The Indie Comedy
A stylish, Dostoyevsky-inspired comedy (seriously) about a neurotic office worker (Jesse Eisenberg) dealing with his overconfident doppelgänger.
See instead of: Zack Braff’s Wish I Was Here
It’s this year’s ... Her (with a bit of Fight Club)
Breakout performance: The film’s charming object-of-affection, Mia Wasikowska
Fun fact: Director Richard Ayoade is both a British sitcom mainstay (The Mighty Boosh, The IT Crowd) and go-to music video director (Arctic Monkeys, Yeah Yeah Yeahs).
The Good Blockbuster
A reboot of the monster classic, with a nice mix of destruction porn (bye, Tokyo), real acting chops (hello, Bryan Cranston) and Jaws-like suspense.
See instead of: Transformers 4: Age of Extinction
It’s this year’s... The Dark Knight
Breakout performance: Elizabeth Olsen, aka this year’s Jennifer Lawrence
Fun fact: Director Gareth Edwards filmed his first sci-fi flick (Monsters) for about a half million dollars, crafting all the effects on his home computer. From this, he landed a $200 million film.
The feel-good foreign film
Three teens in 1980s Sweden form an all-girl punk band. Musical chaos and coming-of-age ensue.
It’s this year’s ... School of Rock. With accents.
See instead of: Jon Hamm’s fish-out-of-water cricket comedy Million Dollar Arm
Breakout performance: Mira Grosin, the band’s mohawked teen leader
Fun fact: The film is based on a graphic novel by Coco Moodysson. Not coincidentally, her husband Lukas directed the movie.
The best part of this genre-bender: figuring out if it’s a found footage film, an indie take on The Matrix (replete with Morpheus-channeling Laurence Fishburne) or a sci-fi mindf**k a la 2001. Because it’s sort of all of them.
See instead of: Edge of Tomorrow
It’s this year’s ... Looper
Breakout performance: Olivia Cooke, happily reminiscent of a pre-Tom Cruise Katie Holmes
Fun fact: When it’s available, you’ll want this soundtrack (the moodiest score since Drive). Until then, check out the work of composer Nima Fakhrara.
The nostalgia piece
A family vacation in the '80s becomes a coming-of-age story with ping-pong, breakdancing and — of course — Back to the Future’s Lea Thompson.
It’s this year’s: The Way Way Back
See instead of: Jersey Boys
Breakout performance: Marcello Conte, making his debut as awesomely titled lead Rad Miracle
Fun fact: Director Michael Tully oddly credits Joseph Campbell for the film’s nostalgia. “I think [Campbell] said you keep referring to yourself at 12 years old.”
A mocking of every romantic movie cliché (He’s corporate! She’s indie! There’s a guys-playing-basketball-talking-about-life scene!) from the guys behind Wet Hot American Summer.
It’s this year’s... I Love You Man
See instead of: Blended (the third Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore rom-com)
Breakout performance: Christopher Meloni, channeling his Oz/Law & Order side. For laughs.
Fun fact: Before watching, stream the “Bizarro Cut” of Wanderlust, director David Wain’s previous comedy collab with Paul Rudd. It’s doesn’t just break the fourth wall: it decimates it.
The end of the world. The Australian Outback. A loner with vengeance on his mind. The currency? Cars. Sounds enticingly familiar ...
It’s this year’s: Mad Max
See instead of: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Breakout performance: Bad guy Scoot McNairy (Argo, Monsters), who between this and fall’s Gone Girl is verging on household name status
Fun fact: Director David Michod’s prior film, Animal Kingdom, was Quentin Tarantino’s third favorite film of 2010.
The human-interest documentary
The much-missed Roger Ebert is the subject of this star-studded documentary (originally funded on Indiegogo), which follows the movie scholar from his early work through his bout with cancer.
See instead of: Jimi, the new Hendrix biopic featuring (thanks to rights issues) zero Hendrix music
It’s this year’s: Crumb
Breakout performance: Obviously, the courageous Ebert, reinventing himself both physically and mentally post-surgery
Fun fact: Among the film’s interviewees: Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog and Errol Morris.
The boy's coming-of-age film
Richard Linklater’s unique, time-stamped family drama follows a divorced couple (Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette) and their son over a 12-year period. Literally.
See instead of: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Your childhood memories deserve better.
It’s this year’s: Moonrise Kingdom
Breakout performance: The son (Ellar Coltrane), a breakout at both 6 and 18
Fun fact: Linklater and the cast shot the film for a few weeks every year since 2002.
The adult thriller
Torture, extremists, Russians, post-9/11 fallout: a topical thriller, based off the John le Carre novel — and one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final films.
See instead of: God’s Pocket, the other, iffily reviewed, Philip Seymour Hoffman summer flick.
It’s this year’s ... Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Breakout performance: Director Anton Corbijn, whose prior work (Control, The American) deserved more viewers.
Fun fact: The film was loosely inspired by a real life case of a detained Turkish citizen in Germany.
The space epic
The most obscure heroes in the Marvel Universe, and the furthest reaching. A ragtag group of aliens (and Chris Pratt) steal a mystical orb. A galaxy-wide hunt follows. With laughs.
See instead of: Jupiter Ascending
It’s this year’s: Star Trek/Star Wars
Breakout performance: Rocket, a gun-toting anthropomorphic raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper.
Fun fact: Cooper based his character’s voice on Tommy DeVito, a.k.a. Joe Pesci’s character in Goodfellas.
Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. dress up as cops for a costume party. Mistaken identity caper follows.
It’s this year’s: 21 Jump Street
See instead of: 22 Jump Street
Breakout performance: Johnson, so good and controlled in micro indies like Drinking Buddies and Safety Not Guaranteed, plays it broad here.
Fun fact: Sure, it’s going to be dumb. But any movie with Rob Riggle and Jon Lajoie (Taco from The League) deserves a chance.
Hell is Paris. More correct: the gates of Hell are hidden under the City of Light. Two treasure hunters dive in for this found-footage horror flick.
See instead of: The Purge: Anarchy
It’s this year’s: Sinister
Breakout performance: Ben Feldman, jumping from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce copywriter to lead man.
Fun fact: The hell here takes place in the real-life ossuaries below Paris, which hold the remains of six million people.