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The 10 Indie Films You Must See This May

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire May 1, 2014 at 10:21AM

Here are 10 indies you should check out this May...
The Immigrant
"The Immigrant"

As an extension of our recent summer movie preview, Indiewire is offering the first of four monthly summer "must-see" lists to make cinematic decision-making as easy as possible this summer.

From James Gray to James Franco double doses of both Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska (including together in the aptly titled "The Double"), check out Indiewire's picks for your 10 best options, and then check out May's full calendar, as there are many worthy films that didn't end up making this list.

1. The Immigrant (May 16)

Director: James Gray
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner
Distributor: TWC

Criticwire Average: 25 critics gave it a B+ average

Why Is It a “Must See?” James Gray is shaping up to be one of the most interesting and divisive directors working today, and his new film “The Immigrant” sees him moving further into classical territory. A melodrama starring Cotillard as an immigrant woman tricked into burlesque and prostitution by the charming scoundrel Bruno (Phoenix) before falling for his cousin, the magician Orlando (Renner). The film has been received rapturously in some circles, and Gray’s outspoken denigration of his detractors only makes the project that much more fascinating. Plus, Gray’s last film with Phoenix, “Two Lovers,” is absurdly underseen and could arguably be seen as the start of Phoenix’s recent run of superlative, Daniel Day-Lewis caliber performances.

Watch the trailer below:

2. Tracks (May 23)

Director: John Curran
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver, Jessica Tovey, Emma Booth, Rainer Bock, Melanie Zanetti, Robert Coleby, Tim Rogers, John Flaus
Distributor: The Weinstein Company

Criticwire Average: 9 critics gave it a B+ average

Why Is It a “Must See?” In 1975, a soul-searching young Australian woman named Robyn Davidson set out to travel solo from Alice Springs across the vast, empty desert to reach the Indian Ocean some 2,000 miles away. Aided only by a trio of camels and her dog, Davidson eventually completed the voyage and wrote a popular National Geographic article about her experiences with photographs by Rick Smolan, who occasionally accompanied her. The details of that expedition form the core of "Tracks," John Curran's expressionistic adaption of Davidson's voyage. True to the nature of the experience, "Tracks" largely involves its protagonist trekking across a vacant landscape with occasional stops along the way. With Mia Wasikowska in the lead role, Davidson herself comes across as a wholly believable dreamer whose frustrations with the pat nature of the civilized world imbue her mission with an engrossing purpose. "I was at home nowhere," she says in the opening voiceover, setting the stage for both the strengths and weaknesses of this beautifully realized drama.

Watch the trailer below:

3. Night Moves (May 30)

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard
Distributor: Cinedigm

Criticwire Average: 12 critics gave it a B average

Why Is It a “Must See?” Kelly Reichardt is one of the best directors working today, and she’s just coming off of the 2010 masterpiece “Meek’s Cutoff.” Her latest, involving Eisenberg, Fanning and Sarsgaard as a trio of radical activists planning to blow up a dam, was met with warm reception at Venice and Toronto, and it looks to give Eisenberg and Fanning in particular new challenges as actors. Here’s hoping that Reichardt keeps up her winning streak.

Watch the trailer below:

4. Cold in July (May 23)

Director: Jim Mickle
Cast: Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson, Sam Shepard, Vinessa Shaw, Nick Damici, Wyatt Russell
Distributor: IFC Films

Criticwire Average: 13 critics gave it a B+ average

Why is it a "Must See"? With "Dexter" over, Michael C. Hall is making a bigger break for it as a big screen actor, playing the lead in the gritty indie thriller "Cold in July," directed by Jim Mickle ("Stake Land," "We Are What We Are"). The film premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, just got programmed for Cannes' Directors' Fortinight sidebar, and opens in limited release and on VOD on May 23.  It sees Hall play a Texan who kills an intruder and when the victims' father comes a-knockin', all hell breaks loose.

Watch the trailer below:

5. Ida (May 2)

Director:  Pawel Pawlikowski
Cast: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska
Distributor: Music Box Films

Criticwire Average: 25 critics gave it a B+ average

Why Is It a “Must See?” Shot entirely in black and white, the film tells the story of a young woman named Anna. Orphaned as a child, Anna grew up in a convent and is preparing to become a nun. Before she can take her vows, however, she is told that she must pay a visit to her only living relative, who turns out to be her mother's sister, Wanda. Upon meeting Wanda, Anna makes a shocking discovery -- that she is, in fact, of Jewish background and her birth name is Ida. Together, Anna/Ida and Wanda must come to terms with their family's painful past and their own uncertain future.

Watch the trailer below:

6. The Double (May 9)

Director: Richard Ayoade
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Noah Taylor
Distributor: Magnolia

Criticwire Average: 14 critics gave it a B+ average

Why is it a "Must See"?  Following up his wonderful directorial debut "Submarine," British comedian and filmmaker Richard Ayoade literally doubles up for his darker follow-up, "The Double." Loosely based on Dostoevsky’s 1846 novella, the film stars Jesse Eisenberg as both miserable introvert Simon James and James Simon, his affable doppelgänger and essential polar opposite.  As the relationship between the two men spirals out of control, "The Double" confirms Ayoade as a considerable new voice in comedic cinema. It's also aided by a remarkable supporting cast, including the likes of Wallace Shawn, Mia Wasikowska (who like Jesse Eisenberg is everywhere this May), Sally Hawkins, Paddy Considine, and Chris O’Dowd.

Watch the trailer below:

7. Chef (May 9th)

Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Emjay Anthony, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey, Jr.
Distributor: Open Road Films

Criticwire Average: 9 critics gave it a B average

Why is it a "Must See"? It's nice to see Jon Favreau apply the same brand of comedy, wit and fun that audience welcomed in his "Iron Man" trilogy to the much smaller-scale "Chef," which places the actor/writer/director in the role of an embittered chef struggling to figure out how to progress with his cooking career. But where the film lacks in "Iron Man"-style action sequences, it more than makes up for it in sentimental charm that always encompasses a bit of vulgarity to prevent it from ever going into the territory of schmaltz, which is an all-too rare talent these days and is certainly enough to merit Favreau a place on this list.

Watch the trailer below:

8. Fed Up (May 9)

Director: Stephanie Soechtig
Distributor: RADiUS-TWC

Criticwire Average: 4 critics gave it a B+ average

Why is it a "Must See"?  "Fed Up" is a mixture of in-the-life coverage and a roster of talking heads that include former President Bill Clinton. Director Stephanie Soechtig spent two years with a group of kids, documenting their efforts to improve their health through dieting and exercise. The tragedy, her film argues, is that the pervasiveness of the food industry and the misinformation it disseminates has stacked all the odds against them. Personal responsibility and freedom of choice has always been Big Food’s counter to accusations of public endangerment, but if the American people has been so intricately misled, where is the personal freedom to make the right decision for one’s health? If “Fed Up” is persuasive and passionate enough in making its argument, it could lead to a huge difference in how we view healthy consumption.

Watch the trailer below:

9. Palo Alto (May 9)

Director: Gia Coppola
Cast: Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, Val Kilmer, James Franco
Distributor: Tribeca Film

Criticwire Average: 9 critics gave it a B+ average

Why Is It a “Must See?” At a certain age in the Coppola family, you’re given a typewriter and a camera and expected to make a film. This time around, it’s Gia Coppola, granddaughter of Francis, niece of Sofia and Roman, and daughter of the late Gian-Carlo, adapting select short stories from James Franco’s book “Palo Alto,” about troubled teenagers dealing with alcoholism, sexuality and aimlessness. The young director’s touch recalls her aunt’s excellent “The Virgin Suicides,” but she has a woozy aesthetic all her own, and she coaxes very good performances out of a young cast that includes Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer (son of Val, whose father makes a cameo), and Nat Wolff.

Watch the trailer below:

10. God’s Pocket (May 9)

Director: John Slattery
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks
Distributor: IFC Films

Criticwire Average: 14 critics gave it a B- average

Why Is It a “Must See?” “Mad Men" star John Slattery makes his directorial debut with a thriller set in the shady eponymous small town. The film received mixed reviews at Sundance, but the cast alone makes it worthwhile: Christina Hendricks, Richard Jenkins, John Turturro, Eddie Marsan, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his final roles. Hoffman stars as a man whose crazy stepson is killed in a construction “accident”, and whose attempts to bury the truth complicate matters with his wife (Hendricks). With so few films left in Hoffman’s filmography, every one is worth savoring.

Watch the trailer below:

This article is related to: God's Pocket, The Double, The Immigrant, Night Moves, Tracks, Movie Lists, Lists