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Summer 2012 Movie Preview: The 20 Indies You Must See

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire April 30, 2012 at 1:5PM

The summer movie season isn't exactly best known for independent film. With billions of dollars set to be spent on a vast amount of sequels, remakes and board game adaptations ("Ice Age 4," "The Dark Knight Rises," "The Amazing Spider-Man," "Battleship," "The Expendables 2," etc, etc.), one has to wonder: How much space is left for the little guys?
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A promotional image for "Moonrise Kingdom"

The summer movie season isn't exactly best known for independent film. With billions of dollars set to be spent on a vast amount of sequels, remakes and board game adaptations ("Ice Age 4," "The Dark Knight Rises," "The Amazing Spider-Man," "Battleship," "The Expendables 2," etc, etc.), one has to wonder: How much space is left for the little guys?

But, while summer will never be the independent film hotbed that is the fall, in recent years there have actually been quite a few indie breakouts during the studio's favorite months. Last year, for example, summer brought eventual best picture nominees in "The Tree of Life" and "Midnight in Paris," a slew of fantastic docs in "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," "Buck," and "Senna," and a bunch of excellent imports from the UK  in "Submarine," "The Trip" and "Attack The Block."

That said, summer can be a particularly risky time to release an independent film, partially due to the mass amount of studio pictures with huge advertising budgets that are bogarting three or four screens (or more) in some multiplexes. So, it's also important to look outside the box office. A lot of great films are going to come and go this summer and even if they are destined for meager grosses, they might still deserve moviegoer attention. It just might be hard for some to find that attention, given the plethora of "Battleship" and "Ice Age 4" ads blocking the view.

So in an attempt to help remedy that, Indiewire is offering this list of 20 specialty films coming out this summer that demand moviegoer consideration, a supplement to Indiewire's film calendar that additionally mentions a few dozen more (check out specific listings for May, June, July, and August). From time travel and apocalypses (yes, we're still talking about indies) to vibrators and bootleggers, a summer indie preview:

1. Moonrise Kingdom (May 25)

Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward
Distributor: Focus Features

Why is it a "Must See"? Wes Anderson! The director follows 2009's animated "Fantastic Mr. Fox" with both return to live action and to the youth-oriented narratives that made so many fall in love with his earlier work.

Set in the 1960s, "Moonrise Kingdom" follows a pair of 12 year olds (newcomers Hayward and Gilman) who decide to run away together into the wildnerness.  Their move prompts a considerable search party in their honor, a search part made up of the rest of the film's amazing cast (Swinton, Murray, Norton, McDormand.. though notably, not Owen Wilson for the first time in Anderson history). The film opens the Cannes Film Festival om May 16th, followed quickly by a release Stateside. It's surely the most anticipated films of the summer for Anderson fans, and probably a few Anderson skeptics as well.

Check out the film's trailer:

2. To Rome, With Love (June 22) &  3. 2 Days in New York (August 10)

Directors: Woody Allen ("Rome") and Julie Delpy ("New York")
Casts: Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz, Roberto Benigni, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Greta Gerwig and Allen himself ("Rome"); Chris Rock, Albert Delby, Alexia Landeau and Julie Delpy herself ("New York")
Distributors: Sony Pictures Classics ("Rome") and Magnolia Pictures ("New York")

Why Are They "Must Sees"? Besides each being named after cities, "To Rome, With Love" and "2 Days in Paris" are each romantic-ish, talky comedies in which their directors (one playing an American in Europe, the other playing a European in America) also star. 

"Rome" marks Woody Allen's first acting role in one of his films since 2006's "Scoop," and he's joined by a typically expansive cast that includes previous collaborators Cruz and Davis.  Few have seen it, but the film is said to be told in four vignettes, each set in Rome. It's unclear what the quality level will be, as Allen clearly hits ("Midnight in Paris") as much as he misses ("You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger") these days, and two in a row seems like asking a bit much.

More clear is that question relating to "2 Days in New York," which premiered at Sundance earlier this year to generally positive reviews. Working as a sequel-of-sorts to Delpy's "2 Days in Paris," the film stars Delpy as Marion, a woman living in New York with a child from a previous relationship (see "Paris") and her new boyfriend (Rock) and his child.  When Marion's family arrives from France (including Delpy's actual father Albert), chaos ensues. Which sounds a little bit like the plot a Woody Allen movie...

Check out the films' trailers:

4. Beasts of the Southern Wild (June 27)

Director: Benh Zeitlin
Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry
Distributor: Fox Searchlight

Why is it a "Must See"? Winner of the Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize for US Narrative Filmmaking, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" follows an impressive line of recent winners including "Frozen River," "Precious" and "Winter's Bone." And with good reason. This gorgeous, lyrical fable of a film won over pretty much everyone that saw it at Sundance, and is likely to be one of the year's most acclaimed indies.  It follows six year old Hushpuppy (Wallis, in a remarkable performance), who leaves faces great obstacles in her father's fading health, impending environmental doom and a search for her mother. It all culminates in a sequence sure to leave you breathless, and in awe of newcomer Zeitlin's directorial capabilities.

Check out this featurette:

5. Take This Waltz (June 29)

Director: Sarah Polley
Cast: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby and Sarah Silverman
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Why is it a "Must See"? Sarah Polley's highly anticipated directorial follow-up to "Away From Her," "Take This Waltz" stars Michelle Williams as Margot, a 28 year old aspiring writer married for 5 years to Lou (Seth Rogen), a chicken cookbook author who clearly adores her.  But their relationship is somewhat stagnant despite its sweetness, and Margot is definitely not entirely satisfied. With Lou, or with anything. Enter sexy artist dude Daniel (Luke Kirby), who she meets and flirts with on a work trip only to find out he lives across the street. And of course, here comes trouble. But it's not the sort of trouble you might expect. Polley handles the narrative distinctly, never relying on convention. A sort of anti-romantic comedy, you won't regret taking this "Waltz."

Check out the film's trailer:

6. The Queen of Versailles (July 6)

Director: Lauren Greenfield
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Why is it a "Must See"? This highly buzzed about documentary from the Sundance Film Festival (one of four such films on this list) follows a glimpse into the extremely wealthy lives of David and Jackie Siegel. He the CEO of the largest timeshare corporation in the country, she something of a trophy wife, director Lauren Greenfied somewhat accidentally comes across what turns into a riches-to-less-riches story. While documenting the development of their 90,000 sq. foot home (to be the largest in America), the 2008 financial crisis hits and David is all of a sudden in trouble. Timely and crowd-pleasing, "Versailles" could be this summer's big doc breakout.

Check out this preview clip:


 

7. Lawless (August 31)

Director: John Hillcoat
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska
Distributor: The Weinstein Company

Why is it a "Must See"? Recently tapped for the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, John Hillcoat's follow-up to "The Road" (previously titled both "The Wettest County" and "The Promised Land"), gives us a pretty stunning cast in LaBeouf, Hardy, Oldman, Chastain and Wasikowska. Together they help portray the story of three brothers who find their bootlegging business under threat in Prohibition-era Virginia. Based on the 2008 historical novel by Matt Bondurant, you'll have to wait until the tale-end of the summer to catch the film. After numerous delays, the film finally opens on August 31st.

Check out the film's trailer:

8. Your Sister's Sister (June 15) & 9. Safety Not Guaranteed (June 8)

Directors: Lynn Shelton ("Sister"); Colin Trevorrow ("Safety")
Cast: Emily Blunt, Rosemarie Dewitt and Mark Duplass ("Sister"); Aubrey Plaza, Jake M. Johnson and Mark Duplass again ("Safety)
Distributors: Sundance Selects ("Sister"); Film District ("Safety")

Why Are They "Must Sees"? Mark Duplass double feature! Though the similarities pretty much end there, save the fact that both have had well-recieved runs on the festival circuit.

The "Jeff Who Lives at Home" writer and director stars in two indie films this summer (in addition to studio offering "People Like Us" and the release of Mark and brother Jay Duplass's first film "The Do-Deca-Pentathlon"), Lynn Shelton's "Your Sister's Sister" and Colin Trevorrow's "Safety Not Guaranteed." The former sees him starring alongside Emily Blunt and Rosemarie Dewitt in a heavily improvised comedic drama about a revealing weekend at the cottage between two sisters and their friend. The latter is based on an internet meme that originated from a newspaper classified ad by a person (played by Duplass in the film) asking for someone to accompany him in time travel.  Both are unlike anything else playing in theaters this summer, and that's a good thing.

Check out the films' trailers:

10. The Intouchables (May 25)

Directors: Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano
Cast: Nicolas Duval-Adassovsky, Laurent Zeitoun, Yann Zenou
Distributor: The Weinstein Company

Why is it a "Must See"? Already the second highest grossing non-English language film ever (behind "The Passion of the Christ"), Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano's "The Intouchables" has been a remarkable sensation all of the world, grossing over $325 million.  So what will that translate into when the film comes to America? Je ne sais pas. But it's easy to see why people have already taken to the film's feel-good inspirational story. It tells the development of the improbable friendship between Philippe, a rich quadriplegic, and Driss, a young offender of Senegalese descent, who is hired as his live-in caregiver. Sounds a little "Driving Monsieur Daisy," sure... But that hasn't stopped the rest of the world from embracing it.

Check out the film's trailer:

11. Seeking a Friend For the End of the World (June 22)

Director: Lorene Scafaria
Cast: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Adam Brody, Derek Luke, Connie Britton, Melanie Lynskey, Patton Oswalt, William Peterson
Distributor: Focus Features

Why is it a "Must See"? The first film from Lorene Scarfaria (who wrote "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist"), "Seeking a Friend" is an apocalyptic  comedy set amidst the impending doom of an asteroid crash. After his wife leaves him, Dodge (Steve Carell) teams up with his longtime British neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) to search for his old childhood sweetheart before the asteroid arrives. Along the way, a promising cast of character actors pop up (from Patton Oswalt to Melanie Lynsky), sure to collectively offer one of the more fun cinematic takes on the end of days.

Check out the film's trailer:

12. & 13. Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present  (June 13 ) and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (July 27)

Directors: Matthew Akers ("Marina"); Alison Klayman ("Ai Weiwei")
Distributors: Music Box Films ("Marina"); Sundance Selects ("Ai Weiwei")

Why Are They "Must Sees"? Two of the most talked about documentaries to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, "The Artist is Present" and "Never Sorry" offer takes on two very different artists: New York-based Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic and Chinese artist and activist Al Weiwei. Each doc sheds light on the respective artist's process, and external conflcits (certainly and drastically more severe for Weiwei, who has increasingly clashed with the Chinese government, getting arrested in 2011). 

Check out the film's trailers:

14. Ruby Sparks (July 25)

Directors: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Cast: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, Steve Coogan
Distributor: Fox Searchlight

Why is it a "Must See"? Six years after "Little Miss Sunshine," directorial team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris finally give us their follow-up with "Ruby Sparks."  The film follows a novelist ("Sunshine" breakout Paul Dano) struggling with writer's block who manages to somehow creating a female character he thinks will love him, and then forcing her into actual existence. Chaos and romance ensure.

Check out the film's trailer:

15. Oslo, August 31st (May 25)

Director: Joachim Trier
Cast: Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner
Distributor: Strand Releasing

Why is it a "Must See"? While the 2012 Cannes Film Festival takes place over the pond, American audiences can check out one of the best films from last year's festival as Joachim Trier's "Oslo, August 31st" hits US screens. The film depicts one day in the life of Anders -- a recovering drug addict -- who takes a brief leave from his treatment center to interview for a job and catch up with old friends in Oslo. A critical darling on the festival circuit ever since Cannes (it also played Toronto and Sundance), this Norwegian import is one of the best foreign language films coming this way over the summer.

Check out the film's trailer:

16. Hysteria (May 18)

Director: Tanya Wexler
Cast: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Felicity Jones, Rupert Everett, Jonathan Pryce
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Why is it a "Must See"? A romantic comedy set around the invention of the vibrator, this Victorian-era film from director Tanya Wexler ("Finding North") definitely offers a premise unique to its studio rom-com comrades.  With a cast led by Maggie Gyllenhaal and Hugh Dancy, this historical sex romp is a lot of good old fashioned saucy fun.

Check out the film's trailer:

17. God Bless America (May 11)

Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Cast: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr and Mackenzie Brooke Smith
Distributor: Magnet Releasing

Why is it a "Must See"? Comedian-turned-director Bobcat Goldthwait follows up his "World's Greatest Dad" with another very dark comedy. In "God Bless America," he gives us Frank, a jobless, loveless man who decides to give up on life, grab a gun and kill the folks who he considers the most repellent members of American society. And he's not doing it alone. He finds an unexpected accomplice in a 16 year old girl who is similarly fed up with her world.

Check out the film's trailer:

18. Searching For Sugar Man (July 27)

Director: Malik Bendjelloul
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Why is it a "Must See"? Yet another must-see doc from Sundance 2012's impressive crop, Malik Bendjelloul's "Searching For Sugar Man" follows two South Africans who set out to discover what happened to their unlikely musical hero: The mysterious 1970s rocker Rodriguez. An incredible story that had all of Sundance talking, audiences should definitely go on their own search for "Sugar Man" this July.

Check out the film's trailer:

19. & 20. The Loneliest Planet (August 24) and Planet of Snail (July 25)

Directors: Julia Loktev ("Loneliest"); Yi Seung-jun ("Snail")
Casts: Hani Furstenberg, Gael García Bernal and Bidzina Gujabidze ("Loneliest"); Young-Chan and Soon-Ho ("Snail")
Distributors: Sundance Selects ("Loneliest"); The Cinema Guild ("Snail")

Why Are They "Must Sees"? Julia Loktev's narrative "The Loneliest Planet" and Yi Seung-jun's doc "Planet of Snail" have little to do with each other, or planets from anything other than a metaphorical standpoint.  But they do both follow couples, and both are quietly powerful films from up-and-coming filmmakers that are worth the price of admission.

"Loneliest" follows a spirited young couple (Gael Garcia Bernal  and Hani Furstenberg) as they backpack across the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia a few months ahead of their American wedding. "Snail," meanwhile, is a portrait of Young-Chan, a Korean man who is both deaf and blind (he calls himself a "snail" as he can only communicate through touch).  At the centre of the story is Young-Chan's relationship with his wife Soon-Ho, who lovingly works as his eyes and ears.

Check out a clip from "Snail," and the Indiewire panel from "Loneliest" at last year's Toronto Film Festival:





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