For those that have gone through our massive summer preview, our monthly breakdowns may not bring a great deal of new surprises, but as we take a more granular look at the offerings, there’s certainly more to spotlight. Of course, much of the month will be dedicated to our Cannes coverage, but there’s also a wealth of excellent films coming to theaters and streaming, so check out our picks below.
Matinees to See: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (May 3), Long Shot (May 3), The Wandering Earth (May 5), The Silence of Others (May 8), Detective Pikachu (May 10), Charlie Says (May 10), Perfect (May 17), Photograph (May 17), Echo in the Canyon (May 24), Joy (May 24), The Perfection (May 24), The Fall of the American Empire (May 31), The Image You Missed (May 31), and Leto (May 31)
15. Knock Down the House (Rachel Lears; May 1)
Winner of the top festival favorite prize at Sundance Film Festival, Rachel Lears’ Knock Down the House “is a fun, emotionally powerful, inspiring look at the incredible wave of would-be politicians that sought, in 2018, to challenge status quo Democrats and enact meaningful change—all while refusing money from Wall Street fat cats and big business super PACs,” said Jake Howell in his review. Netflix paid a pretty penny for the documentary–to the tune of $10 million–but with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez doing a substantial push herself for the release, it’s looking like it’ll pay off.
14. The Biggest Little Farm (John Chester; May 10)
One of our favorite documentaries out of last year’s TIFF, The Biggest Little Farm has enjoyed a healthy festival run and will now arrive via NEON, who have done well in the nonfiction arena this year with Apollo 11 and Amazing Grace. John Fink said in his review, “After getting evicted from their apartment in Los Angeles due to taking in a stray dog, filmmaker John Chester and food writer Molly Chester decide to try and cultivate a storybook farm in The Biggest Little Farm. The latest entry into the canon of films exploring food and ecosystems, like Aube Giroux’s Modified and Andrew Grace’s Eating Alabama, the documentary works as well as it does because of a reliance on its relatable subject and the director as its narrator.”
13. Diamantino (Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt; May 24)
There will be no film precisely like Diamantino this year, a dazzlingly imaginative experience involving shaggy puppy-filled soccer game dreams, nefarious twins, the refugee crisis, and gender fluidity. Rory O’Connor said in his review, “If the protagonist of Diamantino reminds you of a certain celebrity it is, as we can only presume, not accidental. The character in question–for whom this hallucinatory tale is named after–is a professional footballer who plays up front for the Portuguese national team. He sports diamond stud earrings (one in each ear), has a glow best described as maintained bronze, and apparently has yet to find a greater joy in life than pulling off his jersey after scoring a winning goal in order to better share with the world his rippling abs. Are we there yet?”
12. The Wandering Soap Opera (Raúl Ruiz; May 17)
With a vast, bountiful filmography virtually unparalleled in cinema, Chilean director Raúl Ruiz helmed over one-hundred features before passing away in 2011 at the age 70. Considering he was so prolific, there were a few projects that never saw the light of day, one of them being The Wandering Soap Opera. Filmed back in 1990, the loving spoof of the telenovela was eventually completed by his wife and collaborator Valeria Sarmiento in 2017, where it premiered at Locarno Film Festival. It’ll now get a U.S. release starting this month at Anthology Film Archives via Cinema Guild. Rory O’Connor said in his review from the Locarno premiere, “It is a work that is packed to the brim with surrealist nods to the radical upheavals that were happening in the country at the time and also to that incomparably idiosyncratic medium, the telenovela itself. Ruiz’s film appears to suggest that as Pinochet stepped down from power, the politicians and Chilean people were acting as if they were in such a soap opera. The ability to truly understand this chaotic piece of work might rely on the viewer having knowledge of both the key figures involved and perhaps even the serialized TV shows themselves.”
11. The Third Wife (Ash Mayfair; May 15)
With the hundreds of films premiering at the Toronto International Film Film Festival, one that stood out as among the finest was Ash Mayfair’s The Third Wife. Picked up by Film Movement, the period drama is set in 19th century Vietnam, where follows a teenager who is forced into an arranged marriage and discovers a path of forbidden love that will test her freedom. Jared Mobarak said in our review, “First-time feature writer/director Ash Mayfair introduces us to this world with a series of luxurious set-ups of varying length, sans dialogue to truly allow the environment to overtake our senses. The Third Wife‘s visual poetry shifts through its minimalistic progressions with pertinent information positioned at the frame’s center: an egg yolk running down May’s chest to her belly button, Hung lowering his mouth to eat it, and the aforementioned bloody sheet hanging in the courtyard. A delicate score can be heard before the voice of a singer cuts in briefly, the first words spoken aloud with any impact occurring only when necessary to set the stage surrounding this young bride. It’s to be an auspicious year, one full of celebration soon to make way towards tragedy.”
10. Pasolini (Abel Ferrara; May 10)
As one of his new films premieres at Tribeca, a career retrospective gets underway in NY, and he’s set to premiere another new film at Cannes, that’s not all the Abel Ferrara we’ll get this month. Kino Lorber picked up the director’s Pier Paolo Pasolini biopic, which premiered way back at the 2014 Venice Film Festival, for a release starting at NYC’s Metrograph on May 10 before expanding. Following the final days in the Italian director’s life, Tommaso Tocci said in our Venice review back in 2014, “Before being beaten and run over with his own car on the beach of Ostia’s Idroscalo, Pasolini was busy with the release of his last film, Salò, giving prophetic interviews (even suggesting the now-famous title “We are all in danger”), working on Petrolio (an experimental novel) and Porno-Teo-Kolossal (the film he was writing at the time). While the intellectual is only hinted at, Ferrara recreates these moments by looking for the man himself, especially in the key relationships with his mother (Adriana Asti) and actor-friend Ninetto Davoli (Riccardo Scamarcio). It’s an absorbing portrait, particularly compelling when relying on Pasolini’s own words, which we hear verbatim through original letters and interviews.”
9. Shadow (Zhang Yimou; May 3)
Zhang Yimou will deliver the early-summer action goods this month with his wuxia epic. Leonardo Goi said in his review, “With its gorgeously choreographed sword duels, sabers slicing through paddles of blood and rain, watercolor bi-chromatic palettes and sumptuous costumes, Zhang Yimou’s Shadow (Ying) is a film of visual charms. To enter into the Fifth Generation maestro’s latest period piece is to be invited to marvel at a 116-minute long dance – a stunning return to form from a director who’d previously ventured into semi-autobiographical terrain with the 2014 moving Coming Home, and later veered into the bombastic Chinese-cum-Matt Damon blockbuster epic letdown The Great Wall (2016). Shadow brings heart and spectacle together, and the result is a bombastic martial arts wuxia replete with duels of breath-taking beauty that will please longtime Zhang acolytes and newbies alike.”
8. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (Chad Stahelski; May 17)
John Wick is back, and for the first time he’ll be doing his business during the summer movie slate. Once again directed by Chad Stahelski, the story follows Keanu Reeves’ character on the run after the cliffhanger that ended the last chapter, which featured a global call-out that put a price on his head. Also starring Laurence Fishburne, Lance Reddick, Jason Mantzoukas (!), Anjelica Huston, and Ian McShane, we’re only a few weeks away from what’s shaping up to be the action spectacle of the summer.
7. Booksmart (Olivia Wilde; May 24)
While Olivia Wilde’s SXSW hit and directorial debut Booksmart was praised mostly for its laughs from its festival premiere, it certainly has its moments in that category, but it’s most endearing as a story of friendship. Starring Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, the coming-of-age, R-rated comedy follows a pair of studious high school friends trying to let loose on the day before graduation. The film certainly owes a debt to Superbad and the others that came before it, but after a rocky, over-the-top first half, it blooms into a something entirely and beautifully its own.
6. Domino (Brian De Palma; May 31)
Only Brian De Palma would make a terrorism thriller in which he’s most interested in their filmmaking methods. His latest and long-awaited, Domino, is hugely entertaining in spurts (mostly setpieces and high melodrama), if noticeably compromised elsewhere (transitional scenes perhaps hacked up in editing and standard crime drama machinations). Another bombastic Pino Donaggio score layers nearly every moment and José Luis Alcaine’s cinematography is a peculiar mix of buoyantly colorful and DTV-esque flatness. Capping things off with an I-can’t-believe-he-did-this banger of an ending, De Palma may not have had full control over the production, but what’s left has enough of his mark to make for what’s sure to be one of the summer’s most entertaining films.
5. Too Late to Die Young (Dominga Sotomayor; May 31)
One of the best discoveries of the year is Dominga Sotomayor’s Chilean drama Too Late to Die Young, which earned the filmmaker a Best Director award at Locarno Film Festival– the first female director to receive the prize. Leonardo Goi said in his review, “More an episodic tale than a rigidly structured three-act plot, it is an act of recollection, and it unfolds the way memory does: as a series of hazy vignettes, more often than not unconnected to one another. There are moments when we follow Sofía’s driving lessons, others when she captures the kids hanging by the commune’s artificial pool, and others still when she trails behind the adults as they struggle to keep the village alive amid fires and droughts.”
4. Aniara (Pella Kågerman & Hugo Lilja; May 17)
An evocative, existential, and ambitious sci-fi drama, Aniara is a must-see to prioritize before some of the VFX-heavy studio spectacles this season. Jared Mobarak said in his review from TIFF, “The title shares its name with a city-size spacecraft ferrying humans from Earth to Mars in barely three weeks. It’s a routine trip that’s never run into problems with many passengers already having family on the red planet to greet them upon arrival. But there’s a first time for everything as a small field of debris forces Captain Chefone (Arvin Kananian) off course. Unfortunately a screw breaches their hull anyway, pushing their nuclear fuel supply to critical mass. Expelling it may save them for the moment, but without it they cannot steer. So despite having enough self-sustaining electricity and algae (for air and food), there’s no way to return onto their necessary trajectory. Either a celestial body interrupts their path to slingshot back or they simply drift forever.”
3. Non-Fiction (Olivier Assayas; May 3)
Following Summer Hours and Clouds of Sils Maria, Juliette Binoche has reteamed with Olivier Assayas’s Non-Fiction (aka Double Vies), which jumps from conversation to conversation about technology’s influence on the world of book publishing (a clear-eyed metaphor for the director’s view of shifting landscape of cinema). Leonardo Goi said in his review,”Who needs a middle man’s subjectivity when you have algorithms predicting what people will like? Critics don’t matter much in Olivier Assayas’ talkative Non-Fiction, but they are not the only supposedly anachronistic relic to be thrown out of the window in this gentle and profoundly compassionate human comedy that draws from the ever-widening rift between old and new trends in the publishing industry to conjure up a tale of societal changes and those caught in between them.”
2. Asako I & II (Ryusuke Hamaguchi; May 17)
Following his riveting five-hour-plus drama Happy Hour, Ryusuke Hamaguchi is back with Asako I & II, in which he employs more stylistic flourishes in an absorbing riff on Vertigo. Based on Tomoka Shibasaki’s novel Netemo Sametemo, it follows a woman who falls in love, but her significant other disappears. Two years later, another man appears with a striking resemblance to her former lover. Less melodramatic than that plot synopsis sounds, Asako is fascinating in its use of surreal touches and enveloping playfulness, making for one of 2019’s most delightful cinematic experiences.
1. The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg; May 17)
The Souvenir melds two well-trodden subgenres and through Joanna Hogg’s refreshingly unique vision makes each feel entirely original. Her much-anticipated return after 2013’s Exhibition tells both a painful addiction story and a behind-the-scenes look at film school struggles as we follow Julie (a beautiful debut performance by Honor Swinton Byrne). The daughter of Tilda Swinton (who also briefly turns up), Swinton Byrne is in every scene, and steals them all. Akin to the revelatory introduction to Tom Hiddleston in Hogg’s first two films, Unrelated and Archipelago, she is the lifeblood of The Souvenir, which follows doomed lovers in a story that is conveyed with feels mined from achingly personal memories. Continue reading my full review from Sundance.
What are you watching this month?