The end of the summer movie season is upon us, which normally means a dry spell for studio releases, and while that indeed looks to be the case, this is one of the best months of the year if one digs a little deeper. From European getaways to redneck heists to dramas about riots and terrorism, there’s an abundance of appealing choices at the cinema this August. See our picks below and let us know what you’re most looking forward to.
Matinees: It’s Not Yet Dark (8/4), This Time Tomorrow (8/4), Icarus (8/4), Machines (8/9), After Love (8/9), In This Corner of the World (8/11), The Nile Hilton Incident (8/11), The Wound (8/16), Sidemen: Long Road to Glory (8/18), What Happened to Monday (8/18), Crown Heights (8/25), Death Note (8/25), The Villainess (8/25), and The Teacher (8/30)
15. Lemon (Janicza Bravo; Aug. 18)
Synopsis: A man watches his life unravel after he is left by his girlfriend of 10 years.
Why You Should See It: There is no comedy — if one can even define it as such — on the same wavelength as Lemon this year. Coming from Janicza Bravo and Brett Gelman, following the latter’s character as his life unravels in the strangest of ways, the cast is a stacked one, including Judy Greer, Michael Cera, Fred Melamed, Rhea Perlman, Gillian Jacobs, Jon Daly, Martin Starr, Megan Mullally, Jeff Garlin, and Nia Long. One of the few films I saw at Sundance that I didn’t review because I was left dumbfounded at what I just saw, for better or worse, for those seeking to itch part of their funny bone that has perhaps been left untouched, this will do the trick.
14. Wind River (Taylor Sheridan; Aug. 4)
Synopsis: An FBI agent teams up with a veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation.
Why You Should See It: With the strongest one-two punch of first produced scripts in Hollywood the past few years, Taylor Sheridan has emerged as a distinctive voice in revitalizing tired (or all but dormant) genres. After scripting Sicario and Hell or High Water, he’s now gone fully behind the camera for his directorial debut Wind River, which blends both crime and western elements. I said in my review, “Let down by muddy characterization and a choppy directorial style, the drama finally coheres in its final act to deliver the uncompromising thrills that have been Sheridan’s trademark.” I’ve now heard Sheridan has gone back in the editing bay a bit since that mixed review, so I’m curious to see what has changed.
13. Step (Amanda Litz; Aug. 4)
Synopsis: Documents the senior year of a girls’ high-school step dance team against the background of inner-city Baltimore.
Why You Should See It: “It’s rare for a documentary to inspire applause during the feature, but there you have the power of Amanda Lipitz’s Step, an inspiring crowd-pleaser that provides a positive look at the lives of every day teens in Baltimore, living in the shadow of Freddie Gray and the subsequent unrest related to his death,” John Fink said in his review of the Sundance-winning documentary. “Step is a universal story of triumph, following a year in the life of a dance team at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women as their seniors get accepted into school, experience heartbreak, and ultimately make in-roads in step competitions, crafting an elegant and powerful dance inspired by Black Lives Matter and their neighborhoods.”
12. Gook (Justin Chon; August 18)
Synopsis: Eli and Daniel, two Korean American brothers who own a struggling women’s shoe store, have an unlikely friendship with 11-year-old Kamilla. On the first day of the 1992 L.A. riots, the trio must defend the store while contemplating the meaning of family and thinking about personal dreams and the future.
Why You Should See It: Winner of the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in the NEXT section where it premiered, Justin Chon’s Gook takes an intriguing perspective when it comes to depicting Los Angeles on April 29, 1992, when the Rodney King verdict was handed out and the riots began. “Warts and all, Gook serves as a perfect example (and reminder) of why the NEXT Section at Sundance is well worth exploring and reviewing and reacting to, perhaps more than any other slate,” Dan Mecca said in his review. “Chon has a vision and a voice and a good story to tell, full of social relevance and fiery emotion. Something this energetic and cared for is hard to criticize all that much. It’s a film worth seeking out and telling others about.”
11. The Glass Castle (Destin Daniel Cretton; Aug. 11)
Synopsis: A young girl comes of age in a dysfunctional family of nonconformist nomads with a mother who’s an eccentric artist and an alcoholic father who would stir the children’s imagination with hope as a distraction to their poverty.
Why You Should See It: I’ll put this out up front: I’m worried about The Glass Castle. It hits theaters next week and there has been no festival premiere, advance word, or buzz of any kind, but with that said, I’ll watch anything from director Destin Daniel Cretton following Short Term 12, one of my favorite films of its respective year. He once again teams with Brie Larson, who stars alongside Naomi Watts, Woody Harrelson and Sarah Snook in what will hopefully be a commendable expanding in scope for the director.
10. Whose Streets? (Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis; Aug. 11)
Synopsis: An unflinching look at how the killing of 18-year-old Mike Brown inspired a community to fight back and sparked a global movement.
Why You Should See It: While news stations attempt to cover the Black Lives Matter movement and the injustice stemming from its formation, the most thorough documents tend to be from those embedded deeper in the heart of the action. Director Sabaah Folayan and co-director Damon Davis, who were on the ground in Ferguson, captured the uprising in Whose Streets?. John Fink said in his review, “Dedicated to Michael Brown Jr., Whose Streets? is an alarming and vital documentary chronicling the grassroots formation of Black Lives Matter as well as efforts in Ferguson. A narrow document of time and place, it allows the story to unfold as it did on a local level — in a clutter of confusion, tweets, and amateur video as the Ferguson Police Department show up with guns and tanks to what starts as a peaceful protest.”
9. Ingrid Goes West (Matt Spicer; Aug. 11)
Synopsis: An unhinged social media stalker moves to LA and insinuates herself into the life of an Instagram star.
Why You Should See It: Aubrey Plaza certainly has a distinct personality on Twitter, but she pushes the extremes of social media for her next film. I said in my review from Sundance, “In his directorial debut, Matt Spicer gets right what so many other films commenting on today’s technology obsession fail to capture: the aesthetic appeal of the technology. As Ingrid becomes attracted to Taylor’s seemingly perfect lifestyle, a flurry of her flawless Instagram posts rush onto the screen in visually overwhelming fashion, backed by Nick Thorburn’s pop-infused score. By selling this appearance of the picture-perfect life, we can have a stake in Ingrid’s mission, despite how unhinged she comes across.”
8. Detroit (Kathryn Bigelow; Aug. 4)
Synopsis: Amidst the chaos of the Detroit Rebellion, with the city under curfew and as the Michigan National Guard patrolled the streets, three young African American men were murdered at the Algiers Motel.
Why You Should See It: After Annapurna Pictures moved Detroit up at the last minute to a late July limited release, it’s now going wide this Friday. “In every aspect other than its somber genuflection towards the subject matter, Detroit is a full-blown horror movie, reveling in the pain and attendant terror that came with being a black person in the ’60s, but the pervasive dread and gruesome violence doesn’t transcend sadism,” Michael Snydel said in his review. “Where this year’s earlier horror smash, Get Out, remixed decades of canonical slasher tropes to palpably tell a story of white supremacy, Detroit is a mirror of itself, a reaffirmation of the existence of evil — but not its universality.”
7. Marjorie Prime (Michael Almereyda; August 18)
Synopsis: A service that provides holographic recreations of deceased loved ones allows a man to come face-to-face with the younger version of his late father-in-law.
Why You Should See It: Humanity’s most invaluable asset is our memory. It fuels our imagination, ignites conversations, and can unite us. It can also be distorted, reshaped, and forgotten altogether. Marjorie Prime, a micro-scale sci-fi chamber drama, fascinatingly explores the perception and dissolution of what we remember throughout our lives. Michael Almereyda’s contemplative new film, which could double as the best-written episode of Black Mirror yet, most poignantly serves as catalyst for a personal self-reflection on the part of the viewer. Read my full review.
6. Beach Rats (Eliza Hittman; Aug. 25)
Synopsis: An aimless teenager on the outer edges of Brooklyn struggles to escape his bleak home life and navigate questions of self-identity, as he balances his time between his delinquent friends, a potential new girlfriend, and older men he meets online.
Why You Should See It: Burgeoning sexuality is the basis for nearly all coming-of-age films, but with her specific eye, Eliza Hittman makes it feel like we’re watching this genre unfold for the first time. With only two features to her name, she’s captured the experience with a sensuality and intimacy nearly unprecedented in American independent filmmaking. Following 2013’s It Felt Like Love, the writer-director follows it with another look at the teenage experience in Brooklyn for this year’s Beach Rats, this time with a protagonist five years older and of a different gender. Read my full review.
5. The Trip to Spain (Michael Winterbottom; Aug. 11)
Synopsis: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon embark on a six-part episodic road trip through Spain, sampling the restaurants, eateries, and sights along the way.
Why You Should See It: Averting the bigger is better approach that plagues most franchises, The Trip series is attuned to life’s simple pleasures: cuisine, comedy, and companionship. For Michael Winterbottom, Steve Coogan, and Rob Brydon, their third outing, The Trip to Spain, refreshingly doesn’t stray from the charismatic formula that has resulted in perhaps the most delightful series of films this decade. Read my full review of the year’s funniest film so far.
4. Columbus (kogonada; Aug. 4)
Synopsis: A Korean-born man finds himself stuck in Columbus, Indiana, where his architect father is in a coma. The man meets a young woman who wants to stay in Columbus with her mother, a recovering addict, instead of pursuing her own dreams.
Why You Should See It: The path to becoming a director is one generally accompanied by a profound knowledge of film history, but that passion is rarely more public then when it comes to kogonada. After years of working on visually detailed video essays for The Criterion Collection, Sight & Sound, and more, he’s now made his directorial debut with Columbus, an impeccably composed drama of quiet humanity and curiosity. If his nickname wasn’t enough of a hint, traces of Yasujirō Ozu’s influence can be found, but this first-time director has created something distinctly his own. Read my full review.
3. Logan Lucky (Steven Soderbergh; Aug. 18)
Synopsis: Two brothers attempt to pull off a heist during a NASCAR race in North Carolina.
Why You Should See It: He never really left, but Steven Soderbergh is now officially back to movie-making and the results are top-notch. “It evinces so much of what’s made him that rare journeyman between arthouse and multiplex; and while one is by and large well-inclined not to presume much about career-sized intentions, a cursory glance reveals overlap after overlap,” Nick Newman said in his review. “It’s an easy-enough game of spot-the-predecessor — the heist mechanics of an Ocean’s movie, the working-class struggle of a Magic Mike, and, first most riskily and then most fascinatingly, the procedural iciness of a Side Effects or Contagion.”
2. Good Time (Josh and Ben Safdie; Aug. 11)
Synopsis: A bank robber finds himself unable to evade those who are looking for him.
Why You Should See It: It’s rare to see a film brimming with a vibrant ingenuity in every frame, but the Safdies have done it again with the humorous, affecting Good Time. Rory O’Connor said his review, “It’s probably safe to say that, up until now, no lucid person had compared a Safdie brothers film to the work of Michael Mann. Indeed, it may still be a stretch, though Good Time — the New York siblings’ latest eye-popping, pill-popping, attention-deficit character study — could feasibly be described as just that. It’s in parts a heist movie (iconic masks included) and a chase movie, but not an homage in any sense — more an evolution, like a 21st-century fast-food hybrid that mixes trash television and drug culture with Day-Glo-splattered night-time cinematography and throbbing synthesizers, thanks to a standout score from Oneohtrix Point Never. ”
1. Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello; Aug. 11)
Synopsis: Some young folks, tired of the society they’re living in, plan a bomb attack over Paris before to take shelter for a night in a shopping center.
Why You Should See It: It’s been nearly a year since I’ve seen Bertrand Bonello’s latest film, and I can still remember every frame. His terrorist drama, depicting the revolting thrill of the act and the shallowness of youth with a methodical precision, is one of the best films of 2017. “Here’s an elevator pitch: Nocturama is Robert Bresson’s The Devil, Probably in a homegrown-terrorist garb that substitutes transcendental style for the form of contemporary thrillers and music videos, all the while filtering a faux-intellectual’s anger through a consumer-culture criticism that, in its place and mood, most recalls George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead,” Nick Newman said in his review.
What are you watching this month?