Flavorwire’s Guide to Indie Movies You Need to See in June

"Okja," "It Comes at Night," "The Big Sick," and more of this month's must-see indie flicks.

Here’s a short list of major studio movies coming out in the month of June: Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, The Mummy, Cars 3, Transformers: The Last Knight, Despicable Me 3, and Amityville: The Awakening. And we’ve still got Baywatch, Pirates of the Caribbean 5, King Arthur, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul in wide release. Sooooooooo who’s up for a trip to the art house?


Dean

RELEASE DATE: June 2
DIRECTOR: Demetri Martin
CAST: Demetri Martin, Gillian Jacbos, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen, Reid Scott

Stand-up fave Demetri Martin makes his feature writing/directing debut with this Woody Allen-esque story of a sad-sack Brooklyn cartoonist running away from his problems via a weekend trip to L.A., and the interesting woman (Gillian Jacobs) he meets there. Martin’s sensitive writing and wry dialogue sidestep most of the clichés; Jacobs’ character is thankfully complicated and imperfect, Martin’s likable but fumbly, and there’s a lovely subplot concerning his dad (Kevin Kline) that inserts just enough pathos and kindness into the thing. (It’ll also make you miss that period in the mid-to-late-’80s where it seemed like Kline and co-star Mary Steenburgen were in nearly everything, though we do luckily seem to be in that period with Ms. Jacobs.) Martin leans too heavily on formula beats in the back third, and the cutting and coverage of his dialogue scenes have a TV blandness, but those complaints aside, this is a charming and promising debut that’s hard not to love.

It Comes at Night

RELEASE DATE: June 9
DIRECTOR: Trey Edward Shults
CAST: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough

Shults made a splashy debut with last year’s micro-budget psychological drama Krisha; here, armed with a bigger budget and a few recognizable faces, he firmly confirms his place among our most exciting young filmmakers. As with Krisha, the story itself isn’t particularly earth-shattering – a post-apocalyptic tale of friendly and familial bonds sorely tested by paranoia and fear – but Shults’ rattling, raw style lodges itself under your skin, and in your head. A lean, mean, frightening piece of work.

Beatriz at Dinner

RELEASE DATE: June 9
DIRECTOR: Miguel Arteta
CAST: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Chloë Sevigny

This uneasy comedy of matters became surprisingly (and unfortunately) timely on November 9, telling as it does the story of a fabulously wealthy, unapologetically racist blowhard real estate developer who finds himself locking horns with an immigrant humanitarian at an intimate dinner party. I know, I know, it sounds like the worst kind of allegorical pap, but in all fairness, screenwriter Mike White and director Miguel Arteta (who previously collaborated on Chuck & Buck and The Good Girl) didn’t realize they were crafting a trenchant political statement. What they presumably set out to make, they did: a keenly observed and frequently upsetting portrayal of the rules of polite society, and of a woman who decides not to play by them.

Dawson City: Frozen Time

RELEASE DATE: June 9
DIRECTOR: Bill Morrison
CAST: Documentary

In 1978, in an area quickly populated and just as quickly abandoned in the Yukon gold rush, a resident discovered buried treasure of another sort: prints to 372 silent films, many of them long thought lost, buried in the ground at this, the end of a years-long distribution line (distributors didn’t want to pay for their return shipping from the frozen North). Writer/director/editor Bill Morrison tells the story of how they got into that ground and how they were dug out, but he’s got more on his mind than that; he uses the history of this city and the pieces of celluloid that lived there to create an experiential mosaic of a film, using dreamlike music and images in conversation with each other to create not a conventional documentary, but one of the most profound commentaries yet about this chemical, lyrical art.

The Hero

RELEASE DATE: June 9
DIRECTOR: Brett Haley
CAST: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman

Sturdy, reliable, famously mustachioed character actor Sam Elliott turns in a rare leading role as, guess what, a sturdy, reliable, famously mustachioed character actor in this gentle character study from director Brett Haley (I’ll See You in My Dreams). He wrote the film as a showcase for Elliott, and it functions beautifully as that: he’s funny, he’s romantic, he’s goofy, he’s tragic. The movie surrounding him doesn’t quite live up to his bravura performance; it’s your standard-issue meditation on mortality and aging and family and all the rest. But it’s 90 minutes hanging out with Sam Elliott (sometimes hanging out with Sam Elliott and Nick Offerman, even), and that’s more than a lot of movies have to offer.

Monterey Pop

RELEASE DATE: June 14
DIRECTOR: D.A. Pennebaker
CAST: Documentary

Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the first big rock festival of the late ‘60s – and the Bay area iteration of the Summer of Love that it celebrated – comes a new 4K restoration, from the original 16mm and 8-track elements, of D.A. Pennebaker’s groundbreaking concert documentary. The format was still a new one, and these films hadn’t yet fallen into a default mode of “respectful distance,” so it’s shot with a proximity and familiarity that captures the loose, hang-out vibe of both the festival itself and its cultural moment (note the intensity in Grace Slick and Marty Blain’s eyes as they sing to each other, or the tap and bounce of Janis Joplin’s feet). The film is, as ever, too damn short and weirdly paced, with great acts getting a single number (or less) while Ravi Shankar’s watch-checking performance at the end drones on and on. But it has some of the truly great moments in modern(ish) musical cinema: Joplin ripping “Ball and Chain” into soulful shreds, Otis Redding asking, “This is the love crowd, right,” before slipping into a simmering performance of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” and most memorably, the overt, graphic sexuality of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar arson. That scene, and this movie, is still scorching a half-century later.

In Transit

RELEASE DATE: June 23
DIRECTORS: Albert Maysles, Lynn True, David Usul, Nelson Walker III, Benjamin Wu
CAST: Documentary

If you truly love documentary film, you’ll probably get a little choked up when the words “A Film by Albert Maysles” come up at the beginning of In Transit, appearing for the last time on a feature film. And Maysles’ style and voice were so firmly entrenched that maybe you could’ve said this about whatever his last work turned out to be, but In Transit feels a particularly apt final entry in his filmography, encapsulating much of what was great about his work: hanging out, listening, and discovering truth. This time, Maysles and his coterie of co-directors find themselves on Amtrak’s Empire Builder train, running from the Midwest to Northwest, filled with people getting away, starting over, looking forward, thinking back. Sometimes we come in on the middle of the story, and it doesn’t matter much; we know these stories, or can guess at them, because they sound like our own, since we’re all in some sort of transition, trying to find a new home, or going back where we belong. “I’m so excited to be almost home,” says a girl near the end, and maybe it’s just the way he frames her, or where he places that moment, but there’s a profundity to her words that’s overwhelming. What a glorious, perfect conclusion to a remarkable career.

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press

RELEASE DATE: June 23
DIRECTOR: Brian Knappenberger
CAST: Documentary

The salacious aspects of the Gawker vs. Hulk Hogan case — and there were plenty of them — had an unfortunate tendency to overshadow the real issues that were at stake in that case. Director Brian Knappenberger (The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz) works through those issues, clearly and carefully, before expanding the scope of that case to the man who funded it, his association with Donald Trump, and that man’s open hostilities towards the free press. By the time the whole story has been told, we’re looking at a pretty chilling portrait of where we’re at and where we’re going — and a loud call to arms to prevent it. Riveting, powerful, and frankly essential viewing.

The Big Sick

RELEASE DATE: June 23
DIRECTOR: Michael Showalter
CAST: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Aidy Bryant

Stand-up comic/actor Kumail Nanjiani and wife Emily V. Gordon co-write this somewhat fictionalized account of how they met, fell in love, broke up, and then went through a terrifying medical ordeal before they could get back together. Director Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name is Doris) adroitly juggles the comic and serious tones, and plenty of subject matter as well: it’s about people who are struggling not just with health and love, but with family, faith, and tradition. Funny from end to end and frequently heartbreaking as well, this is a rich film, filled with the kind of details and texture most mainstream comedies don’t even bother with.

Okja

RELEASE DATE: June 28
DIRECTOR: Bong Joon Ho
CAST: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Seo-Hyun Ahn, Jake Gyllenhaal

Director Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer, The Host) crafts an absolutely bonkers mash-up of social treatise, sci-fi monster movie, and elegant action picture – the kind of thing that could’ve been an utter train wreck of disparate narratives and tones in the wrong hands. These, to put it mildly, are the right ones. Joon-ho beautifully orchestrates pathos, satire, and action set pieces (including one with incongruent John Denver accompaniment – so sorry, another miss, Alien: Covenant), coaxing an easy, natural, and determined performance out of Ahn to complement the (wonderfully) cartoonish work of Swinton and Gyllnhaal, and a turn that nicely subverts Dano’s (often grating) earnestness. It’s hard to know exactly how to sell this, or even encapsulate its wonders in a single paragraph. But it’s magnificently entertaining and wildly unpredictable, and there are alarmingly few movies these days that fit both descriptions.

The Little Hours

RELEASE DATE: June 30
DIRECTOR: Jeff Baena
CAST: Alison Brie, Dave Franco, Kate Micucci, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman

Writer/director Jeff Baena uses Giovanni Boccaccio’s “The Decameron” as the starting point for this modern, absurd comedy in period dress, concerning a trio of nuns and the various sexual awakenings. Baena has fun with the incongruity between the medieval trappings and the college-dorm-movie shenanigans of his protagonists, though he struggles to maintain a consistent tone when elements of sex, witchcraft, and jealousy are introduced. It works best in its early passages, when we can just enjoy the pleasures of Aubrey Plaza in a nun’s habit, screaming profanities. The entire, enviable cast shines, but Nick Offerman steals the show in a brief role as an oaf of epic proportions.

The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography

RELEASE DATE: June 30
DIRECTOR: Errol Morris
CAST: Documentary

For over 30 years, Cambridge photographer Elsa Dorfman took photographs of celebrities, family, and everyday folks with a large-format Polaroid camera, creating 20″ x 24″ portraits of striking beauty and rich boldness. For much of that time, Morris has been a friend and occasional client (and it’s not hard to see the influence of her aesthetic on those crisp, white-background interviews in his commercials and short films), and after her retirement, he spent some time hanging out with her, looking at her photos, and listening to her stories. The result is a looser Morris movie than we’re accustomed to (The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War aren’t exactly “hang-out movies”), and if, early on, he seems to subscribe to the theory that her photos have “no narrative,” he eventually finds one in how her art has documented her friendships, and her search for self. A modest, intimate, lovely movie, and proof that Mr. Morris still has new tricks up his sleeve.

The Reagan Show

RELEASE DATE: June 30
DIRECTORS: Sierra Pettengill, Pacho Velez
CAST: Documentary

In his farewell interview with David Brinkely in December of 1988, Ronald Reagan admitted, of the training he brought to the job, “There have been times in this office where I have wondered how you could do the job if you hadn’t been an actor.” Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez’s bold and witty documentary takes that notion and runs with it, using miles of archival footage and internal video (this was a VHS-age president, and his White House taped everything) to create a multi-media mosaic – less, even, about the Reagan presidency than about how it was presented (or, to put it more accurately, stage managed). Those looking for a traditional, chronological bio-doc will be sorely disappointed, but to hell with them, there are plenty of those. The Reagan Show does something much more interesting – and, frankly, timely.