August is a weird movie month: a lot of folks are on vacation, the big summer blockbusters are petering out and the fall festival and awards season movies are just out of reach. It’s the perfect time to catch up with the best films from the first half of the year, especially those that may have flown under the radar.
Like father like son: Brandon Cronenberg (son of David) unveiled his sophomore feature “Infinity Pool” in January, starring Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgard, as a pair of vacation friends whose high-end trip goes increasingly off the rails (manslaughter, drug-fueled orgies, the creation of clones to be executed in one’s stead). Stream the delightfully twisted “Infinity Pool” on Hulu or rent it elsewhere.
French actress Laure Calamy stars in the taut domestic drama “Full Time,” as a woman on the run — literally. Writer/director Eric Gravel configures the story of a divorced mother of two striving to pull her family out of poverty as a ticking clock thriller, and Calamy has never been better. Rent it on all platforms.
The French Cambodian co-production “Return to Seoul” is one of the best films of the year, full stop. Davy Chou’s searing investigation of identity is anchored by a bewitching performance by artist Park Ji-min, who stars as a French woman searching for roots, family and herself in her birth country of Korea. Stylish and intoxicating, “Return to Seoul” also boasts one of the best soundtracks of the year. Rent it on all platforms.
Writer/director Jamie Dack tackles a predatory relationship between an adult man and a teenage girl with honesty and clarity in “Palm Trees and Power Lines,” starring Lily McInerny and Jonathan Tucker. A similar relationship is also explored in Laurel Parmet’s debut feature “The Starling Girl,” which premiered at Sundance this year and stars Eliza Scanlen and Lewis Pullman, but is set in the world of a fundamentalist Christian church. Both films handle the challenging topic with care, grace and an unflinching gaze. Rent both on all all platforms.
Sally Hawkins stars in a charming true story based on real history, “The Lost King,” directed by Stephen Frears, about the woman who led the charge to unearth King Richard III’s remains in Leicester, England, working off her intuition and a desire to restore the king his rightful story. Stream it on AMC+ or rent it elsewhere.
The searing eco-terrorist thriller “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” couldn’t be more timely, or more relevant, in the light of ongoing climate disaster around the world this summer. For a bit of catharsis, rent it on all streaming platforms.
Teyana Taylor storms the screen in her debut starring role, “A Thousand and One,” directed by A.V. Rockwell, Taylor, a musician and dancer, proves acting is another one of her many talents in her performance as a young mother in ‘90s Harlem struggling to make a comfortable home life for her young son. Stream it on Peacock or rent it on all platforms.
Kelly Reichardt brings her signature pace and tone to the gently amusing tale of Portland art world professional jealousy in “Showing Up.” Michelle Williams stars as a striving ceramics artist in this incisive portrait of attempting to make art against the complexities of everyday life. Rent it on all platforms.
Get a little naughty with Margaret Qualley and Christopher Abbott in the dom-sub rom-com “Sanctuary,” directed by Zachary Wigon, a stylish and seductive chamber piece about power dynamics in the bedroom and the board room. Rent it on all platforms.
Take a trip down memory lane with “BlackBerry,” an audacious business portrait of the failed cellular device that ruled the pre-iPhone world back in the mid-aughts. Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton deliver the performances of their careers in this daring docu-style film directed by Matt Johnson (who co-stars). Rent it on all platforms.
The alluring French actress Adele Exarchopoulos is steaming up screens this August in Ira Sachs’ love triangle movie “Passages,” opposite Ben Whishaw and Franz Rogowski, but a few months ago, she starred in the enchanting French family drama “The Five Devils,” an exploration of familial trauma and repressed memories with an intriguingly witchy bent. Stream it on Mubi or rent it elsewhere.
Finally, be sure to catch Saim Sadiq’s arresting drama “Joyland,” the first Pakistani film to play in competition at Cannes as well as Pakistan’s Oscar entry last year, despite being banned in some regions of the country. Sadiq tackled a bold topic for his debut feature, centering this film around the romance between a transgender dance performer and a married man in the city of Lahore. But “Joyland” is so much more than just their story, encompassing the entire family into this moving film. Rent it on all platforms.