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31 New Releases to Watch in July

A lot of new movies come out each year, but how many do we actually watch? The big blockbusters tend to take all of the attention, but there are so many good indies out there that it’s impossible to keep up with them all. In line with that, here’s one new release (big and small alike) for every day in July, as well as a one-sentence summary of why each might be worth your time.

Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Blockbusters

Ant-Man – Because even without Edgar Wright on board, the idea of Paul Rudd playing a superhero is too fun to resist.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – Because Ghost Protocol was so damn good that it gave me (possibly misplaced) hope that this one will be, too.

Terminator Genysis – Because even though it looks sort of awful, I’ll probably watch it anyways.

Southpaw

Southpaw

Major Releases

Magic Mike XXL – Because, good lord, this looks absolutely ridiculous and like it’ll probably also be a lot of fun.

Paper Towns – Because John Green adaptations are here to stay, and this one looks like it could be charming, coming-of-age fun.

Self/Less – Because even if this Ryan Reynolds vehicle is terrible (which is quite possible) it’s directed by Tarsem Singh, which means it’ll still be pretty to look at.

Southpaw – Because who can turn down an opportunity to watch Jake Gyllenhaal punish himself on screen?

Trainwreck – Because it’s about time Amy Schumer and Bill Hader got their own movie, and the trailer looks completely delightful.

The Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford Prison Experiment

Mid-Size Releases

Boulevard – Because this Dito Montiel-directed drama is Robin Williams’ final live-action role and he’s apparently excellent in it.

The End of the Tour – Because, based on the trailer, this fictionalized story of David Foster Wallace looks like it both does its subject proud and manages to be narratively and thematically rich.

Irrational Man – Because Woody Allen movies are always worth watching, even when they’re not good.

Jimmy’s Hall – Because Ken Loach movies are always worth watching and are always good.

The Stanford Prison Experiment – Because if you don’t want to see Ezra Miller, Michael Angarano, James Frecheville, and a bunch of other great young actors sport ‘70s-era hair and moustaches, you’re CRAZY.

Strangerland – Because I feel like I know exactly what this movie will be like, and sometimes that’s okay.

Two Step

Two Step

Teeny Tiny Indies

Meet Me in Montenegro – Because this looks like a quiet and lovely little international drama from the director of In Search of a Midnight Kiss.

Safelight – Because Juno Temple and Evan Peters are charismatic and quirky in a non-annoying way, so the idea of them playing a roadtripping couple here is appealing.

Tangerine – Because it’s the “iPhone movie” from Sundance!

Two Step – Because this stylish, creepy-sounding thriller got good notices at SXSW.

Unexpected – Because if Joe Swanberg releasing twelve movies a year wasn’t enough, now his wife is at it, too.

10,000 KM

10,000 KM

Foreign Language

10,000 KM – Because this Spanish relationship drama (starring Harry Potter’s Natalie Tena) sounds like an interesting meditation on technology.

Ardor – Because Gael Garcia Bernal always picks interesting movies (when he’s not working in Hollywood).

Phoenix – Because the last time German director Christian Petzold teamed up with Nina Hoss and Ronald Zehrfeld (on 2013’s Barbara) very good things happened, and it sounds like Phoenix is even better.

Samba – Because I’d watch Charlotte Gainsbourg and Tahar Rahim in anything, so it’s an added bonus that Samba also happens to look like a good movie.

Stations of the Cross – Because this German movie about religion won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival last year.

Cartel Land

Cartel Land

Documentaries

Amy – Because this intimate-looking doc aims to show you Amy Winehouse’s life beyond the incessant, destructive tabloid coverage.

Best of Enemies – Because this Vidal/Buckley doc made big waves at Sundance.

Cartel Land – Because this acclaimed doc shines a light on the issue of drug cartels in Mexico and the resulting tensions with the U.S.

I am Chris Farley – Because why shouldn’t there be a documentary about Chris Farley?

Listen to Me Marlon – Because this highly personal doc is narrated by Marlon Brando’s collection of his own audio recordings

The Look of Silence – Because it’s the follow up from Joshua Oppenheimer to 2013’s The Act of Killing.

Stray Dog – Because we’ve all been waiting for Debra Granik’s follow-up to Winter’s Bone, and even though most of us were probably not expecting her to make a documentary next, I’ll take it.

Cannes: Jacques Audiard Wins Palme d’Or, Carol Snubbed (Sort Of)

dheepan 2

The glamour of the Cannes Film Festival came to a close for another year today with the festival’s closing night awards ceremony. All of the big awards, including the coveted Palme d’Or, were handed out by the Coen brothers-led Cannes jury.

The films showing in competition at this year’s festival were typically varied, including films from master filmmakers as well as first-time directors. Ultimately, though, the jury favoured the element of surprise this year, as the Palme d’Or ended up going to Jacques Audiard for Dheepan. Audiard’s last two films, Rust and Bone and A Prophet (which won the Cannes Grand Prix in 2009) are beloved by many, so it’s not shocking that Audiard won the top award. What IS somewhat surprising is that Dheepan, which didn’t receive a huge critical response during the festival and flew under many awards prognosticators’ radar, was the film to win it for him.

Jacques Audiard's Dheepan was this year's somewhat surprising Palme d'Or winner.

Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan was this year’s somewhat surprising Palme d’Or winner.

This year’s jury included Joel and Ethan Coen, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sienna Miller, Xavier Dolan, Guillermo del Toro, Sophie Marceau, Rossy de Palma, and Rokia Traore.

With many guessing that Todd Haynes’ Carol would take top prize, a hint of what was to come came early on in the awards ceremony when Rooney Mara was given the festival’s award for best actress. (She shared the honour with Mon Roi’s Emmanuelle Bercot.) Since each competing film is only allowed to win one jury prize, this accolade definitively put Carol out of the running for the Palme.

son of saulThe surprises kept coming, as most prognosticators’ second guess, Son of Saul, ended up taking the Grand Prix (Cannes’ equivalent to second place). It’s perhaps not shocking that a first-time director (Laszlo Nemes) didn’t win top prize, but the harrowing Auschwitz drama earned such high praise that the Hungarian film also wouldn’t have been a completely out-of-left-field pick.

The Lobster’s director, Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth) also had to settle for a different accolade, despite the fact that some thought his English language debut could win him the Palme. Ultimately, The Lobster took home the Prix du Jury, which is considered third place at Cannes, and is the same prize that jury member Dolan took home last year for Mommy.

Vaunted Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien got some love for the critically lauded The Assassin and took home Best Director. This is Hou’s first feature since 2008’s Flight of the Red Balloon.

Meanwhile, Best Actor went to Vincent Lindon, who plays a recently laid-off factory worker in La Loi du Marche (The Measure of a Man). The award for best screenplay was awarded to Michael Franco, the writer and director of Chronic, starring Tim Roth. Best Short Film went to the Lebanese short Waves ’98.

One noticeable snub among the competing films was Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth, which went home empty-handed. The film received a largely rapturous response from critics, with some saying that it was even better than his Oscar-winning previous film, The Great Beauty.

Paolo Sorrentino's Youth went home empty-handed at Cannes this year.

Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth went home empty-handed at Cannes this year.

The Camera d’Or (given by the jury to any film in the competition, Director’s Fortnight, or Critic’s Week programs) went to La Tierra y la Sombra (Land and Shade), the second film from Colombian director Cesar Acevedo.

The awards for the festival’s Un Certain Regard program were handed out on Saturday. The Un Certain Regard competition generally highlights newer filmmakers working on more unconventional projects. First prize went to Rams (Hrutar) a quirky Icelandic drama from director Grimur Hakonarson. Second place went to Croatian director Dalibor Matanic’s Balkan drama, Zvizdan (The High Sun). Considering White God and Force Majeure were the two big Un Certain Regard winners last year, it’s certainly not bad company to be in.

With that, another year of the Cannes frenzy is over, but movie festival season is just getting started. (Does it ever really stop?) After all, Venice and TIFF are just around the corner…

TIFF 2014: The Face of an Angel

The Face of an Angel 2
Last night I checked out the world premiere of Michael Winterbottom’s latest film, The Face of an Angel, at TIFF. Starring Daniel Bruhl, Kate Beckinsale, and model Cara Delevingne, the movie’s description on the TIFF website quickly makes reference to the fact that it’s inspired by the infamous trial of Amanda Knox, the young woman who in 2007 was accused of brutally murdering her roommate as they both studied abroad in Italy and whose trial played out under the glare of the media. However, while a fictionalized version of that case is the backdrop for The Face of an Angel, Winterbottom clearly has greater ambitions than to tell a salacious story of murder, and The Face of an Angel is much more interesting because of it.

Daniel Bruhl plays Thomas, a film director of fading fame who decides to explore this murder in his next movie by telling a fictionalized version of it. That’s where the film becomes a little more difficult to describe, as the narrative becomes quite meta-fictional and becomes far less about the murder and far more about Thomas’ own demons and the way the story of this murder haunts him. It’s a “movie within a movie”, as the film that Thomas is attempting to write is also called The Face of an Angel and many of the concepts and structures that Thomas says he wants to explore in his movie are on full display in Winterbottom’s own film. Structurally, it reminded me a bit of Spike Jonze’s Adaptation; at one point, Thomas explicitly says that he wants his film to follow the story arc of Dante’s Divine Comedy and describes what that would entail. Sure enough – without giving too much away – the Face of an Angel movie that we the audience are watching plays out very closely to Thomas’ vision.

I give The Face of an Angel credit for going in a completely different direction than I was expecting. For the first half hour or so, it seemed like quite a rote crime procedural that didn’t really grab me. Thomas spends a lot of time talking to Simone (Kate Beckinsale), a savvy journalist who fills him in on the ins and outs of the trial and patiently explains all of the discrepancies in the evidence and witness accounts. For anyone even moderately familiar with the Amanda Knox case, all this exposition feels quite redundant; the real story is beyond the facts and the courtroom. Thankfully, Winterbottom and screenwriter Paul Viragh are well aware of this, and as the story unfolds, many new layers of uncertainty reveal themselves. As Thomas states, the “truth” behind the crime is virtually unknowable, so why jump to make your own assumptions? Why not make a movie about the fact that it’s unknowable?

Some viewers will likely be frustrated by the film’s refusal to draw neat conclusions. (Indeed, during the Q&A after the screening I was at, one audience member tried to press Winterbottom and the cast about their own opinions on the Knox trial with no avail.) It’s far more interested in exploring the various ways that the truth can be refracted – through the bias of journalism, through fictionalized retellings, or simply through one’s own worldview – and how perspective is malleable.

For me, this was by far the most interesting element of the movie, which is perhaps both a compliment an insult. Winterbottom is one smart guy, and he sneakily slips in a lot for viewers to ponder with this meta-fictional approach. (This is perhaps not surprising, considering he also made Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, which tackles similar ideas in very different ways.) However, the actual story of the film never feels quite as compelling as all of these ideas that Winterbottom is offering up. The characters feel like they’re kept slightly at arm’s length from the audience (which is perhaps the point) and while the narrative is interesting enough, it never quite clicks into gear to work wholly as a piece of entertainment. If you don’t find the structure and self-referential aspects of the film interesting, I could see some viewers becoming rather bored by The Face of an Angel.

For me, this is one of those films that I’m finding myself enjoying more after the fact than when I was actually watching it. It’s not going to be for everyone, but it’s yet another movie that proves that Winterbottom – while not always entirely successful – always brings a unique and daring eye to his work.

8/10