Flavorwire’s Guide to Indie Flicks to See in May

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It’s May 1st, and the summer blockbuster season begins with explosions and superheroes galore this Friday as The Avengers hits theaters. And though we’re looking forward to that and a few other big summer movies, it’s easy — particularly in this season — to overlook the smaller and more challenging movies that are rolling into your local multiplexes and arthouses. Thus, we’re kicking off a new monthly feature here at Flavorwire, where we’ll take a look at some of the exciting indies of the month to a come, and a few smaller titles from previous weeks that you might’ve missed. Check them out after the jump!

God Bless America

RELEASE: May 11th (limited), on VOD now DIRECTOR: Bobcat Goldthwait CAST: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Mackenzie Brooke Smith, Melinda Page Hamilton, Tom Kenny, Larry Miller IN BRIEF: In comedian-turned-indie-filmmaker Goldthwait’s pitch-black comedy, a terminally ill curmudgeon (Murray, best known as Freddie Rumson on Mad Men) decides to go out with a bang — and clean up a decaying culture while he’s at it — by going on a killing spree. The result is one of the riskiest and darkest American films in years, maybe in decades; ultra-violent and comically nihilistic, it’s going to upset all sorts of people. However, it’s not just some empty-minded revenge fantasy, or troublesome call to violence — it’s an honest and angry plea to look at what the hell we’ve become, and to worry about where we’re going

Sleepless Night RELEASE: May 11th (New York/Austin), on VOD now DIRECTOR: Frédéric Jardin CAST: Tomer Sisley, Serge Riaboukine, Julien Boisselier, Joey Starr, Laurent Stocker IN BRIEF: This breathless French action movie screened last week in the Tribeca Film Festival, having already been picked up for theatrical and on-demand release by the organization’s distribution arm. It tells the story of a crooked cop whose son is kidnapped, his ransom a cargo of coke the father stole; the action of the titular evening is set mostly in the bad guy’s nightclub headquarters, where the club music provides a tense, pounding heartbeat for the action. Director/co-writer Frédéric Jardin stages his scenes with a pulsing, scrappy energy and anything-goes visual sense that matches the protagonist’s spur-of-the-moment style; the picture is relentless, tumbling forward with an itchy intensity, a taut, bracing, memorable piece of action craftsmanship.

Hysteria RELEASE: May 18th (New York/Los Angeles) DIRECTOR: Tanya Wexler CAST: Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jonathan Pryce, Felicity Jones, Rupert Everett IN BRIEF: Tanya Wexler’s bawdy comedy about the invention of the vibrator may dawdle a bit in getting to the good stuff, but it’s got a ribald comic spirit, a couple of really terrific set pieces, and a downright wonderful supporting performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Her work as the rebellious daughter of a wealthy doctor is rich, earthy fun — she’s both fervid and utterly charming, somehow managing to play the character’s contemporary leanings without making it a distractingly contemporary performance. High-spirited, good-hearted, and a lot of fun.

Beyond the Black Rainbow RELEASE: May 18th (New York) DIRECTOR: Panos Cosmatos CAST: Michael Rogers, Eva Allan, Scott Hylands, Marilyn Norry IN BRIEF: This oddball picture split audiences at last year’s Tribeca Film Fest, and for good reason: it’s one weird, inert little movie, with infinitely more interest in look and mood than story. But the look and mood are remarkable. Visually, it’s a giddy throwback — a kind of science fiction House of the Devil, paying visual homage to early-80s sci-fi thrillers, filled with gaudy colors, ugly costumes, antiseptic sets, and (most importantly) a bombastic synth score. Kubrickian to the max (with a dash of THX 1138 tossed in for good measure), Beyond the Black Rainbow will surely confuse and alienate some viewers, but its target audience is going to eat it up.

Polisse RELEASE: May 18th (New York) DIRECTOR: Maïwenn CAST: Karin Viard, Joey Starr, Marina Foïs, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Maïwenn IN BRIEF: This French drama is based on stories from the files of the Paris CPU (Child Protection Unit), but the results are less Law & Order than Robert Altman. The cases don’t tie themselves up neatly in 47 minutes — indeed, the film is less about crime or punishment than it is about behavior. It is involving and intelligent, mapped with the startling left turns of real life, its episodic structure accumulating into a vivid and punchy portrait of a close-knit group of cops struggling and supporting each other in an unimaginable line of work.

Patience (After Sebald) RELEASE: May 9th (New York) DIRECTOR: Grant Gee CAST: Documentary IN BRIEF: British filmmaker Grant Gee (who directed the 1998 Radiohead doc Meeting People is Easy) helms this essay film on the life and writings of W.G. Sebald, structured around Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn and featuring interviews with Robert McFarlane, Rick Moody, Adam Phillips, Tacita Dean, Chris Petit, and more.

Damsels in Distress RELEASE: Out now DIRECTOR: Whit Stillman CAST: Greta Gerwig, Adam Brody, Analiegh Tipton, Carrie MacLemore, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Aubrey Plaza IN BRIEF: The long-awaited (14 years!) fourth film from cosmopolitan filmmaker Whit Stillman is something of a highbrow Mean Girls, in which the arrival of a new element in a close-knit group of girls shakes up their entire dynamic. The difference is that Damsels is less about the new girl than it is about their leader, Violet, who proves to be one of the incomparable Gerwig’s most compelling characters to date. It’s a pip of a role, and Gerwig blasts off with it; there’s a wonderful practicality to her explanation of why she chooses to only date “sad sacks,” and the matter-of-fact way that she insists she’s not depressed, but merely “in a tailspin,” is priceless.

The Hunter RELEASE: Out now, in theaters and VOD DIRECTOR: Daniel Nettheim CAST: Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Frances O’Connor IN BRIEF: This one’s run is winding down, so move fast if you’re interested. Willem Dafoe plays a high-dollar hunter of elusive prey, a well-paid introvert, and the film is a character study, allowing the complications and relationships to puncture the narrative only when they have finally penetrated the man. There is a strange beauty and quiet majesty to the film — particularly its closing scenes, which are powerful and, in a specific and horrible moment, genuinely upsetting. I saw it a full month ago, and the emotions this one stirred up are still with me. That’s a rare and commendable quality in today’s disposable movie marketplace.

Citizen Gangster RELEASE: Out now, in theaters and VOD DIRECTOR: Nathan Morlando CAST: Scott Speedman, Kelly Reilly, Kevin Durand, Joseph Cross, Brian Cox IN BRIEF: The tale of the good man driven by desperate circumstances into a life of crime is one that’s been told almost as often as that of the colorful bank robber who becomes a national folk hero, so a more jaded filmgoer might conclude that you’re getting two overdone movies for the price of one here. But to dismiss the film based on its logline would be a mistake — writer/director Nathan Morlando may be telling a story you’ve heard, but he tells it as though he doesn’t know that. Set under the perpetually overcast skies of post-war Canada, Citizen Gangster is less about the crimes than it is about the criminal, less interested in the thrill of theft than what’s going through the head of the man holding the gun. Morlando may not break any new ground here, but he spins the familiar yarn into something fresh and urgent, and he gets a career-best performance out of the perpetually underutilized Scott Speedman.

Moonrise Kingdom RELEASE: May 25th (New York/Los Angeles) DIRECTOR: Wes Anderson CAST: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzmann, Bob Balaban IN BRIEF: So is a movie an indie if the cast includes Willis, Murray, and Norton? It is when the director is Wes Anderson, one of the most distinctive and recognizable filmmakers in the game. Plus, the cast also includes Keitel, Swinton, McDormand, and Schwartzmann — independent film bellwethers if we’ve ever seen them.