Last month I highlighted the seven big titles that are set to fill cinemas for the remainder of the year. They were huge films, each of which is likely to be thrust into the public consciousness via the sizeable marketing budgets of the respective distributors. As an alternative, here are seven titles that aren't quite of the same scale but are set to be as notable in their own right.
Obvious Child (29 August)
I first saw Obvious Child at Sundance London in April and it immediately leapt to the top of the list of my favourite films of the year. Gillian Robespierre's film about a New York stand-up comedian, who after being dumped by her boyfriend, has a one-night stand with the likeable, but slightly boring, Max (Jake Lacy) and gets pregnant, is one of the funniest and most insightful films I've seen in years. It also features a wonderful break-out performance from Jenny Slate as the protagonist, Donna. Rather than taking the Juno/Knocked Up narrative, Obvious Child explores the options regarding abortion and Donna's decision whether or not to include Max in the process. Newcomer Slate is all set to be a huge star, she's by turns fizzing energy, wit and fragile vulnerability and we're going to be seeing a lot more of her.
The Guest(5 September)
Dan Stevens is best known for setting hearts-a-flutter in Downton Abbey but he's recently made a break for Hollywood and his first leading role is in dark thriller The Guest. Perhaps an eye-opener for anyone more familiar with the starched collars of Downton, Stevens plays a soldier returning from a tour of Afghanistan, who pays a visit to the family of one his deceased comrades. Initially friendly and charming, he is invited by the family to stay for a few days but they become alarmed as a number of people in the town where they live are found dead. If you saw last year's You're Next, you'll know the delicate balance director Adam Wingard straddles, as his films lurch from offbeat comedy to brutal violence. It's an acquired taste, but there's no denying the skill involved. Stevens is also something of a revelation as the charismatic loner with a mysterious past. Further leading man roles surely await.
Pride (12 September)
In a year of very good comedies, Pride is the best yet. Since first seeing it back in July, I have found it a struggle not to wax lyrical about it to anyone who is prepared to listen. A genuinely wonderful British film that tells an important story, it deserves to find a huge audience and, with any luck, it will. A community of lesbian and gay activists in London in the early-1980s identify a kinship with the striking miners and set about raising money for a small mining community in south Wales. The story arc may be familiar, but director Matthew Warchus hits every single beat and as well as being extremely funny, it also packs a huge emotional punch. Few films manage to make you roar with laughter and cry with emotion within the space of a few minutes but Pride manages it with ease. It also features arguably the best cast of the year, with seasoned performers Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and Paddy Considine rubbing shoulders with brilliant newcomers, Ben Schnetzer, George Mackay and Jessica Gunning. Prepare to be moved in September.
Nightcrawler (17 October)
Perhaps having his fingers burned by his Prince of Persia experience, Jake Gyllenhaal has more recently been found in smaller independent features from directors who are clearly on an upward trajectory. He was terrific in David Ayer's hugely underrated buddy-cop drama, End of Watch in 2012, and he has teamed up with Canadian director, Denis Villeneuve for his double feature of the disturbing, complex Prisoners and the upcoming Enemy. Before Enemy he can be seen in Nightcrawler, a potentially fascinating thriller about a man who stumbles upon the underground world of freelance crime journalism in Los Angeles. It looks like it takes visual cues from Drive, and Gyllenhaal once again promises to move away from the all-action hero roles to more interesting, layered characters.
Fury (24 October)
It's been announced as the closing night film of the 58th London Film Festival, which isn't necessarily a guarantee of quality (2012's Great Expectations anyone?), but everything points to Fury being an explosive end to the UK's premiere film festival. Brad Pitt stars as Wardaddy, the battle-hardened sergeant of a tank command in World War II, who leads an incursion behind enemy lines. Director David Ayer, proved himself expert at capturing the camaraderie of men forced to spend much of their time together under intense pressure in End of Watch and if the stunning trailer is anything to go by, the action sequences look to be some of the most visceral we've seen since Saving Private Ryan.
The Babadook (24 October)
There are a few horror films vying for the public's pound this Halloween, but by far the most striking is this Australian chiller from debut director, Jennifer Kent. Utilising everyone's fear of scary children and the weird, creepy stories adults read them, it's the tale of a recently widowed single mother who battles with her son's fear of a sinister presence lurking in their house, inspired by a bedtime book. It looks frankly terrifying and after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January it has been picking up rave reviews, labelling it an unusually atmospheric and thoughtful horror. Good scary films terrify me so the chances are I'll be watching it from behind my hands but if you like your horror then 24 October is the date for your diary.
The Skeleton Twins (7 November)
Finally, another hit from this year's Sundance is comedy-drama, The Skeleton Twins. Kristen Wiig has made some interesting and not always successful film choices since the enormous success of Bridesmaids but there's no doubt that she's one of the most gifted comedy actors in the world and her off-kilter screen presence can be hugely engaging. The Skeleton Twins sees her team up with fellow Saturday Night Live alumnus, Bill Hader, another actor who perhaps hasn't had the leading roles his talent deserves, as estranged siblings who decide to reunite and confront what went wrong in their lives. The strong cast also includes Luke Wilson and Modern Family's Ty Burrell and, very much like Obvious Child, The Skeleton Twins promises to deliver strong characters and warmth along with its mirth.
It was a challenge narrowing this list down to seven titles. I fought with myself over extending it to eight and including October's St. Vincent, which sees everyone's favourite actor, Bill Murray, return to curmudgeonly leading man status alongside a cracking comedy cast, including Chris O'Dowd and Melissa McCarthy. Put these eight titles next to the seven highlighted last time and 2014 is set to finish like a freight train.