A movie fans hopes sprout anew in March. Its post-Oscars but also past the bad movies (I, Frankenstein, Pompei) that studios dump during the first months of each year.
March and April bring thoughtful thrillers, blockbusters based on young-adult novels, and the odd independent gem.
Unlike the summer movie season, which usually starts the first Friday in May with a comic-book film (this year, its The Amazing Spider-Man 2 on May 2), spring rarely is remembered at the end of the year.
Spring movies do not top the yearly box office chart nor draw much consideration the following January, when Oscar nominations are announced. Theyre too low-key, and too early in the year, for that.
Yet they still make an impact. The Hunger Games came out in spring 2012, drew rave reviews, made a bundle and paved the way for this years Divergent, also based on a dystopian YA novel, also coming out in March.
Mud, released last April, started a wave of 2013 goodwill toward Matthew McConaughey that culminated in his Oscar win last week for his performance in Dallas Buyers Club.
Here are 10 spring movies to look for, classified by their ties to youth (Forever Young), function as warm-ups for the summer action-movie onslaught (Almost Summer), or artistic heft (Fall in Spring).
Veronica Mars: Fans of this cult TV series have missed their teen detective (Kristen Bell) since her show left the air in 2007. So much that they chipped in $5.7 million during a 30-day Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign so Warner Bros., which owns the show, would make a film.
The movie comes out Friday in theaters and on video on demand. It picks up Veronicas story nine years after the UPN/CW series third and final season. Veronica is now a New York City attorney. But her seaside hometown of Neptune, and bad boy Logan (Jason Dohring), keep pulling her back in.
How this movie fares financially likely will determine whether studios will take more risks on crowd-funded projects.
The films first two minutes are available on YouTube. The clip encapsulates Veronicas story for people who never saw the show. If you want to bone up on the series before the movie comes out, all three seasons can be streamed at Amazon.com ($1.99 an episode or free for Prime subscribers). (Opens Friday)
Bad Words: This comedy follows the great tradition of Bad Santa and Bad Grandpa in pairing a raunchy adult and impressionable minors.
Jason Bateman stars as Guy, a foul-mouthed, child-taunting 40-year-old who finds a loophole in national spelling-bee rules that allows him to compete against 10-year-olds.
Bateman also makes his feature directing debut with Bad Words. Bateman the director was nicer than his character, said Matthew Zhang, a 11-year-old Sacramento actor who plays a spelling-bee contender whom Guy tries to psych out. Zhang said Bateman told him he did a great job his first day on set in December 2012 in Los Angeles.
There was a food truck (on set), and he got me a free burger, Zhang said of Bateman.
Like most in the film, Zhangs scene with Bateman contains mature content. Zhang wasnt fazed.
I had watched Arrested Development, Zhang said of the sitcom in which Bateman starred. So I was used to that kind of material. (March 21)
Divergent:Based on author Veronica Roths 2011 best-seller, this film envisions a dystopian Chicago in which 16-year-olds undergo personality assessments to determine what faction in which they will be placed.
The factions are Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave) or Erudite (the intelligent). Gum-popping, eye-rolling teens apparently are banished to the suburbs.
It sounds even higher concept than Hunger Games. And frankly a little silly. But these extreme teenage tales, with their intense physical challenges and questions of identity, can suck in anyone pretty easily if done right, as the Games films have been so far.
Divergent comes with two appealing leads: Shailene Woodley (The Descendants, The Spectacular Now) and Theo James. Woodley plays Tris, a gal born into the selfless faction who is divergent in that she qualifies for three different factions (she chooses Dauntless). British actor James plays a Dauntless instructor. His best-known role before this was as the Turkish diplomat who ended up dead in Lady Marys bed on Downton Abbey.
Plus, Divergent has Kate Winslet as a baddie an Erudite faction leader not fond of people who are divergent. (Winslet has played surprisingly few villains, when you consider her eyebrows.)
The reason they separated society into five factions is to not allow people to be full expressions of themselves, said actress Maggie Q, who plays a Dauntless member who administers the test to Tris that determines the girl is divergent. In the Divergent universe, grouping people by one dominating trait makes them easier to control, Q said. If you are all things in this world, you become a threat. (March 21)
Muppets Most Wanted:The 2011 film The Muppets returned Kermit, Miss Piggy and company to the big screen in delightful, celebrity-cameo-laden fashion. In this sequel, a criminal mastermind named Constantine assumes the identity of a certain green felt frog who is his doppelgänger.
Most Wanted features Ty Burrell (Modern Family) and Tina Fey, who engage in a battle of exaggerated accents as an Interpol agent and a Russian prison guard. (March 21)
Need for Speed: Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) plays Tobey, a street racer and mechanic who goes to prison for a crime he did not commit.
Vowing revenge on the oily pro driver (Dominic Cooper) who fingered him for the crime, Tobey speeds across the country to try to beat said driver in a secret, exclusive race.
Along the way, Tobeys Mustang will go airborne and he will drive for miles against oncoming traffic.
Compared with Pauls Breaking character Jesse Pinkman, Tobey is making good choices.
Paul isnt playing exclusively outlaws post-Bad. In December, he will appear as the Hebrew slave-turned-leader Joshua in Ridley Scotts Exodus.
I tend to gravitate toward completely different characters, Paul said. (But) they always have an intensity to them. (Need for Speed opens Friday ; to read a full interview with Paul and director Scott Waugh, see Fridays Ticket section.)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier:Within the Marvel movie universe, Captain America (Chris Evans) still seems like the eager little brother to Thor and Iron Man. Thats because 2011s Captain America: The First Avenger did not make as much money as the Thor and Iron Man films, and because Evans was in The Fantastic Four, which was C-grade Marvel.
But the first America movie, which followed frail Steve Rogers transformation into a World War II fighting machine, was a throwback to when comic books were a primary source of entertainment. Rogers moved forward in time in 2012s The Avengers but stuck to his old-school values, further endearing the character to viewers.
Winter, in which Rogers still is adjusting to modern life, boasts a bigger-name cast than the first Captain America. Scarlett Johansson plays Avenger Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, and Robert Redford plays a senior S.H.I.E.L.D leader. Most exciting is a beefed-up role for the magnetic Sebastian Stan. He plays Rogers ultimate frenemy, Bucky. (April 4)
Fall in Spring
The Grand Budapest Hotel: Filmmaker Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom) always plays with color, composition, humor and nostalgia.
But Budapest is an explosion of pinks, purples, reds and of Ralph Fiennes heretofore underused gift for comic lines. The movie ups all thats Anderson 100 notches as it explores the history of a once-fine hotel derelicted by the Soviet regimes noted disregard for pretty things.
Anderson presents his signature scenes of life-size dioramas, but doesnt linger on any one. He packs Budapest with action, most of it tied to Fiennes character, the Grand Budapests sexually loose but otherwise principled concierge. (March 21)
The Lunchbox: Its friendship enabled by Mumbais dabbawallas men who deliver hot, home-cooked lunches from wives to their office-worker husbands.
In The Lunchbox, a neglected wife (Nimrat Kaur) tries to spice up her marriage with a special meal for her husband. But the food mistakenly is delivered to another office worker a lonely widower (Irrfan Khan).
When the husband doesnt mention the lunch, his wife follows up with a note in the next lunchbox, again sent to the wrong guy. Thus begins an exchange of notes between the cook and the stranger consuming her food.
It sounds even higher concept than Divergent. But its tough these days to devise new ways for characters to meet cute. And Khan, who brought soulfulness to his immigrant father in The Namesake and to the older Pi in Life of Pi, always delivers. (March 28)
Noah:Director Darren Aronofskys (Black Swan) epic tale a.k.a. a Hollywood animal wranglers dream gig stars Russell Crowe as the ark builder God appoints to save good people and animals from a flood meant to wipe out the wicked.
Jennifer Connelly plays Noahs wife and Emma Watson his daughter. They will share the ark, as Crowe elucidates in his distinctive baritone in the films trailer, with all that crows, all that slithers.
Directors getting biblical in 2014 Christopher Spencer directed the current box office hit Son of God, and Ridley Scott cast Christian Bale as Moses in Decembers Exodus has drawn attention from Christian groups who do not like their Bible stories too Hollywood-ized. Paramount reportedly will attach disclaimers to forthcoming Noah ads that distinguish the film as an interpretation, not a retelling.
Speaking of nervousness, viewers might recall that Aronofskys other would-be epic, The Fountain, was kind of a mess. But a fascinating mess. And Crowe (Gladiator) was born for towering roles. (March 28)
Transcendence: Johnny Depp plays an artificial-intelligence researcher for whom things go screwy.
I know things go screwy from the movies story summary, but also from experience. Depp does not play scientists in khakis and wire rims unless things eventually get weird enough for him to be able to alter his good looks.
In Transcendence, the opportunity comes via illness and the subsequent downloading of the scientists consciousness into a computer.
Its a win-win: Depp gets the ghostly pallor and electrode-covered head that allow him to dig into a character, and we get a sci-fi cautionary tale directed by Wally Pfister, a talented cinematographer making his directing debut after shooting Christopher Nolans (The Dark Knight, Inception) films. (April 18)
Call The Bees Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.