Even among the mindless carnage and endless superheroes of summer, August tends to be a bit of a drag; studios put the blockbusters they’re less certain of in the late-summer slots, so for every Bourne Legacy, there’s sure to be two or three Premium Rushes. But that just means it’s an even better time to go off the grid and see what’s playing in the art houses, and indie distributors have stocked several gems into the upcoming months; check out our recommendations after the jump.
Celeste and Jesse Forever
RELEASE: August 3 DIRECTOR: Lee Toland Krieger CAST: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Ari Graynor, Elijah Wood, Chris Messina, Emma Roberts, Will McCormack
There’s something to be said for taking the lack of quality women’s roles into your own hands; like Zoe Kazan, Rashida Jones had quite enough of the long-suffering girlfriend/wife roles, and went off to write a vehicle for herself (with co-star Will McCormack). The result is Celeste and Jesse Forever, a falling-out-of-love story in which Jones and Andy Samberg, a separated couple who’ve remained best friends, must finally figure out how to let each other go. It’s a funny picture — mostly via Celeste’s dating misadventures, a reliable source of comedy — but also a bittersweet one that gets at some truths about painful break-ups (which seldom make their way into the fluffy rom-coms of mainstream Hollywood).
2 Days in New York
RELEASE: August 10 DIRECTOR: Julie Delpy CAST: Julie Delpy, Chris Rock, Albert Delpy, Dylan Baker, Alexia Landeau
Julie Delpy’s follow-up to her delightful 2007 comedy 2 Days in Paris doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, but it offers numerous pleasures of its own — primarily the performance of its director/co-writer/star, who here solidifies an enjoyable female Woody persona: neurotic, bespectacled, and hilarious (she has a scene with an art critic that’s a little masterpiece of accidental self-destruction). She and co-star Chris Rock create an enjoyable romantic dynamic, comfortable and lived-in, and the comic byplay is snappy and boisterous.
New Yorkers take note: We’re teaming up with Patrón to host a free screening of 2 Days in New York on August 7th at Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn as part of the Patrón Summerology Film Series. RSVP here.
Red Hook Summer
RELEASE: August 10 DIRECTOR: Spike Lee CAST: Clarke Peters, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Jules Brown, Toni Lysaith
Spike Lee’s latest marks a return to his low-budget roots, and is filled with whispers of his other works, with familiar background characters and echoes of the Brooklyn summer of Do The Right Thing. Admirers of that film should lower their expectations; Red Hook Summer has some big problems, from pacing issues and clunky writing to wildly varying performance quality (Peters, of The Wire, is as electrifying as young Brown is disengaged). But it certainly suffers no shortage of ambition of ideas, and though some of them doesn’t work, it has moments of absolute greatness — particularly in its already-controversial third act.
RELEASE: August 17 DIRECTOR: Craig Zobel CAST: Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy, Bill Camp
Writer/director Craig Zobel tells the disturbing and completely true (I looked it up when I got home, and so will you) story of a young woman humiliated and assaulted at her place of employment, all to follow the instructions of a police officer. Zobel’s provocative picture — which prompted walk-outs and heated Q&As at Sundance and SXSW — poses some important questions about authority and subordination, and is a gripping little workplace thriller besides (thanks to the filmmaker’s sharp eye for mundane details, and the astonishing performances his skilled cast).
Chicken with Plums
RELEASE: August 17 DIRECTOR: Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi CAST: Mathieu Amalric, Maria de Medeiros
Paronnaud and Satrapi’s follow-up to their acclaimed, Oscar-nominated Persepolis moves away from animation (aside from a couple of brief interludes), but they work up something of a way station between that film and standard live-action, visually speaking; bouncy and inventive, it has a look that crosses their previous picture with the work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. It’s so inventive and delightful to look at, in fact, that the filmmakers rather slyly move their story in a direction that’s haunting and elegiac; Chicken with Plums sneaks up on you, and takes hold.
Side by Side
RELEASE: August 17 DIRECTOR: Christopher Kenneally CAST: Documentary hosted by Keanu Reeves, featuring Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Steven Soderbergh, James Cameron, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, Rober Rodriguez, David Lynch, Danny Boyle
Documentary filmmakers love making movies about movies, but this wonky doc may be the most “inside baseball” movie-about-movies to date — and that is its strength. Ostensibly a look at the current struggle (and transition) between traditional photochemical film and digital moviemaking, it is actually an exhaustively detailed “state of the cinema” thesis, including thoughts on production, editing, distribution, exhibition, 3-D, archiving, and more. For those of us who care about this stuff, it’s a fascinating 100-minute think piece; the arguments are well articulated by exactly the voices you want to hear from.
RELEASE: August 17 DIRECTOR: David Cronenberg CAST: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Sarah Gadon, Mathieu Amalric
You’ve gotta hand it to Robert Pattinson: he had to know, when he decided to take the lead in a Cronenberg movie, that the Twi-hards were going to show up and get their minds blown clean outta their skull. Cosmopolis is the one film on this month’s list that we haven’t seen yet, but we’re recommending it blind: It’s Cronenberg returning to Weirdo Town after the (relatively) straight-forward trio of A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, and A Dangerous Method, and if the movie itself is half as trippy/thrilling as its teasers, we’re gonna be talking about it for weeks.
Robot & Frank
RELEASE: August 24 DIRECTOR: Jake Schreier CAST: Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Peter Sarsgaard
Jake Schreier’s five-minutes-into-the-future comedy/drama tells the irresistible story of a former jewel thief with a touch of Alzheimer’s who trains his robot butler to help him come out of retirement. The invaluable Frank Langella grounds the tale — which could have been played for goofy, broad laughs — masterfully, and puts across the buddy dynamic with ease (aided greatly by Peter Sarsgaard’s wonderful voice performance as the robot). Sweet, funny, and charming.
Sleepwalk with Me
RELEASE: August 24 DIRECTOR: Mike Birbiglia CAST: Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, James Rebhorn, Carol Kane, Marc Maron, Kristen Schaal
Mike Birbiglia’s debut feature, which wowed us at Sundance and SXSW, is quite simply one of the year’s best films: a sharp, witty, whip-smart coming-of-age story that invokes both the laughs of Birbiglia’s stand-up act and the pathos of This American Life (where its story originated, and whose host Ira Glass serves as co-writer and co-producer). Personal, candid, inventive, and often painfully funny, it’s the first film in decades to legitimately recall Annie Hall — not as an imitator, but as a continuation of that film’s innovative comic voice.
For a Good Time Call
RELEASE: August 31 DIRECTOR: Jamie Travis CAST: Ari Graynor, Lauren Miller, Justin Long, Mark Webber
Co-star (and better half of cameo player Seth Rogen) Lauren Miller co-wrote this giddily ribald tale of two recession-era girls who find a lucrative living running their won phone sex line. It’s a cute and likable picture with its own rambunctious, post-Bridesmaids charm, and Miller and Graynor are genuinely great together, the former working a nicely-deteriorating good girl vibe, the latter turning in a certifiable movie-star performance, sharp and fizzy and frequently hilarious.
Those are the indies we recommend this month — what are you looking forward to seeing?