The 2016 summer movie season gets off to an explosive start this weekend with “The Angry Birds Movie.” The wildly popular video game gets turned into a 3-D animated comedy featuring the voices of Jason Sudeikis, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Peter Dinklage and Josh Gad.
Following in the wake of the furious fowls are an exciting mix of blockbusters and independent releases, along with films large and small that may have special appeal to LGBT audiences.
The summer schedule is, of course, full of franchise movies and action-filled blockbusters. The anticipated line-up includes “X Men: Apocalypse” (May 27); “Alice Through The Looking-Glass” a follow-up to Tim Burton’s 2010 spectacular retelling of the beloved Lewis Carroll tale, now under the direction of James Bobin, but with returning stars Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman (in his final screen performance); Megan Fox and friends in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of The Shadows” (June 3); “Independence Day Resurgence” (June 24); the all-female remake of “Ghostbusters” (July 15); and out actor Zachary Quinto as Spock in “Star Trek Beyond” (July 22).
Some summer mainstream releases will be of special interest to LGBT audiences. In a surprise move, actor Dave Franco (brother of polymath artist James) and director Nicholas Stoller of “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” (opening Friday, May 20) revealed that the “homoerotic tendencies” displayed by the character Pete in the first movie will lead to a same-sex marriage proposal in the sequel.
America’s favorite lesbian Ellen DeGeneres returns to the big screen on June 17 as the voice of the title character, a blue tang with memory issues, in Disney-Pixar’s “Finding Dory.”
Accompanied by other members of the cast of the popular BBC sitcom, aging party girls Edina Monsoon (series co-creator Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) stumble onto the big screen in “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie” on July 22. And on Aug. 12, Meryl Streep massacres the world of grand opera as “Florence Foster Jenkins,” a would-be opera diva with lots of money and enthusiasm, but no talent.
With significantly less fanfare, some notable independent features will be blooming in D.C. cinemas this summer. Opening on Friday, May 20 is “Love & Friendship” starring Kate Beckinsale with stellar support from Chloё Sevigny, Jemma Redgrave and Stephen Fry. Best known for his explorations of American upper-class ennui, director Whit Stillman offers a fresh and funny take on an early and relatively unknown Jane Austen comic novella.
Also opening this weekend, creating the opportunity for a wonderful double feature, are “The Lobster,” a sci-fi thriller starring Colin Farrell about a society that outlaws single people (both gay and straight); and “Sunset Song” a sweeping saga about Scottish farmers during World War I by gay filmmaker Terence Davies (“The House of Mirth” and “The Deep Blue Sea”).
Opening Friday May 27 is “Maggie’s Plan,” a delightful modern-day comedy of manners starring Greta Gerwig and featuring a very funny Julianne Moore.
Despite the inevitable giggles about the title, the independent movie tone turns more serious in “Weiner,” a documentary about disgraced politician Anthony Weiner’s ill-advised 2013 campaign to become mayor of New York City (May 27). On June 3, the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market will present “Art Bastard,” a documentary about controversial artist Robert Cenedella who has been described as “the anti-Warhol.”
The screen will glitter with star power (and Oscar buzz will ignite) when the highly anticipated “Genius,” which opens June 10. Written by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter John Logan (“Gladiator,” “The Aviator,” “Hugo” and “Skyfall”) and directed by openly gay Tony Award-winning director Michael Grandage (from London’s acclaimed Donmar Warehouse theater), the drama explores the complex relationship between editor Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) and writer Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law). The A-list cast also includes Nicole Kidman, Laura Linney, Guy Pearce and Dominic West.
The Reel Affirmations monthly XTRA film series (reelaffirmations.org) continues with “Wilhemina’s War,” a moving and thought-provoking documentary that profiles Wilhemina Dixon, a 62-year-old black woman in South Carolina who is caring for her daughter and granddaughter, both of whom are HIV-positive. Filmmaker June Cross captures both Wilhemina’s daily struggles against AIDS stigma and the larger social issues of poverty, racism and sexism, women’s health care and the ongoing spread of HIV in the South. “Wilhemina’s War” will be screened on Friday, June 17. The weekend-long Reel Affirmations Film Festival will return in October.
As part of its year-round film programming, the Washington Jewish Film Festival (wjff.org) will present “Those People,” (June 21) a moving story about love and art on Manhattan’s glitzy Upper East Side.
From June 22-26, AFI Docs (afi.com/afidocs), the American Film Institute’s magnificent annual celebration of the documentary, will bring 94 new documentaries to the region. Under the direction of openly gay director Michael Lumpkin, AFI screeners selected these films from hundreds of submissions to highlight the amazing range of techniques and topics in contemporary documentary filmmaking.
The opening night gala will feature “Zero Days” by Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney. After provocative documentaries about Enron, WikiLeaks, Steve Jobs and Scientology, Gibney’s latest film exposes the dangerous new world of cyber warfare. The closing night gala features “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You,” a portrait of the man who changed television history with shows like “All in the Family” and “Maude,” and who changed the national political dialogue by founding People for the American Way. Both galas will be held at the Newseum.
On Friday, June 24, the AFI Guggenheim Symposium will honor legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog. The symposium will include clips from Herzog’s documentaries, a panel discussion and the East Coast premiere of Herzog’s latest film, “Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World.”
On Saturday, June 24, AFI Docs offers a screening of “Check It” by Toby Oppenheimer and local filmmaker Dana Flor. The film profiles a fascinating group of LGBT D.C. youth who form a gang to protect themselves against violent attacks. They then decide to turn their efforts in a more positive direction, trying to break the brutal cycles of violence, poverty and prostitution by forming their own clothing label.
AFI Docs will screen at the AFI Silver in downtown Silver Spring, the Landmark E Street Cinema in downtown D.C. and other venues throughout the area.
In addition to serving as a venue for AFI Docs, AFI Silver (afi.com/silver) has a slate of innovative programming this summer. AFI shows both the latest independent releases along with lovingly curated celebrations of Hollywood and international cinema. Its summer programming kicks off with the inaugural “Washington, D.C. Fantastic Film Festival,” a showcase of the best (and worst) of genre cinema. Highlights include “Batman: the Movie,” the campy precursor to today’s superhero blockbusters, and “Trekoff: the Movie,” a cinematic version of the raunchy podcast that bills itself as “the funniest, dirtiest ‘Star Trek’ podcast you’ve ever heard.”
Other AFI summer programming includes “The Festival of New Spanish Cinema” (June 16-19), celebrations of distinguished actor Gregory Peck and radical screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, the “Best Of” showcase from D.C.’s remarkable 48 Hour Film Project (May 26), and the return of the beloved “Internet Cat Video Festival” from June 25-26.
HBO and Logo will also present new documentaries to mark Gay Pride month. On Monday, June 13, Logo will air “Out of Iraq,” which chronicles the love story between an Iraqi soldier and an Iraqi translator, both working with the U.S. military, that unfolds in a war-torn country where homosexuality is banned. HBO will air “Suited,” a fascinating movie about a London bespoke tailor who specializes in creating fashions that fit the specific needs of the gender non-conforming clients, and “Mariela Castro’s March” about the fight for LGBT rights in Cuba.
Finally, the ultimate summer date movie is slated to open on Aug. 26. “Southside with You” recounts the first date between two young Chicago lawyers named Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) and Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter). The world-changing daylong event included a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago, a screening of Spike Lee’s controversial “Do The Right Thing,” and their first kiss outside an ice cream parlor. “Southside with You” should be the perfect transition from the heat of D.C. summer to the heated passions of the fall election season.