If you’ve perused our summer movie preview you may already have a sense of what films to keep on your radar this month, but it’s time to dig deeper into May. While much of our attention will be on the Cannes Film Festival, plenty of worthwhile offerings arrive stateside.

15. The Starling Girl (Laurel Parmet; May 12)

After breaking out in Babyteeth and Little Women, Eliza Scanlen finds an impressive new starring role with The Starling Girl. Michael Frank said in his review, “Scanlen shines as Starling, playing someone much younger than herself. She brings an assurance to the role. We belive in Jem. She’s naive-yet-overconfident, isolated-yet-connected, carefree-yet-shackled by a system designed to believe the word of men much older than her. Scanlen shows all of that and more. Her performance grounds a film that risks blending together with preceding pictures, raising it above any average trappings.”

14. L’immensita (Emanuele Crialese; May 12)

A selection at the Venice Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival, Emanuele Crialese’s 1970s-set drama L’immensità hits theaters this month. Jose Solis said in his review, “In films like Volver, Parallel Mothers, Everybody Knows, and now L’immensità, Penélope Cruz has cornered the market on playing mother figures that are both larger than life and movingly earthy. As Clara, the loving Spaniard expatriate trying to raise her children while staying married to an unfaithful man in 1970s Rome, Cruz does some of the best work of her already incredible, multilingual career. To say director Emanuele Crialese’s camera falls in love with Cruz would be an understatement. She is lovingly shot and framed (even her Sophia Loren bob brings attention to her expressive eyes) and we don’t even need to hear her speak to know whoever’s gaze she’s under has completely fallen under her spell.”

13. It Is Night in America (Ana Vaz; May 9)

After a number of acclaimed shorts, Ana Vaz’s debut feature It Is Night in America is arriving courtesy of MUBI this month. Leonardo Goi said in his Locarno review, “The few people bobbing up in Ana Vaz’s It Is Night in America are anonymous ciphers, their faces scarcely (if at all) visible, protruding limbs or silhouettes pressed against the concrete. Night, Vaz’s first feature, is a caliginous foray into the animal world hidden in and around Brasilia, where humans take a backseat and the megacity stands as a skyscraper-infested jungle. The film’s protagonists are a pantheon of exiles: monkeys bolting across streets, cobras hiding in private gardens, capybaras resting on lawns, giant otters roaming water ducts. ‘Are animals invading our cities,’ a voice wonders halfway through, ‘or are we occupying their habitat?’ It’s a question that might as well double as a tagline, but Night has a way of stretching and expanding its focus, and its close-up portraits of the capital’s fauna swell into something else entirely. Gradually, the film becomes a story of an invasion––a study of Brazil’s rampant urbanization and the creatures it made homeless. It becomes a tale of two cities, of two kingdoms fighting in a zero-sum game. It becomes a Western.”

12. The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future (Francisca Alegria; May 19)

One of the most striking directorial debuts to come out of Sundance last year, Francisca Alegría’s gorgeously haunting The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future takes a mysterious journey of magical realism through Chile. Michael Frank said in his review, “[the film] opens on pensive shots of the river and its inhabitants, most of whom are dead. As the dying and already passed fish sing a song of sadness, a woman, motorcycle helmet in tow, rises from the water. She walks aimlessly, hopping on a local bus and appearing outside a story, scaring her ex-husband into enough anxiety to land him in the hospital. The next 90 minutes of Alegria’s meditative drama exist largely in silence or one-sided conversation––people confronting their past like a monster that grows with each passing day.”

11. Reality (Tina Satter; May 29)

While Sydney Sweeney is racking up more feature film roles, she’s also staying in the HBO business. The company behind White Lotus and Euphoria picked up her latest film, which premiered at Berlinale just a few months ago, and will release it at month’s end. Rory O’Connor said in his review, “A good conceit can go a long way. In 2017, a former U.S. Air Force member-turned-NSA translator named Reality Winner leaked a document to The Intercept exposing Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. On June 3rd of that year, two FBI agents appeared on her lawn and began questioning her. She didn’t ask for a lawyer and, after roughly 90 minutes, was arrested. In Reality, directed by Tina Satter from her own acclaimed play Is This a Room, that transcript is performed to the letter. Then a curious kind of alchemy occurs: as the actors laser-in on the transcript’s every detail, Satter’s fascinating film moves away from the rhythms of political thriller and into the eerie realm of the uncanny.”

10. Riceboy Sleeps (Anthony Shim; May 2)

One of our TIFF favorites will get a fairly quiet digital release to kick off the month. Jared Mobarak said in his review, “So-Young (Choi Seung-yoon) didn’t want to leave South Korea. She had no choice. The father of her newborn son committed suicide and, as an orphan who was never adopted, she had no other family. So, with nowhere to turn and a boy who couldn’t legally become a citizen due to being born out of wedlock, she immigrated to Canada to start anew. There she would build a home for the two of them and a wall in front of her past. Questions about Dong-Hyun’s (Dohyun Noel Hwang at six and Ethan Hwang at sixteen) father were delayed indefinitely and ultimately left unanswered no matter how many times he asked. So-Young only wanted to look forward and, eventually, so did Dong-Hyun. Until their future together was unceremoniously stolen away.”

9. Sanctuary (Zachary Wigon; May 19)

A TIFF stand-out is coming to heat up the summer movie season. As Jared Mobarak said in his review, “How well do you know your regular sex worker? How well do they know you? What Hal (Christopher Abbott) and Rebecca (Margaret Qualley) share may have begun as a source of fun, but it’s obviously evolved into something much deeper. It’s now akin to therapy and they both know it to be true. The problem, however, lies in how they interpret what these sessions actually provide. Does Hal need Rebecca to come and validate his fetishized insecurities so he can achieve orgasmic release? Or does she do it to empower him with the necessary confidence to lead a company that’s suddenly fallen to him upon the death of his domineering father? Can either of them really know for sure? Not with money involved. Honesty demands higher stakes.”

8. Chile ’76 (Manuela Martelli; May 5)

One highlight of this year’s New Directors/New Films is Manuela Martelli’s Chile ’76, which comes from Cannes’ Directors Fortnight and the BFI London Film Festival (where it picked up Best First Feature). The suspense thriller set amidst Chilean political opposition follows a woman who shelters an injured young man who is hiding in secret. As Jaime Grijalba said in his review, “Manuela Martelli’s debut film opens with a sequence that perfectly captures the tone and themes Chile ‘76 will explore. Carmen (played by Aline Kuppenheim) is at a paint shop, choosing and mixing the color that she’ll use at the beach house she has with her husband, a shift head at one of the most important medical institutions in Santiago, Chile’s capital. While browsing an almanac with pictures of European cities, pointing at colors of sun-kissed buildings, we can hear a disturbance outside: a woman is being pulled over by the military and yells as she’s taken away.”

7. Queens of the Qing Dynasty (Ashley McKenzie; May 5)

Ashley McKenzie’s Werewolf follow-up Queens of the Qing Dynasty, a selection at Berlinale, TIFF, and NYFF, is coming to theaters this week. Jared Mobarak said in his review, “Our introductions to writer/director Ashley McKenzie’s leads in Queens of the Qing Dynasty are not to be forgotten. Whether Star’s (Sarah Walker) open-mouthed and fully dilated thousand-yard stare in a hospital bed after her latest suicide attempt (this time for drinking poison) or An’s (Ziyin Zheng) voice regaling the women nurses with a Chinese song while their supervisor drawls ‘Old Macdonald’ in response, the notion that we’re dealing with two eccentrics in a world that may never understand them is abundantly clear. It’s therefore only right that they’d end up being put on a collision course ignited by duty (An’s hospital volunteer is assigned Star’s evening suicide watch) yet sustained by genuine intrigue. They share their deepest secrets without judgement, ultimately discovering things about themselves along the way.”

6. Shin Kamen Rider (Hideaki Anno; May 31)

Delivering one of the best monster movies of the past decade, Hideaki Anno’s 2016 Shin Godzilla outpaced any of Hollywood’s output with the creature as of late. After jumping back into animation with Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time, he’s returned to live-action, writing and producing Shin Ultraman, which got a brief U.S. release earlier this year. Now he’s back in the director’s chair with Shin Kamen Rider, which is also getting a specialty Fathom Events debut this month. First emerging as a television show 50 years ago, the series follows a superhuman, motorcycle-riding hero who battles villains.

5. Unrest (Cyril Schäublin; May 5)

A fascinating gem on the festival circuit last year, Cyril Schäublin’s carefully observed drama Unrest arrives at a timely moment of the film industry reckoning with giving those creating the product the equity they deserve. Rory O’Connor said in his review, “The best word to describe Unrest is ‘clever.’ It isn’t on the level of the artisans and thinkers it lovingly portrays––all the graphers (geo, carto, photo) and the ists (social, anarch, horolog, and so on)––but not so far off; and more than enough to be worthy of their story. Consider the title’s neat duality. ‘Unrest,’ as the film explains, is another name for a wristwatch’s balance wheel: an instrument that, working in tandem with the spiral and escapement, creates the mechanism that makes it tick. Then there is the other kind.”

4. BlackBerry (Matt Johnson; May 12)

In the hands of anyone else, a movie about the birth of a technological innovation that reshaped culture may seem like a simple knockoff of The Social Network or Steve Jobs. But under the uniquely humorous lens of Canadian director Matt Johnson (The Dirties and Operation Avalanche), his latest film BlackBerry piqued our interest. After stops at Berlinale and SXSW, the film starring Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, and Johnson––in the story of the men that charted the course of the spectacular rise and catastrophic demise of the world’s first smartphone––will now arrive this month. Rory O’Connor said in his review, “Johnson, who also stars as the amiable Fregin opposite Jay Baruchel’s introverted Lazaridis, is the Canadian director behind Operation Avalanche––a film that seamlessly blended documentary aesthetics with newsreel footage to tell the story of how the CIA (and not quite Stanley Kubrick) maybe faked the moon landing. Cosmetically, BlackBerry’s mise-en-scène isn’t a million miles off it: the camerawork is nicely fidgety and handheld, and events depicted are primarily based on reality––as is the TV footage, though this time Johnson stays closer to the facts.”

3. Will-o’-the-Wisp (Joao Pedro Rodrigues; May 26)

Following 2016’s The Ornithologist, it’s been quite a wait for the next feature from João Pedro Rodrigues. It finally arrives with Will-o’-the-Wisp, a delightfully sexual and imaginative queer firefighter musical fantasy. Ethan Vestby said in his review, “Rodrigues certainly runs through a lot of ideas in his brief runtime (even weaving in the pandemic), and there’s something refreshing that it almost doesn’t try to be a perfect film per se. The director, an arthouse formalist with a little more sense of buoyancy than many of his festival peers, makes sure to prevent the journey from ever being boring, even if the still, symmetrical tableaus that make up the early-goings point to a bit of art-film self-parody. Yet things come lightened up by more classical film language once Alfredo gets to the firehouse, not to mention some steamy gay foreplay for anyone interested in that.”

2. Master Gardener (Paul Schrader; May 19)

With a career resurgence thanks to First Reformed, Paul Schrader decided to form a trilogy of like-minded character studies. Rory O’Connor said in his review, “There is a paradox at the heart of Master Gardener. In their respective worlds––one of abstinence and iconography; the other of money and risk––priests and gamblers are kind of sexy. In their own ways, so are gigolos, drug dealers, porn stars, sex addicts, even taxi drivers. Gardeners? For all their charms, maybe less so. The latest from Paul Schrader rounds out an idiosyncratic trilogy: without breaking the mould, and for three films in a row, the director has placed his man-in-a-room archetype into the fraught, divided milieu of contemporary America. With First Reformed and Card Counter, Schrader could bank on audiences already being attuned to the quasi-culty vibes of his characters’ extreme callings. Master Gardener, the story of a diligent horticulturist, has a bit more heavy lifting to do; but there’s fun to be had in the labor.”

1. You Hurt My Feelings (Nicole Holofcener; May 26)

In a landscape that has mostly lost its taste for comedy, every Nicole Holofcener film feels like a revelation. While she has more on her mind than just making audiences laugh, her gift for humor is undervalued, and her latest, You Hurt My Feelings, is as perceptive, insightful, and funny as her best work. The stakes may be considered low, but that is only in comparison to the ill-perceived notion that audiences need to be satiated with overcomplicated, heightened narratives that stretch beyond quotidian human issues. For these characters the stakes couldn’t be higher, and it’s refreshing to see a director examine the major emotional consequences of small but significant actions. Continue reading my review.

More Films to See

  • The Melt Goes on Forever: The Art & Times of David Hammons (May 5)
  • The Taking (May 5)
  • STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie (May 12)
  • The Night of the 12th (May 12)
  • Monica (May 12)
  • Hypnotic (May 12)
  • White Building (May 19)
  • Victim/Suspect (May 23)
  • The Fire That Took Her (May 23)
  • Victim/Suspect (May 23)
  • The Hole in the Fence (May 26)
  • Close to Vermeer (May 26)
  • Unclenching The Fists (May 26)

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