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Indiewire’s Summer Preview: The 21 Must-See Indies

Indiewire's Summer Preview: The 21 Must-See Indies

READ MORE: Indiewire’s Summer Preview: The 10 Must-See Documentaries

A Pigeon Sat On a Branch Reflecting On Existence” (June 3)

Acclaimed Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson doesn’t make films all that frequently. In 2000 he released “Songs From the Second Floor,” which won the Jury Prize at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival. Seven years later came “You, the Living.” Now Andersson is back with “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence,” which premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival where it won the Gold Lion (the festival’s top honor). Andersson’s spread-out filmography is reason enough to be excited for this dark comedy — every time he comes back, he comes back with something more thematically jarring and surreal than the last. 

“Love & Mercy” (June 5)

From “Brokeback Mountain” to “The Tree of Life” and “12 Years a Slave,” Bill Pohlad has produced some of the most critically acclaimed films of the past two decades. Stepping behind the director’s chair for the first time since his 1990 debut “Old Explorers,” Pohlad is set to reinvigorate the biopic genre with a unique approach to chronicling Beach Boys leader and co-founder Brian Wilson. The film is presented in a parallel narrative covering two important time periods in Wilson’s life: the 1960s and the 1980s. Bringing the singer to life over these two separate decades is a pair of performances by Paul Dano and John Cusack that critics are already fawning over. The movie’s unorthodox approach to the genre is also garnering acclaim. “Wilson makes for such an appealing oddball that it’s hard not to get swept up in the quest to save him,” wrote Eric Kohn after the drama’s Toronto Film Festival premiere. “‘Love & Mercy’ is an engrossing portrait of Wilson’s specific artistic inclinations, which draw from no real precedent. In its best moments, it hovers in the same fragile space as the music.” Cusack has been prospering as of late with bold indie choices like “The Paperboy,” “Grand Piano” and “Maps to the Stars,” and we’re especially thrilled to see him step into some of the more complex years of Wilson’s life.

“Testament of Youth” (June 5)

Alicia Vikander just gave a star-making performance in Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina” and Kit Harington has played the brooding Jon Snow on “Game of Thrones” for the past five seasons. Performances from two promising actors are reason alone to check out James Kent’s WWI period drama “Testament of Youth.” Based on the 1933 memoir of the same name, the film chronicles an Oxford student’s life and the sacrifices she makes to become a WWI nurse after her fiancé is sent to the front lines. With it’s sweeping historical setting and tragic romance, “Testament of Youth” looks like it could be this year’s “Atonement.”

“Hungry Hearts” (June 5)

Before Adam Driver explodes at the end of the year with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the Emmy-nominee is sinking his teeth into the juiciest role of his career so far in this psychological drama from writer-director Saverio Costanzo. IFC Films picked up the movie soon after it premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival, where Driver and Alba Rohrwacher both won Coppa Volpi Awards (Best Actor/Actress Awards) for their performances. The two star as a young married couple in New York City who engage in a fateful struggle over the life of their newborn child. As the mother’s increasingly nightmarish child rearing practices take center stage, Driver is forced into an emotional ringer as the film evokes the classic slow-burn thrillers of Roman Polanski and Alfred Hitchcock. Driver has been flexing different acting skills left and right, be it droll comedy in “Inside Llewyn Davis” or pseudo-hipster chillness in “While We’re Young,” and the opportunity to go full blown dramatic should make for his best acting showcase yet. 

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” (June 12)

It would behoove cinephiles to see the film that took home the most recent Audience and Jury Prizes at the Sundance Film Festival. Our Sundance review called the film, “Poignant without being melodramatic, overflowing with unforced charm, ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ holds a unique appeal that’s certain to last.” It centers on 17-year-old Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann), who spends most of his time making whimsical films with friend Earl (RJ Cyler) and begins spending time a  a Leukemia-stricken classmate named Rachel. With it’s balance of comedy and drama, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is bound to be the sick-kid tear-jerker of the summer

“The Tribe” (June 17)

Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s Ukrainian drama has been the darling of film festivals ever since its premiere at Cannes last year, and when it’s finally released in theaters this June it will unquestionably be one of the most devastating and singular moviegoing experiences of 2015. That’s not hyperbole, trust us. Told without any spoken dialogue or subtitles, “The Tribe” follows a new student at a boarding school for the deaf as he’s drawn into its institutional system of crime and prostitution. Indiewire’s Eric Kohn hailed the film as an “unprecedented cinematic accomplishment” following its Cannes’ premiere, raving, “The director not only gives his real-life deaf actors the opportunity to emote in their own vernacular, a spectacular technical challenge that largely holds together, he also provides them with meaty roles that never condescends or pities them on the basis of their disabilities.” Told primarily through startling long takes that would bring even Steve McQueen to his knees, “The Tribe” is as difficult to watch as it is thematically rewarding. Serious movie lovers shouldn’t miss it. 

“Manglehorn” (June 18)

Imagine “Pineapple Express” director David Gordon Green directing Al Pacino as an ex-con man and you have “Manglehorn.” Pacino portrays the titular character, who, after decades of living with his terrible actions and losing the woman of his dreams, must once again deal with his haunted past. Green’s work is varied — from “George Washington” to “Prince Avalanche” to “Joe,” another film dealing with an ex-con, so to see what he does here has us interested. The added mix of indie-favorite Chris Messina gets us that much more intrigued.

READ MORE: Indiewire’s Summer Preview: The 10 Must-See Documentaries

“Infinitely Polar Bear” (June 19)

In the aptly-titled “Infinitely Polar Bear,” a manic-depressive mess of a father (Mark Ruffalo) tries to win back his wife (Zoe Saldana) by attempting to take full responsibility of their two young daughters. Through this relatively basic premise, Emmy-nominated director Maya Forbes (“The Larry Sanders Show”) fashions a perfectly-pitched emotional roller coaster. Ruffalo inhabits what many have declared his most substantial role to date, drawing universal praise out of the film’s premiere at Sundance in 2014. But most notable about “Infinitely Polar Bear” is the streak of authenticity running through it. Drawing from her own experiences, Forbes injects levels of humor and emotion as only someone intimately connected to the subject matter could.

“Eden” (June 19)

French director Mia Hansen-Love’s last two features, the ode to heartbreak “Goodbye First Love” and the family drama “The Father of My Children,” both covered lengthy time periods with a fascinating degree of understatement. “Eden,” her fourth effort, which screened at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, elevates this approach to a more ambitious scale. It encompasses the history of the French electronic music scene over the course of 20 years. Based on the career path of her brother Sven — who co-wrote the movie with his sister — “Eden” tracks the dreams and frustrations of an aspiring French DJ named Paul (Felix de Givry), one half of a duo Cheers that plays a pioneering role in the rise of the French house music scene (otherwise known as the “French touch”).

The Overnight” (June 19)

“The Overnight” was one of the most talked-about films to premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, based on its racy premise alone. Writer-director Patrick Brice’s second feature centers on a couple (Adam Scott and “Orange is the New Black” star Taylor Schilling) new to Los Angeles who attend a “playdate” with another family, only to soon discover that the other couple’s intentions aren’t exactly G-rated. Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godrèche play the swinging duo, set on making the most of their night. “In the pantheon of lighthearted sex comedies, it’s basically a paragon of the genre,” Indiewire’s Eric Kohn wrote of the film in his Sundance review.

Dope” (June 19)

A standout at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year where in won the Editing Award, the hip-hop-driven story follows Malcolm (Shameik Moore) as he carefully survives life in a tough Los Angeles neighborhood while juggling college applications, academic interviews and the SAT. When a chance invitation leads to an underground party, an adventure begins that could allow him to make the jump from being a geek to being himself. “Dope” co-stars Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Blake Anderson, Zoe Kravitz, Chanel Iman and ASAP Rocky.

“Jimmy’s Hall” (July 3)

British director Ken Loach is back with “Jimmy’s Hall,” another social realist drama that Indiewire’ Eric Kohn called “entertaining” and “enjoyable.” The film follows real-life Irish Communist James Gralton, played by Ward, who establishes a meeting place for people to dance and talk intellectually during Ireland’s Red Scare of the 1930s. The film opened at last year’s Cannes Film Festival to largely positive response. The performances along with the unique period setting aren’t to be missed.

READ MORE: Indiewire’s Summer Preview: The 10 Must-See Documentaries

Tangerine” (July 10)

Sean Baker (“Starlet”) is a longstanding indie favorite, and his latest, “Tangerine,” has critics already buzzing. The Sundance sensation stars Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, two trans actresses making their feature film debuts, as “two working girls in search of a wayward pimp on a fateful Christmas Eve in Hollywood,” as the film’s official synopsis reads. Executive produced by the Duplass Brothers, “Tangerine” drew raves for its groundbreaking representation, naturalistic cinematography and blackly comic edge. It’s also a clear example of why Baker is one of the most important filmmakers working today. As Eric Kohn wrote in his review for Indiewire, “Baker once again manages to match underrepresented faces in American cinema with material that lets their personalities shine.”

“10,000KM” (July 10)

The opening shot of writer-director Carlos Marqués-Mercet’s “10,000 KM” lasts for 23 minutes, and as we said in our review, every moment was well earned. The film examines a long-distance relationship between two lovers; one who lives in Los Angeles, the other in Barcelona. Their intimate, long first moment is soon destroyed; presented in fractured, choppy moments throughout the rest of the film. It’s an intriguing take on how modern technology allows us to stay in touch but keeps us apart through increasingly divided, false connection. 

“The Bronze” (July 10)

Anyone who watches CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory” know actress Melissa Rauch as series regular Bernadette Rostenkowsi. Sundance audiences got to see a very different side of Rauch on the opening night of the festival when she premiered her passion project, “The Bronze,” in which she stars and also co-wrote with her husband Winston Rauch. In “The Bronze,” directed by Bryan Buckley (who has over 50 Super Bowl commercials to his name), Rauch plays Hope Annabelle Greggory, an extremely foul-mouthed Olympic bronze medalist gymnast who can’t let go of her former glory. When she’s forced into training a promising gymnast (Haley Lu Richardson) after the passing of her former coach, Hope does everything in her power to sabotage the girl’s chances at making it to the Olympics. Rauch delivers a wholly committed performance that’s by turns hilarious, scary and oddly endearing.

The Stanford Prison Experiment” (July 17)

Remember that horrifying study you read about in Psych 101 where a group of students forgot they were participating in research and started abusing each other? Well, director Kyle Patrick Alvarez has masterfully turned Dr. Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison Experiment into complex, provocative film. The film stars Billy Crudup as Dr. Philip Zimbardo, as well as a talented young cast made up of Ezra Miller, Olivia Thereby, Keir Gilchrist, Jack Kilmer, Michael Angarano and Sundance breakout Logan Miller.

READ MORE: Indiewire’s Summer Preview: The 10 Must-See Documentaries

“Phoenix” (July 24)

World War II themed survival dramas are a dime a dozen these days, but this disconcerting post-Holocaust film makes the sometimes tired-feeling genre seem new again. “Phoenix,” German director Christian Petzold’s follow up to 2008’s “Jerichow” and 2012’s “Barbara,” follows Nelly (Nina Hoss), a Jewish concentration camp survivor who gets caught up in a complicated web of lies with her estranged husband (Ronald Zehrfield) soon after her release. When her husband Jonny doesn’t recognize her — she had facial reconstruction surgery to correct disfigurement — Nelly is drafted into a strange conspiracy wherein she must “learn” how to be his wife so that he can get her inheritance. Soon, she starts to suspect that Jonny may have sold her out to the Nazis in a suspense plot worthy of an Alfred Hitchcock film. If that’s not convincing enough for you, check out Eric Kohn’s Toronto review (A-), where he calls it “a fascinating study of Holocaust trauma rendered in intimate terms.”

The End of the Tour” (July 31)

James Ponsoldt has emerged as one of the best independent directors currently working thanks to acclaimed favorites “Smashed” (2012) and “The Spectacular Now” (2013), and this biographical drama about a magazine reporter and his travels and conversations with author David Foster Wallace during a promotional book tour is already being hailed as another emotional winner. Following in the footsteps of Jonah Hill, Judd Apatow-stalwart Jason Segal makes the jump to drama and is already earning raves for his turn as Wallace, the influential author of “Infinite Jest” who committed suicide at age 46 after years of battling depression and substance addiction. It’s ultimately these dark facets of Wallace’s life that make Ponsoldt the best choice to bring the author to the big screen. Ponsoldt embraces his subjects and their addictions with a rare sensitivity that builds character organically without ever judging it. The results have been movies of stirring authenticity, and there’s no reason “The End of the Tour” shouldn’t continue the trend.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl” (August 7)

Alexander Skarsgård and Kristen Wiig star in Marielle Heller’s directorial debut and Sundance darling “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” adapted from Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel of the same title. One of the reasons we’re so excited about this movie because it’s an honest female coming-of-age story —- a kind of film we don’t see nearly enough of, unfortunately. On top of that, it stars British actress Bel Powley, who absolutely shines in her American film debut. The film takes place in 1970s San Francisco and follows 15-year-old artist Minnie (Powley) as she enters a sexual awakening, starting with her losing her virginity to her mother’s boyfriend (Skarsgård).

“Goodnight, Mommy” (August 14)

As a child, expecting your mother to come home only to encounter a bandaged woman walking through your front door, would probably be one of the most terrifying things in your life. That’s what directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz concocted with this tale of two children who start to doubt whether the woman in their home is actually their mother after a date with plastic surgery. Paranoia and mistrust can even plunge little kids into darkness and that’s the horrifying truth behind the film. We can’t wait to be spooked.

“Grandma” (August 21)

Two years after appearing briefly as Tina Fey’s mother in Paul Weitz’s comedy “Admission,” comedy legend Lily Tomlin is back, this time playing the titular “Grandma” in the director’s new film, which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. The role is one the juiciest of Tomlin’s career. In “Grandma,” Tomlin plays Elle, a cantankerous lesbian poet whose longtime partner has recently passed away. When her teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) shows up on her doorstep asking for money for an abortion, the two embark on a road trip to find the cash.

READ MORE: Indiewire’s Summer Preview: The 10 Must-See Documentaries

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