I have been writing this list every summer for eight or nine years now, and each year, it’s gotten more difficult to ferret out the indie hits of the season. For one thing, independent film often skips theaters and goes straight to streaming or On Demand. For another, it’s harder to cut through the marketing of the bigger blockbusters of the summer to surface a movie like Dope or even big festival hits like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. There’s more content than ever, but it’s becoming increasingly hard to find the gems, especially since they so rarely make it into smaller cities whose multiplexes are crowded with superhero and sequel offerings. It’s not helped by the fact that we — and most other sites — take a financial bath in trying to review these smaller films.
Nevertheless, here’s what looks to be the 10 most promising anti-blockbusters of the summer. Keep a look out for them.
The Lobster (May 13th)
The Lobster is bitingly funny: Olivia Colman, as the director of the centre David stays in, is wickedly comical as a prim, controlling despot; and to see Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly get into ineffectual fisticuffs after Whishaw ridicules Reilly’s decision to become a parrot (“You’ve got a lisp and you picked the one animal that talks”), is to know cinema comedy heaven. The film’s wit often exists on a very visceral, disturbing level: I’m afraid to say I laughed at Colin Farrell kicking a little girl in the shin, and at one character calmly sipping tea while another lies nearby dying in agony. The film is merciless in pointing out our despair to get along, to succeed, to fit into society which requires huge acts of cruelty in this universe. In this world, characters all speak in a kind of staccato delivery, stating their intentions with no irony or shame. At one point Lea Seydoux asks Farrell where’s he been she’s been looking for him everywhere and he replies in a winningly matter-of-fact voice, “I was masturbating behind a tree.” She registers this information with scarcely the flicker of an eyelash.
Weiner (May 20th)
It’s 2013, and you’re trying to relaunch a once promising political career after a sexting scandal destroyed it. You take aim at the NYC mayoral election. Your amazing wife Huma Abedin — a longtime aide to Hillary Clinton — for some reason is still with you, in spite of the humiliating sexting scandal that forced your resignation from Congress. You are so confident about your political resurrection, however, that you allow a camera crew to film a documentary about your comeback.What’s the last thing in the world you would ever, ever do? If you said send dick pics to a 22-year-old in Indiana, you win a prize! That prize having your political comeback go up in flames in front of documentary cameras for a movie called Weiner, which details behind-the-scenes conversations and machinations after Anthony Weiner’s sexting scandal ruined his a political comeback? Or what one’s wife might say after said comeback?
Clown (June 17th)
Back in 2010, two dudes released a fake trailer for a clown film advertising it as “From the Master of Horror, Eli Roth.’ Roth, so taken with the idea and the balls to lie about saying he was behind it, decided to greenlight and produce the film. Starring Peter Stormare and Laura Allen, Clown was shot and released in Canada over four years ago. The American trailer for the film was also released way back in March of 2015 (and has been seen over 2 million times since), but it’s just now arriving in theaters in America. While it’s typically a bad sign when a film stays on the shelf for that long, reviews for the clown-horror comedy have been fairly positive, with at least one critic noting that it has sequel potential.
Swiss Army Man (June 24th)
The adventure-dramedy penned and helmed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert centers on a man (Paul Dano) whose first-act escape from a desert island comes from using a beached corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) as a fart-powered conveyance back to civilization. Reviews out of Sundance were polarizing: There were an abundance of walk-outs, but those who stayed were rewarded with what Angie Han at Slash Film described as a “unique, oddly gorgeous adventure anchored by a superb performance from Radcliffe as a dead body (no, really).”
The Neon Demon (June 24th)
The latest from Nicolas Winding Refn — whose career seems to be careening toward the inaccessible since Ryan Gosling’s Drive — features Elle Fanning in a very grown-up role as an aspiring model whose youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women in Los Angeles. It looks very artistic, very stylish, and likely the kind of film that will either be polarizing or completely ignored (like Refn’s previous effort, Only God Forgives). Christina Hendricks and Keanu Reeves also star in movie that’s being intriguingly categorized as a horror thriller.
Tulip Fever (July 15th)
Current “It” person, Alicia Vikander — currently stealing all of Amanda Peet’s roles — will take one of her last dips into the world of low budget films before embarking on a blockbuster career (Jason Bourne, Tomb Raider) with Tulip Fever, Justin Chadwick’s (The Other Boleyn Girl) costume drama based on the Deborah Moggach best-seller, adapted by Tom Stoppard. Cristoph Waltz, Jack O’Connell, Cara Delevingne, and strangely Zach Galifianakis also star in a movie set in the 17th century about an artist who falls for a young married woman while he’s commissioned to paint her portrait during the tulip mania of 17th century Amsterdam.
Indignation (July 29th)
Based on a Phillip Roth novel, Logan Lerman stars as a working-class Jewish student from New Jersey, who attends a small Ohio college, where he struggles with sexual repression and cultural disaffection, amid the ongoing Korean War. Sarah Gadon and Tracy Letts also star, and the trailer at least suggests an interesting and unsettling mystery at the center of the story.
The Hollars (August 26th)
The Hollars lands on this list based on the talent involved alone. John Krasinski will direct and star in the movie about a man who returns to his small hometown after learning that his mother has fallen ill and is about to undergo surgery. Anna Kendrick, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Sharlto Copley, Charlie Day, character actress Margo Martindale, and Richard Jenkins also star in what I can only assume will be Krasinski’s Garden State.
A Complete Unknown (August 26th)
The ever reliable Michael Shannon and Rachel Weisz star in Joshua Marston’s (Maria Full of Grace ) film with a strange logline: “As a man contemplates moving to a new state with his wife for her graduate program, an old flame - a woman who often changes identities - reenters his life at a birthday dinner party.” Details are otherwise scarce, but Michael Shannon’s presence is enough to make this a “must consider” movie in late August.
Always Shine (N/A)
All this makes for an experience that is seductive, slippery, and sensational. But also it is the all-too-rare film that feels like a woman in panic. In this way, Always Shine reminds me of Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook. Not to say they’re the same level of scary or even similar in their sub-genre. More that each provides a woman’s tale of tragedy and terror so fully that you can fall into it full-bodied and feel it spark goosebumps and heartache as if their pain and fear were truly your own.
In short, Always Shine is a true treasure, and possibly one of the best films of the year.