Movies just get simpler in the summertime ... or do they? This year, stories about the future are dark, superheroes are troubled, parents don’t understand and romances require work — making for good, strong films, we hope. Still, the summer also has vampires, monsters, cowboys, magicians, thieves and nerds. Here’s what may be the cream of the crop.
The wanderers: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Ahna O’Reilly
At the helm: Ryan Coogler
The lowdown: Oakland-based director Coogler won the Grand Jury Prize and the audience award at Sundance for his story of Oscar, who goes through one meaningful day before a life-changing visit to the Fruitvale BART station. Positive hype gives the movie the potential of being the most significant Bay Area feature in some time.
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The honorable: Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Will Yun Lee, Hiroyuki Sanada
At the helm: James Mangold
The lowdown: The last Wolverine movie was a stinker, but this one has a great deal of promise, coming as it does from the great 1982 comic book miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. In Japan, Wolverine has romantic trouble when his beloved is forced to marry another. He reluctantly teams with a female assassin to try to set things right.
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The backstabbers: Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace
At the helm: Brian De Palma
The lowdown: De Palma returns to the comfortable (or uncomfortable) territory that has made so many of his films classics and guilty pleasures. McAdams plays a conniving boss who steals an idea from her new protege (Rapace), leading to an ever-escalating battle of wills. The movie promises great obsession and voyeurism in De Palma’s high style.
The monsters: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Steve Buscemi
At the helm: Dan Scanlon
The lowdown: Pixar continues making sequels. Will “Monsters University” be inspired like “Toy Story 3,” or awful like “Cars 2”? Director Scanlon’s only experience is in the “Cars” camp, which is a bad sign. On the plus side, it looks funny, has a great comedy cast and advance local buzz has been positive.
The old couple: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
At the helm: Richard Linklater
The lowdown: Hawke and Delpy again return to Jesse and Celine, characters who fell in love in “Before Sunrise” and met again nine years later in “Before Sunset.” Nine more years have passed, and the couple is spending time in Greece, with ever more complex issues on the table. It’s an emotionally rich, one-of-a-kind cinematic, romantic exploration.
The magicians: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Melanie Laurent
At the helm: Louis Leterrier
The lowdown: Magic is in the air this year, after “Oz the Great and Powerful” and “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.” In “Now You See Me,” four magical performers somehow steal money from big banks and give it to their customers — and the banks are not happy.
The kings: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Erin Moriarty
At the helm: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
The lowdown: Three teen boys run away from their overbearing, annoying parents (Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, etc.) and build a house in the woods, where they live for the summer. A veteran of the Web’s “Funny or Die” series, director Vogt-Roberts has made a movie that is a bit like “Stand by Me,” but funnier, more irreverent and with more girl troubles.
The lovers: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Jillian Morgese, Clark Gregg, Nathan Fillion
At the helm: Joss Whedon
The lowdown: Whedon’s low-budget, modern-dress version of Shakespeare’s comedy is shot in black-and-white, and features a stock company from his cult-favorite TV shows. He displays incredible skill in staging the Bard’s work, rendering it clear and entertaining with a delicious bite.
The vacationers: Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer, Felicity Price, Antony Starr
At the helm: Kieran Darcy-Smith
The lowdown: Darcy-Smith, an actor from the Australian film collective that made the terrific “Animal Kingdom,” makes his directorial debut with a complex, non-linear story about a man who goes missing during an exotic vacation, and the mysterious reactions of his survivors.
The survivors: Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Jay Baruchel
At the helm: Rogen, Evan Goldberg
The lowdown: These comedy kings often work together, but this movie — in which the actors play fictional versions of themselves — promises to be the “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” of their careers. The story is about the apocalypse, which happens to occur during a party at Franco’s house. Writer Goldberg and actor Rogen make their co-directing debut.
The robbers: Emma Watson, Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Claire Julien
At the helm: Sofia Coppola
The lowdown: Oscar winner Coppola (“Lost in Translation”) returns with her fifth feature film, which is based on a true story about a band of Beverly Hills teenagers who break into celebrity homes to steal stuff. Coppola’s affinity for the general sadness and emptiness of the world seems a perfect fit. But will it be funny without Bill Murray?
The bloodsuckers: Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Jonny Lee Miller, Sam Riley
At the helm: Neil Jordan
The lowdown: Jordan made movies about beautiful vampires (“Interview with the Vampire”) long before “Twilight.” Back with a story of mother and daughter vamps (Arterton, Ronan), his palpable sense of atmosphere should go a long way in emphasizing the anguish and dread of the supernatural sucker story.
The cowboys: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Helena Bonham Carter, William Fichtner
At the helm: Gore Verbinski
The lowdown: Based on a radio show, comic books, cartoons, TV shows and other movies, the legendary Western hero is due for an update. Verbinski directed a terrific Western, the animated “Rango,” so there’s hope for this one. Curiously, Depp is playing Tonto. On the plus side, he’s happy when he gets to wear lots of accessories.
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The giant robots: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day
At the helm: Guillermo del Toro
The lowdown: In other hands, “Pacific Rim” could be another “Battleship,” but del Toro, among most visionary of the current batch of pop directors, brings visual wonders and personal themes to his summer adventures. In any case, it can’t be too hard to pull off a cool movie about giant robots battling sea monsters.
The ghost hunters: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor
At the helm: James Wan
The lowdown: Will the latest from horror maven Wan (“Saw”) be another based-on-a-true-story haunted house-possession movie, or something more? The terrific Farmiga, playing half of a ghost-hunting couple, promises high class, as does Taylor as one of the victims. Wilson returns from Wan’s last outing, the excellent “Insidious” — another good sign.
The nerds: Patrick Riester, Wiley Wiggins, Myles Paige, Robin Schwartz
At the helm: Andrew Bujalski
The lowdown: Deadpan indie darling Bujalski (“Funny Ha Ha,” “Mutual Appreciation,” “Beeswax”) shot his fourth feature on ancient black-and-white video cameras to capture a bizarre, funny snapshot of a 1980s-era chess tournament. The focus, intriguingly, is on nerdy software programmers teaching computers to play. Wiggins (“Waking Life”) co-stars.
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The blue brothers: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Sally Hawkins
At the helm: Woody Allen
The lowdown: Plot details are sketchy, but everyone knows Allen shot his latest movie in the Bay Area last year. Advance stills indicate it may be one of his “serious” works, despite the presence of comedians as disparate as Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay, and funny people like Baldwin (his third film with Woody) and Hawkins (her second).
The pub crawlers: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan
At the helm: Edgar Wright
The lowdown: English director Wright, screenwriter-actor Pegg and actor Frost re-team for the third part of their so-called “Blood and Ice Cream trilogy,” which began with “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” In this one, five drinking pals assemble to re-create a memorable pub crawl from 20 years earlier, and discover that they may be the key to the survival of humankind.
Not yet rated
The martial artists: Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen
At the helm: Wong Kar-wai
The lowdown: The highly acclaimed director of “In the Mood for Love” returns with this martial arts biopic. Though the story of Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man has been done before, this time it’s in Wong’s classy style, with the great Leung (“Hard-Boiled,” “Hero”) in the lead role — as well as the luminous Zhang at his side.
Not yet rated