Blockbusters dominate the summer movie season, and some will definitely be worth your time. You’ll pre-order your ticket, get together with friends for the earliest possible screening, and probably have a grand time. But there are some smaller films this summer that shouldn’t escape your attention. I’ve compiled a list of ten worthwhile indie films I saw at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and SXSW 2013. The list includes coming of age comedies, moving romances, brutal dramas, and more. There are other smaller films this summer that might be worth a look such as The Bling Ring and Blue Jasmine, but I haven’t seen them yet. I can vouch for these ten. Hit the jump for the list.
Films are listed in order of theatrical release date. Keep in mind that all of these movies are opening in limited release (a few may even hit VOD before the date listed), so even if you don’t live near an opening weekend theater, keep the film on your radar for when it expands to your city.
SIGHTSEERS [May 10th]
If you’re a fan of Ben Wheatley‘s previous films—Down Terrace and Kill List—then you should have no worries about picking up a ticket to his latest flick. The story about a psychotic couple on a murderous vacation plays right into Wheatley’s unforgiving black comedy. If you need to gauge how well your comic sensibilities will fit with Sightseers, then Down Terrace is the more accurate barometer. If you find yourself cackling at the sight of rancid people committing hilarious atrocities, then Sightseers is the movie for you. [My review from TIFF 2012]
STORIES WE TELL [May 17th]
The Act of Killing will probably be the best documentary released this year, but the most emotionally moving will likely belong to Sarah Polley‘s Stories We Tell. She takes a deeply personal story about her mother’s infidelity and a search for her biological father, and transforms it into not only a deconstruction of the documentary form, but also a way to find a deeper connection with the father who raised her. The film is filled with surprising twists and revelations, but it never feels indulgent and we’re never made to feel voyeuristic for witnessing the Polley’s unique journey. [My review from TIFF 2012]
BEFORE MIDNIGHT [May 24th]
It’s time to request that Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy drop everything every nine years to make another “Before” movie. The stories continue to become richer, the characters become deeper, and each trip with Jesse and Celine is more moving than the one that came before. Before Midnight is the toughest of the trilogy but also the most mature. Fans will not be disappointed, and those unfamiliar with the series should watch Before Sunrise and Before Sunset as soon as possible (they’re both available through Amazon Instant). [My review from Sundance 2013]
THE EAST [May 31st]
Thrillers are usually released in the spring and the fall while the summer belongs to action, comedy, and a little bit of horror. For those needing a fix for a solid thriller, you’re not going to go wrong with The East. Not only does it perfectly play the points of an undercover thriller, but it also forces the audience to seriously consider their complacency in real-world environmental crimes. Director Zal Batmanglij and his co-writer and star Brit Marling have crafted a tale that not only looks at the cost of selling out your comrades, but selling out your values. [My review from Sundance 2013]
THE KINGS OF SUMMER [May 31st]
This is the one film on the list that I didn’t catch at a festival (it premiered at Sundance 2013, and was called “Toy’s House“), but I did see an early press screening in Atlanta and thoroughly enjoyed it. The story of three boys who run away from home to find freedom in the forest is a funny, touching story that at times evokes the spirit of Calvin & Hobbes (a character even says, “Let’s go exploring,” which is the final line of the final comic). The blend of humor and heart give The Kings of Summer a chance of being one of the summer’s sleeper hits.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING [June 7th]
The film raises an interesting question: can Joss Whedon make a good movie without a script he wrote? Instead, his third directorial feature was taken from, as Whedon referred to Shakespeare at TIFF 2012, “an up-and-comer with a lot of promise.” Much Ado about Nothing isn’t my favorite of the Bard’s work (it’s a comedy but with overly nefarious motives from its main villain), but Whedon has assembled a cast of familiar faces who deliver great performance and provide a highly enjoyable romp. [My review from TIFF 2012]
FRUITVALE STATION [July 12th]
I’m slightly perplexed by The Weinstein Company putting a potential Oscar contender in the middle of the summer, but Fox Searchlight made it work for last year’s Sundance darling, Beasts of the Southern Wild, so I can see TWC’s logic provided they market the film correctly. Fruitvale Station (formerly titled “Fruitvale“) is absolutely heartbreaking, and while that’s counter-programming to not only to the summer blockbusters but also to the rest of the movies on this list, it’s still a must-see with a breakthrough performance from star Michael B. Jordan. [My review from Sundance 2013]
THE SPECTACULAR NOW [August 2nd]
Speaking of breakthrough performances, The Spectacular Now has the potential to make you a die-hard Miles Teller fan. What begins as a delightful comedy eventually transforms into a deeply moving drama, but director James Ponsoldt, Teller, and co-star Shailene Woodley keep the picture balanced and make the tonal development feel organic. Furthermore, it’s a story about teenagers where the characters actually feel like teenagers, but with all of the sympathy towards that awkward time and thankfully none of the grating, overbearing angst. [My review from Sundance 2013]
I GIVE IT A YEAR [August 9th]
The reverse rom-com is perhaps more worth your time on VOD for a night in, but it’s still worth seeing. I don’t know exactly how it will play when watching it with your significant other, but it’s a cute, funny film with a wry sense of British humor. It has a great cast with strong lead performances, but the scene-stealers are Olivia Colman and Stephen Merchant who both deliver what will likely be among the year’s best comic performances despite their minor roles. [My review from SXSW 2013]
PRINCE AVALANCHE [August 9th]
A film that has been called “a return to form for director David Gordon Green” by myself and others, it sees the filmmaker getting away from his attempts at mainstream fare, and finding a small, funny, intimate story. Green and his lead actors Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch take their almost non-existent budget, and put all of the emphasis on the awkward relationship between road crew workers Alvin (Rudd) and Lance (Hirsch). The result is a movie that’s not only Green’s strong picture in years, but also features terrific performances from Rudd and Hirsch. [My review from Sundance 2013]