For the past decade, BAMcinemaFest has been giving in-the-know Brooklyn film buffs first crack at the not-yet-released indie movies everyone else will soon be talking about. This year, the 10th annual BAMcinemaFest, which runs from June 20-July 1, will be dishing out some buzzy New York premieres, exclusive filmmaker Q&A’s, and an outdoor screening of the haunting and magical 90’s gem, Eve’s Bayou, plus discounted tickets for those who attend three or more screenings at BAM Rose Cinemas. You can’t go wrong with any of BAMcinemaFest’s well-curated films, but here are our top picks.
As though middle school weren’t horrendous enough, it now comes with Snapchat. Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade takes us through the terrors of our times, from sexual coercion to shattered iPhone screens. We see it all through the eyes of the awkward, loveable, baffled-by-life 13-year-old Kayla Day, played almost too well by Elsie Fisher. The only downside of the film is how acutely it may trigger some uncomfortable junior high memories. But with its incredible depictions of 13-year-old boys, the promises/dreadfulness of entering high school, some heartbreakingly honest dad-daughter moments (I only cried once), Eighth Grade has way too much warmth to be a total cringe-fest. Though it’ll appeal to Ladybird fans, it comes with less anger and more confusion; less sass and better parenting. It feels more like a prequel to My So-Called Life, amped up with social media stress. I can’t vouch for the universal appeal of Eighth Grade, but if you are a nerdy girl who grew up in the suburbs, this movie might really speak to you.
Opens in theaters July 13.
Sorry to Bother You
(NY premiere; Wednesday, June 20, 7:30pm, tickets $25+; Introduction by Boots Riley)
If you’re someone who binge watches an entire season of Black Mirror the day it comes out, you’ll want to be the first one in the door to see Sorry To Bother You. It’s hard to write about without spoiling any of director Boots Riley’s dark twists and turns, but we can say that Sorry To Bother You tackles an oppressive almost-reality with the exuberance of a raucous roller coaster ride. It’s the kind of movie that makes you want to throw your hands in the air as it sustains a pulse-quickening rhythm through the entirety of the film. The brilliant Lakeith Stanfield leads the charge as a telemarketer who adopts a “white voice” to take him up a corporate ladder that gets shadier with every rung. His girlfriend, played by Tessa Thompson, dives into the purpose and pitfalls of art and protest, her struggles characterized by the giant statement earrings swinging from her ears. (There are literally radical statements on the earrings, and you can actually buy them online.) Deeply political without feeling overly heavy-handed, Sorry To Bother You explores the dangers and horrors of dismantling an oppressive system from within.
Opens in theaters July 6.
Imagine a Venn diagram with three overlapping circles labeled “mental illness,” “motherhood,” and “performance art.” Madeline’s Madeline covers the terrain where the three intersect. Helena Howard, as Madeline, delivers a startling and gorgeous breakout performance, like a spinning top that is always on the edge of teetering out of control. Miranda July kills it as Madeline’s protective and well-meaning, if slightly neurotic and unhinged, mother. Molly Parker, as Madeline’s acting coach, takes the role of a second mother-figure who encourages Madeline while seemingly taking credit for the young woman’s wild talent and harrowing experiences. And then there’s a whole troupe of completely bizarre, possibly possessed performance artists. Since the film has a dreamy quality, I thought they might be a figment of Madeline’s imagination, but a friend with some acting class experience confirmed that their antics were spot-on and totally realistic, especially in their explorations of the mother-daughter relationship. Oops. The enigmatic Madeline’s Madeline promises plenty to unpack, and as a former film student, I felt grateful that there wouldn’t be a test after the credits rolled.
Opens in theaters August 10.
Crime + Punishment
(NY premiere; Sunday, June 24, sold out)
If you already harbor a deep distrust of cops, the stunningly shot documentary Crime + Punishment will provide some new fodder for your scorn. Director Stephen Maing connects the dots between the NYPD’s enforcement of an illegal quota system and how it benefits the city’s coffers and harms minority communities at the same time. As much as $900 million dollars of the city’s budget comes from the fees generated by tickets and summonses for minor offenses, we learn, and while this is a small slice of New York’s overall budget, it still incentivizes officers to make arrests in poor, predominantly minority neighborhoods, where many families do not have the resources to fight false charges or post bail. Maing splits the storyline, following an ex-cop turned private investigator who is helping to prove the innocence of an 18-year-old Latino boy stuck in Riker’s because of a false arrest, and a class-action lawsuit filed by a group of brave, minority officers known as the NYPD 12 who blow the whistle on supervisors who pressure them to overly police black and brown bodies, and then retaliate with demotions and poor performance reports when they don’t comply. The lawsuit is still up in the air, as the city continues to prevent it from coming to trial, but the admirable officers who would rather risk their livelihoods than remain silent prove that there are heroes in the system.—Nicole Davis
As of press time, there is one more screening planned for July 1 at BAM; follow the film’s Facebook page for details and other additions.
Leave No Trace
Father-daughter stories are so rarely told, but Debra Granik has upped the ante with one of the most original, captivating tales of a doting daughter and a loving father whose influence is actually quite dangerous to her. Ben Foster plays a PTSD-afflicted vet unable to adapt to civilian life. Instead, he retreats to its fringes, or more accurately to its forests, and takes his adolescent girl, Tom, (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) into the woods with him. The movie opens upon their hidden campsite in Portland, Oregon’s Forest Park, one of the country’s largest urban parks. Amidst the towering evergreens and ferns you can see how easy it would be to disappear inside these woods, and Granik hints at how many of the American homeless actually do find shelter and solace on public lands. Of course, most of these men and women do not have a pre-teen daughter along for such an unstable, survivalist ride, and you know it is only a matter of time before Tom becomes the adult in the tent. Granik has a knack for picking out powerful young actresses, and it will be interesting to see if Harcourt McKenzie goes as far as Jennifer Lawrence, the young star of Granik’s equally haunting film, Winter’s Bone.—N.D.
Opens in theaters June 29.