The calm before the summer storm is here and April brings a number of top-notch films. While we remain curious to see Michael Shannon as Elvis, Tom Tykwer‘s latest feature, and a few others, we pared down what we’re most looking forward to (or can already recommend) into a top 15.
It should be noted that one of our top films to see last month, Midnight Special, will finally get a wide release this Friday, the same day The Witch is re-released to a perfectly numbered 666 theaters. Check out what we’re looking forward to most and let us know what you want to see.
Matinees to See: Miles Ahead (4/1), Standing Tall (4/1), Hardcore Henry (4/8), Wedding Doll (4/8), Rio, I Love You (4/15), A Hologram for the King (4/22), The Meddler (4/22), Sworn Virgin (4/22), and Elvis & Nixon (4/22)
15. Demolition (Jean-Marc Vallée; April 8th)
Synopsis: A successful investment banker struggles after losing his wife in a tragic car crash.
Why You Should See It: We don’t blame you if you also forgot about Demolition, Jean-Marc Vallée‘s latest drama. It opened TIFF last fall and, instead of sneaking it in during awards season, Fox Searchlight waited until this spring to release the Jake Gyllenhaal-led feature. Reviews have been mixed, but, like most of his recent features, it sounds like it’s worth seeing for his performance.
14. The Family Fang (Jason Bateman; April 29th)
Synopsis: A brother and sister return to their family home in search of their world famous parents who have disappeared.
Why You Should See It: One of our favorites from last year’s TIFF, we said in our review, “The Family Fang provides fuel for a future auteur study of its director Jason Bateman: haunted by his past as a child actor, his work in front of and behind the camera frequently explores the effects of childhood on adults as they struggle to move through life. Explored in Arrested Development, his directorial debut Bad Words, this summer’s The Gift, and even Juno, this theme has never been sharper than in The Family Fang. In a refreshing take on material that in another hands might have seemed pedestrian or cheap, Bateman has crafted an effective portrait of a dysfunctional family that’s not entirely unlike the Bluth Family. Rabbit Hole playwright and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire adapts David Wilson’s novel with a rich emotional precision and as funny as it is, the material takes the absurdity seriously.
13. Tale of Tales (Matteo Garrone; April 22nd)
Synopsis: Tales adapted from a 17th-century collection of fairytales.
Why You Should See It: Having the rare distinction of being sold on an image alone (see Salma Hayek gorging on a bloody heart above), Tale of Tales may not fully come together, but it sounds like it’s worth seeing for the caliber of participating talent. As we said in our review from Cannes last year, “A few negligible instances of ghastly CGI notwithstanding, the film is ravishing on every level. Costumes and make-up are lavish and uniformly stunning, the highly ornate indoor settings give each palace its own individually majestic flair, and the exquisite lighting of the exterior scenes, particularly those set in a moss-covered forest, endows the images with a painterly, otherworldly quality, conjuring a pitch-perfect aura of magic and reverie.”
12. Keanu (Peter Atencio; April 29th)
Synopsis: Friends hatch a plot to retrieve a stolen kitten by posing as drug dealers for a street gang.
Why You Should See It: For five seasons on Comedy Central, Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key‘s aptly named Key & Peele ushered in a fresh phase of comedy with countless memorable, hilarious sketches. Although they’ve been featured in many movies, the duo are now getting their own feature with Keanu, which follows their mission to infiltrate a drug cartel to get back their kidnapped cat. Coming from long-time Key & Peele director Peter Atencio, the premiere at SXSW was a bit mixed, but I happen to love their brand of comedy, so I can’t wait to check it out later this month.
11. Afternoon (Tsai Ming-liang; April 1st)
Synopsis: A conversation between Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang and his muse Lee Kang-sheng.
Why You Should See It: One of the best films we saw at Venice last year, we said, “It’s always been easier to review Tsai Ming-liang’s films than to make sense of them. Characterized by an often impenetrable language of silence and immobility, the Malaysian-born, Taiwan-based filmmaker’s work triggers all kinds of intuitive response that writers crave, yet those same writers might be hard-pressed to explain what they’ve just seen on screen. In this sense, Afternoon poses the exact opposite dilemma, in that it’s by far the most verbal and straightforward project from Tsai – but how do you assess, evaluate, grade something so close to life you’re not even sure what to call it in cinematic terms?”
10. Neon Bull (Gabriel Mascaro; April 8th)
Synopsis: Working behind the scenes at a Brazilian rodeo, a man dreams of becoming a designer when he draws fashion designs over the nude models in his friend’s magazine.
Why You Should See It: Another of last year’s festival discoveries, we said in our review, “It doesn’t stop at the tease with gender roles and macho stereotypes either. Subtly but surely, Mascaro establishes a fevered, deeply sensual visual language that, while never describing same-sex intimacy of any kind, releases a strong homoerotic charge. Not only is there a marked focus on male anatomy – see a group shower scene shot on steamy lens and the sequence where Iremar has to stroke a prize stallion’s comically engorged genitalia in order to steal its semen – which deviates from the female objectification customary in mainstream, heterosexual cinema, the overall languid, yearnful tone highlights a repressed quality of the rampant carnality threatening to break free. In this sense, it registers as a near-surprise when the sexual preference of the main characters is revealed towards the end.”
9. The Measure of a Man (Stéphane Brizé; April 15th)
Synopsis: An unemployed factory worker is trying to make ends in working-class France.
Why You Should See It: Featuring last year’s Best Actor winner at Cannes, we said in our review, “The Measure of a Man is not a film that will be lauded for its direction nor for its cinematography, screenplay or editing. It’s a film that will be remembered for its absorbing lead performance. Vincent Lindon takes one deep into the mind of Thierry, a man who has recently lost his factory job and is now trying desperately to find work. Unfortunately, obstructions of the modern world, from the current state of the economy to the introduction of technology in the workplace, prevent him from doing so and thus he struggles to support his family financially.”
8. Francofonia (Aleksandr Sokurov; April 1st)
Synopsis: A history of the Louvre during the Nazi occupation and a meditation on the meaning and timelessness of art.
Why You Should See It: Aleksandr Sokurov, the director of Russian Ark, is back with a new drama arriving in limited release this week. We said in our Venice review, “Who are we without museums? Supposedly a tribute to France’s artistic excellence throughout the centuries, Francofonia quickly reveals itself as an exploration of the Louvre, the role of a museum, and the clash between the abstract notion of artwork and certain inescapable circumstances of the real world. And yet, a French version of Russian Ark this is not.”
7. Louder than Bombs (Joachim Trier; April 8th)
Synopsis: The fractious family of a father and his two sons confront their different feelings and memories of their deceased wife and mother, a famed war photographer.
Why You Should See It: Joachim Trier‘s latest may not reach the heights of his two excellent previous features — Reprise and Oslo, August 31st — but it’s still a tenderly realized drama full of great, small moments. Featuring strong performances from the ensemble, which includes Isabelle Huppert, Jesse Eisenberg, and Gabriel Byrne, it’s interesting to see how Trier approaches American culture as he explores the difficulty of communication for those in this estranged family. For a more mixed take, check out our review from Cannes.
6. The Invitation (Karyn Kusama; April 8th)
Synopsis: While attending a dinner party at his former home, a man thinks his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister intentions for their guests.
Why You Should See It: Director Karyn Kusama is back this year, returning to her low-budget roots with The Invitation, a taut psychological thriller following a dinner party with many twists and turns that aren’t easily shaken. We said in our review at SXSW, “As the tension effectively builds and pay-off is pulled off with aplomb, The Invitation is a mostly effective small-scale thriller, despite some missteps along the way.”
5. Men & Chicken (Anders Thomas Jensen; April 22nd)
Synopsis: A black comedy about two outcast brothers, who by getting to know their unknown family also discover a horrible truth about themselves and their relatives.
Why You Should See It: If Mads Mikkelsen takes part in a feature, we will surely show up, and it’s a bonus when it’s a great film. As we said in our review, “A perverse genetic-minded fairy tale about family—warts and more warts—its leading duo consists of one brother who must regularly masturbate (Mikkelsen’s Elias) and another possessing a visceral dry heave tick (David Dencik‘s Gabriel). They show us that ugly ducklings can sometimes simply prove ugly. And unnecessarily aggressive in dysfunctional loyalty. And as inexplicably smart or unsocialized as the sky is blue.”
4. Sing Street (John Carney; April 15th)
Synopsis: A boy growing up in Dublin during the 1980s escapes his strained family life by starting a band.
Why You Should See It: Returning to Sundance after breaking out with the Oscar-winning, shoe-string romance musical Once, director John Carney is back on a victory tour of sorts with Sing Street. Imbuing the same love for music with its emotional highs, this is a film more earnest in its pleasure-giving than his last feature, Begin Again. While the structure can be a touch too formulaic, it’s difficult to resist getting swept up in the music and its modest ambitions, for his new musical is acutely attuned to being a crowd-pleaser in all the right ways. For more, check out my full review.
3. No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman; April 1st)
Synopsis: Conversations between the film-maker and her mother just months before her mother’s death.
Why You Should See It: It’s hard to believe one of cinema’s greatest directors is gone, but one can experience more than just her last film this month. Not only is Chantal Akerman‘s final feature arriving in theaters, but a new documentary on her film, I Don’t Belong Anywhere, will also see a limited release this month. As for No Home Movie, we said in our review, “The presence of a mother is quite clear in Chantal Akerman’s best-known work, whether it be the one communicated back and forth to in News From Home or the titular Jeanne Dielman, a woman relegated to homemaker and cook for her son. Assuming the influence this woman has had on one of cinema’s most rigorous formalists and staunch feminists, making a film about her final years may conjure up a certain mental image, yet many will be surprised by the ensuing two hours.”
2. Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier; April 15th)
Synopsis: After witnessing a murder, a punk rock band is forced into a vicious fight for survival against a group of maniacal skinheads.
Why You Should See It: If one appreciated the stripped-down brutality of Jeremy Saulnier‘s Blue Ruin, just wait until you see what he has in store for his follow-up, Green Room. In mostly one location, Saulnier is able to eke out every bit of tension possible and will have one squirming in their seat during a number of sequences. Starring Patrick Stewart, Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, and, reteaming with Saulnier, Blue Ruin star Macon Blair, it’s bound to be one of the year’s most intense films.
1. Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater; March 30th)
Synopsis: A group of college baseball players navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood.
Why You Should See It: It looks like Richard Linklater‘s streak won’t be ending anytime soon. Following Bernie, Before Midnight, and Boyhood, his latest is another winner. Speaking of his spiritual sequel to Dazed & Confused, we said in our review, “Linklater’s career has long been about navigating between the petty and profound — the points when stupidity becomes genius and when the self-aware discussion of ideas becomes navel-gazing. Everybody Wants Some!! inevitably feeds off the past knowledge of Linklater’s filmography. Like Hail, Caesar! earlier this year, it’s another film that appears minor on its own, but plays like a synthesis of its director’s alternately tossed-off and straining exploration into identity politics.” Technically already in theaters thanks to a release date bump from Paramount, it’ll expand in the coming weeks.
What are you watching this month?