Paul Rudd is Ant-Man, one of the most expensive meta-jokes in cinema history; a resourceful boy protects President Samuel L. Jackson in Big Game; Rupert Friend plays a genetically engineered killer in Hitman: Agent 47; The Rock battles earthquakes in San Andreas; Ethan Hawke stars in Good Kill as an ethically challenged drone pilot; American Ultra reteams Adventureland co-stars Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart.
Critic's Pick: Hitman: Agent 47. I've liked Hitman star Friend in smaller parts in Starred Up and the Showtime series Homeland and I'm happy he's getting a starring role here.
A couple of sequels highlight the summer horror slate — Sinister 2 and Insidious: Chapter 3; Joel Edgerton directs himself as a mysterious stranger in The Gift; Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson star in Regression; Arnold Schwarzenegger headlines the zombie movie Maggie; exorcists battle satanic forces in The Vatican Tapes; The Gallows concerns a play that awakens a malevolent presence.
Critic's Pick: Maggie. I am in a distinct minority here, but I think that Schwarzenegger was positively soulful in last year's unfairly maligned Sabotage and I'm genuinely excited to see what he does next.
Several Oscar winners from decades past re-emerge — Woody Allen's Irrational Man features Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone; Cameron Crowe directs Bradley Cooper in Aloha, while Jonathan Demme helms the Meryl Streep musical Ricki and the Flash. Elsewhere, indie director Joe Swanberg courts mainstream acceptance with Digging for Fire; visually arresting filmmaker Tarsem returns with Self/Less; David Gordon Green directs former Oscar winner Al Pacino in Manglehorn; Antoine Fuqua directs future Oscar winner Jake Gyllenhaal in Southpaw.
Critic's Pick: Manglehorn. After the formally bold and fitfully successful Prince Avalanche and Joe, I'm curious to see where Green is going with this. Also, the trailer for Manglehorn is a singular piece of cinema.
Most of the heavy hitters in the animation game are here — Pixar offers the inner-life comedy Inside Out; Minions spins off from the hugely popular Despicable Me films; When Marnie Was There is the latest from Japanese legends Studio Ghibli; Shaun the Sheep Movie comes from Wallace and Gromit studio Aardman.
Critic's Pick: When Marnie Was There. This was a no-brainer — I'm a fan of Pixar and Aardman, but their films pale next to those of Studio Ghibli, and although scion Hiyao Miyazaki has apparently retired, the studio continues to churn out touching and beautiful works like last year's Tale of the Princess Kaguya.
Straight Outta Compton follows the ascent of 1980s rap group N.W.A.; The End of the Tour stars Jason Segel as writer David Foster Wallace; Love and Mercy tracks the breakdown of Beach Boy Brian Wilson; Ken Loach directs Jimmy's Hall, about Irish communist Jimmy Gralton; Max tells the story of a traumatized U.S. Marines dog; Bertrand Bonello's fashion biopic Saint Laurent played last year at Cannes; speaking of Cannes, this year audiences were blown away by Amy, a documentary about the short life of Amy Winehouse.
Critic's Pick: Love and Mercy. While Segel and The End of the Tour have received rave reviews, I can't resist a biopic about the brilliant and fragile Wilson, played here by both Paul Dano and John Cusack, with support from Paul Giamatti as Dr. Eugene Landy.