We’re now entering the end of the summer movie season and it continues to be an unprecedented era in the world of film. Smaller-scale movies got a bigger spotlight than usual, with distributors finding success in drive-ins and on digital platforms while all tentpoles continued to get delayed. We’ll have to wait and see if Warner Bros. will go ahead with plans to release Christopher Nolan’s Tenet first in the international territories who have a handle on the pandemic, and then in the U.S. next month. 

In the meantime, August brings a number of notable independent and foreign film highlights, including favorites from Sundance, TIFF, Venice, Karlovy Vary, and more. We should also note that our #1 pick from last month, Boys State, will be getting an Apple TV+ debut on August 14 following a limited theatrical release beginning this past weekend. As is the case these last few months, we expect a number of last-minute release announcements and shifts from distributors, so be sure to follow us on Twitter for the latest updates.

10. Spree (Eugene Kotlyarenko; Aug. 14)

Dividing audiences when it premiered at Sundance Film Festival, Eugene Kotlyarenko’s thriller Spree follows a social media-obsessed livestreamer (Joe Keery) who has quite a dark side. In the age of the coronavirus, we’ve learned just how futile the impact of influencers can be, so perhaps there will be new resonance in store when it comes to this satire. One glimpse at the red band trailer and you’ll be able to tell quickly if this is your cup of tea with what looks to be some grisly twists.

Where to Watch: VOD and Select Theaters

9. Red Penguins (Gabe Polsky; Aug. 4)

A larger than life story that must be seen to be believed, Gabe Polsky’s TIFF-selected documentary Red Penguins tells the wild tale of a collaboration between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Russia’s national hockey team in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union. Featuring a case study in marketing hijinks, including strippers and live bears, as well as the unexpected involvement of Michael J. Fox, Disney’s Michael Eisner, and the Russian mafia, Polsky’s documentary breezes by at 80 minutes. While it plays the familiar non-fiction beats in terms of its structure, it’s worth seeing for the unexpected relationships (and clashes) that form when two wildly different cultures attempt to come together.

Where to Watch: VOD

8. Sunless Shadows (Mehrdad Oskouei; Aug. 5)

In a society where women are shunned and any semblance of freedom or independence seems unattainable, some are pushed to a breaking point in their own families, leading to murders of husbands, brothers, and other male family members. Mehrdad Oskouei’s new acclaimed Iran-set documentary Sunless Shadows takes an intimate look at the women––specifically teenage girls––who are serving time in a juvenile detention center. A direct follow-up to his 2016 film Starless Dreams, he takes a confessional approach as he allows his subjects to go into a room alone and push a red button on the camera and address their accomplices or their victims.

Where to Watch: Virtual Cinemas

7. Matthias and Maxine (Xavier Dolan; Aug. 28)

Xavier Dolan’s recent output has left much to be desired, but the director returned with a more well-received feature at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Now set for a debut exclusively on MUBI at the end of the month, Matthias and Maxine follows two friends whose relationship is tested when they star in film in which their characters kiss. Leonardo Goi was more mixed in his Cannes review, saying, “Dramatically rich as it may first appear, Matthias & Maxime fails to vibrate with the same passion and perturbing beauty of Dolan’s earlier works. “

Where to Watch: MUBI

6. Ghost Tropic (Bas Devos; Aug. 28)

Emerging director Bas Devos had a prolific last year, premiering two new features on the festival circuit, Hellhole and Ghost Tropic. The latter is now set to arrive in Virtual Cinemas at the end of the month. Rory O’Connor said in our review, “The quiet power of Saadia Bentaïeb’s performance is the key to Devos’ third feature. The actress is perhaps better known in theatre circles, although keen-eyed viewers might recognize her from bit parts in BPM, Based on a True Story, and Bertrand Bornello’s latest film Zombi Child. This is her first lead role and Ghost Tropic, for most intents and purposes, is hers alone.”

Where to Watch: Virtual Cinemas

5. The August Virgin (Jonás Trueba; Aug. 21)

The ideal summer movie to close out the season, Spanish director Jonás Trueba impressed us greatly with The August Virgin when it premiered at last year’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival. With vibes of both the films of Éric Rohmer and Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, Rory O’Connor said in our review, “Eva’s played by Itsaso Arana, who gives a beautiful, transcendent performance as a woman at a crossroads in life, if not quite a dead end. Recently single and unemployed, we’re introduced to her as she views a potential sublet (if there is a greater metaphor for transience we have yet to find it). We warm to her immediately: thoughtful, sharp, and effortlessly chic in bright shirts and oversized Levis, her confident demeanor only betrayed every now and then when old disappointments and heartbreaks arise.”

Where to Watch: Virtual Cinemas

4. La Llorona (Jayro Bustamante; Aug. 6)

After breaking out with the drama Ixcanul, Guatemalan director Jayro Bustamante returned with the back-to-back features Temblores and La Llorona on the festival circuit. The lattermost film, which played at TIFF, Venice, Sundance, London, explores the scars of the Guatemalan Civil War in formally stunning, atmospheric ways. Dan Mecca said in our Sundance review, “Bustamante has a sure hand here, never over-playing the magical realism in the narrative. He relies on his actors and they do not let him down. It’s an impressive move to address such violent subject matter–based on real-life crimes–while incorporating supernatural suspicions. In building a gradual tension to each successive scene, the filmmakers create an effective sense of dread that demands the attention of the audience.”

Where to Watch: Shudder

3. Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula (Yeon Sang-ho; Aug. 21)

Already earning considerable box office in South Korea and beyond, Well Go USA will test the waters here in the U.S. when it comes to the release of the sequel to Train to Busan. Currently set for a late August theatrical release, the zombie movie takes on a far larger scope than its locomotive-set predecessor as our leads enter the epicenter of the chaos. Adding to the intrigue, Yeon Sang-ho was influenced by George Romero’s Land Of The Dead, The Road, Mad Max 2, and Mad Max: Fury Road, and even the manga Akira and Dragon Head.

Where to Watch: Select Theaters

2. She Dies Tomorrow (Amy Seimetz; Now in Drive-Ins; Digital on Aug. 7)

While Amy Seimetz’s second feature got a release beginning on the last day of July in drive-ins, the film missed last month’s round-up as details were announced later, so we’re spotlighting it this month as it arrives digitally this Friday. John Fink said in his SXSW review, “In any other time and in any other place, She Dies Tomorrow would be a lucid and unsettling film. Screened in the height of a global pandemic, it is difficult to watch without immediately emphasizing the uncertainty, as well as the certainty, that radiates from and beyond the frame. The characters know they’re going to die, and once they know that, it feels inevitable. Amy Seimetz’s haunting and puzzling sophomore feature beings with a verbally violent break-up and quickly morphs into a film about contagion and paranoia. It also briefly veers into absurd comedy when things come to a head at a birthday party where everyone wishes after the fact they could have engaged in social distancing.”

Where to Watch: Drive-Ins and VOD

1. Tesla (Michael Almereyda; Aug. 21)

One of the most adventurous American filmmakers returns with the most unconventional biopic of the year thus far. Michael Almereyda’s Tesla is a thoroughly riveting, endlessly surprising look at the inventor and engineer, less interested in the historical landmarks of his life and more fascinated by his inner drive for technological progress and his remarkable influence on the technology we use today, which is seen literally in captivating, anachronistic sequences. Dan Mecca said in his Sundance review, “Tesla plays a lot like Experimenter in its use of minimalist production design in parts (perhaps forced by budget) and exciting flights of fancy in others… the kind of film you hope to see at Sundance: an unapologetically ambitious, unwaveringly singular take. “

Where to Watch: VOD

Honorable Mentions

An American Pickle (Aug. 6)
I Used to Go Here (Aug. 7)
You Never Had It: An Evening With Bukowski (Aug. 7)
Out Stealing Horses (Aug. 7)
Psychomagic, a Healing Art (Aug. 7)
Song Without a Name (Aug. 7)
A Thousand Cuts (Aug. 7)
Waiting for the Barbarians (Aug. 7)
Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story (Aug. 14)
Sputnik (Aug. 14)
Pretending I’m a Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story (Aug. 18)
Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies (Aug. 18)
Random Acts of Violence (Aug. 20)
Desert One (Aug. 21)
You Cannot Kill David Arquette (Aug. 28)
Driven to Abstraction (Aug. 28)

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