We’re sooo over the summer movie season that never was. We’re tired of hearing each day about movies that should have been in theaters by now being pushed back or put on hold, while we shelter at home watching the few big-budget goodies that major studios are willing to send to streaming platforms.
It’s gotten so bad that classic nuggets like “Jaws,” “Jurassic Park” and “The Empire Strikes Back” are once again among the box-office leaders this summer (though the news last week that Disney’s “Mulan” will be released to streaming Sept. 4 was a welcome change of pace).
Yes, we’re pretty sick of the same-old, same-old. And we suspect you are, too.
So we’re doing something about it. It’s not like no one is releasing any good movies these days. It’s just that many have dropped under the radar. So we’re offering the Forgotten Film Festival: 10 surefire indie films — most released over the summer — that you’ve probably never heard of or that have already slipped your mind, but are real gems.
So raise the metaphorical curtains and dim the lights. Pop the corn and slather it with butter (go ahead, you deserve it). And try one or more of these terrific films.
‘Marona’s Fantastic Tale’
Details: Animation; written and directed by Anca Damian; find streaming platforms at gkidsathome.com.
Why it made the list: Damian shows guts, killing off the titular cute and loyal dog character in the opening minutes. Don’t let that be a dealbreaker; it’s handled sensitively and there are charms, truths and wonder aplenty in this frisky animated French feature. Marona’s existential reflections of past humans, their idiosyncrasies, their kindness and their occasional cruelties make it one of the most intimate, moving animated features of 2020.
Details: Drama starring Hong Chau, Lucas Jaye and Brian Dennehy; directed by Andrew Ahn; available on multiple platforms.
Why it made the list: If ever there was a time for this gentle, compassionate tale about an unlikely friendship between a shy, bullied Korean boy and a lonely Korean War veteran, it’s now. Anh’s feature will melt your heart and enrich your soul, and uses its driveway symbolism to poetic perfection. The late Dennehy’s vulnerable performance makes me want to cry.
‘End of Sentence’
Details: Drama starring John Hawkes, Logan Lerman and Sarah Bolger; directed by Elfar Adalsteins; available on multiple platforms.
Why it made the list: A road trip movie where estranged family members reconcile and learn to heal doesn’t score high on originality. But Adalsteins’ perceptive drama swerves away from the traditional as an angry young ex-con (Lerman) exasperatedly joins his tightly wound dad (Hawkes) to take their recently deceased mom’s/wife’s ashes to an undetermined spot in Ireland. Far from predictable, “Sentence’s” complex characters come to life with two amazing lead performances.
‘Lake Michigan Monster’
Starring: Fantasy/horror/comedy starring Ryland Tews, Erick West, Beulah Peters; directed by Ryland Tews; written by Ryland Tews and Mike Cheslik; available on several platforms.
Why it made the list: This black-and-white looney tunes monster mash shot on a Ed Wood-sized budget is of the funniest, freshest movie catches of the year. It’s tailor-made for a Watch Party, particularly for those hankering for Monty Python-like irreverence blended with bursts of Guy Maddin-like razzle-dazzle visuals. Climb aboard as a salt-of-the-earth crew led by a dubious captain with an Ahab complex sets out to harpoon a nefarious critter bedeviling Lake Michigan.
Details: Drama starring Jasmine Batchelor, Chris Perfetti, Sullivan Jones, Brooke Bloom; written and directed by Jeremy Hersh; accessible at vimeo.com/ondemand/thesurrogate.
Why it made the list: Hersh’s thought-provoking debut focusing on a gay couple encountering an unexpected development in a surrogate pregnancy is so confident and smart, you’d swear it was from an established filmmaker. This feature revolves around conflicted emotions and complicated characters — particularly Batchelor’s Jess, who’s carrying a child with Down syndrome. It raises numerous questions and features a dynamite supporting performance from Brooke Bloom as a frank mother with a Down syndrome son.
‘How to Build a Girl’
Details: Coming-of-age comedy starring Beanie Feldstein, Alfie Allen, Paddy Considine, Chris O’Dowd, Emma Thompson; directed by Coky Giedroyc; adapted by Caitlin Moran from her novel of the same title; available on several platforms.
Why it made the list: “Booksmart” actress Feldstein radiates exuberance as a 16-year-old outsider who breaks into the bro-dominated rock critic world of the ‘90s. Adopting the attitude of a hate-spewing contrarian, the budding British writer creates a persona no one can love, even herself. Based on a semi-autobiographical story, it’s gloriously written and acted. It’s a pip and so funny and sweet.
‘Around the Sun’
Details: Romance comedy/drama starring Cara Theobold and Gethin Anthony; directed by Oliver Krimpas; written by Jonathan Kiefer; available on several platforms.
Why it made the list: Literature lovers, prepare to swoon. This brainy, planetary romance charms the stratosphere with an erudite screenplay, mercurial performances and gorgeous scenery. It’s essentially a chamber piece charting a star-crossed encounter at a gorgeous chateau. It’s the very antithesis of a formulaic romantic drama.
Details: Drama starring Nicole Beharie, Kendrick Sampson, Alexis Chikaeze; written and directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples; available on several platforms.
Why it’s on the list: Peoples’ debut feature is as textured and layered as a Booker Prize winner. Beharie gives a lovely performance as one one of the most realistic female characters you’ll meet this summer: Turquoise Jones, a former beauty queen and single mom hoping her daughter (Chikaeze) follows closely, but not too closely, in her footsteps. It’s a quiet film that speaks loudly.
‘The Invisible Witness’
Details: Mystery drama starring Riccardo Scamarcio, Miriam Leone, Fabrizio Bentivoglio; directed by Stefano Mordini; based on the Spanish film “Contratiempo”; available as part of the Virtual Cinema series at Cinema Arts Theatre, www.cinemaartstheatre.com/
Why it’s on the list: A murder mystery is made all the better when it’s set in a far-off travel destination. This absorbing thriller set in Italy is as fun and serpentine as an Agatha Christie novel. A wealthy murder suspect (Scamarcio) preps for his trial by recounting — via flashbacks — what led up to his lover’s death. It’s sleekly shot, sensual and stuffed with red herrings and then salted with surprises. It’s one of the best times I had watching a film all summer.
‘Inmate # 1: The Rise of Danny Trejo’
Details: Documentary directed by Brett Harvey; written by Harvey and Scott Dodds; available on several platforms.
Why it’s on the list: If you are a fan of redemption tales, consider this documentary that recounts how Trejo, a former gang member and ex-con, transformed his drug-ridden life. The prolific actor is refreshingly candid about his early days and time spent in San Quentin, never sugarcoating his hard life. Harvey’s documentary inspires anyone feeling like they’re at a bottom of a barrel and there’s no way out. It’s a remarkable film about a remarkable man.
Contact Randy Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org.