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Summer Movie Preview: The 40 Indies You Must See

Summer Movie Preview: The 40 Indies You Must See

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 Amazing Spider Man 2,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “22 Jump Street,” “Step Up All In,” “Transformers 4,” “The Expendables 3,” etc, etc, etc.), one has to wonder: How much space is left for the little

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 actress Oscar winner “Blue Jasmine” and best documentary Oscar winner “20 Feet From Stardom,” not to mention “Mud,” “Fruitvale Station,” “Before Midnight,” “The Bling Ring,” “The Spectacular Now,” “Frances Ha” and “The Way, Way Back.”

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 “Transformers 4”
ads blocking the view.

In an attempt to help remedy that, Indiewire is offering this list
of 40 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 40 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 your annual to dose of Woody Allen to a 12 year project from Richard Linklater to two posthumous films starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, here are 40 films we think you should see (note: all release dates are for theatrical):

Begin Again (July 4)

Director: John Carney
Cast: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Hailee Steinfeld
Distributor: The Weinstein Company

Criticwire Average: 5 critics gave it a B average

Why is it a “Must See”? Director John Carney is the artist who gave us “Once” in 2006, the subtle drama about the variety of lives and music that draws them together. It’s safe to say that “Begin Again” (previously titled “Can a Song Save Your Life?”) was placed in good hands. Also in this film is a chance to see period-drama champ Keira Knightley singing all over modern day New York, guitar in hand. A chance encounter leads to her collaboration with washed-up music exec Mark Ruffalo as they start on a new album, recording everywhere except inside an actual studio. 

Watch the trailer here:

Belle (May 2)

Director: Amma Asante
Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Tom Felton, Matthew Goode, Emily Watson
Distributor: Fox Searchlight

Criticwire Average: 2 critics gave it a B average

Why is it a “Must See”? Let’s clear this up right away: the title character is not Belle from “Beauty and the Beast,” despite the billowy dresses and hairdos. Gugu Mbatha-Raw takes center stage in the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate, bi-racial daughter of a Royal Navy admiral in 18th-century Britain.

Watch the trailer below:

Boyhood (July 11)

Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Tamara Jolaine, Nick Krause, Jordan Howard, Evie Thompson
Distributor: IFC Films

Criticwire Average: 35 critics gave it a A average

is it a “Must See”? Twelve years ago, Richard Linklater started production on a movie following the development of a child from the age of seven through the end of his teenage years. If there was ever project that demanded to be informed by the history of its making, “Boyhood” is it. Epic in scope yet unassuming throughout, Linklater’s incredibly involving chronicle marks an unprecedented achievement in fictional storytelling — the closest point of comparison, Michael Apted’s “Up” documentaries, don’t represent the same singularity of vision. Shot over the course of 39 days spread across more than a decade, “Boyhood” is an entirely fluid work that puts the process of maturity under the microscope and analyzes its nuances with remarkable detail.

The film has yet to release a trailer, but be sure to check back for it.

Calvary (August 1)
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen
Distributor: Fox Searchlight

Criticwire Grade: 14 critics gave it a B+ average

Why Is It A “Must See”? Irish Black Comedy seems to be on the rise as of late, and even though “Calvary” looks like another entry into the genre, it is anything but. In his follow-up to the uproariously funny “The Guard,” John Michael McDonagh takes on a more somber view of the world. One in which Brendan Gleeson plays Father James Lavelle, a good man who works to make the world a better place. However, he is repeatedly shocked and saddened by the confrontational nature of the inhabitants of his small town. One day, his life is threatened during confession, and the forces of darkness begin to close in around him. Featuring a supporting cast led by Chris O’Dowd, the film will be released August 1st.

Watch the trailer below:

The Case Against 8 (June 6)
Director: Ben Cotner and Ryan White
Distributor: HBO

Criticwire Grade: 4 critics gave it a A- average

Why is it a “Must See”? Shot over five years, “The Case Against 8” offers an incredible inside look at the legal battle behind overturning Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California back in 2008. Directed by Ben Cotner and Ryan White (who won the directing prize at Sundance for the film), it makes for an inspiring and emotional cinematic journey about a moment in history that will and has dramatically changed the legal rights situation for gay and lesbian couples in the US.   Acquired by HBO, their confidence in the film inspired them to release “Case” in theaters in New York and Los Angeles June 6 and then expand it to select cities June 13 (thus qualifying it for the Oscars). The film will also play on HBO on June 23, in time for the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s overruling of Proposition 8.

The trailer isn’t available yet, but watch this Q&A from the film’s Sundance premiere:

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:

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

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:

The Congress (August 29)

Director: Ari Folman
Cast: Robin Wright, Paul Giamatti, Harvey Keitel, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Danny Huston, Frances Fisher, Sami Gayle, Michael Landes, Michael Stahl-David, Christopher B. Duncan, Jon Hamm
Distributor: Drafthouse Films

Criticwire Average: 13 critics gave it a A- average


is it a “Must See”? “A genius designer on an acid trip” is the way one character describes the futuristic animated universe of Ari Folman’s “The Congress,” which contains one of the most startling uses of the medium to come along in years. Words can hardly do justice to the plethora of outlandish visuals populating this ambitious sophomore feature from the Israeli director of “Waltz With Bashir,” but they’re merely one piece of a larger puzzle. Folman’s beguiling project amounts to a stinging indictment of mainstream culture’s unending commodification. The director spent half a decade assembling his loose adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s science-fiction novel, “The Futurological Congress,” and the work shows in both its stunning appearance and the extraordinary depth of insight paired with it. Folman uses beauty and wonder as vessels for rage.

Watch the trailer below:

The Dog (August 8)

Director: Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren
Distributor: Drafthouse Films

Criticwire Average: 7 critics gave it a B+ average


is it a “Must See”?  Eccentric New Yorker John Wojtowicz was turned into an iconic figure when Al Pacino played the unorthodox bank robber in 1975’s “Dog Day Afternoon.” Director Sidney Lumet’s daylong saga, in which Wojtowicz took a bank hostage in the hopes of raising money for his transsexual lover’s sex change operation, hardly exaggerated the actual 1972 event, but only captured one piece of a much larger story. “The Dog,” directors Alison Berg and Frank Keraudren’s decade-plus effort to chronicle Wojtowicz in the years leading up to his death from cancer in 2006, capably fills in the gaps in his bizarre life.

Watch the trailer below:

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


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, Sally Hawkins, Paddy Considine, and Chris O’Dowd.

Watch the trailer below:

Fed Up (May 9)

Director: Stephanie Soechtig
Distributor: RADiUS-TWC

Criticwire Average: 4 critics gave it a B+ average


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:

Filth (May 30th)

Director: Jon S. Baird
Cast: James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Jim Broadbent, Imogen Poots, Joanne Froggatt, Gary Lewis, Martin Compston, Kate Dickie, Shirley Henderson
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Criticwire Average: 3 critics gave it a C average

Why is it a “Must See”? The first thing that stands out in Jon S. Baird’s upcoming “Filth” is the fact that it’s based on a novel by Irvine Welsh, who famously brought the world the story known as “Trainspotting.” And though the Ewan McGregor drug-centric drama is a tough act to follow, “Filth” seems to up the level of crazy while potentially doubling the level of mind-bending drug trips, neither of which is an easy feat considering the iconic status of the former. In addition to the writing talent behind the film, James McAvoy is likely to live up to the hype brought on by his performance with a lovably misanthropic portrayal of a corrupt cop on the brink of madness. Not to mention the film’s title, which ambiguously teases at a number of harrowing experiences that will aim to immerse the audience to the fullest extent.

Watch the trailer below:

Frank (August 22)

Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Criticwire Average: 11 critics gave it an A- Average

Why Is It a “Must See?” Lenny Abrahamson’s oddball dark comedy was a huge hit at Sundance and SXSW, where it was praised for its mixture of irreverence and melancholy. It presents a new challenge for the immeasurably talented Michael Fassbender, playing a rock singer who wears a giant paper mache mask on his head at all times. If nothing else, it’ll be amusing to see Fassbender describe his facial expressions to make things easier, much to the annoyance of Gyllenhaal.

Watch the trailer below:

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:

Happy Christmas (July 25th)

Director: Joe Swanberg
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Mark Webber, Melanie Lynskey, Lena Dunham, Joe Swanberg
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Criticwire Average: 16 critics gave it a B+ average

Why is it a “Must See”? Anna Kendrick and Lena Dunham are two of the most sought after twenty-something stars right now, so it seems very fitting to bring the two of them together and combine their comedic talents into one feature film. In “Happy Christmas,” Kendrick comes to live with her brother and his family while starting a relationship with a pot dealer  (with best friend Dunham helping her through her journey). Though the story of a jaded twenty-something figuring out her life might sound unbearably redundant these days, there’s little doubt that, between Kendrick’s impeccable wit and Dunham’s form of Woody Allen neurotic insanity, the amount of talent in the film will likely elevate it to something with a bit more edge than other indie movies of its type.

The film has yet to release a trailer.

I, Origins (July 18)

Director: Mike Cahill
Cast: Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Steven Yeun, Archie Panjabi
Distributor: Fox Searchlight

Criticwire Average: 12 critics gave it a A- average

Why is it a “Must See”? Writer-director Mike Cahill’s 2012 science fiction debut “Another Earth” was a breakout Sundance hit that ultimately irked nearly as many people as it thrilled. Cahill’s far more refined follow-up, “I Origins” is more like a knock-off of “The X-Files” that grounds its admittedly preachy science-versus-faith battles in subtler moments. While still invested in grandiose swipes at big ideas and the epistemological babbling of a late night college dorm room conversation, Cahill generates an authentic sense of mystery by keeping a tighter lid on the secrets of the universe.

Watch the film’s trailer below:


Ida (May 2)

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

Criticwire Average: 25 critics gave it a B+ average

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:

The Immigrant (May 16)

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


Land Ho (July 11th)

Director: Martha Stephens, Aaron Katz
Cast: Paul Eenhoorn, Earl Lynn Nelson
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Criticwire Average: 12 critics gave it a B+ average

Why is it a “Must See”? With so many comedies geared towards younger audiences, people often forget that older demographics can be surprisingly just as in touch with their funny bones as their youthful counterparts. That makes the presence of Iceland-set “Land Ho!” all the more refreshing as it follows the lives of two retired former brothers-in-law who embark on a journey of trendy nightclubs, spas and restaurants in a comical attempt at regaining their long-lost youth. Add to that the beautiful landscape of Reykjavik and the film makes for one beautiful, awe-inspiring journey through uncharted cinematic territory that older and younger audiences alike can appreciate.

The film has yet to release a trailer.

Life After Beth (August 15)

Director: Jeff Baena
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Dane DeHaan, Anna Kendrick, Molly Shannon
Distributor: A24

Criticwire Average: 10 critics gave it a B- average

is it a “Must See”?  A zombie rom-com! Directed by first-timer Jeff Baena (who co-wrote David O. Russell’s “I Heart Huckabees”), “Life After Beth” centers on a mild mannered guy (Dane DeHaan) who discovers that his dead girlfriend (Aubrey Plaza) has come back from the dead. With a supporting cast including John C. Reilly, Anna Kendrick and Molly Shannon, “Life After Beth” has the potential to continue distributor A24’s winning streak with youth-oriented fare after last summer’s double whammy of “Spring Breakers” and “The Spectacular Now.”

The film has yet to release a trailer.

Life Itself (July 11)

Director: Steve James
Cast: Roger Ebert, Chaz Ebert
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Criticwire Average: 20 critics gave it an A average

Why Is It a “Must See?” It’s been a year since the death of the influential and beloved critic Roger Ebert, but the loss is no less felt. Steve James, the great documentary filmmaker behind Ebert favorites “Hoop Dreams” and “The Interrupters” directs the film based on Ebert’s memoir of the same name, which covers the highs and lows of Ebert’s life: his childhood, his alcoholism, his partnership with Gene Siskel and marriage to Chaz Ebert, and his passion for the movies and, well, life itself.

A trailer is not yet available, but watch this Q&A from a screening of the film here:

Love is Strange (August 22)

Director: Ira Sachs
Cast: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Darren E. Burrows, Charlie Tahan, Cheyenne Jackson, Manny Perez
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Criticwire Average: 11 critics gave it an A average

Is It a “Must See?” New York filmmaker Ira Sachs’ best work is steeped in understatement and introspective characters, from the disgruntled music producer played by Rip Torn in “Forty Shades of Blue” to the troubled gay couple in “Keep the Lights On.” In between those two projects, Sachs took an uneasy step into more traditional big budget filmmaking with the quasi-Hitchcockian “Married Life.” Like that movie, Sachs’ new work “Love Is Strange” features name actors and a polished look, but it remains remarkably faithful to the strongest ingredients in his other work: Featuring extraordinarily sensitive turns by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as an aging married couple forced to vacate their Manhattan apartment, “Love Is Strange” is a sophisticated take on contemporary urbanity infused with romantic ideals and the tragedy of their dissolution.

A trailer is not yet available, but watch the film’s Sundance Q&A here:

Magic in the Moonlight (July 25)

Director: Woody Allen
Cast:  Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Marcia Gay Harden, Hamish Linklater, Jacki Weaver, Eileen Atkins
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Criticwire Average: No reviews yet

Why Is It a “Must See?” The past couple of decades of Woody Allen’s long and storied career have been spotty, but the highlights (“Sweet and Lowdown,” “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” “Blue Jasmine”) more than make up for the lowlights (“Anything Else,” “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion,” “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger”). Not much is known about Woody’s latest aside from the premise, a romantic-comedy regarding an Englishman (presumably Colin Firth) brought in to unmask a possible swindle. But the cast, which also includes Emma Stone, Marcia Gay Harden, Hamish Linklater and Jacki Weaver, is terrific, and the prospect of Allen working on a period romance-comedy starring the consistently delightful Firth and Stone is to die for.

The trailer has not been released yet.

Mood Indigo (July 18)

Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Audrey Tautou, Romain Duris, Omar Sy, Gad Elmaleh, Philippe Torreton, Aïssa Maïga, Charlotte le Bon
Distributor: Drafthouse Films

Criticwire Average: 7 critics gave it a B+ average

Is It a “Must See?” A woman (Audrey Tatou) suffers from an unusual illness caused by a flower growing in her lungs in the latest from French filmmaker Michel Gondry, whose last decade of work has seen a remarkable variation in projects (from “Eternal Sunshine” to “The Green Hornet” to last year’s “Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?”). Adapted from Boris Vian’s 1947 novel “Froth on the Daydream” (and its American edition “Foam of the Daze”), the film premiered to strong reviews at Fantastic Fest last fall, and already found release in France (which led to a Cesar Award for best production design).

Watch the film’s trailer below:

A Most Wanted Man (July 25th)

Director: Anton Corbijn
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Daniel Bruhl, Nina Hoss, Grigoriy Dobrygin
Distributor: Lionsgate

Criticwire Average: 9 critics gave it a B average

is it a “Must See”? Aside from being one of the late great Phillip
Seymour Hoffman’s last roles, Willem Dafoe and Robin Wright are great
supporting cast members in this thriller. Based on the 2008
best-seller by John le Carre, a collection of small mysteries involving a
German spy, a half-dead Russian, a CIA operative, and a Muslim
community leader begin to intersect with each other and wrap themselves
up in a deeper and darker plot. So given the star power, the prestige of
the novel, and the intriguing content, how is this NOT a must-see? 

Watch the trailer below:

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:

Obvious Child (June 6)

Director: Gillian Robespierre
Cast: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, David Cross, Gabe Liedman, Richard Kind, Polly Draper
Distributor: A24

Criticwire Average: 17 critics gave it a B+ average

Is It a “Must See?”  Gillian Robespierre’s insightful, hilarious “Obvious Child” comes to theaters after earning raves (and a distribution deal with A24) at the Sundance Film Festival back in January. It stars Jenny Slate (in a performance that should leave no question about both her talent and star potential) as a struggling stand-up comic with some considerable issues when it comes to booze and boys. But a one night stand changes everything, and “Obvious Child” evolves into a transgressive and contemporary romantic comedy that unlike its Hollywood genre counterparts, really has something to say.

Watch the trailer below:

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:

Ping Pong Summer (June 6)

Director: Michael Tully
Cast: Marcello Conte, Susan Sarandon, John Hannah, Lea Thompson, Amy Sedaris, Robert Longstreet
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures

Criticwire Average: 9 critics gave it a B+ average

Is It a “Must See?” With “Ping Pong Summer,” director Michael Tully (“Cocaine Angel,” “Septien”) gives us a film about the childhood he remembers: summers in Ocean City, Maryland (where the film was shot), cheesy arcade games, pastels, Nike, and hip hop. Caught up in it all, Radford Miracle (Marcello Conte) searches for the confidence that promises adulthood. It’s the 1980s: These are harsh times in bland, touristy coast towns. With an exuberant eye for period details, Tully presents an ode to a time many recall fondly or its flare and schlock alike.

Watch the trailer below:


The Rover (June 20th)

Director: David Michôd
Cast: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy
Distributor: A24

Criticwire Average: The film has no reviews yet.

is it a “Must See”? David Michôd’s first narrative, full-length
feature, the criminally under-seen “Animal Kingdom,” was a beautifully
crafted drama that boasted a heartbreaking performance by Jacki Weaver.
Although not as commercially successful stateside, with “The Rover,”
Michôd will once again use his Australia as a backdrop for suspense and
violence. “The Rover” takes place in an Australian desert in the near
future and follows Eric, played by Guy Pearce (who also appeared in
“Animal Kingdom”) as a man whose last valuable possession—his car—is
taken from him by a gang. Seeking revenge, he teams up with an injured
and left-behind member of the group (Pattinson). The trailer looks
promising enough and Pearce has always been pretty reliable. We’ll see
if “The Rover” rises above its genre.

Check out the trailer below:

The Sacrament (June 6)

Director: Ti West
Cast: Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Gene Jones
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Criticwire Average: 5 critics gave it a B average

Why Is It a “Must See?” What happens when extreme horror director Eli Roth produces a film by Ti West, the new king of slow-burning horror? A found footage movie, apparently, but one that at least looks more interesting than most of the films of its kind. The film follows a fashion photographer and his co-workers as they meet his sister at a commune that has more than a few similarities to Jonestown. Will the mix of Roth, West, and found footage result in a movie where the characters wait around for 75 minutes, only to end up being dismembered as no one puts down the damn camera and runs? At any rate, it’ll be interesting to see.

Watch the (red band) trailer below:

Snowpiercer (June 27)

Director: Bong Joon-ho
Cast: Chris Evans, Song Kangho, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ewen Brewmner, Alison Pill, John Hurt, Ed Harris
Distributor: RADiUS-TWC

Criticwire Average: 9 critics gave it a A- average

Is It a “Must See?” Countless filmmakers have entered into legendary battles with industrial powers about the value of retaining final cut, but few modern examples have generated the media brouhaha surrounding the U.S. release of Bong Joon-ho’s “Snowpiercer.” The Korean director’s adaptation of Jacques Lob’s comic book, which ran between 1984 and 2000 (but only received an English translation earlier this year) opened in several territories during the last several months while distributor Harvey Weinstein became embroiled in a public spat with Bong over the movie’s alleged two-and-a-half hour running time (though Bong’s completed version is actually 125 minutes). But in the end, it’s being reported that Bong’s cut will be what hits US theaters this summer (via RADiUS instead of TWC). Was it worth the wait? Our critic thinks so.

Watch the trailer below:

Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon (June 6)

Director: Mike Myers
Distributor: RADiUS-TWC

Criticwire Average: 2 critics gave it a B+ average

Is It a “Must See?” “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” the directorial debut of Mike Myers, is a vaudeville celebrity remembrance of mega-manager Shep Gordon by stars who might have starved without Gordon’s help.  “Who was (or is) Shep Gordon?” might have been an appropriate title for all but show biz insiders, but it wouldn’t have conveyed the reverence (albeit often obscene) that went into this homage/doc. Gordon shaped and saved the careers of many — Alice Cooper, Anne Murray, Luther Vandross, Emeril Lagasse — and even in the swarm of show-biz archaeology out there, it will be a novelty, given Gordon’s longevity across the entertainment industry and the marquee friendships that have lasted.

A trailer is not available.

They Came Together (June 27)

Director: David Wain
Cast: Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Cobie Smulders, Michael Shannon, Lynn Cohen, Melanie Lynskey, Noureen DeWulf, Ed Helms, Max Greenfield
Distributor: Lionsgate

Criticwire Average: 1 critic gave it a B+

Is It a “Must See?” David Wain’s goofy, playful filmmaking approach was first successful with “Hot American Summer,” but despite solid work on television (“Childrens Hospital”), he hasn’t made a film that hits that sweet spot of mirthful humor since “Role Models.”  Fortunately, he more or less returns to form with “They Came Together,” a takedown of romantic comedy traditions of chaotic, irreverent proportions. Reuniting with “Wet Hot American Summer” alums Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd along with co-writer Michael Showalter, Wain has shot a comedy that hits the ceiling of silliness and bursts through the plaster for a view of the upper floor. Every romantic comedy trope is roasted here, mocked and emulated with a wink; the only thing they’re missing to complete this maniacal medley is Kate Hudson.

Watch the trailer below:

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

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:

The Trip To Italy (August 15)

Director: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Rosie Fellner
Distributor: IFC Films

Criticwire Average: 7 critics gave it a B+ average

Is It a “Must See?” Michael Winterbottom’s 2011 film “The Trip” pulled off a unique hybrid—part road movie, part bromance and travel show—from an absurdly simple formula. The feature film, edited down from a six-hour BBC sitcom of the same name, reunited the stars of Winterbottom’s 2005 film “Tristram and Shady: A Cock and Bull Story,” Steve Coogan (“Philomena”) and Rob Brydon (“Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels”) under the premise that Coogan had invited Brydon on a road trip to review restaurants in the Lake District for The Observer.  While, the gang’s all here again for “The Trip To Italy,” a sequel of sorts in which Brydon and Coogan swap their domestic holiday for a Grand Tour of Italy.

Watch the trailer below:


The Two Faces of January (August 8)

Director: Hossein Amini
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac, David Warshofsky, Daisy Bevan, Aleifer Prometheus
Distributor: Magnolia

Criticwire Average: 3 critics gave it a B- average

Is It a “Must See?” Patricia Highsmith’s novels have provided fodder for more than two dozen film adaptations, a pantheon that now includes “The Two Faces of January.” This 1964 suspense thriller has been memorably realized by writer-director Hossein Amini with an eye for film noir tropes. While it won’t knock Anthony Minghella’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley” from its pedestal, Amini’s directorial debut — starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac, no less — is a quiet and graceful achievement that suffers from a number of shortcomings but still works on its own terms.

Watch the trailer below:

Venus in Fur (June 20)

Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Almaric
Distributor: Sundance Selects

Criticwire Average: 17 critics gave it a B Average

Why Is It a “Must See?” Roman Polanski has worked in theatrical adaptations before with “Macbeth,” “Death and the Maiden” and “Carnage,” and this one seems tailor made for Polanski’s talents. Like many of his best films, it revolves primarily around a single location (a theater), and involves a sexual power play, this time between a director (Mathieu Almaric) and a prospective leading lady for his play (Emmanuelle Seigner), an adaptation of the 1870 novel “Venus in Furs.” David Ives’ play garnered Tony Award nominations for Best Play and Best Actress (Nina Ariadna), winning the latter. “Carnage” felt a little too stage-bound, but perhaps working with a play that actually takes place in the theater world might escape the perils of shooting canned theater.

Watch the trailer below:

What If (August 1)

Director: Michael Dowse
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver
Distributor: CBS Films

Criticwire Average: 3 critics gave it an A- average

Why Is It a “Must See?” The well-liked romance comedy “The F Word” has been bludgeoned with a generic new title by U.S. distributor CBS Films, but that doesn’t strip the film of its modest charms. Daniel Radcliffe stars as a pre-med student who falls for Zoe Kazan’s quirky animator, only to find out that she’s in a serious relationship. Radcliffe and Kazan are charming together, and the film makes good use of Toronto, but the real highlight is Adam Driver as Radcliffe’s odd best friend. Even those a bit tired of will-they-or-won’t-they romcoms ought to get a kick out of Driver gleefully shouting “I just had sex and I’m about to eat NACHOS!” at the top of his lungs.

The trailer is not yet available, but watch the film’s Toronto press conference (when it was still called ‘The F Word’):

Wish I Was Here (July 18)

Director: Zach Braff
Cast: Zach Braff, Donald Faison, Joey King, Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, Ashley Greene, Jim Parsons, Josh Gad
Distributor: Focus Features

Criticwire Average: 7 critics gave it a B- average

Is It a “Must See?” A decade after
Zach Braff made “Garden State” comes “Wish I Was Here” — the widely
documented Kickstarter-backed comedy in which he also stars. The film is a coming-of-age story focused on Aidan Bloom, a 35-year-old actor played by Braff whose career struggles have made it difficult for him to support his wife and children. When Bloom’s sick father can no longer pay the tuition for his children’s private school, Bloom reluctantly agrees to homeschool them. As Bloom embarks on this journey to teach his own children, he also begins to learn a lot about himself. Kate Hudson and Mandy Patnikin co-star as Bloom’s wife and father, respectively.

Watch the trailer below:

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