The Tree of Life: Terrence Malick is the Wizard of Oz of American filmmakers, a reclusive genius who lays low for years on end, only to emerge with a new movie that zaps us right between the eyes. Then he vanishes once again into obscurity. (Among his limited output are such classics as Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line and The New World).
His latest is shrouded in mystery. What we know: It’s mostly set in the 1950s and centers on three young brothers, their nurturing mother (Jessica Chastain) and their demanding father (Brad Pitt). Sean Penn plays one of the boys as an adult. It’s allegedly about the loss of innocence. And there’s a dinosaur scene.
That may not be much to go on, but the mere fact that Malick wrote and directed it puts it at the top of my list.
One Day: I fell in love with David Nicholls’ funny, heartbreaking novel, which follows the off-and-on relationship of two college friends (Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess) over 20 years. Every episode takes place on the same day—July 15—in successive years. Nicholls provides the adaptation; at the helm is Lore Scherfig (Italian for Beginners, An Education). We’re in good hands.
Higher Ground: I’m a sucker for Vera Farmiga. Here the actress not only stars in but also makes her directing debut with this drama about a Christian woman’s struggle with her faith over 30 years. Sounds sublime. Not too shabby either: Her co-stars include indie fave John Hawkes and Broadway stalwart Donna Murphy.
A Better Life: An illegal immigrant gardener (Demian Bichir) tries to stay under the radar while struggling to keep his teenage son (Jose Julian) out of a gang. It has been getting terrific buzz on the fest circuit, and I’m looking forward to seeing what director Chris Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy) can do with a straight drama.
Larry Crowne: Tom Hanks writes (with Nia Vardalos), directs and stars in this comedy about a middle-aged guy who’s fired, goes back to college, falls in with campus oddballs and develops a crush on his bad-tempered public-speaking teacher (Julia Roberts).
Midnight in Paris: Nowadays Woody Allen breaks my heart as often as not, but every third or fourth film we see a spark of the old genius. In his latest, a couple (Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams) move to Paris and encounter all sorts of temptations. The last time the Woodman filmed in Paris was, I believe, for Everyone Says I Love You (‘96) ... and that was a keeper. With Adrien Brody, Marion Cotillard and Michael Sheen.
OK, just to prove that I can appreciate popcorn as well as caviar, here are my favorites from this summer’s tent pole pictures:
Cowboys & Aliens: I’m betting that despite the dumb title it’s going to be a smart movie. Jon Favreau (the Iron Man franchise) directs Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Until I saw the trailer I was a doubter. But, WOW! Apes subjected to intelligence-enhancing experiments escape and end up running the whole show. James Franco headlines. And did you read the headlines earlier this week about the mental health problems of laboratory chimps? Cue the Twilight Zone theme ...
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2: I’m not a big Potter fan, but the final entry in the franchise promises to be nonstop, butt-thumping action as Harry and the good wizards take on Voldemort and his minions for a fight to the finish.
Captain America: The First Avenger: There’s something about the film’s retro look—less sci-fi fantasy than History Channel authentic—that grounds this comic book in its own reality. Cap (Chris Evans) fights Nazis. We like it.