The winter's post-Oscar doldrums are gone and the Spring specialty film release calendar is abuzz with an eclectic mix of films American and international, narrative and documentary, dramatic and comic. Before the summer season ups the ante, it's an excellent opportunity to check out a batch of smaller (even in terms of indie) films that certainly warrant your attention.
Whether it's Bob Marley, the Pope, Brit Marling or Whit Stilman, check out Indiewire‘s picks for the eight best options, and then check out the full calendar; there’s many worthy films that didn’t make this list.
1. Sound of My Voice
Why Is It a "Must See"? One of the last 2011 Sundance Film Festival acquisitions to get a theatrical release, Zal Batmanglij's "Sound of My Voice" is also one of the most acclaimed. It follows a journalist (Christopher Denham) and his girlfriend (Nicole Vicius), who get pulled in while they investigate a cult whose leader (rising star Brit Marling, who co-wrote the screenplay with Batmanglij) claims to be from the future. A multi-layered look at human nature, the film topped Indiewire's mid-year poll of the best films so far in 2011, and is likely to end up on a few top 10 lists come December as well. (April 27; Fox Searchlight)
What Do Critics Think? "Sound of My Voice" has a A- average on its Criticwire page.
Why Is It a "Must See"? Whit Stillman's first film since 1998's "The Last Days at Disco," "Damsels in Distress" debuted to warm reviews when it closed the Venice Film Festival last year. The film follows a trio of girls (including Greta Gerwig) who set out to alter the male-dominated environment of a newly co-ed East Coast university. Clever and quirky, "Damsels" is unlikely to disappoint fans of Stillman's earlier work or those being introduced to him now. (April 6; Sony Pictures Classics)
What Do Critics Think? "Damsels in Distress" has a B average on its Criticwire page.
Why Is It a "Must See"? The second consecutive film from Quebec to nab an Academy Award nomination for best foreign language film, Philippe Falardeau's "Monsieur Lazhar" is hitting American theaters this April. It follows Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag), an Algerian immigrant who is hired to replace a teacher at a Montreal elementary school who kills herself. Honest and sincere in a manner rare to the teacher-classroom subgenre, "Lazhar" is a powerful little film that effectively takes on a multitude of issues permeating today's society. (April 13; Music Box Films)
What Do Critics Think? "Monsieur Lazhar" has a B+ average on its Criticwire page.
Why Is It a "Must See"? What better way to celebrate 4/20 than with Kevin Macdonald's documentary about legendary reggae icon (and marijuana enthusiast) Bob Marley. A two-and-a-half hour chronicle that takes us from Marley's impoverished Jamaican roots through his stardom and onto his final days battling cancer, the film is a considerable tribute to the man largely credited with spreading both Jamaican music and the Rastafari movement to a worldwide audience. (April 20; Magnolia Pictures)
What Do Critics Think? "Marley" has a B average on its Criticwire page.
5. Goodbye First Love
Why Is It a "Must See"? French director Mia Hansen-Love follows up her acclaimed "The Father of My Children" with this look at young love. A kindred spirit to Olivier Assayas's family drama "Summer Hours" (Hansen-Love is notably engaged to Assayas), the talky, critical film follows a decade in the relationship between Camille (Lola Créton) and Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky). Think a sort of French "Like Crazy," but with considerably less convention. (April 20, Sundance Selects)
What Do Critics Think? "Goodbye First Love" has a B average on its Criticwire page.
Why Is It a "Must See"? Richard Linklater reunites with his "School of Rock" star Jack Black in this dark comedy about a mortician named Bernie Tiede (Black) who befriends a rich widow (Shirley MacLaine) in a small Texas town. Based on a wild true story, the film premiered to generally good reviews at the Los Angeles Film Festival last year. Indiewire's Eric Kohn called it "an oddly endearing love letter to Southern eccentricities that calls to mind no less than his iconic 'Slacker.'" (April 27, Millennium Entertainment)
What Do Critics Think? "Bernie" has a B- average on its Criticwire page.
7. We Have a Pope
Why Is It a "Must See"? Nearly a year after it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival (where its director Nanni Moretti will preside over the jury this year), Italian import "We Have a Pope" is hitting US theaters this month via Sundance Selects. Considerably comic in nature, the film (which comes 35 years after Moretti's debut feature, "I Am Self Sufficient") centers on a newly elected Pope (Michel Piccoli in a fantastic performance) and his unwillingness to take on his new responsibilities. (April 6, Sundance Selects)
What Do Critics Think? "We Have a Pope" has a B- average on its Criticwire page.
Why Is It a "Must See"? Like "Sound of My Voice," Braden King's "Here" is a 2011 Sundance Film Festival alum. Starring Ben Foster as a cartographer who hits the road to create a new, more accurate satellite survey of Armenia, the film might not have been as universally acclaimed as "Sound," but it definitely has its fair share of passionate supporters (check out Karina Longworth's Village Voice rave, for example). (April 13; Strand Releasing)
What Do Critics Think? "Here" has a C+ average on its Criticwire page.