It's August, traditionally around the time that studios release their least promising films—but don't be fooled. There are still plenty of great movies showing at small venues and bloated multiplexes. We've got them all below, from Lav Diaz's Tolstoy adaptation The Woman Who Left to a masterpiece of 1980s black cinema, Bless Their Little Hearts, to the suspenseful Wind River, to the traditional but still scary Annabelle: Creation. As always, you can find all our film listings on the movie times and events/festivals pages as well as our comprehensive list of outdoor movie series.
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1. Landfill Harmonic
The Recycled Orchestra of Cateura is a group of Paraguayan youths, led by Favio Chavez, who make instruments from trash. "The world sent us garbage, and we send back music," says Chavez. The determined kids and their leader have made international news with their tenacity and skill. In the mood for optimism? This may be your deal.
El Centro de la Raza
Fritz Lang's classic wartime thriller alarmed the Hays Code censorship office with its depiction of the Nazis as, you know, evil. (Remember, America was neutral at the time.) But Lang, having escaped Germany himself, knew what was what. This tough, noirish tale follows a would-be British assassin whose capture after a failed attempt to kill Adolf Hitler puts him at the mercy of sadistic fascists. Even after he escapes, sadistic fascists follow him to England.
Gillian Robespierre, writer-director of Obvious Child, reunites with Jenny Slate for this serio-comic take on secrets and lies in Giuliani-era Manhattan. Frustrated adman Alan (John Turturro) is keeping something from hypercritical wife Pat (Edie Falco), engaged daughter Dana (Slate) can't resist a man from her past, and teen sister Ali (Abby Quinn) is sneaking out to go clubbing. True, they're normal middle-class problems, but Robespierre has a knack for embarrassingly salty dialogue, and Slate and Quinn are perfectly cast as sisters straining against the yoke of expectations. These two elements come together to make a very satisfying movie experience. KATHY FENNESSY
SIFF Cinema Uptown & AMC Seattle 10
4. SIFFsational Summer Series: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Jurassic Park
SIFF is finishing its summer series of double features. Celebrate nostalgia and escape to an air-conditioned movie theater while you revisit Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and everyone's favorite rompin'-stompin' prehistoric megafauna blockbuster, Jurassic Park. ROOOOOOOAAAAAR!
SIFF Cinema Uptown
5. The Untamed
A troubled couple and the wife's brother are invited to a remote cabin by the lovely Veronica, who wishes to introduce them to an otherworldly creature that holds bizarre erotic possibilities. Fans of transgressive cinema will be pleased to know that this film is dedicated to Andrzej Zuławski, whose horrorsex-filled Possession clearly inspired director Amat Escalante.
6. The Woman Who Left
Nothing says “summer summer summer, it’s like a merry-go-round” quite like an achingly slow, 226-minute, black-and-white Tolstoy adaptation from the Philippines. But people who say you can only watch vacuous fluff because it’s August are probably trying to sell you some vacuous fluff. Lav Diaz’s film about a woman released from jail after serving 30 years for a murder she didn’t commit, who seeks revenge against the former lover who framed her, is an indisputable masterpiece hovering somewhere near the cinematic intersection of Hou Hsiao-hsien, Claire Denis, Jim Jarmusch, and Monte Hellman. It’s riveting both despite and because of its epic length and arcadian pace, breathtakingly photographed, and fascinatingly concerned with the central issues of our time: class, privilege, accountability, violence, and the quest for agency. SEAN NELSON
Northwest Film Forum
THURSDAY & SATURDAY
7. Bless Their Little Hearts
LA Rebellion filmmaker Billy Woodberry's sole dramatic feature defies its origins in the 1980s. Painted in shades of black and white and dabbed with spare jazz and itchy R&B, it plays more like a Roberto Rossellini film from the 1940s. Charlie Banks (Nate Hardman), chain-smoking center of the story, shuffles when he walks and peers at Watts through wary eyes. He's looking for a job, but all he can find is piece work. When he gazes at his kids in silence after a fruitless day on the hunt, his frustration is palpable. "I don't feel I’m no loser," he tells his poker buddies when they encourage him to engage in a little larceny, but he lies and he cheats, and his wife, Andais (Kaycee Moore, even more heartbreaking here than in Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep) is no fool. The acting is unpolished, but Woodberry's empathy elevates the scenario. When Andais cries, "I'm tired!," her pain is palpable. Written and shot by Burnett, Bless Their Little Hearts helped to shift independent African American cinema away from the blaxploitation and morality-play models into something more timeless and true. KATHY FENNESSY
Northwest Film Forum
THURSDAY & SUNDAY
8. Endless Poetry
With this autobiographical film, Alejandro Jodorowsky, the surrealist genius behind El Topo and The Holy Mountain, has created the most accurate portrayal of a poet’s life in cinema history. When young Alejandro discovers a book of Federico García Lorca’s, he escapes his family’s house, becomes a poet, moves into a weird artist co-op, and physically ages only after having major life experiences. Every nonartist in Santiago de Chile, where the action takes place, is either a sleeping drone or a murderous pervert. Life in this world seems impossibly lonely until he meets a pink-haired woman warrior who kicks and spits at everyone she encounters. Equal parts goofy and gorgeous, violent and theatrical. Muy magnífico. Highly recommended. RICH SMITH
9. Business in the Black
Emancipated slaves and free black workers began laying the foundations of African American business districts as early as the 1800s. Some were wildly successful, including several millionaires. It took the efforts of racist citizenries to tear down this progress. The documentary Business in the Black: The Rise of Black Business in America 1800’s–1960’s tells the story of these entrepreneurs.
Northwest African American Museum
10. Tango Negro
The earthy, elegant tango is the epitome of cosmopolitan sexiness, but its history is more interesting than that—it bears the stories of slaves and the cultures they brought from Central Africa. This documentary delves into the explosion of an art form born of sadness and creativity.
Northwest Film Forum
11. 13 Minutes
Downfall, director Oliver Hirschbiegel's exploration of Adolf Hitler's final days, succeeded by going deep, fully acknowledging its subject's unimaginable monstrousness while also locating an aggrieved peevishness that made him fascinatingly, horribly relatable. (Can a zillion YouTube parodies be wrong? Well, yes, but not in this case.) 13 Minutes, Hirschbiegel's return to the time frame, unfortunately can't quite manage the same burrowing feat. Although its depiction of courage under titanic pressure is both harrowing and heroic, it never really pinpoints the central character's defining moment. ANDREW WRIGHT
12. The City of Lost Children
A demonic creature created by a scientist, helped by clone servants, steals the children of a dystopian society and extracts their dreams in an attempt to rein in his own accelerated deterioration. When a strongman (played by Ron Perlman) sets out to find his own kidnapped brother, his rescue mission leads to a spectacular showdown.
Allow writer and director Kogonada to take you on a bizarrely fascinating, visually stunning, and subtly sensual tour of Columbus, Indiana’s modernist architecture. Besides churches by Eero and Eliel Saarinen, libraries by I.M. Pei, and Will Miller’s enviable living room interior by Alexander Girard, the film centers on intersecting stories of familial responsibility. Jin (played with authority by John Cho) is a middle-aged man who should care that his father is dying in a hospital, but he doesn’t. Casey (played by Haley Lu Richardson, who turns in a phenomenally good, sophisticated performance) is a recent high-school grad who needs to cut the cord, but that’s complicated. The two shouldn’t like each other in any sort of romantic way, but that’s also complicated. Kogonada includes all the troubles Indianans face—meth problems, having to work two manual-labor jobs to pay rent, racial tension—but he smartly builds it into the characters’ motivations and backstory. Elisha Christian’s cinematography and Kogonada’s story reveal the deep relationship between architecture and people that many might miss. RICH SMITH
SIFF Cinema Uptown
14. I Am the Blues
Meet the great blues artists of the Deep South in this documentary tribute to musicians like Bobby Rush, Barbara Lynn, Henry Gray, Carol Fran, and Little Freddie King. A killer soundtrack is guaranteed.
SIFF Film Center
15. The Little Hours
Though nuns are often portrayed as beacons of purity, they’re anything but in The Little Hours, Jeff Baena’s film set at a convent in medieval Italy. These sisters unleash torrents of profanity, violently lash out at men, chug sacramental wine, and explore their sexuality with wild abandon. The film’s best moments come when we get to spy on them—wringing out the laundry, grooming the donkey, stealing turnips from the garden and later going to confession over the theft. The Little Hours finds comedy in mundanity; its jokes, thankfully, make up for its unoriginality. CIARA DOLAN
SIFF Cinema Egyptian & Varsity Theatre
16. Dawson City: Frozen Time
Artist Bill Morrison performs another aesthetically astonishing excavation of cinema’s past, piecing together a strange history from some 500 nitrate-stock films that were buried in subarctic territory in the Yukon. What can’t be recovered, however, is the First Nations hunting camp that rampant gold prospecting effectively displaced. The birth of commercial cinema (large-scale projectors, movie theaters) becomes, in this bizarre but true tale of one of the 20th century’s casualties of manifest destiny, a death of ritual for the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in tribe. JAY KUEHNER
Northwest Film Forum
17. Pop Aye
Kirsten Tan’s feature debut Pop Aye begins with a hitchhiker in Thailand trying to catch a ride. Trudging along the side of the road, the man holds out his hand once, with no luck. He tries again and a truck slows. The driver seems unfazed as he loads the man’s cargo: a sweetly cooperative elephant. The hitchhiker is Thana, an esteemed architect who became so frustrated with his life that he trashed it. Feeling disrespected at his job and reviled by his wife at home, he sees an elephant he recognizes from his childhood and offers to buy him on the spot. Even on film, the presence of a creature like that is enough to briefly take your breath away—and coupled with old memories, it’s enough for Thana to set out on a slow, sweet, strange cross-country journey to his hometown with the beast. JULIA RABAN
Recall Hoop Dreams, the 1994 documentary about two black American teenagers who dream of becoming pro-ballers and making millions. Step is not like that. Though having the same urban and class setting as Hoop Dreams (this time Baltimore and not Chicago), these black American teenagers are not dreaming of fame or riches. There are no such illusions for them. Their goals are more realistic: graduate from high school, get into college, obtain a degree, and secure stable employment. As for step dancing (which is not really at the center of the documentary), it provides pleasure, discipline, and a way to discharge a lot of inner-city pressure. Life for these young women is not easy at home or in the classroom. Sometimes there’s no food in the fridge; other times, homelessness is one unpaid bill away. The documentary is straightforward and powerful. CHARLES MUDEDE
SIFF Cinema Uptown
Otto Preminger's Laura is the ultimate in chilly, noirish, German expressionism-influenced glamor and has marked filmmakers from (arguably) Alfred Hitchcock to David Lynch. The American Film Institute named it one of the 10 best mysteries of all time.
20. Bonnie and Clyde
A pioneer in the New Hollywood movement of the late '60s, Bonnie and Clyde challenged gender norms, the acceptability of violence onscreen, and the function of traditional cinematic forms and styles. Faye Dunaway is Bonnie Parker and Warren Beatty is Clyde Barrow, two American outlaws looking for trouble.
21. Sunset Boulevard
Hollywood’s greatest movie about itself is a fearlessly dark-hearted psychodrama narrated by a dead man and built around one of the mind-fuckiest performances in cinema history. Gloria Swanson—a former silent movie star with limited luck transitioning to sound—stars as Norma Desmond, a former silent movie star with zero luck transitioning to sound who goes extravagantly insane, dragging a struggling young screenwriter along with her. DAVID SCHMADER
22. Annabelle: Creation
The setting: A mid-century Andrew Wyeth landscape with an Edward Hopper house. A busload of orphans and a kindly nun move into a mansion run by the saturnine Mr. Mullins and his recluse wife. We know why the Mullinses are so gloomy: Years earlier, their daughter Annabelle was killed in a car crash, and her old room remains stuffed with creepy vintage toys. Orphan Janice, crippled by polio and neglected by the other girls, is quickly lured into the room, where she finds an unpleasant-looking doll and winds up terrorized by a demonic force in the form of the dead daughter. Only her big-eyed, dorky friend Linda guesses what’s happening, and no adult believes her until people start getting ripped apart. This capable if conventional haunted house movie assumes a grave sweetness while it concentrates on the intense friendship between its two young protagonists, who deserve more screen time before the standard phantasmagoria of the Conjuring franchise crowds in—scary antiques, bone-snapping demons, malicious tea party dollies. JOULE ZELMAN
AMC Seattle 10 & Meridian 16
23. Atomic Blonde
Atomic Blonde isn’t subtle. On about the 89th shot of Charlize Theron walking coolly down a Berlin street wearing sunglasses to an 1980s new wave hit, I wondered if it wasn’t a little excessive. Yes, of course—it’s absolutely excessive. But also: great! Excess is great! Sunglasses and Charlize Theron and 1980s jams are all great. Theron plays a British spy (OR IS SHE?) trying to out-spy some other spies (OR ARE THEY?) who murdered this one other spy (HRRMMM??) and there’s also a mega-list of spies to track down (SPY SPY SPY!). Look, no one can explain the plot of a spy movie without sounding dumb or crazy or both, and the hallmark of a good one is giving up and saying, “Whatever, it’s fun!” (This is what I am doing here.) ELINOR JONES
24. Baby Driver
Once its tires grip pavement, Baby Driver becomes a full-throttle ballet of motion, color, and sound. The tunes are great, the getaway chases will leave you breathless, and the motley team of robbers—which includes Kevin Spacey, Eiza González, and an excellent Jamie Foxx—comes from the kind of screenplay you wish Tarantino still wrote. And a superbly villainous Jon Hamm shows there’s more to his post-Mad Men career than H&R Block ads. NED LANNAMAN
Pacific Place & AMC Seattle 10
25. The Big Sick
This film comes with a few red flags attached (rom-com set in the world of stand-up, etc.), but haters be damned. The true story of Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley, Portlandia) and his real-life wife Emily Gordon’s tumultuous courtship is hilarious, warm, and genuinely affecting—a best-case scenario in every department. The cross-cultural differences at the center of the story are written and played with empathy and truth, and the performances (especially from Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, and Adeel Akhtar) are deep, surprising, and bursting with multidimensional humanity. SEAN NELSON
It's July 1967. The Summer of Love, right? That, of course, is the white-privilege version of history, as Kathryn Bigelow's film Detroit vividly reminds us. The year 1969 was dubbed the "Days of Rage" after Chicago cops started cracking the skulls of white college students, but the burned-out neighborhoods of Watts and Newark testified to a different, more personal kind of rage—one based not on opposition to foreign wars, but to racial injustice at home. Detroit morphs from a tale about a city in crisis to a parable of authoritarian cruelty and dehumanization. Bigelow, using a handheld camera, shoves our faces close to the brutality and terror of this one long night. It's an incredibly effective technique to allow us to experience the emotions, the confusion, and the claustrophobia of the victims... If you can watch Detroit without thinking of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, or any of the other victims of racist violence masquerading as law enforcement, then, as the bumper sticker says, you're not paying attention. MARC MOHAN
From May 26 to June 4, 1940, the evacuation of Allied troops from the French port of Dunkirk and its surrounding beaches, known as Operation Dynamo, was a hugely important event in the history of World War II. After the war was over, the survivors of Dunkirk would almost all liken it to Hell. It was Hell on earth, a living Hell. The question is this: How do you present Hell on earth, Hell in the air, and Hell at sea on celluloid? For Christopher Nolan, much of the answer is do it in ultra-high-definition 70 mm IMAX film and show it in IMAX cinemas. Dunkirk is meant to be a nonstop 114 minutes of unalleviated spectacle, a massive collage of beautifully composed pictures, each one lasting for only a few seconds, of gunfire, flames, drowned corpses, exploding bombs, aerial dogfights with numerous plane crashes, and more, much more. Dunkirk shows a world full of terror, but Nolan goes to great lengths to ensure that his audience is never terrified. We sit in our seats munching popcorn and watch other people undergoing terrifying experiences. JONATHAN RABAN
28. The Glass Castle
This adaptation of Jeanette Walls's memoir about her childhood and irresponsible parents was much anticipated, thanks to a cast including Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, and Naomi Watts. Unfortunately, critical responses have been lukewarm: Peter Travers of Rolling Stone writes, "The Glass Castle arrives on the big screen slicked up and eager to sooth when it should be ready to rumble."
AMC Seattle 10
29. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Spider-Man: Homecoming isn't just the best Spider-Man film ever made—it might just be the current reigning champion in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Instead of being crammed with typical action set pieces and clunky character development, Homecoming is actually a good-natured teen comedy in the vein of John Hughes's best work, rather than the action-packed blockbuster behemoths we've grown accustomed to. It's the closest a Spider-Man film has come to capturing the insecurity and bubbly effervescence displayed in the Marvel comics of the 1960s, and Tom Holland's earnest, engaging style has a lot to do with it. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY
30. War for the Planet of the Apes
The director of War for the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Matt Reeves, has an incredible skill for creating the plausibly crumbling natural world Caesar and his tribe are about to inherit. He's also very good at balancing the necessary irony of Harrelson's performance with the even more necessary total conviction of Serkis's (and the other mo-cap ape actors). Even better: Though the film is full of violence, Reeves makes every death matter to someone on-screen. He's less good at noticing when his film overreaches with the whole "But who is the savage, now?" shtick. At one point, the Colonel forces a cadre of ape POWs to build a (wait for it) wall outside his commandeered fortress. "Why do they need a wall?" one of them asks, and only barely resists looking damply into the camera at Trump's America. But guess what: This is Trump's America, and Reeves makes an admirable effort to present it/us with a credible catastrophization of the moral and spiritual trajectory we can't even seem to fully acknowledge, much less avert. SEAN NELSON
31. Wind River
Beginning with a scarily enigmatic midnight chase, the plot follows a Wyoming wildlife officer (Jeremy Renner) tasked with hunting predatory animals through the frozen high lonesomes. (Viewers with a fondness for wolves should be prepared to avert their eyes early on.) After discovering the corpse of a young Native American woman in the mountains, he teams with an inexperienced FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) to track down the killer—and as their path leads them to the local reservation, he must deal with his own ties to the deceased. As his previous screenplays have indicated, screenwriter/director Taylor Sheridan has a real gift for the tired wiseassery of lawmen, and his streak continues here, with the byplay between jaded professionals giving spark even to routine procedural scenes. (Graham Greene, as the reservation’s deadpanning sheriff, not only steals every scene he’s in, but possibly those of whatever is playing next door in the multiplex, too.) If Sheridan proves to be a little more indulgent toward moments of tough guys waxing poetic than the directors of his previous work, at least the extra words earn their keep. ANDREW WRIGHT
32. Wonder Woman
In Wonder Woman, innocence is Diana’s foil. She’s read at great length about the world, but has never lived in it. And as Diana deals with her naïveté and her foes, Wonder Woman is exciting and fun—even though it devolves into typical blockbuster spectacle near its end, I’d recommend it to anyone who loves action films, and there’s also just enough subtext to feed a philosophical mind. How much harm does Wonder Woman do when she strides boldly into war? Is this what power looks like? Is it cool just because she’s a woman? Hopefully these questions will be answered in future films. For now, Wonder Woman is a thrilling start. SUZETTE SMITH