If the clang and clutter of summer superhero movies and action behemoths aren't for you — or even if you just want a break — there are still plenty of options in the months ahead, both at the art house and the far corners of the multiplex.
Which isn't to say that even these movies don't have some of the same features as their louder, bigger cousins. There's the end credits stinger of "Calvary," which instead of teasing a sequel hauntingly shows the locations from the movie without people, or the microbudget action sequence of "Happy Christmas," when a frozen pizza forgotten in the oven sets off smoke alarms and panic.
So even if you're just going to the movies for the air conditioning, don't feel strong-armed into seeing something you won't like. Here are a few choices.
WORDS AND PICTURES
In "Words and Pictures," opening May 23, the art teacher and the English teacher at a New England prep school square off as to which is more evocative in conveying the specifics of human emotion, the written word or the image.
The teachers are played by Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, their kicky chemistry giving the film an added spark, as the story conveys both their characters' mutual attraction as well as the way in which they are both grappling with where their talents, life choices and fate have landed them. (Binoche did her own painting.)
"I certainly wasn't interested in making just another romcom," said director Fred Schepisi, whose restlessly diverse filmography includes "Roxanne" and "Six Degrees of Separation." "The people are real, the dilemmas are real, their struggles are real, the humor is real and the attraction is real. It's about working out where you're at and finding a way to go forward."
So as a film director who uses the script and the camera, does Schepisi himself have an opinion on words versus pictures?
"As we know, both can be very powerful if used in a powerful way," he said, evading the question with a laugh. "That's why we introduce music at a certain point."
Based on an 1846 novella by Dostoevsky, "The Double" is rooted in the existential anxieties of urbanized life, the fear of being unrecognized or even that someone else is leading a better version of your life.
Opening May 9, the film finds Jesse Eisenberg playing opposite himself as both anonymous office worker Simon James and his newly arrived one-upping colleague James Simon. The two compete for the attention and affection of a young woman in the copy department, played by Mia Wasikowska.
English director and co-writer Richard Ayoade previously made the whimsically melancholy teen romance "Submarine," and though his offbeat, deadpan sensibility provides a through-line, "The Double" is something different.
"The script occasionally read as a more traditional comedy," said Eisenberg, "but when we were filming it, I realized there was something much darker or sadder or terrifying about the world that was being created. Traditional comedy tropes didn't necessarily apply."
Was Eisenberg secretly rooting for one character over the other?
"Simon is right because he is ethical and cares about others," he said. "And James is also correct because James lives in this kind of true animal world of competition and efficiency. They're just living in different contexts."
In "Happy Christmas," filmmaker Joe Swanberg enlisted his own young son Jude to play opposite himself and Melanie Lynskey as a family in Chicago. Their quiet routines are turned upside down by the arrival of the husband's trouble-making younger sister, played with bad-girl zeal by Anna Kendrick.
Opening July 25, the film used as its main location Swanberg's own home, complete with basement Tiki bar. Lynskey found herself somewhat mimicking a real-life dynamic with her character Kelly, who could be seen to be some version of her director's wife, Kris Swanberg, herself a filmmaker too. "I had a few long conversations with her, but I didn't want it to be like I was playing her," said Lynskey.
Even while touching on sibling relationships, maturity and the struggle for women to "have it all" — including an extended conversation on that topic among Lynskey, Kendrick and Lena Dunham — it may be young Jude Swanberg who steals the movie.
"I was very relieved that he liked me," Lynskey said of her young costar, who she was surprised to discover was quite the actor. "He'd do something and you'd think, 'Oh, he's a kid and being cute,' and then it became increasingly apparent to me that he is a performer — he was acting for the camera. He knows."
MILLION DOLLAR ARM
In an attempt to find the next untapped resource of potential players and fans for the sport of baseball, agent J.B. Bernstein went to India to turn a cricket bowler into a fastball pitcher. In "Million Dollar Arm" Jon Hamm plays Bernstein, with Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma as his young protégées. Lake Bell, Aasif Mandvi, Alan Arkin and Bill Paxton also star.
"What I loved in the story, and I didn't know how well it would hold up, was that for the longest time, Jon's character is quite unforgiving and just really motivated by material goals," said director Craig Gillespie. "It's very late in the film when he finally turns. And I wasn't sure how long the audience would put up with that."
Written by Tom McCarthy, the film opens May 16, and its unusual cross-cultural mix of sports, drama, romance and self-discovery may make it less of a surprise to realize that among Gillespie's previous films is the oddball Ryan Gosling sex doll romcom "Lars and the Real Girl."
Just don't think of it as only a sports movie.
"It certainly has that classic sports element, the underdog and wanting to be successful, but it belongs so much to the characters. I don't describe it as a sports movie so much."
"Calvary" opens with a disarming extended close-up of Brendan Gleeson. The actor plays an Irish priest hearing confession who is told by an anonymous man that as revenge for abuse suffered as a boy at the hands of a priest, he will kill Gleeson's character in a week, exactly because he is innocent.
Writer-director John Michael McDonagh, who directed Gleeson in "The Guard," had other shots he could have cut to but found Gleeson so mesmerizing that he just used the shot all on its own.
"Brendan goes from being flippant to realizing the suffering this person is going through to then taking on that he has been threatened," said McDonagh. "There's like a three-act structure to just that opening scene."
The film, opening Aug. 11, also features Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly and M. Emmet Walsh and builds to a climactic showdown. Though McDonagh didn't actually decide which character Gleeson would be confronting until he was well into writing the script. Having purposefully populated the town with an odd assortment of characters, McDonagh had quite a selection to choose from.
"It's like an Agatha Christie movie where every now and again somebody will say something sinister," he said. "It was only when I got to about the last week of writing that I made the decision who it was going to be. I knew what the ending would be but not who the person would be."
Set in New York City in the early 1920s, "The Immigrant" follows a young woman, Ewa Cybulski, as she arrives from Poland. Determined to be reunited with her sister, who is quarantined on arrival, Ewa (Marion Cotillard) finds herself torn between two men, backstage hustler Bruno and traveling magician Orlando (Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner, respectively).
Opening May 16, the film is rich in period detail, and the production shot on Ellis Island to re-create the experience of arriving in America. Cotillard also spent two months intensely studying Polish for the role.
Marked by heightened emotions that director and co-writer James Gray ("We Own The Night," "Two Lovers") has likened to opera, the story puts Ewa through hardship after hardship as she struggles and conditionally prevails.
"She needs the energy of hope, and she's trying to find it anywhere," said Cotillard. "She's desperate, she has nowhere to go, and she's stuck. But she has the ability to see light in the darkness."
Though the story is drawn partly from his own family history, Gray points out that the story is not so much autobiographical as it is personal, drawn from ideas and feelings that speak deeply to him.
"We're never above the characters," Gray said. "We're never above anybody, no matter how low or bad they seem to us. And nobody is beyond redemption."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times