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Which movies to see in the theater this summer


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: We continue our series now on the best summer entertainment.

Tonight, Jeffrey Brown gets a preview of what's to come the big screen, from the blockbusters, to movies not to miss.

It is part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Jeffrey Brown: As always, blockbuster series will dominate many theaters this summer, but there are also a number of smaller films that may whet your appetite.

To tell us more, Ann Hornaday, chief film critic for The Washington Post, is back with us. She joins us this evening from Baltimore.

Ann, nice to see you again.

Ann Hornaday: Thank you.

Jeffrey Brown:So, start with some of the biggies. "Avengers: Endgame" is out, and it's really big. What else do you see coming that you're interested in?

Ann Hornaday: Well, this is the summer of the sequel, prequel, reboot, remake. I counted more than a dozen movies that are based on something else and something that we're all familiar with.

But two that really I have very high hopes for are "Toy Story 4." Anything with a 4 at the end fills me with fear usually. But the people at Pixar are so good with their stories. They really make sure that script is solid before they proceed. So I do have cautiously high hopes for that one.

And "The Lion King," a live-action remake of the classic animated Disney tale, this is directed by Jon Favreau, who I think just did a spectacular job with "Jungle Book," sort of in a similar mode.

So -- and this has just an amazing voice cast with Beyonce and Donald Glover and many others. So those are the two I have my eye on.

Jeffrey Brown: How about slightly smaller scale? I mean, one that's getting a lot of attention, of course, is "Rocketman," the Elton John film. That one. What else?

Ann Hornaday: Yes, that's a lot of fun.

One that I'm -- I have kind of a crush on right now is a raunch-com called "Booksmart." It's a coming of age movie, in the tradition of a "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" or "Dazed and Confused" or "Superbad."

But this thing features two young women, Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, who are really charming as these two girls seeking a night of debauchery in modern-day L.A., the directorial debut of the actress Olivia Wilde. I think she really makes a very assured, very graceful directing debut with this movie. So I would encourage people to check this one out. It's a lot of fun.

Jeffrey Brown: There's one called "The Kitchen," right?

Ann Hornaday: I am very intrigued by this.

This stars Tiffany Haddish and Melissa McCarthy, as well as Elisabeth Moss, but in a drama, and this is set in the 1970s in Hell's Kitchen. It's based on a graphic novel. So it's not based on a true story, but it sounds very reminiscent of The Westies and the gangland wars and competitions that were going on in Hell's Kitchen in that era.

It's such an evocative atmosphere and environment that I -- and I can't wait to see what Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish do in a more dramatic setting.

Jeffrey Brown: And then if we go even smaller to some of the independents, there were a few you were interested that came out of Sundance, right?

Ann Hornaday: Yes, there were two in particular that got a lot of buzz coming out of Park City in January.

One was called "The Last Black Man in San Francisco," starring Jimmie Fails, directed by Joe Talbot, who got an award at Sundance for this movie. It's about a man sort of navigating this rapidly gentrifying San Francisco that is being priced out of any kind of livability for normal people.

It reminds me thematically a little bit of "Blindspotting," a movie that I was a huge fan of last year. And, again, this got incredible positive buzz coming out of Sundance. I'm very much looking forward to that.

Another one, called "The Farewell" with Awkwafina, who a lot of people remember from her scene-stealing performance in "Crazy Rich Asians," this is sort of a serio-comedy about a Chinese family who learn that their grandmother is facing death and want to give her a wedding to sort of send her off without telling her that she's actually dying.

And so it kind of reminds me a little bit of maybe "The Big Sick" in terms of the tone. So I have high hopes for this one, too.

Jeffrey Brown: What about documentaries? Strikes me that there's so many good ones out, and they continue to come. What's new, what's coming?

Ann Hornaday: One is called "Maiden," which just made a sensation at the Toronto Film Festival last year. It's about the first all-female team to sail in the Whitbread yachting race, a really grueling, long sailing race. And it just -- it has captivated audiences on the festival circuit.

And then one that I saw recently at the Maryland Film Festival here in Baltimore, again out of Sundance, is called "Cold Case Hammarskjold." And it's about the death of the U.N. chief Dag Hammarskjold in 1961, which for many years has been suspected to have been a murder.

And this movie takes the true crime genre into completely untold territory. It's very unsettling, very well done and a really excellent -- I think, excellent piece of nonfiction storytelling.

Jeffrey Brown: Let me just ask you briefly, Ann, does summer matter anymore as a season? How do studios think about it? How do you, as a critic, think about it? What do we look for in the summer now?

Ann Hornaday: Well, I do think it matters. And the season has been extended.

But what fascinates me is that it has really become a documentary season. I mean, last year, the summer saw these breakout hits, like "RBG," "Won't You Be My Neighbor?," "Free Solo," "Three Identical Strangers."

And I guess the term of art for this is counterprogramming, right? So, if people don't really want to go to a spectacle or a blockbuster, it's a chance for these smaller movies that connect on a human level and become really big hits and punch far above their weight.

So, that's always what I look forward to.

Jeffrey Brown: All right, Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post, thanks very much.

Ann Hornaday: Thank you.

Judy Woodruff: So many movies, so little time.

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