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Alt-Summer Film Preview 2014: 20 Non-Blockbuster Movies to Check Out

From Afropop music docs to quirky indie thrillers, here’s a guide to what else is playing in a theater near you this summer

Alt-Summer Film Preview

The summer movie season has officially begun, which means you, the moviegoer, will be forced to make some tough decisions over the next three months: Do you go see the new Seth Rogen raunch-comedy or the latest superhero blockbuster? Are you more in the mood for transforming robots or evolved apes? A cackling Angelina Jolie or a riotous Melissa McCarthy? Channing Tatum's bulging pectorals or Dwayne Johnson's bulging pectorals?

Summer Film Preview 2014: The Season of 'Fierce'

Naturally, we have your back when it comes to breaking down the big-budget blockbusters and big-name studio releases that will be taking over your multiplexes from Memorial Day until Labor Day — but what if you're looking for something besides the latest pop-franchise installment or A-list star vehicle to see? Man can not live on cheeseburgers alone, and the same goes for the movies: occasionally, you crave something without giant lizards and blue-skinned mutants. So we've put together a list of 20 off-the-beaten-path films coming out between now and the end of August that will satisfy your alternative-viewing needs — the documentaries, indies, foreign-language flicks and a few straight-up unclassifiable projects that will also be coming to a theater near you soon. Some have recognizable names attached, while others are the cinematic equivalent of a blind date. All of them will offer you a break from the blockbuster blues. By David Fear

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‘A Most Wanted Man’ (July 25)

This adaptation of John le Carré's thriller about an intelligence officer chasing down terrorists in Hamburg has taken on a new significance: It revolves around one of Philip Seymour Hoffman's final performances, complete with an understated German accent and chilling sense of world-weariness. But Anton Corbijn's moody, brooding spy-vs-spy drama could not serve as a better tribute to the late star; the way that Hoffman enlivens the suspense without overshadowing the proceedings reminds you of what an incredible talent this guy was. 

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‘Frank’ (August 15)

All the young, aspiring musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) wants is to pen a hit and become a superstar. Then he hooks up with a dirge-rock band led by a genuine genius named Frank (Michael Fassbender) — the kind of once-in-a-generation singer-songwriter that woud put Dylan and Leonard Cohen to shame. Did we mention that Frank also wears a gigantic paper-mâché head at all times, even when he sleeps? Loosely based on the real-life story of Chris Sievey, Lenny Abrahamson's comedy makes the most of its cracked premise — and proves that Fassbender may be the only working actor who can effectively emote from beneath a Mardi Gras-parade worthy noggin.

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‘Life After Beth’ (August 15)

It's your standard boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, girl-comes-back-as-zombie tale, made all the more charming by Parks and Recreation's Aubrey Plaza playing the undead object of Dane DeHaan's affection. Director Jeff Baena's horror-romance-comedy is, at its core, a story about making relationships work no matter what the cost — little things like break-ups, miscommunication, death and one person's insatiable need to consume fresh human flesh on a regular basis should never stand in the way of true love, right?

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‘The Trip to Italy’ (August 15)

The sequel to 2010's road movie-cum-Britcom star therapy session The Trip switches locales from England to Florence, but the song remains the same: copious Michael Caine impressions, great meals, tons of top-notch banter, beautiful scenery and a great deal of hilarity. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon know they have a good thing going, but the comedians — along with director Michael Winterbottom — have added a sense of midlife melancholia to the proceedings that make this more than funny-food-rinse-repeat. That said: Those competing Tom-Hardy-as-Bane impersonations are pure comic gold.

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‘Finding Fela’ (August 1)

Doing double duty as a music bio on the life of activist/Afrobeat superstar Fela Kuti and a behind-the-scenes look at the Broadway musical — Fela! — based on his work, this documentary from prolific filmmaker Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) is a must-see for fans of the artist and political firebrand. The soundtrack alone is worth the price of a ticket.

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‘Love Is Strange’ (August 22)

An older gay couple (John Lithgow and Alfred Molina) decide to tie the knot — which ends up costing one of them their teaching job, their Manhattan apartment due to financial constraints and, eventually, any sense of stability in their relationship. Filmmaker Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On) could have made a shrill indictment on the hypocrisy of society's attitudes towards gay marriage, or the sort of heartstring-assault movie that Lifetime would have happily embraced. Instead, he's given us a devastating, humanistic look at an autumnal relationship frayed by intolerance and tragedy. We suggest you bring several boxes of tissues. Seriously.