We’re almost there, you guys. We’re almost there. Soon the summer movie season — which this year seemed even louder, uglier, and dumber than ever, though that could just be me getting old — will draw to a close, and the fall will begin. Hollywood, with an eye on those little gold statues, will release movies with, oh, nuance and complexity and that sort of thing. But you don’t have to wait until September; the indies are getting a jump on the majors, countering Blockbuster Fatigue™ with some truly marvelous limited releases.
The Spectacular Now
Release: August 2 Director: James Ponsoldt Cast: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler
James Ponsoldt’s tender comedy/drama captures the milestones of adolescence (first kiss, first sex, first drink, first disappointment) in a manner so honest and true, it’s dizzying. It’s helped by the fact that they’ve cast the roles with actors who actually look and sound like teenagers: Miles Teller perfectly captures the misplaced cockiness of the handsome-enough joker, while Shailene Woodley disappears into the role of the shy wallflower who can only see the goodness in her flawed beau. Emotionally raw, indescribably moving, and one of the year’s best films.
Release: August 2 Director: Sebastián Cordero Cast: Christian Camargo, Embeth Davidtz, Michael Nyqvist, Isiah Whitlock, Jr.
Europa One, we are told early in Sebastián Cordero’s Europa Report, was “the first attempt to send men and women into deep space,” and their story can now be told via “thousands of hours of recently declassified footage.” But before you click away, rest assured: this is not another dull found-footage-in-space pic, á la Apollo 18. Like the recent (and effective) The Bay, Europa Report is faux documentary rather than merely found footage, its jazzy cutting latching on to a clean structure that hopscotches through the chronology of events and economically disperses its secrets. This is brainy, quiet science fiction, in which the slowly mounting intensity and accumulating sense of doom are more bracing than the special effects.
In A World…
Release: August 9 Director: Lake Bell Cast: Lake Bell, Demetri Martin, Ken Marino, Rob Corddry, Geena Davis
Frequent ingénue Lake Bell makes a promising debut as writer/director with this charming look at the world of trailer voice-overs. She plays the daughter of one the biz’s legends (the terrific Fred Melamed), trying to break the glass ceiling for female voice talent. Bell is an ace screwball comedienne, and if her writing is a little clunky (a subplot concerning her sister’s marital woes isn’t quite folded in successfully), it’s nevertheless an impossible movie to dislike. Added bonus: Nick Offerman and Tig Notaro all but steal the picture in small but memorable supporting roles.
Release: August 9 Director: David Gordon Green Cast: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch
David Gordon Green’s filmmaking choices have been so utterly inexplicable lately, you’re not always sure which Green you’re gonna get. Thankfully, his latest is a throwback to the low-key, lyrical mode of his early works, though with a bit of disarming buddy comedy (typical of more recent efforts) thrown in for good measure. It’s a minor work, and overlong even at barely 90 minutes, but it’s got a lovely homemade feel and a wry sense of conversational humor, and if it’s slight, it’s still satisfying.
Release: August 9 Director: Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher Cast: Documentary
This uneven yet eye-opening documentary takes a clear-eyed look at the world of pharmaceutical drugs and clinical studies. Episodic in nature, it profiles a variety of figures touched by the industry: those who work as “professional guinea pigs,” floating from one paid study to the next; a man still suffering the after-effects of extensive and damaging studies on prisoners in the 1960s; a bipolar woman ingesting so many meds, she literally keeps the bottles in a bucket; a National Guardsman who was stationed at Abu Ghraib and is now taking fistfuls of ineffective medications to combat PTSD; a former drug rep turned investigator and rabble-rouser; and the mother of a clinical study subject driven to suicide. There is some context provided (mostly about how the business element of medicine has changed as pharmaceutical companies have saturated the culture), but this is not an investigative piece — it’s a series of portraits, human interest stories, surveys of damage irrevocably done.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Release: August 16 Director: David Lowery Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine
David Lowery’s lyrical tale of a Texas outlaw couple had the entirety of this year’s Sundance Film Festival pronouncing him the next Terrence Malick (Badlands vintage). Casey Affleck — who hasn’t been getting nearly as much work as he should, after that incredible 2007 one-two punch of Gone Baby Gone and Robert Ford — plays a prison escapee out to reunite with his wife and child (the latter of whom he’s never met); Rooney Mara plays the missus.
Cutie and the Boxer
Release: August 16 Director: Zachary Heinzerling Cast: Documentary
Ushio Shinohara is an action painter — intense action, usually based on beating up the canvas with paint on a boxing glove. When Cutie and the Boxer begins, he’s celebrating his 80th birthday, and approaching his 40th year with his wife Noriko, over 20 years his junior, who came to New York to be an artist but ended up spending her life cleaning up her talented, drunken husband’s messes and taking care of their child. But their relationship has provided her with a subject for her art, and the film’s most charming passages are the cutout animations of her work, which illustrates their stormy relationship. Contrary to the title and the animated element, this is not a fairy tale; it’s the story of an oft-difficult marriage and a dream suppressed for the whims of a genius. Their relationship is presented as spiky, often uneasy, and yet strangely comfortable — it works for them. “It’s not a typical romance,” she says. Ya got that right.
Short Term 12
Release: August 23 Director: Destin Cretton Cast: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever
Destin Cretton’s drama is set at a foster care facility for teens, and he uses the emotional intensity of the location well; it’s the kind of place where anyone can lose their grip at any time (including the staff). What’s more, it’s a film that gets what a cruel and hopeless place the world came seem like, when you’re a certain age and of a certain disposition. Cretton’s direction is personal and close, sometimes uncomfortably so, coaxing rich, nuanced performances out of his cast — particularly the wonderful Brie Larson, who transforms from an unknowable puzzle to a character of astonishing openness and vulnerability. It’s a kind movie, with a good heart.
Release: August 30 Director: Penny Lane Cast: Documentary
After the Nixon administration toppled, the FBI confiscated over 500 reels of home movies shot by “the President’s Men” — specifically, John Erlichman, H.R. Haldeman, and Dwight Chapin. For over 40 years, they sat in a vault; now filmmaker Penny Lane combines that remarkable footage, along with extended interviews, news footage, and audio from the notorious Oval Office tapes to create a compelling, witty, and acidly funny insider’s view of this weirdly fascinating presidency. The footage is candid and often peculiar, the archival clips enlightening (check out Dan Rather’s unequivocal praise for Nixon after his administration’s first year), and the audio, as we all know, is like a car wreck you can’t turn away from. My favorites: the phone call between Haldeman and a clearly hammered Nixon after the aide’s resignation, and a hilarious clip of the president and his staff complaining about All in the Family.
That’s what we’re seeing in August — what about you?