5. Don’t Come Back from the Moon
Bruce Thierry Cheung’s visually striking “Don’t Come Back from the Moon” was actually premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 20, 2017, but it didn’t get a theatrical release until January 18, 2019 and when it did, almost nobody saw it. It’s a very slow-paced, character-focused drama that is probably hard to appeal to many people but it’s a thought-provoking, poetic and soulful movie that leaves a considerably emotional impression on the viewer.
The film is set in the California desert and it’s one hot summer. The local factory is getting shut down, while the working-age men slowly depart one-by-one, leaving their families without notice or warning. We get to witness what’s left behind; tensions that rise, relationships that get complicated, grief, depression and worries. It’s a film that is hard to describe when it comes to its plot. Gorgeous cinematography, a haunting score, impressive performances by fresh young stars, and beautiful imagery are other great elements that make this overlooked gem worth watching.
4. The Art of Self-Defense
After being attacked by a roving motorcycle gang on the street at night, shy bookkeeper Casey Davies tries to learn how to protect himself. Already an insecure man who can’t fit in with his work environment, he decides to get a gun first, but he changes his mind when he sees a karate dojo. The mysterious sensei he visits teaches him how to defend himself here, but the costs might be different than Casey anticipated. Yes, his self-confidence starts to grow, but he’s also getting introduced to a world he had no idea about.
Director Riley Stearns is someone one should keep an eye on. His previous directorial effort “Faults” was an original piece of work and this movie is equally original and interesting as well. He goes for an interesting tone here as it plays out like a black comedy but you also feel the thriller aspect of it; you sense that something is wrong and more dark things may come. It just finds the right tone so exceptionally.
The dialogue is especially interesting and droll throughout. Jesse Eisenberg usually plays this sort of guy and he’s the right fit here. Imogen Poots is another name that is always lovely to see in the cast of any film, and she seriously deserves more of such films.
3. Wild Rose
“Wild Rose” had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2018 but was released on April 12, 2019 by Entertainment One in the U.K., and it’s one of the finest British musical dramas of recent years. Our lead character Rose-Lynn Harlan is an aspiring country singer and single mother of two from Glasgow. She is released from jail after a 12-month sentence for attempted drug smuggling and she becomes determined to travel to Nashville, Tennessee to turn into a famous country singer.
The film has a familiar tone and some clichés you get used to, but it’s one of those films that beats those familiar beats with the right tone. That said, just because it goes in predictable directions doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a chance. It’s a movie that is better than it appears to be and it does an admirable job at showing the balance between following your dreams and balancing your life responsibilities.
Jessie Buckley is a special standout; the rest of the cast is fine as well, but Jessie does a terrific job as an actress and she sings great as well. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if she becomes a major star someday. Also worth noting that the song “Glasgow (No Place Like Home)” is written by Oscar-winning actress Mary Steenburgen.
2. Love Antosha
The only documentary on the list, “Love Antosha” is about a young talent named Anton Yelchin, whom we lost too soon. He was only 26 but had already worked with Paul Schrader, Jodie Foster, Joe Dante, Jim Jarmusch, J.J. Abrams; worked opposite Anthony Hopkins, Donald Sutherland, Robin Williams from a young age; appeared in genre films, indie hits, blockbusters.
Maybe he didn’t have a “iconic” role like Heath Ledger had in “The Dark Knight,” but Yelchin had so much potential in himself; he could be a kind of a superhero (“Odd Thomas”), a romantic lead (“Like Crazy”), a Ferris Bueller-like character (“Charlie Bartlett”), a musician (“Rudderless”) and so many others. He was a charming man who passionately loved movies. This documentary explores his artistic curiosities which are not limited to acting as he was also a photographer, a musician, and even wrote a script based on “Taxi Driver.”
We also get to hear great anecdotes from his co-stars: Kristen Stewart, Willem Dafoe, Jennifer Lawrence as well as his directors. Nicolas Cage does wonderful work in reading his letters while the film also explores the strong bond he had with his parents. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking, sweet tribute that is worth watching no matter how familiar you are with his work because it’s not just about his work – it’s also, as the director himself describes, “a movie about life, about overcoming obstacles, it’s an immigrant story, coming-of-age story but ultimately it’s a love letter to family and cinema, two things Anton cherished most in life.”
Blockbusters are everywhere in the summer months, but we had a surprising amount of complex dramas from Sundance also hitting theatres. “Luce” is the one that should be seen if you somehow missed bigger pictures. Luce Edgar seemingly has it all; he’s an all-star high school athlete, very talented debater, everybody loves his intelligence and the way he talks. His parents – who adopted him from Eritrea – are proud of him.
One day, his mother Amy is called to school from his history teacher Harriet. It should be noted that Luce doesn’t like Harriet much because of her finding weed in his friend’s locker; he was kicked off of the running team. Harriet tells Amy about some of her worries; how Luce defends Frantz Fanon, a political revolutionary who argued that colonialism can be overcome through violence. But it’s not just that; she also found illegal fireworks in Luce’s locker.
Luce does have a complex story with surprising reveals. The film keeps asking interesting and even hard questions, which lead us to different questions and themes. The cast is also incredible; Octavia Spencer gives the best performance of her career, Naomi Watts hasn’t gotten such meaty part in years, and even the most thankless role of the film is hugely elevated by Tim Roth’s acting. Nuanced, intelligent, and a provocative feature film that is always welcome.