11 Indie Films to Watch this Summer

A true cinephile cannot live on blockbusters alone. With the summer season already under way, there will be plenty of Iron Man 3's and Man of Steels to go around, and they will undoubtedly do the job fulfilling a certain need for bigger than life action. But for those who are perhaps craving something more, the summer has proven to be fertile ground for small-budgeted movies that are no less exciting, and perhaps may turn out to be more meaningful. It's always a great feeling to experience a film that may not be on everyone's radar, and feeling as if you've just seen something truly special; or feeling as if you've just witnessed the breakthrough performance by an undiscovered talent. This summer there are plenty of options to choose from at your local art house theater, and here are just a few you should be tracking down.

Crystal Fairy (review here)
Director: Sebastian Silva
Cast: Michael Cera, Gaby Hoffman
Release Date: July 12th

For those who perhaps have grown weary of The Hangover's post-drug haze wackiness, Crystal Fairy offers a slightly more reserved option.  In his first major performance since Scott Pilgrim vs. The World bombed, Michael Cera joins up with Chilean director Sebastian Silva (the two also teamed up for Magic Magic this year) for a surreal road trip comedy about an angry American, a free-spirited oddball (Gaby Hoffman), and a few others to track down the fabled San Pedro Cactus and partake of its hallucinogenic properties.

Much Ado About Nothing
Director: Joss Whedon
Cast: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Fran Kranz, Emma Bates, Spencer Treat Clark, Nathan Fillion, Reed Diamond
Release Date: June 7th

Ahhh, the immortal Bard. Hollywood has been fairly hit or miss when adapting Shakespeare's works to the big screen, especially when attempting to bring his original dialogue into contemporary times. But if anybody can do it, it's Joss Whedon. In-between blowing stuff up with The Avengers last summer, Whedon gathered up all of his old friends for this modern take on Shakespeare's tale of love, betrayal, and honor. There's no real attempt to update the material, other than a few nods to current technology, and basically this just comes off as a group of buddies hanging out for a light and breezy couple of hours.

The Bling Ring
Director: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Emma Watson, Leslie Mann, Taissa Farmiga, Israel Broussard, Paris Hilton, Gavin Rossdale
Release Date: June 14th

If the images of Emma Watson twirling on a stripper pole weren't enough to get you interested in The Bling Ring, probably nothing will. The latest film from Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette director Sofia Coppola rounds up a mostly unknown cast in a true-life story about "The Burglar Bunch", a group of spoiled, celebrity-obsessed Beverly Hills teens who robbed the homes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, and more. Why'd they do it? Because they just had to have those Louboutins, y'know?

Stories We Tell (review here)

Director: Sarah Polley
Release Date: May 10th

After two stirring dramas in Away From Her and last year's underrated Take This Waltz, Sarah Polley turns the camera on the many secrets buried within her own family. Stories We Tell is a powerful documentary that explores the question of Polley's parentage, taking us on a deeply personal journey full of unexpected twists and shocking truths. As Polley digs into the rocky relationship between her vivacious mother and introverted father, she's also exploring the fluid nature of our memories.

The East (review here)
Director: Zal Batmanglij
Cast:  Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson, Julia Ormond, Toby Kebbell
 Release Date: May 31st

After Earth and Now You See Me will likely own this weekend, but those who ignore the latest offering from Sound of My Voice duo Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling will be missing out on one of the most thrilling movies of the season. Marling co-writes and stars in the film about an ambitious corporate investigator who goes undercover in an anarchist group targeting CEOs who are endangering the environment. Political intrigue, love triangles, and a hot button issue make this Marling and Batmanglij's most accessible film yet, and it doesn't hurt to have a pair of big names in Skarsgard and Page.

Before Midnight (review here)
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Release Date: May 24th

There are a number of long-running franchises making their way into theaters this month, but likely none of them will bring the devoted fan base as Richard Linklater's Before Midnight. Doubtful audiences would be quite as willing to wait nine years between Fast & Furious movies, as they've done for the last eighteen years in following the relationship between strangers-turned-lovers Celine and Jesse. This one takes the pair to Greece where they are dealing with some pretty heavy questions about their future, and whether or not they were truly meant to be lovers.

Fruitvale Station
Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Ahna O'Reilly, Kevin Durand
Release Date: July 12th

Friday Night Lights alum Michael B. Jordan was instantly catapulted into the majors when Fruitvale Station (then known as Fruitvale) took home two Dramatic Award at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was instantly pegged a potential Best Picture winner, and Jordan as a future star and possible Best Actor candidate. Coogler's directorial debut tells the harrowing true story of 22-year old Oscar Grant, following him in the last day of his life before he was tragically murdered by Bay Area cops at the Fruitvale subway station on New Year's Day 2009. The killing was caught on camera and caused quite a scandal, but with the muscle of The Weinstein Company bringing the story into theaters, it's going to get a lot of national attention.

The Way Way Back (review here)
Director: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Liam James, Annasophia Robb, May Rudolph, Amanda Peet, Rob Corddry, Allison Janney
Release Date: July 5th

It's a great season for coming-of-age films, and probably the one taking the most traditional approach is The Way Way Back. But don't mistake that to mean this is just another tired retread, as the great storytelling, personal touches by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendants), and an altogether brilliant cast go a long way in making the film stand out. Liam James is the awkward, shy kid we'll be investing in, with Steve Carell playing against type as his mother's douchebag boyfriend. But it's Sam Rockwell, as the irresponsible guru who runs the local water park, who provides most of the film's biggest laughs.

Ain't Them Bodies Saints (review here)
Director: David Lowery
Cast: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Nate Parker
Release Date: August 16th

Get ready, because David Lowery is going to be the next big thing. You can count on at least one indie film to emerge out of the festival circuit that establishes a director as a fresh voice, capable of earning critical raves and achieving considerable mainstream appeal. This year that film is Lowery's Ain't Them Bodies Saints, a sort of twist on the Bonnie & Clyde paradigm, told in a style that many are describing as "Malick-esque". Lowery, who also edited Shane Carruth's Upstream Color, has assembled a great cast in Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, and scene-stealers Ben Foster and Nate Parker. The film follows Ruth and Bob, a pair of lovers always on the wrong side of the law, who are torn apart when he is captured and sent to prison. A few years pass, and just as she's beginning to move on with her life, Bob breaks out and vows to be reunited with her and their young daughter.

The Kings of Summer (review here)
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Cast: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Nick Offerman, Moises Arias, Megan Mullally, Alison Brie
Release Date: May 24th

Heart, humor, and just a touch of indie quirk combine to make The Kings of Summer one of the most unique coming-of-age films you're likely to ever find. A hit out of Sundance (then known as Toy's House), the story follows a trio of young friends who grow tired of living under their parents' strict rules, and strike out on their own by building a house in the middle of the woods. First love, responsibility, heartbreak, danger, and adventure are just a small part of what these boys experience on their funny and poignant journey into adulthood.

The Spectacular Now (review here)
Director: James Ponsoldt
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Miles Teller, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Brie Larson, Kyle Chandler
Release Date: August 2nd

James Ponsoldt's The Spectacular Now has the potential to be considered among the all-time great teen dramas, powered by two deeply affecting, organic performances by stars Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller. Teller plays Sutter, a high school senior and barely functioning alcoholic, with Woodley as Aimee, the sweet-hearted girl who turns his life around after a chance encounter. It may sound like typical teen movie fluff, and to be fair it does start that way, but it soon gives way to a sobering story of young love where one has been too busy battling personal demons to find himself. It's familiar territory for Ponsoldt, who directed the alcoholism drama Smashed just last year, and The Spectacular Now can be seen as a close cousin to that film.

Notable Mentions: Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine (July 26th); Sightseers (May 10th); Prince Avalanche (August 10th); Berberian Sound Studio (June 14th); Drinking Buddies (August 23rd)