As the summer comes to a close, it seems as though most distributors–especially on the indie side–were holding onto their gems before the busy fall festival slate as a number of the year’s best films arrive this month. If we’re being honest, though, our most-anticipated film won’t actually get a theatrical release, but will instead arrive on The Criterion Collection with Terrence Malick’s extended edition of The Tree of Life. However for this feature, we’ll stick to those films one will be able to see in theaters, so without further adieu, here are the 15 films we recommend this month.
Matinees to See: Nico, 1988 (8/1), Christopher Robin (8/3), A Prayer Before Dawn (8/10), Buybust (8/10), Summer of ’84 (8/10), Crazy Rich Asians (8/15), Juliet, Naked (8/17), Memoir of War (8/17), Notes on an Appearance (8/17), We the Animals (8/17), The Wife (8/17), The Night is Short, Walk On Girl (8/21), What Keeps You Alive (8/24), Papillon (8/24), The Happytime Murders (8/24), Arizona (8/24), Operation Finale (8/29), A Paris Education (8/31), Destination Wedding (8/31), and The Little Stranger (8/31)
15. Makala (Emmanuel Gras; Aug. 24)
Synopsis: The trials and tribulations of a young farmer who earns a living by making and selling charcoal in Congo.
Why You Should See It: Before the memeification of Werner Herzog, the director was better known for reaching the deepest corners of the world, profiling people and places that might otherwise not get their due. A new film, which won the Grand Prize at International Critics Week in Cannes, follows in the spirit of that quest. Dan Schindel said in his review from True/False, “A top-notch process documentary, it begins with a single intact, thick tree, which over an agonizing day Kabitwa manages to fell on his own with just an ax. Over subsequent days, he chops up the tree and burns the wood into charcoal – again, all by himself.”
14. Let the Corpses Tan (Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani; Aug. 31)
Synopsis: After stealing a truckload of gold bars, a gang of thieves absconds to the ruins of a remote village perched on the cliffs of the Mediterranean. Home to a reclusive yet hypersexual artist and her motley crew of family and admirers, it seems like a perfect hideout. But when two cops roll up on motorcycles to investigate, the hamlet erupts into a hallucinatory battlefield as both sides engage in an all-day, all-night firefight rife with double-crosses and dripping with blood.
Why You Should See It: The summer will close out with some stylish genre fun. Ethan Vestby said in his review, “With their third feature, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani tackle the poliziotteschi genre instead of the giallo (here’s hoping for the peplum next). The picture is focused on the fallout of a gold bar robbery in the Mediterranean; a gang of thieves, artists and motorcycle cops colliding to a naturally bloody end. Adapted from a novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jean-Pierre Bastid, yet still not providing too much in the way of narrative, this writer could at least discern plot points involving a Rabid Dogs-like kidnapping, a Treasure of Sierra Madre-inspired descent into greedy violence and, of course, some psychosexual hijinks that likely invokes every genre picture of the past fifty years. If there’s a driving force one can find, perhaps it’s just the greed in a man’s eyes at the sight of gold.”
13. The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Desiree Akhavan; Aug. 3)
Synopsis: In 1993, a teenage girl is forced into a gay conversion therapy center by her conservative guardians.
Why You Should See It: The top winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival arrives this week. I said in my review, “On her prom night, Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) gets caught making out with her high school girlfriend in the parking lot, resulting in her parents sending her off to God’s Promise, a gay conversion therapy camp. Featuring weeks of religious gaslighting in which those in charge not only you tell you the desires of your heart are immoral, but homosexuality itself doesn’t even exist, The Miseducation of Cameron Post provides a tender, well-rounded, if not entirely successful look at the emotionally abusive experience.”
12. The Wild Boys (Bertrand Mandico; Aug. 24)
Synopsis: In the beginning of the 20th century, five children on the island of La Réunion commit a savage crime. As punishment, a Dutch captain takes them to a supernatural island with luxuriant vegetation and bewitching powers.
Why You Should See It: One of the most striking features I’ve seen this year is Bertrand Mandico’s debut feature The Wild Boys, which premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival and I caught at Film Comment Selects. Following a group of boys (all played by actresses), they are trapped on a boat with a commanding captain, only to discover more about themselves as they arrive on an island, and things get trippier from there. It’s a gender-fluid, erotic trip that’s both phantasmagoric and orgasmic, and certainly worth seeing on the big screen.
11. Searching (Aneesh Chaganty; Aug. 24)
Synopsis: After his 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a desperate father breaks into her laptop to look for clues to find her.
Why You Should See It: Following the Unfriended sequel, another trapped-in-a-computer thriller will arrive after being acclaimed at Sundance. Dan Mecca said in his review, ” John Cho should be our next leading man. Above all else does the thriller Searching, directed by Aneesh Chaganty, make this abundantly clear. Cho stars as David Kim, recently-widowed father of teenage daughter Margot (Michelle La) and doing his best to keep his composure. Opening on a heartfelt and heartbreaking montage of messages and moments as displayed on a computer screen, Chaganty establishes what will be the aesthetic of the picture.”
10. PROTOTYPE (Blake Williams; Aug. 31)
Synopsis: As a major storm strikes Texas in 1900, a mysterious televisual device is built and tested.
Why You Should See It: In the years since the resurgence of 3D in Hollywood thanks to James Cameron, we’ve seen the dimension-expanding tool profiteered in a number of bastardized ways, but every so often a filmmaker comes along to truly push its boundaries in an exciting manner. Following Jean-Luc Godard and ahead of Bi Gan, Blake Williams premiered his first feature. Andrew Ward said in his review from the Museum of the Moving Image’s First Look Festival, “PROTOTYPE‘s unique combination of archival footage and 3D imaging techniques creates an image of the past that is chiefly concerned with space over time, playing out like a performance of the Galveston storm rather than a simple retelling of the event through a use of historical footage.”
9. The Meg (Jon Turteltaub; Aug. 10)
Synopsis: After escaping an attack by what he claims was a 70-foot shark, Jonas Taylor must confront his fears to save those trapped in a sunken submersible.
Why You Should See It: The shark thriller has had quite a life in the many decades since Steven Spielberg’s landmark Jaws, but it was only a few years ago that we got a film that actually provided a similarly worthy jolt, with Jaume Collet-Serra’s brilliantly executed The Shallows. This summer, it’s Jason Statham’s turn with The Meg, which certainly bites off a more expansive scope and sillier tone than the Blake Lively-led film. Let’s hope it nails a very specific gleefully ridiculous vibe to close out the summer blockbuster season.
8. BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee; Aug. 10)
Synopsis: Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado, successfully managed to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan and became the head of the local chapter.
Why You Should See It: Following its Cannes premiere, many critics stumbled over each other to be the first to exclaim BlacKkKlansman as Spike Lee’s “best movie in years!” Viewing a few months later, it’s certainly his most mainstream movie in some time, lacking the pure, unfiltered energy of Chi-Raq or even the impressive, uneasy strangeness of his Ganja & Hess reimagining Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. Despite being a bit too broad to make as deep of impact as clearly intended in its final moments, it’s still an engaging drama, nailing the tricky tonal divide of humorous and horrifying. Read Rory O’Connor’s Cannes review for more.
7. Cocote (Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias; Aug. 3)
Synopsis: An evangelical Christian man has to participate in religious cults that clash with his beliefs while attending the burial of his father in his hometown.
Why You Should See It: One of our favorite discoveries on the festival circuit in the last year has been this singular drama. Zhuo-Ning Su said in his review, “Fans of fierce, challenging indigenous cinema rejoice. It’s not every day that you see a film from and depicting the life in the Dominican Republic, let alone one as intriguing as Cocote. Writer/director De Los Santos Arias’ feature debut shines a light on an underrepresented part of the world and casts a truly outlandish spell that confounds and overwhelms. Fair warning: sheer cultural divide would most likely prevent a deeper appreciation of the film, but the authenticity and intensity of its voice alone proves excitingly – if also gruelingly – memorable.”
6. Madeline’s Madeline (Josephine Decker; Aug. 10)
Synopsis: A theater director’s latest project takes on a life of its own when her young star takes her performance too seriously.
Why You Should See It: “The greatest praise I can give Madeline’s Madeline is that, considering its sheer momentum and imaginative tackling of the complicated issue of exploitation for art’s sake, multiple viewings would reap greater rewards,” I said in my review from Sundance. “With just one, it’s clear Decker has crafted a whirlwind of an experience, one that coheres in breathtaking bravado by the climax when art as therapy reaches its uncomfortable, astounding conclusion. There will never be easy answers when dealing with the soul-baring act of producing truly great art, but Josephine Decker’s film is as mesmerizing a plunge into the process as one is likely to find in modern cinema.”
5. Skate Kitchen (Crystal Moselle; Aug. 10)
Synopsis: A teenaged skateboarder makes friends with a bunch of other skateboarding girls in New York City.
Why You Should See It: “With Skate Kitchen, Moselle has crafted the rare empowering, generation-appealing film that doesn’t feel like it’s a writer decades removed talking down to the current era or someone trying too hard to capture today’s technological influence,” I said in my review from Sundance. “Skating through the open city streets, there’s a freshness and energy here as we spend blissful sun-lit summer afternoons with this talented clan. If one felt American Honey was too preoccupied with depicting the socioeconomic situation of its characters and projecting their potentially doomed fate, Skate Kitchen carries a similar energy of immediacy, but resonates greater as it focuses on celebrating one’s passion and basking in the culture where they’ve found their home.”
4. John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection (Julien Faraut; Aug. 22)
Synopsis: A documentary set at the final of the 1984 French Open between John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl at a time when McEnroe was the world’s top-ranked player.
Why You Should See It: The best film we saw at the Berlin Film Festival this year was John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection. The title may suggest your typical sports documentary, but Julien Faraut’s feature is anything but. A formally thrilling, fascinating probe into how the realms of cinema and tennis relate, it’s an essential viewing for any cinephile–regardless of your feeling towards the sport of tennis. Rory O’Connor said in his review, “It is a film very much about that volatile legend but it’s bookended with a quote from his namesake, the similarly antagonistic Jean-Luc Godard who, in an interview with l’Equipe, once uttered the immortal words: “Sport tells the truth, cinema doesn’t.” Faraut sets out to find that truth but also to show how tennis, or how we consume it at least, is in itself cinematic.”
3. Minding the Gap (Bing Liu; Aug. 17)
Synopsis: Three young men bond together to escape volatile families in their Rust-Belt hometown. As they face adult responsibilities, unexpected revelations threaten their decade-long friendship.
Why You Should See It: Minding the Gap, the best documentary I’ve seen thus far this year, Bing Liu’s deeply personal story of friendship–or rather, reckoning with the friends that may not seem as familiar as they once were back in high school–is a visually stunning, emotional piece of storytelling. John Fink said in his review, “A tour de force of documentary filmmaking, Minding the Gap is a lively, often beautifully shot film about a pit of hopelessness–from dead-end jobs to drunken arguments to bad decisions. This is modern day John Cassavetes with tattoos and punk music.”
2. Milla (Valérie Massadian; Aug. 3)
Synopsis: A 17-year-old girl’s youthful romance seems ready to cross the threshold into teen parenthood.
Why You Should See It: One of the most extraordinary, visually commanding films of the year arrives this month. Naming it one of the best films we saw in 2017 during its festival run, Willow Maclay said, “What is living a life? If life is a refraction of specific moments and repetition than the beauty of being given a body is in the loop of breath and how it changes as days pass. Valeria Massadian’s Milla is a stunning portrait of the quotidian nature of life and how it gives birth to larger or more staggering moments. In her film we get a sense of who Milla is and how her everyday decisions impact her life, at first a hazy recollection on the timelessness of romance bursts apart when cause and effect bring motherhood, death and music. Cinema as humanity.”
1. Support the Girls (Andrew Bujalski; Aug. 24)
Synopsis: The general manager at a highway-side ”sports bar with curves” has her incurable optimism and faith, in her girls, her customers, and herself, tested over the course of a long, strange day.
Why You Should See It: From his early so-called mumblecore days to his higher-profile features like Results, there’s been flashes of brilliance in all of Andrew Bujalski’s work, and now he’s created his best feature yet with Support the Girls. John Fink said in his review from SXSW, “Bujalski as a filmmaker has created a film as fascinating as anything in his previous output. Similar to what he’s done for early computing, disabilities, and the fitness industry, he’s again demystified unseen worlds, finding gentle humor and drama in these settings. Support The Girls tackles diversity, racial identity, and an economy built on flirting and mutual exploitation. It’s a biting commentary on American labor and capitalism in the form of a mainstream crowd pleaser.”
What are you watching this month?