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The 15 Indie Films You Must See This July: ‘Amy,’ ‘The End of the Tour’ and More

The 15 Indie Films You Must See This July: 'Amy,' 'The End of the Tour' and More

A Poem is a Naked Person” (July 1)

(Film Page)
Director: Les Blank
Criticwire Average: C-
Why is it a “Must See”? More than forty years after the late director Les Blank completed “A Poem is a Naked Person,” a project he was hired by musician Leon Russell to make, a newly restored version courtesy of Janus Films is bringing the documentary to the big screen for the very first time. Shot over a two-year-period, “A Poem is a Naked Person” captures Russell, his posse of musical collaborators and his artist friends as they live, record and perform in rural Oklahoma. Following Blank’s death, his son Harrod completed the film, which incorporates concert/rehearsal footage, interviews and atmospheric material that expose the beating passion behind Russell’s iconic career as a session musician and solo artist.

Mala Mala” (July 1)

(Film Page)
Director: Dan Sickles, Antonio Santini 
Criticwire Average: A- 
Why is it a “Must See”? With the recent media frenzy over Caitlyn Jenner and award-winning series such as “Orange is the New Black” and “Transparent” bringing trans communities to a wide audience, let Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini’s riveting documentary be a wake-up call to the heartbreaking and inspirational realism of trans lives. The film follows a diverse collection of trans and drag subjects living in Puerto Rico, making it a unique glimpse at sexual identity beyond America’s borders. Included in the doc are LGBQT activists, business owners, sex workers and a boisterous group of drag performers who call themselves “The Doll House.” We guarantee you’ll never forget these group of fearless women come the end credits.

Amy” (July 3)

(Film Page)
Director: Asif Kapadia
Criticwire Average: A
Why is it a “Must See”? A once-in-a-generation talent, Amy Winehouse became a media sensation more because of her tortured battle with substance abuse than for her acclaimed discography. Luckily, filmmaker Asif Kapadia (“Senna”) powerfully rights this wrong in his spellbinding look at the life-and-death of the British singer-songwriter, using never-before-seen archival footage and voiceover interviews to get to the heart of her vulnerable and rebellious soul. The documentary made waves at the Cannes Film Festival in May, where Indiewire hailed the film as an “extraordinary, powerful work” in a glowing “A” review. Unflinching in its coverage of the singer’s troubles and unforgettable in its access to studio footage (watching her record “Back to Black” will give you chills), Kapadia’s film will forever be the closest audiences get to discovering the real Amy Winehouse.

Cartel Land” (July 3)

(Film Page)
Director: Matthew Heineman
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? Winner of the Best Director Award and the Special Jury Award for Cinematography (U.S. Documentary Competition) at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, Matthew Heineman’s doc explores the Mexican Drug War and the vigilante groups fighting various cartels at the U.S-Mexican border. On one side is Dr. Jose Mireles, a small-town physician known as “El Doctor,” who leads a citizen uprising in Mexico against a dominant drug cartel. On the other is veteran soldier Tim “Nailer” Foley, who leads a military group in Arizona’s “Cocaine Valley” in order to prevent drugs from entering the country. With a focus on both sides of the border, plus visceral access to the violent world these men put themselves in, “Cartel Land” will bring you as close to the border as you’ve ever been, both physically and emotionally.

10,000 KM” (July 10)

(Film Page)
Director: Carlos Marqués-Marcet
Cast: Natalia Tena, David Verdaguer
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a “Must See”? Long distance relationships are challenging to maintain, and Carlos Marqués-Marcet chronicles one with sensitivity and artistic insight in “10,000 KM.” Natalia Tena and David Verdaguer star as Alex and Sergi, a couple living in Barcelona. When Alex moves to America for a yearlong residency in Los Angles, the two begin a relationship bound to the confines of technology. After a stunning 23-minute opening shot, the majority of the movie follows the pair as they struggle to maintain a close relationship through virtually every form of communication at their disposal. While the plot remains exclusive to how the two communicate from different places, Marqués-Marcet adds directorial flourishes to expand the thematic outreach of this small, intimate relationship study.

Tangerine” (July 10)

(Film Page)
Director: Sean Baker
Cast: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O’Hagan, Alla Tumanyan, James Ransone
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? Writer-director Sean Baker’s followup to “Starlet” is another shrewd character study involving a pair of unlikely protagonists: Two transgender prostitutes in Los Angeles looking for a pimp boyfriend who may be unfaithful. Set over the course of a single day and shot entirely using an iPhone, the vibrant movie plays out like a buddy comedy as Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) wander around and undergo a series of misadventures. Their plight adopts an unsuspecting screwball mold — a canny trick that manages to make their tale universally relatable — and Baker imbues each scene with a charming quality that sets the movie apart from anything else currently in theaters.

Court” (July 15)

(Film Page)
Director: Chaitanya Tamhane
Cast: Usha Bane, Vivek Gomber, Pradeep Joshi, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Shirish Pawar, Vira Sathidar
Criticwire Average: N/A
Why is it a “Must See”? Set in Mumbai, “Court” examines the participants of a trial in which an aging folk singer has been charged with the abetment of suicide after his performance of an inflammatory song led to the death of a nearby sewage worker. The film works as a sweeping humanistic study, exploring the lives of the involved judges and lawyers as they react to the proceedings. With widespread acclaim — the drama won 10 festival jury prizes, most notably the Venice Film Festival’s Lion of the Future award for director Chaitanya Tamhane — “Court” is a foreign language drama you can’t afford to miss.

Irrational Man” (July 17)

(Film Page)
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Emma Stone, Joaquin Phoenix, Jamie Blackley, Parker Posey
Criticwire Average: B-
Why is it a “Must See”? You never know what you’re going to get with Woody Allen — any upcoming movie of his could be the next “Blue Jasmine” dazzler or “Magic in the Moonlight” clunker — but his annual release is always on a cinephile’s radar regardless. Reuniting with Emma Stone and enticingly bringing Joaquin Phoenix and Parker Posey into the mix, “Irrational Man” centers on a philosophy professor who finds himself falling for one of his students while battling an existential crisis. In other words, this is typical Allen fare. While reviews out of the Cannes Film Festival were decidedly mixed, the chance to see Phoenix take on the director’s nebbish persona seems too good to miss. 

The Look of Silence” (July 17)

(Film Page)
Director: Joshua Oppenheimer 
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”?: Joshua Oppenheimer’s acclaimed 2012 documentary “The Act of Killing” explored the trauma of the 1965 Indonesian genocide through the terrifying presence of its perpetrators. The filmmaker went so far as to allow the men to reenact the horrors in embellished fashion, putting a closeup on corruption with no real cinematic precedent. “The Look of Silence,” Oppenheimer’s followup and companion piece, takes a less outwardly daring path but is no less extraordinary. Following an optometrist who goes on an unsettling mission to track down countless retired torturers under the guise of paying them medical visits, the film chronicles a generational shift from complaisance to activism through a vulnerable lens. 

Mr. Holmes” (July 17)

(Film Page)
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Zak Shukor, Milo Parker, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hattie Morahan
Criticwire Average: B-
Why is it a “Must See”? Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr. turned Sherlock Holmes into a badass action hero, but in the hands of director Bill Condon (“Chicago”) and Ian McKellen (reuniting for the first time since “Gods and Monsters”), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s renowned detective is getting a mature, introspective facelift. Adapted from Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel, “A Slight Trick of the Mind,” the plot pivots around three primary plot strands as a 93-year-old Holmes reflects on his legacy and looks back at a cold case he may finally be able to solve. Taking to the role with effortless gravitas and emotional versatility, McKellen makes this new iteration of “Holmes” one for the ages.

“Phoenix” (July 24)

(Film Page)
Director: Christian Petzold
Cast: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Nina Kunzendorf, Uwe Preuss, Michael Maertens, Valerie Koch
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? Christian Petzold’s post-Holocaust drama is based around an incredulous premise: A German woman (Nina Hoss) emerges from the concentration camps with horrific facial scars, receives plastic surgery and rediscovers her husband in Berlin, where he fails to recognize her. Rather than reveal her identity, she allows him to believe she’s dead, only to wind up part of his scheme to have her pretend to be herself so he can claim her inheritance. But if “Phoenix” requires a certain suspension of disbelief to make its contained scenario work, the rewards of such a gamble speak for themselves. Petzold’s followup to the 2012 Hoss vehicle “Barbara” is a fascinating study of Holocaust trauma rendered in intimate terms. As Hoss’ performance and the final shot make clear, history may fade from view but the scars it leaves behind are insuppressible.

Listen to Me Marlon” (July 29)

(Film Page)
Director: Stevan Riley
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? The list of iconic Brando performances goes on and on: “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “On the Waterfront,” “The Godfather,” “Apocalypse Now.” But behind the characters he played was a man of confliction and mystery, which is something Stevan Riley explores in his cinematic investigation of Brando’s storied life. The documentary explores his rise to fame and his subsequent struggle to balance his public life and his private life, which was increasingly plagued by rumors and affairs that dominated the conversation surrounding his character and reputation. “Listen to Me Marlon” takes an emotional snapshot of the origins of Brando’s genius acting skills, shedding light on the life behind the legend. 

Best of Enemies” (July 31)

(Film Page)
Director: Morgan Neville & Robert Gordon
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? Following up his Best Documentary Oscar win for “20 Feet from Stardom,” director Morgan Neville teams with Robert Gordon for this exciting look at the televised debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley in 1968. While the film digs beneath the political climate of the Democratic and Republican national conventions, the directors ultimately triumph by exploring how the debates turned broadcast television into a powerhouse of news media coverage and public discourse. With scholarly insight and explosive name-calling, Vidal and Buckey’s rapport was unlike anything to ever hit the small screen. Given how much “unscripted” content on television seems to be orchestrated to get viewership, let this documentary be a reminder of the necessity and exhilaration of live television. 

The End of the Tour” (July 31)

(Film Page)
Director: James Ponsoldt 
Cast: Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg, Anna Chlumsky, Joan Cusack, Mamie Gummer
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? 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 conversations with author David Foster Wallace during a promotional book tour is another emotional winner. Following in the footsteps of Jonah Hill, Judd Apatow stalwart Jason Segal makes a successful jump to drama with his portrayal of Wallace, the influential “Infinite Jest” author 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 “The End of the Tour” movingly continues the trend.

The Kindergarten Teacher” (July 31)

(Film Page)
Director: Nadav Lapid
Cast: Sarit Larry, Avi Shnaidman, Lior Raz, Gilad ben David, Ester Rada, Guy Oren
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? Israeli director Nadav Lapid takes an unusual premise and rolls with it in “The Kindergarten Teacher,” a second, more feminine film after the successful macho posturing of his striking debut, “Policeman.” Sarit Larry stars as Nira, a teacher who takes a special interest in a shy young boy (Avi Schnaidman) when she hears him recite a poem while determinedly walking back and forth in the yard of the child care facility where she works. As their relationship evolves and Nira’s own issues come to the surface, the film becomes a stirring look at how the few sensitive souls aware of what art can do aren’t necessarily those able to make it themselves.

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