The Help

Emma stone in “The Help” 

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Summer of surprises

Abandon all hope that any but a few summer films will actually be worth seeing

By Carl Kozlowski 04/14/2011

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Summer used to be the best time of the year to see movies: First it was “Jaws,” then other summer releases to follow included “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Ghostbusters” and “Jurassic Park.” 
 
But Hollywood has sadly started chasing the easy bucks over the last few years, and this summer features a dire schedule in which 16 films — ranging from “Thor” on May 6 to “Final Destination 5” on Aug. 26 — are either superhero films or sequels working on their last legs, err, final installments.
 
Those movies are all going to make bank anyway, so in the interest of steering PW readers to fresher film ideas, we’ve selected 11 movies we think are bright spots on an otherwise lackluster summer movie-going horizon. 
 
“The Beaver” (May 20): This quirky indie film will draw lots of free publicity because it stars the controversial Mel Gibson in a role that sadly seems tailor-made for him: a mentally troubled man with plenty of personality issues. The twist here is that the man finds redemption by learning to express himself with the help of a beaver hand-puppet. Longtime Gibson friend Jodie Foster wrote and directed this project, so the buzz on this is actually quite positive.

“Bridesmaids” (May 13): These days, we all could use some belly laughs, so I’ve included a few broad comedies on this list, including this film, which could mark the breakout movie-star role of longtime “SNL” favorite and perpetual supporting film actress Kristen Wiig. Wiig co-wrote the script, which features her as a longtime loser at love who goes to crazy lengths to do the job right when her best friend asks her to be her maid of honor — and everything goes insanely wrong. Bonus points for this one because it’s directed by Paul Feig, who frequently helms episodes for TV cult classics like “Freaks & Geeks.” 

“The Tree of Life” (May 27): This could be one of the biggest artistic films of the year, with legendary director Terence Malick (“Days of Heaven,” “The Thin Blue Line”) teaming Brad Pitt and Sean Penn in a tale about a man’s quest for the true meaning of life while he attempts to redeem his relationship with his father. 

“Super 8” (June 8): Mega-producer J.J. Abrams (TV’s “Lost”) returns to the director’s chair with his first film since 2009’s “Star Trek” reboot in what could be could be the ultimate blast of the summer. The film has been shrouded in intense mystery ala “Cloverfield,” another Abrams production, but it centers on a train wreck that hits a small town in 1978 just as some kids are making a Super 8 movie. Soon all hell’s breaking loose in town, and the kids and sheriff have to stand up against a threat to their town’s existence

“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” (June 22): Perhaps the most unique family film of the summer stars Jim Carrey back in his wild and crazy comedic element in this adaptation of a classic children’s book of a man who unexpectedly receives a penguin in the mail and soon finds himself overrun by a dozen of them, leading to a mayhem-filled stage show tour. 

“Bad Teacher” (June 24): This wicked-sounding R-rated comedy features Cameron Diaz as a teacher who swears, drinks and gets high while waiting to marry rich and quit teaching. Her fiancé dumps her, leading her to ruthlessly chase down Justin Timberlake while fighting off the crazed advances of a gym teacher played by Jason Segel of “I Love You Man” fame. This is written by two of the best writers from “The Office,” and Jake Kasdan is a red-hot young comedy director, so hopes are high that the laughs delivered here will be big.
 
“Larry Crowne” (July 1): This is likely the summer’s best film for adults, pairing Julia Roberts with Tom Hanks in the first film he’s written and directed since his 1996 classic “That Thing You Do!” Here he’s taking on the recession in this dramedy of a man who loses a great job along with his home and decides to restart his life by retraining with a colorful group of community college outcasts — all while falling in love with his married teacher.

“Horrible Bosses” (July 8): This all-star dark comedy features Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx and several more big-name actors in the story of three guys who hatch a plan to kill their mean bosses only to find their poorly hatched plan backfiring in what sounds like an update of “Ruthless People.”   

“Cowboys & Aliens” (July 29): The other most creative big blast of summer besides “Super 8” is this film, which has Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford as two tough cowboys who have to lead the battle to save their Old West town from alien invasion. So crazy it actually seems clever, this film has the added bonus of being directed by Jon Favreau, the Man behind “Iron Man.” 
 
“30 Minutes or Less” (Aug. 12): Red-hot Jesse Eisenberg follows up “The Social Network” by returning to the wild and crazy  antics of his superbly entertaining “Zombieland” with that film’s director Ruben Fleischer in an action comedy about a pizza delivery guy who’s forced to rob a bank by three criminals (including comedy anti-hero supreme Danny McBride). However, he is so scared that he ropes in his former best friend (played by America’s fastest-rising standup comic Aziz Ansari) for the disastrous plan that ensues. Top-notch casting and a terrific director make this my pick as the comedy of the summer. 
 
“The Help” (Aug. 12): Emma Stone broke out as a movie star with the comedy “Easy A” last fall, and now she’s showing her dramatic chops with the story of a Southern sorority girl in the 1960s who turns her town upside down when she starts asking the town’s African-American maids to speak their minds on their lives for a book she’s writing. This feels like Oscar bait in the middle of summer and should provide serious viewers with a film worth watching.

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