Ten Films to Watch this July

(BBC)From a seriously creepy daytime horror to the Lion King remake, Nicholas Barber chooses the films not to miss this month.

Spider-Man: Far from Home

Marvel’s latest run of superhero films didn’t quite end with Avengers: Endgame. Spider-Man: Far from Home is set shortly after all the deaths and rebirths in that record-smashing blockbuster, which means that Spider-Man’s mentor, Iron Man, is out of the picture, and Spidey himself (Tom Holland) has just been zapped back into existence after five years in oblivion. And you thought things were confusing for you as a teenager. To complicate matters further, a supervillain (Jake Gyllenhaal) pops in from another universe, and Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) wants the web-slinger to sign up as a government secret agent. Still, between all the mourning, the spying and the dimension-hopping, our hero has time for a European holiday with his friends, so expect more of the high-school comedy hijinks that made 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming so much fun. 

Released in the UK and the US on 2 July, Belgium and France, on 3 July and Australia, Germany, and Brazil on 4 July

Midsommar

Ari Aster’s dread-drenched Hereditary was hailed as a horror masterpiece, which would be enough to make his follow-up an exciting (if nerve-racking) prospect. What’s even more exciting is that the US’s current king of horror, Jordan Peele, has seen Midsommar and loves it. He told Entertainment Weekly that it “usurps The Wicker Man as the most iconic pagan movie,” and that it has “some of the most atrociously disturbing imagery I’ve ever seen on film, and yet I experienced it with this open-mouthed, wild-eyed gape”. Sweden’s tourism board may not be so keen on Midsommar, though. Florence Pugh stars as a young American who goes to a pagan festival in a Swedish meadow, and soon wishes she had stayed at home.

Released on 3 July in the US and Canada and 5 July in the UK

The Chambermaid (La Camarista)

When The Chambermaid was at film festivals last autumn, Lila Avilés’s low-key debut was compared to Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, another drama examining the quietly demanding life of a maid in Mexico City. In this instance, Eve, the maid (Gabriela Cartol) doesn’t work in a family home, but in a luxury hotel. Too busy to see much of her young son, she labours for long hours every day, and dreams of nothing more than promotion to the hotel’s swanky 42nd floor. Far Out magazine sees the film as a “beautifully managed character study,” adding: “It’s hard to imagine subject matter more mundane than we see in virtually every scene, yet somehow the story grabs our attention from the first moment, simply by making its humble central character human and relatable.”

Released on 26 June in the US and 26 July in the UK

The Farewell

At the start of The Farewell, Chinese-American New Yorker Billi (Awkwafina) learns that her beloved grandmother has terminal cancer. But instead of telling the old woman, the family stages a wedding in China so that they can get together to celebrate her life, without her realising that her life is nearly over. It may sound like a far-fetched comedy-drama premise, but this very deception happened in the family of Lulu Wang, the writer-director, which could be why her film is so touchingly believable. New York magazine says: “The fact that The Farewell is such a frequently and easily funny film, on top of the heavy stuff it’s dealing with, is what makes it feel so miraculous… The little dramas and themes that emerge during the reunion of the film’s far-flung brood become, like a family, more than the sum of its individual parts.”

Released on 12 July in the US

The Lion King 

The Lion King was the highest grossing film of 1994 and the highest grossing hand-drawn animated film ever, so it was only a matter of time before Disney’s executives got their claws into it again: this year alone, the studio has already released remakes of Dumbo and Aladdin. Directed by Jon Favreau, the new Lion King replaces the traditional animation with photo-realistic CGI, and it has some new songs as well as a new voice cast – including Beyoncé, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Seth Rogen and Donald Glover. But is it essentially the same film that audiences know off by heart? Favreau claims not. “It diverges quite a bit,” he says. “It’s much longer than the original film. And part of what we’re doing here is to give it more dimension not just visually but both story-wise and emotionally.” We’ll soon see.

Released on 12 July in China, 17 July in France, Germany, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, 18 July in Australia, Brazil, Greece and Portugal, and 19 July in the US, the UK and Canada

Tel Aviv on Fire

It’s tricky to make a comedy about the tensions between Israel and Palestine, but Sameh Zoabi’s festival favourite, Tel Aviv on Fire, shows that it can be done. The hero of his politically charged farce is Salam (Kais Nashif), a Palestinian slacker who cons his way into a job writing for a soap opera in Jerusalem. But he has to pass a checkpoint to get to work every morning, and an Israeli border guard (Yaniv Biton) won’t let him through unless Salam agrees to put the guard’s ideas into his scripts. WhatSheSaid says that Tel Aviv On Fire is a “hysterically funny modern fable [whose] astute and sometimes uncomfortably honest observations of the local zeitgeist are real zingers – politics, artistic egos, crossed wires and wars big and little offer plenty of fuel for fun.”

Released on 4 July in Germany, 25 July in the Netherlands and 26 July in the US

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love

Another music documentary from Nick Broomfield (Whitney: Can I Be Me, Kurt & Courtney, Biggie and Tupac), Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love is a tender ode to the relationship between Leonard Cohen and his Swedish muse, Marianne Ihlen. When they lived together on the idyllic Greek island of Hydra in the early 1960s, Ihlen inspired some of Cohen’s best-known songs, including So Long, Marianne and Bird on the Wire. And even though they broke up when Cohen left for the US to become a star, Broomfield argues that they never got over that formative romance. Broomfield should know: he, too, dated Ihlen, who encouraged him to become a film-maker. Little White Liescalls the documentary “a thoughtful musing on the passing of time, of lovers past and gone, of a bygone era of hopes and dreams and lives lived to excess”.

Released on 5 July in the US and 26 July in the UK and Ireland

Skin

The winner of this year’s Oscar for best short film was Skin, a 20-minute drama about a thuggish white supremacist. Now the film’s writer-director, Guy Nattiv has made a full-length film with the same title and many of the same concepts. Based on a true story, its subject is Bryon Widner (Jamie Bell), a skinhead gang-member who falls in love with a single mother played by Danielle Macdonald (Patti Cake$, Dumplin’), and tries to break away from his violent racist past. This is no easy task given that his neo-Nazi pals (played by Bill Camp and Vera Farmiga, among others) are Bryon’s surrogate family – and given that his face is covered in white-power tattoos. The Hollywood Reportercomments that “at a time when neo-Nazis, white supremacists and peddlers of all kinds of hate have been emboldened and increasingly visible around the world, now is an apt moment for a film that explores what lures disenfranchised people to such cults and… shows that it is possible for people to change”.

Released on 26 July in the US

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Los Angeles 1969. A washed-up Western star (Leonardo DiCaprio) makes guest appearances on younger actors’ TV series. His right-hand man (Brad Pitt) visits the ranch where Charles Manson is brainwashing his followers. And a starlet (Margot Robbie) revels in her new-found fame and fortune. Quentin Tarantino’s loving tribute to Tinseltown in the 1960s is a surprisingly light and laidback comedy before it reaches the deliriously grisly climax that divided critics when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. BBC Culture reviewed it from the festival, writing “Tarantino is eventually going to address the horrific tragedy. But before he gets there, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood is essentially a goofy, good-natured hang-out comedy, peppered with in-jokes and buoyed by the self-parodying buddy-buddy chemistry of its two male stars.”

Released on 19 July in China and 26 July in the US and Canada

The Art of Self-Defense

Karate Kid meets Fight Club in this black-belt black comedy written and directed by Riley Stearns. Jesse Eisenberg stars as a nervous accountant who gets even more nervous after he is beaten up by a gang of bikers. When he finally plucks up enough courage to leave the house, he discovers a dojo where a stone-faced sensei (Alessandro Nivola) promises to mould him into the intimidating alpha male he’s always wanted to be. But while the sensei’s initial teachings seem innocent (if ludicrous) enough – “kick with your fists and punch with your feet” – they soon become more sinister, and the film becomes a satire of toxic masculinity. With echoes of Yorgos Lanthimos’s deadpan absurdism, Film Threat writes that The Art of Self-Defense is “hilarious”, “unpredictable”, and a “contender for best film of the year”.

Released on 12 July in the US

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