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Top 3 Critic’s Picks In Theaters this May: Zvyagintsev’s Elena, Trier’s Oslo, August 31st and Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom

U.S. indie, foreign and documentary films typically take a back seat in the month of May, as major studios offer a weekly flurry of tentpole items that clog up the space, but May is no different than any other month in the calender year – there is some gems worth considering and before we focus on our top 3 – we have a handful of suggestions also worthy of your hard-earned cash. Exactly one year to the date, we have a pair of foreign films that found their share of supporters at the Cannes Film Festival, in Maïwenn’s Polisse (05.18 – IFC Films) and Cristián Jiménez’s Bonsai (05.11 – Strand Releasing) while on the doc front, Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi’s award-winning/IDFA and Sundance selected 5 Broken Cameras (05.30 Kino Lorber) a portrait of a Palestinian village resisting the advance of Jewish settlements and Grant Gee’s Patience (05.09 – The Cinema Guild) is an essay film on writer W.G. Sebald. Add these to the re-issues of classics such as Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion (05.11 – Rialto Pictures) and Jacques Rivette’s Céline and Julie Go Boating (05.04 – New Yorker Films) and you’ve got some strong go-to offerings – but here’s the Top 3 U.S. theatrical picks for this month:

#1. Elena – Andrei Zvyagintsev
Zeitgeist Films: – May 16th – New York City
What the critic’s are saying?: Once in a while we wonder why a certain film was selected for the Un Certain Regard category when it clearly should have been in the Main Comp — Zvyagintsev’s Elena, the Special Jury Prize winner/UCR closing night film was such a case. A film that will certainly be among critics’ top ten lists for 2012 received straight A’s on the Croisette and it had the chance to further flourish at North American fests including Sundance. Calling the drama “a wise and impeccably controlled drama that finds Russian helmer Andrei Zvyagintsev in outstanding form,” Variety’s Justin Chang totally gets the auteur’s complex character design stating “Zvyagintsev extends his characters a compassion that bespeaks a bone-deep understanding of human unpredictability, the way people often reveal or emphasize different aspects of themselves depending on who’s listening.” In Screen Daily’s review, critic Howard Feinstein underlines how morality in in the new Russia (a post-communist consumer society) can be compromised and points to the film’s lead player as the face of this stress test – “Markina’s magnificent performance as the middle-aged title character who selects her biological family over her wealthy second husband when the financial stakes are high” while THR shares in the enthusiasm for Nadezhda Markina, stating that “her multi-layered performance ensures that the eponymous hausfrau retains interest, and perhaps even sympathy, despite what we may well conclude are misguided, short-sighted actions“. Here’s our video coverage of the film’s world premiere screening.

#2. Oslo, August 31st – Joachim Trier
Strand Releasing: – May 25th – New York City
What the critic’s are saying?:

Being a huge fan of his debut film, Reprise (2006), I was wondering what kind of direction Joachim Trier’s would take with his sophomore offering — apart from making Anders Danielsen Lie his muse again, Oslo, August 31st demonstrates this auteur’s ability to shift both stylistically and tonally. A film which I also caught at Cannes last year and which was showcased in the same section (Un Certain Regard) as Elena, this gloomy, existential, at times hopeful film took its time to find a U.S. distributor and it had nothing to do with the film’s quality, but rather, how the matter-of-factually intimate manner Trier chooses to address the mix of loneliness and addiction. Marcus Hu’s Strand Releasing made the no-brainer move of picking up the title and giving it an opening not at the end (as the title suggests it) but at the beginning of summer. Time Out London’s Dave Calhoun calls the film as it is “deeply affecting, quiet and restrained Norwegian film is a compassionate, cutting portrait of a day in the life of a man whose light is slowly going out,” while Variety’s Boyd van Hoeij taps into the lyrical qualities of the pic calling it a “beautifully crafted second film adds a contempo finish and pays homage to the French New Wave, adapting the suicide-themed novel that also inspired Louis Malle’s “The Fire Within.” Here’s my interview with the filmmaker back in May and world premiere night coverage.

#3. Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson
Focus Features: – May 25th – Limited Release
What the critic’s are saying?:
The opening film for the upcoming 65th Cannes Film Festival has yet to be reviewed, but the enthusiastic response to a flurry of media items (character posters, first round of stills, soundtrack selections, poster art and of course, the smile worthy trailer) and the first impression that Wes Anderson might have re-branded his personal, highly stylized touch that make 1998’s Rushmore and 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums arguably his best features means this Focus Features release might slay all critics alike. Moonrise Kingdom holds the rare distinction of being the festival opener and being part of the Main Competition. Anderson’s first visit to Cannes should be a memorable one.

Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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