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25 Indies and Festival Favorites You Can’t Miss This Summer Season

From Olivier Assayas to Jim Jarmusch, Joanna Hogg to Ari Aster, Danny Boyle to Richard Linklater, and plenty of rising stars like Olivia Wilde and Joe Talbot, here are all the indies you're going to want to see this season.

“Them That Follow,” June 21

Indiana Jones’ least-favorite movie of all time, Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage’s “Them That Follow” is set in a snake handling church in the heart of Appalachia, where a deranged preacher (Walton Goggins) has read a bit too much into a Bible verse that suggests people should hold serpents in their hands in order to test God’s love. Surprise surprise, that doesn’t work out so well, as a rattle snake sinks its venomous fangs into a community that’s already been poisoned by doubt and heresy. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” actor Thomas Mann plays a young non-believer, while the starry cast is rounded out by Olivia Colman and Jim Gaffigan as the boy’s parents, and Alice Engler as the very devout girl he loves. A tightly coiled thriller that’s tangled up in questions of love and faith, “Them that Follow” was a left-field smash at Sundance, and could become one of the summer’s more unexpected sleeper hits when The Orchard releases it theatrically in June. —DE

“Yesterday,” June 28

“Yesterday”

Danny Boyle is going from the spotting trains to “Drive My Car” and “Yellow Submarine.” For his first film in two years, he’s veering into far less disturbing and more life-affirming territory than his recent “T2: Trainspotting,” directing a script by feel-good maestro Richard Curtis (“Bridget Jones’s Diary,” “Love Actually”) about a struggling musician, Jack (Himesh Patel), who wakes up one day to discover that all of humanity has forgotten The Beatles and their timeless songs. Which means that he has quite a catalogue to plunder for his own repertoire, and he doesn’t even have to pay royalties. That Curtis has written a script about the Beatles is rather perfect, considering that “All You Need Is Love” is essentially the mission statement of all his most beloved screenplays. Rounding out this cast are Lily James, Kate McKinnon, and “Blade Runner 2049” standout Ana de Armas, with Ed Sheeran and James Corden playing themselves. CB

“Maiden,” June 28

“Maiden”

SPC

In 1989, Tracy Edwards attempted something no one had before: she entered the Whitbread Round the World race as the captain of a yacht crewed entirely by women. The race involved circumnavigating the globe, and to say that its entrants comprised a boys club would be an understatement. Directed by Alex Holmes, the documentarian best known for his film “Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story,” the doc, named after Edwards’ ship, earned strong reviews when it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last September. At that time, in her “B” review, IndieWire’s Kate Erbland wrote that Holmes constructed this film using a variety of found materials, “from footage shot during the film’s central sailing race, to archival news video that provides an occasionally maddening look at the media coverage surrounding Edwards and her 1989 journey.” CB

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“Midsommar,” July 3

"Midsommar"

“Midsommar”

A24

Following up a modern horror classic like “Hereditary” is no easy feat, but watching Ari Aster try this summer with “Midsommar” is sure to be one of the highlights of cinema in 2019. While Aster is once again working within the broader horror genre, “Midsommar” trades in the dark shadows of “Hereditary” for a bright and sun-kissed relationship-gone-to-hell thriller. Oh, and there’s also a pagan cult. With rising indie favorites Florence Pugh (“Lady Macbeth”) and Jack Reynor (“Sing Street”) playing the central characters, “Midsommar” has plenty of indie star power in front and behind the camera. “Hereditary” managed to break out of its genre trappings to become of the best films of 2018 period. Here’s hoping “Midsommar” does the same. —ZS

“The Farewell,” July 12

“The Farewell”

A24

Anyone with a large Chinese family going back several generations will probably appreciate much about the one depicted in tender detail in “The Farewell,” director Lulu Wang’s touching and understated second feature. For everyone else, Awkwafina’s performance is a terrific gateway. The rapper-turned-actress’ best performance takes a sharp turn away from her zany supporting roles for a restrained and utterly credible portrait of cross-cultural frustrations. As a Chinese-American grappling with the traditionalism of her past and its impact on the future, she’s an absorbing engine for the movie’s introspective look at a most unusual family reunion. Based on a 2016 episode of “This American Life” drawn from Wang’s own experiences, “The Farewell” centers on Billi, an out-of-work New York writer who learns from her parents that her beloved grandmother — that is, her “Nai Nai” (Zhao Shuzhen) — has terminal cancer. While this premise could have birthed a quirky dramedy, Wang’s restrained approach instead yield a remarkable slow-burn immersion into her character’s life, as she struggles with the conflicting emotions of loyalty and resentment that define her adult life. It’s a remarkable window into Asian American identity to which future audiences will surely relate, and a welcome introduction to a filmmaker who’s just getting started. —EK

“Sword of Trust,” July 12

A decade after solidifying her improv-heavy approach with “Humpday,” Lynn Shelton has delivered another endearing misadventure about bored, wistful people compelled to gamble on a reckless proposition. Like Shelton’s best movies, “Sword of Trust” operates as a small-scale ensemble piece owing just as much to the rest of its cast. Essentially a four-hander, the story revolves around Birmingham couple Cynthia (Jillian Bell) and Mary (Michaela Watkins), who inherit a grimy sword from the Confederate army left behind by Cynthia’s deceased grandfather. His letter ties the object to a century-plus shadow organization convinced that the South won the war, and the bemused pair decide to take the object to a pawn shop. There’s where they find Mel (Maron), a dyspeptic manager unconvinced by the backstory but willing to offer a measly $400 — until a bit of internet research with his dopey assistant Nathaniel (a very funny slacker type played by Jon Bass) uncovers a whole network of racist lunatics willing to pay outrageous prices for that very object. After some petty arguments and clumsy negotiations, Mel agrees to split the loot with his reticent clients, yielding an unwieldy team-up as they prepare to confront a bizarre array of Southern caricatures. EK

“The Art of Self-Defense,” July 12

The Art of Self-Defense Jesse Eisenberg

“The Art of Self-Defense”

Jesse Eisenberg’s ability to hover inside a bundle of nerves has been the driving force behind his brand since “The Squid and the Whale,” but with few exceptions, his movies usually operate at a lower register. The occasional examples include Richard Ayaode’s Kafkaesque “The Double” and the under-seen surrealist romp “The Living Wake,” both of which deploy Eisenberg’s inscrutable features as narrative device. Now comes “The Art of Self-Defense,” which unleashes the actor in a sinister dark comedy as a karate-obsessed loser on the brink of losing his mind, and it’s about time the actor gave his wildest performance ever. The long-awaited second feature from Riley Stearns after his quirky 2014 cult thriller “Faults” finds the filmmaker reigning in his ironic style for a movie that works just right for his distinctive tone. A deadpan character study about coming out of one’s shell, the movie devolves into a subterranean nightmare over the course of very unpredictable set of events. —EK

“David Crosby: Remember My Name,” July 19

“David Crosby: Remember My Name”

Sundance

Documentaries about famous musicians are a dime a dozen, but rarely are these access-in-exchange for control films able to scrape past the surface of Biopic 101. What’s refreshing about “David Crosby: Remember My Name” is not simply the film’s honesty, but the honesty of the subject himself. A film of “genuine self-reflection,” Crosby lays his regrets, fears and feuds bare, never hiding the fact he is possible of being a bit of a prick. As IndieWire’s Kate Erbland wrote in her glowing review, what’s most inspiring about the film “is Crosby’s desperation to keep living, moving, and growing. It’s raw and entirely human.” CO

“Skin,” July 26

“Skin”

A24

It’s a true story that seems almost too tidy: a Neo-Nazi attempts to escape the white supremacist movement after finding a good woman who loves him and believes he can change, but his attempts are thwarted by both his ruthless skinhead family and the scores of “white power” tattoos that cover his face and body. The real-life experience of Byron Widner bred the 2011 documentary “Erasing Hate,” which focused on Widner’s months-long process to erase his tattoos and prove his worth to society, but Guy Nattiv’s narrative feature “Skin” is consumed by the years leading up to Widner’s apparent redemption. Jamie Bell is, predictably, transformed in the role, but there’s not much else predictable about a powerful film that asks no easy questions and offers even less easy answers. KE

“The Nightingale,” August 2

“The Nightingale”

IFC Films

Acclaimed filmmakers often face the challenge of big expectations on their second features, but Jennifer Kent joins the ranks of sophomore filmmakers whose new movies expand on their debuts in startlingly ambitious ways. She charts her own path in “The Nightingale,” a savage journey that might not have been worth the trip were its guide not so adept at navigating the darkness. Set in 1825 Tasmania, it stars Aisling Franciosi as an Irish convict living under the thumb of a British officer (Sam Claflin) who only desires two things in life: to be promoted to captain, and to make this woman miserable for his own enjoyment. He does so not only by forcing her to sing for him — Franciosi’s Clare is the songbird of the title — but by forcing himself on her when she asks him to finally make good on a longstanding promise to release her from her bonds. There’s nothing cathartic in Clare’s efforts to mete out justice, with one tragedy merely compounding another; the higher the body count rises, the more zero-sum it all becomes. This isn’t the fun kind of revenge drama, and by it end it hardly feels like a revenge movie at all — Kent is as concerned with the plight of Australia’s indigenous people as she is with Clare’s. —MN

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” August 9

Richard Linklater’s adaptation of Maria Semple’s 2012 novel finds Cate Blanchett in the title role as an agoraphobic architect who vanishes without explanation, forcing her teen daughter (Emma Nelson) to go search for her. While part of the movie’s premise hinges on her character’s absence, the trailer suggests Blanchett owns her screen time, and this affable dramedy is exactly the sort of seemingly lightweight material Linklater excels at elevating with unexpected depth: Utilizing material that’s far more than a run-of-the-mill midlife crisis saga, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” has the potential to provide a profound character study in the guise of something slight. Linklater excels at mining complexity from oddball scenarios (think “Bernie”) and “Bernadette” is said to deliver both a terrific showcase of its lead actress and some serious third-act payoff. Linklater could use an upbeat change of pace after his somber “Last Flag Flying,” and Blanchett’s overdue for another focused illustration of her magnetic screen presence, so there is much to anticipate about this first-rate pairing. —EK

“Blinded By the Light,” August 14

“Blinded by the Light”

A glorious and almost terminally pure coming-of-age story about a repressed British Pakistani teen in 1987 Luton whose mind explodes when he discovers an uncool American poet by the name of Bruce Springsteen, Gurinder Chadha’s “Blinded by the Light” is a film that feels as out of time as the music tastes of its 16-year-old protagonist. It exudes the earnestness of a Bollywood musical, embraces the familiar immigrant tropes of a less diasporic world, and electrifies its paper-thin but profoundly lovable characters with an optimism that’s as rare in Thatcher’s England as it is in Trump’s America.

And Chadha isn’t the least bit sorry about that, nor about how transparently she combines the warm cross-cultural friction of her own “Bend it Like Beckham” with the exuberance of “Sing Street” before transforming them both with the bone-deep power of the Boss himself (Springsteen gave her permission to use his music as soon as he read the script). “Blinded by the Light” is the kind of guileless crowd-pleaser that will make some people cry a river of tears and others roll their eyes into the backs their heads; it will probably make a lot of people do both. But if you have even the slightest emotional connection to Springsteen’s music — if you’ve ever found salvation in a rock song, or desperately wished that you could change your clothes, your hair, your face — this giddy steamroller of a movie is going to flatten you whether you like it or not. —DE

“Aquarela,” August 16

“Aquarela”

Sony Pictures Classics

People who saw this impressionistic documentary at the Venice and Sundance film festivals have largely described it as somehow being both soothing and terrifying at once. Director Viktor Kossakovsky simply turned his attention to water — as crashing waves, as ice floes, as driving rain — for a cinematic portrait of how water shapes all existence on this earth. And sometimes water can be overwhelming in its vastness and terror: as the first shot in the film’s trailer, of a jeep crossing a flatbed of ice and suddenly sinking beneath its surface, vividly demonstrates. It feels like Kossakovsky is a documentarian who’s been on the verge of breaking through for a while now — he won the True Vision Award at the True/False Film Festival in 2012 – and “Aquarela” has been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics for release. —CB

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