19 original movies to see in summer 2019

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I wrote a version of this article last year, and it aged pretty well: three of my four favorite movies for the entire year (First Reformed, Sorry to Bother You, and Eighth Grade) were all on the list. Yes, I made some mistakes (hello, The Happytime Murders). But if you’re looking to escape the non-stop barrage of superhero flicks, this list might not be a bad place to start.

I’m starting “summer” earlier this year, because frankly May is packed and there weren’t a ton of great options in June-August. Original movies are dwindling, but there are yet again some really promising ones to look forward to.

For the purposes of this list, an “original movie” is completely original: no sequels, reboots, reimaginings, or franchise spinoffs. No biopics, either; as much as I’m looking forward to Rocketman, I’m only counting original stories.

I’m also making another change since last year: rather than put them in order of release date, I’m putting them in order of how much I am looking forward to seeing these movies, from least to most. Why? I don’t know, it’s more interesting that way. Anyway, here’s the list.

19. Ma (May 31)

Ma looks like it’s somewhere in between total camp and an anti-drinking PSA, and it’s the sort of schlocky horror fare I’d normally skip over. But Octavia Spencer looks like she’s having a hell of a lot of fun in the trailer for this film about a sinister woman who lets some local teenagers party in her basement, and it might be the first movie that she is clearly, undeniably the sole lead. It could be bad, but I’m hoping Ma ends up being good-bad.

18. Funny Story (May 24)

This one was not on my radar at all until I started to put this list together, and even looking at the description and cast didn’t really pique my interest. But the trailer for this family drama-comedy is really promising. Funny Story stars Matthew Glave as a wayward father who sleeps with his daughter’s best friend, a plot line that has the potential for melodrama or lewdness but instead appears heartfelt and honest.

17. Stuber (July 12)

Honestly, the trailer for this comedy about an Uber driver caught up in a rogue police officer’s mission makes it look pretty bad. Like, it made me actively not want to see this movie. But I’m still including it, if only for the considerable talent involved. Kumail Nanjiani is always great, Dave Bautista is very funny in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, and I always felt like Natalie Morales was criminally underused on Parks and Recreation. Let’s hope the trailer is selling this one short.

16. Anna (June 21)

The concept for Anna is entirely original, but it’s not really new: the action film looks like it shares much of the DNA of two of director Luc Besson’s other films, Lucy and Léon: The Professional. Anna stars Sasha Luss as a lethal assassin, and there’s not much of an apparent plot beyond that. But the extended fight scene in the trailer looks well-choreographed and intense, and Cillian Murphy is also along for the ride. There’s no Mission: Impossible installment this summer, so hopefully Anna can help fill the action movie void.

15. The Souvenir (May 17)

The Souvenir, from writer-director Joanna Hogg, was an early breakout at Sundance this January and will finally reach a wider audience this month. This 80s-set romance about a young film student has received near-universal praise from critics, and the trailer looks gorgeous. Let’s hope this one’s not just a critical darling.

14. Brittany Runs a Marathon (August 23)

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Brittany Runs a Marathon is almost the opposite of The Souvenir: while the latter has been a champion of critics and cinephiles, Brittany was the crowd-pleasing favorite at Sundance. The two categories, though, are not mutually exclusive. This comedy about — well, I’m not yet clear what it’s actually about — stars Jillian Bell, who damn near stole 22 Jump Street herself. We don’t have a trailer for Brittany yet, but that casting is enough for me.

13. The Nightingale (August 2)

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This thriller centers on an Irish convict chasing a British officer in Tasmania as she seeks revenge for violent crimes committed against her family. It stars zero actors I’ve ever heard of. What’s the pull for this oddly specific adventure film with no stars? Writer-director Jennifer Kent, who broke out as a unique voice in 2014 with The Babadook. I don’t yet know what The Nightingale will look like, but I know it will be a singular vision.

12. Wild Rose (June 14)

Jessie Buckley stars in Wild Rose as a singer from Scotland looking to make it big as a country music star in Nashville. I’m a sucker for a music movie, and the snippets of music in the trailer have me hooked already. There’s a Star Is Born-sized hole in my life, and I’m hoping Wild Rose can fill it.

11. The Professor (May 17)

It’s been a rough stretch for Johnny Depp, who probably hasn’t made a really good movie in at least a decade. I’ve never been a huge Depp fan; even in his “best” performances, he’s a little too over-the-top for me. But the trailer for The Professor suggests a more subdued performance about a college professor living on the edge after a terminal diagnosis. The real reason to check out The Professor, though, is the second-billing for Zoey Deutch, who I will be hyping every time she makes a movie (get ready for Zomebieland: Double Tap!!). Rosemarie DeWitt and Ron Livingston also star.

10. Wine Country (May 10)

It’s a rarity to see Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, and Tina Fey on screen all at the same time, so we have to enjoy it when we can. This Poehler-directed comedy about a group of friends reuniting for one friend’s 50th birthday is out on Netflix this weekend. Early reviews are mixed, but I know I’m going to be watching Wine Country anyway.

9. Late Night (June 7)

Another breakout of the festival circuit, Late Night is the rare tentpole comedy written and directed by women of color. Mindy Kaling provides the script and stars as a young television writer brought into the writers room for a fledgling late night host played by Emma Thompson. The trailer suggests pretty standard fare, but Kaling is such a dynamic talent that I’m looking forward to seeing what she can do with this story.

8. The Art of Self-Defense (July 12)

This comedy stars Jesse Eisenberg as a man who seeks training at a local dojo after he’s attacked on the street. The trailer is a must-watch, because it conveys a dark tone that I can’t quite accurately describe here and suggests some sort of Wes Anderson-ication of Taxi Driver lonerism. Eisenberg isn’t starring in a ton of movies these days, and I miss his unique presence. The incredible Imogen Poots also stars.

7. Yesterday (June 28)

Now we’re getting into the movies I’m most looking forward to. Kicking off this tier is Yesterday, a comedy from director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting) and writer Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral). Himesh Patel stars as a man who becomes the only person in the world you can remember the songs of The Beatles. This will likely be a Beatles sing-along, and I have no problem with that. Ana de Armas, Lily James, and Kate McKinnon round out the rest of the impressive cast; James Corden and Ed Sheeran comprise the not-so-impressive portion of the cast.

6. Midsommar (July 3)

Ari Aster broke out last year with his visually striking horror film Hereditary, and he’s already back with a bigger-budget horror flick for the 4th of July weekend. The trailer for Midsommar, about some disturbing events at a summer festival that occurs just once every 90 years, is truly breathtaking. It’s bright and pastel, but something sinister clearly lurks beneath. Note to critics: please refrain from Fyre Festival comparisons and let this thing live on its own. Florence Pugh, Will Poulter, Jack Reynor, and William Jackson Harper all star.

5. The Farewell (July 12)

This comedy about a Chinese family who try to organize a wedding before their grandmother dies received an immediate outpouring of adulation after its debut at Sundance. David Ehrlich of IndieWire called The Farewell, which stars Awkwafina in the lead role, a nearly perfect movie. I try not to get too swept up in the hype from festivals, where people in cinema love to celebrate other people in cinema, but this one looks genuinely promising.

4. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (July 26)

I couldn’t find any way to leave Quentin Tarantino’s latest out of my top five, even though my actual enthusiasm for this movie might not match its placement on this list. In my mind, Tarantino’s films have gotten progressively worse: Reservoir Dogs is his best, followed by Pulp Fiction, and he hasn’t made anything I’ve liked since 2009’s Inglourious Basterds. The trailer for Hollywood doesn’t move me particularly either way. Still, it’s a Tarantino movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. There’s obviously potential for a return to form.

3. The Dead Don’t Die (June 14)

The Dead Don’t Die, I believe, was custom-made just for me. It comes from writer-director Jim Jarmusch, the mind behind 2016’s incredible Paterson. It stars Adam Driver, currently making his bid for greatest living actor, and Bill Murray, one of my favorite actors of all time. Oh, and Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Selena Gomez, Caleb Landry Jones, Carol Kane, Tom Waits, Danny Glover, Rosie Perez, RZA, Iggy Pop, and Sturgill Simpson also star. Oh, and it’s about zombies. There are two characters whose names in the credits are “Coffee Zombie,” which I highly identify with. I didn’t think 2019 would bring me a zombie-comedy I would be more excited about than the Zombieland sequel, but here we are.

2. The Last Black Man in San Francisco (June 7)

I’ve talked about a number of films that garnered early festival praise, and The Last Black Man in San Francisco falls into that camp as well. But the praise for this film struck a higher chord. It’s the feature directorial debut from Joe Talbot, and centers on a man trying to find a home in a rapidly gentrifying San Francisco. The trailer has an ethereal quality, and it looks like the more delicately cinematic counter to last year’s San Francisco-set films about racial dynamics in a changing America, Blindspotting (bad) and Sorry to Bother You (good). Also: Danny Glover appearances in my #3 and #2 anticipated movies of the summer! Quite a year for him, and he also starred in Sorry to Bother You last year, interestingly enough.

1. Booksmart (May 24)

Olivia Wilde will always be in my heart for her turn in Drinking Buddies, which I consider one of the most criminally underrated performances of the decade. With Booksmart she shifts to the director’s chair, and early reviews are raving about this high school comedy starring Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein. I could watch this trailer a thousand times. Booksmart is earning comparisons to Superbad, but I hope it’s allowed to live as a new classic all unto itself.