After highlighting our 30 favorite films of the year thus far, it’s time to transition to the back half of 2015. July kicks things off with a fairly major month. While we easily could’ve doubled our standard ten recommendations, we’ve elected to bump it up to fifteen. This means promising and acclaimed independent dramas such as Catch Me Daddy, The Kindergarten Teacher, 10,000KM, Stray Dog, Court, A Hard Day, Samba, Stations of the Cross, Creep, Mr. Holmes, and Jimmy’s Hall just missed the cut, as well as some of the year’s finest documentaries, including Cartel Land, A Poem is a Naked Person and Best of Enemies. On a bigger scale, we’re also slightly interested in the R-rated hijinks of Vacation and to see if any of Edgar Wright‘s stamp is left on Ant-Man. Suffice to say, it’s an excellent month at the movies and one can check out top 15 films recommendations below.
15. Southpaw (Antoine Fuqua; July 24th)
Synopsis: A boxer fights his way to the top, only to find his life falling apart around him.
Why You Should See It: While Antoine Fuqua‘s track record doesn’t hint that Southpaw will be a (ahem) knock-out, Jake Gyllenhaal‘s latest string of performances certainly has us looking forward to the boxing drama. Early reviews suggest as much, praising a fierce leading turn but lamenting the stale story surrounding it. Regardless, it’ll hopefully be a nice warm-up to Creed later this year, and perhaps Hands of Stone on the festival circuit.
14. Irrational Man (Woody Allen; July 24th)
Synopsis: A tormented philosophy professor finds a will to live when he commits an existential act.
Why You Should See It: Considering his output, it’s quite impressive that Woody Allen has yet to make a flat-out misfire. While our review is mixed, the sheer curiosity of Joaquin Phoenix embodying a Woody Allen-type has me intrigued. We said back at Cannes, “Reteaming with Darius Khondji, the cinematography is occasionally stunning, especially in some of the film’s more naturalistic settings, and the penultimate scene is an absolute riot. Nonetheless, when the credits began to roll there’s a sense the entire affair was underwhelming, especially considering the substantial ensemble.”
13. Boulevard (Dito Montiel; July 17th)
Synopsis: A devoted husband in a marriage of convenience is forced to confront his secret life.
Why You Should See It: This month will bring the last leading performance from Robin Williams, and it’s also one of his most complex. We said in our review, “An unexpected turn for director Dito Montiel, known for his portraits of rugged masculinity in the inner city, including his debut future A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints and Fighting, Boulevard is a tender portrait of a man about to shatter an illusion he’s created for himself. Opening with an out-of-focus shot of Nolan Mack coming to terms with the eventual death of his father, Nolan, like his father and the audience, are not ‘present’ in the moment.”
12. Phoenix (Christian Petzold; July 24th)
Synopsis: A disfigured concentration-camp survivor (Nina Hoss), unrecognizable after facial reconstruction surgery, searches ravaged postwar Berlin for the husband (Ronald Zehrfeld) who might have betrayed her to the Nazis.
Why You Should See It: After being seen alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman in Anton Corbijn‘s A Most Wanted Man, last year Nina Hoss has reteamed with Barbara director Christian Petzold for a new drama. We said in our review, “Following the Second World War, European auteurs probed its lingering national psychological fallout resulting in films such as Night and Fog, Hiroshima Mon Amour, and Germany Year Zero. Phoenix sits well within that style, its historical perspective strangely 60 years out of date but not unwelcome for it. Themes of identity, guilt, and misrecognition play out when a Holocaust survivor returns to Berlin.”
11. Alleluia (Fabrice Du Welz; July 17th)
Synopsis: Michel, a murderous womanizer, meets introverted Gloria online and treats her to a whirlwind one-night-stand. Offering herself as an accomplice in his seductive crimes, the unhinged lovers embark on a deadly odyssey amplified by wild sex, unbridled jealousy, and passionate forays into the dark arts.
Why You Should See It: One of the sleeper thrillers of the summer looks to be Fabrice Du Welz‘s Alleluia. We had the chance to see it back at Fantastic Fest, saying in our review, “This is just a bleak, dark, and yet humorous experience that is full of twists and turns that are at times truly heartbreaking. It’s not even necessarily the reality of what takes place on screen, but the way that you know their relationship has real-life counterparts, even if they are less dramatic and cruel. If Fantastic Fest is about discovery and seeing the kind of film not built for every taste, the blood-soaked, sex-fueled thriller that is Alleluia is the perfect fit.”
10. Trainwreck (Judd Apatow: July 17th)
Synopsis: Having thought that monogamy was never possible, a commitment-phobic career woman may have to face her fears when she meets a good guy.
Why You Should See It: Judd Apatow is finally back, and for his most promising work in years. We said in our review, “Most comedies struggle to stretch out to as much as 90 minutes, and yet Apatow’s career is littered with films over two hours in length. Here, though, events breeze by, showing signs of a return to triumph for the director. Raunchy is fun, but having a new leading lady in comedy get to explore and push against societal norms is even better. In Trainwreck, we get a woman who’s unapologetic about enjoying sex and not wanting commitment. She strives to avoid it throughout the film, and is brazenly outspoken about any topic — no matter how offensive. When she isn’t high or drunk, her filter is revived, but she’s also unwilling to compromise at times.”
9. Amy (Asif Kapadia; July 3rd)
Synopsis: The story of Amy Winehouse in her own words, featuring unseen archival footage and unheard tracks.
Why You Should See It: After capturing the tragic story of a racing icon with Senna, director Asif Kapadia returns to do the same through the world of music. As we said in our review from Cannes, “It is a devastating, infuriating and sometimes breathtaking watch, and through his remarkable editing, Kapadia finds some startling truths lurking behind all the music, tabloids and nonsense.”
8. Unexpected (Kris Swanberg; July 24th)
Synopsis: An inner-city high school teacher discovers she is pregnant at the same time as one of her most promising students and the two develop an unlikely friendship while struggling to navigate their unexpected pregnancies.
Why You Should See It: One of the most satisfying dramas one will likely see this summer is this small-scale, Cobie Smulders-led feature. Per our review, “The word crowdpleaser gets thrown around a lot (especially at festivals like Sundance) to the point where it can feel like a negative; something simple and easily digestible. This is a smart, sophisticated piece of storytelling that will please any and all crowds. There’s nothing negative about that.”
7. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Christopher McQuarrie; July 31st)
Synopsis: Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate – an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF.
Why You Should See It: A welcome surprise when it was moved out of The Force Awakens territory to a prime summer slot. Ethan Hunt returns for his fifth adventure, this time directed by Christopher McQuarrie (who previously directed Cruise in Jack Reacher), and while it’ll be difficult to live up to the high-flying stunts of Ghost Protocol, we’ve heard enough strong early buzz that we can’t wait to experience it on the biggest screen possible.
6. The End of the Tour (James Ponsoldt; July 31st)
Synopsis: A magazine reporter recounts his travels and conversations with author David Foster Wallace during a promotional book tour.
Why You Should See It: One of our favorite films of Sundance. Our review says, “This year, Ponsoldt returns with the often moving and consistently funny The End of the Tour. While the director’s latest may not be on par with his past two efforts, that’s not much of a problem considering the level of quality he achieves here. The End of the Tour follows a failed author, David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), interviewing one of the most talked-about writers of the moment, David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), for Rolling Stone magazine in 1996. Lipsky spends time with Wallace on the final days of his book tour for Infinite Jest. For the most part, the two get off to a good start, in spite of Wallace hoping to maintain his privacy. Things get bumpy when Lipsky starts to wonder: how can someone so brilliant be so normal? Wallace is a guy who eats burgers at McDonalds, teaches at a college, and, despite his success, struggles with depression and everyday problems. Their time together ultimately becomes more than just another interview.”
5. Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs; July 1st)
Synopsis: Three years after Mike bowed out of the stripper life at the top of his game, he and the remaining Kings of Tampa hit the road to Myrtle Beach to put on one last blow-out performance.
Why You Should See It: One of the summer’s most genuinely entertaining films comes in the unexpected form of a sequel. We said in our review, “As directed by Gregory Jacobs and written by Reid Carolin, Magic Mike XXL is determined to give the fans the ride they want, foregoing the majority of the story and character arcs that elevated the original. The pleasant surprise then, is that this film works in its own right. In ditching structure and development, Magic Mike XXL serves as a long-form celebration of sexuality no matter the creed, color or code. The conflicts here are small, the dollar bills plenty. Certain scenes of dialogue play a bit stillborn, but these moments serve as speed-bumps towards a towering finale that allows each character a moment to shine before a final dance that’s as striking as it is seductive.”
4. Tangerine (Sean Baker; July 10th)
Synopsis: A working girl tears through Tinseltown on Christmas Eve searching for the pimp who broke her heart.
Why You Should See It: While much of the initial talk surrounding Tangerine will certainly be its technical execution, having been shot entirely on iPhones, it’s also one of the summer’s most exciting films. We said in our Sundance review, “Like a bat out of hell does Tangerine begin, the new film from Sean Baker. Shot entirely on iPhones, this film has a very specific style and Baker is determined to shove it down the viewer’s throat. It’s a bold, visceral piece of work about a certain part of Los Angeles and the people who live there. Our heroes are two transgender prostitutes named Alexandra (Mya Taylor) and Sin-Dee (Kiki Kitana Rodriguez). It’s Christmas Eve and Sin-Dee, just back from a 28-day stint in prison, learns from Alexandra that her pimp/boyfriend Chester (a scene-stealing James Ransone) has been cheating on her with a woman whose name starts with a ‘D.’ And so begins a day-long odyssey for Sin-Dee to find ‘D’ and confront Chester, while Alexandra walks around town inviting anyone and everyone to a solo-singing performance of hers at 7pm.”
3. Horse Money (Pedro Costa; July 24th)
Synopsis: While the young captains lead the revolution in the streets, the people of Fontainhas search for Ventura, lost in the woods.
Why You Should See It: It earned a rare “A” grade at last year’s TIFF, and we said in our review, “Often, when defining the auteur, one of the first things we go to is the consistency of location — that through a certain booming metropolis, quaint small town, or secluded countryside, we can surmise autobiographical details or even the utopian fantasies of the director at hand. All of this is easy in the case of Pedro Costa, coming off his Fontainhas trilogy, which depicted the struggles of the poor and drug-addicted denizens of Lisbon’s housing projects.”
2. The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer; July 17th)
Synopsis: A family that survives the genocide in Indonesia confronts the men who killed one of their brothers.
Why You Should See It: With a narrower focus and a more substantial emotional impact, The Look of Silence improves upon its predecessor to deliver one of the year’s greatest documentaries. From our review at last year’s Venice International Film Festival: “When sitting down to watch The Look of Silence – Joshua Oppenheimer‘s follow-up to 2012’s harrowing The Act of Killing – you’re struck by how quickly you can slip back into the particular brand of uncomfortable captured by its predecessor. The laughs, the jarringly playful recounting, the unblinking eye of the camera – it’s like a nightmare you find waiting for you when you go back to sleep, astonishingly unchanged.”
1. Listen to Me Marlon (Stevan Riley; July 29th)
Synopsis: With exclusive access to his extraordinary unseen and unheard personal archive including hundreds of hours of audio recorded over the course of his life, this is the definitive Marlon Brando cinema documentary. Charting his exceptional career as an actor and his extraordinary life away from the stage and screen with Brando himself as your guide, we explore the complexities of the man by telling the story uniquely from Marlon’s perspective, entirely in his own voice. No talking heads, no interviewees, just Brando on Brando and life.
Why You Should See It: Some iconic talents of cinema rarely gave an interview, while others were relegated to the routine press circus. Regardless of where one falls on the spectrum, the bite-sized, often pre-packaged tidbits of one’s career do little to paint an accurate portrait of a life, and it’s effectively unfeasible to get such a look apart from the talent itself. However, the new documentary Listen to Me Marlon provides something vastly more extensive and intimate than a standard interview. Given access to hundreds of hours worth of previously-concealed audio interviews with / musings of Marlon Brando, director Stevan Riley magnificently produces one of the best documentaries about a legendary figure — all without a single talking head. Ahead of his time, we begin with Brando predicting the future of filmmaking: actors will soon be motion-captured and their essence created in a computer screen for projection. We then witness the man resurrected through such a digital form, incorporating the audio from his interviews, giving an ethereal effect interspersed throughout the film. Check out my full review of this must-see documentary.
What are you watching this month?