Film Feature: The 10 Most Anticipated Films of Summer 2012

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CHICAGO – Could this summer movie season possibly top the last one creatively? Going into Summer 2011, most people were nervous… and with good reason, as there appeared to be far more potential creative and commercial disasters than normal.

And then movie after movie surprised us all, from major hits to minor joys. Will Summer 2012 provide the same rollercoaster of thrills?

Summer 2011 will go down as one of the most purely entertaining in film history. Sure, kids movies fell COMPLETELY flat (the less said about “Cars 2,” “The Smurfs,” and “Zookeeper” the better) and there was some big-budget junk, but there were a surprising number of blockbusters that reminded us why we fell in love with the Summer tentpole movie in the first place, films like “Super 8,” “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” and “X-Men: First Class.” And those big-budget hits were mixed in with a nice selection of critical darlings and future Best Picture nominees like “The Tree of Life” and “Midnight in Paris.” It was a great season.

Will Summer 2012 match it? Maybe. The fact is, like last year, there are a lot of question marks. For every potential franchise-starter or hit sequel, there’s something that looks like a creatively bankrupt cash grab. And then there are the movies that are virtually impossible to predict. Will “Total Recall” be fun or trash? Will the talking teddy bear in “Ted” wear out his welcome before the hour mark? How will the animated films compare? They have to be better than last year, right? And what of the trio of big-ticket superhero movies? If you thought last year’s caped quartet was a big deal, this is EASILY the biggest summer yet when it comes to films based on comic books. The three tentpoles will almost certainly be the top three films of the season at the box office, but will they deliver creatively? I’m optimistic. They’re all in my top ten. Read on and find out where they rank and see the rest of the diverse array of characters that join Spidey, Batman, and Iron Man on our top picks for the season.

Runner-Ups: “360,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “The Campaign.” “ParaNorman,” “Rock of Ages,” “Ruby Sparks,” “Savages,” “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” “Ted,” and “To Rome with Love”

10. “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Photo credit: Fox

Release Date: June 22nd
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Alan Tudyk, Dominic Cooper, Rufus Sewell, and Anthony Mackie
Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith and Simon Kinberg
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov

Plot: Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, discovers that vampires are planning to take over the United States. He makes it his mission to eliminate them with his stove-pipe hat and rail-splitting axe.

Why It Should Rule: The director of one of the most ridiculous action movies of the last decade (“Wanted”) taking on the super-ridiculous concept of Civil War-era vampires. It has the potential to be a high-budget B-movie of the highest caliber and to give the summer a jolt of goofy fun that doesn’t come with secret identities and sidekicks. I had “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” in this spot last year under the suspicion it could be the best B-movie of the season. Hope I’m right again this year.

Why It Might Suck: Oh, the potential for suck (no pun intended) is deadly. This could just as easily be “Jonah Hex.” And then I’ll deny I ever looked forward to it. Watch me.

9. “Moonrise Kingdom”

Moonrise Kingdom
Moonrise Kingdom
Photo credit: Focus

Release Date: May 25th
Starring: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Frances McDormand, and Jason Schwartzman
Written by: Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola
Directed by: Wes Anderson

Plot: A pair of adolescent lovers flee their New England town, which causes an eccentric local search party to fan out and find them.

Why It Should Rule: Because the preview is spectacular. It looks like Anderson could be bringing the wit and whimsy that he seemed to relocate with “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” and doing so with a spectacular cast. The movie looks charming, cute, gorgeous, and fun. In fact, it would probably top this list if…

Why It Might Suck: …I hadn’t been burned a few too many times to still love Wes. Don’t get me wrong — “Rushmore” is one of my favorite movies of all time and “The Royal Tenenbaums” is fantastic. But you can keep “The Life Aquatic” and “The Darjeeling Limited.” Will “Moonrise Kingdom” be a return to form or more of the pretentious same?

8. “Safety Not Guaranteed”

Safety Not Guaranteed
Safety Not Guaranteed
Photo credit: Film District

Release Date: June 8th
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake M. Johnson, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and Jeff Garlin
Written by: Derek Connolly
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow

Plot: Three magazine employees head out on an assignment to interview a guy who placed a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel.

Why It Should Rule: Once again, a strong preview helps sell this very clever concept that has the potential to elevate some of my favorite indie comedy and TV actors to a new level of fame — fans of “Parks and Recreation,” “The League,” and “New Girl” probably already love Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, and Jake M. Johnson, but the preview makes it looks like they’re finally being given the right film platform. This could be the “Terri” or “Cyrus” of the summer season — a quirky indie comedy that really connects.

Why It Might Suck: Or it could just be one of many that probably won’t. Duplass has long seemed to be a more interesting writer than actor and can Plaza carry a movie? We’ll see.

7. “The Amazing Spider-Man”

The Amazing Spider-Man
The Amazing Spider-Man
Photo credit: Sony

Release Date: July 3rd
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Martin Sheen, Rhys Ifans, Embeth Davidtz, C. Thomas Howell, Sally Field, Denis Leary, and Campbell Scott
Written by: Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves
Directed by: Marc Webb

Plot: Peter Parker finds a clue that might help him understand why his parents disappeared when he was young. His path puts him on a collision course with Dr. Curt Connors, his father’s former partner, and a certain radioactive spider.

Why It Should Rule: A great cast, a great writer (Kloves did most of the “Harry Potter” adaptations), and an interesting director. I think the footage we’ve seen so far, especially the P.O.V. web swing, has been stronger than expected and, while there’s clearly reason to be nervous, I think we’re learning that directors are important to superhero movies — Sam Raimi, Christopher Nolan, Matthew Vaughn. Marc Webb is talented enough to join that list of comic auteurs.

Why It Might Suck: It’s too soon. It’s going to be impossible not to directly compare to what Raimi and Maguire did and, while it will probably be easy to critically surpass “Spider-Man 3,” what happens when it fails in comparison to “Spider-Man 2”? Will we let that slide?

6. “Take This Waltz”

Take This Waltz
Take This Waltz
Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

Release Date: June 29
Starring: Seth Rogen, Michelle Williams, Sarah Silverman, and Luke Kirby
Written and directed by: Sarah Polley

Plot: A happily married woman falls for the artist who lives across the street.

Why It Should Rule: Everyone who has seen it has told me it does. Yes, I’m using insider information. Polley’s follow-up to “Away From Her” has been screening at festivals for some time and, every single time it does, Twitter explodes with positive tweets. I get more and more curious about what an actor’s director like Polley could bring out of Rogen and Williams, a fantastically interesting pair.

Why It Might Suck: I could program a film festival of movies that play well AT film festivals. Seriously, every year, there are a few movies that build buzz on the circuit and fall flat when exposed to the air-conditioning of the multiplex. This could be just another one.

Move on to page two for the top five…

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