June 15, 2017
curtain raiser

The 17 Indie Movies You Need to See This Summer

Summer 2017 is chock-full of great indie films from Sofia Coppola, Kathryn Bigelow, the Safdie brothers, and more. 

Though summer is typically the season for blockbusters, we have heretofore crowned Summer 2017 as the season of groundbreaking independent films. The diverse films below received standing ovations at Sundance and left audiences breathless at Cannes. They showcased the triumph of the human spirit, explored the deep mysteries of time, tackled a fraught piece of recent history head-on, and inspired us to love again. They disturbed us, enlightened us, and changed us—as any good indie movie should. 

Here are the best indie films coming to US theaters this summer. 

A Ghost Story 

Director: David Lowery

Release Date: July 7

'A Ghost Story'Credit: A24

When the reviews for A Ghost Story started pouring out of Sundance, the buzzwords read as if meant for a David Lynch film: "absurd", "haunting," "beguiling", "daring," "strange," "unforgettable." We're happy to report that the film lives up to them all. Following their fruitful collaboration on David Lowery's Aint Them Bodies Saints, Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck have teamed up once again with the director for the transcendental A Ghost Story, a haunting exploration of death, grief, and the vast reaches of time. After Affleck's character dies in a car accident, his restless spirit—in the form of a sheet-wearing specter—stalks the corridors of their house, watching Mara's every move. Lowery finds ways both idiosyncratic and conceptual to portray his character's grief, such as the rabid devouring of a pie and the deafening silence of a room. Lowery shot the film quickly and cheaply after helming Disney's Pete's Dragon, with a boxy 1.33:1 aspect ratio, careful attention to the movement of light, and a spoonful of big ideas stretched over an expanding and contracting timeline of humanity. The film is philosophy is cinematic form. —Emily Buder

It Comes at Night

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Release Date: In Theaters Now

'It Comes at Night'Credit: A24

Trey Edward Shults made his first film, Krisha, in just nine days with multiple members of his family as cast. It was one of the biggest indie hits of 2015. There were moments of horror throughout his debut, and distribution company A24 certainly took notice. Shults' new movie, It Comes at Night, a no-holds-barred pandemic horror flick, is one of the first to be financed by the indie stalwart. We imagine a nice budget gave him a whole new world of possibilities on this one. —Jon Fusco

The Big Sick

Director: Michael Showalter

Release Date: June 23

'The Big Sick'Credit: Amazon Studios

One of the biggest surprises to come out of Sundance 2017 was the fact that a romantic comedy starring Ray Romano was one of the most lauded films of the festival. The trailer alone already had us laughing and crying in what looks to be an extremely timely film about love across cultures and the endless tug-of-war between tradition and modernity. Real-life Pakistan-born comedian Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) co-wrote and co-stars in a film loosely based on his own life story. In fact, though he plays opposite Zoe Kazan in the film, Nanjiani’s true partner in the film was his own wife, Emily V. Gordon, whom Kazan portrays. Produced by Judd Apatow, Michael Showalter deploys his own comedic chops as director. —Liz Nord

The Beguiled

Director: Sofia Coppola

Release Date: June 23

'The Beguiled'Credit: Focus Features

No one knows female desire and existential longing like Sofia Coppola, whose The Virgin Suicides could be the seminal text on adolescent ennui. With The Beguiled, Coppola gets another chance showcase her mastery of the unconventional period piece (perfected in Marie Antoinette). Based on a novel, this lush Southern Gothic sees an injured Confederate soldier (Colin Ferrell) stumble into a women’s boarding school that’s isolated from the Civil War conflict, causing the school's carefully cultivated sanctuary to implode. Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, and Kirsten Dunst star as Southern belles who trade their strict social mores for lust, manipulation, and betrayal. —Emily Buder

Patti Cake$

Director: Geremy Jasper

Release Date: August 18

'Patti Cakes'Credit: Fox Searchlight

One of this year's biggest festival darlings, Patti Cake$ rounded out its circuit with an international debut as the closing film of the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes 2017. It premiered at Sundance, and after offers from Focus Features, Neon, The Orchard, and Annapurna Pictures, Fox Searchlight acquired the film for a whopping $10.5 million. Look out for a breakout performance from Danielle MacDonald as Patricia "Dumbo" Dumbrowski, a Jersey girl who tries her hand at gangster rap. —Jon Fusco

Columbus

Director: Kogonada

Release Date: August 4

'Columbus'

Rarely does a film come along with the power to unexpectedly sweep you off your feet with its subtle emotional currents. Columbus is an understated gem that sees Kogonada, who earned a reputation for his excellent video essays, come into his own as a director. He brings his mastery of the architecture of cinema to a rousing debut about architecture, family, and guilt. Columbus is an understated gem centered around a soulful performance from Hayley Lu Richardson (Split), in her first starring role, as a mature and whip-smart twentysomething whose potential is stymied by difficult circumstances at home. When she meets an older man (John Cho), who is lost in significant ways himself, she finally finds an audience for her complex intellectual and psychological preoccupations. Somehow, Kogonada manages to evoke the fragility and majesty of both modernist architecture and the human ego, all while asking the question: How indebted are we to our family, even when it comes at a great personal cost? —Emily Buder

City of Ghosts

Director: Matthew Heineman

Release Date: July 14

'City of Ghosts'Credit: Amazon Studios

Not one to shy away from vital but vicious topics, Academy Award-nominated documentarian Matthew Heineman follows up his drug cartel expose Cartel Land with this gripping look at the rise of ISIS in Syria. The story is told through the eyes of untrained journalists and local witnesses who risked their own lives and suffered deep personal tragedies to document and share the truth behind ISIS’ violent takeover. As friends and colleagues are slaughtered in their wake, the film follows these young citizens’ escape from Syria, continued activism, and the ongoing horrors of exile under the constant threat of recrimination. Its portrayal of everyman bravery in the face of brutality will leave you shaken. You'll want to take a stand against religious extremism. —Liz Nord

Person to Person

Director: Guy Dustin Defa

Release Date: July 28

'Person to PersonCredit: Magnolia Pictures

The experience of watching Person to Person is perhaps best likened to sitting through a meticulously controlled tornado. Writer/Director Dustin Guy Defa seamlessly floats back and forth through the lives of his New York City-based subjects. The ensemble story works well in large part due to an incredibly gifted group of actors—Michael Cera, Abbi Jacobson, and Tavi Gevinson star in the film but it's the relatively unknown Bene Coopersmith and George Sample III who really steal the show. —Jon Fusco

Wind River

Director: Taylor Sheridan

Release Date: August 4

'Wind River'Credit: The Weinstein Company

Nothing foretells a great new director like a history of successful endeavors in acting and screenwriting. Taylor Sheridan, once best-known for his performance in Sons of Anarchy, recently impressed audiences and critics alike with his Oscar-nominated screenplays for Sicario and Hell or High Water. His directorial debut, Wind River, is also a frontier story. The neo-Western crime thriller is the story of an FBI agent (Elisabeth Olsen) who teams up with a game tracker (Jeremy Renner) to solve a murder on a remote Indian Reservation. More than a riveting mystery, Wind River exposes the harrowing reality of living on a reservation, where only a thin layer of ice in the desolate tundra separates young women from being raped or murdered. —Emily Buder

The B-Side

Director: Errol Morris

Release Date: June 30

'The B-Side'

Errol Morris is known for documentary portraits that are either profound in their straightforward presentation of major historic figures (Robert McNamara in The Fog of War) or loving in their presentation of quirky minutiae (unconventional careerists in Fast, Cheap & Out of Control). But rarely are they directly personal. No so in The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography, a reminiscence celebrating Morris’ friend, large-scale Polaroid photographer Elsa Dorfman. The film also breaks Morris' tradition stylistically: rather than interviews filmed with his famous “interrotron,” this project takes place over several meandering visits to Dorfman's studio, where she peruses and shares memories of her portrait collection, featuring the likes of Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, and Morris’ own family. —Liz Nord

Detroit

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Release Date: August 4

'Detroit'Credit: Annapurna Pictures

If anyone can render a complex moment in contemporary history cinematic, it's Kathryn Bigelow. Her new film, Detroit, depicts the labyrinthine network of racial tensions that were the impetus for the 1967 Detroit Riot. Screenwriter Mark Boal, who also wrote Bigelow's The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, spent a year digging deep into the story. The film focuses mainly on the "Algiers Motel Incident," which left a number of unarmed black civilians dead at the hands of the National Guard. Starring John Boyega, John Krasinski, and Anthony Mackie, the film is sure to showcase Bigelow's dexterity with unbearably tense, action-packed sequences that bring to light history's critically decisive moments. —Emily Buder

Beach Rats

Director: Eliza Hittman

Release Date: August 25

'Beach Rats'Credit: Neon

Winner of the Directing Award in the US Dramatic category at Sundance 2017, Beach Rats features a standout Harris Dickinson and several South Brooklyn non-actors in a quietly fierce coming-of-age tale about a teenage boy torn between the urge to fit the mold of his townie bros—spending the summer partying and making out with girls—and his tortured curiosity about sex with older men. This 16mm film, Hittman’s sophomore feature after It Felt Like Love, shows her deft hand at directing sensitive, complicated, and authentic stories of teenagers that are anything but the typical teen movies. —Liz Nord

Step

Director: Amanda Lipitz

Release Date: August 4

'Step'

Dubbed as "the movie that left critics in tears at Sundance," Step is the story of a low-income young women's dance group in Baltimore as its members face the trials and tribulations of applying to college. With the support of a group of dedicated mentors, the girls rise above their difficult circumstances; in the process, Step reveals the triumph of the human spirit. —Emily Buder

Gook

Director: Justin Chon

Release Date: August 18

'Gook'

We were so happy to see this film get a summer release, after it was one of our surprise under-sung favorites at Sundance 2017. This inventive, black-and-white feature was written and directed by Justin Chon (of teen vampire phenomenon Twilight fame), who also acts in the film. It was shot by talented newcomer Ante Cheng, whom Chon discovered at a student film screening in LA. Gook explores the intense racial tensions in ‘90s Los Angeles from a perspective not often illuminated: Korean-American immigrants. In it, Chon plays the son of an immigrant, trying to keep the family business together against the backdrop of the Rodney King beatings and subsequent South Central riots, with the help of an unlikely ally: charming 11-year old African American misfit Kamilla (Simone Baker). —Liz Nord

Good Time

Directors: Josh and Benny Safdie

Release Date: August 11

'Good Time'Credit: A24

Watching the Safdie brothers' blistering 2014 film Heaven Knows What was the epitome of cinematic rubbernecking; it starred a real-life junkie as she plunged to the depths of heroin addiction and homelessness. Their new film delivers something a bit different, albeit with the brothers' signature gritty realism. Good Time stars Robert Pattinson as a bank robber on the run. It's a window into the plight of Americans fallen on hard times, at once thrilling and deeply disturbing. —Emily Buder 

Menashe

Director: Joshua Z. Weinstein

Release Date: July 28

Menashe
'Menashe'Credit: A24

Another surprise out of Sundance 2017 was that a quiet tale spun out of Brooklyn’s insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community became indie powerhouse distributor A24's first foreign language acquisition. The documentary backgrounds of director Joshua Z. Weinstein and DP Yoni Brook are apparent in the true-to-life style of this Yiddish story filmed with almost all untrained local actors. Based on the true life story of its lead actor, Menashe Lustig, the film portrays a widowed man who is trying to convince his traditional community that he is capable of caring for his young son even though there is no longer a woman in the house. —Liz Nord

Brigsby Bear 

Director: Dave McCary

Release Date: July 28

'Brigsby Bear'Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Dave McCary, co-writer Kevin Costello, and Kyle Mooney have been taking stupid ideas and making them into movies since they were in the seventh grade. The Good Neighbor sketch comedy group founders' first feature is a dramatic leap from the YouTube sketches and SNL Digital Shorts they made a name for themselves with. Brigsby Bear, about a man who spent his entire childhood kidnapped underground worshipping a fake TV show, got a standing ovation at Sundance where it sold for $5 Million to Sony Picture Classics. —Jon Fusco      

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Redacted.

June 16, 2017 at 12:25PM, Edited June 16, 12:27PM

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Saw A Ghost Story at the Oak Cliff Film Festival. It is a great piece of film work. Just wanted to say.

June 16, 2017 at 8:19PM, Edited June 16, 8:19PM

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Richard Krall
richardkrall.com
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Referring to some of these films as 'indie' is like referring to Glastonbury as a free, hippy festival.

June 28, 2017 at 1:15PM, Edited June 28, 1:15PM

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