Hey there, are you tired of summer yet? Ready to be done with the endless parade of sequels and explosions and sequels to movies about explosions? Well, good news: this month’s indie slate is packed, with exactly the kind of personal dramas, character comedies, and informative documentaries your summer brain is starving for. Here are the stand-outs; mark up your calendars accordingly.
RELEASE DATE:August 1 DIRECTOR: Susanna Nicchiarelli CAST: Trine Dyrholm. John Gordon Sinclair, Anamaria Marinca
“Look, my life started after the experience with the Velvet Underground,” she insists. “I’d rather we talked about the present.” It’s a refrain, in interview after interview, for Nico (Dyrholm), and to writer/director Susanna Nicchiarelli’s credit, she does what Nico asks – focusing on the last two years of the experimental songstress’s life, a portrait of an icon’s twilight. In doing so, she captures the grind of a faded musician’s grind of road life: cars, interviews, and gigs, running of the fumes of one’s former fame. Dyrholm is extraordinary in the leading role, utterly credible; she carries off both the enigma and the history, much of which is carried in her eyes. Those eyes have seen things. (She also does the singing herself, and quite convincingly.) Nicchiarelli is less successful at filling in the secondary characters in Nico’s band, and we’re never that interested in them anyway; our focus is on Nico, and 1988 is as wary and lived-in as its subject.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
RELEASE DATE: August 3 DIRECTOR: Desiree Akhavan CAST: Chloë Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, John Gallagher Jr., Jennifer Ehle
Desiree Akhavan’s adaptation of Emily M. Danforth’s novel has a rich and compelling story to tell, but what’s particularly noteworthy about this, her second feature, is her attention to detail: the palpable awkwardness of the prom double date, the sad stiltedness of a gym prom, the specific sound of earnest Christian rock. All those little touches boost the slice-of-life approach to this tale of a high-school girl’s trip to gay conversion therapy, which helps her (for the first time) feel a sense of real community. Akhavan’s movie is so many things at once – wise, witty, moving, sexy – that its occasional fumbles in tone and characterization barely register. Moretz charms in the leading role, the audience surrogate, armed with a full mag of priceless reaction shots; American Honey ’s Lane also shines in the scene-stealer, wild-child role. And in the key role of the camp’s point man, Gallagher manages to find the humanity beneath the caricature (and the mustache).
RELEASE DATE: August 10 DIRECTOR: Spike Lee CAST: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Laura Harrier, Alec Baldwin
Lee directs and co-writes the true story of Ron Stallworth, a black Colorado Springs police detective who, in the early 1960s, infiltrated the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Adam Driver co-stars as the Jewish colleague who becomes the operation’s man on the ground, and the pair work out a buddy cop dynamic that Lee adroitly juggles with scenes of rising consciousness and social commentary (up to and including David Duke leading chants of “America First” and professing a desire to “Get this country back on track… to achieve its… greatness again” – not subtle, but folks, these aren’t subtle times). In much of his recent work, Lee’s wild tonal shifts made his work seem scattershot and unfocused, and it’s not that he tamps that down here. But now, the itchiness, gallows humor, and howls of rage just feel like everyday life. Reality has finally become a Spike Lee joint.
RELEASE DATE: August 10 DIRECTOR: Josephine Decker CAST: Helena Howard, Molly Parker, Miranda July
Newcomer Howard is astonishingly good in the leading role of this risky, experimental drama from writer/director Decker ( Flames ), which spelunks through the chaotic psyche of a young woman whose smallest interactions are a struggle. It’s a visceral experience – Decker’s blurry, focus-shifting visual style, jumpy camerawork, and purposefully disorienting editing strategy put you right there in Madeline’s headspace. Some viewers may find it too nerve-jangling, and it’s hard to blame them. But it’s a must-see for risk-takers.
RELEASE DATE: August 10 DIRECTOR: Crystal Moselle CAST: Rachelle Vinberg, Jaden Smith, Dede Lovelace, Nina Moran
Crystal Moselle’s narrative follow-up to the The Wolfpack is cut from the same cloth – she hangs out with, and eavesdrops on, her protagonists with a documentarian’s eye for detail – while also positioning itself as an updated, gender-swapped Kids, a doc-style snapshot of NYC skater kids with no illusions about the world they inhabit. Her focus is Camille (Vinberg, excellent), a Long Island teen who starts hanging out with the skater girls she follows on Instagram and finds a community, just as she’s growing apart from her single mom. She’s a complicated protagonist, mostly because the film is about the process of figuring herself out, and Moselle dramatizes that process with clever edits and casually lovely cinematography. But most importantly, her intimate style deftly captures the end-of-the-world intensity of teenage relationships.
A Prayer Before Dawn
RELEASE DATE: August 10 DIRECTOR: Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire CAST: Joe Cole, Vithaya Pansringarm, Panya Yimmumphai
This punishing but powerful Cannes contender from director Sauvaire adapts Billy Moore’s prison memoir, of the years he spent in horrifying Thai prisons before quite literally fighting his way out, via the system’s Muay Thai boxing tournaments. Sauvaire seizes on the intensity and nightmarishness of Moore’s journey, in which he’s subjected to hazing, threats, and terrifying rites of initiation, detailing how his surroundings bring out a rage in him – and a desperation to escape them. Cole (best known for Peaky Blinders) is astonishingly good as Moore, in a primarily non-verbal performance (by necessity, since no one else speaks his language); he’s a convincing brawler, and even more persuasive as a self-destructive addict.
Minding the Gap
RELEASE DATE: August 17 DIRECTOR: Bing Liu CAST: Documentary
When they made the skateboarding videos as teenagers, Bing Liu’s friends asked, “Why are you filming everything?” But thank goodness he did, because those years with a camera in his hand disarmed the people around him, allowing Liu to craft one of the more candid and piercing documentaries I’ve seen about reluctant adulthood. He captures moments of quiet truth and blatant self-deception, particularly with regards to his buddy Zach, whose refusal to be responsible (for his wife, for his child, for himself) turns the picture from handmade doc to full-on tragedy. Powerful and sensitive, and, at its best, utterly heart-wrenching.
We the Animals
RELEASE DATE: August 17 DIRECTOR: Jeremiah Zagar CAST: Evan Rosado, Isaiah Kristian, Josiah Gabriel, Sheila Vand, Raul Castillo
In its early passages, the most striking element of Jeremiah Zagar’s coming-of-age movie (adapted from Justin Torres’s novel) is its furious energy – the way it captures, true to the title, the constant roar of a large family, poking and prodding and playing and yelling. But the more time Zagar spends with this family, the more we begin to understand the complexity of the relationships, the subtext of their needling, and the difficulties ahead of its youngest character, mama’s baby boy, who is just beginning to understand who he is. Zagar has an eye for simple yet loaded compositions, crafting potent imagery that tells us what his characters are afraid to say aloud, and his actors turn in unaffected yet unforgettable performances.
Crime + Punishment
RELEASE DATE: August 24 DIRECTOR: Stephen Maing CAST: Documentary
After the dark decades of the 1980s and 1990s, NYC police commissioner William Bratton tells the 2014 graduates of the New York police academy, “this city reclaimed its streets,” via the NYPD. Their mission now, he insists, is “to save the children of this city” – but that’s not a mission supported by the numbers-based strategies of the precincts, which persevere in spit of an outright ban of arrests and ticketing quotas in 2010. Stephen Maing’s documentary spotlights a group of officers (dubbed the “NYPD 12”) who spoke out against those policies, risking their careers and livelihoods while surreptitiously recording harassment over numbers from their superiors; he also profiles “Manny” Gomez, a charismatic ex-cop turned hard-nosed PI, who works to gather evidence of false, quota-based arrests. Those strands don’t quite intersect satisfactorily, but that’s about the only serious fumble of this sharp and effective film, which shines a much-needed light on the kind of policing that could actually make a difference in these communities.
Support the Girls
RELEASE DATE: August 24 DIRECTOR: Andrew Bujalski CAST: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Shayna McHayle, Brooklyn Decker, Jana Kramer, James Le Gros
Andrew Bujalski’s movies always operate on their own wavelength, and when he’s cooking, it’s an ideal place to be. But when he’s off, it can be a bumpy ride, and that happens through a fair amount of this loose-limbed, workplace-hangout comedy, which spends a day in the doors of Double Whammies, an Austin “sports-themed bar and grill.” But there’s a lot here to like, particularly from a performance perspective: Richardson is just delightful as the cheeriest waitress in the place (or any place, frankly), and Hall, as the manager, conveys the character’s personal and professional ennui without turning into a big drag. It’s so energetically acted and casually funny, you might not even notice that it never quite comes together.