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Summer Preview: The 25 Must-See Films

Summer Preview: The 25 Must-See Films

The summer movie season isn’t exactly best known for independent film. With billions of dollars set to be spent on the countless sequels (“Shrek 4,” “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”), remakes (“The Karate Kid,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street”), adaptations of video games (“The Prince of Persia”), adaptations of TV shows (“MacGruber,” “The A Team”), and sequels of adaptations of TV shows (“Sex and the City 2”), one wonders how much space is really going to left over for the littler 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 the eventual best picture winner in the middle of June (“The Hurt Locker”), the best documentary winner in August (“The Cove”), and a bunch of specialty financial success stories in films like “(500) Days of Summer,” “Food, Inc.,” “Away We Go,” “Moon,” “In The Loop,” and “The September Issue.”

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 “Sex and the City 2” and “Iron Man 2” ads blocking the view.

So in an attempt to help remedy that, indieWIRE is offering this list of 25 specialty films coming out this summer that demand moviegoer consideration, a supplement to iW’s film calendar that additionally mentions a few dozen more (check out specific listings for May, June, July, and August, including more information on al). From human centipedes and trash humpers to Joan Rivers and Jean-Luc Godard, a summer indie preview:

1. The Kids Are All Right (July 7; Focus Features)

What’s The Deal? Lisa Cholodenko (“High Art,” “Laurel Canyon”) details a tempestuous summer in the lives of Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore), a couple anticipating their daughter Joni’s move to college. Joni (Mia Wasikowska) has just turned 18, and her younger brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) wants her to make use of her newfound status as a legal adult to seek out the sperm donor who fathered the two of them. Enter Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who immediately hits it off with his newfound biological children and in turn begins to send the family into quite the emotional tailspin.

Who’s Already Seen It? 15 critics gave it an average of A- on the film’s criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? This is a really great film and one that’s very difficult not to fall in love with. An endearing, genuine and sharply funny portrait of a modern American family, “Kids” should provide the perfect alternative for summer audiences looking for something with a little more substance than typical studio fare. If Focus plays its cards right, this could end up a considerable sleeper hit… and might just stick around for awards season.

2. I Am Love (June 18; Magnolia Pictures)

What’s The Deal? Written and directed by Luca Guadagnino, “I Am Love” details the refined world of a wealthy Italian family as a collison of tradition and modernity unravels it. Guadagnino’s close friend and frequent collaborator Tilda Swinton stars as the family’s matriarch, learning Italian for the role.

Who’s Already Seen It? 21 critics gave it an average of A- on the film’s criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? The film has been met with overwhelming raves at all of its festival appearances (beginning last fall in Venice and Toronto), with Swinton once again getting some serious critical kudos for her performance (which somehow is again like nothing else she’s done before). Certain to find itself on many a top ten list come December, “I Am Love” will be the summer’s true critical darling and yet another reason all should worship Ms. Swinton.

A scene from Mark & Jay Duplass’s “Cyrus.” Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

3. Cyrus (July 9; Fox Searchlight)

What’s The Deal? Mark & Jay Duplass, known to some as the directors of mumblecore-minded films like “The Puffy Chair” and “Baghead,” get a budget increase and studio funding in this dark comedy. The film follows John (John C. Reilly), a down-on-his luck film editor whose life takes a significant and strange turn when he becomes romantically involved with Molly (Marisa Tomei), a woman with an unusually close bond with her 21-year old son Cyrus (Jonah Hill).

Who’s Already Seen It? 22 critics gave it an average of B+ on the film’s criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? Bizarrely hilarious and largely improvised, “Cyrus” won over audiences at Sundance and SXSW in a big way. Hill’s inspired (and intensely creepy) performance as the titular character is the standout and audiences should come expecting to squirm – in the best possible way.

4. & 5. Restrepo (July 2; National Geographic) and Winter’s Bone (June 11; Roadside Attractions)

What’s The Deal? Sundance Grand Jury Prize double feature! U.S. doc and narrative winners, Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington’s “Restrepo” and Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” will be released within a month of each other this summer. The former explores the men fighting for the U.S. Army at Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, a stronghold of al Qaeda and the Taliban; the latter follows a young woman’s desperate search for crystal-meth-making father deep in the Ozark Mountains.

Who’s Already Seen It? 20 critics gave “Restrepo” an average of B+ on the film’s criticWIRE page; 22 critics gave “Winter’s Bone” an average of B+ on the film’s criticWIRE page

Why is it a “Must See”? Winning the Sundance Grand Jury Prize is a pretty strong suggestion that a film demands interest. Both challenging cinematic experiences in their own very different ways, “Restrepo” and “Winter’s Bone” are most definitely not exceptions.

6. The Human Centipede (April 30; IFC Films)

What’s The Deal? A crazy ass German dude wants to connect three very unlucky people via their gastric system, in doing so bringing to life his sick lifetime fantasy: “the human centipede”.

Who’s Already Seen It? 2 critics gave it an average of B+ on the film’s criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? It’s been heralded as the most disgusting horror film ever made. If that’s your kinda thing, then this is the movie for you!

A scene from Tom Six’s “The Human Centipede.” Image courtesy of IFC Films.

7. Wild Grass (June 25; Sony Pictures Classics)

What’s The Deal? Premiering at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and later opening the New York Film Festival, 87-year old French master Alain Resnais’ “Grass” continues the director’s career-long experiment in filmmaking. Through the narrative device of a lost wallet, the arguably classified “comedic melodrama” follows married Georges (André Dussollier) and lonely Marguerite (Sabine Azéma) as they fall into a romantic adventure.

Who’s Already Seen It? 26 critics gave it an average of B+ on the film’s criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? Some people weren’t quite sure what to think of it, but the folks who did love “Grass” really loved it, particularly those already enthusiastic about Renais’ work. The Auteurs‘ Danny Kasman went so far as to call it the “ultimate Resnais film,” “true, effervescent delight as sad, hilarious, and wonderful as can be imagined.” Difficult words to ignore.

8. I Killed My Mother (July 30; Regent Releasing)

What’s The Deal? Last year at Cannes, then-20 year old Quebecois Xavier Dolan premiered his largely autobiographical first film to raves and awards. Detailing the intensely volatile relationship between a gay sixteen-year old, Hubert (Dolan, who stars, writes and directs), and his mother, Chantale (Anne Dorval), the film went on to be a big talking point on the international festival circuit.

Who’s Already Seen It? 5 critics gave it an average of A- on the film’s criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? With Dolan already heading to Cannes for a second time this May with his second film, “Heartbeats,” this film may be the beginning of a big name in international cinema, and it’s not hard to see why. Perhaps a viciously honest love story more than anything else, “Mother” is acute, compassionate, and often quite funny. A warning for mothers and their grown gay sons, though: Seeing it together might be a trip down memory lane neither are prepared for.

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A scene from Nicole Holofcener’s “Please Give.” Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

9. Trash Humpers (May 7; Drag City)

What’s The Deal? Described by director Harmony Korine as “a film unearthed from the buried landscape of the American nightmare,” “Humpers” follows a small group of elderly, deformed sociopaths as they wander the back streets of Nashville, getting drunk, breaking televisions, and, yes, humping trash cans. Assembled with little narrative, as if it were found footage. The film was shot without a script and entirely on VHS.

Who’s Already Seen It? 35 critics gave it an average of C+ on the film’s criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? The most divisive film in criticWIRE’s history, with grades ranging from A to F, “Humpers” might not be a “must see” for everybody (walkouts were a standard at its Toronto and New York festival screenings). But it’s the kind of movie you have to see to believe, and fans of Korine are unlikely to be among those who end up disappointed. At the very least, “Humpers” is most certainly going to offer something far, far away from anything else at a local multiplex in May.

10. Please Give (April 30; Sony Pictures Classics)

What’s The Deal? Nicole Holofcener (“Friends With Money”) returns to New York with this film about a group of flawed individuals brought together by, well, real estate: Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt), a married couple who run a business reselling estate-sale furniture, live with their teenage daughter, Abby (Sarah Steele). They buy the unit next door, planning to knock the walls out. But first they have to wait for the occupant, Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert), a cranky elderly woman, to die. The wait becomes a bit messy when the family develops relationships with Andra’s two grown granddaughters (Amanda Peet and Rebecca Hall).

Who’s Already Seen It? 21 critics gave it an average of B+ on the film’s criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? A nice companion piece to aforementioned “Kids Are All Right,” “Please Give” has a similarly subtle profundity – something one comes to expect from Holofcener. Its performances (Rebecca Hall, Ann Morgan Guilbert and Oliver Platt in particular) and the way Holofcener can write real characters and real dialogue so easily, make the “please give” your money to this and not “Furry Vengeance” argument/pun an easy one.

11. The Killer Inside Me (June 13; IFC Films)

What’s The Deal? Controversially violent and gratuitous, Michael Winterbottom’s adaptation of Jim Thompson novel follows a homicidal deputy sheriff (Casey Affleck) as he inflicts his insanity on a prostitute (Jessica Alba), and his wife (Kate Hudson). The film caused a big stir in Sundance when rumors circulated (and were later denied) that Alba (who’s character is brutally beaten in the film) walked out of the premiere.

Who’s Already Seen It? 18 critics gave it an average of C+ on the film’s criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? Like “Trash Humpers” and “The Human Centipede,” “Killer” is one of the many specialty films this summer that is sure to get people talking. Winterbottom’s always an stimulating filmmaker and while the critical response at Sundance was somewhat tepid, its screening the following month in Berlin was met with a considerably more positive response.

12. The Oath (May 7; Zeitgeist Films)

What’s The Deal? Very well-received in its Sundance premiere, documentary “The Oath” is director Laura Poitras’ portrait of two men whose fateful encounter in 1996 set them on a course of events that led them to Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, 9/11, Guantanamo, and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Who’s Already Seen It? 6 critics gave it an average of B+ on the film’s criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? Unspooling like a political thriller, this quietly disturbing film won the cinematography award at Sundance, and offers a frightening preview of emerging Middle East battleground in Yemen. Pretty important stuff, but hey, if you’d rather spend your time watching “Iron Man 2″…

13. Dogtooth (June 25; Kino International)

What’s The Deal? Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos’ film details a seriously dysfunctional family where the parents have essentially grounded their children permanently – they’re now full grown adults who have no knowledge of the outside world. Variety‘s Boyd Van Hoeij described it as “an eternal ‘Big Brother house as designed by Lars von Trier.”

Who’s Already Seen It? 4 critics gave it an average of A- on the film’s criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? Winner of the top prize in last year’s Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard section (which the year before went to Steve McQueen’s “Hunger”), “Dogtooth” is one of the summer’s best bets for European imports, even if it’s not exactly easy viewing.

A scene from “Dogtooth.” Image courtesy of Kino International.

14. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (June 11; IFC Films)

What’s The Deal? Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg’s documentary presents a portrait of iconic comedienne Joan Rivers, who at age 75, still struggles with both her insecurities and her ability to find steady work.

Who’s Already Seen It? 10 critics gave it an average of A- on the film’s criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? The film surprised many by ending up one of the most critically acclaimed docs to come out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Sharp, funny and often quite touching, it’s just too bad Joan won’t be touring along with the film and doing riotous Q&As.

15. & 16. Get Low (July 30; Sony Pictures Classics) and Mother and Child (May 7; Sony Pictures Classics)

What’s The Deal? Two Sony Classics pick-ups from last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Aaron Schneider’s “Get Low” and Rodrigo García’s “Mother and Child” give the summer some of the greatest actors working, including Robert Duvall, Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek in the former and Annette Bening, Naomi Watts and Kerry Washington in the latter. “Low” details a mysterious, 1930 Tennessee hermit who famously threw his own funeral party, while “Mother” is an ominbus film about three interconnected women.

Who’s Already Seen It? 13 critics gave “Get Low” average of B on the film’s criticWIRE page, while 13 critics also gave “Mother and Child” an average of B on the film’s criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? The distributor wisely held the well-received films over to 2010 to avoid being caught up in the near-dozen awards hopefuls SPC already had, setting them both up with the potential to factor into this year’s awards season. Reviews have been particularly kind to the film’s actors, so for those who want a head start on this year’s acting races, perhaps these films are a good place to begin.

17. Daddy Longlegs (May 14; IFC Films)

What’s The Deal? Formerly known as “Go Get Some Rosemary,” brothers Ben and Joshua Safdie follow-up their 2008 feature debut “The Pleasure of Being Robbed” with “Daddy Longlegs.” The “realistic fairy tale” follows Lenny (Ronald Bronstein) and the relationship he has with his two young sons he gets to see a couple of weeks a year.

Who’s Already Seen It? 13 critics gave it an average of B on the film’s criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? The Safdies are a bit polarizing, but it’s hard not to admire this dramatization of the brothers’ own childhood, particularly due to Bronstein’s pitch-perfect performance.

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A scene from Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Micmacs.” Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

18. Micmacs (May 28; Sony Pictures Classics)

What’s The Deal? Jean-Pierre Jeunet unites with French comedy superstar Dany Boon for his first film since 2004’s “A Very Long Engagement.” Boon plays Bazil, a man who is hit by a stray bullet in a freak drive-by shooting incident. Emerging from hospital, a series of events leads him to live in a scrap dump together with an eclectic group of misfits. Adventures (and political commentary) ensue.

Who’s Already Seen It? 20 critics gave it an average of B on the film’s criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? Warmly received in its time on the festival circuit (it premiered at Toronto), Jeunet fans are sure to appreciate another addition of his charms: namely “Micmacs”‘s whimsical narrative and exaggerated visuals.

19. Ondine (June 4; Magnolia)

What’s The Deal? Neil Jordan teams with Colin Farrell in this film about an Irish fisherman and recovering alcoholic who discovers a woman in his fishing net who he believes to be a mermaid.

Who’s Already Seen It? 5 critics gave it an average of B on the film’s criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? The first of many films coming in what could be a landmark year for Farrell, “Ondine” (which stars Farrell’s real-life girlfriend in the title role of the suspected mermaid) has found many declaring a return to form for Jordan (“The Crying Game,” “The End of the Affair”), who is coming off of the poorly received Jodie Foster-vengeance pic “The Brave One.”

20. Life During Wartime (July 23; IFC Films)

What’s The Deal? A “quasi-sequel” to his 1998 film “Happiness,” Todd Solondz’s “Life During Wartime” finds most of the former film’s characters returning, albeit with different actors playing them. This time around, the cast includes Shirley Henderson (as Joy), Paul Reubens (Andy), Ally Sheedy (Helen) Ciarán Hinds (Bill), Allison Janney (Trish), Charlotte Rampling (Jacqueline), Michael Kenneth Williams (Allen), and Michael Lerner (Harvey).

Who’s Already Seen It? 26 critics gave it an average of B- on the film’s criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? The film didn’t exactly blow critics away, but anyone who appreciated “Happiness” has to be curious where Solondz is taking this.

21. & 22. Breathless: 50th Anniversary Restoration (May 28; Rialto) and Two In The Wave (May 19; Lorber Films)

What’s The Deal? Rialto Pictures is releasing a new 35mm restoration of “Breathless,” Jean-Luc Godard’s first film (with freshly revised subtitles by Lenny Borge). The day before, Lorber Films is releasing “Two In The Wave,” Emanuel Laurent’s innovative doc that melds revealing period footage of both Godard and fellow French New Wave director François Truffaut with scenes from some of their greatest films (including “Breathess”), as it moves inexorably toward the directors’ falling-out.

Who’s Already Seen It? Pretty much every film critic and cinephile out there, as far as “Breathless” itself goes. But, the restoration begs another viewing and for those who haven’t ever seen it, now’s the time. As for “Two In The Wave,” critics have yet to leave a grade on its criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? Often regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, that pretty much goes without saying for “Breathless” itself. As for “Two in The Wave,” there’s nothing a like some film history education to mix up your routine at the cinema.

A scene from “The Tillman Story.” Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company.

23. The Tillman Story (August 20; The Weinstein Company)

What’s The Deal? Documentarian Amir Bar-Lev follows up “My Kid Could Paint That” with “The Tillman Story,” a look at Pat Tilmman, the professional football player who gave up his career to join the Army in 2002, only to be killed by friendly fire in the mountains of Afghanistan. Details about the circumstances surrounding his death have been the subject of controversy and military investigations.

Who’s Already Seen It? 17 critics gave it an average of B+ on the film’s criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? Insightful and exhaustive, this Sundance Film Festival doc and Weinstein Company pick-up offers a lot to think about regarding Tillman’s fascinating story.

24. Kisses (July 16; Oscilloscope Laboratories)

What’s The Deal? “The Halo Effect” director Lance Daly’s Irish drama follows two kids, Dylan and Kylie, who run away from home at Christmas and spend a night of magic and terror on the streets of inner-city Dublin.

Who’s Already Seen It? 1 critics have graded the film a B it’s criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? Premiering way back in July 2008 at the Galway Film Festival (and eventually screening in Telluride, Toronto, San Francisco and Locarno), “Kisses” is a sweet little coming of age film, and is already a huge hit in Ireland. While indies aren’t generally known for family friendly fare, here’s an alternative to all the “Humpers,” “Killer”s and “Human Centipede”‘s.

25. Twelve (July 2; Hannover House)

What’s The Deal? Joel Schumacher’s Sundance closer is set over spring break on the Upper East as White Mike (Chace Crawford), who has dropped out of his senior year of high school, sells marijuana to his rich, spoiled peers.

Who’s Already Seen It? 7 critics gave it an average of D+ on the film’s criticWIRE page.

Why is it a “Must See”? Actually, quite the opposite. The lowest graded movie in criticWIRE’s short history upon its Sundance premiere, “Twelve” is worth your time only ironically. In fact, it’s just oozing with potential to turn into one of those so-bad-it’s-good camp classics. Check out the trailer for future suggestion in this regard.

For more information on all the films, visit our complete summer release calendar, which also includes dozens of films that could have easily made this list, from Ken Loach’s “Looking For Eric” to Samuel Maoz’s “Lebanon” to Alex Gibney’s “CASINO JACK and the United States of Money”. The full calendar:
May 2010 | June 2010 | July 2010 | August 2010

Peter Knegt is indieWIRE’s Associate Editor. Follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

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