There is a reason we said "Cosmopolis" would cause more debate than almost anything else this month. We're also getting, on the same day no less, Craig Zobel's "Compliance," a film which inspired shouting matches and walkouts when it premiered at Sundance back in January, and at subsequent screenings. Based on a true incident, it involves the manager of a fast-food restaurant (Ann Dowd) receiving a phone call from a man claiming to be a police officer (Pat Healy), reporting that one of her employees (Dreama Walker) has been involved in a robbery. He asks the boss to strip-search the "suspect," setting off a chain of events that see an escalation of humiliation and abuse for the young woman. It's chilling stuff, all the more so for being based in fact, and by almost all accounts, Zobel (who debuted with "Great World Of Sound" in 2007) has made the film a truly uncomfortable and thought-provoking watch, and one that's had some strong reactions to it. One of the most critically-acclaimed films in Park City this year (with particular praise set aside for the performances by Dowd, Walker and Healy), our man Todd Gilchrist called it "an almost endlessly fascinating study of human behavior" when he saw it there. It's unlikely to be the easiest watch you have this month, but it seems like a vital and important one too.
When? August 17th
It hasn't exactly been a banner year for the rom-com so far. Even the better entries, like "Friends With Kids" and "The Five-Year Engagement," have been scrappy and uneven, and there have been plenty more serious disappointments, inlcuding the Greta Gerwig-starring "Lola Versus." But things are looking up. Hot on the heels of the excellent "Ruby Sparks" comes "Celeste & Jesse Forever," and it seems to be one of the better examples of the genre this year. Penned by "Parks And Recreation" star Rashida Jones (with writing partner Will McCormack), it features the actress starring alongside Andy Samberg as a recently divorced couple trying to maintain their friendship while still moving on with their lives. The supporting cast -- featuring Ari Graynor, Eric Christian Olsen, Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts and Chris Messina -- is strong, and director Lee Toland Krieger (the woefully underseen "The Vicious Kind") seems to have a strong handle on the performances and the visuals, without ever letting it dip into "(500) Days Of Summer"-style glibness. Playlist contributor William Goss caught the film at Sundance, and compared it to "When Harry Met Sally," saying that "it rarely opts for hysterics or contrivance to push our leads along," and that " the formula finds itself served surprisingly well by both its cast and script." It's not perfect, but it certainly marks the arrival of Jones as a serious talent, and starved fans of the genre should certainly enjoy this more than most.
When? August 3rd
2009's "Coraline" is one of the most underrated animated films in recent memory -- a gloriously weird, incredibly gorgeous film which still has one of the best uses of 3D we've seen. Director Henry Selick might have returned to the Disney fold, but Laika, the company behind that film, are back, with the similarly spooky "ParaNorman." Revolving around the titular Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), an outsider who finds his gift of speaking to the dead coming in useful when his small town suffers under a curse that raises an army of zombies, the film looks to have the same I-want-to-swim-in-it attention to detail in its design and animation, but with more of an Amblin vibe, and looks like all kinds of spooky fun (if perhaps a little too scary for younger kids). If "Coraline" was anything to go by, this'll be that rare film worth paying the extra cash to see in 3D, and with a cast also including Casey Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, John Goodman and Elaine Stritch, it should be a treat for the ears too (not to mention that is has a score by Jon Brion as well). Playlisters have seen it, and are under embargo (look for a review in the next couple of weeks), but let's just say if you're already looking forward to the film, you shouldn't be disappointed.
When? August 17th
The history of stand-up comedy in the movies is a less than glorious one. Few have tried to tackle it ("Lenny," "Punchline") and fewer still have got it right ("Funny People" is probably the best example, although its third act squanders much of its good will), but none of those films were made by actual stand-ups (Apatow gave up the mic long ago), and that's the advantage that acclaimed comedian Mike Birbiglia has with his debut feature "Sleepwalk With Me." Based on his one-man show and book, Birbiglia plays a version of himself, whose career and love life is thrown into havoc when his inability to commit to his girlfriend (Lauren Ambrose) seems to induce a severe sleepingwalking disorder. The cast also includes James Rebhorn and Carol Kane as Birbiglia's parents, as well as a selection of stand-up favorites like Wyatt Cenac, Marc Maron, Hannibal Buress, and Kristen Schaal. With a script co-writen by "This American Life" fave Ira Glass, it should be a little smarter than your average twentysomething ennui movie, and William Goss certainly thought so when he saw the film for us at SXSW, drawing comparisons to Woody Allen, and saying "Fans of Birbiglia should be easily entertained, and with a little luck, it will only earn this particular loveable neurotic a few more of those." Could we have the next Louis C.K.-style polymath on our hands?
When? August 24th
While Julie Delpy's best known for "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset" as far as indie-minded two-handers set in Europe go, her own directorial effort, "2 Days In Paris," has gained a fervent following for its firmly enjoyable, Woody Allen-ish comic stylings. Five years on, Delpy's character is no longer with Adam Goldberg, but back in NYC, and has picked up both a child, and a new beau, played by Chris Rock. Their relationship is firmly tested when, once again, Delpy's family arrive on vacation to visit her. And against the odds, the film is for the most part just as successful a follow-up to the original as "Before Sunset" was to "Before Sunrise," with Delpy still bringing sharp observations and consistently funny jokes, with an added emphasis on family, and a whole new element thanks to Rock, who gives one of his better acting performances. Playlist contributor John Lichman caught the film at Sundance and found it "fresh, vibrant and most of all, disarmingly funny"...in other words, an atypically strong sequel.
When? August 10th
Also Worth Considering:
There are a few other films unspooling in August that might be worth your attention too. There's no word on either "The Campaign" with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis or "Hope Springs" with Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell yet, despite both opening next week. Hopefully they'll both provide a few laughs regardless. Meanwhile, the same week also brings the Rebecca Hall-led ghost tale "The Awakening," that, while silly, we still had a lot more fun with than most critics; read our review from last year's London Film Festival here. It rolls out from August 10th.
Later in the month comes Sundance crowdpleaser "Robot & Frank," with Frank Langella and Peter Sarsgaard, among others, although we found it a little disappointing at the festival. French ensemble picture "Little White Lies," directed by Guillaume Canet ("Tell No One") and starring Marion Cotillard and Jean Dujardin, might be a better bet. Both open August 24th. And finally, August 31st brings controversial documentary "The Ambassador," which our correspondent loved at New Directors New Films earlier in the year, and foul-mouthed Sundance comedy "For A Good Time Call," which is a lot more amiable.