Lowdown: In typical Michel Gondry fashion, the plot of this follow-up to his beguiling Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind doesn't fit nicely into a blurb. Let's try: Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal) is a graphic artist who designs his own dreams.

Hot factor: Bernal — whose versatile talents should make for an intriguing complement to Gondry's whimsical, crafty visual style — is as compelling as any young actor working today. (JG)

SNAKES ON A PLANE

Lowdown: An assassin releases a crate of deadly snakes on a plane in order to kill his target. The one thing he didn't count on was that badass Samuel L. Jackson was seated in coach.

Hot factor: Jackson delivers the line (recently inserted into the film by Internet fan demand), "I want these motherfuckin' snakes off this motherfuckin' plane." Need we say more? This might be the most anticipated B-film ever. (RP)

TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY

Lowdown: Slowly NASCAR, as it's seemingly doing to every facet of life, is infiltrating Hollywood. Last year the freaking Love Bug went NASCAR. Now it's Will Ferrell. Playing the titular character, he'll find humor in all things racing.

Hot factor: Will anyone outside the racing circuit care? Because it's Ferrell, who literally can make any film laugh-out-loud funny, the answer is yes. (RP)

TRUST THE MAN

Lowdown: Writer/director Bart Freundlich (Myth of Fingerprints) examines sex and the city using both genders, with a super-cool cast including Julianne Moore, David Duchovny, Billy Crudup, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Eva Mendes.

Hot factor: Looks smart, possibly touching and likely poignant — all the things adult moviegoers crave right around August. Keep this on your radar. (RP)

WORLD TRADE CENTER

Lowdown: Oliver Stone captures one of the many dramas of Sept. 11, one that took place on the ground under the collapsed towers as first-responders John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimenez struggle to survive until they can be rescued.

Hot Factor: Following the gut-wrenching United 93, Stone attempts to transform this more immediate and intimate story into a galvanizing memorial to the countless heroes of that day. (ttc)

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