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Summer Movie Preview: The 50 Indies You Must See (Part 1)

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire April 22, 2013 at 12:14PM

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 and remakes ("The Hangover Part III," "Fast & Furious 6,""The Smurfs 2," "Kick Ass 2," "Grown Ups 2," "300: Rise of an Empire," etc, etc, etc.), one has to wonder: How much space is left for the little guys?
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Sony Pictures Classics "Before Midnight"

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 and remakes ("The Hangover Part III," "Fast & Furious 6,""The Smurfs 2," "Kick Ass 2," "Grown Ups 2," "300: Rise of an Empire," etc, etc, etc.), one has to wonder: How much space is left for the little guys?

But, while summer as a season will never equal the indie film hotbed that is the fall, in recent years there have actually been quite a few smaller scale breakouts during the studio's favorite months. Last year, for example, summer brought eventual best picture Oscar nominee "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and best documentary Oscar winner "Searching For Sugar Man," not to mention "Moonrise Kingdom," "Take This Waltz," "The Queen of Versailles," "Your Sister's Sister" and "The Loneliest Planet."

That said, summer can be a particularly risky time to release an independent film, partially due to the mass 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 could be hard for some to find that attention, given the plethora of "Iron Man 3" ads blocking the view.

In an attempt to help remedy that, Indiewire is offering this five-part list of 50 specialty films coming out this summer that demand moviegoer consideration, a supplement to Indiewire's film calendar that additionally mentions a few dozen more (including studio offerings).

We realize heading to the theater 50 times in four months is a bit excessive, but there's really something for everyone listed below, so you can narrow down to a more reasonable personally specialized list yourself. From Ryan Gosling to Woody Allen to Jane Austen (sort of), here's the first part of our week-long summer indie preview (in alphabetical order):

A Hijacking (June 21)

Director:
Tobias Lindholm 
Cast: Pilou Asbæk, Søren Malling, Dar Salim, Roland Møller, Gary Skjoldmose Porter, Abdihakin Asgar, Amalie Alstrup
Distributor: Magnolia

Criticwire Average: 18 critics gave it a B+ average.

Why is it a "Must See"? Tobias Lindholm's story of a Danish ship attacked by Somali pirates, "A Hijacking," has won awards at festivals around the world.  A thriller with contemplative moments, the film teases out anticipation as the pirates must negotiate with officials in Copenhagen.  The film -- which leads with a fairly unknown cast from an internationally untested director -- has proven to be a breakout for Lindholm.  Whether American audiences embrace it remains to be seen, but we certainly recommend they do. [Bryce J. Renninger]

Check out the film's trailer:


Ain't Them Bodies Saints (August 16th)

Director: David Lowery
Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Ben Foster, Nate Parker, Keith Carradine
Distributor: IFC Films

Criticwire Average: 21 critics gave it an A- average.

Why is it a "Must See"? Indie multi-hyphenate (and editor of "Upstream Color") David Lowery's outlaw romance was one of the most highly regarded and eagerly anticipated films to come out of Sundance this year. The success landed Lowery the gig of scripting a possible remake of "Pete's Dragon" at Disney, but the elegiac Texas-set "Saints," his second feature, is about as far from a Disney film as you can get. Casey Affleck stars as a prison escapee attempting to reunite with his wife (Rooney Mara), with a detective played by Ben Foster trying to get in their path. The haunting southern atmosphere is bolstered further by cinematography from "Pariah" and "Middle of Nowhere" DP Bradford Young, who is also a rising talent to watch. [Mark E. Lukenbill]

The film doesn't have a trailer out yet, but here's an interview with Lowery with some clips (for some reason care of the Royal Bank of Canada):


Austenland (August 16)

Director: Jerusha Hess
Cast: Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Bret McKenzie, Jennifer Coolidge, Georgia King, James Callis
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Criticwire Average: 7 critics gave it a B- average.

Why is it a "Must See"? Jerusha Hess -- who co-wrote "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Nacho Libre" with her husband Jared Hess, who directed both -- makes her directorial debut in this adaptation of Shannon Hale's 2007 novel of the same name. It stars Keri Russell as Jane Hayes, a single thirtysomething obsessed with Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" who heads off to a British resort (the titular Austenland) where the Austen era is re-created. Picked up out of Sundance by Sony Pictures Classics, the well-received rom-com is exactly the kind of film that has turned into a summer sleeper hit in the past (see "Becoming Jane," for example). And it should offer a nice alternative to August's characteristically male-centric studio slate. [Peter Knegt]

Check out a clip from the film below:


Before Midnight (May 24)

Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Criticwire Average: 38 critics gave it an A average.

Why is it a "Must See"? This might just be the must see of the summer, as far as we and probably a lot of other folks are concerned. The second sequel to Richard Linklater's beloved 1995 "Before Sunrise" (and first to his perhaps even more beloved 2004 film "Before Sunset"), "Before Midnight" reunites us with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) almost two decades after they met on a train bound for Vienna. Now in their early 40s, "Midnight" finds the couple reuniting in Greece and likely facing a time constraint related to 12am, though try not to let yourself know much more than that going in.  The less known the better as we enter the third chapter of one of the great love stories of American indie cinema (which is coming off of extremely well received screenings in Sundance, Berlin and SXSW). [Peter Knegt]

We's prefer not to post the film's trailer (it gives away more than we'd want you to see), so check out this interview Indiewire did with the "Midnight" team at Sundance:


The Bling Ring (June 14)

Director: Sofia Coppola
Cast:  Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Emma Watson, Taissa Farmiga and Claire Julien.
Distributor: A24

Criticwire Average: No critics have scored it yet, but check back after it premieres in Cannes.

Why is it a "Must See"?  Following her Venice award-winning character study "Somewhere," Sofia Coppola is back with "The Bling Ring," a film that on paper seems like new territory for the Oscar-winner. While still centered on the wealthy class like "Lost in Translation," "Marie Antoinette" and "Somewhere," "The Bling Ring" is essentially a crime caper, a genre Coppola has never mined before. The film is based on the true story of a group of rich Californian teens who decided to start a heist gang and begin robbing celebrity's houses (including those of Lindsay Lohan and Megan Fox). Lohan doesn't star, but Emma Watson does, along with Leslie Mann in a project that's has nothing to do with Judd Apatow. It opens the Un Certain Regard program in Cannes next month, but US audiences will get to see for themselves soon after when it opens mid-June. [Nigel M. Smith]

Check out the film's trailer:


Blue Jasmine (July 26)

Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Louis CK, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Peter Sarsgaard
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Criticwire Average: No critics have scored it yet, but check back.

Why is it a "Must See"? It's been a good long while since Woody Allen's name alone simply made something a must see. For every "Midnight in Paris" there's a "From Rome With Love," though his latest feature -- his whopping 43rd -- offers a cast that exceeds even Allen's standards for hard-to-argue-against: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Louis CK, Bobby Cannavale and, well, Andrew Dice Clay. It also returns Allen to a Stateside film for the first time since 2009's "Whatever Works." The story of the final stages of an acute crisis and the life of a fashionable housewife (Blanchett), it's set in both New York and San Francisco. Sony Classics is releasing it as summer counterprogramming, a tactic that worked wonders with "Midnight in Paris" and -- to a lesser but still respectable degree -- last year's "To Rome With Love." [Peter Knegt]

The film doesn't have a trailer yet, but check back and we'll add.

Byzantium (June 28)

Director: Neil Jordan
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Sam Riley, Saoirse Ronan
Distributor: IFC Films

Criticwire Average: 17 critics gave it a B- average

Why is it a "Must See"? "Interview With a Vampire" director Neil Jordan returns to the bloodsucker genre with "Byzantium," his most commercial vehicle in years that premiered to solid notices last year in Toronto. The story centers on two female vampires (Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton) who wreak havoc on an unsuspecting seaside community. Given Jordan's track record since helming the Tom Cruise-starring "Interview" -- he has since directed "Michael Collins," "The End of the Affair" and "Breakfast on Pluto," among many others -- don't expect a "Twilight" knockoff, but something for the adult set with more on its mind than lust and blood. [Nigel M. Smith]

Check out the film's trailer:


Computer Chess (July 17)

Director: Andrew Bujalski
Cast:  Patrick Riester, Myles Paige, James Curry, Robin Schwartz, Gerald Peary, Wiley Wiggins
Distributor: Kino Lorber

Criticwire Average: 14 critics gave it a B- average

Why is it a "Must See"? "Computer Chess" is the first film in five years from writer-director Andrew Bujalski -- best known for pioneering the mumblecore genre with his 2002 comedy "Funny Ha Ha." The film follows a group of chess software programmers in 1980 as they converge for a weekend chess programming tournament. The film -- self-described as an "artificially intelligent comedy" -- was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Award at Sundance, honoring films whose theme is science or technology. Sounds a bit nerdy, but according to Indiewire's Sundance review, the film falls in line with Bujalski's previous work "while achieving much funnier, offbeat results." [Peter Knegt]

Check out the film's trailer:


Crystal Fairy (July 12)

Director: Sebastian Silva
Cast: Michael Cera, Gaby Hoffmann, Juan Andrés Silva, José Miguel Silva, Agustín Silva
Distributor: IFC Films

Criticwire Average: 13 critics have it a B average.

Why is it a "Must See"? One of two Sebastian Silva films to both star Michael Cera and premiere at this year's Sundance Film Festival (the other being "Magic Magic"), "Crystal Fairy" is based on a real road trip taken by Silva and his brothers, with dialogue 100% improvised from an 11-page outline. Essentially a drug-fueled road movie (isn't that the best kind?), "Crystal Fairy" earned high praise from The Playlist in their Sundance review: "Generally, unless you’re a master like Christopher Guest, films without scripts tend to feel like it. While 'Crystal Fairy' is loose, there’s never a moment where you’re taken out of the picture by realizing the actors might not know where they’re heading next." [Peter Knegt]

Check out the film's trailer:



This article is related to: Summer Movie Preview, Before Midnight , Austenland, Byzantium, Blue Jasmine, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Crystal Fairy