With Suicide Squad, cinema said goodbye to its summer blockbuster season. Overall, it was distinctly lacklustre. The two D.C. movies disappointed fans and critics (although I didn’t mind Suicide Squad). Independence Day: Resurgence and X-Men: Apocalypse were poor. On the plus side, Ghostbusters, Jason Bourne and The Jungle Book were decent. Yet, there was no huge film like Mad Max: Fury Road or Guardians of the Galaxy which truly surprised while putting bums on seats. In fact, the best summer blockbusters of 2016 were Deadpool and Captain America: Civil War, released in February and April.
However, I would argue it was a good summer for cinema overall, taking into account indie releases. Shane Black’s The Nice Guys and Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! were hilarious comedies. Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room was the most tense and gripping film of recent memory. 10 Cloverfield Lane and Midnight Special were smaller science fictions that occasionally felt like blockbusters, but with more intelligence.
Taking into account the fact that the majority of 2016’s blockbusters have been released already (we still have Rogue One and Doctor Strange to go), I thought it would be a good time to provide a guide for the most promising smaller movies the year still has to offer.
The Childhood of a Leader – Dir. Brady Corbet
Drawing comparisons to the work of Michael Haneke while also being called “like the Stanley Kubrick edit of The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Omen by way of Downton Abbey”, the debut feature by actor Brady Corbet is receiving high plaudits. The “psycho-historical melodrama”, based on a short story by Jean-Paul Sartre, revolves round an American boy living in post-WWI France in 1918. Due to his father’s role as a diplomat for U.S President Woodrow Wilson, the child witnesses the creation of the Treaty of Versailles, which shapes his beliefs and causes him to develop a terrifying ego.
The Childhood of a Leader is being hailed by critics as a wildly ambitious and ingenious debut, balancing political satire with ominous dread and art-house horror effectively. Having worked with some of today’s most acclaimed directors (Haneke with Funny Games, Lars Von Trier with Melancholia), that talent appears to have rubbed off on the 27-year-old Corbet. The film’s treatise on the birth of fascism and its “dispassionate view of human nature” have drawn comparisons to Haneke’s The White Ribbon but with a more lavish setting and a greater horror influence. It sounds insane and with a terrific international cast – Oscar-nominee Berenice Bejo (The Artist), Ireland’s own Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones), Nymphomaniac’s Stacy Martin and Robert Pattinson (The Rover) – it could be the art-house movie of the year.
Release Date: The film opens on August 19th but the IFI will host a special preview screening on the 18th followed by a Q&A with actor Liam Cunningham.
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Hell or High Water – Dir. David McKenzie.
Featuring a vast array of talent, both on-screen and off, Hell or High Water centres on two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who plan to rob a bank in order to save their Texan farm from foreclosure. Meanwhile, an elderly Texan ranger (played by Jeff Bridges) is on their tale. Upon its premiere at Cannes, critics dubbed the film “a gripping neo-Western, “a soulful … socioeconomic tale” and a film with “a rich sense of place”. It’s been described as the best feature that played at the French festival dealing with the economic crisis (out-ranking Jodie Foster and Andrea Arnold’s output).
Director David McKenzie appears to just keep growing as a filmmaker following 2011’s underrated and beautiful sci-fi Perfect Sense starring Eva Green and his 2014’s brutal prison drama Starred Up. With a script by Sicario’s Taylor Sheridan, which won the 2012 Black List award for the best unproduced screenplay and with a soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, Hell or High Water may have serious mainstream crossover appeal.
Release Date: September 9
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In a Valley of Violence – Dir. Ti West
It’s always interesting when a director who normally associates with a certain genre shifts gears. Ti West, known in underground circles for his horrors The Sacrament, The Innkeepers and The House of the Devil, tackles the Western with his latest. Upon arriving in a new town, a mysterious stranger (Ethan Hawke) becomes engaged in a feud with a hot-headed “nit-wit” deputy (James Ransone, Ziggy in The Wire). Things escalate quickly as the deputy is revealed to be the son of town Marshal (John Travolta).
From its trailers, the film looks like a fun, stripped-back homage to the old Italian Spaghetti Western genre, complete with R rated violence. Ransone seems like perfect casting as the idiot one often sees in oaters – like his character in The Wire but in period setting. It should be interesting to see Travolta in a major role following his charismatic turn as Robert Shapiro on American Crime Story. Also, talented young actresses Karen Gillan (Oculus) and Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story) round out the principal cast.
Release Date: TBA
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It’s Only the End of the World – Dir. Xavier Dolan
It must be pretty good to be Xavier Dolan right now. The 27-year-old Canadian director has had five of his six films premiere at Cannes (the other premiered at Venice) and this year he won the Grand Prix (the second most prestigious prize) for It’s Only the End of the World, his adaptation of Jean-Luc Lagarce’s stage-play. The film centres upon Louis (Hannibal Rising’s Gaspard Ulliel), a terminally ill writer who returns home to his chaotic family after a twelve-year absence to announce his impending death.
Working for the first time with A-list actors, the cast is comprised of the best French cinema has to offer – Nathalie Baye (Catch Me if You Can), Oscar-winner Marion Cottilard (Inception), Palme D’Or winner Lea Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Colour) and Vincent Cassel (Black Swan). The film has divided critics, with some finding Dolan’s take on a dysfunctional family exhausting. However, its finale, in which the sun sets engulfing the characters in deeper and deeper shades of orange, has been described as a “breath-taking coup de cinema”.
Release Date: TBA
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Julieta – Dir. Pedro Almodovar
Any Almodovar film, even the ones that don’t entirely work, are usually worth seeing. They’re unique – entirely different in plot, look and tone to anything else, moving to their own beat. Juileta, based upon three short stories from Alice Munro, revolves round the titular character who attempts to reconnect with her long-lost daughter by writing a journal explaining her absence.
The trailer hints that the film will feature some of the themes synonymous with Almodovar (passion, family, identity), as well as the irreverent humour and glossy décor seen often in his work. Almodovar is clearly a fan of the source, paying homage to Munro in his 2011’s masterpiece The Skin I Live in (Elena Anaya’s character was seen reading a book of hers). On top of this, Julieta received good buzz at Cannes, with many dubbing it a “return to form” following the misfire of 2013’s I’m So Excited.
Release Date: August 26th
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Kate Plays Christine – Dir. Robert Greene
Perhaps the most experimental film on this list, part-documentary/part artistic experiment, Kate Plays Christine centres upon indie actress Kate Lyn Sheil (Rachel’s girlfriend in House of Cards) researching for a role in a biopic that does not exist. The person Sheil is to play is Christine Chubbuck, an American television reporter who committed suicide live on air.
Analysing the binary between reality and performance, the film is very meta affair – asking at what point does telling someone’s story exploit the sensational chapters of their life? Described as both “detached case study” of Chubbuck and a “revealing performance piece” for the very talented Sheil, the movie is promised to be a rich docu-drama. Also for contrast, check out Antonio Campos’ more straight-forward upcoming dramatization of Chubbuck’s life in Christine, where the reporter will be played by Rebecca Hall.
Release Date: TBA
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