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40 Films to See This Summer

Written by on April 18, 2017 

Step (Amanda Litz; August 4)

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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. 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. – John F. (full review)

The Trip to Spain (Michael Winterbottom; August 11)

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Having grown up in the U.K., I have been a fan of Steve Coogan since the days of Alan Partridge, and Rob Brydon was one of those prevalent faces recognized from various programs (err, programmes). One of the great delights of the streaming era is how easy it is for movies like The Trip (which was edited into a film for U.S. audiences, but had originally been broadcast as a series in the U.K.) to find an audience abroad, and how much exposure international audiences now have to films and series like these that typically wouldn’t have made an easy transition across the pond even a decade ago via traditional distribution. The Trip to Spain will ostensibly pick up exactly where the previous two adventures left off, with the two actors (playing grossly-exaggerated versions of themselves) doing their best impressions of Michael Caine or Tom Hardy while exploring what Spain has to offer them. It is a testament to the fact that the two actors’ chemistry is so effortless and inherently funny that I’d be happy for them to continue making these every couple years for the rest of their lives. – John U.

Good Time (Josh and Ben Safdie; August 11)

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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. – Rory O. (full review)

Whose Streets? (Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis; August 11)

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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. – John F. (full review)

Logan Lucky (Steven Soderbergh; August 18)

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When Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement from filmmaking just a few years ago, it seemed about as likely to stick as when Jay-Z claimed The Black Album was going to be his swan song. As it turns out, it took Soderbergh even less time to work on new projects than it did for Jay-Z to begin new material – he was soon directing an entire season of a premium cable series (The Knick), editing and handling cinematography on a Magic Mike sequel, editing a new version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, etc. So the fact that Logan Lucky — which depicts a heist at a NASCAR race, with a cast including Adam Driver, Channing Tatum, Seth MacFarlane, Daniel Craig, Katherine Heigl, Hilary Swank, Katherine Waterston, and Sebastian Stan — is his first film back in the director’s seat since 2013 might not exactly inspire Terrence Malick levels of hype, but it will be interesting to see what it was about this story that convinced him to abandon his quasi-retirement. – John U.

Death Note (Adam Wingard; August 25)

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Regardless of what one thought of Blair Witch, it seems indisputable that director Adam Wingard knows how to orchestrate a scare, with a sharp eye for inducing fear. So when it was announced his follow-up to Blair Witch would be an adaptation of the beloved J-horror series Death Note, it was the rare instance where I felt excitement rather than skepticism. He has steadily built a catalogue of work that proves he knows how to manipulate the cinematic canvas, even if all of his efforts don’t hit the mark. – Mike M.

Beach Rats (Eliza Hittman; August 25)

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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. – Jordan R. (full review)

Trophy (Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau; TBD)

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Somewhere in America, a man named Philip teaches his young son how to take down a trophy buck. Rifle in hand, eye peaking through the scope, the kid takes the shot. Direct hit. The father makes sure to get a couple of photos of his son, holding up the hunted, proud smile on his face. Moments later, we are in South Africa, where Rhino breeder John Hume and his team find a rhino, sedate it, and trim it’s horns as a means of protection, so poachers will ignore the lesser stumps and move along. It’s an interesting opening to Trophy, a complicated look at big-game hunting from director Shaul Schwarz. – Dan M. (full review)

Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello; TBD)

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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. This almost sounds like an easy sell, notwithstanding the fact that this elevator ride would need to take us to a building’s higher floors. But for plumbing the depths of radicalized Parisian teens’ desires and actions less than a year after ISIL-led attacks shocked the globe, every ounce of appeal that his film might — and, I think, ultimately does — offer can’t prevent writer-director Bertrand Bonello from being a victim of poor timing. Timing is so relative, though; doubly so when his is a picture that grows (some might go the cancerous route and say metastasizes) in days and weeks after being seen, the kind that feels at once explicitly of its moment and vaguely outside of any temporal trappings. – Nick N. (full review)

Marjorie Prime and Escapes (Michael Almereyda; TBD)

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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. – Jordan R. (full review)

We’ll get another film from Almereyda this summer — specifically on July 26 — with Escapes. Tracking the career of Blade Runner scribe Hampton Fancher through archival footage, and executive produced by Wes Anderson, it promises to be another look back at memories for the director.

The Untamed (Amat Escalante; TBD)

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There’s something dark and wonderful lurking in The Untamed, the brilliant, frightening, hyper-real erotic mystery from the mind of Mexican auteur Amat Escalante, whose Heli ruffled more than a few feathers in Cannes a few years back. Is the 37-year-old merely a provocateur? On the evidence of his latest film, he is clearly not. The plotline of a strange extraterrestrial being that lurks in the woods granting ultimate pleasure sounds like a schlocky drive-in science fiction flick, but the director heightens things immeasurably by expertly cultivating the visceral, aesthetic nowhere of a drug trip, as if the characters involved (and perhaps the viewer) are participating in some sort of communal high. – Rory O. (full review)

Honorable Mentions

Although David Lynch insists that the new season of Twin Peaks is actually an 18-hour movie, until a theater screens it from front to back, we’ll have to leave it off this list, even if our anticipation for it might outpace all of the above films, combined.

As we move to actual films, there’s a handful of notable features we’ve either seen on the festival circuit that didn’t quite make the cut or we’re looking forward to, including The Lovers (5/5), Chuck (5/5), A Woman’s Life (5/5), Manifesto (5/10), The Wall (5/12), Folk Hero & Funny Guy (5/12), Afterimage (5/19), The Here After (5/26), Band Aid (6/2), The Little Hours (6/30), War for the Planet of the Apes (7/24), An Inconvenient Sequel (7/28), Person to Person (7/28), Menashe (7/28) Wind River (8/4), The Unknown Girl (8/25), Gook (TBD), and Dayveon (TBD).

What films are you most looking forward to this summer?

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