July 4: Life Itself
What it is: A documentary tracing the life and career of beloved Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert, from his childhood in small-town Illinois, to the height of his fame sparring with Gene Siskel on a wildly popular syndicated program — and finally, to the hospital room where he spent the end of his life.
Why you should care: Life Itself will play best for those who are already fans of Ebert's work, but it's hard to imagine anyone who wouldn't be moved by some part of this sprightly, enjoyable documentary about a singular American life. With unusually intimate access to his subject and the many people who knew and loved him, director Steve James (of Hoop Dreams fame) delivers a rousing tribute to one of the most powerful and humane voices in criticism, while sketching a portrait that reveals that Ebert's work was only one part of his very full life.
What else is coming out: Tammy, a road-trip comedy about a troubled woman that puts writer-star Melissa McCarthy front and center; Deliver Us From Evil, this summer's requisite "based on a true story" horror flick; Earth to Echo, an E.T.-esque family movie about a bunch of kids who discover a friendly alien.
July 11: Boyhood
What it is: A drama chronicling a boy's life from age 6 to 18.
Why you should care: Boyhood's premise might sound banal on paper, but there's nothing conventional about this movie. For the past 12 years, director Richard Linklater has shot Boyhood in incremental pieces, which has enabled him to capture the growth of star Ellar Coltrane in real time. As a cinematic experiment, Boyhood is already a milestone, but all early reports indicate that it's also a brilliant film in its own right. And given the strength of Linklater's other major collaboration with costar Ethan Hawke, this is clearly a film to watch out for.
What else is coming out: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the impressive-looking sequel to 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes; A Long Way Down, an ensemble dramedy, based on Nick Hornby's novel of the same name, about a group of suicidal people who bond after meeting on the same rooftop.
July 18: Sex Tape
What it is: A bored married couple (Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel) attempts to heat up their relationship by filming a sex tape — and panic when they realize they've accidentally sent it to everyone they know.
Why you should care: Just as every summer has its breakout horror movie, every summer has its breakout raunchy comedy — and Sex Tape is nicely positioned to take this year's crown. The premise does a nice job skirting the line between sexy and goofy, and Diaz and Segel demonstrated a relaxed, easy chemistry in 2011's Bad Teacher (which was also directed by Sex Tape's Jake Kasdan). Bad Teacher's script was overstuffed and underdeveloped, but by putting the duo front and center, Sex Tape offers a second chance with some real promise.
What else is coming out: The Purge: Anarchy, a rush-job sequel to last year's surprise hit The Purge, set in a world in which all crime is legal for 12 hours; Wish I Was Here, a Kickstarter-funded drama by Zach Braff that looks annoyingly similar to his 2004 indie hit Garden State; Planes: Fire & Rescue, a sequel to a spin-off of the Cars franchise, with all the intelligence and originality that description implies.
July 25: Magic in the Moonlight
What it is: In 1920s France, a successful stage magician (Colin Firth) is hired to debunk a woman who claims to have actual psychic powers (Emma Stone) — but finds himself drawn to her instead.
Why you should care: Woody Allen's latest looks like a trifle compared to last year's Blue Jasmine, which netted star Cate Blanchett a Best Actress trophy at the Oscars. But when a trifle looks this sweet, it's kind of hard to complain about it. Returning to the time and setting that Allen so joyously played with in 2011's Best Picture–nominated Midnight in Paris, Magic in the Moonlight looks like a genuine charmer. It doesn't hurt that these are two of the most inherently likable leads to appear in a Woody Allen film in recent memory.
What else is coming out: Hercules, 2014's second (and hopefully more impressive) attempt to revive the Greek myth as a Hollywood blockbuster, with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in the title role; Lucy, a ludicrous sci-fi/action thriller about a woman who gains psychic powers after unlocking the other 90 percent of her brain.
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