Hidden amidst the glut of over-produced and under-performing summer blockbusters and tired sequels, are a handful of movies that are worth checking out. Here are a few of my recommendations.
The East is a smart, complex, suspenseful thriller about the war the battle between eco-terrorists and corporate polluters. The morally certain heroine, played by Brit Marling (who also co-authored the screenplay), goes undercover to infiltrate and expose an anarchist group and discovers an alternately idealistic and violent commune. She finds her loyalties shifting as she discovers increasingly disturbing information about the agency that hired her and the clients it represents.
20 Feet from Stardom is a joyful, inspiring documentary recounting the lives and careers of five rock and roll back up singers who have sung with everybody from the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Tina Turner to Bruce Springsteen and Bette Midler. Among the featured backup singers is the legendary Darlene Love whose battle to escape the control of record producer Phil Spector provides the heart of the story.
Fill the Void is a beautiful and moving Israeli import about family, tradition, faith and the tension between choice and duty. It offers a rare glimpse into the hidden lives of Ultra-Orthodox Jews as they find ways to confront tragedy and renewal within the strong bonds of community. This is a masterpiece. Not to be missed.
Fruitvale Station. The recent Trayvon Martin tragedy may give this beautifully crafted film added resonance and timeliness, but it stands on its own as a powerful work of art, the best film I’ve seen this summer. First time director, Ryan Coogler has adapted the true story of Oscar Grant, a twenty-two year old black man who was shot in the back by a Bay Area transit officer on New Year’s Eve 2008. The film chronicles the last day of Oscar’s life. Although, the events of the day are ordinary, each moment is made precious by the viewer’s knowledge that it is his last. The film features Octavia Spencer (Academy Award winner for The Help) as Oscar’s mother and Michael B. Jordan (The Wire and Friday Night Lights) in a star-making performance as Oscar. Like the best works of art, this film is worth repeated viewing and reflection.
The Way, Way Back is a coming of age story about an adolescent forced to spend the summer at a vacation home with his divorced mother, her creep boyfriend, his nasty daughter and their dysfunctional neighbors. He finds refuge at a local water park where he is mentored under the tutelage of its eccentric staff. From the producers of Juno and Little Miss Sunshine and written and directed by the Academy Award Winning screenwriters of “The Descendants,” the movie blends comedy and pathos with the same expertise they brought to their previous movies. Featuring knockout comic performances from Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell.
Much Ado About Nothing. Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Killer and the writer/director of last year’s highest grossing movie, The Avengers, would seem an odd choice to adapt and direct Shakespeare’s classic comedy. It turns out to be a perfect match. Filmed in black and white in only 12 days, using the director’s home for all the locations on a budget that was likely 1% of the budget for The Avengers, Whedon has created a sophisticated, playful, down-to-earth, romantic comedy. You don’t have studied Shakespeare to enjoy it.