As we near the summer blockbuster season (it officially begins on May 2 with Iron Man 3), April appears to be trying to get in on the fun a little earlier with some interesting looking films that span the gamut from quirky documentaries to big-budget popcorn films. In recent years, studios have experimented with releasing a few of their big-budget popcorn films in April instead of waiting for the summer season to begin (e.g. Fast & FuriousClash of the Titans, Kick-Ass, and Source Code). The reason for this is that although these films offer the sort of light, fun, special-effects laden entertainment typically seen during the summer, they lack the starpower or general public interest to be able to compete with the other summer films. Also, sometimes these films are slated for a summer release, but are later relegated to April after the studio screens a film and determines it to not be good enough to survive the summer season. As I have explained before, the below list is based mostly on the trailers I have seen and a little bit on the advance buzz some of these films have already generated.

Lunarcy! (Epix) – Release Date: April 3 in Limited Release

I have posted three different trailers for this very strange, but very fascinating documentary about people obsessed with the moon. Each trailer covers one of the characters profiled in the film. For example, one of them is a real estate dealer who is selling properties (that he believes he owns) on the moon to the public. For those of you who regularly read my blog, you know how much I love documentaries. I especially love those that deal with politics/current events (see the one below) and ones that focus on the strange aspects of our society. Such as Lunarcy!

Free Angela and All Political Prisoners (CODEBLACK Films/Lionsgate) – Release Date: April 5 in Limited Release

I had the fortunate opportunity to meet Angela Davis when I was an undergrad at U.C. Berkeley back in the 90’s. I knew Davis held a prominent place in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but I did not appreciate the impact she had on the civil rights movement. This documentary is about her and her legacy and it looks to be a stirring and soulful film.

Trance (Fox Searchlight Pictures) – Release Date: April 5 in Limited Release

This is Danny Boyle’s latest film (his last being 127 Hours) and he reteams with screenwriter John Hodge (Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, The Beach, and A Life Less Ordinary).  The premise is a bit far-fetched, but I am always willing to give Boyle the benefit of the doubt. If for nothing else, Boyle makes great use of the camera and giving his film a kinetic, vibrant look with memorable soundtracks. This film is reminiscent of Boyle’s earlier films, which is probably due to his reteaming with John Hodge and the casting of Ewan McGregor-esque, James McAvoy.

Simon Killer (IFC Films) – Release Date: April 5 in Limited Release

Great trailer and great premise. From the producers of Martha Marcy May Marlene, this film has a cool and stylish look that offers the same sort of nervous tension and dread that we saw in Martha Marcy May Marlene. This film promises to be very dark and disturbing and I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot about its star, Brady Corbet. The film is written-directed by Antonio Campos, who also wrote and directed the acclaimed, Afterschool, which I have not seen.

Upstream Color (erbp) – Release Date: April 5 in NY and it expands on April 12

Other than knowing it falls under the science fiction genre, I have NO IDEA what this film is about and I don’t care one bit. Ever since I saw Shane Caruth’s excellent Primer (one of the best time travel films ever made), I have been waiting for his follow-up. It has been a damn long time (since 2004 to be exact), but the moment has finally arrived and I hope its worth it.

To the Wonder (Magnolia Pictures) – Release Date: April 12 in NY and LA

I consider myself fortunate that Terrence Malick has finally decided to become prolific in recent years. I was unexpectedly blown away by his last film, The Tree of Life and the film renewed my interest in the filmmaker in a way that The Thin Red Line and The New World failed to do. To the Wonder looks less interesting than Tree of Life, but it would be foolish to judge Malick’s films on the trailers (or I guess it would be foolish to judge any movie on a trailer).

In the House (Cohen Media Group) – Release Date: April 19 in NY

Leave it to director Francois Ozon, director of Swimming Pool, to give us a sexually charged Hitchcockian thriller that will make us feel uncomfortable. It might surprise you to know that this film is also a comedy.

Oblivion (Universal) – Release Date: April 19

I’m sure director Joseph Kosinski was left by the curb by a lot of disappointed fans after they saw Tron: Legacy. I for one was not as disappointed as so many others and I felt the film was a commendable effort by a first-time feature director. Let’s just say I enjoyed Tron: Legacy enough to make me look forward to not just another sequel, but also to whatever else Kosinski has in store. Well now we have it with Oblivion, which is based on the graphic novel published by Radical Comics. Tron: Legacy had going for it beautiful production design and one of the best soundtracks I have heard in years. Oblivion looks like it will promise both, with its Apple-influenced aesthetic and a score by Anthony Gonzales (of the electronic/shoegaze group M83) and Joseph Trapanese.

Unmade in China (7th Art Releasing) – Release Date: April 19 in Limited Release

In recent years, many studios and filmmakers have decided to take advantage of the Chinese government’s offer to invest in a portion of a film’s budget with the condition that the film be partly shot in China. Like many states here in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, China sees the economic benefits of rolling out the red carpet to Hollywood. However, shooting in China isn’t as simple as bringing your cast and crew over and shooting whatever you want. The Chinese government has a lot of strings attached to offering its money and, as this documentary shows, it may not be worth the hassle.

At Any Price (Sony Pictures Classics) – Release Date: April 24 in NY and LA

The trailer for this film did not do anything to make me want to see it. It makes the film look like a Lifetime drama and Dennis Quaid appears to be in a role that we have seen him in way too many times. However, with all that said, At Any Price is generating a lot of positive buzz for performances from Quaid and Zac Efron. What is even more impressive is the fact that a film about the American heartland was written and directed by a Persian, Ramin Bahrani. Film critic Roger Ebert has called Bahrani “the director of the decade” and called his previous film, Chop Shop, the 6th best film of the decade. That is certainly high enough praise to make me check this film out.

Arthur Newman (Cinedigm/Flatiron Films) – Release Date: April 26 in Limited Release

This film has a couple of things going for it that peaks my interest. It has a great cast with Colin Firth and Emily Blunt (two British actors playing Americans). It is about con artists. It is a road film. It is about society’s outcasts. Arthur Newman also reminds me of the types of mid-budget films that major studios used to come out with, but no longer do now.

Kon-Tiki (The Weinstein Company) – Release Date: April 26 in Limited Release

This film was nominated this year for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. It was also the highest-grossing film in Norway in 2012 and the country’s most expensive production to date. Kon-Tiki is a Norwegian film about the true story of the 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition. This is a classic man versus nature survivalist/adventure story that should interest anyone who dug films like Master & Commander. This is a gorgeous looking film that I cannot wait to see.

Pain & Gain (Paramount Pictures) – Release Date: April 26

I might come to really regret recommending this film for the obvious reason that it is the latest deaf-inducing, eye-rape monstrosity from director Michael Bay (Transformers, Bad Boys, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, The Island, and The Rock). Its not a good idea to solely judge a movie based on its trailer, but it is especially not good to judge a Michael Bay movie based on his trailers. No matter how bad they are, Bay’s films always look absolutely great and this latest film is no exception. However, given all that, I am intrigued by the premise, which is supposedly based (I assume very loosely) on a true story. Pain & Gain is reminiscent of Bad Boys, but what makes this film more interesting and relatable is the rich vs. poor aspects of the story. How can you not want to see Marky Mark and The Rock kick the crap out of the bad guys when bad guy Tony Shaloub utters the line, “You know who invented salad? Poor people.” Class warfare, Michael Bay style.