The spring often brings the most interesting slate of releases––films operating outside the prescribed box of awards season contenders while also attempting to steer clear of a summer movie season dominated by tentpoles––and this April is no exception. With a number of our festival favorites from the past few years, a couple of promising wide releases, and more, there’s plenty to discover.

15. Ambulance (Michael Bay; April 8 in theaters)

However one may feel about Michael Bay, he remains one of the few Hollywood directors who actually bring a bold (if ridiculously over-the-top) vision to studio filmmaking. After teaming with Netflix, he’s now back in theatrical mode for Ambulance. Led by Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Eiza González, this remake of the Danish film follows a decorated veteran who, desperate for money to cover his wife’s medical bills, embarks on a bank heist with his adoptive brother. While the trailer seemed to give away far too much of the story, we’re still keen to see Bay’s bombastic spectacle on the big screen.

14. Cow (Andrea Arnold; April 8 in theaters and digitally)

Following up her road trip epic American Honey, Andrea Arnold turned to something with a far smaller scale. Cow follows the life of Luma, a dairy cow residing on an English cattle farm, capturing birthing, milking, and mating. Ed Frankl said in his review, “Andrea Arnold, director of stylized social-realist dramas like Red Road and Fish Tank, takes a drastic turn with an in-your-face documentary about a farmyard cow. Yet despite a lo-fi, handheld-camera cragginess, it still has something of the lyricism that marks so much of her work, going back to the Oscar-winning short Wasp.   Arnold’s camera meets cattle at eye-level, as close to the animal’s point-of-view as possible, to follow a milking cow named Luma. Her life is bleak: birthing calves who are then immediately removed from her embrace so that humans can use her milk.”

13. Los Conductos (Camilo Restrepo; April 29 in theaters)

Having won Best First Feature at Berlinale over two years ago, it’s been a long wait for Los Conductos, but it’s finally arriving this month via Grasshopper Film. Carlos Aguilar said in his review, “Succinctly potent like a concentrated shot of a mood-altering substance, Camilo Restrepo’s Los Conductos renders a Colombian portrait of a damaged soul reclaiming his humanity amidst widespread bleakness. In a swift 70 minutes, the lugubriously solemn film punctures one’s psyche as it interrogates a society’s moral corrosion that has normalized violence as the lone avenue to salvation for the marginalized.”

12. Vortex (Gaspar Noé; April 29 in theaters)

Having explored sex and drugs with Love and Climax, respectively, Gaspar Noé is here devastate you with a look at the one thing we’ll all face: getting old and the inevitability of death. As Rory O’Connor said in his review, “It is a devastating and uncharacteristically sincere accomplishment for Noé, an Argentinian filmmaker and enfant terrible who made his name with a great string of provocative works about the younger, stickier parts of life—nominally, parties (Climax), drugs (Enter The Void), and sex (Love), though usually all at the same time. Vortex‘s stars are of a much earlier vintage: LeBrun rose to prominence playing Veronika in 1973’s The Mother and The Whore (which Noé greatly admires); Argento (80 years young last year) was at the peak of his Giallo masterpieces just a few years after. Noé survived a brain hemorrhage just over a year ago, and while he has stated it wasn’t an inspiration for Vortex, his film never leaves you in any doubt as to what lies around the corner for us all: from his signature monolithic credit crawl (in which each name is accompanied by their corresponding birth year) and wry tagline (‘Life is a short party that will soon be forgotten’) all the way to the shattering denouement.”

11. Anaïs in Love (Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet; April 29 in theaters & May 6 digitally)

One of the most delightful films I’ve seen early into this year is Anaïs in Love, Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet’s Cannes selection that was picked up by Magnolia Pictures for a release this month. The French comedy examines modern romance and erratic youthful passions with a Rohmerian touch as we follow a spirited young woman (a great Anaïs Demoustier) who falls in love with the novelist wife of the man with whom she’s having an affair.

10. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (Jane Schoenbrun; April 15 in theaters & April 22 digitally)

An unsettling look at loneliness in today’s digital age, Jane Schoenbrun conjures a powerful atmosphere in their layered debut feature. Juan Barquin said in our 2022 preview, “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair premiered at Sundance in 2021 and hasn’t left my mind since. Jane Schoenbrun’s film is about a teen girl named Casey who takes the World’s Fair Challenge (an online role-playing horror game) and slowly but surely documents the changes that may (or may not) be happening to her. Its deceptively simple plot description hides what a rich text exists within; an ambitious and haunting coming-of-age story that also happens to be one of the most loaded queer films in years.”

9. Gagarine (Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh; April 1 in theaters)

Anointing a rare A-grade upon its Glasgow Film Festival premiere last year, Logan Kenny said his review, “Gagarine might not be explicitly about an autistic character; it’s never directly stated that the 16-year-old protagonist Youri (a sensational Alseni Bathily) is autistic, but it is one of the greatest pieces of representation that our community has ever experienced in cinema. Similar to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, an official diagnosis is not necessary for viewers to understand the protagonist’s autism. It is clearly evident throughout watching their fixations and their mannerisms.”

8. The Northman (Robert Eggers; April 22 in theaters)

Following his break-out horror hit The Witch and his black-and-white buddy-comedy-of-sorts The Lighthouse, Robert Eggers returns this month with his biggest production yet. The Northman is a Viking epic co-written by Icelandic poet-novelist Sjón and starring Alexander Skarsgård as a Viking prince out to take revenge over his murdered father. With a cast also including Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, Björk, Ralph Ineson, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, and Claes Bang, we’re quite curious how Eggers’ precise vision translates to this larger scale.

6 and 7. Babi Yar. Context and Donbass (Sergei Loznitsa; April 1 and 8 in theaters)

Ukrainian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa is now obviously, deservedly receiving renewed attention as his country battles for its survival against Russian forces. Two of his films––one a recent documentary and another a narrative feature that premiered in 2018––will get theatrical releases this month. Giovanni Marchini Camia said in his review of Donbass in 2018, “Loznitsa’s Donbass forms a rough trilogy with two of his previous features, My Joy (2010) and A Gentle Creature (2017), offering another social allegory that functions as a bitter criticism of Russia’s contemporary politics. This time, instead of an unidentified Russian setting, the action takes place in the eastern Ukrainian region that gives the film its title, where a Russian-supported war has been ongoing since 2014. Given that Loznitsa is Ukrainian, this change of scenery might explain the added ferocity of his critique, which is extreme enough to make for an acutely oppressive viewing experience.” Babi Yar. Context revisits the horrific September 1941 massacre of 33,771 Jews that took place outside Kyiv and I wrote about it as part of MoMI’s First Look festival here.

5. Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood (Richard Linklater; April 1 on Netflix)

After quite a mid-aughts with Before Midnight, Boyhood, and Everybody Wants Some!!, Richard Linklater has continued at near the same clip, despite less of an embrace from audiences after Last Flag Flying and Where’d You Go, Bernadette came and went. He’s back with Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood, which tells the story of the first moon landing through the eyes of a kid growing up in ’60s Houston. John Fink said in his SXSW review, “Apollo 10½ recalls the music of Bruce Springsteen: infused with optimism and desire to tell a story of hard work, dedication, and a healthy childhood fantasy. The film may be Linklater’s warmest and most nostalgic precisely because of its specifics.”

4. The Tale of King Crab (Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis; April 15 in theaters)

One of the most transportive, transfixing discoveries of last year’s festival circuit was the Cannes and NYFF selection The Tale of King Crab. Coming from Italian filmmakers Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis, who have mostly dabbled in non-fiction, it follows a wandering outcast in a remote, late-19th-century Italian village. Rory O’Connor said in his review, “Akin, again, to Rohrwacher’s Happy as LazzaroKing Crab is a story that comes in two polar yet irreplaceable parts, each separated by years and space and tragedy: the first here a rural pastoral, the second an adventure at the edge of the earth, as it were. If the story’s beginnings leaned toward a filmmaking peer, its later parts bare the marks of something older—flashes of Sergio Leone and Werner Herzog, with their Westerns and conquistadors.”

3. Hit the Road (Panah Panahi; April 22 in theaters)

Despite a number of masterpieces in his own career, Iranian director Jafar Panahi is not the only family member with a strong vision behind the camera. His son, Panah Panahi, crafted a remarkable feature debut with the charming, emotional journey Hit the Road. Following a family of four as they traverse the Iranian countryside and reflect on life, Jake Kring-Schreifels said in his NYFF review, “There’s not much exposition in Hit the Road. In fact it takes most of Panah Panahi’s remarkable directorial debut, about a family traveling across northwestern Iran, to understand the full gravity of this noisy and comical road trip. Yet this movie’s power comes in the slow-burning revelations found through the straightaway desert roads and rolling lush hills, which amount to an emotionally wrenching crescendo.”

2. Petite Maman (Céline Sciamma; April 22 in theaters)

A masterclass in simplicity, Céline Sciamma’s finest work yet follows an eight-year-old girl who embarks on a brief stay at the childhood home of her mothers after her grandmother’s passing. While any additional plot details are best left hidden, Petite Maman emerges as a tender inquiry into the fleeting experiences of youth and how the process of adulthood can shatter a sense of wonder about the world. Before viewing, one may think Sciamma can’t possibly break your heart in a scant 72 minutes, but the effect is quite contrary—she makes every second count, culminating in one of the most affecting finales of this year. For more, read Orla Smith’s review here.

1. The Girl and the Spider (Ramon and Silvan Zürcher; April 8 in theaters)

Following their compelling debut feature The Strange Little Cat, brothers Ramon and Silvan Zürcher double down on their entrancing style with The Girl and the Spider, the current frontrunner for my favorite film of 2022. A dreamy reverie to human connection and feelings left unsaid, taking place entirely in an apartment building in the middle of a move-out, Christopher Schobert said in his review it’s “a mesmerizing, uniquely ambiguous study of friendship, rivalry, tension, and memory. It is difficult to remember another recent film that does so much with so little in the way of plot and location.”

Honorable Mentions

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