August at the Movies: The 10 Must-See Films of the Month

the grandmaster

This month, we put a special focus on the independent films receiving a proper release, many of which have been widely anticipated since Sundance (or, in one case, for several years). Even the upcoming studio flicks we're profiling have an offbeat flavor, promising one of the most unusual months at the movies in quite some time. Onwards, into the spectacular now!

THE SPECTACULAR NOW (Aug 2)

This film from the director of "Smashed" comes a love story between a teenage alcoholic and the slightly nerdy girl he befriends after a bad senior year break up. While it may sound trite on paper, the festival darling (one of many hitting theaters in limited release this month) surprises with its deliberate lack of showiness, understated nature and simple, effective performances. Miles Teller and in particular Shailene Woodley shine with their nuanced naturalism and easy chemistry.

Although parts of the film feel too reliant on improv to achieve this realism, a rather rampant problem with a lot of indie filmmaking nowadays, the good ultimately outweighs the bad. And you'll never look Coach Taylor the same way again. Since both Teller and Woodley appear in YA adaptation "Divergent", and the film's marketing focuses more on the teen love story than teen alcoholic story, expect high critical praise and potentially low cinema scores from the inevitably confused 13-18 year old set.

Read our full review here.

THE CANYONS (Aug 2)

This movie!! Guys!! This movie!!  Lindsay Lohan, renaissance porn star James Deen, Bret Easton Ellis, and the inimitable Paul Schrader join forces to create this masterpiece/sh*t show, which is finally coming to theaters and VOD after what seemed like an eternity of gossip. In any event, nothing is keeping me from taking in this "contemporary LA noir about the dangers of sexual obsession and ambition," so good job stoking the strange fires of controversy, this NY Times piece and this New York Magazine article!

Read our full review here.

ELYSIUM (Aug 9)

This second film from "District 9" helmer Neil Blomkamp made massive waves when it showed footage at Comic-Con last year, but then quickly faded away into obscurity until its trailer was released with "Man of Steel" in June. The world Blomkamp has created, where the rich can go live a luxurious life on Elysium while the underprivileged suffer on Earth, is a fascinating one and broadly topical one, and if the screenplay can live up to the everything else, we should be in for a treat. Here's hoping.

THE BUTLER (Aug 16)

I'm not the *biggest* fan of Lee Daniels (because Lee Daniels is the biggest fan of Lee Daniels, with Oprah running a close second), but not gonna lie, noticing that this script was written by Danny Strong made my anticipation take a complete 180. The Emmy Award winner for "Game Change" who had nothing to do with the "Paperboy", writes the story of Eugene Allen (Forest Whitaker), White House head butler to eight different presidents. Oscar bait much? But perhaps the most fun and potentially ridiculous part of this movie? Let me clear my throat/stretch my typing fingers:

John Cusack as Nixon, Liev Schrieber as LBJ, Alan Rickman as Reagan, James Marsden as JFK (and Minka Kelly as Jackie) and Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, not to mention Martin Luther King Jr, played by Nelsan Ellis (True Blood) and Mariah Carey in the role of Hattie Pearl WHAT IS HAPPENING. Oh and OPRAH is in it. So. The end.

AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS (Aug 16)

Another one of those aforementioned festival darlings that wowed at Sundance, SXSW, and LA Film Fest, to name a few. This neo-Western set in 1970s Texas Hill Country, stars Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck and Ben Foster and was developed through the Sundance Writing and Producing labs. David Lowery's  film currently has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, but can this swooningly romantic drama break out from the art house audience?  At the very least, the Sundance US Dramatic Cinematography Award winner will be beautiful to look at, and allegedly features one of the most compellingly strange scores of the year.

Read our full review here.

KICK-ASS 2 (Aug 16)

You'll notice a lack of studio films on our list this month, and even "Kick-Ass 2" is perhaps more accurately categorized as studio adjacent, considering its predecessor was made independently and picked up by Lionsgate after a successful Comic-Con panel in 2009. Now, for better or worse," Kick Ass 2", adapted from the two comic series, "Kick Ass 2" and "Hit Girl", is a fully funded studio pic from Universal and follows the rise of costumed heroes just as Hit Girl decides to retire and pursue life as a normal teen.  Can this studio picture, directed not by original helmer Matthew Vaughn, but by "Never Back Down" mastermind Jeff Wadlow, match the strange charm of the first?

THE GRANDMASTER (Aug 23)

As if a Wong Kar Wai movie would be opening and we *wouldn't* put it in our movie preview. What, were you expecting? "Planes"? "Mortal Instruments"? PSHAW I SAY. "The Grandmaster" is yet another biopic about Ip Man, the legendary martial arts master who trained Bruce Lee, Wong's take following the martial artist as his world collides with that of another kung fu master, Gong Er, during the Japenese invasion in 1936. Choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping, mastermind behind "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon", "Kill Bill" and "The Matrix", "The Grandmaster" certainly promises to be a different and decidedly unique take on both biopics and martial arts movies.

Read our full review here.

THE WORLD'S END (Aug 23)

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost reunite with Edgar Wright behind the camera in the third and final chapter of their ice cream and blood trilogy, this installment concerning  a group of childhood friends who reunite in their 30s for an epic pub crawl, at the end of which lies the fabled pub The World's End. During this epic trek of bros and booze, they realize the world is actually coming to an end. Let the action/comedy ensue! The film also stars Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike, and an array of recognizable faces from not only the Edgar Wright repertoire, but all of British everything. What's more, it surprisingly features some of the best fight scenes in recent memory. And a special treat for you Spaced fans: Keep an eye out for Mark Heap (Brian) and Julia Deakin (Marsha).

Read our full review here.

YOU'RE NEXT (Aug 23)

It has now been a solid TWO YEARS since "You're Next" started playing the festival circuit to much acclaim, but finally the twist-on-the-home-invasion horror flick will be available for consumption nationwide. Opening weekend, grab a giant group of horror loving friends and get thee to a theater. Oh fun fact for you fellow geeks out there -  that cat mask you see in the trailer? Very popular random item floating around at Comic-Con, that was even discovered backstage by Michael Fassbender and shown off during his Comic-Con panel for "X-Men."

SHORT TERM 12 (Aug 23)

This little movie from director Destin Cretton won both the Grand Jury and Audience Award at SXSW, and then the Audience Award at LA Film Fest, and mark my words, will be making plenty of noise come Film Independent Spirit Awards time. Although the film was the second Cretton made, after "I Am Not A Hipster", he began work on "Short Term 12" long before, having worked with foster kids himself and becoming inspired to tell this story of the people who find hope in such facilities, whether they are the ones being cared for, or the ones attempting to do the caring. This beautiful, moving uncliched drama stars Brie Larson in a star-making role and an excellent John Gallagher Jr ("Newsroom") as her sympathetic boyfriend.

Read our review here. 

Also check out:

Europa Report (Aug 2nd, on VOD now)

In A World (Aug 9th)

Prince Avalanche (Aug 9th)

Jobs (Aug 16)

Drinking Buddies (Aug 23rd, On VOD now)

Afternoon Delight (Aug 30)