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The Big Dog in the Yard
As his follow-up to District 9, Neill Blomkamp's Elysium has a lot of expectations on it. Unlike his earlier film, this one comes with headlining names like Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. There's no way this is going to be the surprise hit of the summer. But with an impressively ambitious scope, involving a futuristic dystopia and the idyllic space station that houses Earth's elites, this could be one summer blockbuster that combines eye-opening effects with something to say.
The post-Hunger Games landscape was always going to have its share of imitators, but with Divergent poised to become the next big thing next year, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones sits in a very precarious position. Particularly with the lower profile of a film that the studio doesn't entirely believe in. On a smaller scale, Amanda Seyfried's performance as the title character in Lovelace is the riskiest role she's taken in her career, but one that could catch critical fire if indie audiences respond to it enough.
Performances to Watch Out For
Despite the fact that seemingly every actor is appearing in Lee Daniels' The Butler, it's Oprah Winfrey who has jumped out for people expecting a standout performance. She hasn't appeared on film since the disappointment of 1998's Beloved, but there's a spectacle lurking in The Butler that could take her into some interesting places. Certainly, the director of The Paperboy isn't going to hold back. The month's other big curiosity is Ashton Kutcher's performance as Steve Jobs in Jobs. His physical transformation into a Jobs doppelganger hasn't managed to alleviate the waves of doubt among film fans and Apple acolytes alike, but it will be fascinating to see if the performance can stand on its own.
Toughest Opening-Weekend Decision The weekend of August 23rd presents quite the dilemma, particularly if you're living in an indie-friendly market. World's End, the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg/Nick Frost follow-up to Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, opens with another horror/action/comedy hybrid that promises to be every bit as crowd-pleasing as the first two. All that, plus audiences can get a look at Rosamund Pike, who just got cast as the lead in David Fincher's Gone Girl.
But on that same weekend, filmgoers will be tempted by the latest from legendary filmmaker Wong Kar Wai, whose The Grandmaster visits the kung-fu genre with a look at the true-life martial-arts legend who trained Bruce Lee. Starring Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Zhang Ziyi, ths is probably the niche film with the most fervent fanbase, pound-for-pound.
And finally, the indie drama Short Term 12, which was a giant success at SXSW and has been garnering huge buzz among critics (I've seen it, it's amazing), opens in limited release. The performances by Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. are matched only by the sweet sincerity of the filmmaking. If there's any justice, this will catch on with wider audiences the longer it's in theaters.
Best Movie to See With Friends
There are three very distinct group-viewing opportunities in August. If you're looking for a comedy featuring an actor you like and a director returning to his roots in a way that feels welcoming and goofy and fun, you can check out Prince Avalanche. At the very least you can all discuss Paul Rudd's comedy mustache. If you want the experience of being scared out of your wits while you and your friends huddle ever closer together, there's the upcoming home-invaders-with-terrifying masks thriller You're Next. And if you're looking to go to a pop concert but don't want to stand for three hours, there is One Direction: This Is Us, your ultimate 1D concert experience.
Best Movie to See Alone
Sometimes, a gorgeous, quiet, contemplative movie requires some degree of solitude. So it is with David Lowery's Sundance hit Ain't Them Bodies Saints. The gorgeous camerawork and quiet, powerful performances from Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, and Ben Foster just beg to be appreciated in thoughtful solitude.