This month’s BAMcinemaFest isn’t just for New York cinephiles, as the annual festival routinely rolls out a slate that includes the year’s best indie offerings, giving many of them a major boost before they roll out theatrical runs. This year is no different, as the Brooklyn-based event will play home to a slew of festival favorites, including a hefty dose of Sundance’s buzziest titles and some big-time SXSW winners and everything in between, most of them bound for a release in a theater (hopefully) near you.
As we look ahead to the rest of the year in indie cinema, these 20 titles stand out as some of the best and the brightest still left on the calendar. Fortunately, we’ve got plenty of information on each of them to satiate you. If this is what the rest of 2017 will be made up of, indie lovers are in for some serious treats. Take a look.
This year’s opening night film hails from BAM alum Aaron Katz, who returns with a stylish and unexpected new thriller, starring Lola Kirke and Zoë Kravitz, which was recently picked up by NEON. In our review, we billed it “a charming two-hander that — at least in its first act — has the makings of a gender-swapped episode of ‘Entourage.’ Jaded movie star Heather (Kravitz) annoys the hell out of her devout assistant Jill (Kirke), coping with the actress as she abruptly decides to ignore desperate calls from her agent and drop out of a major project. Over the course of a meandering evening, they evade the eerie advances of an affectionate fan at a diner, engage in a wild karaoke session, and keep the details of Heather’s romantic life under wraps. So far, so straightforward — until a sudden dark twist arrives 30 minutes in, and every detail of that first act becomes a clue.” That’s when things get wild. Read our full review here.
For fans of “Obvious Child,” the film’s main trio — including writer and director Gillan Robespierre, writer Liz Holm, and star Jenny Slate, who love working together and we hope never stop — are back on the big screen with their ’90s-era throwback “Landline,” which will be released in select theaters next month. Our Sundance review pegged it as being even better than “Obvious Child,” as it’s “the rare movie that appreciates the difference between the pleasure of standing in the water and the satisfaction of soaking in it — the difference between trying someone on for size and swishing around in their dirt until your skin prunes and the water runs cold. Almost everything that a second feature should be, the film is bigger, richer, shaggier, and more satisfying than Robespierre’s ‘Obvious Child,’ though obviously a product of the same irreverent imagination. It’s that most elusive of indie dramedies: An honestly told story about the messiness of human relationships.” You can read our full review here.
“A Ghost Story”
Another indie auteur back in the mix this year is David Lowery, who bowed his “A Ghost Story” at Sundance to major acclaim, and will next screen it at BAM as a Spotlight screening before a summer release from A24. At Sundance, we hailed it as Lowery’s best film to date, with a review that noted that “the appeal of ‘A Ghost Story’ is all the more impressive in the wake of ‘Pete’s Dragon,’ a movie Lowery made on an unfathomably larger scale and designed for mainstream appeal. But even as ‘A Ghost Story’ exists in a niche, it’s not preaching to the converted; Lowery manages to find entertainment value and genuine intrigue from his outlandish scenario, synthesizing the magical realism of his earlier films with a tighter grasp of tone. With ‘St. Nick’ and ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,’ Lowery showed plenty of craftsmanship but leaned too heavily on the Terrence Malick playbook, reveling in gorgeous landscapes and whispery dialogue at the expense of innovation. ‘A Ghost Story’ allows Lowery to build on those dreamy tropes with a voice of his own. The result is a soul-searching drama in which powerful revelations emerge less from a satisfying destination than from the beautiful struggle involved in getting there.” We also spoke to Lowery about the deeply personal nature of the film, and you can also read our review here.
BAMcinemaFest will close out with Alex Ross Perry’s latest, the dramedy “Golden Exits,” a perfect showcase for such a Brooklyn-centric feature. Out of Sundance, we noted that “with his intimacy drama ‘Golden Exits,’ Perry strays from his typical fare of people behaving badly to, well, people behaving not quite as badly and certainly with more believable motivation,” with a film that stars Jason Schwartzman, Emily Browning, and Adam Horowitz. The filmmaker still avoids convention, however, but as he explained to us in January, he was looking to try something a little different this time around: “This could not be my fourth movie in a row where characters are just arguing with each other for minutes on end,” he said. “It became a movie about all the things people keep inside, and that sort of informed a whole new direction for me.” Read our full review here.
“The Big Sick”
There’s no other indie poised for as big a breakout this year than Michael Showalter’s immensely crowd-pleasing “The Big Sick,” gearing up for a wide release later this month. A smash hit out of Sundance, our review hailed it as a huge new step in star and co-writer Kumail Nanjiani’s (who wrote it alongside his wife, Emily V. Gordon) career: “At first, ‘The Big Sick’ is an appealing but familiar tale of courtship, with the geeky Nanjiani courting Emily with his classic movie love and awkward high school tales. Although her mixed reaction to his rambling one-man show touches on the prospects of a cultural disconnect, initially it seems as though the script will gloss over the issue’s deeper ramifications. Instead, it’s just getting started, as the cutesy tale of a would-be couple becomes a shrewder portrait when Emily finally confronts Kumail about family issues that have prevented him from telling his parents about her. It’s no great surprise that Kazan, ever the combustible performer, delivers on the intensity of this fraught discussion; Nanjiani, on the other, instantly blossoms into a serious actor elevated to a higher plane by his intimate bond with the story.” Read our full review here.
BB Film Productions
The dark horse of this year’s Oscar season? “Marjorie Prime” star Lois Smith, as FilmRise is planning a fall awards push centered around the actress, who is 86 and has never been nominated for an Oscar in a career spanning seven decades. As we noted in our review, the film is “a big-screen adaptation of Jordan Harrison’s Pulitzer-nominated play about artificial intelligence and the 85-year-old Marjorie, whose handsome companion is programmed to feed the story of her life back to her. Starring acting legend and multiple Tony nominee Lois Smith (reprising the role she originated on stage in 2014) with Jon Hamm, Geena Davis, and Tim Robbins, Almereyda’s feature is rich in acting talent,” but it’s Smith who comes out with the most revelatory work. Read our full review here.
“Ingrid Goes West”
Aubrey Plaza stars in Matt Spicer’s alternately howlingly funny and achingly on-the-nose Sundance award winner “Ingrid Goes West,” both a love letter and warning shot about the power of social media. In our review, David Ehrlich laid out the scene: “Spicer’s film tells the bleakly satirical story of an Aubrey Plaza-like girl named Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza), a mentally ill twentysomething whose psychoses are spelled out through social media like ink through a pen. Unwell from the start, Ingrid is introduced as she obsessively ‘likes’ her way through another girl’s wedding photos. Her indiscriminate approval isn’t a good look, but the really unsettling thing about it is that the wedding Ingrid is seeing through her feed is still in progress, and she’s sitting in the parking lot, uninvited and unhinged.” When Ingrid begins fixating on a new Insta-star, played by Elizabeth Olsen, and sets out to befriend her IRL, things really go topside. You can read our full review here, and learn more about how Spicer made his feature directorial debut such a memorable one. NEON will release the film on August 11.
Janicza Bravo and Brett Gelman’s wildly original comedy of errors was one of the most unique offerings at this year’s Sundance, and it’s bound for a 2017 release, thanks to Magnolia Pictures. First, though, a stop at BAM, where more audiences can enjoy what we termed “Bravo’s eccentric approach” that “can be so disorienting and unpleasant that it’s sometimes difficult to appreciate the sheer gall of it, and she wastes no time kickstarting the wackiness in ‘Lemon.’ A slow-moving opening shot reveals the messy apartment inhabited by Isaac (Gelman), a frumpy, bearded acting teacher who lives with his blind girlfriend Ramona (Judy Greer), whom he pushes around like property while dropping pompous lines about his superior intellect. Elsewhere, he attempts to rehearse a hilariously ill-conceived production of ‘The Seagull,’ in which he mostly heaps praise on hyperbolic leading man Alex (a curly-haired Cera) while condescending to his female counterpart in a series of long-winded performances. Despite his best efforts, Isaac fails to bond with Alex, and eventually scares him off; it doesn’t take long for Ramona to follow suit, leaving him in utter desolation.” You can read our full review here, and learn more about the intensely creative — and damn fun to talk to — Bravo.
“The Incredible Jessica James”
The age of “Jessica Williams, movie star” is now blessedly upon us, thanks to the actress’ most recent collaboration with filmmaker Jim Strouse, which puts a major spotlight on the “People Places Things” standout. Out of Sundance, we wrote, “Who wouldn’t want to build an entire film around the breakout charms of Jessica Williams? That must have been the thought that crossed filmmaker Jim Strouse’s mind when he cast her in his 2015 Sundance premiere ‘People Places Things,’ in which the former ‘Daily Show’ correspondent stole every single scene she appeared in (no small feat, considering the film afforded Williams her biggest role yet, and she was cast alongside other charmers like Jemaine Clement and Regina Hall). For Strouse’s next feature, he’s — quite smartly — turned his full attention to Williams, who makes a bold bid for movie stardom as the centerpiece of ‘The Incredible Jessica James.'” Netflix will release the film later this year, but you can read our review right now.
“En el Septimo Dia”
The first feature from Jim McKay (“Our Song”) in a decade was well worth the wait. The centerpiece of BAMcinemaFest is a touching crowdpleaser about the plight of undocumented Mexican immigrant José, who dashes across Brooklyn each day doing bicycle deliveries for a cramped restaurant when he isn’t playing soccer as the team’s star player in Sunset Park. Those two aspects of his life suddenly clash when his boss insists he work on the same day that his team is due to play in the finals, and he spends the bulk of the week trying to decide where his allegiances lie. José’s problems are exacerbated by his desire to bring his pregnant wife to New York from Mexico, but he’s also keen on serving the needs of his teammates — and retaining some degree of autonomy over the system that dictates his everyday challenges. From this basic premise, McKay spins a bittersweet portrait of urban life against the backdrop of widely neglected concerns, merging the contemporary framework with the tropes of classic neorealism. As with “Our Song,” McKay shows a penchant for working with non-professional actors and clarifying their emotional turmoil through a rousing narrative. More than anything else, “En el Séptimo Dia” (“The Seventh Day”) succeeds at foregrounding characters too often sidelined in American cinema. This is a great New York movie about real New Yorkers who deserve the spotlight more often. -Eric Kohn
On the next page, check out 10 more indies poised to break out this year.