The Non-Idiot’s Guide to Summer Movies

observatory 1 The Non Idiot’s Guide to Summer MoviesThe summer movie! What could be as instantly gratifying as ascending from the scorching asphalt and sweaty-limbed bramble of the subways to tuck into the cool, dark chill of a movie theater— if only to help pay for some distant Hollywood producer’s his-and-hers (or his-and-his) Mercedes-Benz CL 600’s? Since that fateful June day in 1975 when a giant white shark gobbled up both the box office and the imagination of every studio marketing person west of Burbank, the summer movie has become an occasion for gleeful palm-rubbing among studio execs. It’s the designated time to roll out C.G.I. sequels and de-mothball old action heroes and gamble on at least one sex-comedy breakout—Wedding Crashers, The 40 Year Old Virgin, etc. Meanwhile, the obligatory serious ochre-and-red movies—boarding-school dramas and domestic excavations—stay in the cashmere drawer til Labor Day. “Summer blockbuster” has become a synonym for Moron’s Delight. Which leaves the snobs whining about the State of the Cinema.

And we say: Don’t whine! This summer looks like the smartest commercial season since 1969! Judd Apatow, Michael Moore, the new Harry Potter, plus the Soderbergh express—toot! toot!–and that’s just the studio stuff. Then there’s what used to be called the Art—indie film, or something that came with a passport. Like most things in life, it’s all about choices and picking through the fresh haul of summer movies lowered into Manhattan each summer like the catch of the day at the old Fulton fish market. Forget Spider-Man 3, Shrek 3, and Pirates 3: These threequels are just what they sound like: throat-clearing.

We waded through the offerings this season to give you the best of what’s coming. Some we saw and liked, others just looked … fascinatin’! And there were a couple, we won’t lie, where the actors are just too darned beautiful to miss. Maybe they’ll wear tiny swimsuits, take illicit drugs on-screen and talk about existential topics. It all says summer to us.

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This Friday brings the release of Knocked Up, a film that shows just how successful a movie can be when high and low culture, raunchy comedy and whimsical sweetness are all tossed together in perfect proportion. Writer/director Judd Apatow—long a cult favorite thanks to his work on Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared —manages to pull off the same trick that he did two summers ago with The 40 Year Old Virgin (which pulled in $177 million dollars at the box office and made the top critics’ lists—an almost impossible feat considering the church-and-state-like separation of art and commerce in Hollywood) in making a movie that manages to appeal to men (vagina jokes) and women (an undertone of honest-to-goodness romance). Like Virgin, Knocked Up is based on an almost fantastical premise: for starters, that the dewy, lush beauty that is Katherine Heigl would ever get naked with a chubby, pot-smokin’, basically unemployed funny guy like Seth Rogen, let alone decide to go through with an unplanned pregnancy after a one-night stand. And yet, and yet! The movie is irreverent and pee-in-pants-worthy, with some sobering truths about marriage and commitment thrown in (“Marriage is like an unfunny version of Everybody Loves Raymond,” says one character. “But it doesn’t last 22 minutes. It lasts forever.”)

While Ocean’s Thirteen (6/8) may not contain any life-affirming tenderness per se, it does manage to pack an unbeatable appeal for both genders. I mean, is there a man, woman or child (or even inanimate object) unaffected by the chemistry between George Clooney and Brad Pitt? The sparks that fly between these most hetero of debonair fellas rival those of (another summer hit) Mr. & Mrs. Smith—and when it comes to plot, well, who the heck cares? True, the 2004 sequel Ocean’s Twelve fell short of Eleven: “It wasn’t as good, and that was our fault,” George Clooney told Entertainment Weekly. “So when we started working on this one, we thought, ‘The secret is to get it back to just the guys doing what they do.’ Steven said we should call it Ocean’s: The One We Should Have Made Last Time.” Sold! With a cast that includes Al (“Hoo-ha!”) Pacino and sexy one-sided-smiler Ellen Barkin, not to mention an out-to-prove-something director and collection of actors, we’re feeling optimistic that the initial magic of the Ocean’s franchise will be in full force with this one.

Other promising movies out on the horizon include the long-awaited full-length feature of The Simpsons (7/27)—come on, it just has to be good!—which will no doubt satisfy those of us who enjoy fart jokes as much as Evelyn Waugh references. The Ten, vignettes inspired by the Ten Commandments, from the fertile comedic minds of the guys who gave us Wet Hot American Summer (indeed), Stella and The State. (Plus, it has Paul Rudd in it—and, seriously, who doesn’t love Paul Rudd? He’s managed to show up in just about every comedy-mafia offering and then some). Broken English (6/22)—starring Parker Posey and Josh Hamilton (who should be every bit as famous as his buddy Ethan Hawke)—may sound like a chick-lit premise: single girl in her 30’s meets quirky Frenchman and life changes, etc. But there’s a Cassavetes at the wheel (Zoe, daughter of Gena Rowlands and John), so we’re holding out hope.