These Are the Best Spring 2019 Art Films You Must See

Written by | Entertainment, Screen

Charlie Says

Charlie Says Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release

For those whom the blockbuster doesn’t pass muster, check out our wined and refined spring movie recommendations.

Charlie Says

The title of Charlie Says is more ominous than it might at first seem. The film offers a feminine (albeit tragic) perspective on the infamous Manson Family and the murders they committed in the summer of 1969. Here, the actual murders take a back seat to looking at what made the Manson Family tick before hallucinogens and the megalomania of their leader (Charlie Manson) lead to the horrific Tate/LaBianca killing spree. Where the film does best is in its leads. Matt Smith (Mapplethorpe, The Crown) lays down a solid Manson, and the script incorporates a lot of small details about the man and his cult that most audiences won’t even notice. But the film really belongs to Hannah Murray (Gilly from Game of Thrones) who plays the unlucky Leslie Van Houten with tremendous presence and pathos. Murray is somehow both slightly homely and also stunningly beautiful, and it’s her gentle gravitas that holds the film together.

She’s also backed up by actresses like Sosie Bacon (Thirteen Reasons Why) playing another of the ‘Manson Girls’ and the always-stellar Merritt Wever (Nurse Jackie, Godless) as a counselor working to de-program these women  in prison. Additional actors like Kayli Carter (who was so good in last year’s under-seen Private Life) and Chase Crawford (Gossip Girl) play other members of the family, whose brief and staggered appearances in the film suggest a lot was left on the cutting room floor to bring the film down to 104 minutes. The Word: The choice to focus on the experience of Van Houten and the other women who went to jail because of Charlie’s influence is a strong one, but it also makes one long for a bigger and more complete dramatizations of this legendary true crime story.

scene from diane

Diane courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release

Diane

This is not a horror film. and yet, in its own way, it is kind of horrifying. At the same time it’s also beautiful — a combination of qualities that aptly describes much of life in the end. In the case of this film, it’s particularly true of Diane’s life, which is full of love but also heavy with burdens and regrets. Diane lives alone in Western Massachusetts, where she fills her days by taking care of other people. (However, she is not so apt to do the same for herself.) She makes it her business to be eternally on the move — visiting old relatives and sick friends, even serving the hungry at her church’s soup kitchen. Her greatest source of worry is her drug-addicted son (Jake Lacy – The Office, Carol), who repays all Diane’s care with unkindness. Throughout all this, Diane also appears to be holding on to something, some deep and unknowable guilt. And the harder she holds on to it, the faster her life seems to rush by her in a blur.

In his debut feature (following his superb documentary, Hitchcock/Truffaut) Kent Jones pursues one of the greatest questions in life: It’s a mystery so elusive that it can scarcely be put into words. And yet, in the role of Diane, veteran actress Mary Kay Place (The Big Chill, Being John Malkovich) manages to embody that in what is likely the greatest role in her long and esteemed career. The film’s release is likely far too early to sustain momentum through to next Oscar season, but this performance absolutely deserves a nomination. Place is backed by an amazing cast of actors including Andrea Martin, Estelle Parsons, Deirdre O’Connell, Joyce Van Patten, Phyllis Gallagher and Glynnis O’Connor. Together they inhabit one of the most subtle and lived-in movies I have seen in recent years. The Word: This must-see film is surprising, difficult to categorize and possesses nearly unfathomable hidden depths. You cannot always see them, but will feel them looming underneath you.

scene from non-fiction

Non-Fiction Courtesy of IFC Films. A Sundance Selects Release

Non-Fiction

the latest film from French auteur filmmaker Olivier Assayas (Personal Shopper, Clouds of Sils Maria, Carlos) latest film lands a bit on the lighter side of his personal spectrum – or at least so it seems on the surface.

Non-fiction leads audiences on a stroll through the lives of a few intellectual Parisians. They are busy working in and around — or more generally discussing — the ins and outs of the publishing industry and how it is changing. Naturally, there is more at play in their breezy conversations than the buying and selling of books. Characters who are introduced to us as effete and mannered, quintessentially intellectual and oh-so-French quickly relax into the shape of more normal people. This is to say that quite a lot of them are rather busy having affairs with one another.

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Léonard (Vincent Macaigne – The Innocents, Chien) is earnestly trying to get his book published. However, Alain (Guillaume Canet – Tell No One) is trying to express in the most subtle way possible that he will not be the one to put it in print. Meanwhile, Alain doesn’t realize that the frumpy Léonard has been having a long affair with Alain’s wife Selena (Juliette Binoche). The absurdity is heightened by the fact that Leonard has a habit of detailing his real relationships, thinly veiled, in his tales. But Alain himself is also busy having an affair (as, by this point, audiences may come to imagine that most French people are). It’s worth noting there’s no drama surrounding these secret trysts. That’s refreshing, and allows the film’s energy to remain intelligent and civilized as the characters muse on upon art and life and the places the two intersect. The Word: Dry, wry humor is the order of the film. It may not be a comedy for everyone, but those in the mood for smart, French fare will find it rewarding and uplifting.

dr. ruth at home

Ask Dr Ruth Photo by Austin Hargrave courtesy Hulu E

Ask Dr Ruth

Since it is also an utterly charming film about a thoroughly beloved public figure, Ask Dr. Ruth almost immediately seems a fitting companion to last year’s hit documentary about Mr. Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor. True, she may have appeared more bawdy than he early in her career. However by now, the sight of this adorable and grandmotherly four-foot-seven-inch woman bouncing on her heels while enthusiastically declaring “Let’s talk about sex!” in a cartoonishly cute German accent will be at once familiar and heartwarming. For those unfamiliar with the disarmingly straight-talking sex therapist personality of the 1980s, there may be no better introduction than this delightful new documentary. Even those who remember Dr. Ruth Westheimer well will discover much about the still-vivacious 90-year-old that they did not know previously. For starters, she survived the holocaust (although her parents did not).

There’s also the fact that later in Israel, she was a sniper for a while — which is quite something to imagine. So is the picture of this tiny woman being thrown through a wall by a bomb, an incident that damaged both her feet so badly that they almost had to be amputated. But most remarkable of all is hearing how Ruth responded (and continues to respond) to every hardship with boundless love and positivity. The peak of her fame was also the peak of the AIDS crisis, and she did a lot to enlighten during those dark years. Though diminutive in size, there is something undeniably tremendous about this woman. She seems at times to possess the strength of a lion while remaining gentle and friendly as a lamb. But the greatest thing about Dr. Ruth is the gift of self-acceptance and self-love she’s given countless people — echoes of which have made the world an incalculably better place. The Word: This will leave you hoping this nonagenerian never ever leaves us.

The Fall of the American Empire

The Fall of the American Empire Photo by Van Royko, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

The Fall of the American Empire

You may be quite surprised to learn (at least for the purposes of  this film) that the “fall of the American empire” takes place in Canada. Of course Canada is part of North “America,” but to most of the world the United States gobbled up the title of “America” long ago. In fact, there isn’t even an actual mention of America. There is, however, much mention of that highest held of American values: money.

That brings us to Jean-Claude. He works long hours doing package delivery to make a living even though he has a PhD in philosophy. He’s smart enough to do anything, but too intellectual to either sell out (even a little) or keep a girlfriend. And in accordance with his moral code, even though he’s pretty broke, he always gives his pocket change to anyone who needs it.

But one day at work he discovers a lot more than pocket change. He finds himself alone in parking lot with two dead men and two massive duffle bags full of cash — a heist gone wrong. Unable to resist (or perhaps seeing a higher moral imperative at work), Jean-Claude takes the money and runs. However now he has a lot of new problems to deal with. He discovers it’s not so easy to get away with someone else’s crime.

Fortunately Jean-Claude is clever. And when cleverness isn’t enough, his honesty sees him through. One by one, a cast of unexpected allies join his cause to launder the money and do something good with it. In this way the film definitely becomes something of fantasy, but not of the usual variety. Writer and Director Denys Arcand (The Barbarian Invasions, Jesus of Montreal) knows how to tell this kind of story, and why such stories need to be told. The Word: A feel good heist movie, where things come together instead of falling apart (for a change).

Long Shot scene

Long Shot Photos by Phillipe Bossé courtesy Lionsgate

Long Shot

This is Seth Rogen’s third film collaboration with writer/director Jonathan Levine (with the first two being cancer comedy 50/50 and Christmas Eve comedy The Night Before). Like its forerunners, Long Shot features an easy combination of humor and heart. However, this one also (and here’s the key) features Charlize Theron. It seems almost cosmically unfair that someone as statuesquely beautiful and dramatically talented as Theron should also have such strong comedic abilities. These powers have already been established (see projects such as Arrested Development and Young Adult). Nevertheless, they’re a refreshing delight every time they appear on screen again.

In Long Shot, Rogen plays Fred, a principled and frumpish journalist drowning in a profession plagued by corruption and clickbait. His best bud Lance is played by O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Ingrid Goes West), who continues to look and to charm just like his father (Ice Cube). When Lance takes Fred to a fancy party, Fred encounters his first childhood crush, Charlotte (Theron), who just happens to now be the Secretary of State. Fred does a couple pretty brutal pratfalls, and before you know it is speechwriting for Charlotte’s run at the presidency, despite the eye-rolling of her main aid, played with particularly snarky flare by June Diane Raphael (Grace and Frankie). At first, Fred’s ethics clash a bit with the political realities of Charlotte’s world. Then romance starts to smolder between the two. But can the most powerful woman in the world really date a scruffy and gaff-prone guy like Fred? The Word:  Long Shot is a nice mix of low- and highbrow humor, neatly packaged in a hopeful political fantasy that’s confidently reliant on the appeal of it’s A-list leads. Plus, who wouldn’t prefer Theron as president right now?

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Last modified: May 31, 2019