Under the Silver Lake (2018) Written & Directed by David Robert Mitchell
Sam is aimless. He’s far behind on rent; his relationships involve random flings or women he ogles after from his balcony. His apartment is reeking of an awful smell; he claims its the skunks roaming around the area. One evening he meets Sarah, a new neighbor whom he shares a quiet moment with. The next day everything in her apartment is packed up and gone. Suddenly, Sam is thrust into a conspiracy of codes and symbols; the mundane is given greater meaning. There are cultish rooftop parties. The band with hidden messages in their records. Fallout shelters deep beneath Los Angeles. The pirate. The balloon girl. The homeless king. Sam finds the surface of reality rippling in bizarre ways. But is this a revelation or his delusion consuming him?
Backstabbing for Beginners (2018) Written by Per Fly & Daniel Pyne Directed by Per Fly
As I’ve watched my way through A24’s catalog of films, there is one thing that always seems to signify you’re in for a bad time: The DirectTV logo. The co-productions with DirectTV are almost always a guarantee you’re in for a bad to mediocre time. Backstabbing for Beginners is no exception. The film adapts the memoir of Michael Soussan, a journalist who worked for the United Nations’ Food for Oil program. His fictional avatar in the film, Michael Sullivan holds the same job under Cypriot diplomat Costa Passaris. Sullivan quickly discovers that the system to trade Iraqi oil for food and medicine to benefit the struggling people of that nation is deeply corrupted. Sadaam’s people have allowed a black market for medicine to build up while delivering expired meds to ailing children. It’s as obvious as a sledgehammer to the face that Costa is in on the scam and so Sullivan has to gather enough evidence to take his boss down.
Lean on Pete (2018)
Written & Directed by Andrew Haigh
Charley is a boy with a rough, uncertain life. His mother ran out on him and his Dad when Charley was young, and now Dad shuffles them around from place to place, never staying long enough to plant any roots. Charley loved when they lived with Aunt Margy, but there was an argument and another move. Now the duo has settled in Portland where Dad is fooling around with a married woman and failing to keep food in the house. Sixteen-year-old Charley discovers a horse racing track nearby and gets a job helping Del with his racehorses. Charley feels an instant bond towards Lean on Pete, an aging quarterhorse whom Del seems eager to get rid of. As the boy and his horse’s relationship grows, and life at home falls apart, Charley feels an urge to run.
The Last Movie Star (2018)
Written & Directed by Adam Rifkin
Vic Edwards (played by and loosely based on Burt Reynolds) has passed his prime as an A-list actor in Hollywood. His glory days were the 1970s, and now he’s a frail old man living alone in his gated estate in 2018. A letter comes from Nashville inviting him to a film festival where he will be awarded a lifetime achievement honorific. Vic debates going and finally gives but arrives to find the event is not prestigious but operated out of a bar. The organizers are enthusiastic fans of his work, but Vic feels lied to and humiliated. He eventually strikes up a friendship with one of the organizer’s sisters, Lil, a troubled young woman who reminds Vic of his daughter. Together they journey back to Vic’s childhood home so he can account for some of his past mistakes.
The Vanishing of Sidney Hall (2018)
Written by Shawn Christensen & James Dolan
Directed by Shawn Christensen
The film opens with the title character, Sidney Hall clacking away at a short story for his high school English class. We cut to him reading said story, interspersed with images of a faceless cheerleader. The story ends up being a piece of self-indulgent misogyny, all about boiling a depersonalized crush into a figure of adolescent masturbation. This is our…protagonist. Sidney Hall. In a flurry of scenes that follow we find Hall becoming a famous published author and finally into a homeless recluse, announcing that this film will be about the search for who this man is and why he is doing what he does. I can’t emphasize how horrible this movie is.
The Ballad of Lefty Brown (2017)
Written & Directed by Jared Moshe
Lefty Brown is a simple-minded ranchhand whose glory days are far behind him. He’s about to bid farewell to his longtime friend, Ed Johnson who has been elected senator of Montana. However, tragedy strikes and Ed will never make it to D.C. Old friends Tom Harrah and Governor Jame Bierce arrive to comfort Ed’s widow while his affairs are put in order. Lefty takes off to hunt down the killers and is joined by Tom who is trying to bring the old man back home. Instead, they pick up a young kid enamored with the mythology of the West, and whom quickly learns the stories he has heard are not as fantastic and pretty as he thinks. A conspiracy is uncovered behind Ed’s murder that connects to his election as a senator and leaves Lefty as a suspect fighting to redeem his name and avenge his friend.
Written & Directed by Laura & Kate Mulleavy
Theresa is a troubled woman who is grieving the recent death of her terminally ill mother. She spends most of her days wandering around the small home in Northern California she has inherited. Her lumberjack boyfriend Nick pressures her to sell the place so they can leave and start over somewhere else, but Theresa just can’t. When she finally returns to her job working in a marijuana dispensary alongside her friend Keith, he notices she is withdrawn and unwillingly to start living again. A series of tragic circumstances lead to another death in Theresa’s life which finally pushes her to a breaking point. Through a hallucinatory exodus, she will come to a final realization about her life and relationships.
Written by Alex Lipschultz, Musa Syeed, & Joshua Z Weinstein
Directed by Joshua Z. Weinstein
Menashe is a widowed Hasidic man whose young son is living with Menashe’s in-laws until the man can remarry. He works a dead-end job at a grocery store with a manager who cuts him no slack. Menashe was never delighted with his arranged marriage, though he misses his wife and loves his son. He attempts to take his son back, but this unravels into a conflict with his brother in law Eizik. Their rabbi decides that Menashe will keep the boy for the week leading up to his late wife’s one-year memorial. Menashe struggles with being the father his community doubts he can be and maintaining his sense of individuality within his tight-knit cultural group. Every day feels like a loss of his self to make others around him happy.
A Ghost Story (2017)
Written & Directed by David Lowrey
A man and woman live in a small house in rural Texas. There is an ongoing argument about whether they should move to a place with more opportunities or stay in this place. The woman wants to leave. The man wants to stay. Then he dies, his car t-boned by another vehicle. After she visits the hospital morgue and goes in tears, the man rises, still covered in the sheet and wanders back home. This is when he begins to haunt that small house. Time slows to a crawl; then it passes in torrents. The man eventually comes to see his time in this home from a new perspective and comes to a very final conclusion about not just his life, but all of ours.
The Exception (2017)
Written by Simon Burke
Directed by David Leveaux
Captain Stefan Brandt, a member of Hitler’s Third Reich, is assigned to protect the exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II at his country home in the Netherlands. Once there he finds a former monarch who is hesitant to throw his support behind the Fuhrer. The Gestapo shows up to check out a rumored English spy among the villagers, and Brandt seems rather uninterested in this side hunt. Instead, he becomes enamored with Mieke, a young maid in the Kaiser’s staff. Things suddenly become even more complicated when word comes that SS Commander Heinrich Himmler is coming to secure the Kaiser’s loyalty. Brandt finds himself torn between his duty to Germany, his admiration of the Kaiser, and his love for Mieke.