“Cop Car” (August 7)
Director: Jon Watts
Cast: Kevin Bacon, James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Wellford, Camryn Manheim, Shea Whigham
Criticwire Average: B-
Why is it a “Must See”? Ever since it was announced that Jon Watts would be tackling Marvel and Sony’s “Spider-Man” reboot, all eyes have turned to the writer-director’s debut indie, “Cop Car,” which premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. The road thriller finds Kevin Bacon in predator mode after two young boys stumble across his abandoned cop car in a secluded glade and take it for a joy ride. The deadly cat-and-mouse game that follows moves at a tightly wound pace, thanks to editing by Megan Brooks and Andrew Hasse, and it’s especially involving anytime the focus shifts on the two boys. The story manages to create a formidable sense of threat from its very first scenes, and what the kids find in the trunk gives the film the real catalyst to its intense evening-time final act. “Cop Car” will also be available On Demand staring August 14.
“The Diary of a Teenage Girl” (August 7)
Director: Marielle Heller
Cast: Bel Powley, Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgård, Christopher Meloni, Madeleine Waters
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? Writer-director Marielle Heller blew Sundance audiences away with her debut feature based on the graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner. Brilliantly unrestrained in her American film debut, Bel Powley stars as Minnie, a young girl whose sexual awakening begins when she starts an affair with her mother’s boyfriend. A story following the sex-driven relationship between a high school girl and a man twice her age, “Diary” could have easily fallen off the deep end into exploiting the discomfort of its topic or simply being too quirky for its own good. But as told through Heller’s acutely sensitive vision, the result is less off-putting and more of an authentic insight into a perspective grossly underrepresented in American cinema. Shocking but genuine, poignant and hilarious, “Diary of a Teenage Girl” is one of the year’s best indies – not just for women, but for anyone who recalls the befuddling emotions that plagued and enriched their teen years in equal doses.
“Fort Tilden” (August 14)
Director: Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers
Cast: Bridey Elliott, Clare McNulty, Alysia Reiner, Neil Casey, Peter Vack, Griffin Newman, Jeffrey Scaperrotta, Reggie Watts
Criticwire Average: C+
Why is it a “Must See”? Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival, “Fort Tilden” is finally hitting theaters with its biting satirical look at privileged young Brooklynites who encounter mishap after mishap during a bike ride to the beach. While some movies comment on a generation by virtue of the colorful personalities who epitomize it (think Richard Linklater’s “Slacker”), “Fort Tilden” take the simpler route of turning its characters into symbols of the times. Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers’ goofy portrait of self-involved millenials is frequently very funny and is sustained by a pair of boldly unlikable female protagonists. Eventually adopting the glorious stupidity of its stars, and echoing their gratingly obnoxious temperaments, the comedy works hard to make a statement about modern personalities.
“Meru” (August 14)
Director: Jimmy Chin & E. Chai Vasarhelyi
Criticwire Average: B
Why is it a “Must See”? Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s documentary won the U.S. Audience Award for Documentary at Sundance thanks to its exhilarating first-person account of three mountain climbers who set out to conquer the most treacherous and dangerous mountain peak in the world. Aptly named the “Shark’s Fin,” the peak of Mt. Meru has served as an obsession and unattainable goal for renowned alpinists Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk. After their failed attempt to reach the top of Meru in 2008, the three climbers returned to their respective homes, defeated and still tempted to conquer Shark’s Fin. In 2011, Anker convinced his two fellow climbers to attempt the deathly journey once more. “Meru” thus serves as the culmination and documentation of their death-defying and extraordinary second attempt.
“Mistress America” (August 14)
Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a “Must See”? It’s not every year viewers get treated to two Noah Baumbach movies, and the director follows up the biggest box office hit of his career, “While We’re Young,” by reuniting with “Frances Ha” collaborator Greta Gerwig for another generational comedy. Tracking the blossoming relationship between a new Manhattan transplant and her soon-to-be-stepsister, the movie adopts the tone of a screwball comedy to explore the frustrations and aspirations of young women and uses a conventional structure and cynical attitude that synthesizes Baumbach and Gerwig’s distinct voices. While a majority of the narrative revolves around neurotic characters and zany dialogue that constantly hits its mark, it also includes perceptive takeaways as the two women attempt to psychoanalyze each other’s flaws. Consider it a worthy successor to “Frances Ha.”
“We Come as Friends” (August 14)
Director: Hubert Sauper
Criticwire Average: A
Why is it a “Must See”? After earning critical acclaim for his 2005 documentary “Darwin’s Nightmare,” Oscar-nominated filmmaker Hubert Sauper is returning to theaters with another hard-hitting non-fiction feature. Winner of the Special Jury Prize (World Documentary Category) at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, “We Come As Friends” explores the after-effects of South Sudan’s independence, including an international interest in gaining the area’s land and resources. Sauper traveled in a small, self-made aircraft throughout different locations to show the devastating results of the exploitation of the region, exposing Chinese oil workers, UN peacekeepers, Sudanese warlords and American evangelists and their common interests in South Sudan.
“Grandma” (August 21)
Director: Paul Weitz
Cast: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Laverne Cox, Sam Elliott
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? Lily Tomlin continues her banner year after earning an Emmy nomination for “Grace and Frankie” with an acclaimed performance in “Grandma,” which has become a bonafide crowd-pleaser after successful screenings at Sundance and the Los Angeles Film Festival. Tomlin stars as Elle Reid, an irreverent and free-spirited woman who takes a road trip with her pregnant granddaughter in order to rack up some money for the latter’s abortion. Taking a traditional “day in the life” story and filling it with memorable supporting characters and an emotional center via Tomlin, “Grandma” is a vibrant comedy with humor and heartbreak to spare.
“The Mend” (August 21)
Director: John Magary
Cast: Josh Lucas, Stephen Plunkett, Lucy Owen, Mickey Sumner, Austin Pendleton, Cory Nichols, Sekou Laidlow, Louisa Krause, Leo Fitzpatrick, Sarah Steele
Criticwire Average: C
Why is it a “Must See”? Making his feature film debut, John Magary has crafted a stunning, acerbic and strange sibling comedy with “The Mend,” which debuted at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival. Notably, the film stars Josh Lucas in a career-defining role as Mat, a volatile and self-destructive man who attempts to build a stronger relationship with his more put-together brother, Alan (Stephen Plunkett.) Lucas’ stellar performance as Mat has already stirred up some awards buzz and showcases his ability to play complicated and difficult characters. The film unravels in three distinct acts, each part with its own stylistic and rhythmic uniqueness, and has already caught the eye of David Gordon Green, who is presenting the film alongside distributor Cinelicious Pics.
“She’s Funny That Way” (August 21)
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Imogen Poots, Lucy Punch, Owen Wilson, Kathryn Hahn, Will Forte, Rhys Ifans, Joanna Lumley, Cybill Shepherd
Criticwire Average: C-
Why is it a “Must See”? In his first feature film since 2001’s “The Cat’s Meow,” famed writer-direcor Peter Bogdanovich (“The Last Picture Show”) returns with a screwball ensemble comedy set behind the scenes of a new Broadway play. Owen Wilson stars as director Arnold, who casts his wife (Hahn) and his call girl (Poots) in the same show, which also happens to star his wife’s ex-lover (Ifans). Complicating matters even further, Arnold’s playwright (Forte) is harboring feelings for the call girl despite his romance with a therapist (Aniston). And if that wasn’t enough, the call girl happens to be one of the therapist’s star clients. How’s that for a complicated love story? Full of wacky supporting characters and non-stop shenanigans, Bogdanovich crafts a goofy plot that boils over with an industry satire that could only be provided by someone with as many years in the business as he has.
“Queen of Earth” (August 26)
Director: Alex Ross Perry
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, Patrick Fugit, Kentucker Audley, Keith Poulson, Kate Lyn Sheil, Craig Butta
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a “Must See”? Acclaimed writer-director Alex Ross Perry and “Mad Men” Emmy nominee Elisabeth Moss flex their genre muscles in their dynamite psychological thriller about an artist who slowly loses her mind while vacationing with her best friend at the latter’s secluded lake house. With its retro vibe, hyper-stylish credits, aristocratic moniker and unblinking distaff emphasis, “Queen of Earth” is janglingly unsettling and darkly comic all at once. In a towering performance, Moss expertly puts herself through the winger here, appearing numerous times in a state of extreme emotional duress courtesy of a screenplay that energetically burrows into her characters’ motivations and neuroses. Think Roman Polanki by way of Perry’s singular touch of dark comedy.
“The Second Mother” (August 28)
Director: Anna Muylaert
Cast: Regina Casé, Michel Joelsas, Camila Márdila, Karine Teles, Lourenço Mutarelli
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a “Must See”? After successful festival runs in Park City and Berlin, Anna Muylaert’s award-winning Brazilian drama will break down class barriers when it lands stateside this month. The film focuses on Regina Casé’s Val, a hard-working live-in housekeeper in modern day Sao Paulo. Content with taking care of every one of her wealthy employers’ needs, Val gets an unexpected surprise when her daughter shows up and throws the intrinsic class divides that exist within the home into disarray. Stars Casé and Camila Márdila won the Special Jury Award for Acting at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and the film delicately balances its poignant central relationship with the biting humor of it setting.
“Z for Zachariah” (August 28)
Director: Craig Zobel
Cast: Margot Robbie, Chris Pine, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Criticwire Average: B
Why is it a “Must See”? Fans of Craig Zobel’s 2012 psychological thriller “Compliance” have been waiting patiently for the director’s next movie for three years now, and luckily the delay finally ends with “Z for Zachariah.” Rising superstar Margot Robbie plays a nameless young woman who is seemingly the only survivor of an apocalyptic nuclear war. Her world changes, however, with the arrival of two strangers: a distraught scientist (Ejiofor) and a handsome drifter (Pine). “Compliance” was an unnerving character duel that slowly revealed itself as a meditation on human connection, and the chilling “Zachariah” finds Zobel extending this theme to a love triangle while strengthening his directorial vision. Even as the story’s increased tension weakens its subtleties, Zobel’s sensitive handling of the emotional tone throughout grounds the film with a startling, overarching realism.