We start the Top 7. You finish the Top 10.
Spring gets a raw deal. This year it lasts from March 20 through June 20, yet we’ll be hearing about the summer movie season throughout May thanks to big films such as Iron Man 3, The Great Gatsby, Star Trek Into Darkness, Fast and Furious 6 and The Hangover Part III. (Spoiler alert: a couple of these are on the list!)
I will admit I was darn near heartbroken that Spring Breakers fell just outside the cutoff. If it hadn’t exploded into three theaters on wintry March 15, the trailer ensured I’d have hustled to get this list out last week (something I wasn't compelled to do for Admission, The Croods, or Olympus Has Fallen). Thanks to the wide expansion, however, I was able to see – nay, experience – it on Friday. Harmony Korine transported me to this neon, Natty Ice-fueled American dream hellscape, and it blew me away. It doesn't qualify for this list, but it’ll have been a damn good year if it doesn’t rank among my best of 2013. The girls – Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine – are all great portraying the emptiness that courses throughout the entire film, and James Franco has never been better than as Alien, the scumbag with a surprisingly soft, vulnerable center. Plus, there’s a sequence set to Britney Spears’ “Everytime” that may be the pinnacle of cinema. I’m being hyperbolic, but it truly took my breath away. Alien has Scarface on repeat. I want this film on repeat. Constant, y’all. “Spring Break forever”? No. Spring Breakers forever.
But enough about that (he says while listening to the haunting and propulsive Cliff Martinez/Skrillex soundtrack on a loop). This is about the upcoming films I hope wow me just as much. Here are the TOP 7 films I can't wait to see during spring 2013.
7. Iron Man 3 (May 3)
Recap: Adapting Warren Ellis' "Extremis" arc with Drew Pearce, Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) joins the Marvel team to direct Tony Stark/Iron Man taking on a terrorist known as the Mandarin. Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Don Cheadle are joined by newcomers Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, and James Badge Dale. Reason: This slot almost went to Fede Alvarez’s updated Evil Dead. I’ve been a big fan of the marketing for that one, but the time spent building the Marvel Cinematic Universe gives Iron Man 3 the slight edge. A couple great trailers – and a knockout Super Bowl spot – cements it in favor of ol’ Shellhead. After not being a huge fan of Iron Man 2 – and, if I’m being honest, not falling in love with Iron Man either – I’m still massively excited and optimistic about this third film. Shane Black directing has a lot to do with that. So does the presence of Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin. I’m almost certain he’ll top Obadiah Stane and Ivan Vanko, something that should help put this over the top. With Thor: The Dark World looking promising for later in the year, this film should be a great start to Marvel Phase Two, and one of the better movie-going experiences of the spring.
6. Pain & Gain (April 26)
Recap: Things do not go as planned when three bodybuilders decide to kidnap and extort a wealthy gym-goer. Michael Bay directs the film based on Pete Collins' series of articles published in the Miami New Times. Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shaloub, Rebel Wilson, and Ed Harris star. Reason: No, this isn’t a sign that the Decepticons are coming. I’m just genuinely excited about a new Michael Bay movie for the first time in ages. Pain & Gain looks smaller and more outlandish than Bay’s trifecta of toy movies, and that’s appealing considering the effects onslaught that is the Transformers series has grown so tiresome. Also tiresome are the vapid “characters” running around while robots smash into each other for hours. The characters in this look much better, and Bay cast them with seemingly perfect actors. Mark Wahlberg, who will be joining Bay in Transformers 4, looks great playing the dumb meathead ringleader. Dwayne Johnson steals the trailer, though. The completely serious way he encourages Wahlberg to get a pump is terrific, and his contention that kidnapping a guy and stealing his things is “so illegal” cracks me up. Tony Shaloub fills the smarmy rich guy role well, and Anthony Mackie is always a pleasure. I’ve watched the trailer a number of times now. It always works for me. Can’t wait to see the whole thing.
5. Fast & Furious 6 (May 24)
Recap: Sweat-drenched Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs offers America's favorite street racing criminal crew full pardons in exchange for their help in bringing down a different batch of lawbreakers. Also, a car flies out of the flaming nose of an airplane! Justin Lin returns to direct his third Fast & Furious film. The gang's all here with Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Su Kang, Chris Bridges, and Michelle Rodriguez returning. They are joined by newcomers Luke Evans, Gina Carano, and Rita Ora. Reason: I repeat: A car flies out of the flaming nose of an airplane. I don't know why I'd need any other reason than that. Seriously, this just looks like a complete blast. Justin Lin is something of a Fast & Furious whisperer. I recall going to the theater to see The Fast and the Furious with a group of friends, but it wasn't until Lin’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift that I actually started thinking these things were good. Fast Five was a completely bonkers bit of fun, and the Super Bowl Spot for this film makes it look like things are not letting up. I don’t always think of myself as someone who is especially into real macho entertainment, but this is the second example on the list. The constant? Dwayne Johnson, the most perfect addition to this franchise imaginable. I probably wouldn’t be quite as excited if he wasn’t involved. And one more time for good measure: A car flies out of the flaming nose of an airplane!
4. Upstream Color (April 5)
Recap: I neither need nor want to know anything about this film to know I can't wait to see it. Take a peek at the IMDb page if you want to know more than the fact it's from Shane Carruth (Primer), and stars Carruth, Amy Seimetz, Andrew Sensenig, and Thiago Martins. Reason: After Primer’s grounded time travel blew my mind – and continues to do so every time I watch it – it doesn’t matter what this film is about. As long as Shane Carruth has a new film, I’ll see it the first chance I get. Upstream Color sort of came out of nowhere for me, so when I first heard of it (when it was announced that it would be playing at Sundance), it immediately became a must-see. I’ve almost completely avoided all reactions – I know there’s something about pigs, but that’s pretty much it – and I can’t wait to experience it fresh, just like I did with Primer. Hopefully Carruth doesn’t take nine years to put out his third feature. But if he does, so be it. If Upstream Color is anywhere close to his first film, he can take as long as he wants. We’re better off with Carruth making movies, no matter how long he takes to do it.
3. Man of Steel (June 14)
Recap: Starting from scratch after Bryan Singer's Superman Returns didn't live up to expectations, Zack Snyder directs a story by Christopher Nolan and David Goyer that pits Superman against his fellow Kryptonian, General Zod. Henry Cavill takes on the role of Superman/Clark Kent, and is joined by Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, and Russell Crowe. Reason: Superman beats Iron Man! I’m actually a pretty big fan of Superman Returns, so if this was its sequel it would likely be just as high on any hypothetical list. Still, what could have felt completely unnecessary has become one of my most anticipated films of the first half of 2013. The outstanding cast played a big role in my initial interest, but the great trailers have helped bump it up. The pair of teasers featuring moving voiceovers by Kevin Costner’s Pa Kent and Russell Crowe’s Jor-El got things off to a good start, and the full one was darn near perfect. I’ve said before that I wouldn't mind moving away from the Nolan-esque super serious, gritty superhero movies, but it’s hard to argue when one looks this good. Whether it’ll get things rolling on DC and Warner Bros.’ Justice League film remains to be seen. Truthfully, I don’t much care about that right now. I’m just looking forward to celebrating Flag Day by seeing Superman on the big screen again.
2. The Place Beyond the Pines (March 29)
Recap: As with Upstream Color, this is a film I want to go in knowing as little as possible. A Derek Cianfrance crime drama starring Ryan Gosling as a motorcycle racer and Bradley Cooper as a cop is more than enough premise for me (here's the IMDb page for more). How it all relates is something I want to learn while watching. Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Rose Byrne, Dane DeHaan, Ben Mendelsohn, and Bruce Greenwood co-star. Reason: Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine is one of my three or four favorite films of 2010, so I've been eagerly awaiting his follow-up. Blue Valentine was another film I didn’t know much about. Sure, I knew it followed Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a couple, but I hadn't actually seen much from it (I remember seeing The King's Speech in the theater and shielding my eyes when this trailer came on, simply being treated to the sound of Gosling doing "You Always Hurt the One You Love"). The drama in Cianfrance's Oscar-nominated film is often devastating, and I can't wait to see how he carries that over to this crime story. Gosling, one of my favorites, has never been better than in Blue Valentine, and Bradley Cooper is coming off his finest performance in Silver Linings Playbook. Cianfrance should bring out the best in both of them. Like I said, I have no idea how it will play out. All I know is that I hope the film doesn’t stay in limited release for long.
1. Before Midnight (May 24)
Recap: Knowing that Jesse and Celine are meeting again, this time in Greece, is truly all I need to know. Director Richard Linklater reunites with stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, and the trio share credit on the screenplay. Reason: This isn't the first time one of Richard Linklater's Before films has been number one on a list of mine. Back in 2011, Before Sunset nabbed the top slot on my list of favorite real time movies. Before Midnight might be an even clearer number one. Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are nearly flawless, full of beautiful, charming, and true moments. I fully expect our third visit with one of the best romantic pairs (fourth if you count Waking Life) will be just as great. In 1995's Before Sunrise, Julie Delpy's Celine says, "As couples get older they lose their ability to hear each other." There are a few potentially relevant lines like that, and I'm interested to see if this film explores them. Nearly 20 years after they spent the night walking around Vienna, simply getting to spend a little more time with Jesse and Celine will be a pleasure. If it comes close to its predecessors, these three films will make a strong case for being my favorite trilogy. It’s my most anticipated film of the spring, yes. It’s also right up there with the likes of Foxcatcher, Twelve Years a Slave, and Pacific Rim (I trust Guillermo del Toro to add heart to the spectacle) as my most anticipated for the rest of year.