‘Julie & Julia’ (July 31)
Julia Child was an easy figure to impersonate but perhaps not so simple to inhabit. Meryl Streep masters the look and distinctive sound of the character but also finds the character’s emotional spine, a sense of displacement that can be cured only by cooking; she shares that quality with Julie Powell (Amy Adams), the central character of the film’s parallel story, in which a modern blogger attempts to recreate every recipe in Child’s beloved book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” The Childs story is decidedly more compelling, but the writer and director Nora Ephron (making her final film) makes ingenious connections between these two women and coaxes delightful performances from both actresses, as well as from Stanley Tucci and Chris Messina as their (mostly) supportive spouses.
‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ (July 31)
This 2006 drama from Gabriele Muccino adapts the memoir of the motivational speaker Chris Gardner, who went from being a homeless single father to becoming a successful stockbroker and entrepreneur. The film focuses on Gardner’s period of homelessness and the sacrifices he made while completing an unpaid internship at a prestigious firm. An Oscar-nominated Will Smith finds just the right notes as Gardner, whose pride and stubbornness prevented him from sharing his dire circumstances during his internship; Smith’s real-life son Jaden plays Gardner’s son, and their genuine emotional connection pulls the picture through its rougher patches. It’s a formulaic piece of work but a nevertheless affecting one.
‘Skyfall’ (July 31)
The Daniel Craig era of the James Bond franchise reached its zenith with this 2012 installment, which combined the lean, mean, “Bourne”-influenced approach of recent Bond pictures with an Academy Award winning director (Sam Mendes), his regular team (including the ace cinematographer Roger Deakins and the composer Thomas Newman) and Javier Bardem, fresh off his own Oscar win for “No Country for Old Men,” as a seductive villain. Mendes’s elegant direction gives viewers the best of both worlds; the picture has the globe-trotting locations, bold action set pieces and unapologetic sensuality of classic Bond but the snappy pace and grounded action of contemporary blockbusters.
‘Stepmom’ (July 31)
The “Home Alone” director Chris Columbus continued the softening of his touch that began with “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993), moving from familial comedy to full on four-hanky drama with this 1998 tear-jerker. Julia Roberts plays the title character, a fashion photographer who is dating, and then marries, a much older, divorced father (Ed Harris). Susan Sarandon plays his ex-wife, whose difficulties maintaining a relationship with their two children — and her combination of genuine dislike for and quiet jealousy of the new woman in their lives — are complicated further by a terminal illness. It’s not exactly a subtle piece of work, but it’s an earnest one, and the leads find and play the complexities of what could have been cardboard characters.
‘Underworld’ (July 31)
When this action-horror-sci-fi hybrid opened quietly in the fall of 2003, few could have predicted it would initiate a lucrative and long-running series — five feature films (plus a video game), concluding with “Underworld: Blood Wars” (2017). But it shouldn’t have been a surprise: This story of battles (and forbidden romance) between vampires, werewolves and humans was hitting the same early-21st century sweet spot of fantasy, gore and romance as the “Twilight” saga. And the films (particularly this first one) provided a rare opportunity for its star, Kate Beckinsale, to show what she could do with a full-on action-hero leading role.