While our recently published summer movie preview was a fairly comprehensive look at what we’re most anticipating over the next few months, some surprises still await. Case in point: the release date of our #1 pick to see this month was only unveiled a few days ago. Featuring long-awaited festival favorites, genre delights, medium-length work, and even—yes!—a blockbuster, check out our picks below.

13. Men (Alex Garland; May 20 in theaters)

Alex Garland’s Men is a curious creation, oddly misshapen and thematically simplistic, yet this contained psychological horror-thriller has a go-for-broke finale worth the price of admission simply for the confounding glances one will have with fellow moviegoers exiting the theater. Telling the story of Jessie Buckley’s character as she contends with recent trauma and the various shades of misogynistic demons that intend to interrupt her healing, the build-up is an impressive tightrope walk of horror and humor that one wishes had a more affecting, resonant finale beyond gonzo shocks.

12. Lux Æterna (Gaspar Noé, May 6 in theaters)

This May is the month of Gaspar Noé: his latest feature Vortex expands, and finally his medium-length work Lux Æterna–– which premiered at Cannes back in 2019––gets a U.S. debut. Béatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg hang around a film set, telling stories about witches before chaos ensues. If one can’t handle a full dose of the provocateur, this brief, more experimental taste should do the trick.

11. Cane Fire (Anthony Banua-Simon; May 20 in theaters)

See an exclusive clip above.

Receiving acclaim on the festival circuit, including the top documentary prizes at Indie Memphis Film Festival and Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, Anthony Banua-Simon’s essay film Cane Fire takes a unique look at the Hawaiian island of Kauaʻi through the colonial lens of cinema history. Featuring clips from work by Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby, and Charleton Heston, the film tells the story of four generations of family and the surrounding community overshadowed by the veneer of Hollywood.

10. The Innocents (Eskil Vogt; May 13 in theaters and on VOD)

It’s been quite a past year for Norwegian filmmaker Eskil Vogt. Though Oscar-nominated for his co-writing work with longtime collaborator Joachim Trier on The Worst Person in the World, it wasn’t the only film he had at Cannes. He also debuted his second feature, The Innocents, which takes a grounded look at superpowers as we follow a group of children living in an apartment complex. As Alistair Ryder said in his Cannes review, “The Innocents, the assured sophomore feature from Eskil Vogt, is a prickly film about childhood morality designed to get under its audience’s skin.”

9. Montana Story (Scott McGehee and David Siegel; May 13 in theaters)

A well-observed neo-western rich with atmosphere, the latest from Scott McGehee and David Siegel (What Maisie Knew) follows estranged siblings (Owen Teague and Haley Lu Richardson) who reconnect after their father falls ill. A layered study of reckoning with past demons and contending with American myths, it’s an early highlight of the summer season. DP Giles Nuttgens brings the same level of patience and quiet grandeur to capturing the American West as he did in Hell or High Water. Fans of Kelly Reichardt should also find a great deal to appreciate in the subtle approach to an emotional throughline.

8. Top Gun: Maverick (Joseph Kosinski; May 27 in theaters)

A film in the works for so long that production began in 2018 and its director has another film arriving just a month later, Top Gun: Maverick is finally ready for its debut next month. After the longest absence of Tom Cruise’s career, seeing the actor back to high-flying stunts will hopefully provide some reassurance the world is rehabilitating. While it’s hard to get genuinely invested in the narrative for this kind of legacyquel, hopefully there’s more on the bone than simply the action––and even if that’s all there is, it’s bound to be more captivating than the CG doldrums of the rest of the summer movie season. Thankfully, the early word following its CinemaCon debut has been quite strong.

7. A Chiara (Jonas Carpignano; May 27 in theaters)

Following Mediterranea and A Ciambra, writer-director Jonas Carpignano has completed his Calabrian trilogy with A Chiara, which picked up the Europa Cinema Label at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight last year and follows a teenage girl’s reckoning with her father’s participation in the mafia. Ed Frankl said in his review, “With a documentary-like authenticity, this is a touching, powerful film with a lyrical visual palette and a superb sense of time and place. As in Mediterranea and A Ciambra, which told stories about immigration and the Roma community, respectively, Carpignano takes us to Gioia Tauro at the southern tip of the Italian mainland. For ten years the director has embedded himself here, a place infamous for the penetration in all walks of life of the ‘Ndrangheta, the secretive mafia clan that by some accounts controls three percent of Italy’s GDP.”

6. Happening (Audrey Diwan; May 6 in theaters)

Winner of the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival, featuring a jury led by Bong Joon-ho, Audrey Diwan’s abortion drama Happening is an intense, Dardennes-esque drama. Set in 1963 in Angoulême, France––which had strict anti-abortion laws––the story follows Anne, a pregnant student who attempts to find someone that can help her. Mitchell Beaupre said in their review, “While comparing Happening to Eliza Hittman’s masterful 2020 abortion drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always skirts reductive, there’s something to be said for the similar way in which Diwan observes her main character. While her aesthetic may boast some grander flourishes than Hittman’s neorealism, there is nevertheless a vérité style to Diwan’s approach that places us right up against Anne for the majority of the film — a tight, boxed aspect ratio leads to the feeling of the walls closing in, her panic setting in just underneath the surface, observed in oft-used closeups of Vartolomei’s expressive face.”

5. On the Count of Three (Jerrod Carmichael; May 13 in theaters and on VOD)

It’s been a long wait for the release of Jerrod Carmichael’s sharp, darkly funny debut On the Count of Three. After premiering at Sundance Film Festival last year, the film following Carmichael and Christopher Abbott’s characters as they live out their final day before a suicide pact will finally arrive this month. I said in my review, “Considering the raw, uncomfortable truths found in Jerrod Carmichael’s comedy, the logline of his directorial debut shouldn’t come as a surprise: two friends make a pact to end their lives and experience one final day together before plans to carry through with the dual deeds. Though not scripted by Carmichael himself, The Carmichael Show writer-producer Ari Katcher and his Ramy co-writer Ryan Welch have crafted a character-focused story with layers of necessary darkness and pathos while still injecting humor that mostly feels like a natural fit considering the subject matter.”

4. In Front of Your Face (Hong Sangsoo; May 6 in theaters)

It’s a good time to be a Hong Sangsoo fan. With an NYC retrospective underway, where the South Korean director is appearing in person this week, and a LA retrospective kicking off soon, they offer the perfect prep for the theatrical release of his next U.S. release, In Front of Your Face. Originally premiering at Cannes last year, the film follows former actress Sangok (Lee Hyeyoung) who is back in Seoul after years abroad, staying with her sister Jeongok (Cho Yunhee) in her high-rise apartment. Read our Cannes review by David Katz here.

3. The Tsugua Diaries (Maureen Fazandeiro and Miguel Gomes; May 27 in theaters)

As filmmakers grapple with the pandemic and life during lockdown, few filmmakers have created a work as artfully expressive as The Tsugua Diaries, Maureen Fazendeiro and Miguel Gomes’ study of movie-making. Soham Gadre said in our TIFF review, “Throughout The Tsugua Diaries we see a still shot of two fruit that change color, initially rotting, then in the ripe stage, and then un-ripened. Finally, we see how it was actually picked from the tree. This contextualizes the film in a way that its characters and creators are self-aware of their project and choose to use the fruit as a means of documenting and reminding themselves of the passing of days. This is perhaps the most relatable depiction and examination of life under COVID seen thus far in cinema––where the contrast between our sense of time and our lives tethered to it have been completely upended, but nature continues its march undeterred and unaffected.”

2. Il Buco (Michelangelo Frammartino; May 13 in theaters)

One of the most ravishing, enveloping theatrical experiences I had last year was with Michelangelo Frammartino’s long-awaited return, Il Buco. The latest film from the Le Quattro Volte director depicts a 1960s expedition to explore Europe’s deepest cave, 700 meters below Eath, located in southern Italy. David Katz said in his review, ” Uncut Gems’ opening sequence involves a man-made mine rather than a cave, but it also corresponds to the symbolic sense these examples give to such natural phenomena––Il Buco (directly translating in Italian to “the hole”; keeping its international title in Italian is clearly wise!) rather deigns to show its object of passion with more realism, the sense of wonder deriving from a patient, earthbound authenticity. “

1. Deception (Arnaud Desplechin; May 20 on MUBI)

One of the most curious developments in world cinema the last handful of years is a general dismissal of Arnaud Desplechin here in the United States. His Cannes opener Ismael’s Ghosts came and went without much fanfare and his follow-up, the entertaining procedural Oh Mercy!, didn’t even get distribution. After premiering at last year’s Cannes, his riveting Philip Roth adaptation Deception, starring Léa Seydoux and Denis Polydalès, will finally see the light of day here courtesy of a MUBI release. Nick Newman recently caught up with Desplechin to discuss this latest project, and you can read the full interview here.

Honorable Mentions

  • Pleasure (May 13)
  • Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story (May 13)
  • Hold Your Fire (May 20)
  • A New Old Play (May 20)
  • Emergency (May 20)
  • Fire in the Mountains (May 20)
  • Mariner of the Mountains (May 23)
  • There Are No Saints (May 27)

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