The smell of crisp dollars wafts across the continent, Bruckheimer is on the tip of every tongue, and spandex is everywhere. All of these signs can only mean one thing — the summer movies are coming. Among the confusing melange of art and pop, Indy and epic, it is hard to make sense of such a swarm of choices. So what better way to send off the season finale of the News than by launching you bookworms out there into Reading Week with a little glimpse of, and guide to, the rising sun? While the Troys of summer come and go, here is a list of some of the innovative and exciting films that may just outshine the usual lineup of sequels in the public’s fickle collective memory.

“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” — With Alfonso Cuaron, the director of “Y Tu Mama Tambien” and “The Secret Garden” at the helm, Hogwarts will be much more interesting this year. Unlike schlock director Chris Columbus whose film versions of books one and two were overpriced, watered-down versions of the originals, sans magic (not the wand kind), Cuaron has deviated from the text with Rowling’s blessing. Look for street clothes on the students instead of uniforms, dark humor and a deeper message. Believe it or not, the movie is intended as an allegory for the post-9/11 world. Something different this way comes.

“The Stepford Wives” — Frank Oz returns to his “Little Shop of Horrors” roots with a new adaptation of a cult classic. While the original is a tour de force of social critique in the vein of “Rosemary’s Baby,” focusing on a planned community in Stepford, Conn. where American materialism is taken to a horrifying extreme, Oz seems more interested in focusing on the campy elements. But with a cast including Matthew Broderick, Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler, Christopher Walken, Faith Hill, Glenn Close and the sorely-missed Jon Lovitz, Oz has some great materials to work with. While some ominous clouds hang over the film — Walken, Midler and Oz tangled repeatedly with each other during production and the script had to be reworked numerous times — it is hard not to expect top-of-the-line performance from this revamped replica.

“The Terminal” — Spielberg and Hanks check in for a comedy that takes Tom off the island only to strand him in — an airport. Based on the true story of a man who has been living in Charles de Gaulle airport for fourteen years and running, the story of Hank’s Victor Navorski, although transplanted from Paris to JFK, is similar. It seems that after his country is ravaged by a military coup Victor’s passport is rendered invalid, trapping him in the international terminal (bummer). But an airport is the perfect place for love, especially if it comes in the supple form of flight attendant Catherine Zeta-Jones who walks up Hank’s jetway to supply the emotional baggage of the film. As a follow-up to the airplanephilic “Catch Me if You Can,” this small comedy proves that Spielberg is the only human being left on this planet who is still fascinated by flying (maybe it has something to do with his private jet).

“Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” — Beating out “The Stepford Wives” for the weirdest release of the summer, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie star in a computer animated movie that takes place in an idealized 1940s version of the future. The plot follows Law as Sky Captain battling evil robots with his trusty reporter/damsel Polly Perkins played by Paltrow. Jolie, as much as can be discerned this far in advance, gets to wear an eyepatch. Blending live action actors with computer animation, the untried Conran Brothers’s project was picked up hot-off-the-Mac by producer Jon Avnet and made for 70 million. A sort of hybrid between Buck Rogers and Indiana Jones, the film is intended as a modern day “Metropolis.” But more likely it hopes to capitalize on the strong national desire for a simpler time, with a simpler kind of warfare and a clear-cut villain wearing an eyepatch.

“I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” — Director Mike Hodges and actor Clive Owen follow up the cool mix of gambling and nihilism found in 1998’s “Croupier” with a gangster film set in London. Long a favorite of director Stanley Kubrick, Hodges went largely unnoticed even after the releases of his revolutionary gangster thriller “Get Carter” and the aforementioned “Croupier,” although critics heralded both. This new film deals with the issues of family, revenge and the inability to escape the past; in other words it might end up being a much more interesting “Road to Perdition.” If all goes according to plan, Hodges’ black humor, off-kilter characters and extensive understanding of atmosphere should combine for an uncompromising movie experience.

Other films of partial note:

“I, Robot” — Will Smith’s contribution to the techno-mechanical genre, but under the direction of creepy Alex Proyas, (“The Crow”) this futuristic detective story may be more than just another “Blade Runner.”

“Zatoichi” — This flashy yet original samurai film is worth watching solely for its exhilarating grand finale which is an inspired cross between Fred Astaire, tap dancing and Techno.

“Catwoman” — Halle Berry is Catwoman, enough said.

Don’t touch this one with a ten-foot pole:

“Shall We Dance?” — A remake of the whimsical Japanese romantic-comedy, removed from the all-important setting of Tokyo culture in which dancing is taboo, to Chicago. It gets better: the leads are to be played by Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez. Whatever else can be said of Jen, she doesn’t lack tenacity.

In short, if any of our readers out there are deciding between that slavish, Milquetoast corporate internship and a real summer break, just remember: quidditch, eyepatch Jolie, passport fraud, machine guns and most importantly, vixen robots, and the decision will get a whole lot easier.