12 small but mighty movies not to miss this summer

·6 min read
summer indie movies Thirteen Lives; Good Luck to You Leo Grande; 3,000 Years of Longing
summer indie movies Thirteen Lives; Good Luck to You Leo Grande; 3,000 Years of Longing

Prime Video; Nick Wall/20th Century Studios; MGM

August is the cruelest month for movies, the dog days when Hollywood traditionally takes its long lazy pause between summer blockbusters and the coming prestige-festival rush of fall. (And that's not to discount the dregs of January, another legendary dead zone.)

But if you've seen all the starry, busy blockbusters still in theaters (Nope, Elvis, Bullet Train) and on streaming (Hustle, The Gray Man) and still feel hungry, here are a dozen post-Memorial Day must-sees to add to your late-season queue.

<i>Marcel the Shell With Shoes On </i>

One tiny leap for mollusks, one giant step for Marcel: Jenny Slate's googly-eyed, thumb-size creation soft-shoes onto the big screen in this ingeniously constructed and surprisingly moving little film about a lonely adolescent shell who spends his days offering up shrewd squeaky-voiced observations about life, love, and the silver-coiffed glories of 60 Minutes host Lesley Stahl (one of several unexpected guest stars). — Leah Greenblatt

(In select theaters now and on VOD Sept. 6)

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

<i>Emily the Criminal</i>

Aubrey Plaza, eternal Sundance muse, delivers perhaps the fiercest and most fully realized performance of her career as a thirtyish L.A. art-school dropout whose failure to launch (and inconvenient record for aggravated assault) has left her dead-broke and adrift, until a ring of credit-card scammers offers her a shot at solvency. But nothing is so simple in John Patton Ford's tense, simmering indie, a scathing examination of just how fragile the social safety net — and our own ideas of morality — can be. — LG

(In select theaters now)

Sundance Film Festival Preview
Sundance Film Festival Preview

<i>Good Luck to You, Leo Grande</i>

Pandemic limitations have spurred all kinds of clever adaptations — like this frankly engaging two-hander about a late-middle-aged widow (Emma Thompson) who seeks out the sexual satisfaction her long marriage never gave her by hiring a dashing young escort (Daryl McCormack, in a star-making turn). Orgasms turn out to be the least of the revelations in filmmaker Sophie Hyde's talky, tender chamber piece. — LG

(Streaming on Prime Video)

GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE
GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE

<i>Apples</i>

Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite, The Lobster) isn't the only auteur bringing new relevancy to Greek cinema: Filmmaker Christos Nikou — with a co-sign from executive producer Cate Blanchett — turns his melancholic sci-fi fable about a society struck by an ongoing amnesia pandemic into a quietly profound meditation on love and loss. — LG

(Available to rent or buy on various platforms)

APPLES, Aris Servetalis
APPLES, Aris Servetalis

<i>Fire of Love </i>

Katia and Maurice Krafft were volcanologists hypnotized by the beautiful destruction of flowing lava, which they captured on film, observing from close distances. (Too close, it turned out.) Their attraction sometimes takes on the spooky tenor of a death wish in director Sara Dosa's complex documentary, tinged by fatalism but also the heat of a passion for adventure and likeminded intellectual inquiry. — Joshua Rothkopf

(In select theaters now)

Sundance Film Festival Preview
Sundance Film Festival Preview

<i>Cha Cha Real Smooth</i>

Another film-festival baby made good, 25-year-old Cooper Raiff's Sundance breakout — he writes, directs, and stars — offers up a mordantly funny portrait of Gen-Z romance and misadventure, set in the key of Smooth. Raiff is Andrew, a loquacious Tulane grad who stumbles home to New Jersey without a plan and ends up finding work as a hype man on the local bar-mitzvah circuit, all while nursing an abiding crush on a single mother (a sad-eyed, magnetic Dakota Johnson). — LG

(Streaming on AppleTV+)

Sundance Film Festival Preview
Sundance Film Festival Preview

<i>Murina</i>

Martin Scorsese's producer credit may be the headline, but this ferocious slow-burn mood piece is actually a deeply female-centered work. Helmed by first-time filmmaker Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović and starring newcomer Gracija Filopovi as the luminous title character, Murina follows a teenage girl on a rocky Croatian island whose fraught relationship with her violent, overbearing father tips over into something much darker as the sun-drenched drama goes on. — LG

(Available to rent or buy on iTunes)

MURINA, Gracija Filipovic
MURINA, Gracija Filipovic

<i>Flux Gourmet</i>

When filmmaker Peter Strickland, a reliable source of retro-weird deliciousness, makes a new movie, the nourishment shouldn't be passed on. Flux Gourmet will test even his most devoted fans: It's about a mysterious academy in the countryside devoted to supporting the work of exquisitely strange artists who make sound collages out of food. Brainy, scatological, and laugh-out-loud funny, the movie works better at home, where you won't be judged for getting into the groove of something so kinky. — JR

(Available to stream on various platforms, including Apple TV and Prime Video)

Ariane Labed in 'Flux Gourmet'
Ariane Labed in 'Flux Gourmet'

<i>The Innocents</i>

Creepy kids: They're the backbone of many killer horror films, including a classic from 1961 that actually shares this same title. Maybe check IMDb first, screenwriters? Anyway, we won't be too hard on this one, Eskil Vogt, who was also responsible for co-scripting last year's wonderful The Worst Person in the World. Vogt clearly has an inner Stephen King to unleash. After you make it past some early tough scenes involving an unfortunate pet, The Innocents eases into Firestarter territory as an absorbing study of children cursed with powers beyond their ethical development. — JR

(Available to stream on various platforms, including Apple TV and Prime Video)

THE INNOCENTS
THE INNOCENTS

<i>Thirteen Lives</i>

Maybe there's a glut of Thai cave rescue content, between last year's sturdy documentary The Rescue, Netflix's forthcoming Thai Cave Rescue series, and this one, directed by Ron Howard and starring Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell as British cave divers. But the true-life story is a gripping one, especially when it's told by the guy who made Apollo 13. Importantly, Thirteen Lives remembers to place an emphasis on problem-solving, as well as the appealing heroism of modest men who bring only expertise to the table, not egos. — JR

(Streaming on Prime Video)

Thira &quot;Aum&quot; Chutikul (left) as Commander Kiet and Viggo Mortensen (right) as Rick Stanton in THIRTEEN LIVES, directed by Ron Howard, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Vince Valitutti / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Thira "Aum" Chutikul (left) as Commander Kiet and Viggo Mortensen (right) as Rick Stanton in THIRTEEN LIVES, directed by Ron Howard, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Vince Valitutti / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

<i>Watcher</i>

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you in Watcher, a coolly stylized thriller in which a half-failed actress named Julia (Maika Monroe) moves to Bucharest with her young-professional husband (Karl Gusman), only to fall into a spiraling certainty that she's being followed, possibly by the same man who's been cutting off girls' heads all over the city. The pacing is uneven and the dialogue minimal, but director Chloe Okuno's eerie, pervasive mood lingers like a finger on the spine. — LG

(Available to stream on various platforms, including Starz, Prime Video and Hulu)

Maika Monroe appears in Watcher by Chloe Okuno, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
Maika Monroe appears in Watcher by Chloe Okuno, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

</i>Three Thousand Years of Longing</i>

Who hasn't dreamed of getting three wishes — and feared the monkey's-paw outcomes if they came to pass? Spinster scholar Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton) is one of those cautious disbelievers, so when she brings home an unassuming lamp from an Istanbul marketplace and finds an ancient genie (Idris Elba) curled up inside, her instinct is to run far away. Instead she sticks around in this glittery, surreal, and decidedly adult fairy tale from the rich imagination of Mad Max mastermind George Miller. — LG

(In theaters Aug. 26)

Three Thousand Years of Longing
Three Thousand Years of Longing