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2016 Summer Movie Preview: 27 Indie Films and Festival Favorites to See This Season

2016 Summer Movie Preview: 27 Indie Films and Festival Favorites to See This Season

All this week, Indiewire will be rolling out our annual Summer Preview, including offerings that span genres, a close examination of various trends and special attention to all the new movies you need to get through a jam-packed summer movie-going season. Check back every day for a new look at the best the season has to offer, and clear your schedule, because we’re going to fill it right up.

READ MORE: Indiewire’s Complete 2016 Summer Movie Preview

“A Bigger Splash,” May 4

Tilda Swinton as an aging rock goddess whose idyllic vacation is interrupted by the sudden arrival of her former flame, played by a bonkers Ralph Fiennes. Need we really say more? Reuniting once again with frequent artistic collaborator Luca Guadagnino, Swinton swings for the fences in one of her most internal performances to date. The last time the pair teamed up it was for the remarkable “I Am Love,” but “A Bigger Splash” finds them operating in an infectious free-spirited fashion. The drama was well-received at Venice last year, and with juicy supporting turns by Dakota Johnson and Matthias Schoenaerts, “Splash” will be the perfect way to kick off the indie summer movie season. -Zack Sharf

“Money Monster,” May 13

Jodie Foster’s thriller stars George Clooney as a Jim Cramer-like TV stock adviser taken hostage by a viewer who lost money on a bad tip. It’s been five years since Foster directed her last feature, “The Beaver” (though she’s dabbled in television, including an episode of “Orange is the New Black”). While “Beaver” wasn’t everybody’s favorite crazy Mel Gibson movie, it showcased Foster’s serious attempts to play with genre and blend a serious tone with outrageous circumstances, something that seems to be a pattern based on the focus here. Clooney’s an ideal fit for this kind of real world commentary on our financially desperate times, which suggests this 2016 Cannes entry might be a terrific showcase for movie stars both in front of and behind the camera. –Eric Kohn

“Dheepan,” May 6 (NYC) and May 13 (LA)

The Palme d’Or-winner from last year’s Cannes Film Festival, this dramatic thriller from the great French director Jacques Audiard (“A Prophet”) is terrific summer counter-programming: It’s a diverse story about an ex-Tamil Tiger soldier from Sri Lanka (Jesuthasan Antonythasan, in a remarkably subtle turn) who makes his way to Paris with two young women, posing with them as a family in order to secure their employment. While this set-up is enough to merge the suspenseful narrative with kitchen sink realism, Audiard goes one step further, pushing his protagonist into “Taxi Driver”-level intensity for the action-filled climax. -EK

“Last Days in the Desert,” May 13

Following in the footsteps of Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe and Jim Caviezel, Ewan McGregor brings Jesus back to the big screen in “Last Days in the Desert.” The film premiered all the way back at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, and while the delay in release might be a shaky sign, the film’s ambitious premise and reliably stunning cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki are too enticing to ignore. As directed by “Albert Nobbs” helmer Rodrigo Garcia, “Last Days” finds Jesus wandering the desert and encountering the Devil, also played by McGregor. It’s a dual performance we can’t wait to see unfold. Tye Sheridan and Ciaran Hinds co-star. -ZS

“The Lobster,” May 13

It’s been a wild ride to release for Yorgos Lanthimos’ critically acclaimed satire “The Lobster.” The film was one of the biggest festival darlings last year – premiering in Cannes to enthusiastic raves and earning more acclaim at NYFF and others – but its distribution plan was put into jeopardy when Alchemy was forced to sell it. Luckily, A24 stepped up to release what is surely one of the best indies of the summer. Set in a future where society highly values relationships, the film stars Colin Farrell as an architect who checks into a hotel after his wife leaves him. The hotel acts as a twisted dating service, where guests have 45 days to find a new partner or else they’ll be transformed into an animal of their choosing. John C. Reilly, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, Olivia Colman and Lea Seydoux co-star. – ZS

“Love & Friendship,” May 13

As twin observers of the minutiae-laden drama of sophisticated life, Whit Stillman and Jane Austen are natural artistic bedfellows. One of the joys of this year’s Sundance Film Festival was watching Stillman take the unfinished Austen novella “Lady Susan” and fashion his resultant screenplay into a comedic scythe. Where previous Austen adaptations have tangentially addressed the comedy of manners DNA of the author’s works, Stillman brings a delightful ruthfulness to skewering the mores of the late 18th century. Kate Beckinsale is masterful as the novella’s title character, a Georgian-era string-puller taking immense pleasure in bending entire estates worth of socialites to her will. The supporting cast (including Chloe Sevigny and Stephen Fry) is unformly solid, but the other standout is the uproariously funny Tom Bennett, who delivers a masterclass in comedic timing. -Steve Greene

“Sunset Song,” May 13

A new film from English auteur Terence Davies (“The Long Day Closes”) is always a cause for celebration, and that’s especially true of “Sunset Song,” the filmmaker’s long long-awaited passion project. Adapted from Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s 1932 novel of the same name and set in the years just before World War I, this beautifully bucolic melodrama stars Agyness Deyn (“Clash of the Titans”) as a Scottish farm girl who’s torn between the history of her homeland and the hope of a distant future. Gibbon and Davies are a match made in heaven, and Deyn — who’s had a tough go of transitioning from the fashion runway to the screen — delivers a breakout performance for the ages. -David Ehrlich

“Holy Hell,” May 20

Will Allen’s eye-opening cult documentary was one of the buzziest non-fiction features to hit Sundance earlier this year, and now audiences will be able to see what all the fuss was about this summer. The doc chronicles Allen’s 20 years living inside a spiritual cult in California named Buddha Field. The director recorded his entire experience and kept himself hidden as the director in order to stay clear of potential interference from the cult. Through interviews with ex-members, he offers up a look into the extreme ideals of this society and exposes the cracks that begin to unfold as trust is turned into paranoia and dark truths are revealed about their enlightened leader. -ZS

“Maggie’s Plan,” May 20

Greta Gerwig already has this charming indie rom-com thing on lock, but her role in Rebecca Miller’s frequent fest-player allows her the chance to mix things up a bit in what seems like a comfortable venue. As the eponymous Maggie, Gerwig falls in love with a charmer played by Ethan Hawke, and while she initially seems put off by the fact he’s married (to Julianne Moore, no less), the two end up together. And no, that’s not a spoiler, because that’s just the start of a funny, flinty comedy that subverts expected tropes at every turn and allows its starry cast to really shine in an offbeat take on the genre. -Kate Erbland

“Weiner,” May 20

Pick any vehicular analogy you want for the career decline of politician Anthony Weiner: Slow-motion car crash, inverse roller coaster, derailed train engine. What makes Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman’s documentary compelling is its ability to capture (and in some ways recreate) the aura of invicibility that armchair psychologists might blame for Weiner’s downfall. The former congressman’s doomed 2013 New York City mayoral bid forms the backdrop for the film, and Steinberg and Kriegman take advantage of a distressing level of access to capture the private life of a habitual oversharer, dangerously comfortable in the public eye. As the bubble of Weiner’s good will begins to burst, it’s impossible not to be taken in by the kaleidoscope of matter-of-fact reactions, from staffers to family members to constituents. Weiner’s not the first candidate to be both made and unmade by our modern media age, and “Weiner” shows why he won’t be the last. -SG

“Presenting Princess Shaw,” May 27

A surprise crowdpleaser at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival (where it was then called “Thru You Princess”), Ido Haar’s intimate, timely documentary explores the strange coming together of two very different artists: Ophir Kutiel, an Israeli musician, and Samantha Montgomery, a talented singer from a tough New Orleans neighborhood. Unbeknownst to Montgomery, Kutiel has been inspired by her work (which she frequently posts on her YouTube page), which has pushed him to riff on them for his own creations. When the pair finally connect, “Presenting Princess Shaw” goes from a rousing musical doc into a full-blown story about the power of technology to bring people together. -KE

“Chevalier,” May 27

You’d be hard-pressed to find a prestigious festival that Athina Rachel Tsangari’s whipsmart sendup of bro-bonding flicks hasn’t played at. After debuting at Locarno last year, the comedy has made the rounds on the circuit, and winning its very talented maker, director and co-writer Athina Rachel Tsangari, scads of fans in the process. The film follows a group of friends on a fishing trip that soon turns into an off-kilter competition for a teensy gold ring (the Chevalier!), effortlessly infusing a classic story of male competition with canny observations about human behavior, all in service to some hard-earned laughs. -KE

“The Fits,” June 3

Anna Rose Holmer’s startling, enigmatic debut tells the story of pre-teen boxer named Toni (newcomer Royalty Hightower, her performance even more magnificent than her name), who suddenly finds herself compelled to join the dance squad that practices in the gym where she trains. As if it weren’t hard enough for the girl to navigate a strange new world of gender codes and sexual identity, a string of inexplicable seizures begins to shoot through the building, rippling through young bodies at random. An under-the-radar hit at Sundance, “The Fits” is a lot like its heroine: Pint-sized but packing an unexpected wallop. -DE

“Swiss Army Man,” June 24

Filmmakers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known as The Daniels) won the Directing Prize at Sundance for their head-scratching survival indie, and boy did they turn heads with what was easily one of the festival’s most polarizing and outrageous entries. “Swiss Army Man” stars indie favorite Paul Dano as Hank, a man who, while attempting to commit suicide on a deserted island, discovers a corpse on the shore (Daniel Radcliffe). When he realizes there’s still some life left in the body, he decides to use it to his advantage as a survival resource. What happens next turns farts into jet ski fuel and male genitalia into a compass. It’s best not to reveal any more and let you experience the wild ride for yourself. -ZS

“Free State of Jones,” June 24

Most actors find themselves with an influx of prestige parts and offers after they win an Oscar, so it’s been rather surprising to see just how low key Matthew McConaughey has been in the two years since winning for “Dallas Buyers Club.” Besides turning up in Christopher Nolan’s “IInterstellar” and some infamous car advertisements for Lincoln, the actor has been all but missing from the big screen. Luckily that changes this summer with “
Free State of Jones,” a Civil War action-drama from director Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit,” “The Hunger Games”). McConaughey plays Southern farmer Newt Knight, who led an armed rebellion against the Confederacy. It’s another role that seems Oscar-baiting, but we’re betting McConaughey will give it the gravitas it demands. -ZS

“Les Cowboys,” June 24

Thanks to his muscular collaborations with Jacques Audiard on films like “A Prophet” and “Rust & Bone,” Thomas Bidegain has become one of Europe’s most promising screenwriters. Now he’s stepping behind the camera for the first time, his raw and rugged directorial debut riffing on one of the most famous screenplays ever written. Essentially a contemporary French remake of “The Searchers” (and loaded with all the racial baggage that such an enterprise might entail), “Les Cowboys” stars François Damiens as Alain, a middle-aged man who goes renegade when his 16-year-old daughter is kidnapped. Blaming the girl’s Muslim boyfriend, and refusing to accept the notion that his daughter may have left on her own accord, he sets out on an endless and potentially misguided quest to retrieve her body and restore her soul. -DE

“Wiener-Dog,” June 24

The outrageous premise of Todd Solondz’s sprawling tragi-comedy suggests Robert Bresson’s “Au Hasard Balthasar” if the titular donkey were swapped for a dachshund and the realism gave way to droll existential despair. In simplest terms, the story follows the titular canine through a series of owners hailing from various stages of life. In each situation, however, the dog’s passive role stands in contrast to Solondz’s troubled characters, all of whom seem resigned to their fates. These include Greta Gerwig as the oft-beleaguered Dawn Wiener, and Danny Devito as a disgruntled screenplay professor who may or may not be an avatar for the filmmaker himself. More than 20 years after “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” Solondz’s darkly absurd vision remains as incisive as ever. -EK

“Captain Fantastic,” July 8

“Captain Fantastic” is Swiss Family Robinson with a 21st-century reality check, with Viggo Mortensen as the visionary patriarch who’s seen fit to take his six children off the grid deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. The clan eschews religion (they celebrate Noam Chomsky’s birthday), hunt and grow their own food, and have a home-schooling curriculum that would wash out almost every public school kid in America. So, things are idyllic — and then it’s not. It’s not unfamiliar territory, but the second feature from actor-turned-director Matt Ross (“28 Hotel Rooms”) has a fresh voice for exploring the boundaries of parenthood. Mortensen was born to his role, and the kid casting is spot on, including George McKay (“11.22.63”) and Annalise Basso (“The Red Road”). -Dana Harris

“Cafe Society,” July 15

Eighty-year-old Woody Allen’s one-film-a-year quota shows no signs of waning, nor does ability to intermittently satisfy expectations. For every late period dud (sorry, “To Rome With Love”), there’s another sizzling actors showcase (hello, “Blue Jasmine”). “Cafe Society,” which opens the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, holds plenty of promise along these lines: It’s a vibrant period piece that merges romantic-comedy elements with the tale of a Hollywood dreamer (Jesse Eisenberg), but stretches out its story across cast members Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Jeannie Berlin, Corey Stoll, Anna Camp, Paul Schneider and Steve Carell. As with “Midnight in Paris,” the movie seems well-positioned to tap into Allen’s ability to toy with the way elegant periods in American history continue to exist in the public imagination. Set to receive a wide release with the assistance of Amazon and Lionsgate — and marking the filmmaker’s first digitally-shot production — “Cafe Society” could very well find Allen turning to the past to find something new. -EK

“Tulip Fever,” July 15

A late addition to the summer slate, The Weinstein Company announced Justin Chadwick’s “Tulip Fever” would be released on July 15 only this month, forcing many of us to wonder just how good the movie would be. Fortunately, a lush and soapy debut trailer dropped not soon after to get us ready for what looks like an emotionally stirring period drama. Starring Oscar winner Alicia Vikander, who’s quickly becoming the new queen of period romances (watch out, Keira Knightley), the film centers around a dangerous love affair and co-stars Dane DeHaan, Christoph Waltz and Judi Dench.  he trailer hinted at some sizzling chemistry between Vikander and DeHaan, so here’s hoping “Tulip Fever” burns up the screen this summer. -ZS

“Equals,” July 15

Drake Doremus takes his self-confessed obsession with love to dramatic new heights in a genre romance that stars Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult as ill-fated lovers who live in a world that – oops! – has outlawed all human emotion. The future-set feature plays out in a coolly composed environment (think Ikea minimalism taken to the extreme) as the pair wrestle with feelings they literally have no idea how to contextualize. Human nature and animal desire consume the lovers, even as they desperately fight to adhere to society’s constrictions. It’s a riff on bigger, better dystopian visions, but it’s also a step forward for Doremus and the chemistry between the leads is undeniable. -KE

“Don’t Think Twice,” July 22

Every year the SXSW Film Festival seems to produce at least one indie darling (think “Short Term 12” and “Krisha”), and this year’s festival no doubt belonged to Mike Birbiglia’s second directorial effort, “Don’t Think Twice.” Centering around a tight-knit gang of New York improv performers struggling together to keep their art alive, the comedy is a delicately wrought ensemble piece with first-rate turns by Gillian Jacobs, Keegan-Michael Key and Birbiglia himself. As it dives into the improve world with strong wit and warm feeling, “Don’t Think Twice” sneaks up on you with its subtly powerful exploration of creative desperation. -ZS

“Indignation,” July 29

When he was an executive at Focus Features, James Schamus produced smart, mature dramas for serious-minded moviegoers. Shifting into director mode with his first feature, the 56-year-old Schamus makes quite an impression. Adapting Philip Roth’s fifties-era tale of a neurotic college Jew (Logan Lerman) entranced by a mysterious blond woman (Sarah Gadon), “Indignation” is a gripping coming-of-age tale with surprising moments of levity, eroticism and tragedy. Schamus brings Roth’s voice to light while giving new voice to the material. Look out for one of the most outrageous confrontations between a student and his oppressive teacher ever shot on film. Lerman and Gadon are both early candidates for acting Oscars, but Schamus’ screenplay is an even bigger contender. After all, he’s played this game before: It’s been 10 years since Schamus managed the Oscar campaign for “Brokeback Mountain” that bagged Ang Lee his first gold statue. –EK

“The Founder,” August 5

For the past two years, the Oscar for Best Picture has gone to a film starring Michael Keaton. Will “The Founder” order up a similar destiny? It’s too early to tell, but Michael Keaton has been on an impressive comeback streak lately and we’re willing to bet he gives another great performance as Roy Kroc in John Lee Hancock’s “The Founder.” Kroc gained fame and notoriety as the Midwestern salesman who franchised out the burger chain owned by Mac and Dick McDonald in the 1950s. While he quickly got rich off the fast food joint, the ethics involved resulted in a ton of behind-the-scenes drama that should be ripe for the taking on the big screen. -ZS

“The Hollars,” August 26

John Krasinski’s latest directorial outing sounds like the sort of film Sundance would cook up in a lab to kit out its lineup, but the sweet-natured film about a guy trying to sort through his personal life (in shambles, of course) when his parents and wacky brother pull him back into their own problems (and, quite honestly, they’re much more pressing) hits some nice marks. As his own star, Krasinski is amiable as ever, and a strong supporting cast, including Anna Kendrick, Margo Martindale, Richard Jenkins and Sharlto Copley (as said wacky brother) add some real weight to the story. It’s not an original outing, but it’s a charming one that happily wears its heart on its sleeve. -KE

“Southside With You,” August 26

Biopics of figures still making news are no-win situations. Yet, the trio at the heart of “Southside With You” (writer/director Richard Tanne and stars Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter) find a way to make a sweet ode to the First Couple while keeping their story grounded. Chronicling Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date, Tanne’s script checks the requisite backstory boxes that it would feel glaring to not acknowledge. But aside from a pivotal church scene that hints at the future president’s political and rhetorical acumen, the film largely stays away from winking nods at the pair’s eventual history or tired 1989 references. Instead, watching Sumpter and Sawyers make their way through Chicago becomes a breezy look at budding affection, removed from the usual portent of true-life origin stories. It’s a movie about a date that also works as a date movie, regardless of your political leanings. -SG

“Don’t Breathe,” August 26

The formula for the home invasion thriller has fueled countless eerie showdowns, but Fede Alvarez’s “Don’t Breathe” is an especially dazzling example. The director’s sophomore effort, following his 2013 “Evil Dead” remake, finds a trio of reckless thieves attempting to rob a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang, “Avatar”) and inadvertently wind up trapped in his lair for the night. Equal parts “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “High Tension,” this elegant and surprisingly fast-paced blend of horror and suspense overcomes some of its more ridiculous ingredients thanks to endless invention. Alvarez makes the terror of locked doors and dark rooms more unsettling than the terrible things they entail. –EK

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